In India, visiting the tombs of saints and masters has been, since ancient times, a major diversion and religious pastime. The locales of many of these tombs are like country fairs or amusement parks, consisting of shops, temples, restaurants, hotels and hospitals. Both Hindus and Muslims take "spiritual" vacations in which they travel to a saint or master's tomb, perform the appropriate prayer s and rituals, buy nick-nacks and give cash donations. The devotees believe that these "pilgrimages" help them both materially and spiritually. The tombs are believed to have a magical influence. For the tomb caretakers and the priests, these places are a source of livlihood in a country of terrible poverty.
Meherwan Rinpoche died January 31, 1969, from an undiagnosable and untreatable illness. He was a week short of turning 75. As he had requested, his body was buried in a small stone room on a hill near the town of Arangaon, five miles from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra state, India.
This room or tomb or "Samadhi," has become a popular place of pilgrimage. Thousands of people travel great distances to prostrate themselves and perform ritual prayers and "artis." On the anniversary of Meherwan's passing, huge crowds gather for days. People wait many hours in line, in the hot sun, to bow for a moment in the doorway of the Samadhi.
The tomb, surrounded by the graves of some of his disciples, is the center of a small community called "Meherabad." And Meherabad is staffed mostly by Western devotees drawn from a growing movement who call themselves the "Baba-lovers." They greet each other with a mantra, "Jai Baba," which means "Hail Baba" or "Victory to Baba." And at large religious gatherings they shout in unison, "Avatar Meher Baba Ki Jai."
Believing Meherwan Rinpoche to have been an "Avatar" or divine incarnation, the "Baba lovers" worship him. Only a tiny minority attempt to follow his teachings, which is understandable, as that require serious effort.
The "Baba-lovers" call Meherwan Rinpoche "Meher Baba" (pronounced MAY-hair BAH-bah), which is said to mean (depending who you ask) "compassionate father" or "loving friend."
The Baba-lovers worship paintings and photographs of the Master, repeat ritual prayers, hold public meetings and camps, distribute magically charged candy called "Prasad," and revere older followers whom they call " The Mandali," which means "the company." The Mandali (pronounced MUN-duh-lee) are believed to enjoy a special relationship with Meher Baba, and act as teachers and intermediaries. Some of them travel and lecture, write books, and preside over the "Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust" which operates a library, a free clinic, and the centres for pilgrimage.
Meherwan Rinpoche distinguished between religion and spirituality in this way: spirituality is how you live -- an egoless quality of life. Religion is the set and generally dogmatic, ritualised practices of sectarianism. As Meherwan Rinpoche once said, "It is time for religion to go and God to come."
But the Baba-lovers, who live all over the world, have fallen into the same pattern as Hindus, Jews, Christians and Muslims did before them: exotericism. Which means focusing on the outer and ignoring the inner.
Religion is not entirely negative in its effects. Moral values can be taught, and the repetitions of rituals and ceremonies can sometimes prepare people for the spiritual path. But generally, religious sects are gathering places for those who have not yet opened up to the higher values, but who enjoy socializing and crave respectability. Compared with older, more established religions, the "Baba-lovers" may even be a slight improvement. But the outer forms cannot satisfy the genuine seeker, who longs for a higher ideal and a deeper reality.
I have come across two websites of quotations and stories about Meher Baba:
Life Eternal - This is one of a series by an anonymous group in the USA.
Anthology - This site, by a Norwegian artist and astrologer, is organised into shorter sections for easier reading, and gives a more rounded picture of the Meher Baba religion.
Genuine sayings and stories of the Master are often overlaid with sentimentality, mythology and misunderstandings.
A collection of links to sites created by Baba-lovers can be found at
Even at this early stage the Baba-lovers have divided into a number of competing sects. Followers of the Mandali belong to the Avatar Meher Baba Trust, the Meher Spiritual Center, Meherana, the Meher Baba Washington Gathering, Sheriar Press, the Avatar Meher Baba Pune Center, Avatar's Abode and a number of other organisations.
Two USA groups: Sufism Reoriented and Babadas, follow charismatic leaders, Murshid Jim Mackie and Twig Terwilliger (the Igniter). Sufism Reoriented operates a mail-order business called Searchlight Books. An Indian group, based in Andhra State, follows the"Perfect Master" Shri Meher Chaitanya. And the mostly defunct "Society for Avatar Meher Baba" spreads the teachings of Mandali Harry Kenmore.
The religious aspect will undoubtably get worse in times to come, but Meherwan Rinpoche's spiritual work will also bear its fruit, helping to create a world in which selfless love and universal brotherhood prevail over materialism and narrow sectarianism.
April 1, 1999
Om Meherwan Rinpoche