Thursday, October 16, 2014

Baba's public declaration of his Avatarhood

We all know how rumors get started. Someone says something provocative or interesting, and largely because it is so interesting, it is repeated. Soon everyone believes it. The same is true in scholarship. A respected scholar, perhaps by mistake, publishes something interesting but untrue. Because it is interesting, it is only natural that another scholar will quote that one. Before you know it you have two or three scholars to quote, and the new "fact" becomes public knowledge, and in some famous instances even enters (false as it is) children's textbooks everywhere. Imagine how hard it is to reverse the trend at that point.

The good news is that due to better methods of modern research, and also to the ability of the powerful internet to make information more accessible, people are slowly discovering the common falsehoods of history that in the past would have been difficult for most of us to research.

Here are some examples of now known misconceptions, easy to look up:
  1. In spite of popular belief, Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets. The image comes from a 19th century opera by Wagner. 
  2. Medieval Europeans did not believe the earth was flat. The myth that they did was a 19th century invention.
  3. The iron maiden was not a torture device in the Middle Ages. It was first pieced together in the 18th century from artifacts found in museums in order to create spectacular commercial exhibits.
  4. George Washington did not have wooden teeth. 
  5. Bats are not blind. 
  6. Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute.
  7. Benjamin Franklin did not propose that the wild turkey be used as the symbol for the United States instead of the bald eagle. His proposal was an image of Moses.
  8. Chastity belts were not put on women in the Middle Ages to prevent sexual intercourse. They were invented in the 19th century for parents to buy to prevent their teenagers from masturbating.
  9. There was no widespread panic in response to Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds. Isolated reports of scattered incidents and increased call volume to emergency services were played up the next day by newspapers, eager to discredit radio as a competitor for advertising. CBS, which had initially reacted apologetically, later came to realize they benefited from the myth.
  10. "Ich bin ein Berliner" does not mean "I am a jelly doughnut."

It is very ironic that one could quite easily cite good and in some cases scholarly sources for each one of these popular misconceptions. Yet that makes them no more true. In the case of some, such as the myth that medieval people thought the world was flat, nearly all scholarly sources in the 1920s agreed they did, even though the belief is completely baseless. That is why research does not end with quotations, even from reputable sources. One very often has to go back to the source.

When one does so he often finds a motivation for the idea getting started. For instance the rumor that Orson Welles caused a mass hysteria was beneficial to the newspaper industry and CBS.

Now what does all this have to do with Meher Baba and his declaration of Avatarhood?

It is very often said, in books and short bios, that Meher Baba first publicly and openly declared his Avatarhood in Meherastana, India on February 10, 1954.

Someone could pile my desk in front of me with weighty tomes asserting this point in clear words, and pound their fist and stomp their thumb on the author's name. Yet it would make it no more true.

To begin, anyone can go and check Baba's biography, Lord Meher, to see what Baba actually said that day.
This was the first time Baba himself had spelled on the board "Avatar Meher Baba Ki Jai."  (LM, 1986 print edition, p. 4283)
Nowhere does it say that Baba said, "I am the Avatar."

Next, to refer to this as a "public declaration" is preposterous. I quote from a very close deceased Baba lover, one whom I deeply loved and respected, Erico Nadel, this loving but wildly illogical statement:
It was no accident that Meher Baba first publicly declared himself the Avatar before a small gathering of friends in a remote village by a fire in the middle of a long quiet night.  (Preface to Keshav Nigam's autobiography, 2003)  
Now, here is what Baba actually said about his public declaration of Avatarhood.
The time is near – the world is in chaos. That is why I declared publicly in the magazine article, “I am the Avatar.“  (Lord Meher, U.S. print edition, p. 2324) 
"the magazine" Volume 1 No. 1 of
The Meher Baba Journal (1938)
When did Baba say those words? On September 27, 1938. The magazine Baba is referring to is Volume 1 Number 1 of the Meher Baba Journal, which at that time Baba regularly referred to as "the magazine." The name of the article Baba refers to is "The Avatar." It is the first chapter. It was printed in New York two months later in November 1938.

If one refers to other issues of Meher Baba Journal, they will find many articles by Baba's disciples openly referring to him as the Avatar.

Was the Journal publicly distributed? Well I happen to have had the very good fortune of once holding a mint condition copy of that very issue, as it was published in New York in 1938. Amazingly, it still had the removable subscription card in the back. The magazine was publicly subscribable in the center of Western Civilization (New York) in the late 1930s through early 1940s, and eventually became Baba's popular Discources, today published by Sheriar Foundation.

The first compilation of Baba's discourses from the Journal, which later became known as the "Discourses - Five Volume Set," originally ran from 1939-1943. The chapter Baba refers to as his public declaration of his Avatarhood was again the first chapter of the first volume. And it was published in India.

The article that first appeared in 1938, which Baba referred to as his public declaration of his Avatarhood, and which remains in print in Baba's most widely read book Discourses, ends with the following words:
I bring the greatest treasure which it is possible for man to receive – a treasure which includes all other treasures which will endure forever, which increases when shared with others. Be ready to receive it!
Thats sounds like a declaration of Avatarhood to me.

As most probably know who have studied Meher Baba's life, Baba was very frank and open, and not just to his mandali, that he was the Avatar prior to 1954. His first biography, published in 1947, was titled "Avatar." On looking through his biographies, one can find examples of his saying clearly he is the Avatar in 1930, 1932, 1938, 1939, 1942, 1952, and many times in 1953.

The notion that Baba openly and clearly stated for the first time that he was the Avatar in 1954 at the age of sixty is simply one more of those well-repeated myths of history.

Addendum 10-16-14:

A recent comment inspired me to add some quotes of Baba speaking clearly, and often in the open, of his being the Avatar prior to 1954.
1930:  You know that you are a human being, and I know that I am the Avatar. It is my whole life! (To Paul Brunton, Lord Meher, 1986 edition, p. 1349)
1932: I am the Universal Avatar and not an Avatar for the East or West individually as in previous advents. I belong to the whole universe!” (Lord Meher, 1986 edition, p.1535) 
1932: When he speaks, Truth is more powerfully manifested than when he uses either sight or touch to convey it. For that reason, 'Avatars' usually observe a period of silence lasting for several years, breaking it to speak only when they wish to manifest the Truth to the entire universe. So, when I speak, I shall manifest the Divine Will, and a world-wide transformation of consciousness will take place. (Public reception for 1,000 people at the Knickerbocker Hotel, Hollywood, CaliforniaMessages of Meher Baba Delivered in the East and West, Adi K. Irani, 1943, p. 97)*
1938: The time is near – the world is in chaos. That is why I declared publicly in the magazine article, "I am the Avatar.“  (Lord Meher, 1986 edition, p. 2324)
1942: I am the last Avatar in this present cycle of twenty-four, and therefore the greatest and most powerful. (Gift of God, by Arnavaz Dadachanji, 1996. p. 72)
* For description of the public event in Hollywood, including the number of 1,000 attendees, see Lord Meher, 1986 print edition, p. 1650. 

Note: It is not my intention to hurt any feelings of those who live in or near Meherastana in India. If this is important to some people they should not worry about anyone's opinion, and believe what feels right to them. However, if Baba did say that he publicly declared without equivocation that he was the Avatar at a private meeting in the middle of the night in a rural part of India with only a few close ones present, then he must have had some inner meaning, which is certainly possible.


  1. On February 18th 1932, Baba told his mandali: “You’ll not be able to understand my Universal work. During this period of my Avatarhood, I must cleanse the world completely – an ‘overhauling’ lasting 1,000 years. In this [present] Avatarhood, the greatest work will be achieved – the union of the East and the West. I am the Universal Avatar and not an Avatar for the East or West individually as in previous advents. I belong to the whole universe!” [new online Lord Meher p.1357]

    1. Thank you Ed. I added this quote to an addendum of such quotes at the bottom.

  2. I wonder what the source is of this new quote in revised online LM.....

    1. Anonymous, While the commenter gave the quote from the revised online edition, it is also in the original print edition, p. 1535.