Meher Baba, the name given to him by his disciples in the 1920’s, was born Merwan Sheriar Irani, into a Zoroastrian family. His father, Sheriar Irani, was a devout seeker of God. In Persia, after days of fasting and continuous meditation, Sheriar heard a voice tell him to stop seeking what he strongly desired and to head back home - one who was born to him would complete his search for God.
Sheriar then traveled to Poona, India, where his sister lived (Irani means "from Iran"). Ten years later in 1883, he was persuaded to give up his life as an ascetic and to begin a family life. Apparently at random, he chose a girl named Shireen, who at the time was five years old (Sheriar was thirty). After some minor debate between the families of the betrothed, the marriage took place when Shireen turned fourteen.
On February 25, 1894, Shireen and Sheriar had their second son, whom they named Merwan. He had a normal childhood, and was considered by Shireen to be her "most beautiful child." His friends found him to be charismatic and sometimes called him "Electricity." After graduating from St. Vincent's High School, he attended Deccan College in Poona in 1911. He studied literature and poetry, and was fond of Shakespeare, Shelley and Wordsworth, but focused on Sufi poets such as Hafiz. He was also an accomplished poet and musician.
One May morning in 1913, when Merwan was 19, he rode his bicycle to school, but felt compelled to visit an old woman beneath a neem tree. The woman's name was Hazrat Babajan, thought by many to be well over 100 years old. She was also considered to be a Perfect Master, one who is God-realized. Merwan and Babajan hugged briefly, then spent some time together in silence. Merwan then got on his bike and continued with his duties.
They continued to meet, often sitting in silence, until one evening in January 1914 the significance of these meetings became apparent when she kissed Merwan on the forehead. He rose and walked home, then went to bed. Shortly thereafter he experienced an incredible state of bliss mixed with pain, and then lost consciousness altogether. In the morning his mother discovered him lying down with his eyes wide open, oblivious to all that was around him. Shireen thought that Merwan had gone mad.
In this apparent state of insanity, Merwan neither slept nor ate for nine months. He was sent to hospitals and was given drugs, but nothing would change his condition. Usually he would stay at home and sit and stare, or he would wander the town aimlessly. Shireen approached Hazrat Babajan, and asked her what she had done to Merwan. Babajan replied that Merwan was not mad, but that "he was destined to shake the world into wakefulness." (Later, Meher Baba said that during this time he was completely unconscious of the world and was experiencing God; but in order to become dimly aware of his surroundings he would knock his head against a stone which he kept in his room.)
After nine months he began eating again, and his mother was overjoyed. Merwan offered to teach an acquaintance Persian, and took him on as his only pupil. Behramji became Baba's first disciple. But in April 1915, Merwan decided to travel, even though people still considered him to be mostly unconscious of his surroundings. He called upon Narayan Maharaj who lived near Kedgaon and stayed with him for a few days. Narayan Maharaj was the second of the five Perfect Masters with whom Merwan was to do spiritual work, and in this process, Merwan gained more normal consciousness. Then Merwan returned to Poona.
The next Perfect Master Merwan met was Tajuddin Baba, and gradually Merwan became more aware of his divine position. But the fourth and fifth Perfect Masters played more significant roles in Merwan's "transformation." In December 1915, Merwan went to Shirdi to visit Sai Baba, who at the time happened to be in procession. Merwan made his way through the crowd and bowed down before Sai Baba , who then exclaimed "Parvardigar!" (which means God-Almighty-Sustainer). Sai Baba directed Merwan to the abode of Upasni Maharaj, another perfect one.
Upasni Maharaj was in seclusion; when he saw Merwan approaching, he threw a rock that hit Merwan on the forehead exactly where Babajan had kissed Merwan earlier. This action further made Merwan aware of his divine destiny.
Over the next seven years Merwan held a few jobs, for a time as a manager of a theatrical company, and later watched over his father's teashop. The location of Sheriar's shop changed and they began to serve toddy drinks. Eventually Merwan and his companion Behramji took over the toddy shop, but it was not a very successful business. Merwan did menial work and encouraged his customers to stop drinking. However, because of the Non-Cooperation Movement, they were forced to close the shop.
During these seven years, Merwan integrated his consciousness of God with normal human consciousness under the direct guidance of Upasni Maharaj. Upasni and Merwan had many meetings that spiritually prepared Merwan for the task he was to undertake. Finally, at the end of 1921, Upasni Maharaj openly stated to his disciples that Merwan was also a Sadguru, or Perfect Master, while stating to Merwan that Merwan was the Avatar, or first soul.
In 1922 Merwan gathered a small number of followers, who started to call him Meher Baba, which means "Compassionate Father." The name stuck, but he did not outwardly state exactly who he was or what his plans were. He was considered to be a Perfect Master by his followers. Other people called him the Messiah, but he was unattached to such claims. Soon people were drawn to him from all over India - now was the time for the real work to be carried out. The meaning of this work and the influence of the five Perfect Masters was later described by Baba:
During the Avataric periods, the five Perfect Masters make God incarnate as man. Sai Baba, Upasni Maharaj, Hazrat Babajan, Tajuddin Baba and Narayan Maharaj are the five Perfect Masters of this Age for me. Of these five, Upasni Maharaj and Babajan directly played the main roles. Babajan made me realize... that I am God - Upasni Maharaj gave me the knowledge that I am the Avatar, the Ancient One...
Babajan gave me Divine Bliss.
Sai Baba gave me Divine Power.
Upasni Maharaj gave me Divine Knowledge.
I am Infinite Power, Knowledge and Bliss.
I am the Ancient One, come to redeem the modern world.
He set up an ashram called Manzil-e-Meem, meaning "House of the Master," where his close disciples lived under severe spiritual discipline. A strict set of rules was established for the residents of this Bombay ashram; his followers were expected to give up all possessions, selfish thoughts and to obey even Baba's most stringent rules of moral discipline. The ashram's purpose was to prepare Baba's disciples to aid him in the universal work that he was to accomplish during and after his life. A handful of these disciples remained with him after the ashram was dissolved, to became Baba's Mandali, or intimate circle, who were to serve him always, through pleasant and trying conditions.
The ashram then moved near Arangaon, outside of Ahmednagar. The place later became known as Meherabad, a permanent center of Baba's activities. During 1923 and 1924, Baba fasted, gave spiritual discussions and travelled around India; but he also kept a close watch over the development of Meherabad. By 1925 Meherabad had a post office, an ashram for lepers, and a hospital.
1925 marks the beginning of Baba's controversial and symbolic undertaking. At the beginning of July he stated that he would observe Silence - which meant that he would not speak or make vocal sounds - to "save mankind from the monumental forces of ignorance." The breaking of his Silence would occur when suffering on earth was at its height; it would "not be an outpouring of verbosity," but will be in connection with his Manifestation, or the universal awareness of God on earth. His Silence started on July 10, and he uttered no words since.
Initially he communicated by writing, stating that he was going to break his Silence soon. For a year and a half he worked extensively with his Mandali, held fasts, and diligently wrote a book containing spiritual messages that remains unpublished to this day. Also he welcomed curious visitors and gave discourses. In 1927, Baba gave up, for the most part, handwriting, and started to use an alphabet board to convey his messages.
During this year he established a school that provided secular and spiritual training for boys from all creeds and castes. The boys often cried with love for Baba. There is one story about a boy who wept with love so much at night that the others could not sleep. Baba came to the dormitory to hug the crying boy. The boy stopped, and said that he could see nothing but Baba. The school came to an end in 1929.
By 1930 Baba was becoming slightly known in the West, and he decided to travel to England in 1931 and again in 1932. He also met with Mahatma Gandhi in September 1931 during one of these journeys. In England Baba was greeted by spiritual seekers drawn to him, as well as a multitude of news reporters. He willingly gave interviews and discourses, and did not deny that he was the Messiah; but he emphasized his true purpose.
I have come not to establish any cult, society or organization - nor to establish a new religion. The Religion I shall give teaches the knowledge of the One behind the many. The Book which I shall make people read is the book of the heart, which holds the key to the mystery of life.
Baba was met with a certain amount of hostility. Some reports called him a false prophet, because they expected him to display his infinite power. Baba exclaimed that the only "miracles" he will perform are the awakening of the heart and the breaking of his Silence, "but spiritual work is strengthened by opposition, and so will it be with mine."
He also the United States in 1932, including a visit toHollywood. There, film celebrities greeted him at a large reception; among them were Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Tallulah Bankhead. Tallulah Bankhead took particular interest in Meher Baba, and they met several times. From Los Angeles he went to Ojai and contacted more spiritual seekers. During this time he stressed that America needs spiritual redirection, and the only way for this to come about was through eliminating self-interest.
Between the end of 1932 and early 1936, Baba toured Europe and some parts of Asia a number of times, meanwhile keeping contact with the European aspirants, some of whom visited India to be with him there. In 1936 Baba began a mission to seek out and collect masts (pronounced "musts") - God-intoxicated men and women who have reached such states of bliss that they may appear unaware of all that is around them. A few temporary mast ashrams were set up where Baba fed, bathed and clothed masts and lepers; simultaneously he helped them on their path to God. As a note, masts are only found in the East.
In Nasik, India, Baba set up another ashram, this time for his Western devotees. This ashram was part-way between the full rigors of Meherabad as experienced by his Eastern disciples, and the conveniences of the Western world. They underwent certain hardships, but were under the guidance of Baba's love. Perhaps the most difficult thing for them to learn was how to get along with each other. Often they had conflicts, but Baba said, "If you cannot love each other, then learn to give in." They did learn to give in, through love. Until 1941 Baba worked between the Nasik ashram and the few mast ashrams; but the arrival of World War Two contributed to the necessary dismantling of all ashrams except for Meherabad.
Though the war was under way, Baba continued with his spiritual work, while seeking masts throughout India on a series of whirlwind tours. He stated that the God-intoxicated souls have a connection with the state of the world, that it was necessary to continue directing them even closer towards God. Intensive mast work continued until 1948, aided by extensively tours throughout India to contact masts and sadhus (spiritual pilgrims).
Enigmatically and with little warning in 1949, Baba declared that all of his "possessions," including ashrams, should immediately be disposed of, except for his tomb which was already built atop Meherabad Hill. The newly operating American retreat center dedicated to Baba was to run its own course without Baba's guidance. He stated that from this year forward he was to embark on what he termed the New Life, relying solely upon God.
Through this most enigmatic and to this day unexplained phase, Meher Baba may have established the groundwork for man's search for God. Perhaps to convey this, Baba dropped his role as Perfect Master and became a common man, or Perfect Seeker. Only a handful of his close disciples were permitted to accompany him on his New Life.
This New Life is endless, and even after my physical death it will be kept alive by those who live the life of complete renunciation of falsehood, lies, hatred, greed and lust; and who, to accomplish all this do no lustful actions, do no harm to anyone, do no backbiting, do not seek material possessions or power, who accept no homage, neither covet honour nor shun disgrace, and fear no one and nothing; by those who rely wholly and solely on God, believe in the lovers of God and in the reality of Manifestation, and yet do not expect any spiritual or material reward; who do not let go the hand of Truth, and who without being upset by calamities, bravely and wholeheartedly face all hardships with one hundred percent cheerfulness, and give no importance to caste, creed, and religious ceremonies.
This New Life will live by itself eternally, even if there is no one to live it.
The New Life was an extreme test for Baba's followers, and for those who joined him. On their journeys around India and Nepal, his companions led an existence of "Hopelessness and Helplessness," depending only on God during their gypsy-like wanderings. Near the end of the New Life, Baba went into seclusion to achieve Mano-nash, or "annihilation of the mind." This was severely straining on him; this process brought a close to the period of the New Life.
We must lose ourselves to find ourselves; thus loss itself is gain. We must die to self to live in God; thus death means life... Being is dying by loving.
In 1952 Baba moved into a new phase that he labeled the Fiery Free Life. The goal of the Fiery Free Life was similar to the New Life, but ultimately would dissolve the freedom and bindings of every soul, and establish the world in the understanding that Meher Baba, everyone and everything, is one with God.
Finally, in 1952, Baba declared publicly what his followers had felt privately. Baba stated that he was the Avatar, the Messiah, the Saviour of all humanity; God in human form. Near the time that this statement was issued, immense spiritual activity developed: he had shed blood on American soil in a car accident in 1952; he was also to receive his worst suffering in India in a second car accident in 1956. Like Zoroaster, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed, the crucifixion of the Avatar is inevitable. Baba dictated that he got his "physical bones broken so as to break the backbone of the material aspect of the machine age (Kali Yuga), while keeping intact its spiritual aspect." Even though he was terribly injured Baba still gave darshan (divine blessing, or viewing); in India tens of thousands would travel hundreds of miles to catch a glimpse of the Avatar.
In 1954, Baba stopped using the alphabet board, and began using hand gestures to communicate in a unique sign-language. From 1957 to 1965 Baba gave many darshan programs, one of them a joint gathering of his Eastern and Western disciples.
From time to time, his sayings had been gathered into various books and pamphlets, and books had been written by and about him. But his most profound declaration, Meher Baba's Universal Message, was issued in 1958 as a message to humanity:
"I have come not to teach but to awaken. Understand therefore that I lay down no precepts."
Throughout eternity I have laid down principles and precepts, but mankind has ignored them. Man's inability to live God's words makes the Avatar's teaching a mockery. Instead of practicing the compassion He taught, man has waged crusades in His name. Instead of living the humility, purity, and truth of His words, man has given way to hatred, greed and violence.
Because man has been deaf to the principles and precepts laid down by God in the past, in this present Avataric Form I observe Silence. You have asked for and been given enough words - it is now time to live them. To get nearer and nearer to God you have to get further and further away from "I", "my", "me" and "mine". You have not to renounce anything but your own self. It is as simple as that, though found to be almost impossible. It is possible for you to renounce your limited self by my Grace. I have come to release that Grace.
I repeat, I lay down no precepts. When I release the tide of Truth which I have come to give, men's daily lives will be the living precept. The words I have not spoken will come to life in them.
I veil myself from man by his own curtain of ignorance, and manifest my Glory to a few. My present Avataric Form is the last Incarnation of this cycle of time, hence my Manifestation will be the greatest. When I break my Silence, the impact of my Love will be universal and all life in creation will know, feel and receive of it. It will help every individual to break himself free from his own bondage in his own way. I am the Divine Beloved who loves you more than you can ever love yourself. The breaking of my Silence will help you to help yourself in knowing your real Self.
All this world confusion and chaos was inevitable and no one is to blame. What had to happen has happened; and what has to happen will happen. There was and is no way out except through my coming in your midst. I had to come, and I have come. I am the Ancient One.
Toward the end of the 1960s, large numbers of American and Australian young people were becoming interested in Meher Baba, in a time in which drug use was becoming an important part of "youth culture." When Baba stated that all drugs were damaging physically, mentally and spiritually, and all of his lovers should discontinue drug use, there was quite an uproar. Many casual followers abandoned Baba. But this statement also built up Baba's popularity, which coincided with the awareness of his message "Don't worry - be happy."
From 1967 on, despite growing yearning among all his lovers - espeically the new ones - to see him, Baba remained in seclusion so deep that only a few people managed to obtain an audience with him. His days and nights were spent in complete isolation from all but his mandali, which he explained was for his "universal work." His health was deteriorating but he promised that he would give a mass public darshan in 1969.
None can have the least idea of the work that I am doing in seclusion. The only hint I can give is that compared with work I do in seclusion all the important work of the world put together is completely insignificant... the result of my work will be intensely felt by all people in the world.
In January, 1969, his health was such that he was suffering immense pain, but he commented that his work was one hundred percent complete. On January 31, 1969, a few minutes after noon, Baba conveyed "Do not forget that I am God." Then at 12:15, Baba stopped breathing. One of the mandali (close disciples) gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation. Thus, Meher Baba dropped his body, his silence still unbroken.
For seven days following his passing away, people from all religions, creeds and castes, from the East and the West, entered Baba's samadhi (tomb) for a final glimpse of his body before his coffin was sealed. And from April to June 1969, the Great, last darshan that he had promised took place in Poona and at the samadhi. Thousands, including many young westerners who had just heard about him, came to sing in devotion or sit in silence. Though it was the end of Meher Baba's physical presence on earth, these darshans signified the continuation of humanity's yearning for God.