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Charles Purdom

Lord Meher Critique

By Azar Kaivan, Bhau Kalchuri, Charles Purdom, Lawrence Reiter, Meher Baba, Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj, Wikipedia
Lord Meher (Meher Prabhu), Reiter edition
Analysis of a lengthy text can be a complex matter. This is certainly true of the multi-volume Lord Meher, a devotional and biographical work on Meher Baba (1894-1969). The title is a translation from the Hindi phrase Meher Prabhu. Partisan claims have described this book in terms of a definitive work by Bhau Kalchuri (1927-2013), one of Meher Baba’s mandali (ashram staff). There are complications for such an attribution.
Kalchuri was only one of the entities involved in the development of Lord Meher, originally in Hindi. A translation into English commenced in 1973. The resulting editorial process was intensive. Early supporters of the Reiter edition (1986-2001) maintained that this was the last word on Meher Baba, fastidiously conveyed by Kalchuri. The American devotee Lawrence Reiter (d.2007) was one of the editors; he undertook publication of seven thousand pages (including many photographs). This is sometimes known as the American edition.
The Meher Baba literature is now substantial. As an independent writer, I produced the first critical bibliography on Meher Baba (Shepherd 1988:248-297). The literature was even then prolific, indeed unusually so. Many years later, the dimensions are far more extensive. Critics complain at the rather lavish devotional titles in evidence. Some idioms are controversial. Assessment of this literature now requires considerable time and commitment. Lord Meher is the major stumbling block to easy overview. Some other complexities should not be understated.
I move at a tangent to the “orthodox” perspective on Lord Meher. Many years ago, I composed an unpublished Life of Meher Baba in four volumes, commencing in 1967. I do not claim any status for this work, which merely facilitated my studies in the subject under consideration. I was able to tap some oral transmission, also accessing much literature. Writing that lengthy biography did serve to underline, in my mind, the scope of detail and interpretation possible.
Meher Baba at Meherabad, 1941
Meher Baba is unusual for the sheer amount of materials available concerning him. His career of some fifty years (depending upon how one dates the inception) is described in numerous books, booklets, diaries, and journals. The presentation is attended by a wide variety of literary styles and modes of reporting. Certain of his deceased followers now have full length books about them (e.g., Fenster 2013).
Lord Meher (LM) is by far the longest work on the subject, attended by some linguistic complexities. Writing in Hindi, Kalchuri is reported to have completed his biography in seven months, working non-stop. His contribution was only a small part of the total text. Mistakes in English translation (and possibly the obscure Kalchuri text) were fairly numerous. The translator was Feram Workingboxwala (1901-1980), a Parsi devotee of Meher Baba. Feram had a limited knowledge of Hindi, and Bhau never read his translation, having some difficulty with English. Some of the extending materials in LM were translated by Feram from Gujarati and Marathi diaries and memoranda.
From 1974 onwards, substantial materials were added to the existing LM text, mainly by David Fenster, including diaries and personal accounts from many Indian and Western devotees. An online edition commenced some years after the Reiter volumes were published, often being cited as authority. The online editor is David Fenster, Kalchuri’s son-in-law, an American devotee strongly involved in the overall editing dating back to the 1970s. Many revisions and additions have occurred in the online version.
The Reiter edition very briefly mentioned the translation and editing process on the copyrights page. Kalchuri’s foreword informed that the secretary Adi K. Irani “placed his office records at my disposal and allowed Feram Workingboxwala to assist me in compiling the material for this book, and translating pertinent documents from Gujarati and Marathi into English.” Kalchuri also acknowledges the oral contributions from Meher Baba’s surviving mandali at Meherazad and Meherabad ashrams. Numerous other devotees are also named in this respect. The identity of sources stops there.
The Reiter edition featured endnotes that do not establish the nature of sources and translations. The online edition has no notes, but does feature pop-up comments. The endnotes in Reiter include some interesting information, but make no attempt to analyse sources, which are not mentioned. The “Kalchuri” text was regarded by Reiter (and others) as needing no explanation in this respect.
The analytical assessor of LM will see the text in terms of undefined sources and translations. The lack of annotations and bibliographies has disconcerted some readers. What source did this statement come from? What was the original language? Who edited the source or translation? What is the degree of accuracy involved? These are some of the questions relevant to any full discussion.
Adi K. Irani, 1962
The office records of Adi K. Irani (secretary to Meher Baba) were almost legendary by the 1960s. These files included diaries and large quantities of correspondence. The languages represented were English, Marathi, and Gujarati. This archive was not on open view, being stored at Khushru Quarters in Ahmednagar. Most devotees of that period were content with general circular information via Adi and Mani S. Irani. I was an exception, wishing to know more about the elusive records.
I was in correspondence with Adi K. Irani during 1965-66. I found him helpful on some points. However, he was reluctant to discuss matters of history that were not already available in published literature. For many years he had been supplying “life circulars” on current events. Adi did not feel inclined to make his archive better known.
I had learned that a vintage diary in English, by Ramju Abdulla, was in existence, being relevant to the early 1920s. I wanted to know more about this document, but met with disappointment. This diary was not published for another thirteen years (Deitrick 1979). That diary was one of those read dismissively by the Yoga enthusiast Paul Brunton almost fifty years before.
Charles B. Purdom
Still a major work on Meher Baba, during the 1970s, was The God-Man (1964). This is skeletal in detail by comparison with the total data now available. The author was Charles Purdom (d.1965), one of the earliest Western followers. I met Purdom (more than once) during the last months of his life. He was a fluent talker and could still lecture. I remember well that he prepared a liberal and non-sectarian paper on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (d.1886), read out at a London meeting by Molly Eve in his absence due to illness. Purdom’s speech was free of the devotional jargon that subsequently increased in the movement, i.e., Beloved and lovers, Avatar of the Age.
It is very difficult to describe Charles Purdom as a devotee. He did not express devotion at all, but instead a muted form of respect. He was averse to exaggerated and repetitive stylisms. His book The God-Man is impersonal in tone, contrasting with many other partisan writings. Purdom had retained the discreet vocabulary and literary style of a 1930s British independent follower of Meher Baba (Purdom 1951). See the index references in Shepherd 2005:315.
Becoming well known was an error in the LM translation of a statement about Azar Kaivan (d.1618). This was originally reported in an annotation to another book (Shepherd 1995:854 note 152). Subsequently, this error (together with the revision supplied by me) was duly mentioned on a Wikipedia page by Simon Kidd, an academic real name editor on the web encyclopaedia. Kidd was no stranger to Kaivan, having studied the Dabistan in Cambridge, under the guidance of a well known scholar. However, his intervention was opposed by a pseudonymous Wikipedia editor claiming that Lord Meher was infallible text. As a consequence of more than one opposition from devotee interests, the revision was excised. However, the opponents lost all reference to their own “infallible” text in the process of Wikipedia editing at the same article. 
The defective Reiter edition has the words: “After that, the last one, Dastur Azer Kaiwan, was false and obtained the sacred seat and started collecting money” (page 1020). This was belatedly reworded in the online Fenster edition as: “But after Dastur Azar Kaivan, a false, deceitful dastur obtained the sacred gaadi and started collecting money” (page 903, accessed 28/11/17). No reference was made anywhere in the Meher Baba literature to the earlier revision which appeared on Wikipedia. The dogmatic mistake had never happened. It is well known that the rendition of a name as Kaivan follows my publications and online articles, in contrast to the Kayvan found on Wikipedia and elsewhere. The online LM editing process might still have to revise the reference to Dastur Azar Kaivan in view of relevant arguments concerning priestly identities. The date of any revision should be duly recorded, and with full references.
Lord Meher, Indian edition 2005
Due analysis of a text, religious or otherwise, must transcend dogmatism. See Meher Prabhu/Lord Meher. There is evidence of a critical attitude to LM amongst a minority of Meher Baba devotees, including  Christopher Ott, an American. He is evidently very familiar with the genesis and development of LM. His contributions include History of Lord Meher. Ott emphasises elsewhere that the history of the editing process is “long and complex.” He makes a striking disclosure: “I have sworn privacy to one witness and am waiting for that person to die before sharing that person’s emails, confirming what more there is to say.”
The same informed commentator reveals the existence of “at least eleven versions of Lord Meher, none of them exactly the same.” One of these versions is the original handwritten Hindi manuscript of Bhau Kalchuri, “never made public.” An elaborated English version was achieved by Workingboxwala, “with additions and corrections inserted and compiled by David Fenster.” This version, dating to the early 1980s, is accessible. A subsequent version was the Reiter edition of 20 volumes (or more realistically, 13 vols in terms of binding). In 2005, an Indian edition of Reiter exhibited “some major changes.” Meanwhile, LM went online in 2002. The current online edition is “redacted monthly,” a process which has involved “drastic and constant changes, with both good corrections and grave new inaccuracies.” All quotes here are from Ott, “Original Lord Meher” (30/06/2017), featuring at Meher Baba Thoughts (formerly open access online). 
Ott makes additional comments of a radical nature. “There is currently no way to systematically ‘fact-check’ the events in any of these [LM] biographies.” The same commentator suggests that future scholars will resort to a new version of LM based directly on the sources, including extant diaries and correspondence.
In contrast, for many years, Western devotees were believing that Kalchuri was the sole author (and even translator) of LM. Ott entitles one of his blog communications in dramatic terms: “The terrible truth about who translated Lord Meher.” Such revelations may encourage a more widespread disposition to analyse LM text.
Many years ago, I wrote the independent work Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (I am now commencing a more intensive biography of an updated nature). Some American devotees maintained that the subject was Indian. Meher Baba was certainly born in India, but his parents were Irani Zoroastrians originating from Yazd. The controversial title was ventured in relation to Irani Zoroastrians who migrated to India, while retaining ethnic and linguistic features distinct from the Parsi population. For instance, Meher Baba and his father (Sheriar Mundegar Irani) spoke Dari.  Another consideration is that Meher Baba was not typical of contemporary Indian gurus like Rajneesh. The tendency to associate him with Hinduism is offset by such details as the Zoroastrian kusti girdle he wore in his early years until 1925 (Fenster 2013, 1:181). Another version, closely associated with Ott, maintains that he wore the kusti all his life; this version is contradicted by a more recently published mandali report informing that Meher Baba discarded the kusti girdle in 1931.
Irani Zoroastrians are descendants of the original population of Iran in pre-Islamic times. To describe them as Iranians is not an error, nor a crime. The title of my book was not intended to be politically evocative, but to grant the subject a due ethnic perspective. The Wikipedia article on Meher Baba is maintained by pseudonymous Western devotees. These partisan editors deleted Iranian Liberal from a list of sources; this annotated book featured the first critical bibliography. Such cordoning gestures have elsewhere been considered insular and arbitrary. I decline to be intimidated by such tactics (including hostile remarks on talk pages). Wikipedia is not a primary source for university academics and researchers.
The informed American devotee Ward Parks refers to the 2005 Hyderabad edition of LM as “a somewhat emended and corrected text.” Both the American and Indian published editions of LM include selections from the 1920s Tiffin Lectures (silent discourses), not well known until recently. Parks informs:

Lord Meher was written primarily as a biographical account of Meher Baba’s life; and while it is rich in quotation from Meher Baba’s words, it was never meant as a critical edition of any of his messages and should not be taken as such…. Bhau does not ordinarily quote from his sources verbatim or with minimal rewrite…. Often he reduces extensive discourses into abridged versions that convey the essence or gist. On other occasions he selects main points from different junctures in a talk and works them together into an integral message that accurately expresses much of Meher Baba’s original thought but cannot be said to follow his verbiage except in patches. (Parks 2017:520)

Shirdi Sai Baba

The first Reiter volume included chapters on the five “masters” of Meher Baba, including the famous Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918). Those chapters are informative to a degree, though not by any means exhaustive portrayals. Now well known is the eccentric “Kalchuri” statement that Sai Baba smoked “a chilum pipe of opium” (Reiter edn 1986:64). This misleading assertion caused confusions, later being excised from the online edition as an error (David Fenster has stated in an email that the error was caused by faulty editing). Shirdi Sai was far more reliably reported in early Marathi sources (Dabholkar and Dixit) as a smoker of tobacco (Warren 1999:106; Shepherd 2015:114; Shepherd 2017: viii, 65).  Narasimhaswami affords a confirmation of tobacco. The chilum was loosely associated with opium, but also used to smoke other substances, including tobacco.

In 2017, Fenster mentioned adding a note to online LM, suggesting the possibility that a small amount of opium or hashish was at times added to the chilum of Shirdi Sai, for the purpose of alleviating asthma. This suggestion was prompted by a web trawl in November 2017, communicated to Fenster by email. The critic influenced the unwary Fenster on this point. The trawl was presented in terms of “research.” Fenster ignored my email protest at his projected new note, citing as his authority a presumed statement of Meher Baba which makes no reference whatever to the imagined contingency. This statement had been favoured by the critic, who did not bother to read any books on Shirdi Sai. The web trawler explicitly stated to me (by email) that he had no interest in Shirdi Sai, whom he regarded as an illiterate village faqir of minor consequence.

The web trawl, which strongly influenced Fenster, located a recent surmisal that Shirdi Sai smoked a sparing amount of bhang for medicinal purposes. The critic was influenced by a 2015 blog of Shri Datta Swami (a contemporary guru), evidencing a preoccupation with allergy medication, namely Citrazin, Uni-carbozon, and Avil. Bhang was here viewed as the equivalent of pharmaceutical tablets. The alleged act of smoking bhang was supposedly an antidote to “illness based on allergy, which is serious cough.” The scenario here is very conjectural, and does not count as “research.” The convergence of diverse contemporary assumptions about what Shirdi Sai smoked is here obscuring what early sources stated a century ago.

Fenster provided two versions of his new suggestion in separate emails. In the first, he said that “sometimes a small amount of opium or hashish would be added to the chilum to alleviate Sai Baba’s asthmatic condition.” When I objected to this innovation, he modified the phraseology, but would not abandon his contention as to possibility. He showed no familiarity with Shirdi Sai literature. He gave the impression that he would shortly be placing online his innovation. However, Fenster subsequently withdrew his contention when informed of more relevant data.
The web trawler stated in an email to myself (04/12/17): “Shirdi Sai Baba occasionally used a tiny amount of opium or cannabis to alleviate a life-long asthmatic condition.” This was a reference to smoking, effectively relying on the mistaken suggestion of Fenster, who had been influenced by the same insistent trawler. The reciprocal confusion evidenced in these emails was substantial, creating imagined fact from mere surmisal.
The trawler critic subsequently changed his mind, apologising for his error. This was because he read more deeply on the subject of Shirdi Sai Baba, grasping that he had been misled by web features amounting to opinion at best and “fake news” at worst.
The purported statement of Meher Baba, quoted by Fenster (email 27/11/17), reads: “Seekers then used not only wine but also hemp, heroin, hashish and opium; so much so that even sadgurus would indulge in them. Sai Baba used to smoke a chillum and Upasni Maharaj smoked beedies.” This was the version found in the online edition of LM. No source is supplied for the 1929 statement. Furthermore, the same LM “Kalchuri” statement of Meher Baba has variants, e.g., “You have heard stories that Sai Baba used to smoke a chilum pipe and Upasni Maharaj smoked bidis” (Reiter edn:1227). Fenster made no mention of the stories in his online edition.
Extending details are relevant. The same passage, of which the quotation is part, refers to “the ancient past” (Reiter edn:1227). This was when seekers and sadgurus supposedly used the substances specified. The ancient chronology is confirmed by an accompanying reflection of Meher Baba: “Eventually during those times, ordinary people indulged in these intoxicants for the wrong reasons” (ibid). A lengthy period is indicated. Fenster emails (influenced by another party) opted to place the “ancient past” in the early twentieth century at Shirdi. Confusion thus enveloped an early Meher Baba statement, even supposing that the statement is correct in rendition (all details of origin and transmission being absent in LM). Not all statements of Meher Baba were uniformly rendered, or presented accurately, especially when translation was involved from one language to another. The error relating to Azar Kaivan  is a case in point, one which misled readers for nearly thirty years.
Upasani Maharaj at Sakori, 1930s
In the confusing LM passage at issue, the impression was given to unwary readers that Upasani Maharaj (d.1941) smoked a drug substance over a lengthy period. In reality, Upasani smoked bidis (country tobacco cigarettes) for a few weeks only. He did this solely because of a medical insistence that he resort to tobacco for the purpose of assisting bowel motions, at a point of crisis prior to a necessary surgical operation. Upasani himself disliked cigarettes, and had to be persuaded to smoke (Shepherd, Radical Rishi: A Biography of Upasani Maharaj, chapter 53). He was an orthodox brahman in the sense of being opposed to drugs and alcohol, tobacco also not being in favour.
Upasani Maharaj  is a subject closely converging with Meher Baba, though for the most part neglected in the Meher Baba literature. Due analysis of Upasani biography (and teaching) is long overdue. Upasani is also strongly linked with Shirdi Sai Baba, in situations requiring more detail than is customarily supplied.
Generations may elapse before all discrepancies in the lengthy composite work Lord Meher are resolved. Meanwhile, a dogmatic celebration of infallible text is not appropriate.
Deitrick, Ira G., ed., Ramjoo’s Diaries 1922-1929 (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented, 1979).
Fenster, David, Mehera-Meher: A Divine Romance (3 vols, 2003; second edn 2013).
Kalchuri, Bhau, Feram Workingboxwala, David Fenster et al, Lord Meher (Reiter edn, 20 vols, 1986-2001).
Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher (revised edn, 8 vols, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: Meher Mownavani, 2005). 
Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher online, ed. David Fenster. 
Parks, Ward, and Meherwan B. Jessawala, eds., Meher Baba’s Tiffin Lectures as given in 1926-1927 (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2017). 
Purdom, Charles B., Life Over Again (London: Dent, 1951). 
——–The God Man: The life, journeys and work of Meher Baba with an interpretation of his silence and spiritual teaching (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Meher Baba: An Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988). 
——–Minds and Sociocultures: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995). 
——–Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005). 
——–Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
——–Sai Baba: Faqir of Shirdi (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2017). 
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd 
December 2017 (modified 2021)
ENTRY no. 74
Copyright © 2021 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Meher Baba Update

By Charles Purdom, Lord Meher, Meher Baba, Paul Brunton, Pete Townshend, Wikipedia
Meher Baba 1957
Errors of assessment are a common occurrence in the contemporary field of “new religious movements.” Such matters necessitate due information rather than hearsay and assumption. The historical angle is necessary with the subject of Meher Baba (1894-1969), as with other figureheads of well known religious movements. The alternative is lore.
A Meher Baba devotee inserted on Wikipedia a misleading version of events dating back to the 1960s. The errors were traced to the American branch of the Meher Baba movement, and more especially, to the Myrtle Beach Centre. The pronounced distortion has been refuted. The erroneous storyline is an example of what can happen when supporters of a movement have no adequate knowledge of events they purport to describe.
The Wikipedia lore interpreted a Hindu disciple of Meher Baba as being a rival “spiritual teacher” to the Irani mystic. No contextual information was supplied, only a variant of anecdotal calumny sustained for decades. The Hindu disciple and scientist was never a rival of Meher Baba, instead being a regular donor to the latter’s Meherazad ashram, located in Maharashtra.
The Hindu disciple lived for ten years in England at the instruction of Meher Baba. Possessing a degree in physics, this man worked as a salaried professional. As a consequence, he was able to send to India regular donations, amounting in total to thousands of pounds sterling. His level of commitment was very high, far more so than most other adherents of Meher Baba.
The experiences and viewpoint of this Hindu disciple are not without an interest of their own. However, obscuring biases of the Myrtle Beach Centre worked against any accurate knowledge of the subject. Instead of registering complaints and explanations provided in a former lengthy document, the prestige Centre ignored the document and opted to impose an unofficial ban on a book about Meher Baba that was published in 1988. As a consequence of this censorship, the stories about a rival spiritual teacher continued. Nor was there any rectification of other serious errors involved in the misrepresentation.
The literature on cults is now prodigious. Two of the basic problems, typical of “cults,” are misrepresentation and suppression of relevant details. The American branch of the Meher Baba movement achieved both of these undesirable drawbacks. An extension of this muddle infiltrated Wikipedia, a web venue notorious for troll activity and other complications. The rather basic sectarian issue is obvious to a number of observers.
Pseudonymous Wikipedia supporters of Meher Baba were keen to elevate a lengthy work entitled Lord Meher, presenting this as reliable fact eclipsing any other version, and more especially, my own book Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal. In the devotee presentation, an outsider book could only amount to deficient opinion as compared with the surpassing authenticity of a canonical work. Indeed, Meher Baba trolls were known to appear at different Wikipedia articles with the intention of removing non-canonical content. This action occurred even in an instance relating to transcription of antique Zoroastrian history (the Kaivan school), of which they knew nothing whatever. These people also disdained reference to a valid source in the canonical Meher Baba literature, preferring instead an inaccurate passage in Lord Meher.
My book included an unprecedented critique of the two major detractors of Meher Baba, primarily Paul Brunton. The latter’s book, A Search in Secret India, is still influential after eighty years of circulation. However, my critique (based on factual sources) was early ignored by the Myrtle Beach Centre, and many years later, was merely opinion according to devotee assessment. The hostile party on Wikipedia was unintentionally validating the travesty of Brunton’s deviation. Trolls do not read books, but merely debunk them in convenient online graffiti of two or three lines, in this instance supporting ideology of the Meher Baba Centres about canonical works.
The storytelling of Paul Brunton was here effectively justified by the ideological reflex. I had proved that Brunton’s hostile report of Meher Baba was unreliable, a factor which serious readers recognised (including some Brunton partisans). However, my substantial critique of Brunton, in Wikipedia troll assessment, amounted to the mere opinion of an outsider to the infallible canon extolled by the Meher Baba movement. This episode cannot be disregarded, because the troll action was closely linked, via editorship, with the Meher Baba article on Wikipedia. 
The multi-volume Lord Meher has seldom been duly analysed. An extensive editorial process was involved. A relatively minor consideration is that Bhau Kalchuri was not the sole author of this work, despite the contrary impression conveyed for over thirty years by devotee media. The Reiter edition of twenty volumes, on all the title pages, presented Kalchuri as the sole author. Feram Workingboxwala was very unpopular, while the American editor and compiler David Fenster was in low profile for many years.
Lord Meher does not contain due information about the misrepresented Hindu disciple and donor who lived in England until 1964. This work is not comprehensive, despite the length. A number of passages in Lord Meher identify the followers of Meher Baba as “lovers.”
During the mid-1960s, I attended meetings of the London group of Meher Baba supporters. At that time, the subscribers did not refer to themselves as “lovers” of Meher Baba. This identity tag did not become prevalent until 1967, being favoured by the new generation of devotees associated with Pete Townshend and the American influx. The rather more conservative and vintage British devotees called themselves the “friends of Meher Baba.” Although Meher Baba himself used the (mystical) word “lover,” he did not stipulate that his followers should describe themselves in this manner.
Charles Purdom
A representative of the older trend was author Charles Purdom (d.1965), a figure in reaction to some devotee tendencies. Purdom achieved a degree of objectivity that is comparatively rare in religious movements. It would not be fair to place him in the same category as the trolls and storytellers of the Meher Baba movement.
Purdom’s preface to his book The God-Man (1964) does not mention the word avatar. The author here says that he has done his best “to maintain the necessary degree of detachment of mind.” Compared with other partisan recommendations, the appraisal of Meher Baba by Charles Purdom is restrained:
I do not think one can find any parallel in modern times with the life of this simple, subtle, innocent, unpredictable, alarming and engrossing man. (Preface, unpaginated)
Over the years, I have found that devotionalism is a distorting factor in relation to the record of Meher Baba. For instance, the attendant dogmatic approach obliterated details of the abovementioned Hindu donor and certain other entities, including myself. I decline to be eliminated by the dogmatists, and will resist misinformation. Democracy is a farce at places like the Myrtle Beach Centre, where a process of suppression has been operative for many years.
My interest in Meher Baba applies to ascertaining historical dimensions of his biography, as distinct from the lore and confusion that is too frequently found. I have no interest in promoting exclusivist avatar themes, which evidently encourage some devotees to adopt a status profile as followers of Avatar Meher Baba. I have no interest in promoting “lover” clichés, these also being objectionable in acts of misrepresentation and suppression. The vaunted love can easily become hate campaign.
Pete Townshend
The phase of ascendancy achieved by Pete Townshend, during the 1970s, is perhaps instructive. That rock star became the focus of adulation for numerous new “Baba lovers” in different countries. He has since admitted the limitation of his self-appointed role as a leader and organiser within the Meher Baba movement. Townshend has been honest in a number of ways, a refreshing contrast with troll activities presuming an unassailable spokesmanship for Meher Baba. Townshend’s own reflection, found at his website, is relevant here:
What was clear to me in early 1980 was that I could no longer stand as any kind of public representative for Meher Baba with such recent alcohol and drug-abuse problems. Meher Baba Oceanic, the pilgrim centre I had run, had in any case slowed down to a crawl while I descended into self-obsession. Several of my employees there had gone through problems of their own, and some time in 1982 I impolitely sacked everyone. 
These references indicate serious problems. Townshend nearly killed himself on alcohol and drugs. Yet he had been exalted by many devotees even before he created, in 1976, the ill-fated centre known as Meher Baba Oceanic. Townshend was initially influenced by Purdom’s book The God-Man (1964), and describes the author as “an eminent British journalist of the Thirties” (Who I Am, p. 110). That is a contraction of identity, because Purdom was also a garden city pioneer and author, and still leading the London group of “friends” in 1965, only two years before the new wave appeared. Townshend and other “lovers” reversed the sober approach of Purdom into cliché, guitar music, and devotee poetry.
The new wave of “lovers” were frequently afflicted by proximity to the drug infraculture, so pervasive in Western countries since the 1960s. In America, many of them were content with such slogans as “Don’t worry be happy.” This theme comprised an acute reductionism, not reflecting Meher Baba’s rather distinctive metaphysical teaching. The happy lovers were averse to complexity.
An eccentric rune of the Townshend era was “Baba’s love game.” The rock star and his colleagues were viewed by their own camp as avant-garde representatives of the unique Avatar. Townshend acknowledged the American inspiration of Murshida Ivy Duce, leader of Sufism Reoriented. He was perhaps influenced more by Adi K. Irani (d.1980), the former secretary of Meher Baba, who had gained a limelight role as exegete of the Avataric cause. The love game ended with Townshend’s addiction to large quantities of brandy, accompanied by an afflicting ingestion of cocaine and heroin. His version of “Baba’s Umbrella” was not waterproof.
A major influence, upon the new wave of Baba lovers, were newsletters dating to the 1960s. These were composed by Mani, the sister of Meher Baba who lived at Meherazad ashram. Mani S. Irani (d.1996) favoured an influential vocabulary of “lovers” and the “Beloved.” The newsletters were regarded as canonical texts at Meher Baba Centres. However, a literary critic said that these writings were gushing and sentimental, not profound. Even some of the happy lovers were worrying that insufficient information about Meher Baba was being conveyed by Mani. They were puzzled to find frequent descriptions of secondary matters. Apologists excused Mani by saying that she was not allowed to describe more about Baba, who was in seclusion. Mani did relay messages from, and some details about, the figurehead. However, there are distinct gaps in coverage.
Insofar as some basic events were concerned, the Mani “family letters” amounted to a detour. For instance, a more recent and lengthy account of 1960s events provided descriptions very different to those of Mani, including details of how Meher Baba strongly rebuked argumentative mandali, including Mani herself (Kalchuri Fenster 2009). The disparity is too revealing to ignore. Essential traits and methods of Meher Baba (silent since 1925) remained obscure, overlaid by preferences of the far more vocal lovers.
Brunton, Paul, A Search in Secret India (London: Rider, 1934).
Irani, Mani S., 82 Family Letters (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 1976).
B. Kalchuri, F. Workingboxwala, D. Fenster et al, Lord Meher (Reiter edn, 20 vols, 1986-2001).
Kalchuri Fenster, Sheela, Growing up with God (Ahmednagar: Meher Nazar, 2009).
Parks, Ward, ed., Meher Baba’s Early Messages to the West (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2009).
Purdom, Charles B., Life Over Again (London: Dent, 1951).
——–The God-Man (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964).
Shepherd, K. R. D., Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988).
———Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005).
Townshend, Pete, Who I Am (London: HarperCollins, 2012).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
ENTRY no. 66
Copyright © 2015 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Meher Baba and Dr Brunton

By Charles Purdom, Meher Baba, Paul Brunton, Ramana Maharshi

Meher Baba, 1930; Paul Brunton in India

Paul Brunton wrote the book called A Search in Secret India (1934). This became a bestseller. Reprints were eventually adorned with the credential of Dr. Paul Brunton. The British author became regarded by many as an authority on Indian religion. 
I have talked with people who are under the impression that Secret India is a reliable document. Any suggestion to the contrary can be met with incredulity and outright denial.
In my early years, I met two persons of a literary ability who were able to analyse Secret India, though in different ways. The first was a teacher of English (at Cambridge) who found Brunton’s style deficient, a style which he associated with low grade journalism as distinct from scholarship. Indeed, he laughed at some phraseology he found. This academic was nevertheless inclined to believe a popular view that the contents were accurate, because of the doctoral status claimed. 
The other analyst had actually met Paul Brunton (1898-1981). This critic denied the validity of Secret India in relation to Meher Baba. Charles Purdom (d.1965) was a literary man who had daringly ventured into biography of Meher Baba, despite the relatively marginal Western interest in his day. Purdom wrote that Brunton, “then known as Raphael Hirsch, came to see me in London some time after his visit” to the ashrams of Meher Baba. On that occasion, Brunton “said he had no doubt [Meher] Baba was false, as he, Raphael Hirsch, had asked him to perform a miracle but Baba could not” (Purdom 1964:128).
In brief, Purdom had deduced that restraint from performance of a “miracle” is no proof of falsity. On the contrary, he believed that Brunton’s attitude was confused and misleading. Purdom was also very sceptical of the  doctoral status advertised by Brunton’s publisher. The background of the Ph.D. credential proved exasperatingly obscure.
Purdom was a follower of  Meher Baba, very closely acquainted with how that entity lived and taught. He early wrote a biography, published in 1937, that was overshadowed by Brunton’s commercial “Secret.” Purdom’s book is today cited by commentators who can discern that he was attempting an objective report of his subject. The sub-title is The Life of Shri Meher Baba, revealing the idiom in which the subject was then known. 
Many years ago, I researched the Brunton problem, discovering materials that Brunton had omitted from his book. The missing data, and loss of context, invalidate Brunton’s report of Meher Baba to a very substantial extent. 
Secret India is noted for a rejection of Meher Baba (1894-1969) in favour of Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950). Both of these figures are now famous twentieth century mystics, associated with rather different teachings. There is no indication that Brunton actually understood the teaching of Meher Baba; however, he did assimilate Vedantic emphases of Ramana. Indeed, to such an extent that he eventually became notorious as a plagiarist, with the consequence that he was banned from the ashram of the Advaita sage in 1939. 
Paul Brunton can scarcely be gauged without reference to his background in Western occultism. During the 1920s, he was part of the avant garde “bohemian” scene in London, strongly influenced by Theosophy and numerous “esoteric” trends, some of these so dubious that even the enthusiasts rejected them. Yoga was a fashion to which Brunton became very partial. The subject of Yogic siddhis (powers) excited Western occultists. Brunton believed that he himself early gained occult powers and abilities. According to his own report, he was able to miraculously extinguish lighting at the lecture hall of an opponent. 
Brunton’s business as a “freelance journalist” failed in 1929. The following year, he travelled to India as an enthusiastic follower of Shri Meher Baba. He visited two ashrams of the latter, and in between, he undertook a tour of various places at the instruction of Meher Baba. At Madras he ventured a public declaration of his purportedly “telepathic” experiences concerning Meher Baba. In a subsequent letter sent from Calcutta to his inspirer, Brunton mentioned that he was looking forward to “receiving spiritual enlightenment at your hands.”
These are some of the realistic details. A major problem for unwary readers is that Brunton, in his bestselling book Secret India, omits crucial reference to the context. Presented instead is a deceptive narrative in which Brunton was a sceptical enquirer; he demeans the two non-Hindu ashrams he visited, writing as if he conducted the tour of his own volition, with the objective of visiting Yogis possessing hermetic knowledge. Relevant documentation is scrupulously missing. Brunton’s travelogue is undated, assisting the impression of a lengthy search in “secret India” that actually lasted only a few months. Brunton also supplied a very misleading description of Meher Baba’s facial appearance. 
As a consequence of these varied flaws, the book A Search in Secret India cannot be taken seriously as an accurate report, only as a testimony to what can go wrong in accounts deriving from pique and attendant emotions of a suspect nature.
I contributed a book including a confrontation with the Brunton problem. Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (1988) was the first published account to divulge what Brunton omitted, and to reconstruct what really happened. The responses were mixed. Some followers of Brunton were prepared to concede that he had made a mistake in his assessment. However, they were unable to accept the overall implications, instead affirming that Brunton’s lengthy Notebooks of a later period were a redeeming feature. 
Some American devotees of Meher Baba unofficially banned Iranian Liberal because of some (relatively mild) criticisms of their own spokesmen (I am not a devotee of Meher Baba). They consigned to oblivion the only published account vindicating the reputation of their own figurehead in the face of “Secret India” opportunism. 
Very briefly, Paul Brunton effectively associated Meher Baba with Yoga, together with the desired powers and experiences that he was so fixated upon. Meher Baba was not in fact a Hindu and never taught Yoga; he was an Irani Zoroastrian with a teaching sometimes described as eclectic. Meher Baba was opposed to any occultist pursuit of siddhis. In his early years he wore his hair long; this trait doubtless assisted certain “hermetic Yogi” impressions in Brunton’s mind. The visitor wanted “spiritual” experiences; he triumphantly aired his telepathic prowess. Telepathy is a Yogic power, as Brunton knew very well. For reasons that are not too difficult to fathom, the Irani mystic disconcerted the expectations. 
The frustrated British occultist chose to depict his former host and inspirer as an obsessive messiah figure who promised him powers, but could not supply them. The Irani is made to look so ridiculous that readers are led to believe he was a hopeless fraud. That version of events made Paul Brunton, in commercial estimation, the great British critic of Secret India. 
The popular writer produced further books such as A Search in Secret Egypt and The Secret Path. These confirmed to critics that Western occultism is not basically secretive, whatever the mysteries proclaimed; the secrets exist to be disclosed or advertised, and perhaps even exploited. In this trend, the supposed adept of Vedanta eventually wrote The Hidden Teaching beyond Yoga (1941), a book including controversial criticisms of Ramana Maharshi, from whose ashram he had been banned. 
Followers of Brunton have celebrated his association, in the late 1930s, with the milieu of Krishnaraja Wadiyar (d.1940), the Maharaja of Mysore. At the court of this royal celebrity, Brunton gained servants and material assistance. His new counter-ideal to Ramana was apparently the Maharaja, whose family derived support from British colonial power. The Maharaja favoured industry and technology. A tutor of the Maharaja was Subrahmanya Iyer, a neo-Vedantin brahman associated with modernist ideas and Western philosophy. In the company of Iyer, Brunton represented for partisans a new Plato at the court of a philosopher king, dispensing The Wisdom of the Overself (1943). This doctrine has elsewhere been considered eccentrically mentalist, with elements of Theosophy implied. 
A major drawback, in critical estimation, is that the Wisdom teacher opted to claim a Ph.D, enthusiastically advertised by Rider and Company. Brunton’s books were now unassailable, in commercial theory at least. The lofty credential was subsequently revealed to be a deception. When pinned down on the issue, Brunton claimed a Ph.D. from Roosevelt University in Chicago. No record of this credential could be found in university precincts (Masson 1993:161-3).
A “doctoral” certificate later appeared online, dating to 1938. What Brunton actually acquired was a spurious degree from a very commercial correspondence school, on the basis of a short book lacking annotations. This “school” was launched by McKinley-Roosevelt Incorporated, not Roosevelt University. The corporate name of McKinley-Roosevelt University was a rank deception. None of the commercial staff were qualified to teach the numerous subjects for which they received payment from clients like Brunton. The devious and unscrupulous enterprise had to be closed down by the American government in 1947. The superficial tag of Dr. Paul Brunton is meaningless in the academic sense, fitting only the make-believe scenario of  fashionable occultism and mentalism.

This presumed esotericist and hermetic philosopher also claimed to reach the end of the spiritual path. At one point, Brunton even called himself Jupiter Rex, signifying king of all the gods. His American secretary defected, becoming a follower of Meher Baba, who claimed the non-academic status of avatar (a Hindu word) from 1954 onwards. The Irani mystic is not associated with royal courts, technology, the British Raj, or Theosophy. He might nevertheless be relevant for study, a consideration which is perhaps even a necessity for the British sector as a foil to Brunton’s caricature. The literature on Meher Baba is now extensive; the primary sources do not include A Search in Secret India.
Bibliography at website article.
Bibliography of Works Cited Above
Brunton, Paul, A Search in Secret India (London: Rider, 1934).
——–The Hidden teaching Beyond Yoga (London: Rider, 1941).
——–The Wisdom of the Overself (London: Rider, 1943).
Masson, Jeffrey, My Father’s Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion (London: HarperCollins, 1993).
Purdom, Charles, The Perfect Master: The Life of Shri Meher Baba (London: Williams and Norgate, 1937).
——–The God-Man: The life, journeys and work of Meher Baba with an interpretation of his silence and spiritual teaching (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988). 
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
ENTRY no. 61
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