Two influential critics of Meher Baba (d. 1969) were Paul Brunton (d. 1981) and Rom Landau (d. 1974). Brunton was a freelance journalist who travelled to India and stayed at the Meherabad and Nasik ashrams in late 1930 and early 1931 respectively. His account of Baba was published in a popular book entitled A Search in Secret India
(1934). Brunton gave his readers the impression that he was an impartial critic who could not be duped by the sham ‘messiah,’ though he failed to disclose that he was initially an admirer of Meher Baba. In contrast, Landau was an author, educator, scholar and specialist on Arab and Islamic culture who in his earlier career wrote God is My Adventure
(1935), a bestselling book in which he recounted his various contacts with leading figures and unusual persons of mystical fame, including his interview with Meher Baba during the latter’s 1932 London visit.
“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
among other lesser known publications,7
and for a brief period a magazine editor for his self-published Success Magazine
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.
Prior 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
A year after his booklet had been published, an article by Dastur, “His Holiness Sadguru Meher Baba,” appeared in the Occult Review
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
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
In 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.
Brunton 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
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
Arriving 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.
In 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
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
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 Baba
Brunton’s first book, A Search in Secret India,
was published in London in 1934, and an instant success.79
For 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
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
His portrait of Meher Baba remains influential to this day.90
Romauld (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
In 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
Landau 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
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
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
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 III
An 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
“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
By 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
1. Purdom (1964), p. 392.
2. Brunton (1987), p. 178, note 257.
3. The surname may originally have been Hirsch.
4. Storr (1996), p. 162, describes Brunton as being “half-Jewish.” Brunton appears to have been self-conscious of his Jewish roots, and according to Masson (1994), “he had cosmetic surgery performed on his nose and encouraged some of his Jewish disciples (including my parents) to do the same.” p. xi.
5. Friesen (2005), “At the Theosophical Society, Brunton met Michael Juste (also known as Michael Houghton). They became friends, and opened a bookshop together, although it failed after only six months.” See also Hurst (1989), “My father’s early career encompassed bookselling (in person and by mail) and he had also been manager of Foyles, on Charing Cross Road, [London].” p. 72.
6. Fung (2004), “… writing under different pseudonyms … His first publication, at the age twenty one, seems to have been a poem, ‘Along the Mystic Road,’ which first appeared in November 1919 under the name Raphael Meriden.” p. 15.
7. Although Brunton is described as being journalist before becoming an author, there is a deficient record of the newspapers and magazines that he wrote for.
8. Hurst (1989), “… my father not only designed and published the magazine, and went out soliciting advertisements for it, but also wrote most of the contents under various pen names!” The venture was short-lived and there “were only six issues of the magazine.” pp. 65, 64.
9. Shepherd (1988), p. 147.
10. Brunton (1997), “So long as my views pleased those who read my earlier writings, the latter were admired and I was praised. Now that our views clash, my writings are criticized, and my character vilified.” p. 137, note 85.
11. Rawlinson (1997), p. 197, n. 1.
12. During Brunton’s stay at the Meherabad ashram in India, Meher Baba suggested that he visit Hazrat Babajan. The meeting was brief. Yet Brunton was clearly emotionally affected, and afterwards, in his hotel room, he reflected: “that some deep psychological attainment really resides in the depths of her being, I am certain.” Brunton (1934), p. 64. But in his simplistic diagnosis of Meher Baba, Brunton overlooked the fact that Babajan would often refer to Baba as “My beloved son.” Babajan was quite open about the spiritual status of Meher Baba, and the contact between them continued until her death in September 1931. It is odd that Brunton did not question Babajan about Meher Baba.
13. On Hazrat Babajan, see Shepherd (1986).
14. Brunton (1934), pp. 258–259.
15. Shepherd (1988), p. 147.
16. Shepherd (1988), p, 146.
17. Shepherd (1988), p. 147.
18. On hearing that no boys could be found, Baba cancelled the request, and then no sooner had this happened than some British parents Rustom had contacted agreed to send their sons with him back to India. But because of Baba’s order he could not take them. On his return to Meherabad at the end of April 1928, “Rustom received Baba’s permission to send for the boys from England, and he made all the necessary arrangements for their voyage. However, the British government refused to allow the boys to emigrate and the plan was dropped.” Kalchuri (1988), pp. 1038–1039.
19. Kalchuri (1988), Meredith Starr “had sold all his belongings before coming to India, expecting to live in Meher Baba’s ashram permanently.” However, Starr “began to show his true character,” and so a ruse was devised to send him back to England. In a footnote Kalchuri adds that Starr “was facing the temptation of adultery and that was another reason Baba wanted Starr out of India.” pp. 1062, 1134.
20. During the 1950s, whilst living in poverty in Cyprus as a naturopath, Starr was to become involved in the introduction of Subud in the West. See von Blissing (2006), who recounts that it was Starr who invited Bapak Muhammad Subuh to stay, but Bapak sent his disciple Husein Rofe instead. “He’d come to Cyprus at the invitation of Meredith, later Roland Starr, and his wife.… [Starr] was a walking encyclopaedia of esoterica, but I was not favourably impressed.” Hurbert von Blissing, “How Subud Began in the West,” Subud Voice, May 2006, p. 9.
21. Purdom (1964), who writes: “The first number of the Meher Message appeared on the first of the month of January 1929. It contained forty pages, with articles by the editor, Kaikhushru J Dastur, the motto on the cover being ‘Mastery in Servitude.’ There were extracts from Baba’s writings, extracts from the editor’s diary, and other contributions. Baba was referred to by the editor as ‘His Holiness,’ and Dastur described himself as ‘The Disciple of his Divine Majesty,’ which was objected to by the mandali; but the editor did not listen to them, and Baba, as usual, was indifferent to such matters.” p. 77. After the December 1930 number, Dastur was obliged to drop the phrase “His Divine Majesty” from all future issues of the Meher Message, and Purdom further comments, “It appears from the pages of the magazine that the controversy between the editor and other disciples had been developing, for the expression of excessive devotion was objected to, everything being acerbated by the activities of the editor in connection with Indian politics, for Baba and his disciples had no part in politics.” p. 93.
22. Shepherd (1988), p. 147; see also Agostini (1985), “… before he ever landed in India and while he was still living in England he used to write poems in praise of Meher Baba.… These were all written by him under his original name of H Raphael Hurst, Paul Brunton being his pen name.”
23. HTTP is now a dead link (10/04/2014)
24. Dastur was known for his ostentatious editorial style, and chapter 2 of the booklet is entitled: “A Life-Sketch of His Divine Majesty Meher Baba.” That style was also reflected in the Meher Message magazine. According to Kalchuri (1989), when Meher Baba made his first visit to the West on the ship S S Rajputana, Mahatma Gandhi was also on board, having agreed to participate in the Round Table Conference in London concerning India’s independence from the British. Several conversations ensued between Baba and Gandhi, with Baba’s disciple Chanji (F H Dadachanji, Baba’s secretary) interpreting the alphabet board, and during an exchange Gandhi remarked: “K J Dastur has only an eye for grammar and language, and murders the sweetness of your original words. There is as great a difference in your description of a thing and Dastur’s translation as between heaven and earth!” Gandhi had read Dastur’s interpretations of Baba’s teaching in the Meher Message magazine, and instructed Chanji to: “write to K J Dastur, write to him on my behalf, and tell him to pay less attention to the construction of language while publishing Baba Saheb’s discourses, sayings and messages. Also, tell him to pay more attention to maintaining the original terms and words.… If Dastur accepts what I say, then he should publish a footnote in the magazine each time he alters Baba’s writings.… With proper footnotes the reader may know that the translation is by Dastur and not in its original form as expressed by Baba.” pp. 1400–1403.
25. The Occult Review, Vol. 50, August 1929, pp. 175–178.
26. Agostini (1985), who informs “… when Paul Brunton first met Meher Baba at Meherabad, he told Baba that he wanted to write a book about him …” Dastur’s article in the Occult Review may well have initiated Brunton’s desire to visit India with that purpose in mind. See also Parks (2009), “Raphael Hurst, for his part, had his own interesting prior connection with both Baba and Dastur. Born Raphael Hurst and later publishing under the nom de plume of Paul Brunton, Hurst had originally been attracted to Baba through his correspondence with Dastur, possibly in connection with Dastur’s 1929 article, since Hurst was a regular contributor to the Occult Review during the 1920s and 30s. For a time Hurst became one of Baba’s ardent enthusiasts, and he filled several pages of the Meher Message with encomiums.” p. 223.
27. Despite his education, Dastur was prone to emotional outbursts and pretentious behaviour. Kalchuri (1989) records that during March 1930, at a function held in Madras, Dastur made a public speech declaring: “We, as Meher Baba’s lovers, should be prepared to write his messages in our own blood! Let us kill ourselves in disseminating his divine message among the people!” p. 1275. Yet just a year later, Dastur wrote: “‘Meher Baba was not real, and all his talk about manifesting himself as an avatar was bunkum.’” This followed an interview with Baba in March 1931 during which Dastur “made it evident that he desired some tangible revelation of Baba’s function if he was to continue as a follower. It amounted to a request for miracles.” See Shepherd (1988), pp. 187, 185.
29. Rawlinson (1997), p. 197, n. 1, and quoting from K Lux, “The Avatar’s Progress,” Glow International, August 1995, 8–10.
31. Kalchuri (1989), p. 1346.
32. Agostini (1985), who informs “… when Paul Brunton first met Meher Baba at Meherabad, he told Baba that he wanted to write a book about him and Meher Baba replied, that it was not the time to write anything about him.… This answer was as unexpected as it was frustrating, for Brunton had hardly begun his investigation of the vast Indian sub-continent and his reporter instinct could not comprehend this.” This important factor is omitted from Brunton’s account.
33. Brunton’s record of the interviews he had with Meher Baba cannot be regarded as a verbatim report, but simply as a retrospective narrative.
34. Shepherd (1988), “In April 1932, English reporters dubbed Baba in the British newspapers as the ‘Indian Messiah,’ which seems to have lent accentuation to the journalism in Secret India, since Baba was commonly accepted in India only as a sadguru.” p. 241, n. 212. Brunton’s Secret India was not published until 1934, following Baba’s visits to England in 1931 and 1932, and so it is unlikely that the tabloid-style “messiah” phrase would have been current during Brunton’s trip to India. His book therefore clearly shows signs of being influenced by subsequent events; i.e. Meher Baba’s second visit to England in 1932 and the resulting press coverage, which included a smear piece by Brunton in John Bull magazine. The term “avatar” may have been inferred at the time Brunton was in India, but this certainly should not be interpreted in the Christological sense of “messiah.” Purdom (1964) does broach the subject of when Meher Baba first declared himself to be Avatar, and wrote: “He functioned as Perfect Master [sadguru] long after he knew himself as Avatar … He referred to himself by implication as God-Man in America in 1932, and there are early discourses on the Avatar and God-Man, in 1939 and 1941, which do not specifically refer to himself, though such references can perhaps be inferred.… He seems to have referred to himself, casually, as Avatar when among his intimates long before that period, though very rarely. In the highly important … declaration on 6 February 1952 he did not use the word Avatar. The specific declaration is the ‘Highest of the High’ statement of 7 September 1953. Since then his references have been frequent.” p. 399.
35. See Kalchuri (1989), pp. 1347–135, whose account of Brunton’s interviews with Baba at Meherabad are totally uncritical of the conversations, and he merely adds the footnote: “Paul Brunton never accepted Baba as a real Master.” His version is also misleading. Kalchuri has drawn on Brunton’s report of the conversations, but he “inserts the word avatar several times, a word which does not appear once in the Brunton version. This detail might serve to cast doubt upon Kalchuri’s frequent use of the term avatar in his early volumes. Professional researchers might care to investigate such matters in the future.” Shepherd (2005), p. 214, n. 342.
36. Shepherd (1988), p. 148, “Where Meher Baba had retired in seclusion the previous year. The cave was specifically associated with Meher Baba, having been hollowed out of rock solely for his use.”
37. Kalchuri (1989), p. 1350.
38. Shepherd (1988), p. 148.
39. Brunton (1934), pp. 62–65.
40. Shepherd (1988), p. 148.
41. Shepherd (1988), p. 149.
42. Shepherd (1988), p. 150.
43. Shepherd (1988), p. 150.
44. Brunton (1934), p. 62. A more revealing account of what Brunton actually desired can be discerned during his interview with Meher Baba, who is said to have communicated: “Go to the West as my representative! Spread my name as that of the coming divine messenger. Work for me and my influence, and you will then be working for the good of mankind.” Brunton’s response was, “nothing short of working a series of miracles will convince the West that anyone is a spiritual superman, let alone a messiah, and since I cannot perform miracles I cannot undertake the job of being his herald.” According to Brunton, Baba replied, “Stay with me and I shall confer great powers on you … I will help you to obtain advanced powers, so that you will render services in the West.” p. 61. This encounter is supposed to have occurred at the Meherabad ashram, prior to Brunton’s stay at the Saidapet ashram as the distinguished founder of the Meher League in England. Brunton had in fact already set himself up as a representative of Meher Baba before leaving for India. It was miracles and powers that Brunton desired; not service to Meher Baba, or the promotion of the Meher League’s ideal of universal brotherhood. See also Shepherd (1988), “There is little doubt from the overall body of facts on Brunton at this stage of his career that he was very preoccupied with ‘telepathic messages’ of Meher Baba and other extradimensional occurrences. His contacts with yogis and faqirs attest Brunton’s fascination with paranormal phenomena, and he clearly believed that it was possible to gain ‘powers,’ known in India as siddhis, a customary yogic preoccupation. Brunton was quite ready to talk about his telepathic experiences in a way that caused devotees of Meher Baba to exalt him accordingly. It is worth observing here that Baba is known to have frequently expressed a low rating of persons disposed to seek ‘wonders’ amongst the sadhu population of India, since the attendant overload of superstition and cultivation of siddhis were deemed by him as harmful to serious aspirants.… If Meher Baba was anything of a psychologist (as the evidence does strongly indicate), then he would have perceived typical traits in Brunton of the ‘siddhis’ mentality, i.e., a desire for occult powers and attributes of greatness. Since such people are in general unfit for discipleship, he would have done the next best thing possible: teach the candidate for honours a necessary lesson.” pp. 152–153.
45. This is confirmed by Purdom (1964), who recounts: “When the writer, then known as Raphael Hirsch, came to see me in London some time after his visit [to India] he said he had no doubt Baba was false, as he, Raphael Hirsch, had asked him to perform a miracle but Baba could not.” p. 128. Purdom here uses the surname Hirsch and not Hurst.
46. Brunton (1934), “The Sage Who Never Speaks,” pp. 104 –116; see also http://bhagavan-ramana.org/brunton.html, for an edited report of one encounter published in the September 1931 monthly magazine called Peace, the journal of Swami Omkar’s Shanti Ashrama in Andhra Prasdesh, and which records questions posed by both Brunton and Prajnananda to Ramana Maharshi.
47. Brunton (1934), p. 253.
48. Kalchuri (1989), pp. 1358–1359.
49. Brunton (1934), p. 255.
50. Brunton (1934), p. 256, where he states in the diaries he found “enough matter … to feed the doubts which live repressed existences in my own mind. I find also that Meher Baba is a fallible authority, a man subject to constantly changing moods, and an egotist who demands complete enslavement on the part of his brain-stupefied followers. And lastly, I find in these pages that he is a prophet whose predictions are seldom verified.”
51. One of the diaries, written by Ramjoo Abdulla, was later published in 1979 as Ramjoo’s Diaries 1922-1929, and provides an invaluable personal record of not only the first seven years of Meher Baba’s role as sadguru, but also a full account of the Prem Ashram phase, during which some boys at the ashram school entered unusual mystical states of consciousness. Such experiences “should be regarded as part of the twentieth century sufi tradition” Shepherd (1988), p. 254. Yet, Brunton’s notion of “wonderful spiritual experiences” appears to have been extrovertly related to “signs and wonders,” and not interior states of consciousness.
52. Brunton (1934), p. 257.
53. Shepherd (1988), p. 156.
54. Brunton (1934), p. 257.
55. Kalchuri (1989), “During the first week of February, Paul Brunton came to see Baba in Nasik … In an uneasy mood, [Brunton] left Nasik on February 8.” See also Agostini (1985), “Paul Brunton packed his suitcase after spending one week of an invited one month’s stay at the ashram at Nasik.” However, the actual duration of Brunton’s stay at the Nasik ashram is not clear-cut. Fung (2004), p. 36, states “Brunton had initially promised to stay with [Baba] an entire month,” implying that the stay was shorter than this, but not providing the dates; Purdom (1964), p. 93, merely wrote that Brunton “returned to Nasik and stayed until 8 February,” not specifying the date when he arrived; and Shepherd (1988), p. 151, accepted the Brunton published account of his stay at the Nasik ashram at face value, and wrote that Brunton “became an inmate of Baba’s ashram at Nasik for five weeks.” The vast majority of readers were under this impression, created by Brunton’s own statement in Secret India, a statement which was difficult for anyone to contradict, though the balance of data now permits a strong denial of his misleading words.
56. It should be noted that “Brunton’s travel story is undated throughout. Many uninformed readers were under the impression that he spent a lengthy period investigating ‘Secret India.’ In actual fact, his tour took only some six weeks to complete after leaving Madras.” Shepherd (1988), p. 151.
57. Agostini (1985), “it was suggested that the ensuing fit of pique was the cause of Brunton’s hasty departure from Baba’s ashram and it was this mood which then became reflected in A Search in Secret India.”
58. Shepherd (1988), p. 156–157.
59. See Friesen (2005), who informs that Brunton had a continued interest in occult powers. As a member of the Theosophical Society, Brunton says that “I developed in little time the powers of mediumship, in particular clairvoyance and clairaudience …” He also wrote a number of articles for the Occult Review, had friendships with occultists, and at the time he wrote Secret India, Brunton “told his son that he had occult and clairvoyant powers, including astral travel.” Part 1, pp. 12–13.
60. Hickman (2001); see also Kalchuri (1989), pp. 1308–1403, which provides a record of the interchanges between Meher Baba and Mahatma Gandhi during the voyage.
61. Kalchuri (1989), p. 1378.
62. Hickman (2001), p. 8.
63. Shepherd (1988), p. 190, who further informs, that the routine at the Devonshire retreat “was austere, with four hours daily being devoted to meditation (in solitude, not communally). There was work on the farmstead for those who wanted it. The atmosphere was distinctly contemplative; there was no contact with the outside world save for visits of tradesmen. ‘It was the simplest and least pretentious life I had encountered,’ wrote Purdom, ‘and after a week I felt restored, a new man.’” p. 191. See also Hickman (2001), “Meredith, his wife Margaret, and her brother, Kenneth Ross ran The Retreat on simple lines, almost as austere as any convent. Daily meditation, cold water to wash in and vegetarian food.” p. 9.
64. Kalchuri (1989), p. 1419.
65. In a message given to reporters and press representatives on board the S S Bremen in New York, 19 May, 1932, Meher Baba stated: “If people call me a Messiah, Saviour or Redeemer, it does not affect me. Terms and names do not matter. What really matters is the state of Christ Consciousness that I eternally enjoy …” See Parks (2009), pp. 6–8, for the full message.
66. In the booklet Shri Meher Baba, the Perfect Master: Questions and Answers, published 1933, in answer to the question “Was Christ the only Son of God?” Baba replies: “Christ, and not Jesus, was the only Son of God. By Christ is meant He who is One with the Infinite, and so all those who come to realize the Ultimate Reality may be said to be in the ‘Christ State.’ By Jesus is meant ‘the historical Man-God of Nazareth, who attained to the Christ-Consciousness, i.e. who gained perfection.” See Parks (2009), p. 70.
67. Parks (2009), p. 203.
68. HTTP is now a dead link (10/04/2014)
69. HTTP is now a dead link (10/04/2014)
70. Parks (2009), p. 211.
71. Parks (2009), p. 5, which provides the full message.
72. Parks (2009), p. 222.
73. Kalchuri (1990), p. 1609.
74. In a rather odd book published in 1936 entitled Trail of the Serpent, authored by an occultist with the pseudonym “Inquire Within,” and described as being “for some years a Ruling Chief of the Mother Temple of Stella Matutina and R R et A C,” reference is made to the John Bull article: “Another less powerful but more theatrical figure is Shri Meher Baba, known as ‘The New Messiah.’ John Bull, 7 May, 1932, published, ‘after having completed a thorough investigation into his operations of recent years,’ some interesting details as to who he is and how he arose out of obscurity into publicity, using theatrical methods which gave him certain notoriety.… John Bull informs us that up to his somewhat recent ‘call’ to Messiahship his means of livelihood was selling native liquor in the byways of Nasik, where, in 1932, he had apparently only a few thousand followers. Although his fame in India is but limited, many of his followers are wealthy, and he was able to raise large sums, which he used to finance various schemes for publicity purposes. One was a cinema to be built in Nasik, but because of calls from creditors and lack of funds it was never completed. Another was a school at Ahmadnagar for boys of various castes, creeds, and races, who were spiritually trained to act as his ‘ambassadors’ or minor Messiahs in all parts of the world.” pp. 246–247. Even more discrepant, perhaps, is the fact that the writer of the scurrilous John Bull article, Paul Brunton, considered himself a philosopher with a knowledge of Indian religion. Yet Brunton’s published misinformation reveals him as a sensationalist-press journalist who remained wholly ignorant of Meher Baba’s background; in fact it was Baba’s father who owned a toddy (a mild alcoholic drink) shop, where Baba briefly worked, and then in 1918 Baba went into partnership with an acquaintance, opening a toddy shop in Poona (Pune) which lasted until 1921. Kalchuri (1986) perceptively observes, during this phase Baba was still regaining normal consciousness, and “needed to do some menial, but intensely gross, physical tasks—dirty work. He had to do some low-type labour such as cleaning toilets, washing dishes and sweeping floors to increase his gross awareness or worldly consciousness. The objects and the tasks, by the very nature of their grossness, were bringing him down sooner to function normally in the world.” p. 248. Those shops were nothing to do with Nasik. The Prem Ashram phase was not as Brunton depicted (see note 51 above); while the cinema, and indeed a garage, were donated by a wealthy follower to help provide funding for Baba’s work—Baba himself never owned any property.
75. A complete copy of the John Bull article is reproduced in Parks (2009), pp. 280–281.
76. Kalchuri (1990), p. 1610.
77. It appears that Brunton’s actual understanding of the real events surrounding Meher Baba, as with Indian culture, religion, and philosophy, was well suited to the average readership of John Bull magazine. Jeffery Masson, who was Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto from 1970 to 1980, who in childhood and adolescence had known Brunton, wrote: “The more I learned about India, the more I realized how little [Paul Brunton] actually knew… [Brunton] knew no Sanskrit, knew no texts, invented things, lied, cheated, and stole, intellectually speaking.… He was just a hodgepodge of misread and misunderstood ideas from an ancient culture he did not know or understand. In this sense he was a phoney, a charlatan, a mountebank, an impostor, a quack.” See Masson (1993), p.160.
78. Despite making published declarations that Meher Baba was a fraud, Dastur would also continue to write to Baba asking for monetary assistance. “In one letter, Dastur wrote to Baba: ‘A certain Parsi periodical has offered me 50 rupees for each article against you, but I do not like to take money this way.’” To this sly attempt at blackmail Baba replied via a close disciple: “Baba says he is even ready to help you by giving you his consent to do this, if he can help you earn money in that way. You can, therefore, utilize his name in such a money-making deal, if you feel like being helped like that.” See Kalchuri (1990), pp. 1852–1853.
79. A reviewer in the London Times wrote of A Search in Secret India, “His work is excellent. It has life, colour, movement. Readers will find their interest unflagging from the first page to the last.” The quote is taken from the back cover of the 1985 paperback edition published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. Hurst (1989) informs the book “sold over a quarter of a million copies. In fact it was the bestselling of all his books. … His story became a tale of high spiritual adventure.” pp. 72–73.
80. Hurst (1989), p. 73.
81. See Brunton (1987), p. 226, note 171, “It was only after the nearly two years which were needed to get rid of the blackwater fever which India dragged me down that I was able to begin work on A Search in Secret India.”
82. Brunton (1934), p. 61.
83. Brunton himself has been described as “tiny, being only five foot high and alarmingly thin because of his frugal vegetarianism and insistence upon the importance of fasting.” Storr (1996), p. 162.
84. Shepherd (2005), pp. 215–216: “Brunton’s narrative is basically untrustworthy, his profile of Meher Baba resulting from a mood of pique. His description of Baba’s physiognomy is blatantly inaccurate, and even partisans of Brunton have winced at that description found in a work written for commercial ends.” In the earlier chapter in Secret India, “I Meet A Messiah,” Brunton wrote that Baba’s forehead is “so low as to appear less than average height, and so receding as to make me wonder.” Brunton adds suggestively: “Does a man’s forehead indicate his powers of thought?” Brunton (1934), p. 48. See Purdom (1964), p. 128, who noted Brunton’s senseless remarks, and commented: “which makes one wonder too, if he were describing the right man.”
85. Brunton (1934), p. 258.
86. Hazrat Babajan (d. 1931) was a female Pathan (Pastun) Sufi saint who, after years of travel, finally became resident in Pune in 1905, subsequently attracting a following of devotees, and later becoming a famous and revered figure. She was known to make startling statements to the effect that she was the Truth (Ana’l-Haqq). Merwan Sheriar Irani (Meher Baba) had his first personal encounter with Babajan in May 1913, when he nineteen years old and thereafter would regularly visit the saint; they would sit together yet seldom spoke. “Many have testified that the love emanating from Babajan was so intense that visitors felt pained at leaving her presence.” Shepherd (1996), p. 53. After several months of such visits, in January 1914 Babajan kissed the young man on the forehead, during which she bestowed her spiritual grace (barakah) upon him. The event left Merwan Irani in an enraptured state of spiritually intensified consciousness in which he remained abstracted from his normal surroundings for nearly nine months. In 1917, Meher Baba was still in the process of regaining normal consciousness, and was regularly visiting Babajan. Her followers, upon seeing Meher Baba seated next to Babajan, “would inquire about him. She would often repeat to them, ‘He is my son, my beloved son. He is why I am here in Poona [Pune] … One day my son will shake the world. You have no idea of his greatness.’” Kalchuri (1986), p. 246. Meher Baba’s link with Babajan continued until her death in September 1931.
87. Brunton (1934), pp. 258–259.
88. Agostini (1985), and who also recounts that in New York City “we met, became friends and I was eventually asked to become his secretary. He was still a much travelled person and I was able to care for his mail.”
89. Brunton (1987), “My earlier books were written too soon, too impulsively, and too immaturely. I ought to have waited several years. The time has come to put right the errors of past volumes.” p. 150, note 126.
90. A recent example being Fung (2004), “Brunton … went to Nasik, on the road to Bombay, and stayed with Meher Baba, a ‘Messiah’ whom he had met on his arrival in India. Brunton had initially promised to stay with him an entire month; however, it did not take him long to diagnose in the person of Meher Baba a mystic close to paranoia.” p. 37.
92. Shepherd (1988), p. 176.
93. Landau (1935), p. 117.
94. Shepherd (1988), p. 177.
95. Quoted by Purdom (1964), p. 99; see also Parks (2009), pp. 37–46, for a full account of the interview.
96. Shepherd (1988), p. 177.
97. Landau (1935), p. 107.
98. See Parks (2009) who writes, in “contrast with Douglas’s interview, Landau’s own seems to have been rather flat. Baba, Landau says, declined to answer most of his questions on the grounds that long explanations would be required: he would write to Landau further in a day or two. In consequence Landau relates nothing substantive from the meeting itself; and the tones and perspective of his reportage is ironic and sometimes almost snide, though he does make some honest efforts to maintain balance.” p. 224.
99. ^Landau (1935), p. 107.
100. Landau “appears to have been under the misapprehension that Baba had written the epistle, though it was actually written by one of the mandali … at Baba’s instruction.” See Shepherd (1988), p. 178.
101. Landau (1935), p. 111.
102. Shepherd (1988), p. 180.
103. “Even informal group photographs in which she appears alongside Baba reveal a ‘madonna’ pose reminiscent of her theatrical performances in The Miracle.” Shepherd (1988), p. 180.
104. Landau (1935), p. 112.
105. Shepherd (1988), p. 180.
106. Kalchuri (1990), p. 1613.
107. Landau (1935), p. 115.
108. Shepherd (1988), p. 180.
109. Parks (2009), pp. 15–17, who includes the complete message given.
110. Landau (1935), p. 115.
111. Brunton (1934), p. 253.
112. Hayes (1993), p. 11.
113. Brunton (1934), p. 254
114. Brunton (1997), p. 234, note 214, who writes he is “aware that the bulk of my writing is only journalism in book form.”
115. Hurst (1989), p. 47, “My father confided in me that following his early mystical experience he discovered that he possessed certain occult and clairvoyant powers.”
116. Shepherd (2005), p. 139.
117. Shepherd (2005), p. 139; see also Harper (1972), pp. 54–55, who wrote: “While many of the adherents of the personality cults claim that their founders were, or are, avataras, and the founders themselves apparently accept this designation, Meher Baba explicitly declared himself to be ‘the Avatar for this age.’”
118. Storr (1996).
119. Brunton (1987), pp. 95–105. For example: “Sharing my ideas with others is not the same as claiming to be a personal guru: the latter is a responsibility which I cannot accept, do not desire, and have no authority for.” p. 95, note 30.
120. Masson (1993).
121. Storr (1996), p. 164.
122. Storr (1996), who observed that, “Brunton convinced his followers that many previous lives had endowed him with special wisdom. He stated that both he and Jesus Christ had descended to earth from a realm inhabited by superior beings. He claimed that, at night he could travel anywhere in his astral body.… Brunton thought that he was surrounded by enemies; but since these malignant forces who daily attacked him were mostly invisible, he did not resort to weapons. From time to time, these enemies were personified as Communists, who, he said, followed him from Tibet to California. However, the Communists were only one manifestation of much deeper evil forces who were trying to make him lose his mind. Although Brunton narcissistically claimed that he was particularly spiritually advanced, and that he possessed an aura of such strength that it protected him against evil assaults, he was also frightened of insanity. However, his paranoid delusions of persecution served to explain how it was that such a gifted and important person had not been even more successful, and thus preserved his self-esteem.” p 165.
123. Storr (1996), p. 163.
124. Hurst (1989), p. 149. Kenneth Thurston Hurst is Brunton’s son, and the biography of his father includes an account of the “world crisis” episode, but clearly omits salient details provided elsewhere. See for example, Masson (1993), pp. 131–150. It is with some reason that Jeffrey Masson described Hurst’s book as “an adoring hagiography.” p. xi.
125. Masson (1993), Paul Brunton “had been hinting for years that a disaster, a nuclear holocaust, was about to engulf our planet. I think he first began speaking to us in detail about World War III in the late 1950s. The Third World War was due to begin sometime in 1961 or 1962. For many years prior, the lives of his disciples were taken up with planning for this momentous upheaval. [Brunton] was busy with his own ‘work,’ which included averting this disaster via consultations with the higher powers.” This involved “visits to many countries … he went to Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, England, and Switzerland, year after year, on trips paid for by different disciples.” p. 132.
126. Hurst (1989), p. 149.
127. Agostini (1985).
128. See Brunton (1987), “When after the act of dying I shall be carried away to my own star, to Sothis of the Egyptians, Sirius of the Westerners, I shall at last be happy.” p. 225.
129. Masson (1993), p. 133–34, who further sates that Brunton “did not decide there was going to be a Third World War on the basis of the world situation or by any other reasoned method. His was not an opinion, it was a revelation. [Brunton] had been told there was going to be a war by the very higher powers that were doing their best, presumably with [Brunton] as their human instrument, to stop it.”
130. Masson (1993), p. 136.
131. Hurst (1989), p, 150.
132. Masson (1993), p. 136.
133. Hurst (1989), “He resided in Perth, Sydney and Auckland for a combined period of three years. I feel it is now permissible to disclose the reason. He explained to me at the time there were a handful of spiritually advanced people around the world whose mission it was to concentrate mentally during meditation upon the leaders of the chief nations.” p. 147. It was apparently necessary to be in proximity to those leaders, and Brunton clearly viewed himself as one of the handful of “spiritually advanced people” whose meditations would avert the phantasised World War III.
134. Masson (1993), “The disciples living in South America were beginning to resent this, since they had only moved there on his recommendation. In all his letters to us he spoke about joining us any day, but in subsequent letters he would postpone the trip by just a few more weeks.” pp. 141–142. Brunton never did go to South America and join the followers who had taken his advice.
135. Hurst (1989), pp. 150–155.
136. Agostini (1985).
137. Masson (1993), p. 132.
138. Masson (1993), p. 142.
139. Hurst (1989), pp. 152–153.
140. Hurst (1989), pp. 153–154.
141. Shepherd (1988), p. 176.
142. According to the professional analysis of Storr (1996), Brunton’s delusional system is a variation on an archetypal phantasy that is to be found among various gurus and cult leaders, and which “serves the function of elevating a nonentity to a position of great importance.… Masson states that Brunton was not psychotic, because he knew what was real, but he chose to ignore it in favour of the ‘higher’ reality to which he claimed access, but I do not think that Brunton could have been so convincing if he had not believed his phantasies to be true.” p. 166.
143. A reprint of Secret India published in 1985 has “Dr. Paul Brunton” as the author’s name on the front cover. Also, in the additional “A Personal Note” in that book, written by his son, the opening sentence commences: “Dr. Paul Brunton died July 27, 1981 …” see Brunton (1985).
144. Storr (1996), p. 164; see also Masson (1993), pp. 160–163.
- 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