Paul Brunton“When I say I am the Avatar, there are a few who feel happy, some who feel shocked, and many who take me for a hypocrite, a fraud, a supreme egoist, or just mad.” – Meher Baba1
“A scrupulous author will substantiate his assertions by documentary references and abundant footnotes; he will give source and date for each one. I alas! do not come under this admirable category.” – Paul Brunton2
Paul Brunton, real name Raphael Hurst,3 was the son of emigrants4 to England from Eastern Europe. A bookseller,5 a freelance journalist who had contributed several articles to the The Occult Review,6 among other lesser known publications,7 and for a brief period a magazine editor for his self-published Success Magazine,8 Brunton had “strong personal interests in mysticism and the occult.”9 He went on to write eleven books with mystical and occult themes that met with varying degrees of success.10 The controversial journalistic report of his interviews with Meher Baba appeared in one of his most popular works—a spiritual travel book entitled A Search in Secret India, first published in 1934. Two chapters in that book describe Brunton’s encounters with, and impressions of, Meher Baba at the latter’s Meherabad and Nasik ashrams. It has been duly noted that “Baba is the only prominent figure in the book [of] whom Brunton is really critical.”11 In the chapter titled “At the Parsee Messiah’s Headquarters,” Brunton shares with the reader his “theory” that, following Meher Baba’s encounter with the female Sufi saint Hazrat Babajan12 13 in 1914, Baba had “not yet recovered from the first intoxication of his exalted mood, and a lack of balance still exists …” According to the layperson diagnosis by Brunton: Meher Baba “shows signs of the mental disease of paranoia. He exaggerates everything which pertains to his own self. This condition is also found among religious enthusiasts who experience sudden but temporary states of ecstasy.”14 Brunton gave his readers the impression that he was an impartial critic who “could not be duped by the sham ‘messiah.’”15 Yet Brunton only provided a “selected version of the facts insofar as Meher Baba was concerned, and as other extant documentation reveals.”16 Brunton’s account of his (brief) visit to India omits various neglected but crucial details which require due attention if an accurate historical record is to be achieved.
PreludePrior to leaving for India, by 1929 Brunton already knew of the existence of Meher Baba, “probably as a consequence of the activities of Meredith Starr, one of the earliest Western pupils of Baba.”17 Born as Herbert Close, a name he later changed to Meredith Starr at about the age of 20 when he began to write for the Occult Review, Starr was a minor poet, occultist, and later naturopath, who at one time had an association with the infamous Aleister Crowley. In March 1928, Meher Baba sent one of his Indian disciples, Rustom Irani, to London in search of pupils to attend the multi-national, multi-faith school for boys attached to Baba’s ashram in Meherabad. At the time Rustom failed to find any British boys to attend the school,18 but in the course of his search he met Meredith Starr, who along with his mistress, Margaret Ross, and her sister, Esther Ross, became interested in Baba and travelled to India, spending six months at the Meherashram at Toka.19 After Starr returned to England he established a retreat centre in Devonshire, where a small number of westerners became devotees of Baba. Starr is credited with introducing Meher Baba to the West,20 though he did not remain a follower for very long.
Brunton had also been in correspondence with another of Meher Baba’s followers (and later critic) Khaikhushru J Dastur, a Parsi devotee who had been employed as a teacher at the Meherashram School (a school for boys), and from 1929 to 1931 edited the Meher Message, the first monthly periodical publication dedicated to Meher Baba.21 Brunton had contributed a poem, “Born Again,” to Dastur’s magazine, which was published in the new year of 1930.22 Dastur had also written the earliest independent publication about Meher Baba in the English language, published in March 1928 as a booklet entitled His Holiness Meher Baba and the Meherashram. A second edition was released in June of that year, and a third edition in August, under the title His Divine Majesty Meher Baba and the Meherashram Institute.23 24 A year after his booklet had been published, an article by Dastur, “His Holiness Sadguru Meher Baba,” appeared in the Occult Review,25 the first article about Meher Baba in the Western press. Following the publication of Dastur’s article, correspondence from Meredith Starr, headed “Shri Sadguru Meher Baba,” appeared in the October 1929 edition of the Occult Review. As a fellow contributor to that magazine, along with Starr, in all probability Brunton would have been aware of Dastur’s article.26
With a bachelor’s degree in law, Dastur was one of the more educated of Meher Baba’s followers,27 and in addition to his literary activities had been elected as co-president of the Meher League, officially formed on 21 April 1930, with the objective of promoting universal brotherhood. His fellow co-president was a retired Judge of Kurnaul, C V Sampath Iyengar (Madras Judicial Service), who was one of the earliest Hindu followers of Baba from Madras. Iyengar had bequeathed his property in Saidapet, Madras, for Meher Baba’s cause and requested that Baba open it as a “Meher Asramam,” which subsequently occurred. His daughter, V T Lakshmi, charitably conducted a Baby Welfare Centre, and was approved by Baba as editor of the League’s quarterly publication the Meher Gazette.28 Brunton had previously been in contact with the Meher League, and was considered a representative, “… and had formed the Meher League in Britain before departure for India, stating categorically that ‘We firmly believe that He [Meher Baba] alone can save the West, or indeed the whole world.’”29 In December 1930, it was “Bro H Raphael Hurst alias Paul Brunton” who “stayed at Meher Asramam for more than a fortnight.”30
Secret IndiaIn the autumn of 1930, Brunton embarked upon his voyage to India, intending primarily to see Meher Baba, but also to seek out, interview, and penetrate the “secrets” of the holy men, yogis and fakirs of that country. But Brunton’s stay in India included secrets of quite another kind, and it was these he chose not to disclose to his readers.
Meherabad AshramBrunton arrived in India late November 1930, docking at Bombay, where he was met by Adi K Irani and Jal Irani, two of Meher Baba’s Parsi mandali who escorted him to the Meherabad ashram. Brunton had arrived during one of Baba’s frequent periods of seclusion, when Baba “had no desire to see Brunton.”31 Nevertheless, over the next three days Brunton was allowed to interview Baba,32 who communicated with him via an alphabet board, interpreted by a disciple. Brunton was not allowed to take notes.33 The interviews, observations, and a summarized version of Baba’s life, formed the main substance of the chapter controversially headed “I Meet A Messiah” in Brunton’s A Search in Secret India.34 35 After staying for three days, “Baba directed Brunton to meet Hazrat Babajan in Poona, and to see the Tiger Valley Cave in Panchgani,36 and then to visit Kolhapur High School and the Madras Center.”37 In his book, Brunton gives the impression that he departed alone and was merely intent upon seeking out yogis and fakirs. In actual fact he travelled with two men who were both followers of Meher Baba, one of whom was the latter’s brother Jal. The other was an Englishman (an ex-major of the British Army who had become a Buddhist monk) known as Swami (Bhikkhu) Prajnananda. The travellers were en route to Pune in order to meet Hazrat Babajan, with Baba’s brother acting as the interpreter.38 Brunton included the meeting with Hazrat Babajan in his book,39 but excluded all reference to the other localities specified by Baba. After Brunton was warmly received by various of Baba’s devotees at Panchgani and Kolhapur, Jal Irani parted company with the two Englishmen, being under instruction to rejoin Baba at Meherabad. Brunton and Prajnananda continued on to Madras.40
Saidapet AshramArriving in Madras on 2 December 1930, the two travellers became the guests of the Meher Asramam in Saidapet, home of the Meher League. Here the travellers received the same warm hospitality which previous devotees had accorded them. Their hosts were C V Sampath Iyengar and his daughter V T Laksmi, both of them well-educated Hindus who accomplished humanitarian work under Baba’s auspices. It was Iyengar who provided information to the guests “as to suitable holy men of talent in the area, and they later visited the Ramakrishna Math, Rajgopal Swami, and Ramana Maharshi.”41 An article by K J Dastur in the Meher Message, published in 1931 before the defection of Brother Raphael Hurst (Paul Brunton) became known, provides a revealing insight into what occurred during Brunton’s stay at the ashram. It is evident that Brunton was considered a follower of Meher Baba, and on the afternoon of 7 December the members of the League held a meeting under the chairmanship of C V Sampath Iyengar. At four pm an address was given at the Saidapet ashram in honour of the two English guests:
“To Raphael Hurst Esq., Bhikku Prajnananda.
We, the members of Meher League, approach you with feelings of fellowship, and offer our heart-felt welcome to you in our midst. We look upon this, your first visit to this place, as a unique event in the history of this asramam which was opened by [Meher Baba] …
We welcome you, brother Raphael Hurst, as the founder of the Meher League in England. Your sincere words, ‘Our hearts are with every one of you who are serving the master’s cause [i.e., Baba’s cause] in India. Brotherly greetings to every devotee’ are ringing in our ears … We earnestly request you to convey our fraternal greetings to our comrades in the West. We pray that under the benign care and guidance of the master and with your co-operation, that influences for good may unceasingly flow from this asramam … May the master give you long life to accomplish this work.”42
Swami (Bhikku) Prajnananda then delivered a lecture on “Sri Meher Baba and his Work,” and Raphael Hurst, alias Paul Brunton, later lectured on the meaning of life. During that lecture Brunton “related a few of his ‘personal telepathic experiences’ in connection with Meher Baba. These were emphasized as contacts transcendent of normal consciousness.” Further, Brunton “said that Baba was immersed in the highest state of God-consciousness every moment, and that he functioned in all invisible worlds.”43
During his stay at the Meherabad ashram, Brunton recounts, Baba “informs me that within a few months he will be in residence at his central headquarters, which are situated near the town of Nasik. He suggests that I should visit him there and stay for a month.” According to Brunton, Meher Baba is said to have further communicated: “‘Do this. Come when you can. I will give you wonderful spiritual experiences and enable you to know the real truth about me. You will be shown my inner powers. After that, you will have no more doubts.’”44 It has been suggested that is was the promise of “wonderful experiences” which enticed Brunton to travel on to Nasik.45
After about a fortnight at the Saidapet ashram Brunton and Prajnananda left Madras. At some point they made a brief excursion from Madras to nearby Tiruvannamalai, a small town near to which was the ashram of Ramana Maharshi (d. 1950),46 a figure who did not, during that first meeting, loom large upon Brunton’s horizons.
Nasik AshramIn Secret India Brunton informs his readers: “I do not believe the Parsee messiah can keep the extraordinary promises of wonderful experiences which he has made to me; but because I have agreed to spend a month near him, I think my pledge is not to be lightly broken. So, against every instinct and all judgment, I take [the] train for Nasik, that he may not accuse me of never having given him the chance to prove his alleged powers.”47
The representative of the Meher League, who had recently publicly talked about his personal “telepathic” experiences in connection with Meher Baba, arrived at Nasik to see the latter during the first week of February 1931. Brunton was invited to stay with the men at the ashram, but Baba invariably kept aloof from him. “Although Brunton questioned [Baba] every day, Baba was cool in his reception and their meetings were deliberately brief in contrast to the lengthy interviews Baba had granted him at Meherabad.”48 Instead, Brunton was given the extensive diaries of two of Meher Baba’s devotees to read, comprising “nearly two thousand pages of loosely written manuscript, mostly composed in English.”49 But Brunton was unimpressed, even critical of the material.50 51 He lamented, “Meher Baba seems to be avoiding contacts with me … I wait for the wonderful experiences he promised me, though I never expect them to arrive.”52 Baba no longer seemed interested in him, was no longer amenable to his questions. “This amounted to a rebuff in the mind of Brunton.… The disciple of telepathic prowess was now dwarfed into a mere tiresome visitor who could not stop asking questions.”53 Deflated, affronted, and minus “wonderful experiences,” Brunton states in his book that “with the passing of the month I announce my impending departure.”54 In fact, Paul Brunton had stayed at the Nasik ashram for only a week.55 56 57 Despite his pledge, he left Nasik on 8 February 1931, and travelled again to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram before returning to London.
It has been suggested: “The deflation caused Brunton to turn against his mentor with distinctive venom.… To psychologists, it is quite evident that Brunton had set much store on the possibility of miracles, and that he was acutely piqued when these were not forthcoming. Two major features of his psychology after that time were (a) to cover up the fact that he had been an admirer of Meher Baba to a pronounced degree (b) to give a much lower rating to miraculous elements and instead to assume a critical stance, though not invariably.”58 59
Meher Baba’s visits to England (1931 and 1932)Meher Baba’s fist visit to England took place in 1931. He and his party had left Karachi on 1 September and travelled on the S S Rajputana arriving ten days later at Marseilles. There they were met by two followers, along with Meredith Starr, and Baba was escorted to London via Paris. “Also on board the ‘Rajputana’ was Mahatma Gandhi, recently released from prison and on his way to the Round Table Conference in London. In the course of the voyage Gandhi visited Baba several times in his cabin.”60 On 12 September Baba and his party arrived in London.
Previously on 16 July, Baba had sent a cable to Meredith Starr: “Make all preparations for my coming. Love is calling me to the West.”61 Starr had left India in December 1928, returning to England. He purchased a remote farmhouse set in eighty-five acres known as East Challacombe, near the village of Combe Martin in Devonshire, in which he “established a centre for meditation and spiritual exercises called ‘The Retreat.’”62 Many westerners first heard of Meher Baba whilst staying at the Devonshire retreat, including Charles Purdom, the editor of Everyman magazine, and a pioneer in the Garden City Movement who played a strong part in the founding of Welwyn Garden City.63
It was during Baba’s ten-day stay at the farmhouse, along with several Western devotees, that he is said to have “candidly disclosed to his followers in England that he was the Avatar, the Messiah, the Christ for whom the world had long been waiting, whereas in India, all his devotees were still referring to him as a Sadguru—a Perfect Master.”64 That controversial statement by Baba, which was unusual for the period, may well have been the source for the front page headline, “Indian Messiah,” a phrase which later became sensationally emblazoned upon a number of newspapers and magazines. Yet the Western devotees and media who approached Meher Baba did so largely from a Christian background and orientation. “Christ” and “Messiah” were terms they were familiar with; “Avatar” would have been an alien concept.65 66 During Meher Baba’s first visit to the West, “he avoided publicity, declined interviews with press representatives, and issued no significant communications. His second tour during the next year, however, was quite a different matter.”67
The “Indian Messiah”By 1932, K J Dastur, self-styled “Disciple of His Divine Majesty” and editor of the Meher Message, “was becoming disaffected from his Master, and … had metamorphosed into one of [Baba’s] fiercest public critics.”68 Dastur embarked on a campaign of public denunciation that went well beyond India. He is said to have “helped Paul Brunton in the writing of a smear piece, ‘All Britain Duped by Sham Messiah,’ published by John Bull magazine in England in May 1932.”69 Meher Baba’s second visit to England had created a publicity frenzy following a twenty-five minute interview that he gave in India to a reporter from the Associated Press on 20 March. “The story that resulted, ‘Indian Seer starts for America Tour,’ was carried by major newspapers throughout America and the West. By the time he arrived in … England ten days later, Baba was already being courted, pursued, and hounded by major film and news agencies … During his [second] stay in London and Devonshire in April, a spate of articles flooded the English newspapers, and Paramount captured a short interview on film.”70 That Message to the West, given for the Paramount Newsreel by Meher Baba on his arrival in London, 8 April, 1932, was read out by Charles Purdom. The content of the message opens with the statement: “My coming to the West is not with the object of establishing new creeds or spiritual societies and organizations, but is intended to make people understand religion in its true sense.” Baba then clarified, “True religion consists of developing that attitude of mind which should ultimately result in seeing One Infinite Existence prevailing throughout the universe; when one could live in the world and yet be not of it and, at the same time, be in harmony with everyone and everything; when one could attend to all worldly duties and affairs and yet feel completely detached from all results; when one could see the same Divinity in art and science and experience the Highest Consciousness and Indivisible Bliss in everyday life.”71
John Bull magazine specialized in scandalous revelations and the debunking of frauds. “Purporting to provide inside information, the exposé, when one reads it closely, proves to be thin on fact but rich in insinuation. The ‘New Messiah,’ we learn, accepted exaggerated titles (‘The Blessed Lord,’ ‘The Indian Avatar,’ ‘His Divine Majesty’) and the homage of ‘beautiful young white girls’; his doctrines suffered from vagueness; claims as to the size of his following had been overblown; former disciples complained that he had not kept his promises. Now in themselves, these charges do little more than register vague representations and subjective impressions; they convey little content. The manner of writing, however, implies that a world of scandal lies behind them.”72 Brunton also claimed that Meher Baba “owned a movie theatre, a motor garage, used to own a toddy shop and kept hired women companions.”73 74
When a concerned follower who had read the John Bull article75 asked Baba who the author was (the article had been published anonymously), he communicated via his alphabet board: “Since you want to know, I will tell you. It is Raphael Hurst (Paul Brunton). He is creating opposition against me in London. The poor chap is to be pitied; we should pity him rather than blame him. Unknowingly, he has been made an instrument of K J Dastur in India. He is unaware of the real situation …”76 77 78 Other publications from the British press, which included the newspapers Daily Mirror, Daily Sketch, and Sunday Express were far less scurrilous in their reporting, though still inclined towards sensationalism.
Brunton’s criticism of Meher BabaBrunton’s first book, A Search in Secret India, was published in London in 1934, and an instant success.79For many readers it was a tale of spiritual adventure, “exploring a side of India previously unknown to most foreigners …” and the book is said to have “effectively helped introduce the terms ‘yoga’ and ‘meditation’ to the general public of the Western World.”80 Three years had passed since he had visited the Meherabad and Nasik ashrams in India, and his book appeared following Meher Baba’s first two visits to England in 1931 and 1932, and after the John Bull article.81
In Secret India Brunton gave his readers the impression that he had left the Meherabad ashram with doubts, yet still hoped for some miraculous form of proof. In the chapter “I Meet a Messiah,” Brunton wrote: “I have imbibed sufficient pious wisdom and prophetic forebodings to suffice me for the time. I have not wandered to distant parts of the world merely to hear religious assertions or declarations of grandeur. I want facts, even if they are to be facts of a strange, uncommon kind. And I want reliable evidence; better still, something personal, something to which I can testify for my own satisfaction.”82 Yet those doubts are alleged to have occurred before his stay at the Saidapet ashram and the talk he gave to fellow members of the Meher League about his personal “telepathic” experiences with Meher Baba. In the chapter “At the Parsee Messiah’s Headquarters,” recording his observations during the one-week stay at the Nasik ashram, and disenchantment at not having been given the promised “wonderful experiences,” Brunton becomes more openly critical of Baba.
Brunton writes that he was initially “impressed by the peace and gentleness of [Baba’s] attitude. But observation during my stay at Nasik revealed, through everyday incidents, that this was the calmness of a weak character and the gentleness of a frail physique.83 I discovered that he is really an irresolute man, influenced by others and circumstances. His small pointed chin84 is eloquent on this point. Moreover, sudden unaccountable impulses mark his conduct. He is obviously a highly emotional man. His passion is theatrical, his childish but Oriental fondness for spectacular demonstrations also evidence the fact that he loves to dramatize himself. He seems to live more for an audience than for himself. And although he claims to have appeared on the stage of life in a serious part, those who see only an element of comedy in his acting are not wholly to blame!”85
Brunton goes on to share with the reader his “theory” that, “Hazrat Babajan,86 did really create an upheaval in Meher Baba’s character that upset his equilibrium, in fact, so completely as to precipitate him into a condition which neither he nor those around him understand. My own experience with the remarkable lady, brief though it was, convinces me that she possessed some strange power sufficient to startle the most hide-bound rationalist. I do not know why Hazrat Babajan should have suddenly intervened in Meher Baba’s career, swept him off at a tangent and started him on a course whose outcome—whether merely farcical or really momentous—we have yet to witness. But I do know that she was quite capable of doing to him something which, metaphorically speaking, took the earth from under his feet. The kiss which she gave him was nothing in itself, but became important as the symbolic conveyance of her psychic inner grace. The peculiar cerebral condition which he developed as a result is significant in view of his later history.… I believe that the youthful Meher became quite unbalanced as a result of this unexpected experience.… To some people, a sudden overdose of religion, Yogic trance, or mystic ecstasy is as unbalancing as a sudden overdose of certain drugs. In short, I believe that Meher Baba has not yet recovered from the first intoxication of his exalted mood, and a lack of balance still exists … He shows, on the one hand, all the qualities of a mystic—love, gentleness, religious intuition, and so on, but on the other hand he shows signs of the mental disease of paranoia. He exaggerates everything which pertains to his own self. This condition is also found among religious enthusiasts who experience sudden but temporary states of ecstasy. They emerge with the awareness that something colossal has happened to them. It is only another step for them to make unwarranted claims to spiritual greatness, and so they begin to found new cults or set up queer societies with themselves as the head. The deification of self, the belief that they are messiahs destined to save all mankind, is the final step taken by the audacious few.”87
According to Louis Agostini, who for a three-year period during the 1960s was Brunton’s mail secretary, and who subsequently became a follower of Meher Baba, in the “very last letter which [Brunton] wrote to me from Auckland, New Zealand … he stated that he felt that his original statements about Meher Baba had been written by another person and that certainly if he had to do it over again, he would write differently.”88 But Brunton never did publicly rectify his misrepresentation of Meher Baba in A Search in Secret India.89 His portrait of Meher Baba remains influential to this day.90
Rom LandauRomauld (Rom) Landau was born of Polish-German parents in 1899. He was a sculptor, author, educator, and specialist on Arab and Islamic culture. His particular area of interest was Morocco. Landau was also an art critic and book reviewer for several newspapers and periodicals.91 In his earlier career, Landau wrote a bestselling book recounting his contacts with diverse persons of mystical fame, such as Count Keyserling, Krishnamurti, Rudolf Steiner, G I Gurdjieff, and others published as God is My Adventure in 1935. The chapter on Meher Baba, entitled “Portrait of a ‘Perfect Master,’” is said to be “an honest report” and “lacking the motivations of Brunton,”92 though the conclusions were clearly influenced by the latter’s critical account in Secret India. Landau utilizes Brunton’s words to express his own reservations, and wrote: “Mr. Brunton ends with a shrewd analysis of Baba’s character: ‘He shows, on the one hand, all the qualities of a mystic—love, gentleness, religious intuition, and so on, but on the other hand he shows signs of the mental disease of paranoia.… He fails to illustrate in himself the high message which he proposes to convey—to others. I realize that I need not deny that many high a sublime sayings have been communicated through the lithe fingers of Meher Baba.… Nevertheless, one is compelled to condemn the theatrical methods which he has used. No great religious teacher worthy of the name has ever used them.…’”93
Landau’s questionsIn his book, Landau begins by quoting a favourable report about Meher Baba which appeared on the front page of the Sunday Express, 10 April, 1932. “This report on Baba came from the pen of the popular British journalist James Douglas, who had arranged an interview with Baba and prepared a questionnaire with the help of Sir Denison Ross,”94 a distinguished Oriental scholar. Douglas admitted that this questionnaire “was designed to trap the teacher, but he smilingly threaded his way through it without stumbling. His mastery of dialectic is consummate.… He frequently put questions to me which startled me by their penetration. But he never evaded a direct question. His simplicity is very subtle”95 Motivated by the Sunday Express article, Landau appears to have envisaged a similar session of quick-witted questions and answers when he visited Baba a few weeks later in his lodgings at Lancaster Gate, London. “Baba was staying at a hotel that was run by the Fellowship Club, which had transpired to be the only possible venue to stay, since in London colour prejudice was too much in evidence.”96 Landau had prepared a series of questions and after the formalities upon meeting Baba launched into these, but Baba did not reply (via his alphabet board) at any length. Landau modestly states: “Unfortunately my questions must have been badly prepared, or awkwardly presented, for the answer was almost invariably: ‘This question requires a more elaborate answer and a longer discussion. I shall have to write this answer to you in a day or two.’ After this had been going on for about three-quarters of an hour I decided it would be unfair to trespass any longer on my host’s time.”97 98 A week after the interview a “thick letter from Baba arrived … containing a number of sheets of paper, covered with the handwritten answers to my questions.”99 100 Baba was now on his way to America. During the subsequent months, Landau writes that he “met several of Baba’s disciples” and was given many accounts. He also mentions Brunton’s “very interesting book,” A Search in Secret India, though this was not published until 1934. He “continued questioning people about Baba, and gathered any material I could lay my hands on, but no source was so enlightening as the one I came across unexpectedly in the person of a very beautiful woman in New York.”101
The actressLandau did not again meet Meher Baba, but “he did encounter Princess Norina Matchabelli in New York, and records a talk he had with her, though without referring to her by name.”102 Matchabelli had met Meher Baba in 1931 and became a devotee. She had formerly been an actress, most notably in the role of the Madonna in the stage play The Miracle103 written by Karl Vollmöller. Landau did not neglect to comment that the passion of the great actress had not left her. “It might have been the centre of a stage with thousands of spectators watching her, and not an apartment off Fifth Avenue.”104 She regaled Landau “with reminiscences depictive of Baba’s own star role; her attitude to his ‘work’ tended to be of dramatic embellishment.”105 She would later be apologetic for the role she played that day: “Landau seemed an intelligent fellow, and she presumed him to be a genuine seeker and was rather intimate with him due to his personal friendship with [Quentin] Todd, narrating some of the experiences of her life before and after her meeting the Master. She later regretted doing so, as Landau proved to be sceptical of Meher Baba.”106 According to Landau, “My hostess was, in a way, nothing but Baba’s mouthpiece, almost more explicit than Baba himself. I could not have wished for a more perfect source of information, and it was not for me to decide whether she was suffering from self-delusion … Though some of the facts I was presented with were fantastic, many of the details were too revealing to be recorded.”107 It has been observed, “It is not surprising that Landau was offput by her version of the ‘master,’ though he made the mistake of assuming that she accurately represented Baba. His reaction, upon returning home, was to read Brunton’s newly published critique, which evidently influenced him at the critical juncture. He approvingly quotes Brunton’s verdict: ‘One is compelled to condemn the theatrical methods which he [Baba] has used.’ Landau was here confusing Baba with Princess Matchabelli …”108
The “theatrical” theme running through Landau’s account doubtless arose because Meher Baba had visited Hollywood during his stay in America; he had toured the Paramount Studios and also Universal and Metro-Goldwyn, during the course of which he met many celebrity film stars of the day. Landau’s meeting with Matchabelli accentuated the theatricality. Yet, at general reception given in Meher Baba’s honour at the Knickerbocker Hotel, Hollywood, 31 May, 1932, a message from Baba was read out to an audience comprised of many celebrities:
“Since arriving in America, I have been asked many times what solution I brought for the social problems now confronting you—what did I have to offer that would solve the problems of unemployment, prohibition, crime—that would eliminate the strife between individuals and nations and pour a healing balm of peace upon a troubled world?
The answer has been so simple that it has been difficult to grasp. I will elaborate it now in order that it may be more easily understood.
The root of all our difficulties, individual and social, is self-interest. It is this, for example, which causes corruptible politicians to accept bribes and betray the interests of those whom they have been elected to serve; which causes bootleggers to break, for their own profit, a law designed, whether wisely or not, to help the nation as a whole; which causes people to connive, for their own pleasure, in the breaking of that law, thus causing disrespect for law in general and increasing crime tremendously; which causes the exploitation of great masses of humanity by individuals or groups of individuals seeking personal gain; which impedes the progress of civilization by shelving inventions which would contribute to the welfare of humanity at large, simply because their use would mean the scrapping of present, inferior equipment; which, when people are starving, causes the wanton destruction of large quantities of food in order to maintain market prices; which causes the hording of large sums of gold when the welfare of the world demands its circulation.
These are only a few examples of the way self-interest operates to the detriment of human welfare. Eliminate self-interest and you will solve all your problems, individual and social.”109
The message appeared far removed from the man described by Matchabelli as being “extremely tidy in his appearance, and no-one can imagine the amount of time spent over the washing, combing and brushing of his beautiful hair.”110
Meher Baba’s avatar claim
Paul Brunton wrote, “Meher Baba, though a good man and one living an ascetic life, is unfortunately suffering from colossal delusions about his own greatness.”111 Brunton was here referring to Baba’s said claim to be the “new messiah,” though avatar would have been the appropriate term for Brunton to have used. It has been stated: “The starting point for any discussion of Meher Baba is his declaration that he is the Avatar, the manifestation of God in human form who comes age after age to awaken all life to the love of God.”112 But that is a devotee statement and there is much that can be discussed about Meher Baba’s life which does not require reference to any avatar claim. The use of that term in the 1930s, outside of its Indian cultural context and interpretations, would understandably have appeared incongruous. Brunton observed, there “are a dozen or more messiahs whom I have discovered in India since I have been here.”113 For Brunton, it required proof from Baba, in the form of “wonderful experiences,” to substantiate the avatar claim. Brunton was not a scholar,114 but a commercial writer with a history of mystical and occult interests, and who had even claimed “occult powers.”115 The “messiah” phrase used by Brunton in his narrative would certainly not have in been in use at the time of his stay at the Meherabad and Nasik ashrams. That term arose as the headline “Indian Messiah” in the Press during Baba’s second visit to the West in 1932. And although the phrase “avatar” may have been inferred at that time among certain of Baba’s closest disciples, it was not until 1954 that “he first began to publicly state that he was the avatar.”116 A neutral and objective assessment would require an interdisciplinary approach to Meher Baba’s claim, and indeed his life—a scholarly approach not influenced by belief or disbelief.
“Meher Baba definitely did claim to be the avatar. An inspection of various statements he made on this subject leaves no room for doubt. He also used the Persian term sahib-e-zaman, but that was not popular amongst Hindu devotees. The term avatar is variously interpreted in India; Meher Baba employed the Sanskrit word to denote a cosmic spiritual function occurring at cyclical intervals of time. Reactions to this are usually very hostile from religious parties, while his devotees defend this claim rather enthusiastically, sometimes adding things that he never said. It is surely possible to discuss [Baba] more rationally, outside the very rigid ‘I believe it/don’t believe it’ biases attendant upon messianism. The ethnographic, sociological, and mystical material contained in Meher Baba’s case history can be studied without becoming a dogmatic spokesperson for or against.”117
Brunton the “guru”Ironically, it is Paul Brunton, and not Meher Baba, who was one of the gurus profiled in the book Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus,118 written by the distinguished psychiatrist Anthony Storr. Despite Brunton’s posthumously published denials of any guru role,119 it is quite evident from the revealing account, My Father’s Guru,120 by Jeffery Masson, that Brunton was prepared to accept that role. “He was also content to be supported financially and housed by his disciples. According to Masson, his father must have given Brunton around $100,000 over the years.”121 Storr recognized that “Brunton was evidently less guarded in speech than he was in his writings; for the beliefs which he propounded when living in the Masson household exhibit all the usual characteristics of a paranoid delusional system,122 and fulfilled the function of turning Raphael Hurst, an insignificant person with no special gifts, into Paul Brunton the teacher of esoteric wisdom … Brunton exhibited many of the traits and forms of behaviour characteristic of gurus.”123
World War IIIAn example of what Storr describes as Brunton’s susceptibility to “paranoid delusions” can perhaps be discerned in the following events:
In the 1950s, Brunton “had spoken of the likelihood of World War III occurring in 1962.”124 125 According to Brunton’s son, Kenneth Hurst, his father “felt it prudent to warn his followers of the likely disaster.”126 What Hurst omitted to inform his readers is that “at one time [Brunton] let it be known verbally to his close circle of friends … that plunged in a yogic trance he had received a vision of a terrible calamity undoubtedly resulting from nuclear warfare that would befall the world, affecting mostly the Northern Hemisphere.”127 Brunton was trying to avert the disaster by conferring with four higher beings—the Four Archangels who lived on what according to Brunton, was to be his posthumous destination, the star Sirius128—to see what could be done to save planet Earth.129 He saw himself as engaged in “work” that would “affect the fate of millions.”130 A few “chosen” disciples were warned to wind up their business affairs in the United States and flee to a safer location, an apparent safety measure that Brunton referred to as “Operation Shield.” South America was deemed the closest refuge from the nuclear fallout.131 Some of his followers, including Jeffery Masson’s father, moved to South America, and for numerous of Brunton’s disciples the move “presented a formidable task,” as many were poor. Nevertheless, they believed in Brunton absolutely, without reservation.132 Yet Brunton did not himself move to South America, and at the time was living in Australia133 134] (and afterwards New Zealand for a lengthy period) and it was from Australia in 1961 that he issued The Message,135 “which modified his forecast by stating that there are no certainties and that the only real security lay in one’s own karma and dependence on God.… In the same circular there appeared a curious paragraph in which Paul Brunton referred to himself as ‘JR,’ meaning ‘Jupiter Rex’ or the King of the Gods and pointed to himself as an example of a man who had reached the end of the spiritual path.”136
Brunton’s guidance had radically affected the lives of some of the disciples who had uncritically believed in what he had said. His followers assumed he was concerned for their welfare, seeking to relocate them to a safe refuge far from the impending nuclear fallout, indicated as being South America. Brunton did not join them in that country; instead his “work” called him to visit many other countries, “on trips paid for by different disciples.”137 Those who had moved “felt abandoned, some even tricked … They had turned their lives upside-down for him, they had destroyed themselves financially to follow his instructions to move to South America. And now the guru was not coming.”138
In section 3 of The Message, Brunton presented “The Real Solution,” in which he stated that “the only practical solution to Operation Shield, the only real safety, is complete dependence on the Higher Power.” In the case of nuclear fallout, there would be areas of safety throughout the world, and if disciples were in the wrong or right area then that would be “the will of God, and to some extent our personal karma.”139
In section 4 of the abovementioned document, Brunton declared, “For some years he had been edging into semi-retirement and is now going into deeper retirement for the time being.… He has to be outwardly away and free to attend to his personal assignment which involves the fate of millions. He cannot allow himself to be distracted by the few and they [his followers] should not be so selfish as to expect him to.”140 Brunton would no longer provide advice or make predictions; he was now involved in a much higher calling, which involved the fate of millions.
Earlier in his career as a commercial writer, Brunton had accused Meher Baba of being paranoid, of exaggerating everything that pertained to his own self, yet it has been pointedly observed:
“The egocentrism of Paul Brunton is discernible in embryo in the pages of Secret India. His attack on Meher Baba can be interpreted as a strangely accurate self-portrait, in consonance with psychological tendencies that are still being variously interpreted by professional psychologists. As Brunton himself wrote in his loaded reflections upon Meher Baba: ‘The deification of self, the belief that they are messiahs destined to save all mankind, is the final step taken by the audacious few.’”141 142
“Dr” BruntonBy August 1945, Brunton was using printed notepaper bearing the title “Dr Paul Brunton.” Some of his reprinted books now had “Dr Brunton” on the cover, and still do so to this day.143 In fact, Brunton falsely claimed a PhD from Roosevelt University in Chicago; an institution disclaiming any knowledge of him. “There is no evidence that he had any higher education at all, although he claimed that he had studied philosophy at ‘the Astral University’ together with an American painter called Thurston whom he described as an ‘advanced mystic’ and ‘a great occultist.’”144
- Agostini, Louis (1985). Glow International, February, pp. 14–16
- Brunton, Paul (1934, repr. 1985). A Search in Secret India (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc.) ISBN 0877286027
- Brunton, Paul (1987). Reflections on My Life and Writings: The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, Volume 8 (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications) ISBN 094391423X
- Cahn Fung, Annie (2004). Paul Brunton: A Bridge Between India and the West (Doctoral thesis, Sorbonne, 1992).
- Friesen, J. Glenn (2005). Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi, Part One. Online at http://www.members.shaw.ca/abhishiktananda/Brunton.html
- Harper, Marvin Henry (1972). Gurus, Swamis, & Avataras: Spiritual Masters & Their American Disciples (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press) ISBN 0664209270
- Haynes, Charles (1993). Meher Baba, the Awakener (North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: The Avatar Foundation, Inc.) ISBN 09622447118
- Hickman, Margaret (2001). Meher Baba’s Visits to England (booklet obtained from the Meher Baba Centre, London)
- Hurst, Kenneth Thurston (1989). Paul Brunton: A Personal View (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications) ISBN 0943914493
- Kalchuri, Bhau (1986, 1988, 1989, 1990). Meher Prabhu: Lord Meher, the Biography of the Avatar of the Age, Meher Baba—Volumes 1–5 (North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Manifestation Inc.
- Landau, Rom (1935). God is My Adventure: A Book on Modern Mystics, Masters, and Teachers (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson)
- Masson, Jeffrey (1993). My Father’s Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion (London: Harper Collins Publishers) ISBN 0006381065
- Parks, Ward (2009). Meher Baba’s Early Messages to the West: The 1932–1935 Western Tours (North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Sheriar Foundation) ISBN 9781880619353
- Purdom, Charles (1964, repr. 2010). The God-Man: The life, journeys and work of Meher Baba with an interpretation of his silence and spiritual teaching (North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Sheriar Foundation) ISBN 9781880619360
- Rawlinson, Andrew (1997). The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions (Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court) ISBN 0812693108
- Shepherd, Kevin R D (1986). A Sufi Matriarch: Hazrat Babajan (Cambridge: Anthropographia Publications) ISBN 0950868019
- Shepherd, Kevin R D (2005). Investigating the Sai Baba Movement: A Clarification of Misrepresented Saints and Opportunism (Dorchester, Dorset: Citizen Initiative) ISBN 0952508931
- Shepherd, Kevin R D (1988). Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia Publications) ISBN 0950868051
- Storr, Anthony (1996). Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus (London: Harper Collins Publishers) ISBN 0002555638
Copyright © 2012 by Stephen J Castro