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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 visit to Spain in October/November 1933
[The notes are from the diary of an unnamed member of the party.]
This was to be our last meal for twenty-four hours. Baba had a very special work to do here, and during our fast we were not to touch him, though we went together for a walk over the hills with him. Shortly before noon the next day we crossed the square and entered the cathedral. Tall grey walls, straight columns of stone supported a high, vaulted roof decorated with gold; the side aisles were like dark tunnels owing to the absence of windows; the nave was arched by a stone rib supporting on high a superb crucifix which was illuminated by shafts of light descending from clerestory windows. Together with Baba we saw the many treasures of the cathedral, we were very exalted, the spiritual atmosphere was not unlike that of Saint Mark's at Venice, or at Assisi. As we left, Baba directed that four silver coins should be given to the sacristan.
We then walked through the city, to visit the shrine of Saint Teresa, built on the side of her former home. The city is small and soon we were outside the crenelated walls; the terrace on which we stood commanded the plain and exposed the hills to our view. Baba pointed to a hill behind the town and said we should walk there. Climbing up a dusty donkey track we looked back at Avila. The brilliant sun shone on its encircling walls while many bastions threw dark shadows, steep cobbled streets led up to the cathedral-crowned summit. Long ago, before the cathedral was built, Baba had been there and we were now looking for a place on the hill where he used to sit quietly, rest, and meditate. The soil was dry and sandy. At last we came to a small plain that lay between two rocky summits and strangely-shaped boulders. Running from left to right was a long valley six miles wide, few trees and no buildings intruded on the brown plain, behind rose a line of blue downs which to the right extended into a range of mountains (the Sierra Gredos). Their snow-topped peaks must have been fifteen or twenty miles away. The foreground was a sandy, rock-strewn moor, our feet crushed thyme, basil, and herbs whose names were unknown to us. This was the memorable place. Nature and the snow-clad mountains were surely the same. Time seemed to roll away, it was wonderful to be with Baba there. As a remembrance we picked some of the fragrant herbs. On our return we broke the fast and enjoyed a feast of fruits, tea, and wine.
Baba was so happy at Avila. There are in Europe, he explained, as in other countries, holy places, particularly connected with great spiritual working. The four centres are Saint Mark's at Venice, a place on the Ligurian coast in Italy, Assisi, and Avila. We had now visited them all. They were holy ground from which sprang the saints - we naturally thought of Saint Francis, Saint Teresa, and her confessor - Saint John of the Cross. One of us was ordered to return to Avila in ten days and to visit this particular place every day for seven days.
It was essential that Baba should visit this spot and it is interesting to see how it was chosen. First, he never told us that we were to go to Avila; I do not even think that he knew its name. The person who was responsible for arranging the time-table of the Spanish trip decided the matter, having been told that one day should be spent in a mountain by Baba, he asked the travel bureau for advice. So it might be said that the bureau decided on Avila.
After three hours in the train we reached Madrid at 10.30 p.m. on the evening of the 24th, and went to the hotel that had been chosen by Baba.
The next morning he could not get the hot bath he required. The whole party was rushed up and down the stairs, expostulating with the staff. Many promises. In Spain dinner is eaten at 10 p.m.; they go to bed at midnight or later. Things are put off till tomorrow, and they get up late. Once more D. felt responsible, worried, and guilty. We went to complain to the travel bureau about all our discomforts en route, and got little satisfaction. The food was not as Baba wished. It was not a holiday atmosphere for anyone.
He wished to come in contact with the masses. All day we walked along the crowded streets of Madrid until our feet were tired. It is a beautiful city, the air is clear, bracing, and cool. A brilliant sun poured down, and like Orientals the people lounged in the streets. Dark-skinned, polite, and unhurried, there was none of that fret and tension that we find in the industrialized cities of Europe to-day. Sumptuous public buildings and avenues contrasted with very poorly clad people in the streets. In this respect not unlike Moscow. Baba particularly loved to stand in the central square, Puerta del Sol, the Gate of the Sun, among the crowds. Every day and several times a day he came here. Sometimes as we walked, despite his normal appearance, European clothes, and Spanish beret which concealed his hair, they would turn and stare at him as if drawn by something they could not understand.
That night we went to the East End, to a cabaret, a rather low class dance hall; along the side tables were seated many Mary Magdalenes, and on the stage appeared some wonderful Spanish dancers. Many of the party were very anxious to see the old national dances; they were happy. Baba's presence at such a place might seem shocking, but then we have little conception of the scope of his work.
The next morning we ran to the hot-water taps. We had been promised boiling water and hoped that our fingers would register an increase of temperature. Tragedy. Baba was upset and the weight of his displeasure once more fell on the head of D. He could not work here, he would leave for Marseilles. So this was our holiday !
After all, why should one who was without desires make so much fuss about such trivial matters as hot baths and food ? As he himself had chosen the hotel, why blame others who do not claim to be all-knowing ? We went to look for another hotel, frantic cablegrams and long-distance 'phone calls; we found another hotel. Strange to relate, we found that the travel bureau had chosen the very hotel that Baba himself had rejected. We moved to the Hotel Londres; it was ideal and Baba's rooms overlooked the Gate of the Sun.
Baba explained to D. He (D.) had faults, egoism, and weaknesses, these scenes were manufactured in order to stir up the feelings, and according to the way in which we bore them Baba could work on our characters, and perhaps in some way he could use the energies and emotions liberated for spiritual work. If D. had refused to be taken in and had exploded and said that it was an unnecessary fuss, "If you want to go to Marseilles, go," Baba would have had to find another way of stirring the feelings. It was but part of the great game. The sun shone once more.
Baba was now happy. We walked miles; every day we visited at least one cinema and sometimes a theatre as well; also the Prado Art Gallery where he was pleased to see right through the centuries preoccupation with the life of Jesus and the saints. El Greco, Velasquez, Goya - once again we had that sensation of Time rolled away as Baba looked at the pictures of the past. We bought many reproductions and sent them to those who were not with us. At the Theatre Español we saw Argentina dance in De Falla's ballet, and some magnificent peasant dances; we enjoyed that performance best of all.
Our visit to the royal palace was marred by an incident that tells against us. When we were about to enter the royal apartments, Baba was stopped because he would not take off his hat*. Baba expects us to know without asking. So when some asked if they should stay with him or go quickly round without him, he said, "Go." Three went and ran round the tedious state rooms; when they got outside they discovered that they had done wrong to leave Baba to wait outside meanwhile. Baba allowed them to feel their error and then brushed it from his mind.
[* Because he would not expose his long hair and arouse the curiosity of strangers.]
The Hotel Londres was wonderful. But Baba began to complain that there was not enough garlic and pepper in the food. It was N.'s department; before every meal-time she would be in a state of suspense, rushing up and down three flights of steps, into the kitchen, talking to the staff in a mixture of tongues. The hotel people must have thought us quite crazy, but were still very kind. In this way did Baba stir N.'s feelings. Of course, he always said when he played these jokes on us, "Don't worry, don't be upset." It is as if someone stuck a pin into you and said, "Don't mind, I am not hurting you." N. stood it all wonderfully. But for the last four days of our stay every dish we ate was littered with garlic; apart from this the food was wonderful.
Night after night we went to the cinema, the decision and bookings were T.'s job. One evening we visited a theatre in the working quarter, beforehand we walked through the poor streets and Baba was happy. A third-rate, bare-backed musical comedy, sitting in the front stalls there was no escaping all its implications. Finally its utter boredom was relieved by a pleasant scene in which they sang those long plaintive folk-songs that betray the influence of the Moors on Spain. Baba liked these. Then we went to a highbrow German Ufa film about submarines; unfortunately we had to sit in the second row. This enabled Baba to stir up the feelings of T., how he would not let Baba see the films he liked; he had got bad seats, he was sent to change them - a difficult task to do when the house is crowded and you can't speak Spanish. The next night we took him to see an American comedy; he was happy.
Baba spoke to each of us about the special work which we were to do when we returned to London. The sun shone day after day. The last three mornings we walked down from the plateau on which Madrid is built, crossed the River Manzanares, and climbed the opposite hill to the beautiful moors and park.
From these hills there is in the clear air of Spain a marvellous panorama, distant snow-clad ranges, the fine buildings of the city, autumn-tinged trees, rolling hills, and plains. Below are the former royal parks, gardens, and a small lake. The last day we walked to the highest hill, and there beneath a large olive tree we sat around Baba on the ground. He spoke to us of the future and of how all his followers should be partners in all his work. On this beautiful sunlit hill, seated on the ground, once again time seemed to roll away - the scene might have been anywhere.
During our journey to Spain some of the party had mentioned a desire to see a bull-fight, others were not in favour of it. Our last Sunday a bull-fight was held in the afternoon at the Hippodrome. Baba told us to book seats. As the first bull came in one of the ladies began to clutch her neighbour's arm and shriek every time there was a possibility of anything happening. One of the Indian boys began to look very green. Baba was bored and thought it childish. After the second bull was killed we left, that is before the real entertainment had begun. They were all disappointed, but Baba said that his work was accomplished there so it was unnecessary to stay longer.
We left Madrid on the 31st and arrived at Barcelona on November 1st early in the morning. That day Madrid had sent a special delegate to authorize Catalonia to administer its own laws, and this was the day, the hour, and the place. There was a great procession of all the notables of the district and Baba looked from the upper balustrade as they marched in state up the Gothic staircase. It was the seal on the new federal State. Barcelona is the biggest city in Spain, the richest and the most advanced, industrially. This was one more example of coincidence. None of us knew that this ceremony was to take place. With our guide we then took the bus to the summit of Mount Tibidabo (I,700 feet). From the terrace the view is magnificent. The vast semicircle of the blue Mediterranean, before us the rectangular blocks of buildings and wide streets leading to the docks, on the right the small wooded park of Montjuich, on the left and behind, the great ranges of the Pyrenees. They were far off and between lay small hills and wide valleys with pleasant white towns and villages scattered over them. We had to stay, so the bus was sent away. We had lunch and walked round the hill. Behind we saw the strange mountain of Montserrat (associated with the legend of the Grail and St. Ignatius). After a vegetarian lunch we walked down the hill, jumping along steep paths like goats, and running (Kaka far behind). We passed delightful camping-grounds. B. stopped and was so pleased at the climate, the beauty, the sunshine, and the air that he said next time we should all come and stay here together. He sighed and thought of those who were absent, and of how they would have loved it. We reached the lower slopes and took a tram.
In the centre of Barcelona is a magnificent Plaza de Cataluna, much traffic, and many people. There among the crowd we sat in a café (as in Rome), then we walked along the thronged streets while dusk passed and the city lights were lit. Always masses of people, little they knew who walked in their midst. His work done, we went to the station and left at 7 p.m. on November 2nd. We arrived at Marseilles the next morning at 7 a.m. Enid from Milan and Otto from Zurich were there to meet us. To the Hotel Bristol for bath and breakfast, then Baba had private conversations with each. We were so happy and conscious of an exceptional flow of love and power so great and marked that we all felt overjoyed and lifted up for days afterwards. At noon we were on the Viceroy of India, together in his cabin we sat in silence at his feet, our hearts too full to speak. The cabin was full of silence, outside on the dock someone played on a concertina.