Critical investigation of an encounter between two controversial entities, with a focus in the well known book A Search in Secret India.
2. Meherabad and Physiognomy
3. Brunton's Sojourn at Nasik in 1931
4. The Kalchuri Version
5. Telepathic Ambassador of Meher League
6. Secrets of Paul Brunton
7. The Castro Version and Wikipedia
8. Paul Brunton as Esotericist
9. Meher Baba as the "Parsee Messiah"
10. Wikipedia Implications and Cult Tendencies
This article refers to the situation in which a British occultist influentially caricatured an Eastern mystic as a fake messiah. Paul Brunton (1898-1981) subsequently became a guru figure in Western locales, being attended by ardent disciples. Some disillusionment also occurred. He has been described as a Neo-Vedantic philosopher. The case history of Brunton reveals some psychological peculiarities as charted by an academic ex-admirer.
Meher Baba (1894-1969) was an Irani Zoroastrian (his name of birth was Merwan Irani). He eventually became celebrated as an avatar (divine incarnation) by his followers. This matter is controversial; I am not a devotee, and do not seek to promote the elevation. It is fair to say, however, that at the time of Brunton's visit to his ashrams, the disclosures of Meher Baba about spiritual status were a private matter, not a public declaration. The sources for the connection in 1930-31 present some pronounced discrepancies. Brunton's version omitted details preserved in an earlier report of his activities in India (and also his own correspondence). I have elsewhere expressed the conclusion that Brunton's psychology met with a setback, creating a sense of strong antipathy and resulting in an unreliable account.
The Meher Baba devotional movement has an anomalous relation to this subject. However, we are not here discussing the Eastern sector of that movement, but the Western sector, and more specifically, the American scene. Two of the American devotee editors on Wikipedia militated strongly against another editorial contribution, and to the extent that the British editor transferred his article to a private web medium. The article was entitled Critics of Meher Baba: Paul Brunton and Rom Landau. Seebelow. According to another Wikipedia editor Simon Kidd, the main reason for the opposition was because a number of references to my own books could be found in the contested article. In Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (1988), I had defended Meher Baba against the attack of Paul Brunton, though from a philosophical perspective, not a devotional one. The irrationality of some Meher Baba devotees in America is substantial (see also below). See further Update.
Paul Brunton (originally Raphael Hurst) wrote the most influential critique of Meher Baba. The relevant chapters form part of Brunton's travel book entitled A Search in Secret India (1934). This has been cited many times over the years, and by diverse parties, as proof of the aberrant nature of Meher Baba's career. Partisan "avatar" articles about Meher Baba, such as the Wikipedia example, have done little or nothing to reduce the influence of Brunton. One of the more objective American devotees has recently commented: "Brunton's attack on Baba had an enduring influence - A Search in Secret India is still in print; it stands at the fountainhead of one of the major streams of adverse commentary during Meher Baba's lifetime" (Parks, Meher Baba's Early Messages to the West, 2009, p. 223).
"I journeyed Eastwards in search of the Yogis and their hermetic knowledge" (Brunton, Secret India, p. 19). Meher Baba was not a Yogi and nor a Vedantist, another category celebrated by Brunton. He was a very unusual Irani Zoroastrian mystic with some ascetic characteristics; he had received inspiration and monitoring from the Muslim faqir (and unofficial Sufi) Hazrat Babajan (d. 1931) and also the Hindu guru Upasni Maharaj (d. 1941). His father was Sheriar Mundegar Irani. Though a liberal and nonconformist Irani, he remained completely independent from Sufism and Hinduism.
Brunton failed to inform readers that he had known of the Irani since 1929, and that he went to India because of Meher Baba. He was then a follower of Meher Baba. His tour was planned by Meher Baba, and not in relation to Yogis. The theme of conducting a search in "Secret India" for Yogis was a subsequent reaction to frustrations encountered.
"Hurst [Brunton] became one of Baba's ardent enthusiasts, and he filled several pages of the Meher Message [a periodical] with encomiums" (Parks, op. cit., p. 223). Brunton was then a freelance journalist of the fringe variety, having contributed articles to The Occult Review, among other lesser known publications. In 1929, he self-published Success Magazine, in which he "wrote most of the contents under various pen names" (Castro, Critics of Meher Baba, note 8). His subsequent ambition was evidently to write a commercial travelogue, which should be analysed accordingly.
2. Meherabad and Physiognomy
In late November 1930, Paul Brunton visited Meherabad, a rural location in Maharashtra, a few miles south of Ahmednagar, and near the village of Arangaon. This was Meher Baba's first ashram, which generated much activity during the 1920s, though diminishing almost to a standstill by the time Brunton arrived on the scene. The site was now largely uninhabited, but still in use. The buildings were very basic, and the routine was quite different to Hindu ashrams. Meher Baba had deliberately stopped the crowds from arriving.
The Western visitor encountered Baba at a simple cave on Meherabad hill. This was not an audience room or a darshan hall, but a recently improvised seclusion cell cut into the hill slope. Visitors to Meherabad were now very infrequent, being discouraged and not generally allowed access. The contrast with standard activities of gurus is pronounced. A biographer reports that Meher Baba did not at first wish to see Brunton when news arrived of his voyage from England. "Baba had no desire to see Brunton, as he was in seclusion" (Kalchuri, Lord Meher, Vol. 4, p. 1346).
Despite the concession, Brunton is depreciatory. "I track him down to his Indian abode where he is almost unknown to more than local fame" (A Search in Secret India, p. 46). The visitor acknowledges that his host had "set his retreat in a scene of aloof, untroubled peace" (ibid., p. 47). He described the hut as an "artificial cave.... built of stones and rubble cemented together and is about eight feet deep" (ibid.). The floor was covered with a "Persian rug," which seems to have been the only concession to luxury. The occupant had not spoken a word since 1925, observing silence and communicating via a small alphabet board. Words were spelled out in a "dumb pantomime manner," though Brunton was more gracious in observing that "he possesses an excellent command of English" (ibid., p. 48).
The account is offputting, the subject being depicted as making fantastic and theatrical claims. There are some patent inaccuracies. For instance, "he calls himself Sadguru Meher Baba" (ibid., p. 54), though he never actually did so, his followers being responsible for this identity tag. Sadguru is a word found in the Hindu vocabularies, conventionally denoting a spiritual teacher. The general description for the subject was Shri Meher Baba, employed by both Hindus and Zoroastrians. Muslims called him by the title of Hazrat, which Brunton again fails to mention. The tag of avatar did not appear until the 1950s.
Very questionably, Brunton described Meher Baba's facial features in terms of the forehead being "so low as to appear less than average height, and it is so receding as to make me wonder" (Secret India, p. 48). This description is so inaccurate as to make any informed reader query the motivation behind the contraction. Brunton must have known that he was committing an error. Yet he makes a pointed aspersion, implying limited powers of thought in the Irani mystic, based upon his misleading cranial assessment. The truth is that "the copious photographic documentation on Meher Baba proves indisputably a high forehead and an unusually large cranium for his height and build" (Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, p. 160).
The Western visitor also inaccurately referred to Baba's "small pointed chin" (Secret India, p. 258), an accusation which supposedly proved that "he is really an irresolute man, influenced by others and by circumstances" (ibid.). This curious theme has no basis, as the chin of Meher Baba was not in fact small and pointed, again confirmed by very numerous photographs. The insidious attempt of Brunton to portray his host in a bad light is revealing of a strong animosity.
A well known judgment of Brunton was similarly inaccurate. He compared the Irani mystic to a meteorite flashing across the Western sky, a reference to his subsequent journeys abroad. "Like a meteorite, he will fall ingloriously to earth" (Secret India, p. 46). In fact, Meher Baba took root in several countries, and even strong critics have since acknowledged his representation in places like Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.
Brunton spent three days at Meherabad. He presents himself as a critical assessor of Meher Baba's extravagant disclosures about a messianic career. There is strong reason to doubt this portrayal. The general tone of description is disparaging. "With the exception of a few paragraphs, none of the section relating to [Meher] Baba can be taken as an accurate report" (Iranian Liberal, p. 160).
3. Brunton's Sojourn at Nasik in 1931
A pronounced drawback in Brunton's account, one that for long proved difficult to refute, was the duration of his sojourn at the Nasik ashram of Meher Baba in February 1931. Brunton states in Secret India that a month elapsed, but a more recent investigation has concluded that only a week was involved. See. "Brunton's travel story is undated throughout" (Iranian Liberal, p. 151). This literary device gave an impression of a lengthy tour of India; in actual fact, that tour lasted for several weeks only. Brunton's week at Nasik fits the general itinerary of speed and convenience.
Brunton's account of his sojourn at Nasik is very suspect, though not merely because of the contracted duration. In total, he appears to have spent only ten days near Meher Baba. At Meherabad, the latter supposedly made numerous extravagant assertions to the critical Western visitor, who was nevertheless still very keen to visit the Nasik ashram, despite the prohibition on note-taking. At Nasik, things did not go as the visitor anticipated. His continual questions were not welcome, and it was apparently in an effort to silence him that he was given two diaries to read (possibly at his own request). One of these diaries, by the Muslim disciple Ramju Abdulla, has since been published (Deitrick, Ramjoo's Diaries). The other diary, by the Parsi F. H. Dadachanji, is available online. Brunton reacted to the diaries and to his background position. He did not receive the attention that he wanted.
"A retinue of forty disciples wander aimlessly about the place" (Secret India, p. 254). This disgruntled remark does not tally with what is known about Meher Baba's ashrams, where the disciplined inmates were allocated specific duties. Such descriptions seem on a par with Brunton's version of physiognomy.
"I wait for the wonderful experiences he has promised me, though I never expect them to arrive" (Secret India, p. 257). Brunton was fixated on the occult for many years; an extant letter of his reveals that he did not visit Nasik in the belief that nothing would happen. Quite to the contrary. Further, an Indian report preserves Brunton's own testimony to his telepathic rapport with the Irani mystic, whom he then believed "was immersed in the highest state of God-consciousness every moment" (Iranian Liberal, p. 150). That testimony dates to December 1930, after the visit to Meherabad. As the recipient of such adulation, Meher Baba was evidently shrewd enough to distance himself from the occultist at an appropriate juncture. A rebuff is discernible.
"Meher Baba seems to be avoiding contacts with me as my stay draws to its close.... when I do see him, he is always in a tremendous hurry, and rushes away a few minutes after" (Secret India, p. 257). After only a few days of the sojourn, the mystic may even have said something about occultism which the visitor did not appreciate. Certainly, the upshot was that the visitor and ex-enthusiast nurtured a resentful hatred towards his host for a long time thereafter. The mood of spite strongly coloured the pages of Secret India.
Brunton says that shortly before he departed from Nasik, he complained about the lack of the miraculous. In response, Meher Baba "lightly transfers the date of his promised marvels to a couple of months later, and then dismisses the matter" (ibid.). There could be an element of truth in that report, so strongly weighted in Brunton's favour. The Irani was unpredictable, and sometimes seemed intent upon dousing expectations. He also frequently repudiated the pursuit of siddhis (occult powers), so popularly desired in India, and to which Brunton was evidently susceptible in his subsequent proclaimed search after Yogis. Meher Baba was well removed from the Indian Yogis and sadhus, whom he criticised over the years for their extremisms, rote practices, and superstitions. Brunton was far more like a Yogi; he also appears to have lived the rest of his life in a fantasy world of occult actions, a career even causing him to believe that he could prevent an anticipated World War III (below).
4. The Kalchuri Version
Devotees have frequently eulogised the multi-volume work Lord Meher, partly authored by Bhau Kalchuri, who was an inmate of Meher Baba's Meherazad ashram from the 1950s. This biography was originally composed in Hindi during 1971-2, and afterwards subject to an extensive editing process. Kalchuri (and his editors) include several pages on Brunton, but the treatment is disappointingly uncritical. Kalchuri repeats Brunton's version of Meher Baba's statements, accepting these as reliable reporting. Kalchuri also omits important data on record elsewhere. His basic conclusion is that "three years later, Brunton was to publish a popular book entitled In Search of Secret India [sic] which, although critical of the Master, drew Europeans and Americans to become interested in Meher Baba" (Lord Meher Vol. 4, 1989, p. 1359). That book also inspired volleys of strong criticism and denigration lasting over decades in different countries. A due analytical assessment is required of the entire episode under discussion, and furthermore integrating available data lost in Lord Meher.
5. Telepathic Ambassador of Meher League
My investigation of the Brunton episode dates back to the mid-1960s, when I was a youthful follower of Meher Baba. For two years I was a frequent participant in the monthly group meetings of devotees in London. In 1965, I met Charles Purdom, who had the reputation of being the most intellectual follower of Meher Baba, and who authored The God-Man (1964). That was also the year of his death. There was no devotionalism in Purdom's speech or writing. He had met Brunton, whom he regarded as a confused occultist who had expected Meher Baba to perform a miracle. At the time of their encounter in London, Brunton told Purdom that "he had no doubt [Meher] Baba was false, as he, Raphael Hirsch [Hurst], had asked him to perform a miracle but Baba could not" (The God-Man, p. 128). Yet Purdom did not confront the matter in any further detail in his book, and no due description of the Brunton episode was available.
Three other followers known to me were Ann Powell, Delia De Leon, and Adi S. Irani (the brother of Meher Baba, resident in London), whom I had more opportunity to question. Powell and De Leon had been devotees since 1931, and Adi was a direct informant about the 1920s and earlier. I found relevant data in an early periodical about Meher Baba, dating back to the late 1920s. Information from this printed source (the Meher Message) revealed substantial discrepancies between the train of factual events and what Brunton chose to mention in his subsequent commercial book. This source furnished proof that Brunton's version of Meher Baba in Secret India amounted to a cover-up for omissions he did not wish to divulge.
The full data reveals that Paul Brunton was initially a follower of Meher Baba, not a critic as he subsequently led readers to believe. This significant deception involved events that he did not want to mention. "The reality of the situation was that Brunton believed himself to be in telepathic affinity with Baba" (Iranian Liberal, p. 161). There is also the factor that Brunton "was arranging to form an extension of the Meher League upon his return to England" (ibid., p. 149). At Madras, in December 1930, Brunton was expressly welcomed as the "founder of the Meher League in England" (ibid., p. 150). The League had been created by devotees at the Saidapet ashram in Madras. Such details place the slightly earlier visit to Meherabad in a very different light.
A partisan version of Secret India has asserted in relation to the Nasik sojourn: "Brunton had initially promised to stay with him [Meher Baba] an entire month; however, it did not take long to diagnose in the person of Meher Baba a mystic close to paranoia" (Cahn Fung 2004, pp. 36-7). The neglected data found elsewhere is a hindrance to this assumption, created by a commercial book. The Saidapet ashram was so secret that it did not appear in the pages of Secret India, despite being one of the major venues on Brunton's tour.
According to Brunton, at Meherabad the Irani said: "Go to the West as my representative" (Secret India, p. 61). This may be interpreted as an acute abbreviation for the Meher League, all mention of which was suppressed in Secret India. Brunton's account simply cannot be taken at face value. He interposes very suspect phrases like "such a task staggers my imagination" (ibid.). Even more unconvincing is his purported reply that he could not undertake the task "since I cannot perform miracles" (ibid.). Only two weeks later, he was acclaimed at the Saidapet ashram as the Meher League ambassador.
The tell-tale mood of literary embellishment and excision envelops the detail that Meher Baba invited the visitor to stay for a month at Nasik. Brunton projects this invitation in terms of a prospect of spiritual experiences. "You will be shown my inner spiritual powers." (ibid., p. 62), a purported emphasis which gains the variant of "I will help you to obtain advanced powers" (ibid., p. 61). Such a tactic was not typical of the Irani, and in view of crucial missing data, a distortion of the episode is a legitimate conclusion. Brunton's obsession with powers, e. g., telepathy (one of the Yogic siddhis), is the basic denominator.
In later years, Meher Baba was not keen on visitors who wanted to sample diverse ashrams via "Indian tours." He was probably just the same with Brunton, who was soon afterwards desiring to find wonders amongst the Yogis. At Meherabad, the Irani may well have encouraged the visitor to think that opportunities for "wonders" would be forthcoming at Nasik. This would ensure that the visitor returned. When Brunton arrived at Nasik ashram, he found himself relegated to a background position like all the other inmates. There was no talk of powers, and also no focus upon "self-realisation," contrary to the custom found elsewhere and to which Brunton became partial.
The visitor may even have been prescribed manual work, which would have seemed horrific to Brunton, who was an introverted writer and meditator. He would not have liked being amongst the non-occult disciples who had repaired buildings and cleared the hot Meherabad hill of undergrowth, snakes, and scorpions. All those perspiring men wore ordinary clothes instead of Yogi loincloths. Such tasks were undertaken at the instruction of Meher Baba, who was the sole administrator at his ashrams, unlike the situation of caste management at many Hindu ashrams, where kitchen taboos could be a giant issue, and where "self-realisation" was often a corresponding delusion.
6. Secrets of Paul Brunton
A relevant chapter (pp. 146-76) in my annotated book Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (1988) was composed in 1985-6. This borrowed from an earlier unpublished work of mine composed many years before. The chapter was entitled "The Secrets of Paul Brunton." This was the first detailed analysis of the 1930-31 episode which appears in Secret India.
My treatment of Brunton in Iranian Liberal is duly critical, and caused consternation amongst his partisans in America. The treatment of Meher Baba is lenient, attempting to rectify the widespread deficit caused by superficial elevation of Brunton as a great esoteric writer and accomplished traveller in so-called secret India. However, the Meher Baba movement in the West chose to suppress this book. The Myrtle Beach Meher Baba Centre were the medium of disapproval and an undeclared ban. Rank and file devotees were encouraged to avoid the book. The leading devotees were solely concerned to censure mild criticism of some prominent followers and evangelists. They had no sense of due comportment in relation to observer parties and alternative standpoints. A mood of religious orthodoxy prevailed.
The pro-Brunton camp were well ahead of the Meher Baba Centres in terms of literary assimilation; an academic fan of Brunton conceded that his hero had been distorting in relation to Meher Baba. However, he was reluctant to credit the 1972 Agostini report I cited, not having access to that revealing article in an obscure periodical. Louis Agostini was Brunton's former secretary, an assistant who became a partisan of Meher Baba instead. The second article by Agostini was also strongly anti-Brunton, though not published until 1985, too late for inclusion in my book.
Agostini is notable for such details as Brunton's preferred name of JR, "which was an abbreviation for Jupiter Rex, an appellation which he said had been bestowed upon him by higher powers" (Iranian Liberal, p. 175); this title co-existed alongside his counterfeit academic credential of Dr. Brunton. Circa 1960, Brunton added another status feature by "announcing himself as an example of one who had finished the spiritual path" (ibid.). See Jupiter Rex Contradicted. Comparatively sober was Brunton's disclosure of how he told Meher Baba at Meherabad that he wanted to write a book about him (Agostini 1985). This detail further explodes the myth of Brunton as being from the start a critic of the paranoid messiah.
7. The Castro Version and Wikipedia
In 2011-12, the British author Stephen J. Castro composed a substantial article entitled Critics of Meher Baba: Paul Brunton and Rom Landau. This features over 140 annotations. The major part of the content relates to Brunton. Like the present writer, Castro is neither a devotee of Meher Baba and nor a Brunton supporter. He has authored the book Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation (1996).
The Castro article emphasises that Brunton stayed at the Nasik ashram of Meher Baba for only a week, in contrast to the former's misleading statement that a month elapsed during this sojourn. Brunton had evidently been invited to stay for a month, but chose to leave early, later giving the impression that he had met the full terms of invitation. I had earlier conceded Brunton's statement that "with the passing of the month I announce my impending departure" (Iranian Liberal, p. 151), but I here agree with Castro's verdict that "the balance of data now permits a strong denial of his [Brunton's] misleading words" (Castro, Critics of Meher Baba, note 55). Virtually all readers had believed Brunton, despite a discrepant date found in Purdom, and one which was more difficult to vindicate at the time I wrote.
The early departure may well have been caused by the fact that Meher Baba no longer seemed interested in the visitor, and stopped being responsive to his questions. However this episode is interpreted, the overall details of Brunton's career prompted the psychiatrist Anthony Storr to criticise Brunton, not Meher Baba. Castro accordingly cites Storr's book Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus (1996), which informs that "Brunton exhibited many of the traits and forms of behaviour characteristic of gurus" (see Storr, pp. 162ff.).
In his later years, Brunton believed that he was averting a nuclear war by "conferring with four higher beings - the Four Archangels who lived on what according to Brunton, was to be his posthumous destination, the star Sirius - to see what could done to save planet Earth. He saw himself as engaged in 'work' that would affect the fate of millions" (Castro, art. cit., section entitled World War III).
This relevant article was submitted to Wikipedia in 2011, but met with a bullying reception on a talkpage from two American Meher Baba devotees (Dazedbythebell and Hoverfish). They contested the contents, pressed for revision and contraction, and even threatened deletion. Castro eventually decided to relinquish the Wikipedia context, not wishing for mutilation of his article. Instead he placed the article on a separate web feature. Some observers take the view that serious articles by real name authors are doomed at Wikipedia, especially when that web milieu is governed by harassing editors with false names and inflexible ideological affiliations. See also section 1 above.
8. Paul Brunton as Esotericist
Paul Brunton became a very popular author. A Search in Secret India was one of a string of commercial works which he wrote during the 1930s. Those books do not exhibit any mode of scholarship, and became bestsellers in a dozen languages. Titles like The Secret Path and A Search in Secret Egypt were surely overworking the agenda. The publisher chose to advertise Secret India as "an adventure in self-metamorphosis," while the author became a "Great Writer on Esoteric Wisdom" according to Rider & Company. The accolades assisted his emerging role amongst admirers as a spiritual teacher.
For two years in his earlier life (about 1918-20), Brunton had been a member of the Theosophical Society. He retained a strong interest in occult matters, and this has been observed to colour his subsequent interest in Indian religion. His promotion of Ramana Maharshi in Secret India has been discussed in the context of a Neo-Vedantic inclination. Supporters have enthused about his The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (1941) and The Wisdom of the Overself (1943). He has been credited with a mentalist philosophy.
Events did not work out smoothly in the Vedantic sector. Brunton made a big mistake; he "copied many sayings of Ramana and passed them off as his own" (Friesen, Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi, online 2005). This plagiarism was the reason why the ashram of Ramana Maharshi banned him from visiting. Nevertheless, a romantic interpretation has emerged in some directions. "As a result of his rupture with [Ramana] Maharshi's ashram in 1939, Brunton was never again to see the Sage.... he remained in telepathic communication with him until the Sage's death in 1950" (Cahn Fung 2004, p. 49). Brunton's claim of telepathic prowess is strongly reminiscent of his earlier exploits with Meher Baba (above), though only the later instance is well known.
Relevant for consideration is the deduction: "It seems that one of Brunton's disappointments with Ramana was that Ramana did not impart more special powers to him" (Friesen, art. cit.). This repetition of an earlier event has been obscured by the celebrity which Brunton gained from Secret India. He was able to enjoy his new role as the Vedantic pioneer allied with Ramana for some five years, and then took recourse to the telepathic compensation. More convincingly, Brunton objected to Ramana on ethical grounds, and the context has a special interest.
By 1945 he had innovated the tag of "Dr. Paul Brunton." The credential has since been revealed as misleading or spurious. A Ph.D. was here strongly implied, together with an expertise in Indian philosophy. Brunton's desire to be seen as an authoritative writer is not convincing to close analysts. The problem credential was not gained at a recognised university. Many readers were misled in this respect; the drawback was magnified by Brunton's publisher, namely Rider, who transmitted the deception for many years. In fact, several decades later, Secret India was still emblazoned with the suspect credential, which even appeared on the spine of the alluring Rider paperback reprint.
Supporters of Brunton have elevated his multi-volume Notebooks (1984-8), published after his death; they claim that he was a man of profound insights in his later years. Partisans have also regarded the Notebooks as proof that the author was spiritually illumined. Critics have been resistant. "The many volumes of the Notebooks do not alter the questionable nature of Brunton's career" (Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. 1, 1995, p. 200 note 275). Statements found in the Notebooks have been interpreted as a repudiation of occultism. This is not entirely convincing. However, the author does admit to early errors in that field. He also denied being a personal guru in his final years. Yet many admirers had been regarding him as a guru since about 1940.
The critics have prominently included Dr. Jeffrey Masson, at one period a Professor of Sanskrit, a former admirer who was closely acquainted with Brunton since his childhood in the 1940s. Masson had a close-up view of the subject throughout the 1950s, along with the problem scenario of a "World War III" predicted for 1961-2. The major geographical location was America, though Brunton was also active in Europe.
The disillusioned Masson despatched the pseudo-academic contrivance of "Dr. Brunton," and reveals that "the degree was fraudulent, the scholarship nonexistent.... He could not read the alphabet, any Indian alphabet, nor a single sentence in Sanskrit.... More deeply, he was totally ignorant of the larger issues of Indian history and culture. He knew nothing of the reality of India. He inhabited a phantom India that existed only in his imagination and that of his disciples" (My Father's Guru, pp. 162-3).
Some partisans of Brunton have affirmed that he did get a degree from Roosevelt College, "which no longer exists." His "dissertation" is said to have been Indian Philosophy and Modern Culture (1939). This small book was only ninety pages in length, was not annotated, and comprised a large number of quotations linked by a commentary. Furthermore, Roosevelt College was a private university and correspondence school; the degree would be unlikely to pass even minimal requirements of the standard university credential. Masson subsequently commented on this matter in emails that became publicly known:
"I really don't have more to say than is in my book. I grew up with P.B. and I give my version of events.... The degree, I understand, is not a true Ph.D, but something given by a correspondence course, much like those offered daily on the net. P.B. told me he had had a Ph.D from Roosevelt University in Chicago. I checked with them, and they had not given one" (see Castro, In Search of Brunton's Secret Part One, note 7).
Brunton had resorted to a newly-formed avenue of granting distinction, something quite apart from the traditional university syllabus. Roosevelt College commenced in 1945, and in 1959 was renamed Roosevelt University. Brunton partisans say this was the reason why Masson was unable to trace any record. The overall situation is rather unsatisfactory. So many readers imagined that "Dr. Brunton" had gained qualification in an accredited University like Harvard or Oxford.
In his book, Masson comments: "I knew enough now about universities to realise that P.B. could not possibly have been awarded a Ph.D for any of his books. The fact that nowhere in his writings did he ever mention having studied at a university made me suspicious" (My Father's Guru, pp. 160-1). He confronted Brunton head on. Brunton responded "I have a weighty academic honour," namely a Ph.D from Roosevelt University. Brunton also stated on that occasion: "I was awarded the degree partly on a philosophical thesis submitted that was judged as showing a capacity for original research and as making a contribution toward existing knowledge and partly in recognition of distinguished service to the cause of Oriental research" (ibid., p. 161). Brunton also said that his thesis involved Sanskrit (ibid., p. 162).
Masson also revealed in his book that Brunton believed he had studied philosophy at the Astral University (ibid., p. 86). This nebulous accomplishment serves as a warning against pronounced confusions. To Brunton, "philosophy" meant his version of Indian religion and esoteric/occult lore.
The critic conveys that Brunton was a strict vegetarian, considered himself an expert on reincarnation, and believed that he had come from another planet. Masson deduces that Brunton "was in fact much influenced by Theosophy, and particularly the writings of Madame Blavatsky" (ibid., p. 65). Brunton's encounter with Hinduism is here viewed as a confusion, despite the association with Ramana Maharshi, whom Brunton extols in Secret India.
The astral graduate described himself as "a hermetic philosopher." No close affinity with the Hermetic Corpus is here implied; Brunton was resorting to a fashionable esoteric word, and investing this with his own significance as a contrast to Western philosophy. "He meant that he was engaged in thoughts that others should not know about. It was secret" (ibid., p. 79). Brunton liked to be inconspicuous on the street, and that may be admirable, though he compensated for this trait by wearing "a long flowing Chinese silk robe" when at home (ibid). He favoured "philosopher robes," which is certainly not the ideal of other categories of philosopher. Plain clothes are sufficient all the time.
Furthermore, Brunton's "hermetic" career was distinguished by such considerations as: "I hate to shake anybody's hands, because I get contaminated by their aura. I need to preserve my psychic purity.... I feel ill when I touch somebody who is lowly evolved.... This is why Indians of the higher caste do not like to have their food looked at by those of the very lowest caste. It is a polluting act" (ibid., p. 80). This eccentric justification for caste practices sounds almost Nietzschean, and is not at all convincing to critics.
Brunton also stated that he had visited Tibet, becoming "locked in deadly battle" with evil forces, meeting "a highly advanced yogi" in that country, one further described as a Tibetan lama and direct descendant of the legendary Milarepa (ibid., pp. 81-2). Yet Masson eventually came to the conclusion that Brunton had never been to Tibet, although he may have encountered Tibetan monks in India. Brunton was merely "catering to my desire for the sensational" (ibid., p. 83).
Dr. Masson succeeded in creating a mood of caution about the "Western guru." He described Kenneth Hurst's biography of Brunton as "an adoring hagiography" (ibid., p. xi). The attempt to extricate fact and history remains a priority.
Many admirers of Brunton continue to disregard the realistic details of his career. "Brunton spent the last twenty years of his life in Switzerland, writing daily [the Notebooks]; he maintained a mostly telepathic correspondence with students worldwide, receiving letters but not usually sending written replies" (Peter Holleran, Architect of a 21st Century Philosophy, online). The telepathic occultist survived the "World War III" fiasco as the inspirer of further questionable lore; all this followed in the wake of a hidden teaching beyond Yoga, promoted via a misleading doctoral credential.
9. Meher Baba as the "Parsee Messiah"
Brunton's disparaging account of Meher Baba has two chapter headings entitled "I Meet a Messiah" and "At the Parsee Messiah's Headquarters." The messianic issue is clouded by a difficulty in ascertaining the accuracy of Brunton's report as to what the subject said via the alphabet board (Meher Baba did not speak, but observed silence). Brunton was not permitted to take notes, and had to write from memory, which he did at an unspecified date.
There are other factors of relevance. As I have pointed out elsewhere, Meher Baba was an Irani Zoroastrian, not a Parsi Zoroastrian (Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, pp. 112, 209 note 322). Such distinctions are lost upon some devotees, who insinuate that their figurehead was just as much Hindu as Zoroastrian. He was certainly liberal in the religious sense, but that is not the point here. In a book title, I described Meher Baba as an Iranian [Irani] liberal, and some have regarded this nuance as provocative. Both his parents originated in Central Iran; his father was a mystic, and still generally unplumbed. The term avatar is evocative of Hinduism to many minds. One could respond: he could speak English, but he was not an Englishman or a Christian. The proclaimed Avatar Meher Baba was not a Hindu, but a nonconformist Irani.
Some details about his father Sheriar Mundegar Irani are still obscured. For instance, an entire passage (save one sentence) was deleted from the original Wikipedia article on that pater, and a relevant book (Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom) was suppressed by the Meher Baba movement in America and on Wikipedia. Meher Baba's thin white robe or shirt (sadra) belongs to the Zoroastrian heritage (although the precise interpretation can differ). He is said to have worn throughout his life the related Zoroastrian kusti, the sacred string or girdle, which is easily concealed. His white sadra certainly served to distinguish him from the ochre robe of Hindu renunciates, a very common sight in India.
One may question as to whether any of Brunton's coverage of the "messianic" statements can be regarded as reliable. His version might be half-truth or sheer fiction. Then again, some components may be approximately correct. Unfortunately, a writer who creates deceptions about facial features, omits basic details, and who lies about the duration of his visit to the "Parsee messiah's headquarters," is not the best resort for any definitive version.
There is no doubt that Meher Baba did make some strong disclosures over the years about what he called his "inner work." Some of those are reliably recorded, and are not within my range of comment. A number of his statements do sound fantastic; he said that he was using his "own language" in some descriptions, thus implying that few people would be able to understand the meaning. In his last years he made public statements about an avatar role, contrasting with his more discreet profile of private disclosure in earlier decades.
In my opinion, the fairest thing to do is to make comparisons between Meher Baba and Paul Brunton, rather than to judge the former through the distorting lens imposed by the latter. For instance, the "Parsee messiah" achieved a significant meeting in Bombay with the untouchable leader Bhimrao R. Ambedkar in 1932, having gained a reputation for defending the untouchables against caste biases (Shepherd, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, pp. 124-5). There was no publicity involved, as with many other features of the Irani's activity, including meetings with other untouchable leaders earlier that year.
In contradiction, that same year of 1932, Paul Brunton attacked the Irani as a publicity-loving charlatan via the topical British weekly John Bull, employing slurs and inaccuracies in a "sensational exposure" quite as lop-sided as Secret India (Castro, art. cit., relevant to notes 69-78; Parks, ed., Early Messages to the West, pp. 280-1). The British Raj on one side, the caste system on the other. The Irani mystic Meher Baba moved in between, getting to the social and political crux, unlike the British occultist.
One may easily credit Brunton's report that Meher Baba said: "I shall not rest till the pernicious caste system is uprooted and destroyed" (Secret India, p. 51). This theme does converge with certain other statements on record. The emphasis contrasts strongly with Brunton's own indulgent view of caste practices, which the British occultist sanctioned in his eccentric attitude to purity (above). Although Meher Baba was likewise a vegetarian, he was not fanatical about this observance, and pardoned the occasional consumption of fish and meat. His social outlook was at acute loggerheads with caste Hinduism. Unlike many Indian gurus, he washed and tended lepers (Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, p. 106); Brunton was quite incapable of such labour in his confined personal space avoiding contamination. In some respects, Brunton had the mentality of a caste-conscious brahmin.
The anti-caste "messiah" was also known to clean ashram toilets, an unpleasant task generally reserved for low caste (and outcaste) people at ashrams, where most gurus were fastidiously exempt from such menial work. In 1936, Meher Baba commenced an unusual ashram for the mad at Rahuri, which later transferred to Meherabad (Donkin, The Wayfarers, pp. 95ff.). There are photographs which reveal him cleaning the rudimentary toilet area of this quarter, a duty which he is reported to have frequently accomplished (Kalchuri, Lord Meher Vol. 7, 1994, pp. 2244-5). He permitted the relief of an umbrella to shield him from the sun.
Both of the entities under discussion were reincarnationists, though in a very different way. Meher Baba's teaching on evolution strongly incorporates reincarnation; he does formulate in accompaniment a consistent logic of impressions (sanskaras), and he does explain certain points not easily found elsewhere. The exposition in his major work (God Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose) moves at a strong tangent to Hindu doctrine, and is something not found in Brunton's Notebooks. His liberal attitude employed both Sufi and Vedantic terminologies, and this was very unusual. The Sufi component in his exegesis was assisted by a familiarity with the Persian language; Meher Baba could also speak English and two Indian languages. His multi-lingual ability was somewhat in advance of Brunton's more limited language skills.
Brunton exhibits nothing of the Sufi dimension, muddled Vedanta with occultism, and had no knowledge of Zoroastrianism. The Irani's sadra merely resembled "an old-fashioned English nightshirt" (Secret India, p. 47) to the occultist visitor from another planet, who expressed a very narrow set of terrestrial and colonial associations in assessing a man whom he wrongly described as having a deficient cranium (above).
The Irani mystic affords an exposition of evolution that does not contradict the basic discoveries of Darwinian science. Despite the strong metaphysical and spiritualising themes that are stressed in his version, evolution through the species-forms is quite systematically enunciated. Human evolution follows in the sequence from animals, who are in turn preceded by birds and fish. In contrast, Paul Brunton did not believe in Darwinian evolution. "Apes were a degeneration from man, man was not an evolution" (Masson, My Father's Guru, p. 29). Even more specifically, Brunton asserted that "the monkey came after man, not before" (ibid.).
Neither of these men were preachers, and both liked to be inconspicuous on the street. Meher Baba's early Western tours, occurring in the 1930s, featured intensive incognito activity in Western cities; he dressed in Western suits and headgear tangibly commemorated in diverse photographs. His retiring policy was the same in India, where he generally took elaborate precautions against being recognised by devotees and diverse saint-worshippers on his many incognito journeys. This was one of his characteristics that differed markedly from Indian gurus. The "Parsee messiah" was a far more complex character than Brunton suggested.
10. Wikipedia Implications and Cult Tendencies
The hostile account by Brunton has not been successfully qualified by the Meher Baba movement, which suppressed the primary attempt in that direction during the 1980s (above). Another of my books was the inspiration for the original Wikipedia article on Sheriar Mundegar Irani (contributed by an academic), yet afterwards eliminated from the text [but see complaint for redressal]. The suppression tendency of the "avataric" movement took advantage of the fact that Wikipedia guidelines rule against self-publishing, instead advocating third party commercial publishers in terms of reliability. This means, for instance, that Dr. Brunton was an esteemed and reliable academic, even if the truth amounts to an imaginative syllabus at the fantastic Astral University ( above), and a more tangible correspondence course of lightweight significance.
The commercial third party publishing image of "Dr. Brunton" is only one of the many drawbacks in the capitalist publisher mode favoured by Wikipedia. All citizen efforts at independence are outlawed by Wikipedia; commercial giants are endorsed by the administration. Commercial third party publishers make enormous profits out of fiction, trivia, and dirt.
Further adding to the discrepancies is the fact that very numerous sectarian and other books listed and cited on Wikipedia do not represent the output of "reliable third party publishers," being instead the product of independent ideological concerns. To rectify that situation, a massive purge would be required, as distinct from deleting authors targeted by religious "cult" interests. I do not advocate suppression of any literature except the violent and pornographic varieties, which are also packaged by commercial giants deemed "reliable" by American web appetites.
A large number of university academics regard Wikipedia as being uncitable. This is because of the pseudonymous profiles of editors, and the changing and unreliable nature of both articles and talkpages. An expert cannot be expected to cite the output of persons who are reluctant to reveal their real name. The bickerings on talkpages frequently reveal huge discrepancies and shortcomings. This field has also become notorious for the presence of sectarian interests, with attempts to monopolise Wikipedia articles and to control talkpages.
In my own case, a number of observers have perceived the tactic of belligerent American devotees of Meher Baba who strongly participated in the suppressive actions launched against myself on Wikipedia. In 2009, one of those aggressive persons (Dazedbythebell) even used the hostile and defamatory blogs created against me by an extremist affiliate of the Sathya Sai Baba sect, and was conspicuous in the deletion of a Wikipedia article about myself. In 2012, the Wikipedia Noticeboard featured a very distorted attack introduced by another pseudonymous devotee (Hoverfish) from the Meher Baba talkpage. I have answered this attack by giving the appropriate details, but still the hostilities have been in evidence. A Western Sufi follower of Meher Baba recently stated: "I now dislike Shepherd a lot and I never even met him." That was in May 2012, and on the Meher Baba talkpage.
Ironically, Meher Baba's noteworthy Prayer of Repentance includes the refrain: "We repent especially... for all slander and back-biting" (The God-Man, p. 238). Now some of the casual repenters might not even care about breaking the backs of people they have never even met.
The Meher Baba movement originally harboured well behaved entities like Charles Purdom and William Donkin, both of whom were author contributors, and with a capable use of English. Such persons were not dogmatic. There followed the psychedelic wave of interest originating in America, creating bizarre idioms such as "Baba's love game," to some extent associated with British rock star Pete Townshend. Now the American branch of this movement contributes openly aggressive tactics and snubs calculated to produce aversion to their target, and using high profile web media of a controversial kind.
Analysis of such phenomena can easily lead to the conclusion that the avatar theme, so widely claimed as a distinguishing hallmark, produces a superiority complex, one leading to dismissive and hostile behaviour. The avatar doctrine, facilitating a sense of uniqueness, is effectively used to justify the exponents at every turn. If that tendency worsens, and if the American "Wikipedia" influence expands, then outsiders may anticipate a future religious vogue of denunciations, character assassinations, and perhaps even inquisition. My own preferment is philosophy (but not Brunton's "hermetic" variety), and I will remain a very distant outsider to cult tendencies currently visible in the Western world.
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
June 2012 (slightly modified April 2014 and December 2015)
Agostini, Louis, "How I was Drawn to Meher Baba," Glow International (Feb. 1985), 14-16.
Brunton, Paul, A Search in Secret India (London: Rider, 1934).
----------Indian Philosophy and Modern Culture (London: Rider, 1939).
----------The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (London: Rider, 1941).
----------The Wisdom of the Overself (London: Rider, 1943).
----------The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (16 vols, New York: Larson, 1984-8).
Cahn Fung, Annie, Paul Brunton: A Bridge Between India and the West (Sorbonne 1992, trans. 2004, online PDF).
Castro, Stephen J., Critics of Meher Baba: Paul Brunton and Rom Landau (2012, online article).
Deitrick, Ira G., ed., Ramjoo's Diaries 1922-1929 (Walnut Creek, California: Sufism Reoriented, 1979).
Donkin, William, The Wayfarers: An Account of the Work of Meher Baba with the God-intoxicated, and also with Advanced Souls, Sadhus, and the Poor (Ahmednagar: Adi K. Irani, 1948).
-----------Donkin's Diaries: Travels in India with Meher Baba 1939-1945, ed. Sarah McNeill (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Sheriar Foundation, 2011).
Fenster, Sheela Kalchuri, Growing Up With God (Ahmednagar: Meher Nazar, 2009).
Friesen, J. Glenn, Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi (2005, online article).
Hurst, Kenneth T., Paul Brunton: A Personal View (New York: Larson, 1989).
Kalchuri, Bhau, Lord Meher: The Biography of Avatar Meher Baba (trans. from Meher Prabhu, 20 vols, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Manifestation, 1986-2001).
Masson, Jeffrey, My Father's Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion (London: Harper Collins, 1993).
Meher Baba, Discourses, ed. Eruch B. Jessawala et al (seventh edn, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Sheriar Press, 1987).
Meher Baba, God Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1955).
-----------Infinite Intelligence (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Sheriar Foundation, 2005).
Parks, Ward, ed., Meher Baba's Early Messages to the West: The 1932-1935 Western Tours (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Sheriar Foundation, 2009).
Purdom, Charles B., The Perfect Master: The Life of Shri Meher Baba (London: Williams and Norgate, 1937).
Purdom, Charles B., ed., God to Man and Man to God: The Discourses of Meher Baba (London: Gollancz, 1955).
-----------The God-Man: The life, journeys, and work of Meher Baba with an interpretation of his silence and spiritual teaching (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., From Oppression to Freedom: A Study of the Kaivani Gnostics (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988).
----------Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988).
----------Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995).
----------Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005).
----------Life of Meher Baba (unpublished manuscript).
----------Investigating Meher Baba in "Secret India" (2014, online article).
Storr, Anthony, Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus (London: Harper Collins, 1996).
Copyright © 2015 Kevin R.D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved. Page uploaded June 2012, last modified December 2015.