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Vedanta Philosophy Meher Baba


Meher Baba, Poona 1960



1.     Introduction

2.     An  Irani  Zoroastrian

3.     A  Zoroastrian  Heretic

4.     Paul  Brunton  and  Sadhu  Christian  Leik

5.     Yogis,  Masters,  Powers,  and  Miracles

6.     The  Kaivan  School

7.      Ilm-e-Khshnum

8.     Teachings

9.     Sufism  Reoriented

10.   The  Avatar  Claim

11.   Silence

12.   Seclusion

13.   Last  Years

14.   The  Mandali  versus  Murshid  Mackie

15.   Statement  of  Independence



1. Introduction

Some books have been published in which Meher Baba (1894-1969) has been classified under Hinduism. This represents a misconception. The present writer was the first to insist upon Irani, or Iranian, context in the instance of Meher Baba. (1) This theme was explicit in the title of my preliminary book Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (1988). That title evoked varying reactions.

This article focuses on some aspects of Meher Baba's biography, with reference to certain of his teachings.

2.  An  Irani  Zoroastrian

Meher Baba was born in India at Poona (Pune). His name of birth was Merwan Sheriar Irani. His parents were both Irani Zoroastrian émigrés from Yazd, in Central Iran. These forbears were fleeing from the oppression operative on the Yazd plain, where Shia Islam was the majority religion. In that locale, the Zoroastrian minority had a foothold in the city of Yazd, though many of these people lived in the surrounding villages. For many centuries, they were afflicted by the religious discrimination exercised by Muslims. Only in the late nineteenth century were they released from the burden of jizya, the tax imposed by Islam. However, they were still subject to other impositions.

The Irani Zoroastrians of Yazd were aided by benevolent Parsis of Western India. The Parsis were another Zoroastrian population, having migrated from Iran in much earlier centuries. The Parsis had undergone some racial admixture with Hindus. The ethnic characteristics of Irani Zoroastrians were often quite distinct from the Parsis. The Iranis were the descendants of Sassanian Zoroastrians who lived many centuries before; the ancestors were subsequently defeated by Islam in the seventh century CE.

Merwan Irani spoke Persian, also being familiar with some Indian languages. In addition, he learned the colonial language of English at Poona, a cantonment city. His father Sheriar originally lived at the village of Khorramshah, located on the Yazd plain. Sheriar’s own father was a salar, the custodian of a local tower of silence (dakhma), meaning a place of the dead, reserved for ancient funerary practices.

As a young man, Sheriar Mundegar Irani (1853-1932) became a mendicant ascetic, travelling through Iran; he eventually transferred to India for further arduous journeys. Finally settling at Poona, he became literate in Persian and Arabic. Sheriar was familiar with both the Zoroastrian and Sufi traditions. He also learned Hebrew, according to a report from his daughter.

At the age of nineteen, Merwan Irani encountered the female faqir Hazrat Babajan (d.1931). Contact with this matriarch transformed his life. He underwent an experience of acute abstraction from the external world, losing all interest in his college life, which ceased in 1914. He had formerly been attending the Deccan College, being proficient in English literature. His father was sympathetic to his introverted state. However, his mother Shirin did not understand what was happening. She tended to blame Babajan. Shirin was in despair at the adverse gossip of local Zoroastrians.

The experiential transition did not involve any teaching imparted by Hazrat Babajan. An independent mystic outside the Sufi Orders, she was not concerned to convey any formal doctrine. The nature of her impact upon Merwan is elusive to conventional religious assessment.

In subsequent years, Merwan was also in contact with Upasani Maharaj (d.1941), an ascetic Hindu disciple of Shirdi Sai Baba. Upasani was based at Sakori, where an ashram formed around him. Merwan normalised during this phase, but was not regarded as an ordinary man by his supporters. He eventually separated from Upasani, and established his own ashram near Ahmednagar. This site was gifted to him by an Irani merchant, becoming known as Meherabad. That desolate place, formerly the scene of a British military camp, was not easy to make habitable.

Meher Baba, 1925

Merwan Irani gained the new name of Meher Baba. His followers included Muslims and Hindus, in addition to Zoroastrians. A 1920s description of him, from the Muslim sector, was in terms of “the clean-shaven Zoroastrian” (at rare intervals, he was bearded, as in 1925). His Irani Zoroastrian identity was generally acknowledged. At the same time, there was a complete absence of Zoroastrian doctrine in his discourses and statements. His teaching was distinctive. His discourses included reference to some Vedantic and Sufi themes, but with no specific attachment to any religious tradition.

3.  A  Zoroastrian  Heretic

Meher Baba was averse to priestly ritualism. His liberal religious tendencies, and mystical orientation, were the subject of disapproval from orthodox Zoroastrians during the 1920s. Opponents even resorted to assassination plots. Parsi priests were amongst the critics. The basic accusation was blasphemy, apparently because Meher Baba “claimed to have the same spiritual status as the Prophet Zarathushtra” (Kalchuri et al, Vol. 7, p. 2506).

From a number of indications, the heretic apparently viewed this matter in a way that might be tentatively expressed as follows: Zarathushtra was a legend from a very remote era; the Avesta was a ritualist canon created by later priestly exegetes who lost contact with the source. In contrast, Meherabad ashram was on the map of historical events, as distinct from legend; a sequel to Zarathushtra was possible in a way that negotiated priestly monopoly in doctrine.

The conservative opponents were located in Poona, Bombay, and Ahmednagar. Meher Baba’s early follower Gulmai Irani discovered what the critics were like at Ahmednagar. They were enraged when the Hindu saint Upasani Maharaj visited her home as an honoured guest. This event was treated as an insult to the Zoroastrian community (Shepherd 2005:85). At Poona, the opponents derided Meher Baba for being closely associated with a Muslim faqir (meaning Hazrat Babajan). However, they did not dare to mention this grievance in the presence of his father Sheriar, who was much respected within the Zoroastrian community (Brabazon 1978:51).

Gulmai had formerly encountered the unwanted attention of Parsi priests or dasturs. She lived in a large communal family who did not understand her desire for retreat to a prayer room. She became familiar with the poetry attributed to Kabir. Her relatives anxiously enlisted the services of four dasturs who “performed elaborate and superstitious ceremonies intended to help Gulmai regain identity as a ‘this worldly’ Zoroastrian fighting Ahriman; she was horrified by their dogmatism and lack of insight” (Shepherd 2005:81).

The major critic of Meher Baba transpired to be Colonel M. S. Irani. He was stationed at Aden during World War One, afterwards residing at a large house in Poona. The Colonel was greatly annoyed when three members of his family became followers of Meher Baba (including his niece Mehera J. Irani, who gained fame in later years). This man “wrote scurrilous and fictitious accounts of Baba, which were widely published in Gujarati newspapers” (Fenster 2013, Vol. 1, p. 110).

When Colonel Irani visited Meherabad in 1926, he found Mehera and her mother Daulatmai wearing common attire, in a place he regarded as a God-forsaken wilderness. “Colonel Irani was a man who appreciated the ‘finer things in life’ – particularly fashionable clothes. Most of the Colonel’s friends in Aden were Europeans, and he was always dressed in the latest style. He looked askance at his sister and her daughter; he did not like what he saw” (ibid:191). This was a conflict of values and lifestyle features. Preferences of the Westernised Colonel did not prove that the Meherabad contingent were wrong.

Some early photographs of Meher Baba reveal him to be wearing a kusti, the Zoroastrian girdle. He did not otherwise draw attention to this accessory; there was no doctrinal message attendant. He ceased to wear the kusti in 1931. He did not transmit Zoroastrian teaching. In his last years, he did recommend the 101 Names of God supplied in the Zoroastrian corpus. (2)  

Meher Baba was definitely not a preacher. In 1925, he became silent, a situation which continued until his death. During 1927-29, he was engaged in the project known as Meher Ashram, which developed an offshoot called the Prem Ashram. This distinctive school for boys, existing at Meherabad, included many Hindu, Muslim, and Zoroastrian inmates. The leading teacher in the Meher Ashram was an academic devotee from Tehran, namely Kaikhushru Afseri, an Irani Zoroastrian.

In 1929, he undertook a journey across Iran. He stayed for a few days at Yazd, where he encountered an enthusiastic reception from both Shia Muslims and Zoroastrians. Meher Baba visited his ancestral village of Khorramshah. He also encountered Bahais who were much impressed by his example. This tour of Iran, as a whole, is notable for his tendency to a lack of publicity profile. The incognito journey was a hallmark of Meher Baba for decades. He preferred anonymity and disguise.

Over the years, the majority of Meher Baba’s ashram mandali (resident devotees) were Zoroastrian, a fair number of them Iranis. They maintained a simple lifestyle, and did not wear any distinguishing regalia. Ordinary clothing was instead the rule. Some women were included, notably Mehera J. Irani (1908-1989). There were no temples and no display of affluence. This situation was remote from the daily darshan and public exposure found in some Hindu ashrams.

4.  Paul  Brunton  and  Sadhu  Christian  Leik

Meher Baba, late 1920s

A visitor at Meherabad in 1930 was Paul Brunton (1898-1981), a British occultist who believed in astral travel and the Astral University. He also nurtured a preference for Patanjali Yoga, a system which credits the existence of siddhis or powers. Brunton evidently confused Meher Baba with Yoga, and wanted his host to give evidence of a “miracle.” He resented the absence of any supernatural event.

Brunton shows not the slightest cognisance of any Zoroastrian component (although he refers to Meher Baba as a Parsi). He does not mention the tour of Iran which had recently occurred. His version of events appeared in a commercial book entitled A Search in Secret India (1934). The shortcomings are evident to anyone with a knowledge of details that were suppressed by the author. (3)

Paul  Brunton

Many readers have only known of Meher Baba through the distorting lens of Paul Brunton, whose report of the Irani’s facial appearance is memorably misleading. Brunton's vaunted doctoral credential was unreliable. The critic Jeffrey Masson, a Professor of Sanskrit, was personally acquainted with Brunton, and initially a follower, prior to strong disillusionment (Masson 1993).

In addition to other drawbacks, the Western miracle seeker misrepresented the situation of Sadhu Christian Leik (1870-1929), whom he had never met. Leik, a  Russian from Estonia, was for long a follower of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (d.1886). A Hindu colleague later described Leik as a student of Vedanta inspired by Swami Vivekananda. Wishing to join the Ramakrishna Order, Leik travelled to India in 1910, where he commenced to stay in Ramakrishna monasteries. Eventually, he sojourned at one of those monasteries in the Himalayas, apparently the Advaita Ashrama at Almora, where he was residing in 1928. The brahman monks there, despite talking “high Vedanta,” effectively treated him as an untouchable (Chari 1966:8). The high caste monks would not eat with him, fearing contamination. This was the “kitchen religion” complex criticised by Vivekananda, who was not to blame on that account.  

Leik decided to move on to the ashram of Meher Baba, of whom he heard from a correspondent. The monks tried to persuade him from leaving, believing that he would be hypnotised by Meher Baba, but soon lose enthusiasm. Leik ignored their pessimism, arriving at Meher Baba’s temporary Toka ashram in October 1928. He discovered that the situation there was nothing like the critics had imagined. He also found that caste practices did not exist at the ashram of Meher Baba. Hindus, Muslims, and Zoroastrians lived here on an egalitarian basis. Leik afterwards wrote enthusiastically:

How utterly different I found Meher Baba and his ashram to be.... The atmosphere of Meherashram reflects the deep peace and radiance of my beloved master, Baba, as he is affectionately called by the devotees. There is nothing about him of the awe-inspiring solemnity that is attributed to the occult hierarchy. That love, which all my life I have craved, here I experience more and more as the days pass. One day Baba said he would help me by awakening in my heart the realisation of his divine presence, and later this happened. I became aware of the Self as the Self of all beings. (Adriel 1947:128-129)

Leik had a very different temperament to Brunton. He fitted in well with the mandali (unlike Brunton, who reacted to the environment of Meherabad). Meher Baba soon instructed Leik to observe silence, which the visitor did not find difficult. Baba gave a warning that he could not see the visitor every day. He told Leik to wait for a cue. “Even if I don’t call you for days, don’t come and don’t worry” (Kalchuri et al, Vol. 3, p. 1111).

In contrast, Brunton resented being left alone, reacting negatively during his sojourn at Nasik ashram in 1931. Brunton wanted attention, believing that his questions and inclinations were of significance. He appears to have been a compulsive talker, especially in relation to pet “esoteric” themes such as telepathy. Brunton was like a newspaper reporter, pressing insistent questions that Meher Baba may have deemed superfluous. There was no injunction for Brunton to observe silence. The lack of attention and limelight for Brunton was accompanied by an absence of miracles. This meant that Meher Baba was a fraud, and should therefore be depicted as such.  

The silent Irani mystic is reported to have told Leik: “I will speak with you inwardly” (ibid). Leik was subsequently directed to visit Baba’s father Sheriar at Poona, a privilege not extended to Brunton.

Sheriar Irani had a pronounced disposition for silence. His daughter Mani later related something of what occurred. She says (in an audio file) that her father and Leik would sit together in silence for hours. This was the situation when she departed in the mornings to attend school. When she returned for lunch, these two men were still sitting in the same room, and in the same position. Leik would depart hours later, shortly before Mani returned home from school in the afternoon.

Sheriar was now a businessman (not from choice, but as a consequence of domestic necessity). Some of his acquaintances could not understand his contemplative nature. Sheriar Irani came from the neo-Kaivani world of ascetic vigils, silence, and non-dogmatic insight. He was an exemplar of “Be in the world but not of the world,” a practice primarily associated with Persian Sufism, but also existing amongst Kaivani merchants of the Mughal era.

The peeved Brunton dismissed Leik in three short and very inadequate paragraphs. “Sadhu Leik” was supposedly worsted in becoming a “missionary disciple” (Brunton 1934:59). Other reports are more comprehensive (e.g., Purdom 1937:125-6, 152; Kalchuri et al, 1120, 1142, 1253). Brunton expressed the opinion that Leik “was physically unfitted for a wandering life,” implying that Leik died as a result of a “tour round India” in 1929. The dour insinuation was here being made that Meher Baba killed Leik by interposing mendicancy.

Sadhu Christian Leik was a mendicant before he came to Meher Baba. This Christian had adopted elements of the Hindu sannyasin life with a very unusual degree of commitment. This was now his “third pilgrimage” to India, and each time Leik travelled as a mendicant. He had taken the name of Sadhu in honour of the Indian Christian mendicant known as Sadhu Sundar Singh, who died prematurely (apparently in 1929), perhaps because of exhaustion from laborious travels. Leik blended Christianity and Hinduism. In 1928, he arrived at Toka after a trek from the Himalayas, where he had been warned against Meher Baba by Hindu sceptics who knew very little about the Irani mystic.

Meher Baba very rarely endorsed any renunciate option, instead insisting that his followers remain in the world, to pursue an internal renunciation as distinct from external renunciation. Sadhu Christian Leik was an exception, having become an affiliate of the Ramakrishna Order. However, there were complexities here. Meher Baba conveyed that he would assist Leik to become a true sannyasin by a form of mental renunciation (renouncing everything in the mind). Leik continued to wear the gerua cloth given to him by a direct disciple of Vivekananda. This robe he wore in honour of Ramakrishna. Meher Baba did not interfere with this disposition; however, he advised Leik to stop writing articles in the idiom of Advaita Vedanta.

This curb on Advaita apparently occurred because Leik tended strongly to a form of introversion; Sadhu Leik himself relates that he had lived for twenty years in a "bodiless" state of consciousness. His recent stay in the Himalayan monastery had been very contemplative and withdrawn. Leik continued to use some Vedantic terminology in his more general communications. He conveys that Meher Baba did not want him to be severed from maya, but instead to work in maya. This meant that his introversion should be offset by involvement with others. Accordingly, Leik was encouraged to continue writing to his friends in the West.

Leik had formerly been an industrious reader over the years. Now all desire for reading left him. His intellectual orientation changed. However, Leik's version of devotion to Meher Baba was quite different to the standard disposition involved. He wrote: "No longer is he an Avatar, or any of the divine aspects, to me. He is my own real Self." This very early reference to avatar identity reflects a belief of some devotees in a transcendent role. Meher Baba did not openly proclaim such a role for many years (until the 1950s). Leik's understanding of that role was very different to the version of Brunton, whose depiction of a "messiah" disposition was acutely confusing.

The Russian sannyasin was permitted to undertake pilgrimage to different places, afterwards returning to Meherabad as a silent ascetic. Later, his instructions were changed. Leik was absolved from the need for silence, and prepared for a journey in South India, which commenced in April 1929.

During the first stage of this expedition, Leik was a mendicant, begging his food and taking whatever shelter he could find. Arriving at Madras, he there formed a group of receptive Hindus, including A. C. S. Chari, who eventually became a prominent devotee of Meher Baba. Subsequently, Leik moved on to Bangalore, Mysore, and other cities, often spending about two weeks in one place. He conveyed news of Meher Baba to his acquaintances, constantly applying himself to "work in maya," as distinct from a monastic life of retirement. His mode of travel by this time is obscure. Nor is it clear as to whether Leik had any ongoing instruction after reaching Madras.

At Madras, Leik wrote that he had the feeling Baba wanted him to visit different parts of India, to establish connections. This is not the same as an instruction. He eventually moved to North India. By August he was in the far north at Rishikesh, intending to visit nearby Hardwar, where he planned to be the guest of Dr. Swami Nischayananda, an inmate of the Ramakrishna Mission Sevashram at Kankhal. At Rishikesh however, he became ill; his tour then ended. Leik was in hospital for two months, being tended by Nischayananda.

The traveller had been intending to visit the Punjab and Gujarat, followed by a move south to Bombay. Instead, Leik returned to Meherabad, in a condition of serious depletion. He died at the ashram on October 29, 1929, “saying just prior to his decease that his heart was ‘filled with boundless joy’ ” (Shepherd, unpublished manuscript, 1:437). He was buried in the Christian cemetery at Ahmednagar. (4)

Leik was held in high regard by Meher Baba devotees, by some distant Estonians, and yet others. Soon after his death, he was commemorated by a correspondent in London who contacted a Meher Baba devotee in India: “He [Leik] wrote to the Estonian lady [Mary Treumann] saying how good you all were to him, and that he was at peace and knew he was passing on. I journeyed with him to see him start for the land he loved – India. I wept when I heard of his death, as we were brothers all these [thirty] years and I never met a more impressive soul. He was absolutely unselfish and lived only to bless others” (Shepherd, unpublished ms., 1:438).

Leik combined Christian charity with Vedantic metaphysic and ascetic rigour. He inaugurated the Madrasi reception of Meher Baba, in which Paul Brunton soon after became involved at the Saidapet ashram. The Madras devotees were subsequently disconcerted to find that Brunton betrayed their goodwill and hospitality by trashing their figurehead (Meher Baba) because of a primitive instinct for miracles.

In his commercial book Secret India, Brunton gave the impression that he was merely a sceptical enquirer, not an admirer (which was his actual profile at Madras). The despicable literary tactic of Paul Brunton was to relegate Leik as a misguided missionary, and to conceal his own participation in devotee events at Saidapet, where he had glorified his telepathic contact with Meher Baba, whom he had described in laudatory terms (Shepherd 1988b:150).

In 1932, before his book was published, Brunton was active (behind the scenes) in a media attack on Meher Baba, meaning a John Bull feature he wrote anonymously with a Parsi collaborator. His magazine article said of K. J. Dastur, the disaffected Parsi devotee: “In vain he waited for his Master to perform miracles” (Parks 2009:281). Brunton’s own complaint was here being repeated. The British author Charles Purdom subsequently met Brunton, only to find that the latter’s assessment of Meher Baba revolved around the subject of miracles. Brunton said that he had asked Baba to perform a miracle, which was not forthcoming (Purdom 1964:128). This was interpreted by the accuser as proof of fraud. Meher Baba may have known how to treat superfluous requests by deflecting the problematic party.

Purdom reports of K. J. Dastur that this effusive devotee “described himself [in his magazine]  as ‘The Disciple of his Divine Majesty,’ which was objected to by the mandali; but the editor [Dastur] would not listen to them, and [Meher]  Baba, as usual, was indifferent to such matters” (Purdom 1964:77).

5.  Yogis,  Masters,  Powers,  and  Miracles

The press could be very misleading. A Texan newspaper of 1932 proclaimed that Meher Baba was a “Holy Man of the Hindu Yogis” (Parks 2009:302). Meher Baba was not a Yogi. He did not encourage interest in siddhis (powers), and nor miracles. To the contrary, he warned against hagiology: for example, his comments made in 1954 about B. V. Narasimhaswami and Shirdi Sai Baba (Shepherd 2015:42).

Meher Baba resisted siddhis as a distraction and danger, e.g., “siddhis are therefore rightly regarded as obstacles to the attainment of Realization” (Discourses 1987:191). The Irani exponent also mentioned severe pitfalls that can occur as a consequence of misusing “powers” (Meher Baba 1973:125-128). His version of that subject is by no means typical of gurus, and remains little known.

The Irani mystic was an adroit critic of Yogis. He distinguished a higher category of “masters” who were superior to Yogis. At an early date, in August 1927, Meher Baba is reported to have conveyed: “The powers of the yogis are borrowed and are used with an effort, while the powers of a God-realised one are his own and used automatically. Miracles of yogis are selfish as they are invariably based on personal motives.... Miracles in [themselves], whether manifested by Masters or yogis, are mere illusions in comparison with Truth and are no more substantial than this shadow of a world” (Parks 2005:605).

There followed a reflection that the famous Yogi miracle of resuscitating the dead was not favoured by masters (sadgurus), who would prefer “to impress upon the world the fact that what they [in the world] consider to be death is no death at all. Whom to revive when none [are] dead?” (ibid)

In London during 1932, a British journalist reported Meher Baba as saying he could perform miracles if necessary. The Irani said that he had bathed lepers in India, and they had been cured. However, the outcome of this conversation was that Meher Baba queried why the journalist was so insistent on miracles. “Miracles, he explained, were really unimportant” (Davy 1981:43). Meher Baba emphasised, on this occasion, that the attainment of “spiritual unity” is of far greater significance than anything miraculous.
Many people in Britain and America were then preoccupied with miracles, because of references in the New Testament to such phenomena as raising the dead; the enthusiasts found difficulty in assimilating non-Christian teachings.

That same year, Meher Baba briefly mentioned the subject of miracles in two public messages, both delivered in America. The words were identical, commencing with: “The ability to perform miracles does not necessarily connote high spirituality; anyone who has reached the Christ Consciousness can perform them” (Parks 2009:8,14). He actually said very little about miracles. However, this subject was preferred by journalists and some devotees, giving a misleading impression to others.

Several years later, Meher Baba remarked: “The Masters may use their powers on rare occasions to break down the ego of their disciples or help them further along the path.... Ordinarily they secure their purposes through normal, mundane ways” (Discourses 1987:155-156). This was not the kind of message desired by a siddhis enthusiast like Paul Brunton.

In later decades, Meher Baba became more dismissive in reference to miracles. He was known to state that miracles claimed by his devotees were the product of their faith in him, and actually nothing to do with him. He thus disowned miracles attributed to him. In November 1952, he conveyed at Meherabad:

From letters I am informed that, at present, so many persons in the West are having miraculous experiences about me. They write that they saw me there [in the West] . But honestly, I do not know anything of this, even one per cent. How can I know this when I do not do this? If you think I consciously do and know all these 'miracles.' you are under a false impression. Then who did it? God did it for me. (Kalchuri et al, Vol. Eleven, 3934)

He did not deny that paranormal events could occur, but did not credit these as being advanced. Meher Baba criticised the Tantric tradition for encouraging a preoccupation with powers (siddhis), a subject converging so strongly with miracles.  

At Poona in 1963, he relayed: “It is possible to derive such powers if you gain Tantric knowledge. These powers may then be utilised for good or bad purposes.... Such powers have nothing to do with the spiritual path. Miracles performed by people who possess such powers are very childish” (Bharucha  1963:31).

On the same occasion, he added: “Powers have no importance, only love counts on the Path. It requires daring to annihilate oneself. Miracles are childish things” (ibid:33).

6.  The  Kaivan  School

The most applicable associative context for Meher Baba is within the Zoroastrian heritage, not within the Hindu religion. His unorthodox approach has only one clear parallel in earlier times. In the book Iranian Liberal, I emphasised the unusual tradition known as the Azar Kaivan school, a phenomenon of the Mughal era (Shepherd 1988b:127-145). Azar Kaivan (d.1618) was a distinctive Irani Zoroastrian savant who fled from the afflicting Safavid rule in Iran to the tolerance of Mughal India. He was accompanied by Irani Zoroastrian disciples, a circle which eventually expanded to include Muslim contacts, two Jews, and others. (5)

The unusual work Dabistan-e Mazahib is inseparably associated with the seventeenth century outspread of this school. Some scholars believe that the anonymous Dabistan was composed by a Zoroastrian writer (while others favour a Shi'i Muslim author). This author described various contemporary religious and mystical groupings, including the Kaivan school (Shepherd 1988a, part two).

The convergence of Meher Baba, in his heretical context, with the Kaivan school, is fairly substantial (his father Sheriar was familiar with Kaivani works). The Irani Zoroastrian background, the liberal inter-religious attitude, and the basic orientation in a disciplined lifestyle, are some shared features. However, there are some basic differences. For instance, Meher Baba did not promote Kaivani texts. Nor did he elevate the ishraqi corpus associated with Suhrawardi Maqtul (d.1191). He was instead completely independent in his own exposition.

Much had happened since the seventeenth century. The Islamic rule had been ousted by the British colonial system. When incoming Iranis arrived in India, they now found a very different milieu to that of Mughal domination. The immigrants did not have to contend with Islamic doctrine, unlike the situation in Qajar Iran, where the ulama were very influential. Meher Baba was instead at loggerheads with the caste system of Hinduism. He strongly supported the untouchables, a factor reflected in his notable meeting with Dr. Bhimrao R. Ambedkar at Bombay in 1932 (Shepherd 2005:124-125).  That meeting was unpublicised, symptomatic of the genuine commitment demonstrated by both parties.

The Kaivan school was commemorated in the syllabus of the Meher Ashram, an institution for boys existing at Meherabad (and Toka) during 1927-28. In addition to secular tuition, the inmates were educated in religious history and texts of different traditions. On Saturdays, the curriculum included biographies of spiritual leaders, including “Hazrat Azar Kaiwan (a Zoroastrian Master).” This quotation comes from a work (Kalchuri et al, Vol. 3, 963) also including a discrepant rendering of a discourse of Meher Baba mentioning Azar Kaivan (ibid:1020). The misextrapolation has caused a confusion explained elsewhere (Shepherd 1995:854n.152). The original discourse states: “The last true dastur was Azar Kaivan” (Shepherd 1988b:129-130).

The religious aspect of the Meher Ashram curriculum extended to Islam and Sufism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. There was a Gujarati class reading selections from the Desatir, the Ilm-e-Khshnum, and the Gathas of Zarathushtra (Kalchuri et al, Vol. 3, 963). Meher Baba himself did not teach, or quote from, the Gathas (a word generally translated as hymns). Nor did he expound the Desatir, a text strongly associated with the Kaivan school; this book became controversial amongst nineteenth century European scholars for a "pseudo-Pahlavi" linguistic format (though since achieving an improved rating). Meher Baba had no affiliation to the Ilm-e-Khshnum; however, he was liberal in permitting study of diverse religious movements and texts within the Meher Ashram syllabus.

Confirmation of Meher Baba’s positive appraisal of Azar Kaivan is afforded by an episode occurring in March 1963. He then told a gathering of Parsi devotees that Kaivan was a Zoroastrian “perfect master,” a very high distinction in his vocabulary. The gist of his communication was that, after severe difficulties and trials, Kaivan was given “God-realisation” by another master. This climax occurred after Kaivan was like a dead man for forty days, uttering “Yazdan, Yazdan” until he lost his voice (Cyrus M. Khambata, Azar Kaivan and Milarepa).

7.  Ilm-e-Khshnum

The Ilm-e-Khshnum (Path of Knowledge) was a much more recent Zoroastrian movement, created by Behramshah N. Shroff (1858-1927). This Parsi exponent is said to have been enlightened by “masters” who taught him the esoteric meaning of the Avesta. His inspiration is attributed to a secret colony of Zoroastrians in Iran. Shroff gained a following in Surat and Bombay, also converting some Parsi priests at Udwada. He may have been partially influenced by the Kaivani heritage, but did not further the liberal dimensions of that trend. Instead, his movement was exclusively Zoroastrian. Shroff insisted upon formal religious observance.

In 1911, Shroff published in Gujarati the first volume of his Ilm-e Khshnum series, entitled The Key to Understanding the Zoroastrian Religion. "Shroff attracted a considerable group of followers, who then went on to publish their own Khshnumist interpretations of Zoroastrian texts" (Sheffield 2015:549).

The Ilm-e-Khshnum became rivals of the Theosophical Society; they are often stated to have been strongly influenced by that organisation. The teaching of Shroff is described as a Zoroastrianised version of Theosophy, or a "Zoroastrian Theosophy" (Hinnells 2005:104). The Theosophical Society was introduced at Bombay in 1879. By the 1920s, Theosophy had gained many converts amongst Parsis. Shroff converged with Theosophy in his beliefs concerning reincarnation, vegetarianism, the importance of occult powers, and the value of traditional rituals. However, there is a degree of friction discernible in some Khshnumi commentaries, which view Theosophy as a distraction influenced by non-Zoroastrian religions. Shroff himself is said to have expressed opposition to some Theosophical concepts.

Khshnumis have disagreed with the assertion, of a prominent Western scholar, concerning Shroff: "His doctrine has been characterised as a thorough-going adaptation of theosophy, with belief in one impersonal God, planes of being, and reincarnation, much planetary lore, and a complete disregard for textual or historical accuracy" (Boyce 2001:205). The late Mary Boyce tended to view departures from Zoroastrian orthodoxy as an aberration. More approvingly, the same scholar relays that the Khshnumis opposed elaborate ritual improvisations of Parsi Theosophists, instead practising a strict ritual orthodoxy (ibid).

Meher Baba moved in the opposite direction to Shroff. He likewise claimed a link with “masters,” but in his case, these entities were very tangible, primarily meaning Hazrat Babajan, Shirdi Sai Baba, and Upasani Maharaj. He did not teach the esoteric meaning of the Avesta, a Zoroastrian corpus which he tended very much to ignore. The rituals favoured by Shroff were regarded by Meher Baba as superfluous. The following of Meher Baba was not exclusively Zoroastrian, but extended to members of all religions, including Dalits (regarded as untouchables in Hinduism).

Meher Baba was in basic disagreement with the Theosophical Society. He dismissed the relevance of ritualism and occult powers. The Irani mystic is known to have criticised the Theosophical conception of “masters” as being inadequate and misleading. Meher Baba insisted that there were very few genuine masters (or “perfect masters” as he called them). He stated that only five of these entities existed in the world at any one time. He referred to these rare entities as sadgurus or qutubs, the designations here coming from the Hindu and Sufi repertories respectively.

Dr. Mark Sedgwick mistakenly suggests that the Zoroastrian movement, Ilm-e-Khshnum, were a source of religious understanding for Meher Baba. This speculation is made on the basis of a report found in Kalchuri, concerning "a text identified as the Ilm-i Khshnum" being included in the Meher Ashram curriculum. According to Sedgwick, "Meher at least approved of the Ilm-i Khshnum movement, then" (Sedgwick 2017:192). The inclusion of numerous names and texts in the late 1920s Meher Ashram curriculum in no way proves any influence on Meher Baba. He permitted much liberal scope to the teachers in that school for boys at Meherabad. His institution did not foster a repressive atmosphere, unlike some Christian and Hindu schools of mono-religious outlook.

The diverse multi-language curriculum of Meher Ashram included biographies of such figures as Azar Kaivan, Francis Xavier, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, and the Prophet Muhammad; teachings of Swami Vivekananda, Rumi, and Kabir; the Gujarati biography of Upasani Maharaj, the Bhagavad Gita, the Gathas of Zarathushtra, the Desatir, "Christian secret knowledge," and much more (Kalchuri et al, Vol. Three:962-3). Included in the programme is Falsaf-e-Mahzab-e-Alam (Philosophy of World Religions). This markedly eclectic format contradicts any attempt to derive inspiration from any particular religious tradition. The crux of the matter is that Meher Baba had a very different teaching and orientation to Behramshah Shroff and his followers. No close analysis could miss the contrasts. The misleading conjecture of Sedgwick makes no reference to the earlier Kaivani movement.

The pro-Sufi commentator offers another speculation: "A second possible source of Meher's religious understanding may have been the universalism of the Prartharna Samaj (Prayer Society), a Hindu reform society similar to the Arya Samaj (Noble Society) that had welcomed Olcott and Blavatsky in 1879" (Sedgwick 2017:192). The same author makes an insidious attempt to link Meher Baba with the Theosophical Society. The Prartharna Samaj were a theistic grouping based in Bombay, demonstrating a very commendable interest in social reform. This Samaj had a branch in Ahmednagar, a detail which causes Sedgwick to associate them with Meher Baba. Geography does not prove ideological influences.

The slanted commentary fails to relay that Upasani Maharaj (d.1941) was a very significant influence on Meher Baba from 1915 onwards, in respect of both ideology and social action. Upasani was remote from Theosophy and remained aloof from reform societies. The Prartharna Samaj were superfluous here, furthermore contrasting in some ways with the basically monistic outlook of the Irani. Attempts to link Meher Baba with Theosophy are misconceived, taking no account of information conveniently ignored by detractors.

8.  Teachings

Meher Baba, Meherabad 1941

Still obscure to most readers are the “mast tours” undertaken by Meher Baba during the late 1930s and 1940s. This very distinctive activity involved much exertion, considerable philanthropy, and an entire absence of publicity. The three major assistants were all Zoroastrians, notably Aga Baidul, an Irani from the Yazd plain. This “mast work” was unique in twentieth century circles of “spiritual masters.” The descriptions of masts and related categories, supplied by Meher Baba, are very unusual (Donkin 1948). Amongst outsiders, puzzlement was created by the fact that no known comparisons can be found in religious traditions like Hinduism and Sufism.

The major work of Meher Baba was published at New York in 1955. This text includes a vocabulary of Vedantic and Sufi terminologies (meaning Sanskrit and Arabic-Persian). For this reason, the presentation was frequently offputting to readers desiring a single language digest. However, Meher Baba himself was neither a Vedantist nor a Muslim Sufi. He was undoubtedly liberal to both of these traditions. Nevertheless, the differences have to be assimilated.

His version of the spiritual path is not in the format of classical Sufism, and nor canonical Advaita or Vishishdadvaita (despite usage of Vedantic terms). Nor is he a dualist (dvaitin). He does not refer to, or quote, Shankara or Ramanuja, and nor other famous acharyas. There are, however, brief references to both Kabir (a sant) and the Persian poet Hafiz. In other communications, the author made favourable references to sants of the Maharashtrian bhakti tradition. (6) That tradition, including Eknath and Tukaram, had an extension in the symbiosis of Sufi and bhakti heritages.

In his earlier Discourses, there is a similar tendency. Included in one discourse are brief references to Kabir, Rumi, Shams-e-Tabriz, Ghaus Ali Shah, and Bahlul. Sants and Sufis are thus represented, but not the acharyas of Vedanta. The latter category are associated with caste norms, which may have been a reason for the Irani reluctance. Nevertheless, metaphysical teachings of Meher Baba often include emphases comparable to Advaita (non-dualism).

In another direction, his evolutionism is distinctive, and not found in Vedanta texts or Sufi manuals. He rejected the retrograde evolution denoted by the concept of regress into animal forms from the human stage. This disconcerting feature can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy. Meher Baba was not a copyist or rote programme specialist. Nothing similar to his presentation can be found in the Zoroastrian priestly texts known as  Zend-Avesta.

In a more relaxed mode, the Irani mystic approvingly relates the story of how Maulana Rumi was asked by his master Shams-e-Tabriz to fetch wine from a tavern. A serious drawback here was that Rumi had the role of a prominent theologian, with many orthodox followers and associates. Wine was prohibited to Muslims. The new assignment was an impossibility for canonical acceptance. This request “was a crucial test for the Maulana to carry a jar of wine on his shoulders through the streets, but he did it” (Discourses, 1987:155). Meher Baba himself was a teetotaller who had long prohibited alcohol at his ashrams. His standard of discipline was very high, and for most people would amount to a form of asceticism. He often emphasised the factor of obedience in teacher-pupil relationships, something which supersedes mere conversation and veneration.

9. Sufism  Reoriented

A subject of heated disagreement is Sufism Reoriented. In both America and Australia, this organisation has met with a degree of criticism from Meher Baba devotees. Criticism has also come from outside the Meher Baba movement. In one hostile American Sufi version, Meher Baba is portrayed as a Hindu guru wrongly attempting to change Sufism, which he did not understand. The Irani is also presented by detractors in terms of robbing the Sufi grouping of Rabia Martin by acquiring property as a consequence of her allegiance.

In a more generalising sense, some critics describe the Inayat Khan movement and offshoots as "Universal Sufism," a phrase frequently used as a stigma, connoting separation from Islamic exclusivism. Adherents of Sufism Reoriented (SR) have described their organisation as "a thoroughly American approach to worship." SR is well endowed, to the extent of having created a 20 million dollar temple at Saranap, California. Stated to have more square footage than the White House, this ambitious project was designed by a New York firm.

Inayat Khan (1882-1927) founded branches of the Sufi Order in London and Geneva, also travelling in America, where he gained a number of students. After his death, his male relatives are stated to have become the leaders of the "Sufi Movement," also known as the Inayati Order. Rabia Martin (1871-1947) is reported as the first murshida (female teacher) of the Sufi Order. Rabia (Ada Ginsberg) was initiated by Inayat Khan at San Francisco in 1911, subsequently becoming leader of his movement in America.

In 1945, Rabia Martin "announced to all her Sufi students that her work was now dedicated to Meher Baba and that if they wished to remain in her Sufi group, their spiritual allegiance would need to be to him" (Kalchuri et al, Vol. Nine, 3071). Rabia Martin died two years later. Her new affiliation was regarded with suspicion by rivals. A problem she had to contend with, until her death, was the legacy of Inayat Khan's belief in the psychic abilities of Murshid Samuel Lewis (1896-1971), another American disciple of Khan who much later founded the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society in 1970. (7)

Ivy Oneita Duce

Murshida Ivy Duce (1895-1981) was the successor of Rabia Martin. She likewise chose to follow Meher Baba, visiting him at his ashram in 1948. The host expressed satisfaction when Duce admitted her lack of spiritual illumination. Duce later told a newspaper reporter: "He [Baba] said that as long as I didn't claim to be a saint or anything, and if I remained totally honest, he would guide me."

Four years later, in 1952, Meher Baba acknowledged the Sufi Order of Murshida Ivy Duce by contributing to a new Charter. Her organisation became known as Sufism Reoriented. This development has been attended by confusions. (8) Murshida Ivy Duce and her American Sufi murids became devotees of Meher Baba. There were some tensions reported between that contingent and other Western devotees. In another direction, the followers of Murshid Samuel Lewis were rivals of Sufism Reoriented.

One of the earliest followers of Meher Baba was Dr. Abdul Ghani Munsiff (d.1951), an Indian Muslim who lived at Poona, "where he was regarded as the leader of a non-sectarian group of persons with Sufi interests" (Shepherd 1988b:213). In the late 1940s, Ghani was the intermediary in correspondence between Murshida Duce and Meher Baba (whom Ghani and other Muslims referred to as Hazrat Meher Baba). Ghani frequently communicated in a Sufi vein of expression. At that period, he was involved in taking dictations from Meher Baba for the book published in 1955.

Ghani had long ago encountered Inayat Khan, holding that Chishti Sufi in high regard. However, Ghani was disappointed when he eventually read the books of Khan that Ivy Duce sent to him. Murshida Duce enthusiastically preserved the initiatory ritualism she had inherited from the Chishti Order. Ghani himself believed that Sufi ritualism was a superfluous distraction. Meher Baba was strongly resistant to the varying forms of ritualism found in Sufism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism. This characteristic had nothing to do with Protestant Christianity, a religious influence often associated with modification of Parsi ritualism in colonial India. Despite his own personal inclinations, Meher Baba made a point of saying (in 1952) that he allowed his followers to do as they wanted in relation to religious observances. For instance, most of his Zoroastrian devotees continued to wear the kushti (ceremonial thread) around their waist; he did not interfere with such practices (he himself stopped wearing the kushti in 1931).

An explanation, which Meher Baba transmitted to Duce (via Ghani, in 1948), asserts that a spiritual master (or qutub) "never goes through the formality of accepting or initiating a disciple" (Duce 1975:719). An accompanying detail is that discipleship has "to be formed and forged by the aspirant himself, the criterion for which is the quality of self-surrender" (ibid).

One of the complaints made by Meher Baba, in private correspondence, was that orthodox Sufism relied upon hereditary descent in the selection of leaders, whose familiarity with religious scriptures was regarded as authoritative. He distinguished such practices from spirituality. In March 1948 (via Ghani), Meher Baba told Duce that conventional Sufi text experts should "never take upon themselves the responsibility of guiding others, much less claim the authority of conferring Khilafatship [Successorship]." Opponents of this unorthodox perspective have been in strong disagreement.

Contrary to some assumptions, the Ghani-Duce correspondence of 1948-49 had nothing to do with the "Sufi Charter," a project conceived in 1952 and drafted by Americans.

Begging in the New Life at Benares, 1949

Meher Baba was in no hurry to assist with a Sufi Charter. In 1949, he launched into a renunciatory phase he called the New Life, which involved dramatic changes. He certainly gave Murshida Duce and her colleagues plenty of time to consider what they wished to do with their Sufi Order. Nearly all correspondence ceased during the New Life, during which Ghani only sent one or two letters to Murshida Duce, prior to his death in 1951.

During a visit to America in 1952, Meher Baba encountered many Sufis (pupils of Duce), who proved warmly receptive to him. He then promised these people a Charter in the near future. He also conveyed a brief but evocative message, emphasising that he was equally approachable "through Sufism, Vedantism, Christianity, or Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, and other 'isms' of any kind, and also directly through no medium of 'isms' at all" (Kalchuri et al, Vol. Eleven, 3872). His own preference was evidently for an inter-religious approach. He afterwards gave an explanation, which included a complaint that formalism and ritual had caused a problem in various religions. This situation he compared to the effect of rivers running dry. Sufism, Vedanta, and Zoroastrianism were explicitly part of the drawback.

The subsequent Charter has often been mistakenly attributed to Meher Baba. In actual fact, he did not compose this document, but merely appended his signature. However, he did contribute some editing through a secretary. He told Duce to collect and format the varied points necessary, his own task being to correct the draft. A letter to Duce from the secretary Adi K. Irani, dated July 1952, informs that he was reading daily for half an hour to Meher Baba (at Youpon Dunes), a session including the Charter draft that Duce had sent him. "He [Meher Baba] finds many points [in the Charter draft] perfect and many points needing correction." Adi K. Irani (1903-1980) was the man who coined the name Sufism Reoriented. The editing of the Charter was delayed by Meher Baba's motor accident in America. The document was not finished until November 1952.

According to a report from the mandali after Baba's death, several versions of the Charter were drafted by American Sufis (primarily Ludwig Dimpfl, Ivy Duce, and Don Stevens). According to Duce, she was in despair that so many queries remained about the format. One version (basically by Stevens) was approved by Meher Baba. He then stipulated that the existing twelve initiations employed by the Sufi Order (of Duce) should be discontinued. However, he permitted an invocation of Inayat Khan to be retained under Article (Section) VI. He also permitted a Sufi practice of breathing; however, he warned that this should not resemble any of the Yogic practices. Further, the breathing should be practised as a "conveyor of God's name and of the Master's name, with feelings of tender emotions." These directions come from an undated letter of 1952, composed at his dictation by one of the mandali, apparently Adi K. Irani (this letter is now online and well known).

In the same letter, Meher Baba advised that the use of "graded papers," authored by Inayat Khan, should be discontinued. Thirty years later, Don Stevens supplied the information (to the mandali) that Murshida Duce was very upset by the request to cease using the Khan papers for purposes of instruction. For more than a year, she protested to the Irani mystic that the Khan papers were essential to her work. She eventually told Stevens that Meher Baba had at last given her permission to use those papers. Stevens himself then used the Khan papers in Sufi groups under the control of Duce. However, he developed a preference for using the books of Meher Baba in activities that were not subject to the direction of his American mentor. Because of disagreements, Stevens eventually parted from Duce and Sufism Reoriented. His own dissenting reports are very relevant in this subject. (9)

Murshida Duce claimed that Meher Baba promised her a permanent succession of illumined teachers for Sufism Reoriented, to last for seven centuries. The contrasting report of Don Stevens makes clear that this preposterous theme had no basis. (10) The misleading nature of the claim made by Murshida Duce now stands out in sharp relief. (11)

Meher Baba parried the expectation in several ways. He said that charting the democratic aspect of Sufism Reoriented was easy, but to ensure a succession of illumined Murshids was "infinitely difficult." Stevens eventually grasped that Baba was not obligated to fulfill their wishes in this respect. Meher Baba avoided making any promise in relation to the obsession with successors. Instead, he made the Charter state: "Privileges and prerogatives born of Divine Illumination and of Realisation of Truth could never be subject to statutory provision of any kind."

The Sufi Charter is not a long document, being divided into seven sections. An introduction conveys that Meher Baba's own perspective was "detached and above all religions." A basic theme here is that he specified five principal approaches to spiritual reality, meaning Sufism, Vedantism, Christian mysticism, "Broad Buddhism," and "Dasatirian Zoroastrianism."

The American commentaries have not defined what the word "Dasatirian" means. Meher Baba was evidently referring to the Kaivan school text Desatir, which rivalled orthodox Zoroastrianism; this "esoteric Zoroastrianism" was favoured by his father Sheriar. Meher Baba never taught the Desatir, and nor did he employ the teachings of Buddhism or Christianity. However, the basic purpose of the Charter introduction was to emphasise that all five religious approaches had equal validity in his eyes. The Irani mystic was not sectarian in any way.

Opponents continued to misrepresent him as a Hindu guru, also as an interloper influenced by the Theosophical Society. Due study of the relevant background (involving varied documents) is sufficient to negate these casual assumptions.

10.  The  Avatar  Claim

Meher Baba, 1954

In 1954, during a darshan tour in Hamirpur, an innovation occurred when Meher Baba publicly referred to himself as the avatar (divine incarnation). For the first time, he acknowledged a devotee salute that he had previously ignored: "Avatar Meher Baba ki jai." He spelled out this Hindu salute, on his alphabet board, at a gathering of devotees (Kalchuri et al, Vol. Twelve, 4283). He subsequently maintained the elevated identity, which has been enthusiastically promoted by devotees, and strongly denied by critics. I am not concerned here to make such judgements, merely to provide some contextual details. (12)

A very different situation had applied in the New Life phase of 1949-50, when the operative mode for participants was emphasised in terms of: "We should not talk about [Meher] Baba as Master, Sadguru, or Avatar, and we as his disciples; but only to refer to Baba and ourselves as companions" (New Life Circular 2, January 1950).

The Irani mystic borrowed the word avatar (Sanskrit: avatara) from Hinduism. However, his usage of the term was unusual, not fitting standard Hindu doctrines. The same word became tiresomely commonplace in Western literary vocabulary, as a consequence of (mainly American) exposure to Hinduism during the hippy era of the late 1960s. The degraded word avatar can now mean almost anything, from a jesting idiom to components of a computer game, even a profile picture representing any individual gamester avatar. A well known internet reference (deriving from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary) states: "The game creates a virtual world where people interact and participate in activities through their avatars." Another example of devolution is "the hacker's avatar." Slightly more humorous perhaps is "the latest avatar of the conservative party." The time for intelligent discussion of antique words is far in the future for a society dominated by internet chat and commercial adverts.

Meher Baba also employed, if much less frequently,  the accompanying Persian term saheb-e-zaman (Shepherd 2005:139). That phrase means “master of the age,” possessing some Sufi associations. However, in Shia Islam, the phrase can denote a return of the twelfth imam. (13)

Another word he used (infrequently) was rasul (Arabic for “messenger” or “apostle”). A feature of related interest can be mentioned. During his tour of Iran in 1929, a rumour developed amongst Shi’ite Muslims that he was the imam (leader) or rasul (ibid:120). Meher Baba avoided this enthusiasm, even declining to meet the Shah of Iran.

11.  Silence

In 1956, Meher Baba made a further visit to America. A number of brief messages were afterwards published in commemoration. “All the while strictly maintaining his silence, which has now been unbroken for thirty-two years, the teacher delivered the messages by means of hand gestures rather than with the aid of his alphabet board” (Life At Its Best, 1957, p. 5).

Those introductory words were written by Walter Y. Evans-Wentz (1878-1965). This pioneering enthusiast of Tibetan Buddhism was much impressed by the Irani, grasping the extent of his personal discipline. In relation to one of the messages, Evans-Wentz commented: “No wiser definition of the term God has ever been formulated” (ibid:7).

Reactions to silence, and to communication via the alphabet board (and subsequently hand gestures), were sometimes negative. Prodigiously vocal sceptics were incredulous as to how such communication could be effective, or even valid. He who shouts loudest is the winner.

In India, the Hindus refer to silent ascetics in terms of maunam. In such circles, a vow of silence is undertaken for a longer or shorter period of time. Meher Baba was not a Hindi muni, whatever degree of cross-cultural affinity may have existed. He did not take any vow, but continued silence year by year, and indeed, until his death. He was not a declared meditator. Instead, he referred to an activity he called his “work,” stated to be occurring throughout his diverse seclusions, fasts, journeys, and darshan programmes.

12.  Seclusion

A major aspect of lifestyle, in this instance, was seclusion. The retirements of Meher Baba took different forms, and the period of duration likewise varied. He was very often not available to the public, in contrast to many gurus residing at ashrams.

Retirement was generally operative throughout his many journeys, both in India and overseas. An exception was a visit to the West in 1932, when certain British devotees wished to promote him in the press. Meher Baba complied, but soon afterwards reverted to his preferred agenda of incognito travel and aloofness from press coverage.

The well known clip from a Pathe newsreel dates to the 1932 exception. The film crew from Paramount Studios naively expected the Irani visitor to speak while being filmed in London. They had to be content with a silent performance, with author Charles Purdom as the vocalist (Shepherd 1988b:199). (14) Even some devotees had a very limited cognisance of Meher Baba’s lifestyle and priorities. In later years, Purdom more discerningly related a feature of events he personally witnessed:

To be importunate with him [Meher Baba] usually meant that he gave the answer desired, just as any devotee who greatly wished to take any action was, after warning, allowed to do it. (Purdom 1951:258)

The many newspaper reports in 1932 were often sensational and misleading, both in Britain and America. One of the more reliable British journalists recorded a very recent disclosure of Meher Baba: “The statement that I am a ‘messiah’ is not to be taken in a literal sense” (Davy 1981:43). Rumours about a messianic role were rarely checked in reference to what he actually said. Some devotees magnified a belief concerning his exalted role, primarily Meredith Starr, who was nevertheless cautious on some points. (15) One British journalist informed: “I asked Mr. [Meredith] Starr whether Baba would proclaim himself Messiah, and he said that was a question only Baba could answer” (Parks 2009:287). The fact is that Meher Baba had not proclaimed himself as a messiah, a reticence in contrast to all the talk of Starr and other Western devotees about his being a “new Messiah.” Another fact is that Starr gained a great deal of attention in this situation, despite having been a subject of caution in private remarks of Meher Baba to the mandali.

In 1932, Meher Baba was erroneously described in one American newspaper as a Parsi priest (Parks 2009:279). A more factual report in the Washington Post referred to “Meher Baba, proclaimed by his followers as the ‘god man’ and ‘new Messiah,’ arrived here tonight [in Dover, England]  from Bombay and had considerable difficulty with port officials on account of his eight year vow of silence” (ibid:285). Very few outsiders understood his silence, which was merely considered eccentric by many onlookers.

Lugano, 1932, l to r: Delia De Leon, Meher Baba, F. H. Dadachanji, Dr. Abdul Ghani

Some Western devotees found his preference for retirement very difficult to understand. They tended to assume that he wanted publicity. In contrast, for much of his life, Meher Baba demonstrated that he was averse to publicity. His frequent resort to an incognito profile eluded reporters and sightseers. A person who is committed to silence and seclusion is not the most likely candidate for public parade.

Meher Baba, Delhi 1939

The seclusions occurred at numerous places in India, and also in other countries. Perhaps the most distinctive overseas seclusion programme occurred at Mashhad in 1931. Meher Baba there managed to gain entry into the shrine of Imam Ali Reza (d.818), an important site of Shia Islam, guarded by Shia clerics. Non-Muslims were not allowed into the courtyards of the shrine. However, the prestigious caretaker admitted Meher Baba after experiencing a powerful dream about a holy man who had come to Iran (Kalchuri et al, Vol. 4, 1370). (16)

Meher Baba was typically incognito on that occasion, being identified as the “elder brother” by his companions. For three nights, he sat alone in the Imam Reza shrine. He afterwards acknowledged Mashhad as being a significant factor in the process of his “universal manifestation.” Interpretation of such references can vary substantially amongst devotees and other analysts.

13.  Last  Years

In September 1967, a short Dutch documentary (Beyond Words) was made (by Louis van Gasteren) of Meher Baba. This did not become available until thirty years later. The footage forms part of a film entitled Nema aviona za Zagreb, released in 2012, which also provides significant coverage of the LSD problem created by Timothy Leary. The camera slot on Meher Baba occurred at Meherazad ashram (near Ahmednagar), which retained a rustic simplicity. The Irani mystic is here shown washing the feet of lepers, a laborious activity for which he was privately noted. His philanthropy towards the poor and lepers continued throughout his career, and was not typical of gurus. Details were not generally known. Gifts of food, clothing, or money, usually accompanied the ablutions.

In 1967, Meher Baba was in his last seclusion, when very few people were able to see him. Westerners were especially rare, in this respect. The surviving mandali were surprised that Baba allowed Gasteren to visit the ashram and do the filming.

Meher Baba, 1967, from Beyond Words

The Gasteren film included a communication from Meher Baba, via hand gestures, warning about the deceptions involved in drug use. Baba here referred to the recurring situation in which many Indian holy men smoke cannabis (ganja or charas), while imagining that they have acquired a spiritual expansion. They see colours and signs; such hallucinations make them feel they have gained enlightenment. Their experience is not continuous, Baba emphasised; eventually the addicts can become crazy.

In contrast, the Irani claimed a continuous mystical experience without resort to drugs. He was by then well known for his warnings about LSD and other drugs, which he said are harmful in various ways. These warnings were transmitted to the Western world during 1965-66. Many people ignored the restraints, preferring drug use.

During the last years of his life, some American devotees tended to emphasise a brief saying of Meher Baba: “Don’t worry be happy.” The history of this reflection was ignored. (17) The slogan was widely circulated via small printed cards (and also posters). A popular song afterwards featured the simple four word injunction, which became the song title. As a consequence, some outsiders came to believe that the “Don’t worry” aphorism reflected the major teaching of Meher Baba. They were unaware of his extensive dictations, which in conceptual content, substantially exceed the soporific contraction imposed by hindsight.

In 1968, Meher Baba declared that his "work" was now completed to his 100 per cent satisfaction. He did not explain the meaning of this disclosure. There were various theories and beliefs as to what he referred to.

14. The  Mandali  versus  Murshid  Mackie

Meher Baba died at Meherazad ashram in January 1969. He had already prepared his tomb at Meherabad, a basically simple building in a desolate landscape. The surviving mandali, now only a small number of men and women, were host to the international pilgrims.

Meher Baba washing the feet of poor and lepers, with Eruch Jessawala; Eruch in his later years

A decade after the death of Meher Baba, a notable division occurred within the movement. The key mover was Eruch B. Jessawala (1916-2001), a Parsi who joined the mandali as a young man in 1938. He had played a strong role during the low profile mast tours, afterwards becoming the major interpreter of Baba's innovated gesture language during the 1950s. Most of the men mandali were now deceased, some long departed. For instance, Dr. Ghani had died thirty years earlier, while the secretary F. H. Dadachanji had expired in 1943. The formerly sturdy Baidul Irani died soon after Baba, and likewise Dr. William Donkin.

Eruch took strong exception to developments occurring at Sufism Reoriented in distant California. In 1980 he campaigned against the recent action of Murshida Ivy Duce in nominating a "spiritual successor," namely James (Jim) Mackie. The agitated letters of Eruch complained at what the mandali felt to be an unwarranted innovation. Eruch had received complaints about Mackie from other American devotees; the behaviour of Mackie was now considered too disconcerting to condone. The tactics of Mackie were described by critics as theatrical, manipulative, and even hypnotic. His chain-smoking became another subject of query (Meher Baba did not smoke, and tended to frown upon this habit, save in relation to masts).

Murshida Duce sent a delegation to India, for the purpose of justifying her organisation against the recent volley of critique. Her five emissaries talked with Eruch and his associates at the ashrams, adopting a defensive attitude. Basic issues were not resolved. In October 1980, Eruch wrote in exasperation: "The Sufis who visited us implied that Ivy [Duce] is infallible, and as such, induction of Jim Mackie into the [Sufi] Order, and his having been made a preceptor by her wish, is irrefutable."

Eruch did not accept that Murshida Ivy Duce was incapable of error. He was resisting a strong belief to this effect which had developed within her organisation over thirty years. Eruch added in his new letter of complaint: "All of us are liable to err, including Ivy." (18) The mandali continued their rejection of Mackie.

Not long after, Murshida Duce died in 1981. Her students at Sufism Reoriented rallied to the support of Mackie, who now replaced her as Murshid (according to her explicit nomination). This contingent published that same year a booklet entitled Sufism Speaks Out: Sufism Reoriented Replies to Attacks from India. The counter to Eruch was widely distributed, including responses from Mackie and several of his colleagues. Mackie urges that Adi K. Irani, when visiting America in 1979, agreed with his own view that Meher Baba spoke directly though Murshida Duce. This was considered a confusion by Eruch and his supporters. The secretary Adi K. Irani died in 1980; this senior member of the mandali could no longer be consulted on matters of disagreement.

Murshid Mackie now presided in a situation that was unprecedented, meaning that he encouraged defiance against the mandali. His supporters, in Sufism Speaks Out, included Dr. Allan Y. Cohen, who had formerly been active in disseminating the anti-drug messages of Meher Baba. Cohen had once been praised by Mani S. Irani (1918-1996) for his efforts (Mani was Baba's sister, and the most vocal of the women mandali). Now Cohen was in conflict with the mandali, who regarded him and other Sufi enthusiasts as retrogressive devotees. Mani was a strong supporter of Eruch in the reaction against Sufism Reoriented. In 1982, Mani described Dr. Cohen as being "totally committed to the leadership of Jim Mackie."

Cohen certainly did express a strong support for Mackie, denying hostile versions of his role. Some ex-Sufis had provided negative reports. However, Cohen does reflect: "Some of Jim's apparent eccentricities may be baffling to outside observers." Dr. Cohen describes himself as "a Sufi preceptor" (Mackie 1981:45), a confirmation of his deep involvement in Sufism Reoriented. Cohen and Mackie were both Sufi preceptors, and in close contact; the link was evidently strong. Cohen adds a perspective of Murshida Duce which had apparently been influential. "Murshida has indicated to Mani that Jim's work may be consistent with work done from the sixth plane of consciousness" (ibid:49). Mani did not believe in the sainthood of Dr. Mackie. In the teaching of Meher Baba, the sixth plane is an advanced state of consciousness.

Dr. Cohen expressed a respect for the academic connections of Mackie. Both of them had a background in psychotherapy. Their critics did not believe that academic qualifications and psychotherapy roles were necessarily an indication of spiritual adeptship. Mackie certainly did hold a Ph.D. from the University of Utah; he had also filled the role of assistant professor of psychiatry for ten years (until 1978) at the University of Maryland Medical School. He had contributed to the elite Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, which he edited for three years. Mackie transited to co-authorship with Duce of the book entitled Conversations with a Western Guru (1981). This latter contribution was sub-titled: The Termination of the Golden Age of the Ego and the Beginning of Spiritual Awareness. The egoless attributes of Duce and Mackie have been disputed.

Dr. Mackie's output extended to a series of saleable cassette tapes, which included such topics as "speeding up karma." Critics described such tendencies as commercial neo-Sufism. The fashion for "spiritual" tapes was widespread in "new age" enthusiasms, targeting an affluent consumer base.

The Mackie literature asserted that "founding and organising Sufism Reoriented occupied [Meher] Baba's attention for more than twenty years and was the most innovative educational project of his life." Eruch and Mani were not in agreement. Mani pointedly responded that the mandali who lived with Meher Baba "very seldom heard him mention about it [Sufism Reoriented] in all those years" (wordings from Sufism Speaks Out).

Meher Baba's tomb, Meherabad

Murshid Mackie conducted what has been described as a "collective boycott" of Meher Baba's tomb at Meherabad, the major pilgrimage venue of devotees. Sufism Reoriented no longer patronised the tomb, which their members ceased to visit. Dr. Mackie was proving that he had control over his new flock. Eruch had accused him of being a predatory wolf.

A letter from Bhau Kalchuri to Don Stevens is of interest. This is dated October 1985, being composed soon after Kalchuri had visited California, where the Sufis did not attend his meetings. Kalchuri joined the mandali in 1953. "I find that Jim Mackie is playing the game of psychology and hypnosis with them [American Sufis] , and the Sufis have been completely deluded." Kalchuri adds that he had never read the Sufi Charter of 1952 until 1980, when Duce sent her delegation to the ashram. "I found that Baba did not make any provision in the Charter for the appointment of the Murshid after Ivy Duce." Kalchuri also informs that the mandali had not been in the habit of referring to Duce as Murshida, a restraint which puzzled her murids when they visited the Meherabad and Meherazad ashrams.

In 1987, Mackie altered his tactics. He led about 300 murids (disciples) in a special expedition to the tomb at Meherabad Hill. He subsequently increased the number of his followers to nearly five hundred, his organisation being based in California and Washington.

Murshid Mackie eventually published his compact Sufi Handbook (1997). The pilgrimage to Meherabad is here respected. The statement appears: "Sufi classes are gatherings to celebrate the Avatar." This assertion may have been intended to placate the mandali, but has annoyed conventional Sufis who define classes in a different idiom. American devotees were often lavish in their use of the avataric title. Outsiders are still frequently disconcerted by the enthusiasm.

There is nothing antinomian or bizarre about the Sufi Handbook. There is a passage mentioning emphases of Meher Baba in the Sufism Reoriented Charter of 1952. Meher Baba identified inner qualities needing to be cultivated, e.g., to be able to cherish no material ambitions, to avoid every type of falsehood, and to be prepared for complete abstinence from lustful activities except legitimate marriage relations (Sufi Handbook, pp. 52-53).

The Handbook makes no reference to allegations which disturbed many observers. Circa 1988, Dick Anderson reported that many murids had questioned the actions of Mackie. In all cases (about twenty of them), the Murshid forced the objectors out of Sufism Reoriented. Moreover, Mackie encouraged the rest of his community to shun these critics. His severe measures, in some cases, are said to have destroyed families. Anderson himself was one of the victims. He accused Mackie of acting like a spiritual master and demanding uncritical obedience. Dr. Mackie had refused all invitations to open dialogue.

Anderson made another pointed accusation, He said that the followers of Mackie believed their leader to be a "perfect master." This is a very exalted role in the terminology of Meher Baba. "If you pin them down, many of them [Mackie followers] will even admit all this."

The variations of attitude and behaviour within the Meher Baba movement were by now extensive. While Murshid Mackie and Sufism Reoriented were enjoying the deceptive Duce belief in a perpetual series of illumined teachers, Don Stevens was supplying data revealing that certain American Sufi beliefs were misrepresenting communications of Meher Baba. Stevens himself enjoyed a star role as a globetrotting Sufi who lectured on Baba's Discourses. In London, the enthusiastic rock star Pete Townshend opened Meher Baba Oceanic in 1976; he often deferred to Ivy Duce as a spiritual teacher. That ambitious English "Baba Centre" terminated a few years later, after serious complications occurring in Townshend's celebrity career, compromising his stance as a dedicated devotee of Meher Baba, and causing him to recede from the movement.

In contrast to such prominent entities, the Hindu disciple Inder Sain (Sen) was committed to self-abnegation and obscurity, to such an extent that the mandali eventually disclosed their failure to locate this low profile scientist. (19) Sain had known Meher Baba since 1946, two years earlier than Duce and six years earlier than Stevens. His 1960s comments on the movement were recorded, revealing an unusual dimension to some events.

Last but not least, Charles Purdom (d.1965) was a restrained British commentator whose contact with the Irani mystic dated back to 1931. Purdom was an exegetical rival to Duce and Stevens. These two parties, the "Old School" and "Reoriented Sufi," produced different versions of the Discourses. Purdom's elegant English diction supported Meher Baba's characteristic silence and alphabet board on a well known Pathe newsreel of 1932. Purdom had considerable experience of how devotees often misinterpreted Meher Baba, preferring their own version of what he communicated.

15.  Statement  of  Independence

The currently confused state of Meher Baba studies makes a clarification relevant.  My independent stance here refers to the Meher Baba movement. I am neither a Meher Baba devotee, nor a Sufi. My perspective may be gauged from my earlier published statement: "The ethnographic, sociological, and mystical material contained in Meher Baba's case history can be studied without becoming a dogmatic spokesman for or against" (Shepherd 2005:139).

I contributed the first critical bibliography on Meher Baba, which can be found in the book Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (1988). Other features of that book are necessary to mention here, not least because Iranian Liberal was dismissed (largely without perusal) by some Western devotees, particularly at the Myrtle Beach Meher Spiritual Center in South Carolina.

At the time when Iranian Liberal was published, various writers and many devotees tended to believe that Meher Baba was an Indian Parsi, with strong links to Hinduism. Iranian factors were not envisaged. In publisher cataloguing, Meher Baba was often classified under Hinduism. I have adopted a contrasting view. “Meher Baba was an Irani Zoroastrian by blood, and a Parsi only by virtue of his environment” (Iranian Liberal, p. 127). I now follow the more strict ethnic taxonomy of eschewing the word Parsi for this figure. Both of his parents came from Yazd, in Central Iran. See Meher Baba and Yazd.

The Hindu association often arises because of the avatar claim, also features of cosmology. Offsetting these factors are Sufi terminology. However, the eclectic Meher Baba was not a Muslim. Associations with Sufism Reoriented can be misleading. I suggested Zoroastrian dimensions that are generally overlooked, viewing Meher Baba as a sequel to the liberal Kaivani trend, created by Irani Zoroastrians who fled from Safavid oppression to Mughal India in the sixteenth century. This inter-religious manifestation extended to Muslims, Jews, at least one Hindu, and one Christian.

Iranian Liberal also included an assessment of critics and partisans (the latter including Charles Purdom and Ivy Duce). That book provided unprecedented analysis of the misleading presentation by critic Paul Brunton in a well known commercial writing published in 1934.

A further coverage of Meher Baba was included in my Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (2005). This ingredient comprised a 57-page text coverage accompanied by 65 pages of annotations on the same figure. The book was dismissed in 2012 by an American Meher Baba devotee (pseudonymous editor Hoverfish), who employed the Wikipedia Meher Baba article talkpage for his aspersion. The dismissal implied that I invented the key phrase represented in my title, meaning "Sai Baba movement." The substantial error is an example of a tendency to assume knowledge of book content by the title. The phrase at issue was coined by academics many years before. A general University judgment is that pseudonymous remarks on Wikipedia talkpages are too often symptomatic of a troll disposition.

The Meher Baba article on Wikipedia became identified as a zealously guarded partisan feature maintained by two or three Western “Baba lovers,” to use an identity phrase favoured by their movement. In May 2012, the same Meher Baba talkpage also featured an American Sufi follower of Meher Baba who stated: “I now dislike [Kevin] Shepherd a lot and I never even met him.” The pseudonym here was Humus The Cowboy. His discourtesy revealed the license for personal bias operating as Neutral Point of View on Wikipedia. The implications are that I should take great care not to meet Reoriented Sufis, in case their dislike increases.

Meher Baba’s noteworthy Prayer of Repentance includes the refrain: “We repent especially… for all slander and backbiting” (Purdom 1964:238). Repentance has not been in vogue at the Meher Baba article on Wikipedia, the custodians instead contributing to deletion of the Kevin R. D. Shepherd article. They disliked me a lot, that bias rendering their Neutral Point of View victorious.

The Meher Baba movement originally harboured well behaved entities like Charles Purdom and Dr. William Donkin, both of whom were authors, with a capable command of English. Such persons were not dogmatic. The American branch of this movement has since contributed openly aggressive tactics and snubs, calculated to produce aversion to their target, using a popular high profile web media.

Analysis of such phenomena can easily lead to a conclusion that the avatar theme, so widely claimed as a distinguishing hallmark, produces a superiority complex, leading to dismissive and hostile behaviour. The avatar doctrine, facilitating a sense of uniqueness for the followers, is effectively believed to justify cult attackers (whether Reoriented Sufis or “Baba lovers”). If that tendency worsens, then outsiders may anticipate a future religious vogue of denunciations, character assassinations, and perhaps even inquisition.

Christopher Ott (Dazedbythebell)

A “vast knowledge” of Meher Baba was claimed by another American devotee, Christopher Ott, on his website. Ott is a major figure at the Meher Spiritual Center (Myrtle Beach). He has also claimed degrees in Cinema and Philosophy. As a Wikipedia editor, using the pseudonym Dazedbythebell, Ott played a major part in the contested deletion of the Wikipedia article Kevin R. D. Shepherd in 2009. The details were recorded at the time. Ott was a zealous partisan maintaining the Wikipedia article Meher Baba, considered a model of excellence by the devotee editors, whose neutrality is disputed. Their agenda was geared to elimination of a contrasting viewpoint, represented by another Wikipedia article abovementioned.

The tyranny exercised by Baba lovers can be severe. Ott questioned my private research at Cambridge University Library (CUL). “He learned what he knows in a library?” Any learning in this direction was evidently considered pathetic and ridiculous. CUL is a dead end, unlike the Meher Spiritual Center. The Wikipedia User page of Dazedbythebell declared that he is a follower of Meher Baba who attended the University of Southern California (USC), a private research university in Los Angeles. These distinctions, plus a master's degree, totally eclipse private research at CUL. I am a mere golliwog by comparison with the elite Follower of Meher Baba.

The holdings at Cambridge University Library are substantial, with "over 8 million books, journals, and other items." CUL offers "one of the largest collections on open shelves in Europe," to quote again from the official site. CUL holdings probably exceed those in USC, with the exception of cinematic archives reflecting Warner Brothers achievement. I was not interested in cinema, not regarding Hollywood as an ideal, however many dollars are involved. USC also emphasise holdings in European philosophy. I am effectively a complete stranger to this subject by virtue of the elitist Ott ranking system. How can the non-elite ever learn in a library about European philosophy? Non-devotee untouchables must crawl in the dust of ignorance, overshadowed by status masters and their overwhelming pride in degrees.

Learning at CUL merited a collusionist dagger from USC Vast Knowledge on a deletionist page. USC demonstrated superiority in a very disconcerting manner. Americans are supremely non-democratic at USC and Myrtle Beach. The Irish-English can only hope for a premature epitaph when their profile is terminated by American cult collusion in NPOV (Neutral Point Of View). The Ott strategy included resort to displaying on Wikipedia (via links) the attack blogs of sectarian cyberstalker Gerald Joe Moreno (d.2010) of New Mexico. This device supposedly proved that I was aberrant, and moreover, that the article on myself should be dismissed from Wikipedia files. By that time, legal experts in three different countries had classified Moreno as an agent of libel who merited strong contradiction in his attacks upon numerous victims. Moreno was a very aggressive internet apologist for Sathya Sai Baba (d.2011).

Jimmy Wales

In the end, it was not lawyers who ousted Moreno from Wikipedia, but Jimmy Wales. In February 2012, Wales eliminated the User page of SSS108, a pseudonym of Moreno. That page had caused problems, and misrepresentation of myself, for six years. In an email to me, Wales conceded that such problems should not arise on Wikipedia. The drawbacks had to be rectified by a form of resolute action of the type he demonstrated.

In a continuation of the afflicting scenario, in January 2012, the victim was erroneously identified with two Wikipedia editors who opposed Ott (Triple Incarnation Theory). The assumption here amounted to a belief that I was concealing my real identity in a dispute with the invincible Meher Baba Followers on Wikipedia. In fact, I have never been a Wikipedia editor of any kind, and moreover, have no wish to be. The persons concealing their real identity were the pseudonymous Ott circle Meher Baba Followers, who attempted to smash my reputation more than once.

A pseudonymous colleague of Ott is real life Stelios Karavias (alias Hoverfish). This editor contributed, on a Wikipedia page, an accusation against me deriving from American devotees, more especially at the Myrtle Beach Centre. This revealed the underlying nature of bias emerging in a deletionist episode, the victim being considered a deviant heretic by Meher Baba lovers who had lost contact with the history of their movement. This matter is considered very serious by some capable internet analysts, Wikipedia being strongly implicated as the media of sectarian interests in deletionist tactic.

Ott (Dazedbythebell) infiltrated the Wikipedia article on Meher Baba’s father Sheriar Mundegar Irani. The original academic editor (Dr. M. E. Dean) complained that his article was changed by Ott into a devotional feature. Dr. Dean retreated from Wikipedia in disgust, preferring Citizendium. Meher Baba devotee preferences intervened; my name was deleted from the Wikipedia text. That article has since been eliminated. In 2018, an internal Wikipedia motion deleted a number of articles maintained by Ott, who was now considered an over-enthusiastic partisan of the Meher Baba movement.

In September 2019, an administrative critical reassessment of the Meher Baba article noted the existence of an independent and relevant source not mentioned in the article. This source was Iranian Liberal. The disclosure met with a very deceptive response from the reappearing editor Nemonoman, long noted for his User page template: “This user believes Meher Baba was Indian.”  In 2013, his User page informed: "I have been a follower of Meher Baba for many years" (Wikipedia Sectarian Strategies). Six years later, now identifying himself as a novelist, Nemonoman stated: “The author [Kevin Shepherd] is a Baba Follower” (Meher Baba talkpage, 17/09/2019). An administrator duly queried this assertion, urging that independent sources were needed.

The dissimulating Nemonoman then falsely asserted: “Shepherd lives a few miles away from me. We are acquaintances, not friends” (Meher Baba talkpage, 17/09/2019). The pseudonymous front man for Dazedbythebell evidently believed his ruse would serve to disqualify the "Iranian" book, which he was implying to be a devotee contribution. I do not live in the same territory as the Follower editor attempting to place me in the same category as himself. I am not any kind of acquaintance of the misleading Wikipedia entity Nemonoman. I have never met the novelist.

The "Iranian" book was suppressed for many years by the devotee manipulators on Wikipedia. The preface states that I "do not choose to propagandise in any way for the [Meher Baba] movement" (Iranian Liberal, p. 5). I am not a Baba Follower. I am NOT a devotee or Baba lover. I am a critic of the Meher Baba movement, with an angle on the figurehead seeking to ascertain context and history.

For over a decade, many observers have seen that, in relation to the Meher Baba article, the Wikipedia phrase Neutral Point of View is a Total Fiction. Abuse of living authors is beyond tolerance. Wikipedia talkpages (and User pages) can deride and misrepresent living authors without any due citation from their books or websites. Legal recourse may be more appropriate than this pseudonymous convenience.

In 2012, the User page of Dazedbythebell referred to me contemptuously as Sam Shepherd (05/01/2012). Sam is an American slang term often used in a demeaning context. Some say that this designation is too evocative of the perjorative sambo, strongly associated with the American class system. Living authors should not be identified on Wikipedia by the wrong name conveying slang opprobrium.

Raymond Kerkhove

In Australia, a different tactic emerged in a doctoral dissertation by Raymond Kerkhove, approved at the University of Queensland. This was an advanced and inclusivist feat by comparison with the excising Vast Knowledge at Myrtle Beach. Kerkhove duly supplied many footnotes in his thesis, and included the heretical Iranian Liberal (also other works of mine). The title of his dissertation is Authority and Egolessness in the Emergence and Impact of Meher Baba (2002, available online). The title theme implies ideological factors. Kerkhove is a partisan according to Meher Baba devotees. However, a due focus is necessary here. He writes: "For the most part, my views run counter to what the majority hold" (personal communication, 03/10/2019).

Kerkhove acknowledges the assistance of numerous devotees. He specifically defers to the Australian Meher Baba Centre known as Avatar’s Abode, located in Queensland. “I wish to thank the Trustees and residents of Avatar’s Abode for the unique privilege of permitting me to live at their beautiful Sunshine Coast centre for almost five years (1995-2000).” (Kerkhove 2002:vi)

Avatar’s Abode (AA) does not possess an untarnished reputation for open-minded discussion. In 1993, a reputable Australian barrister (Patrick Connor) was disconcerted when his donation of a free book to the AA library was refused on grounds of heretical content. That book was Iranian Liberal. “The intending donor was shocked at the insular viewpoint he encountered in the leading devotee of senior reputation who presided at that Centre. The reasons given for the rejection of the gift copy were that I had no suitable credentials (of affiliation to Meher Baba) to produce such a book, and that I must have distorted whatever information I had availed myself of. No recognition was given to the fact that I had favourably reported the subject’s life and teaching” (Shepherd 1995:201 note 276).

The senior devotee at Avatar’s Abode was Bill Le Page. “The literary apartheid, created by cult personnel like Bill Le Page and others, signifies the prestige assumed and exercised by senior devotees who seek to screen out any alternative version of their figurehead that they do not happen to like. The matter boils down to the fact that criticisms (however mild) of senior devotees are unwelcome and regarded as cardinal crimes, and are thus effaced from the cult records” (Shepherd 2005:238-9 note 445). Iranian Liberal was surreptitiously removed from Wikipedia files at the time of article deletionist procedure in 2009.

The Kerkhove dissertation informs: “In the case of this research, much use was made of Bill Le Page, who for 45 years has regularly visited and stayed with relatives and disciples of Meher Baba” (Kerkhove 2002:69). The influence of Le Page must here be reckoned with. Relatives and mandali (disciples) of Meher Baba often appear as god-like figures in devotee annals. They were beyond reproach. On fairly numerous occasions, Meher Baba himself proved resistant to hagiology (Fenster 2009).

Dr. Kerkhove has evidently moved away from the influence exerted by Le Page; he does not write in dogmatic terms. He communicated to me: "Your books are very much at the Avatar's Abode library - certainly during the years I lived there and when I lived nearby." That means from 1989 onwards until 2011. "I know many 'Baba devotees' in Australia who have your books in their own collections, and who cherish them.... Bill [Le Page] has limited awareness of what is and is not in the library collection. He may have rejected your friend's offer simply because he was unfamiliar with your writings - it's happened before with others.... Bill has few supporters in Australia" (personal communication 03/10/2019). Le Page was not generally popular with Australian devotees, who tended to resist his authoritarian stance. Confirmation was sent to me that two of my books are currently in the AA library, meaning Iranian Liberal and Hazrat Babajan: A Sufi Matriarch.

Sheriar Mundegar Irani

In the Queensland dissertation, Kerkhove stresses the credibility of lineage, authorisation, and behaviour, plus “Meher Baba’s initiation and training” (Kerkhove 2002:iv). The author is keen to provide proof or indication of “initiatory” input relating to his subject. For instance, he states: “In fact, Kevin Shepherd’s From Oppression to Freedom argues that Sheriar Irani was initiated into one school of Sufi-tinged Kaivanite mysticism” (ibid:158). In actual fact, that book has no such argument, whether the word “initiated” is treated literally or metaphorically.

Sheriar Mundegar Irani himself was not partial to initiations; those rites were a custom in Hinduism, and to some extent in Islamic Sufism. Meher Baba may have derived his similar non-ritual disposition from his father. He was certainly in disagreement with the initiatory observances of Ivy Duce and her American colleagues of Sufism Reoriented. In From Oppression to Freedom, I outlined the indications of a strong affinity of Sheriar Irani with the Kaivani literature that resurged in nineteenth century Parsi circles in India. This empathy had nothing to with being initiated into any school. There was no surviving school of Kaivani mystics, only residual texts available for study. Distractions existed for the unwary in a proliferating enthusiast mode of “Theosophy.” Zoroastrians were frequently prone to the belief systems known as “Parsi Theosophy” and Khshnumi Zoroastrianism.

The Desatir, reputedly a Kaivani work, was studied by Sheriar at Poona. He would not have needed the English translation published in 1818 (he did not read English). This very accessible text proved influential amongst both Theosophists and Khshnumis (and later gained the fantastic repute, amongst Western enthusiasts, of being a Rosicrucian treatise). Theosophy was in vogue amongst Parsis from 1882 onwards. Colonel Henry Olcott even stated that the authority of the Desatir equalled the Avestan Gathas; this judgment seems to have become a fairly widespread Parsi belief. Olcott described both of these texts in terms of "occult science" (Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, p. 62).

The contents of the Desatir are complicated by linguistic considerations. More basically, the Desatir "advocates spiritual progress through fasting and meditation, and teaches reincarnation" (Kreyenbroeck 2001:49). Despite a preferred convergence, "the similarity with Theosophical beliefs is superficial in many respects" (Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, p. 155). A more history-oriented Kaivani work is the Dabistan-i Mazahib, recording some Mughal era events and interpretations. This text also became available in a defective English translation, without achieving the exalted "Theosophical" status of the Desatir.

Sheriar was not a Theosophist. “When Sheriar Irani was in Bombay during the mid-1870’s, he may well have encountered Parsi enthusiasts who were collecting anything resembling a Kaivani text; some of these enthusiasts were probably future candidates for the high-flown interpretations of European and American Theosophy” (From Opp. to Freedom, p. 43). The same page states: “It is my contention that he [Sheriar] was an effective Kaivani, or the nearest sequel to the prototype that one can find in nineteenth century Parsi annals.” There is no reference to initiation or any school. Esoteric schools are a subject of fantasy in the contemporary era. Businessman Sheriar Irani was a scholar of Persian and Arabic (also a Hebrew speaker); he did not need the distractions of initiation, Theosophical occultism, and the Kshnumi lore of Mount Demavand.

The Queensland dissertation innovates via the phrase “Kevin Shepherd’s Kaivanite Theosophy” (Kerkhove 2002:144). That statement represents a very substantial confusion. Kerkhove is here referring to Meher Baba, whom he mistakenly equates with “Zoroastrian NRMs,” meaning new religious movements. Kerkhove is not discussing the same subject as myself. He does not supply any footnote for my supposed “Kaivanite Theosophy,” amounting to a wrong suggestion created by assumptions at Avatar’s Abode.

Kerkhove ignores the data in the book he misrepresents. I specifically explained how Sheriar Irani was averse to Western Theosophy, and that he did not join the Kshnumi movement of Behramshah Shroff (From Opp. To Freedom, pp. 62-64). “It may have been the confrontation with Olcottian extravaganzas that made Sheriar even more determined to continue his Arabic and Persian researches” (ibid:63). The Ilm-i Khshnum “attempted to rival the Theosophical Society, but did not gain the same widespread allegiance amongst Parsis; Sheriar definitely knew of it in his later years, but did not become a member” (ibid:64).

I had access to Sheriar’s son Adi, with whom I conversed in London. Adi S. Irani was not himself concerned to study Kaivani texts, but testified to the substantial erudition of his father in Persian and Arabic (and Gujarati). Sheriar was easily able to study Kaivani texts, in addition to Zoroastrian texts and Sufi texts (a relevant question is whether he knew any Hebrew texts, as seems likely, because another relative reported his familiarity with Hebrew). Adi was not enthusiastic about Parsi Theosophy in the various forms that this phenomenon assumed, certain of which invoked the name of Azar Kaivan (d.1618). Like his father, Adi was very critical of Theosophy. In contrast, Kerkhove favours an occultist “Kaivanite Theosophy,” which is moreover wrongly attributed to me.

Kerkhove is confused by generalising data found in the labyrinth of popular sources. The Mukashafat of Azar Kaivan is described as the common bible of “Parsi Theosophists” (Kerkhove 2002:153, who renders the treatise title as Mookarifateh Kayvani). Those Theosophists are associated with Bombay, where Parsis were literate but not always discerning (like many British and American equivalents). The opposing Dastur Maneckji Dhalla described Parsi members of the Theosophical Society as “modern successors” of the liberal Kaivani mystics, whom he detested as “Yogists” (From Oppression to Freedom, p. 178). Such confusions were rampant in the 1930s, when Dhalla contributed his History of Zoroastrianism.

Kerkhove urges a theory based upon very questionable concepts. This is obligatory for me to emphasise in view of his mistaken attribution of “Theosophy” to my own output. He employs the heading Zoroastrian Kaivanite (‘Theosophical’) Lineage through Sheriar Irani. Kerkhove correctly states that Meher Baba’s family were not priests. However, he adds “like most Parsis – he [Meher Baba] could not directly inherit the Dastur lineage of Azar Kaivan” (ibid:157). This statement reveals the influence of unreliable sources. The tag of Dastur for Kaivan was an enthusiast invention of the nineteenth century. The lore about sacerdotal lineage is extremely misleading.

According to Kerkhove: “It is feasible that Meher Baba, through his father and grandfather, inherited a mystical lineage derived from one of Azar Kaivan’s non-Dastur disciples” (ibid:158). This theory is justified in the next paragraph by mention of my book From Oppression to Freedom, which I do not believe Kerkhove had read in full. The lore of “lineage” and “initiation” is everywhere an affliction for the credulous. To repeat, these notions are not related to my own books, which say something quite different.

The following are a few of the statements I made in Part Three of Iranian Liberal:

An important point to grasp is that the Kaivanis were never a sect in the usual sense of the word…. They did not crystallise into an organisation, and appear to have died out as a distinct trend during the mid-seventeenth century…. The Kaivanis were primarily philosophers and mystics, not religionists... they were misinterpreted in some features by nineteenth century religionists…. [the term] ‘Kaivani’ is itself merely a convenient classification for an outstandingly liberal philosophical and mystical trend…. Though it was believed by nineteenth century Zoroastrian priests that Azar Kaivan was a dastur (high priest), there is no evidence that he ever had any such sacerdotal role. This status rests upon assumption, and can be explained in terms of a priestly milieu wishing to assimilate a mystical entity to their own canons…. It is perhaps best to describe Meher Baba as a neo-Kaivani. (Iranian Liberal, pp. 128-129, 134)

Within less than a decade, the rejected book Iranian Liberal, despised by a prominent elitist at Avatar’s Abode, became an integral feature of the Queensland doctoral thesis. However, Kerkhove aborted my philosophical Kaivan “sequel” theme, seeking to change this into an occultist scenario of lineage and initiation, even incorporating the pious “Theosophical” beliefs about Dastur lineage. The Meher Baba movement now gained an improbable anchorage in “Kaivanite Theosophy,” along with the extensive muddle signified by that phrase.

Iranian Liberal was the first book to align Meher Baba with aspects of the Kaivani heritage, and in a manner not duplicated by Kerkhove, who ignored the crucial Part Three. From Oppression to Freedom was published the same year (1988), again proving too much for many Western devotees to read. Meher Baba partisans in England were completely indifferent to Sheriar Irani, including Sir Tom Hopkinson. In the elitist British opinion, Zoroastrianism was entirely foreign territory, full stop. There was not the slightest interest in historical context. Meher Baba here floated in a vacuum of data, without parentage, religious background, or relevant history, subject entirely to devotional beliefs.

During the 1920s, Meher Baba repudiated the authority of Zoroastrian ritual priests, though not in any politically activist manner. Instead this mystic commenced silence in 1925. He did not accept any of the priestly complexes entertained by Kerkhove’s “lineage” theory. The Parsi reformists were also in opposition to the priesthood, but in a more compromising manner. Reformists increasingly recognised that the inbreeding emphasis of the priests was a problem. A century later, this endogamous emphasis is now widely viewed as a catastrophe. The Parsi population is diminishing at a very alarming rate.

Meher Baba was not a carbon copy of Azar Kaivan…. A feature in which Meher Baba did closely follow the Kaivani precedent was his liberal and non-sectarian spirit. In making a complete break with conventional Zoroastrianism, he demonstrated a universal range that simultaneously allowed for others to retain their native religion even while participating in his own worldview. (Iranian Liberal, pp. 141-2)

Kerkhove appropriately says that Meher Baba placed himself as a multi-faith figure. He adds that Baba appears to have been successful in defying “pigeon-holing” into any specific tradition. Kerkhove states that there is still no agreement within scholarly circles about his context. Meher Baba is described as being Muslim-influenced; he has also been tagged a Neo-Hindu. Paul Brunton opted for a classification as “Christian Revivalist-influenced.” Shepherd is stated to consider him a “Zoroastrian liberal” (Kerkhove 2003:2). Kerkhove has here replaced the phrase “Iranian [Irani] liberal” with “Zoroastrian liberal.” There is a substantial difference that is not explained or perceived.

Meher Baba wearing a kushti girdle at Toka, 1928

The Irani liberal did not quote the Quran, and strongly disagreed with the Hindu caste system (to a radical extent, instead supporting Dalits). He did employ some Sufi and Hindu terminology in an eclectic manner. Anyone wishing to overlook the Zoroastrian factor has to explain why Meher Baba wore the kushti girdle until 1931. The Paul Brunton reflection about Christianity may be regarded as erroneous (Brunton shows a basic ignorance of Zoroastrianism).

Commonly ignored, by scholars and devotees alike, is the Irani phenomenon of Azar Kaivan and his multi-faith followers, sequelled by Meher Baba in terms of Hindu, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Christian, and Jewish supporters. The Irani liberal (an ethnic designation) is not the same as “Zoroastrian liberal,” a phrase implying an ideological orientation. Meher Baba did not identify with orthodox Zoroastrianism. The “Irani liberal” identity does not amount to “pigeon-holing” into a specific religious tradition, but instead reflects the most valid ethnic category of multi-faith association. 


In a communication to myself dated 03/10/2019, Dr. Kerkhove has conceded that “your main point, about initiation, is quite correct. I later read [after the dissertation] that Meher Baba said there was never such a thing as ‘initiation ceremonies’ in real Sufism. I regret some of the wording of my thesis.” Dr. Kerkhove is remarkably honest and unpretentious; his integrity is beyond dispute. He also commented, in the same communication: “I am sorry if my writing did not represent your assessments (especially of Meher Baba’s connections to Zoroastrianism) as accurately as it could have. As you saw, I used some other literature, and was trying to place Meher Baba within all this.” This candid approach leaves me with the obligation to point out that the dissertation bibliographies of Dr. Kerkhove are extensive, featuring a very large number of sources not generally found in any literature of the Meher Baba movement, and probably not within the compass of many researchers to easily locate. The Kerkhove listing is not annotated, but in scope of publications and articles, does substantially exceed my own selected bibliography in Iranian Liberal.

Shirdi Sai Baba

Sai Baba of Shirdi was another entity averse to initiations. The Kerkhove dissertation ignores this well known factor, instead presenting the Shirdi faqir in a context evoking Chishti Order associations. The theory was borrowed from a fleeting reference in Rigopoulos, and also a passage in the disputed work Lord Meher (Kerkhove 2002:91-92). This extensive tome was written and compiled by Bhau Kalchuri and other devotees. Lord Meher (LM) is a composite work whose absence of sources is a considerable drawback. Facile usage of LM has caused numerous confusions, some of these rather serious. For many years, the complications passed generally unrecognised.

The inset passage cited by Kerkhove is attributed by him to Kalchuri (reflecting assumptions of the period in which he wrote). The passage actually comprises a quotation whose source is not identified by the LM editors, although evidently composed by a Meher Baba partisan, apparently a Muslim, in the idiom of Dr. Abdul Ghani.  The contention here is that, through Sai Baba, Meher Baba had a spiritual link with Moinuddin Chishti (d.1236) of Ajmer, and thus with the Prophet Muhammad (Lord Meher, Reiter edn, pp. 2393-94).

Another quotation, from a fourteenth century Chishti author, is identified in an LM endnote. This relates to a silsila (lineage) tracing pedigree back to Ali and the Prophet.  The LM text adds: “The last to convey this Sufi gnosticism must have been Sai Baba of Shirdi” (ibid:2394). The context for this supposition is a Chishti Order silsila. The speculative nature of this theory is evident. The validity of silsila is a disputed subject amongst Islamicists, often viewed in the light of Sufi traditions seeking orthodox Islamic legitimacy, an endeavour creating a doubtful early sequence. Meher Baba never claimed anything of that nature; the attempt to portray him in this light is not convincing.

Kerkhove assumes that the “Kalchuri” silsila is relevant. “This lineage was emphasised in the Meher Baba movement in several ways” (Kerkhove 2002:92). That claim was not in evidence at the time of Meher Baba’s death. Again a Queensland reliance on lineage theory. Meher Baba’s visits to Sufi tombs, at Khuldabad and Ajmer, are here the support for Kerkhove. While these visits are no proof of any lineage, they definitely do indicate Meher Baba’s liberal attitude to Sufism.  There is a more startling theme that Sai Baba was a disciple of the Chishti Sufi Zar Zari Zar Bakhsh (d.1309) in a former incarnation. Again, this is no proof of an ongoing silsila in the twentieth century. Kerkhove comments that Shirdi Sai had a “rather casual” relationship with the Chishti Order (Kerkhove 2002:96). There is no proof that Shirdi Sai Baba was ever a member of the Chishti Order (Shepherd 2017:87-99).

In the case of Meher Baba, my own conclusion is:

He respected the heritage of [Persian] classical Sufism, more especially the type represented by Bistami, Hallaj, and Rumi. In terms of Indian Sufism, he expressed an esteem for Khwaja Saheb Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, whose tomb he visited. Yet Meher Baba was not Islamic, and it is only possible to directly compare him with Zoroastrian antecedents, namely the Kaivani (Sipasi) trend of Mughal times. Such a comparison amounts to an approximation only, there being a complete absence of doctrinal ishraq in his teachings. (Shepherd 2005:109)

Paul Brunton

Dr. Kerkhove was the first Meher Baba-related writer to mention my critique of a well known British occultist. The dissertation says that Kevin Shepherd “deals extensively with the problem of Paul Brunton” in Iranian Liberal (Kerkhove 2002:68 note 205). However, Kerkhove does not provide any further detail. Several years later, Dr. Ward Parks observed: "Kevin Shepherd turns a critical eye on Brunton's account" (Parks 2009:223 note 31). I was the first author to supply discarded information about Paul Brunton (PB).

Like Parks, Kerkhove inserted his brief remark in a footnote, here placed underneath his inclusion of Jeffrey Masson’s critique in the same note, giving the impression that Masson is the major source pertaining to PB and Meher Baba (I do not think this was deliberate; however, the juxtaposition is perhaps misleading to uninformed readers, though few of these might chance to read dissertation footnotes). In the significant book My Father’s Guru (1993), Dr. Masson was a strong critic of his former mentor PB, but not at all concerned with Meher Baba, who is not mentioned there. I was also the first author to provide full context for Brunton's disputed doctoral credential. This notice has appeared online.

Kerkhove says: “It may come as a surprise to Brunton’s avid readers that it was he who initiated the English branch of the Meher Baba League” (ibid:67). A number of Brunton’s readers had already assimilated this, and other surprises, over a decade before via Iranian Liberal. However, there is still widespread reluctance to admit the full dimensions of the PB issue.

A very literate Brunton partisan, of high academic status, contacted me in the early 1990s about PB surprises (plural) in Iranian Liberal (pp. 146-176). He was probably the most accomplished of all the Paul Brunton (PB) supporters. He conceded that Brunton had made errors in relation to Meher Baba, a factor which evidently disconcerted the enquirer. He faltered at the Agostini report, devastating for PB psychology. Instead, the partisan argued in favour of PB during that writer’s last years. Did I realise that the Notebooks of PB proved this author to be a great thinker? I am more restrained in my assessment of the PB magnum opus. In contrast to this intellectual issue, the response from Meher Baba devotees was generally disappointing.

Interest in Iranian Liberal was declared to be nil at the Meher Spiritual Center of Myrtle Beach, where a cordon was evidently created in 1988. The source was devotee leader Ann Conlon, in a letter to the author. A few years later, another devotee at Myrtle Beach sent an unsolicited letter stating that I had to be shunned on principle, as per the longstanding belief. I was an untouchable, quite literally. Xenophobia was pronounced, evidently deriving from a 1960s situation not comprehended. A “Ban” was supposedly in operation. A contradiction for the proscribing attitude is that in 1988, Eruch Jessawala, the major spokesman for the mandali, stated in correspondence that there was no Ban. Myrtle Beach ignored this verdict.

Another devotee zone in the West desired ownership of my Backett file, mentioned in the annotated book. I was not able to grant the rather eccentric request, feeling that I was not obliged to gift sources to those believing that their superior support for Meher Baba merited appropriation of source documents.

The journalist Sir Tom Hopkinson (d.1990) was a prominent devotee in London. I contacted him in 1988, offering a goodwill copy of Iranian Liberal. “When offered a free copy of the controversial book, he [Hopkinson] said that he and his group (the Meher Baba Association) did not want to see it, the reason being that I was a writer on comparative religion and they were only interested in Meher Baba” (Shepherd 1995:201 note 276).

The Hopkinson snub of "comparative religion" here referred to my books on Sheriar Mundegar Irani, Hazrat Babajan, Shirdi Sai Baba, and Upasani Maharaj. All of these figures are closely associated with Meher Baba. The insular nature of devotee attitude was remarkable for an exclusion of detail. Even Meher Baba's own father was totally alien territory to some "lovers of Avatar Meher Baba," here employing a vaunted phrase of dogma I encountered many times with reserve.

East Challacombe, Devon, 1932, l to r: Meher Baba, Ann Powell, Meredith Starr. During the 1970s, members of the London group could not identify Ann Powell on photographs, and were not aware that she ever existed.

The liberal spirit of Charles Purdom had expired in conformist British devotee ranks; Purdom (d.1965) did not use "lover" cliche, imported from America in the late 1960s (the lavish idiom was likewise foreign to Ann Powell and others of the earlier London group). Lover jargon was endorsed by Pete Townshend and other late arrivals in Britain. Avatar only, plus his all-important lovers, nothing else being relevant to the reductionist feat of vanished context. When the lovers were asked about Ann Powell, they were unable to provide any information.

Some comments of Dr. Kerkhove are misleading in relation to Iranian Liberal. “Shepherd spun his writing around a handful of books” (Kerkhove 2002:71-2). The influence of Bill Le Page is here suspected. The 300 notes in Iranian Liberal do not match this contraction. Kerkhove also neglects to mention the annotated bibliography of fifty pages. The unprecedented coverage of Brunton is effectively included in the constricting reference. Dr. Kerkhove has since explained to me that he encountered a strong devotee mood relegating all scholarship:

As you would be aware, a Doctoral dissertation requires independent and rather rigorous academic scrutiny. The thesis went through many hands and many versions before it was finally accepted. I certainly sought the input and interest of Meher Baba devotees and disciples, but they never vetted or edited what I wrote. Most simply had no interest, as they asserted (to me) that scholarship is the antipathy of true spirituality. (Personal communication dated 03/10/2019)

The divergence between devotional commitment and scholarship is of interest, being found elsewhere also. A basic problem appears to be when devotion becomes dogma, often outlawing scholarship or historical detail.

The Queensland dissertation states: “He [Shepherd] apparently had no access to unpublished material or anything that hit the press after 1975” (ibid:72). A close look at the Iranian Liberal bibliography will contradict this judgment. For instance, over three pages are allocated to a coverage of the 1981 book by Kitty Davy. The dissertation of 2002 certainly does have more post-1975 sources.

Much material was included in my unpublished multi-volume manuscript, described on pages 271-2 of the more compact book rejected by the dogmatic Bill Le Page of Avatar’s Abode. The visiting Australian barrister (Patrick Connor) perceived that a multi-volume document was discounted at Avatar’s Abode as if this were non-existent. In more than one Baba Centre, elite devotees conveniently decided what existed and what was relevant.

“He [Shepherd] emphatically refused to include the voices of Indian disciples and close relatives” (Kerkhove 2002:72). This again sounds like the zealous Bill Le Page, an adviser to Kerkhove in former years. No such refusal is evidenced by Iranian Liberal, which is not an anthology. Thirty Indian disciples are listed in the index, including close relatives and Inder Sain, a Hindu scientist whose case history was aborted by prestigious Western devotees not possessing any due knowledge of what occurred in their own movement. Kerkhove ignores this figure, the son of a prominent Indian lawyer at Delhi. Inder first met Meher Baba in 1946, nearly a decade before Bill Le Page visited Meherabad.

Adi S. Irani, London 1966, copyright Kevin R. D. Shepherd

One of the close relatives mentioned in Iranian Liberal is Adi S. Irani, whom I knew fairly well during the mid-1960s. He supplied some information about his brother Meher Baba and his father Sheriar, data which is included in both published and unpublished documents of mine.

Part 1 of Iranian Liberal is entitled Biography: A Preliminary Treatment. This compact fifty page coverage was intended as a forerunner of the still unpublished document Life of Meher Baba. Alert readers have perceived this intention. There was no room for lengthy quotes. The Life was described in terms of: “It had no appropriate audience” (Iranian Liberal, p. 271). This consideration still applies, especially in view of the fact that the author's profile was deleted from Wikipedia by hostile Baba lovers closely associated with Myrtle Beach. Part 3 of Iranian Liberal is entitled A Sequel to the Kaivani Phenomenon. This section is not mentioned in Kerkhove’s coverage of content on the page immediately preceding his accusation about refusal to include voices. However, the dissertation did duly recognise content in my book, an obligation which had not to date occurred in any devotional work. Furthermore, Dr. Kerkhove appeared to view that book as more interesting than some other books about Meher Baba.

The Kerkhove reference to “close relatives” is symptomatic of the devotional elevation of Meher Baba’s family. The implication is that I had ignored Baba’s relatives. I was the first writer to transform perspective on his father, formerly regarded as a vague type of “Sufi dervish” who settled in Poona to beget children, including Merwan Irani. Academic interest scarcely existed until From Oppression to Freedom, which caused some specialist Iranist scholars to notice Sheriar Irani for the first time. Those specialists are a heavyweight factor; their linguistic range is formidable. For the record here, I am deeply grateful to CUL librarians for providing access to the output of those scholars, despite the adverse reflections on Wikipedia about CUL library study, emanating from two sectarian strategists, one of them at Myrtle Beach, the other a cyberstalker and libeller who received attention from solicitors.

Apart from Merwan, the two most vocally accomplished and well known children of Sheriar were Mani S. Irani and Adi S. Irani. Mani is the subject of a substantial bibliographical entry in Iranian Liberal (pp. 266-268). Adi S. Irani is now so closely identified with my own family that many internet readers are aware of the associations. Kerkhove shows no awareness that Adi S. Irani was a declared source for my book on Sheriar Irani. In this book I stated: "The life of Sheriar Irani would not have been possible to write without personal contact with the subject's family; I am indebted to Sheriar's son Adi S. Irani for certain background data" (Shepherd 1988a:82).

“Shepherd dismissed all this material as devotional” (Kerkhove 2002:72), the accusation being in reference to “Indian disciples and close relatives.” No such statement of blanket dismissal appears in either the text or the annotated bibliography of Iranian Liberal. For instance, “this account by a Parsi devotee [H. P. Bharucha] is of interest” (Iranian Liberal, p. 268). A work by Ramju Abdulla is described as “an important source” (ibid:254). “This is a valuable documentary source” (ibid:259), in reference to a work edited by Swami Satya Prakash Udaseen, with whom I was early in correspondence during the 1960s. I stated: “[Bal] Natu shows conscience in reporting” (ibid:273).

I did point out the devotional nature of numerous publications, and the devotional style of some authors. This is not a crime. A bibliography which does not declare such factors may be regarded as misleading (purchases are sometimes made on the basis of bibliographies; academics have been known to feel annoyance when the product is not to their liking). Numerous other international assessors agree with the description of “devotional,” which is not a stigma. However, the titles of some publications have aroused ridicule from analysts far more critical than myself, including those who state that the contents are virtually unreadable or decidedly mawkish. I did say that the bibliography was selective, focusing on primary sources and some of the more distinctive books in the secondary literature. This procedure is generally well understood in academic channels.

The Myrtle Beach Centre has a publishing facility noted for devotional idioms, plus the use of capital H for He and His in relation to Meher Baba. This factor has drawn criticism from writers other than myself. A recent work, of some biographical relevance, was given the title Fortunate to Love Him (2017).  Such idioms are not highly rated by academic historians, who generally decline to read or review books with titles in this devotional category. Despite my own citizen reservations, I read that work throughout and have made citations.

The brunt of misconception is revealed in the Queensland statement: “Shepherd had been involved with the British Meher Baba group until 1974, and then fell out with the movement, which may explain his approach” (Kerkhove 2002:72 note 212). The final pages of the Iranian Liberal bibliography are cited in support of this erroneous judgment. Kerkhove is eight years out in his chronology, making no reference to 1960s British events that were distorted in transmission to Australia and America. I accept that he was unaware of the actual details, which would have been very difficult for anyone to ascertain without due guidance from direct participants. Murshida Ivy Duce had to be educated by my mother, in correspondence, for comprehension to dawn. The lack of due knowledge on the part of American devotees was nothing less than astounding.

I did not fall out with the movement, certain of whose figureheads outcasted me at the age of sixteen. The mandali afterwards failed to circulate a graphic (and for them embarrassing) cablegram of Meher Baba in favour of myself and my mother. The lack of democratic procedure was convenient for mandali policy influenced by Adi S. Irani. The details are presented online in Meher Baba Movement: Neglected Details.

The Kerkhove dissertation phrase “fell out with the movement” might imply an obtuse attitude on my part. I should here state that in the summer of 1966, I purchased about a hundred and fifty photographs of Meher Baba from his brother Beheram in Poona, an image stockpile mediated to customers by Baba’s sister Mani S. Irani (of the mandali) and Beryl Williams of New York. Beryl informed that I was the only person in Britain to have purchased this set. She added that American devotees generally only purchased a few of the photographs, if any. I spent all of my money on the images, an action which annoyed my father, who could not understand my commitment. The previous year, I had purchased an album with nearly fifty photographs from the same source. Only two albums went to Britain: one to myself, and the other supplied free of charge to Adi S. Irani, in view of his family connections. Most of the 1965 album photos were duplicated in the larger set; I overlooked that disappointment.  I did not begrudge Beheram his livelihood income; he was not a wealthy man.

Six months later, I was outcasted by Mani for supporting my mother in a complex argument against the subterranean exclusionist tactic of Adi S. Irani (Mani’s brother). Meher Baba was supposedly in agreement with his relatives, but afterwards sent a cablegram conveying the opposite impression. This contradictory message was ignored by Mani and her brother. Adi escaped any blame, prudently becoming silent on the matter. That episode originated in a situation of gross authoritarian abuse. My mother has recorded, in her published memoirs, how Adi threatened her with expulsion if she did not do as he wished. Adi insisted: “If you do not, then, I assure you, you are OUT [of the movement] – I shall personally make sure of it” (The Destiny Challenge, 1992, p. 100). I decided that I could never support such an extremist tactic, which was set into motion and proved triumphant.

In 1973, my mother was gracious enough to reconnect with Adi S. Irani, at his invitation, despite his hostile and calculating behaviour several years previously. He now apologised to her for his earlier actions, though briefly, and in private. He did not mention this matter to any other party, thus failing to rectify the misinformation at large.

Because Adi insisted that I was welcome, I visited him again at his home in Barnes. However, I found that Adi expected me to work without pay, to assist his business. I worked for two days, also staying overnight at his home, being able to obtain more information for my biographical project. At this period, I met again, in friendship, two other members of the old London group, visiting the homes of Delia De Leon and Fred Marks. I attended a London meeting where Pete Townshend strongly featured. However, I did not speak with the celebrated new figurehead, instead being content with an observer role.

Adi was now very critical of the new London group, which he no longer attended. The personnel had changed substantially, with an influx of young people from 1967 onwards, a number of whom were associated with drugs. Their close senior companion reports: "I found that they all had had drug experiences - heroin, pot, LSD - and most of them had very little sense of time" (De Leon 1991:200). These victims of the hippy boom were trying to cease the drug habit.

Newcomers were tending to hero worship Pete Townshend, who had recently become a devotee or "lover" of Meher Baba. The word "lover" is open to disagreement. Meher Baba did employ this word; his usage should be distinguished from the subsequent copyism. The earlier London group had restrainedly described themselves as "friends" of Meher Baba. The new London group were "lovers," eventually becoming known as the Meher Baba Association; the deceased figurehead was believed to be the president. Sir Tom Hopkinson (1905-1990) was a far more tangible functionary (reappearing on the scene in 1967, after a lengthy absence). The elite journalist fell into line with prevalent devotee ideas. By comparison, Adi S. Irani was a revolutionary.

I agreed with Adi's negative verdict, having recently visited the London group as a total stranger, encountering an overbearing young man whose knowledge of former events (including Charles Purdom) seemed almost nil. I had no further membership connection with the London Meher Baba group after 1966. I was not a junkie, preferring to completely retain my sense of time. I found the new enthusiast jargon soporific. Any teaching was effectively obscured by such juvenile slogans as "Baba's Umbrella." I was averse to the neo-hippy phrase "Baba's love game," regarding this as a banal symptom of the "Avatar only" superiority complex that excluded Sheriar Mundegar Irani, Hazrat Babajan, Upasani Maharaj, and yet other entities relevant for consideration.

Meher Baba and Charles Purdom, London 1932; Purdom in the 1930s

In the old days, Charles Purdom (d.1965) and Will Backett were interested in other traditions than their own, as their writings attest. To the end, Purdom was often trying to broaden the horizons of devotees. By the 1970s, the regime of Sir Tom Hopkinson replaced a liberal outlook with a closed mind. This tunnel vision blended effortlessly with the devotee poets and musicians who were content with the arts as practiced by themselves. Townshend favoured recording studios at Meher Baba Oceanic. His devotees were enchanted at the musical prospects. Hafiz style poetry became a fashion, because Meher Baba had occasionally quoted the Persian poet. An underlying mood was "Don't worry be happy," any technicality being simplified in Baba's love game. The Don Stevens version of Sufism Reoriented was not enough to transform a route to rock star brandy and cocaine, a very unhappy diet spiced with heroin. Don't be too happy with a simplistic scenario, crisis is just around the corner.

Love was a favoured word of the post-Purdom wave, suffering the effects of Timothy Leary flower power. Love could mean anything, including sheer indifference and misrepresentation, as my mother discovered. I had received the loving equivalent of a steel toe cap kick in the face from elite family (or close relative) politics operating between Meherazad and London. Adi S. Irani did nothing to stop the attendant grapevine gossip in circulation at the two ashrams near Ahmednagar, supported by devotee tourists fed with further distortions from Myrtle Beach and other Western Centres. A crucial cablegram, and other relevant details, went missing in the haphazard lore about a British boy and his mother.

In 1973, my mother felt obliged to finally part company with Adi, after he expressed his desire for a sexual relationship to which she was totally averse. She was shocked at his suggestion. When I heard this news, she had to restrain me from confronting the prospective sensualist on the telephone. She warned that anger was not the best programme. I conceded her point. I do not believe that Meher Baba’s relatives were infallible or spiritually elevated (although I have concluded that Sheriar Mundegar Irani was a genuine mystic of talent).

My mother told me that Adi had soon failed in his recent self-reflection upon his past errors. She remarked to me: “Adi is finished! He will not recover from his problems.” The forecast proved correct. Adi’s health seriously deteriorated until his death in 1988. Only one or two British devotees remained in contact with him, and they proved very secretive. Some Americans still visited his home, contributing fragmentary reports after his death. Adi gained the reputation of being a Judas; in some obtuse moods, he is said to have railed against Meher Baba and declared himself to be a master (or avatar).  He was probably resentful at his illness.

My mother exercised a fascination for Adi. I personally witnessed this phenomenon. She had first met him in 1963, being introduced in London by Inder Sain. She wrote soon after: “With Adi I experienced an immediate rapport; an intuitive recognition of having known him before” (Beloved Executioner, 1986, p. 119).  Adi and Inder had been in regular contact from 1956. I learned much about their respective backgrounds. Adi regarded Inder as inferior, being over twenty years older, and enjoying a more prestigious position than the Hindu. When Adi eventually learned that my mother regarded Inder more highly than him, he reacted badly, precipitating the situation in which she departed from the London group. I was caught in the middle, opting to support my mother, knowing that Adi was demonstrating a personal bias and pronounced pique. The entire sequence of events in this drama, from 1956 onwards, is missing from official devotee records. Most devotees never knew about Inder, the truth being replaced by fictions and bizarre stories originating with Adi.

Inder had already vanished from the British scene. Adi soon discovered that the disappearing and self-effacing Inder Sain was not his rival in any way (Inder was never concerned to promote himself, unlike many devotees). Instead, Adi was confronted with a phenomenon he had never even remotely envisaged. He now witnessed a new generation of British "Baba lovers" whose preferred yardsticks were pop music and poetry; moreover, the new wave celebrated Delia De Leon and a rock celebrity (Pete Townshend) instead of himself. Adi was substantially eclipsed in the popularity stakes.

Dr. Ray Kerkhove has emphasised that many unpublished sources exist on Meher Baba, a prodigious array varying in category, length, and importance. "There are huge masses of 'other writings' on Meher Baba (not just by followers but by people who disliked or were indifferent to him) and also a great deal of archival materials, at Myrtle Beach, Meherabad, Avatar's Abode, and also in private collections" (personal communication, 03/10/2019).

Since the 1970s, Western devotees have favoured taped reports (and videos) from sources of information. Some of those records are important, while many others are often of a fragmented nature. Anecdotes recounted by the mandali at Meherazad were very popular; however, there are some discrepancies discernible, requiring a careful filter. For instance, garbled anonymous references to myself and my mother achieved a cartoon profile; the context of events in 1960s Cambridge and London was completely missing.

I possessed the Will Backett file going back to the 1930s, plus extensive 1960s (and 1970s) oral records gleaned from Adi S. Irani, Ann Powell, Charles Purdom, Delia De Leon, Inder Sain (Sen), and others of the pre-Townshend era (though De Leon supported the new age, a fact lamented by Adi S. Irani in 1973). Those materials were incorporated in a manuscript commenced while Meher Baba was still alive. These unpublished sources were of no consequence whatever at Myrtle Beach and Avatar’s Abode, being ignored and relegated by elite leaders in both places. London was also indifferent, there being no need for any further history in the complacent milieu created by Sir Tom Hopkinson (for whom Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj, Hazrat Babajan, and Sheriar Mundegar Irani were effectively non-entities in the postcolonial preference). The marginalised British vintage period of 1931-1966 was rejected by American, Australian, and British devotee disposition.

The American response was no advance upon highly conservative British elitism. In terms of published output, Ann Conlon (d.2005) of Myrtle Beach described Iranian Liberal as "purported research." Paul Brunton was thereby validated as an accurate source on Meher Baba. Zoroastrian factors were totally irrelevant. Mild criticism of elite devotees was a punishable offence, necessitating a permanent ban on non-canonical materials. The elite Baba lovers could do no wrong, representing the Avatar of the Age. Infallibility was an implicit achievement. Twenty years later, in 2009, a British (Irish-English) untouchable was a target of Wikipedia deletionism, primarily manipulated by the long and vengeful arm of the Myrtle Beach Centre. The mood of Zero Tolerance was now disguised as Wikipedia Neutral Point of View.

Another British victim of Elite Devotee purge was my mother, nevertheless rated by Adi S. Irani as the most remarkable woman he had ever encountered in the West since 1932 (he genuinely meant this, for which I respect him). In later years, after the video boom commenced, Jean Shepherd (Kate Thomas) would not accept any screen publicity. In 2005, she declined a glowing video promotion offer from an eminent British scientist (Dr. Peter Fenwick), feeling that the new age publicity route was not appropriate for spiritual matters. The Google Persona Society is now ubiqitous.

Mega Profile was a customary lifestyle for superstar Pete Townshend, who unsympathetically cordoned Jean Shepherd from his Meher Baba Oceanic in 1977, refusing her plea for a fair hearing. The ailing Adi S. Irani (Adi Junior) tried to assist her; he had receded completely from general view, and was now easily ignored by the new leadership. Purdom was long dead, Will and Mary Backett were just a distant memory. Adi Junior was now completely eclipsed. Townshend, in his capacity as authoritarian Baba lover, played the Oceanic "love game" of suppression.

Townshend was strongly influenced by a prominent member of the mandali in India. This was the secretary Adi K. Irani (Adi Senior), whose erratic interpretation of events confused my mother with another woman in Cambridge who had ignored relevant messages from Meher Baba in 1964. A persecution complex developed from this conflation. Adi K. Irani added the misleading 1966 testimony of Adi S. Irani (Adi Junior) against my mother. This deceptive combination of false charges and distorted profile meant that Jean Shepherd must be permanently shunned as an undesirable factor. Death sentence courtesy of Disciple and Secretary, Avatar Meher Baba. Those lofty credentials were beyond criticism.

The celebrated Meher Baba Oceanic (a London centre) subsequently collapsed. The convergent Keith Moon and Pete Townshend alcoholic disasters were accompanied by drug ingestion. The outrageous Moon (definitely not a devotee) died prematurely. Townshend survived, only narrowly escaping expiry. The aggressive Moon cherry bombs (and sticks of dynamite) were not the only hazard to be encountered at that period.

In the Shadow of Celebrity

Townshend was easily the most famous of the Meher Baba devotees, dwarfing all the others in iconic portrayal. His sustained career fame, over several decades, now means that almost anyone can easily recognise his image, even without a caption. There are prolific Townshend images on Google. By comparison, even Meher Baba is slow to be recognised in popular media. By the early 1970s, Townshend became noted for wearing a “Baba lover" badge, an accessory appearing in some photographs. Reactions to the badge included criticism. The devotee badge appeared on the white boiler suit he wore in athletic stage performances, featuring the high jump and other well known characteristics. Some parties say that Townshend was the most energetic of all the 60s/70s rock guitarists. A viable philosophy is difficult to extricate from the insignia and glamour of the Who I Am phenomenon.

Jean Shepherd never wore any Baba badge, viewing such emblems as superfluous.  After her death in 2017, the benevolent devotee Anthony Zois innovated the democratic gesture of awarding her profile on his website. This recognition occurred fifty-five years after she became a follower of Meher Baba in 1962. She was not a devotee after the first five years, not wishing to be associated with dogmas and oppressive tactics of the type she suffered. For instance, she knew how Murshida Ivy Duce had effectively consigned her to oblivion after the Oceanic cordon, even though (unlike Townshend) Duce conceded that her complaint was justified.

The supposedly infallible Murshida Duce was here solely concerned with her own public profile, wishing to avoid confrontation with the mandali. In 1979, Duce became controversial for her opinion that her disciple Dr. James Mackie was a "sixth plane" saint. This belief was mentioned in a letter of Mani S. Irani to Duce dated 22/11/1979. Mani also complains that Mackie had referred to Duce as being on the sixth (or fifth) plane (meaning an elevated spiritual level in Meher Baba terminology). There was no excuse for such putative illuminati to abscond from an ethical issue arising in another direction. That issue was hopelessly lost in the subsequent prolonged conflict between the mandali and Mackie.

Eruch B. Jessawala

Ten years later, in 1988, Eruch Jessawala (d.2001) negotiated the misconceptions of Western devotees in my direction, stating that there was no ban. He evidently thought that some non-Sufi “Baba lovers” in America were as extremist as the Mackie contingent. Eruch lived in a simple hut at Meherazad, contrasting with the affluence enjoyed by many Western devotees. He was the most literate of the surviving mandali. Eruch remembered me from the past, though we had never met. In 1965, he replied to my query about a complexity in God Speaks: The Theme of Creation. Eruch was the major opponent of James Mackie and his Reoriented Sufi supporters during the 1980s. Eruch was known to state that the attitude of these people could exhaust all patience.

Mani Irani (d.1996) was now apparently very careful what she said in my direction. However, she tended to justify her long past exclusion a few years later, when in 1993, a British visitor to Meherazad asked some pressing questions. Mani did not mention Meher Baba’s crucial cablegram of February 1967, which she had never integrated into the train of events. She instead defended the deceased Sir Tom Hopkinson (d.1990). The visitor asked why this leader of the Meher Baba Association had declined to read my books on Meher Baba, Sheriar Irani, Hazrat Babajan, Shirdi Sai Baba, and Upasani Maharaj. Mani gave the apologist explanation that this lack of interest was “Baba’s wish” (Shepherd 1995:202 note 276). The phrase “Baba’s wish” was too often an extremist resort in the absence of any logical thinking.

Sir Tom Hopkinson had never met me or my mother. He assisted an outlook in which discrepancies were ignored, the verbal mode of camouflage being “the Beloved and his lovers.” This idiom was influentially favoured by Mani. Hopkinson was simply not interested in Meher Baba’s father and his “masters,” entities regarded as inferior subjects amounting to distraction. His own book on Meher Baba (Much Silence, 1974) was the canonical scripture preferred. His book was celebrated; my books were to remain unread. I found this perspective very sobering as an indicator of elite prerogative.

Sir Tom (knighted in 1978) was a believer in “Baba’s Umbrella.” His Association newsletters opted for an image of Meher Baba holding an umbrella, which now represented panhuman auspices. In real life, the umbrella merely shielded against sun or rain, as in the instance of Shirdi Sai Baba. The lavishly embellished parasol theme was popular amongst the young poets and musicians who joined the Meher Baba Association in London. In 1973, I conversed with an elevated English poet of this organisation. This young man insisted that the mast work of Meher Baba (conducted in the 1930s and 1940s) had no relevance to him or his associates. The many Hindu and Muslim masts and saints, contacted by Meher Baba, were an alien category to English verse. Historical analysis was a martian event not comprehended by poetry. Instead, Baba’s Umbrella and Baba’s Love Game were amenable fantasies. The Love Game included every imagination the Western poets could devise about the figurehead.

After thirty years of observing such anomalies, I wrote: “The peculiar devotee beliefs about what [the deceased] Baba wishes, wills, or mysteriously does, have always seemed thoroughly obnoxious to me…. Such deceptive beliefs can endorse anything the devotees wish to think or feel, however inappropriate this may be in reality” (Shepherd 1995:202).

Jean Shepherd, 1988

During the 1970s, Reoriented Sufis were a major support for the mandali. The accumulating lore included cartoon anecdotes about my mother and myself. At the end of this glib decade, Murshida Ivy Duce privately acknowledged that Jean Shepherd’s complaint was valid; the cartoon anecdotes were completely erroneous. This admission was suppressed in elite circles. Jean Shepherd nevertheless retained her deep respect for Meher Baba until her death. In 2017, she was cremated at Golders Green in London. She was completely resigned to expiry, saying her time had come. She could never again be censored by overbearing Baba lovers.

Jean Shepherd complained that devotee lore had made Meher Baba into a "comical clown." As a survivor of long term stigma, she detested the vaunted identity word "lover." Of the elite Western variety, she tended to conclude: "They love themselves more than the figurehead; Meher Baba is primarily a status symbol in some circles." The presumptuous Townshend was another status symbol of Oceanic, where the monotonous avatar mantra was oppressive. The verdict of Jean Shepherd, on the Meher Baba Association and Meher Spiritual Center, was likewise very critical. Even stronger was her assessment of Sufism Reoriented: the veteran Murshida Duce had not reached the stage of ethical clarity, being happy to bury her conscience. Further, Murshid Mackie was a farce of pretension in an increasingly wealthy ambience prevailing over scruple.

Many years before, in the summer of 1966, Adi S. Irani discovered (with some amazement) that Jean Shepherd had received many communications from Meher Baba during the period 1962-66, by means of cablegrams and letters. Adi commented that she had received more of these communications than any other Westerner known to him during this period. He himself had not received such attention during those years, indeed nothing like the privilege. Despite Adi’s own subsequent interposed complication, her communications from Meher Baba continued until February 1967, two years before Baba's death in January 1969.

Jean Shepherd’s last cablegram from Baba was subsequently obscured by the office mandali and Adi S. Irani. The office mandali (Adi K. Irani and Mani) never referred to the adroit contradiction of their authority. In contrast, Adi S. Irani apologised several years later (a solely private concession which greatly limited the impact).

Sheela Kalchuri Fenster

Meher Baba did not regard his mandali (and relatives) as infallible entities, but as assistants who frequently erred. This factor was repudiated for many years, nevertheless emerging strongly in the record (Fenster 2009). Sheela Kalchuri Fenster can be applauded for her realistic eyewitness report of events pertaining to the last twelve years of Baba’s life. For instance:

When angry outbursts occurred in the [mandali] hall, I always wondered why Baba kept such mandali around him. Baba would tell them to be quiet, but they would continue to argue. I hated to listen to it and would actually cover my face with my hands…. Once Baba said, "How to explain to these people [his mandali]? They think they understand better than I do; they think they know everything. They behave like that." On the mandali’s side, there were those such as Adi Sr [Adi K. Irani], Pendu, and Sarosh, who would at times ‘bark’ at Baba and each other…. Adi Sr often fought with Baba, mostly over money…. "These people will be the death of me," Baba repeated. "They will be the cause of my death." (Fenster 2009:190-1)

While these events were occurring, Adi Senior and others were elevated to a role of infallibility by devotees. My mother wrote a letter of complaint to Adi Senior soon after she was banned (along with myself). The eminent Secretary did not answer.

That same year of 1967, the extremely subjective nature of devotional lore was revealed by an American preference to view a peripheral greetings phrase as the “teaching of Meher Baba.” In 1966 I was sent an “inspiration card” by an American devotee; this facile innovation included the words “Don’t worry be happy.” I did not believe that the preferred phrase represented anything of a teaching, knowing how the substitute had originated. Objections were disregarded. The trite phrase was glorified by “Baba lovers” who tended (apparently in many instances) not to read the books of Meher Baba.

Timothy Leary at Millbrook; Meher Baba at Meherazad, 1967

One of the confused subscribers to "don't worry be happy" was American drug advocate Timothy Leary (1920-1996), who in 1967 employed the popular four word phrase to justify his resort to LSD. A film by Louis Van Gasteren is entitled Nema aviona za Zagreb, released in 2012, but containing footage from the late 1960s. One early scene shows Leary, adorned with flowers, at a location he describes as "centre of the LSD religion." This was Millbrook, a mansion near New York, origin of the hippy "flower power" ideology. A monologue in the same film graphically reveals the ability of Leary to deceive himself and others. Professor Leary here states he had no evidence that Meher Baba dismissed drugs. Leary urges reassuringly that Baba "tells me 'I am God.' " The Harvard LSD advocate blithely affirms that Baba had only one message: "Don't worry be happy." Leary even invented the deception that Meher Baba was somehow telling him: “Take LSD, Tim.”

In reality, Meher Baba specifically stated that LSD and other drugs could lead to madness. He was in a different category to many reticent Hindu gurus, who tended to ignore this subject. Baba described some LSD experiences in terms of: "shadows of the subtle plane(s) in the gross world." The "subtle" here means the preliminary realm of existence beyond the gross or physical. He affirmed that drugs are "harmful physically, mentally and spiritually." Meher Baba insisted that "repeated use of LSD leads to insanity which may prove incurable" (Anzar 1974:97).

As a Harvard Professor (sacked in 1963), Leary's ability to decode statements and events was shredded by his LSD intake. Leary wanted to believe that he was experiencing an unassailable LSD enlightenment, which he pressed upon his colleagues and the public. His Meher Baba fantasy amounted to: Don't worry, be happy as an LSD user. Too many people believed the psychedelic ideology of Leary because he was a Harvard Professor and "experimenter." A Harvard University disclaimer refers to Leary (and Richard Alpert) in terms of "not merely researching psychotropic drugs but actively promoting their recreational use.... Discredited by their lack of scientific rigor and failure to observe established research guidelines, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were both banished from academia." One of the converts to LSD religion was Dr. Allan Cohen, who subsequently became disillusioned with Leary, opting instead to support Meher Baba's critical explanations, conveyed from seclusion in India.

Leary inspired many LSD casualties, an early instance being 20 year old Vernon Cox. This victim fatally jumped out of a third storey apartment window in Berkeley, gripped by a psychedelic delusion that he could fly. Cox derived his LSD enthusiasm from attending a lecture by Leary.

By 1968 some people wore badges that stated 'Leary is God.' Leary was known to describe himself as a religious leader, and regarded the topical hippy colony at San Francisco as his creation. Crime rose sharply in this colony (the Haight-Ashbury) at the end of 1967, with seventeen murders, one hundred rapes, and nearly three thousand burglaries. (Shepherd 1995:160)

The New Age of deception had arrived.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

March 2017, last modified June 2021

(1) In the book Iranian Liberal, I used the word Parsi in a generalising sense for Meher Baba, i.e., “Meher Baba was born a Parsi” (ibid:9). This description does reflect a fairly common tendency, but is not technically correct. Even if Iranis were born in India, they remained Iranis, and were only Parsis by association. Some Western devotees of Meher Baba have insisted that he was an Indian, which is true enough in one sense. However, this classification overlooks relevant ethnic and linguistic factors involved in the passage of Zoroastrian Iranis from Iran to India. In the same book, I stated: "Meher Baba was an Irani Zoroastrian by blood, and a Parsi only by virtue of his environment" (ibid:127). I no longer concede the Parsi designation in this instance.

(2) For example, in 1963 he asked a gathering if anyone could repeat “the 101 names given in the Zoroastrian prayer book” (Bharucha 1963:29). Nobody could do so. Meher Baba then remarked: “If you repeat these names with love, no other prayer remains to be said. Anyone can repeat these names with love, irrespective of the religion to which he belongs” (ibid). The 101 Names were reproduced in the same issue of The Awakener, a quarterly magazine published in America and explicitly “devoted to Meher Baba.”

(3) Brunton is suspected of having inserted sensational themes from 1932 press reports into his account of a conversation with Meher Baba at Meherabad in 1930. He was not permitted to take notes at Meherabad; errors and inflated passages could easily have occurred in his book Secret India, published in 1934.

(4) By comparison with Paul Brunton, Sadhu Christian Leik is now largely unknown. I have accordingly addressed the disparity here. Meher Baba evidently had a high estimation of Leik, whom he compared very favourably to Meredith Starr, a British devotee of erratic temperament. In February 1929, at Meherabad, Baba is reported to have remarked in private: “There is a vast difference between Meredith Starr and Sadhu Leik. They are poles apart” (Kalchuri et al, Vol. 3, 1142). Starr had been the intermediary for Leik to gain a knowledge of Meher Baba. Starr had stayed at the ashram in 1928 for six months, but at the end of his sojourn, he became difficult. The British follower then became known for “inconsiderate ways and demanding attitude” (ibid:1134). Meher Baba resorted to a “ruse,” to prompt Starr's return home to England, without causing any offence. This tactic is preserved in a letter dictated by Baba in December 1928. The disarming letter confirms other indications that the Irani mystic was a strategist. Starr took the bait and departed without fuss. This devotee believed himself to be a crucial appendage to Meher Baba’s activity, exercising big ideas about his own abilities. In England, he opted to promote Meher Baba as the “new messiah,” proving very influential in this respect. See also note 15 below.

(5) Shepherd 1988a:85-154. See also Henry Corbin, “Adar Kayvan,” Encyclopaedia Iranica online; M. Tavakoli-Targhi, “Contested Memories: Narrative Structures and Allegorical Meanings of Iran’s Pre-Islamic History,” Iranian Studies (1996) 29:149-175; idem, Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography (New York: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 77ff. A theme of Professor Tavakoli-Targhi is that the Kaivan school, as a “neo-Mazdean intellectual movement,” subordinated the Biblico-Quranic version of ancient history, supplying instead an Iran-centred narration. In such works as the Desatir and the Dabistan, human history does not begin with Adam, but with Mahabad. The Kaivan school were responding to an ideological threat of elimination exercised by the Safavid regime. This interpretation has the merit of offsetting the nineteenth century European conception of Kaivani writings as an aberration.

(6) For instance, at Poona in 1963, Meher Baba translated a Marathi verse of Tukaram: “There are many hypocritical saints with long hair, and who besmear their bodies with ashes. Tukaram says let their dead conscience be burnt. Even to thrash them is no sin” (Bharucha 1963:27). Meher Baba added: “Ninety per cent of all so-called saints know nothing about the spiritual path. In Northern India such bogus saints abound” (ibid).

(7) One of the students of Rabia Martin was Don Stevens. He reports that Martin had suffered much because she felt obligated to respect the mediumistic abilities of Murshid Samuel Lewis, who had been recommended in this capacity by Inayat Khan. The Pir said that he could be contacted in emergency, via Lewis, on a psychic level. Like Martin, Lewis was a student of Khan. Lewis became known by the title of Hazrat Murshid Sufi Ahmed Murad Chishti. Martin "soon had the impression that the [psychic] replies received by Samuel from Inayat Khan... always seemed oddly slanted to Samuel's own tastes and good." The climax of this long term psychic resort occurred at the end of her life, when Lewis "produced a message, purportedly from [the deceased] Inayat Khan, criticising her [Martin] for having deeded Sufi property to the new spiritual head of the Order [meaning Meher Baba]." This data was mediated by Laurent Weichberger at Don Stevens on Sufism. Cf. Stevens 1995:5-6, relaying: "Samuel however managed to advise her [Martin] that [the deceased] Inayat Khan was greatly displeased by the recent course of her actions." Murshida Duce was subsequently confused by this episode, assuming that Martin had turned against Meher Baba. Nearly twenty years later, Stevens was obliged to correct the misconception. Duce "was appalled by the confusion, and said it was necessary to correct the misunderstanding. But... the misconception was left uncorrected in the official story" (ibid:6). Meher Baba did not resort to psychic mediums, and could be stern (or jocular) in the repudiation of such activities. Indeed, he is known to have warned Ivy Duce against psychic consultation. Subsequently, Duce acted in contradiction to the warning.

(8) Cf. Sedgwick 2017:190-194, who misrepresents the Ghani correspondence and other matters. Dr. Mark Sedgwick wrongly affirms that "Meher self-identified as a Sufi," and also that his movement had a connection with the Theosophical Society (ibid:190). A contradiction is posed to the first assertion via the remark: "His self-presentation and terminology were more Hindu than Sufi" (ibid:194). A supporter of Sufi Orders, Sedgwick wishes to marginalise Meher Baba as a "New Age" aberration. The truth is that Meher Baba was in disagreement with the Theosophical Society, having no connection with this organisation. "[Ivy] Duce found that [Meher] Baba himself, though possessing an evidently deep knowledge of Sufism, would not specifically identify himself with it" (Shepherd 1988b:213). Sedgwick expresses his opinion that Meher Baba exercised a "predominantly Hindu universalism" (ibid:194). This questionable judgment is supported by a misleading statement that Dr. Abdul Ghani assisted Murshida Ivy Duce in "replacing the terminology of Sufism with that of Vedanta" (ibid). Ghani did not use Vedantic terminology; his Sufi leanings are impossible to ignore in his writings, which include unpublished material (Dr. William Donkin actually reacted to the pro-Sufi content of Ghani writings; the British medic was a very polite personal associate of Ghani). Moreover, there is no Vedanta in the Sufi Charter of 1952, which was nothing to do with Ghani, a correspondent by then deceased. The ignored major work of Meher Baba, published in 1955, was edited by Ivy Duce and her colleague Don Stevens. The presence of Sufi terminology is very strong in that work, as the index discloses. The first edition of that book employs 196 different Sufi terms and 101 different Vedantic terms. Dr. Ghani is anonymously represented in the supplement via some explanations of a Sufi nature, including Tauhid (hence the reference to "the gnosis of Meher Baba" on page 238). The content of that work is still largely unknown and uncomprehended. Oxford University Press have now supplied a serious distortion of an Irani eclectic stance, in the Maharashtrian mode of religious symbiosis. The academic misinformation about Meher Baba is now far worse than the 1970s precedent (when a reaction occurred to devotional excesses of the movement using his name). The distortion is too frequently lobbied in careless academic publications promoting flagrant author biases (Cambridge University Press now has the tarnished repute of profiling or implying Hazrat Babajan as a drug addict). The biases and misunderstandings are not impressive. See also Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). This book has been the subject of controversy. For a critical review, see Michael Fitzgerald at Sacred Web.

(9)  In a letter from Monte Carlo dated June 1981, Don Stevens commented on the belief within Sufism Reoriented that Meher Baba had given permission for Ivy Duce to employ the graded papers of Inayat Khan in the "Sufi closed classes." Ira Deitrick and others were not aware of all events, in the early 1950s, relating to those papers. Stevens writes: "This is typical of the half-truths which finally led to my quietly pulling away from Mrs. Duce several years ago, after having spent years first in trying to argue with her on a limited number of them [half-truths], and then of trying to live with what I knew was not honest." This letter of Stevens was addressed to Eruch Jessawala and Mani S. Irani, by now the two most salient spokesmen for the mandali. The epistle has been reproduced online at meherlegacy.org.

(10) A significant letter from Don Stevens to Ira G. Deitrick (of Sufism Reoriented) is dated March 1981. Stevens relates here that the topic of providing illumined teachers for Sufism Reoriented was mentioned "several times by Meher Baba in my presence over the years." Stevens makes clear that Meher Baba did not feel obligated to make such teachers available in the future (contrary to the wishes of Ivy Duce). "In several conversations it became clear that Baba had given no hint as to when the first one [i.e., teacher] would arrive and be available." Moreover, Baba did not specify a continual succession of such illumined teachers, and nor did he say whether all or some of these teachers would be identified with Sufism Reoriented. Stevens concludes that such undefined matters were "typical of the fashion in which Baba always keeps us all guessing." He adds that any attempt to read in preferred interpretations would amount to formulating "the sort of indelible blueprint of action that Baba always avoided giving." Murshida Ivy Duce nevertheless supplied a preferred interpretation achieving international fame as the actual words of Meher Baba. Many years later, in an article of 2010, Stevens relayed that Meher Baba gave a message for Eruch Jessawala to tell him (Stevens) what Baba had formerly told Ivy Duce. This communication to Duce is rendered as: "From time to time, he (Baba) would provide an illumined master as the head of the [Sufi] Order." Stevens and others recognised that the word "illumined" did not have the same connotation as "God-realised," a favoured phrase of Meher Baba. So the belief developed that such illumined teachers had the lesser (but saintly) status of the "mental planes." More recently, Laurent Weichberger (the biographer of Stevens) has informed that Stevens was upset, in the long term, about reported statements of Meher Baba which had "persisted in a corrupted fashion." Stevens had written notes for an intended meeting with Murshid James Mackie (d.2001), leader of Sufism Reoriented. No meeting ever occurred, and so no due revision of the record was achieved. These notes include Meher Baba's statement to Duce: "I will save your students from your mistakes." Weichberger relays that: "For some reason, she [Duce] misrepresented this statement when repeating it to others, relating instead that Baba said he would save her from making any mistakes." Meher Baba was evidently aware of this deficiency, and had Eruch Jessawala repeat to Stevens exactly what he had promised Murshida Duce. This clarification made no difference to the overall situation; Duce treated her misinterpretation as a supposed guarantee that she would not make mistakes. Also revealing is the report of Stevens that Meher Baba told Duce to abandon the papers of Inayat Khan, which that Sufi had used to teach his own pupils. However, Duce ignored this instruction and continued to use the "graded papers" of Inayat Khan in her own classes. Weichberger also reviews the now infamous theme of how Murshida Duce removed key words from another communication she gained from Meher Baba. The phrase "from time to time" disappeared in her version, in which she presented Meher Baba as saying that Sufism Reoriented would enjoy a perpetual leadership of spiritually advanced teachers. The Weichberger rendition of this complexity states: "Baba promised to bring into the Sufi succession of Murshids, from time to time, an illumined master." We know that Stevens, in his letter to Deitrick of 1981, made plain that Meher Baba had actually promised nothing to Sufism Reoriented, instead communicating in an enigmatic manner. Weichberger informs: "There is now a notion at Sufism Reoriented that the entire line of publicly seated Murshid(a)s are illumined." The same writer expresses a personal interpretation that the masters referred to by Meher Baba "may not publicly fill the role of Murshid at Sufism Reoriented, but still be responsible for spiritually guiding that order." This scenario is perhaps remarkable for the known difference between preferred doctrine and more reliably reported transmission. Details in this note are derived from Don Stevens on Sufism. See also Stevens 2014.

(11)  Murshida Ivy Duce appointed James Mackie (1932-2001) as her spiritual successor in 1979, a decade after Meher Baba's death. This event has been considered an error with no basis in the "Sufi Charter" of 1952. Prior to that Charter, the correspondence of Duce with Meher Baba involved a significant clause: Duce was to openly declare that she was not "God-realised" but merely a student of spirituality. This injunction appeared in a letter dated March 1948, the intermediary being the patient Dr. Ghani. A relevant deduction is that Duce had no authority to appoint a spiritual successor. A current accusation is that Duce supplied a deception. "She wilfully distorted conversations on the subject of succession with Baba to arrive at the fabrication, publicly expressed only after Baba dropped the body [i.e., died], that Baba had promised a continuous line of illumined murshid(a)s for the next 700 years to guide Sufism Reoriented. The leadership and mureeds [students] of her order believed her, with the notable exception of Don Stevens, who was Ivy's liaison with Baba on such matters. He was evidently the only Sufi apart from Ivy herself to have full knowledge of the facts." The late Don Stevens (1919-2011), another pupil of Rabia Martin, is well known as the major colleague of Duce during the 1950s and later. Stevens is stated to have "left Sufism Reoriented in the early 70s because of Ivy Duce's dishonesty." Murshida Duce failed to transmit the original words of Meher Baba and "promoted instead a grandiose fiction." Stevens duly revealed the original words of Meher Baba, who was responding to a request for elite successorship within the ranks of Sufism Reoriented. Meher Baba actually said to Duce that he would provide a genuine Sufi teacher only from "time to time and in his own way and manner" (this is a wording of Adi K. Irani, who was familiar with much correspondence in a secretarial capacity). The guarded idiom was very different to fluent affirmations of Duce about the permanent elevation of Sufism Reoriented via guaranteed spiritual leaders. The information can now be found online that the Sufi Charter of 1952 was finalised "after several years of intermittent discussion between Ivy Duce and Don Stevens." That Charter "does not provide for the possibility of Ivy Duce appointing a spiritual successor, for the obvious reason that Ivy Duce herself had no spiritual status." The accusation is also made that Murshida Duce resorted to "repeated consultations with astrologers, psychics and mediums in the period after Baba dropped the body [i.e., died] in 1969." In contradiction to such behaviour, Meher Baba had expressly warned Duce not to confuse psychism with spirituality. Dr. Ghani had relayed to her in 1948: "You are therefore enjoined by Hazrat Meher Baba to remember that nobody should succeed in impressing or overawing you by such claims as having the capability of receiving messages from Masters, living or dead." Her purported spiritual successor, James (Jim) Mackie, has long been a subject of criticism. "The staging by Jim Mackie's besotted mureeds of his arrival at Baba's Samadhi [tomb] in 1987 remains the unsurpassed story of spiritual pretension in the Baba world." See Why Sufism Reoriented of Walnut Creek is a cult, a 2015 contribution from Meher Baba devotee Bill Gannett. In another direction, readers have noticed that my 1980s coverage of Ivy Duce was critical (Shepherd 1988b:210-223). I did not believe her version of permanent spiritual successors, but was unable to disprove what I strongly suspected to be a major discrepancy. "This is an amusing feature, since the concept of a perpetual sufi organisation with officially smooth transitions from one generation to the next is rather like desiring an orthodox church in addition to the esoteric fare" (ibid:216). However, I had to rest frustratedly content with citing the 1970s book of Duce entitled How a Master Works. That title can be misleading; Murshida Ivy Duce did not always relay how Meher Baba worked or what he actually communicated. Her book attributes to Meher Baba the statement: "I promise you that you will have an illumined Murshid for the next seven hundred years" (Duce 1975:123). According to Stevens, such a promise was never made. The crucial counter of Don Stevens was initially expressed in a letter to Ira Deitrick, of Sufism Reoriented, in 1981. His low profile revision was effectively useless for many years, not surfacing in events as it might have done. Stevens tended to project himself as an expert on Meher Baba's Discourses wherever he went, including London, a city in which he was regarded during the 1970s as a great authority by rock star Pete Townshend and other uncritical admirers of Murshida Duce. Over three decades later, and after his death, the significant counter of Stevens belatedly appeared in a book (Stevens 2014). Meanwhile, the confusion had become a deep-rooted doctrine within Sufism Reoriented, transmitted to the outside world with no qualification whatever. Stevens wanted to discuss matters with the elusive Murshid Mackie, but did not get the opportunity to do so.

(12) The first issue of the Meher Baba Journal, in November 1938, included a dictated article by Meher Baba entitled “Avatar.” This item strongly implied his own background in such a role, but did not specifically claim avatar identity, an occurrence of later years. Meher Baba was then known by the title of Shri, as the accompanying editorial feature specified. Further, the same editorial (pp. 9-10) referred to him in the context of a sadguru, or “perfect master.”

(13) See the contribution of Professor H. Talat Halman in Saheb-e Zaman: Meher Baba as,” (2012). Halman observes: “For many Shi’a Muslims this term Saheb-e Zaman refers to the return of the 12th Imam.” The same commentator informs that this term also appears in a well known Sunni source, the Mathnawi of Jalaluddin Rumi.

(14) Paramount filmed Meher Baba dictating a message on his alphabet board. Charles Purdom read out the content. The location was the garden of Kitty Davy’s home in Kensington. The message commenced with: “My coming to the West is not with the object of establishing new creeds or spiritual societies and organisations, but is intended to make people understand religion in its true sense” (Davy 1981:42). This statement reflects a consistent theme of Meher Baba, who repeatedly said that he did not want to establish another religion. The message to Paramount newsreel, like many other early messages, does not contain any reference to his spiritual status.

(15) A major problem in some areas of communication was Meredith Starr, a British devotee who had established a retreat at East Challacombe, near Combe Martin, in North Devon. Starr zealously promoted the Irani as a “new messiah,” while admitting some uncertainties in the emerging devotional profile. One of the more diligent British journalists reported Starr as saying in April 1932: “He [Meher Baba] is regarded by thousands as having the same consciousness as the Messiah, and I share this view. I do not consider it important whether he is a reincarnation or whether he is another perfect ‘Master,’ as all perfect masters are essentially one” (Parks 2009:287). Soon afterwards, Starr defected when he did not get the “God-realization” that he wanted. In some respects, Starr was similar to Paul Brunton. Starr was described by Brunton, in May 1932, as Meher Baba’s “principal agent for Europe and America” (ibid:280). This may be regarded as accurate; the influence of Starr was considerable amongst Western devotees. My conclusion is that Brunton appropriated the “messiah” tag provided by Starr, and employed this, in the manner of an aspersion, in his book A Search in Secret India, published two years later. Meher Baba himself did not use the word “messiah,” which cannot be found in his various messages and statements. This was a Western improvisation, part of a very muddled profile. Brunton’s anonymous defamatory article in John Bull was entitled “All Britain Duped by Sham Messiah.” A pronounced exaggeration was at work. In relation to the same very questionable article, Brunton may nevertheless be considered correct in his assertion that the publicity for Meher Baba was “chiefly inspired through the tireless efforts of a gentleman named Meredith Starr.”

(16) There are different reports of the Mashhad episode. One says that Meher Baba spent two nights in the shrine, whereas three nights are elsewhere specified. The impelling dream of the caretaker at the shrine has different accents, one version stressing a vision of the Imam Reza, and another specifying a visiting holy man. These variations do not affect the basic narrative, which has caused amazement that the Zoroastrian visitor was able to get into the shrine precincts, guarded by so many Shia clerics. Non-Muslims were not permitted inside the courtyards. To sit alone, inside the shrine buildings, was a feat of seclusion preference. The shrine is an extensive complex of courtyards and buildings, the most important area being the burial chamber of Imam Reza. Meher Baba apparently positioned himself in the close proximity of the burial chamber.

(17) The phrase “Don’t worry be happy” was an aside in personal conversations, and occasionally figured in some more general situations. For instance, soon after his motor accident in 1956, Meher Baba dictated a reassuring message for his devotees: “Do not worry; be happy. All will be well” (Adi K. Irani 1968:69). The phrase at issue had no relation to his teaching. Widespread American usage of the phrase, in the late 1960s, caused many confusions. During the 1990s, an acquaintance of mine encountered an American who had heard of the slogan, but very little else; the imitator sang a line or two from the popular song, and assumed that this lyric encapsulated the teaching of Meher Baba.

(18) Many devotees tended to regard the mandali as infallible. Eruch, Adi K. Irani, Mehera J. Irani, and Mani S. Irani were particularly associated with this repute. Eruch was less authoritarian than the secretary Adi K. Irani, and more likely to be flexible in an argument. Eruch now effectively discarded the myth of infallibility, in confrontation with an unpredictable role (of Mackie) that greatly alarmed him, something he had never encountered before in the Meher Baba movement.

(19) The source for this information was Adi K. Irani, during a visit to London in 1976. Inder Sain (Sen) was the subject of correspondence between my mother and Murshida Duce in 1978-79. Duce recognised that my mother's complaint, about misrepresentation of herself, was legitimate. Duce conceded that something had gone wrong with the mandali version of events transmitted to devotees at large. However, Murshida Duce did absolutely nothing to rectify the situation, evidently fearing difficulties posed by other prestige figures in the Meher Baba movement. A decade later, in a letter to myself, Eruch Jessawala offset the earlier confusion of the mandali in relation to Sain. However, he very briefly expressed a defensive gesture (exonerating the mandali from any blame). My mother objected to this tactic, believing that Eruch should have been more open. Her sense of democracy favoured a broadcasting of the relevant details, instead of Eruch privately invoking obscure correspondence that nobody could check.


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