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The Perfect Master
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C. B. Purdom's 1937 book
The Perfect Master - Shri Meher Baba
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Account of the holiday with English friends in Italy in
[The notes are from the diary of two unnamed members of the party.]
We waited some time on the platform, the train was not due till 12.30 a.m. Baba became ill. (This illness seemed to be the prelude to important spiritual working, we recalled Assisi eleven months previously.) Kitty rushed to get a hot-water bottle filled at the restaurant; unfortunately it leaked on the blanket. The train came in and they hurried into the carriage. Three of us had to stand part of the way and got little sleep.
On Friday at 8.15 a.m. we arrived in Rome and went to the Elysée Hotel. The ladies slept on one floor and the men near to Baba's room on the upper floor.
After breakfast we motored round Rome's seven hills. We went to Saint Peter's. Baba wore a small beret to hide his flowing hair, walking in the midst of our party he was able to enter the church without taking it off. He walked up the church and stood in the centre beneath the dome, there he turned to the four quarters and made a sign. Then along the left aisle; he would not allow, us to linger and look at the sights, he turned and walked rapidly back to the West door. (Near was the famous Della Robbia statue of the Madonna and dead Christ. The model for Norina's face in The Miracle.) The forecourt is truly magnificent. Inside it is too ornate, and there is little spiritual atmosphere. We then visited the Capitoline Hill, the Forum, and the Coliseum. Baba went inside for a few minutes. We drove round Mussolini's office twice.
That afternoon, after seeing some visitors, Baba went to a famous cafe - Aragno al Corso - where for centuries politicians and men of affairs were accustomed to sit and talk. It is the central point of Rome and much traffic passes by. Our tables were on the pavement, we ate rolls, cakes and lemon-water ices. Baba watched the people and the cars and talked with M. and N. who were sitting either side of him. Suddenly he was absent, the balloon had soared into the air. Some of the party did not recognize the change and continued to chatter to him.
Several people stared at Baba while we were seated at the café. We then walked along to select a cinema. We went to a variety and cinema show (White Shadows, a very good film, Baba liked the Hawaiian dancing). The theatre had a circular roof which rolled away when the variety turns were on. Swallows flew over the circular opening, the blue sky and fresh air were delightful. Baba worked as usual during much of the show. That night we went early to bed. Baba had work to do throughout the night. The next morning he told us that his work had been achieved more quickly than he anticipated. Therefore we were to return to Santa Margherita that afternoon.
Before leaving the villa Baba had given strict instructions that no one was to come to the house for meals, except for tea, "Not even the Archangel Gabriel." A wire came to Rome asking, "Can X come to lunch to-day ?" Baba, on receipt of the wire, remarked, "Not even the Archangel Gabriel, and yet they ask." He did not wire. This led to a curious sequel on our arrival.
After breakfast we again drove round the city, this time in two cars - the Lateran, the holy staircase (Baba stayed in the car), the many fountains of Rome, to the Vatican Museum and galleries. We were very interested by the double circular staircase arranged so cunningly that on looking over the balustrade you could not distinguish the ascending from the descending stairs. A little tired of speeding through the endless galleries we sat down in the Sistine Chapel. P. asked Baba many historical and intellectual questions about popes, cardinals, and artists. Baba did not wish it. He said that "This place, to-day, has really been blessed." The horizontally-placed mirror that reflects Michelangelo's frescoed ceiling showed a full-length picture of God, His outstretched finger touching the hand of Adam, and communicating the spark of life to Adam. We read in the Old Testament that God was a jealous God. In the Vatican we positively raced through the galleries, actually running down flights of stairs to the bewilderment of the custodians. Baba does not seem to wish that we should give our minds to the beauties of Art, he tantalizes us with the spectacles and wonders of Rome, Venice, Paris, Madrid, London, Agra, Kashmir, China, and America, but the moment we turn aside to look he whisks us away.
It was very hot after lunch and most Romans disappear to sleep. N. had arranged for a string of visitors. Unfortunately, being Romans, they arrived late. Baba said he would not see the late-comers, it was with great difficulty that some of them got into Baba's room after their appointed times.
Anita had asked for a certain reproduction of a picture from Rome. Half an hour before we were due to leave Baba himself went with Kitty and Minta to buy this picture for her. When our taxis reached the station the driver became very insolent, took advantage of our being foreigners, and charged a ridiculous price. Fortunately Tina understood Italian and warned us it was exorbitant. A policeman came on the scene and luckily took our part, a just price was paid (of course our luggage was great) and we went on the platform. Another upset thus marked our departure from Rome. Baba did not like Rome and was happy to be on the train leaving the city. We all had coffee on the platform and the journey was a happy one till we reached Santa Margherita at 11.45 p.m. No one met us and Baba looked tired and disappointed. We had to hire another car because it took some time (and might be too late) for E. to get her car from the garage at midnight. On arrival at the foot of the hill on which the villa stood, again no one to help us carry the bags the very steep half-mile. Baba looked tired and sad, some had gone to bed even. Baba went straight to his bedroom.
[An incident that took place at Portofino from notes of one who was there:]
After tea, fifteen or sixteen of us went for a walk with Baba along the cliff. He took us down a rather dangerous cliff to the sea. Some lagged behind, despite Baba's repeated calls to keep together. Several fell out by the wayside, their shoes, their dresses, or their nerves were not sufficient to enable them to slide down a steep incline to the sea. Baba, two girls and two boys only, reached the sea-washed shores. Instead of returning the way we came, Baba tried to climb back another way. The others returned home along the top path. (We did not realize just how dangerous and steep it was.) Nimble and light-footed, Baba climbed up the smooth rocky surfaces - what could we do but follow ? When we had ascended half-way, we dare not look back or contemplate return. Baba was very gentle with the two girls, and always helped them over difficult places. By this time we had grasped the idea that it might be a symbolic adventure, so we went forward confident in Baba.
We were stuck. Baba and S. tried several paths and climbs. Above was a sheer surface of rock and thin trees, and round to the right was a precipice that fell almost perpendicularly from a great height into the sea. We searched for the main path, which we hoped to rejoin, though we did not realize it was more than 150 feet above us. S. crept round corners, climbed up stone cliffs, hung on to the roots of bushes, his heart beating like a piston.
He half expected that a miracle would happen or that Baba would suddenly find a simple way out. After thirty minutes or more of futile efforts S. noticed a very steep cleft that seemed to have been used as a tip for earth and rubbish, it provided a very insecure footing, and fifteen feet up it was blocked by a very large boulder, so smooth that it offered neither foothold nor grips for the hand. It seemed the only possible way out.
Baba, wiry, lightly-built, and nimble, climbed first, scattering a little earth behind him. He clapped his hands as a signal for us to follow and disappeared from view. S. followed, but stuck on the boulder for some anxious minutes, the two girls and the other youth were waiting below. Above was a very steep gully, perhaps forty feet deep, filled with loose earth, rusty bits of metal, broken glass; a foot moved meant the descent upon the girls below of stones, possibly a small avalanche of rubbish and earth. A final wriggle and S. got past the boulder. By hanging on to the roots of bushes he could crouch on the loose earth, but he could not manage the remaining forty feet. Baba had completely disappeared. The youth who weighed five stone or less came next, a slight hand grip, and he was past the boulder.
Baba's last signal had been "Come up." S. told Vivienne to follow on. She stuck on the boulder, her strength slowly ebbed. We shouted for help to Baba, and heard no response. Had he left us in the lurch ? Was it a test ? or had he relied on S. to see the girls through the difficult place ? S. thought of heroic things he ought to do but could not do. He himself was gradually slipping downwards. Any desperate move meant a torrent of earth into V.'s face. She hung suspended there for ten or fifteen minutes, possibly longer; it seemed an age. Two fingers of her right hand clinging to a small hole in the rock, her body on the smooth boulder, and her left knee wedged in the rock at the side.
The others had returned to the house. They were surprised that after two hours we had not yet returned. Meanwhile, Baba had left the gully, mounted still higher up the cliff and was clapping his hands to attract attention. We were a mile or more away from the house. No one heard him. But an Italian boy Tino, who worked on the estate, met a priest or so he seemed, who told him of the clapping. He ran to Baba, understood his signs to fetch ropes, and rushed back to the house kitchen. Kaka, Adi, and Pendu, who were then cooking our evening meal, left their pots burning and ran.
A loosening of Vivienne's hold meant a fall of fifteen to twenty feet on top of the other girl, and then a roll down 300 feet into the sea.
S. could just touch her hand, but was unable, his right hand having to cling to a bush, to exercise sufficient force or to increase his reach, to help her up. It had been possible with the youth, who was less than half her weight. Strange thoughts passed through S.'s mind as he pretended to V. that he was sure help was coming. She was very plucky, but nearly exhausted, and called, "Baba, Baba." At length shouts were heard from the top.
Pendu appeared with long ropes and a rescue party. Baba, evidently rather pleased at the spice of danger, came down the gully. Even he found it very difficult to keep his footing on this loose earth. S. bent down a long-stemmed bush, and held its root end firmly with his right hand and while Baba's right hand held the other end of the bush he bent to pull Vivienne up over the boulder.
Pendu, who is very muscular and active, took the rope down to Anita, who was still standing below. By means of the rope we all climbed to safety, and our little adventure was over. Baba was as happy as a schoolboy who had found a way to rifle some difficult bird's nest.
I have described this at length because it illustrates several things, Baba's love of sport and his fearlessness in danger. The curious situations into which he puts people; the use of ordinary means rather than of strange or occult processes. S. felt that the whole climb was symbolic in some way, and the thought that he ought to have been able to help the girls over the difficulty made him wonder if he had failed Baba. He was not quite sure whether the mishap was intended or whether Baba had taken it for granted that he would be able to follow him up the cleft, etc. Should S. have made some heroic leap, turned his body into a bridge, or made a rope of his scanty clothing ?
By now all the party were gathered on top. Vivienne and Anita had been in a very tight corner, and had behaved very pluckily and calmly. To celebrate the event, Baba called us all into the library, retold the story and gave us each with his own hands a sip of Italian wine.* The Italian servants (who were present and knew the danger) wept with joy. Baba was very pleased, and said that he had done great work through this adventure. The energies set loose, the feelings aroused, and the courage displayed were utilized by him for his spiritual work. Thus happily ended that day.