Shastri: Did He Really Die?
31st January 1969 — Real Death or Apparent Death?
Source: M.B.G. Shastri, The Silence of Avatar Meher Baba (Hyderabad, 1998), pp. 37–46
…Looking at the event from a different angle, we find that since Baba’s silence continued even after the event on 31.1.1969, it would be appropriate to assume that Baba has not dropped the body at all! One would be called a stupid — if such an obvious happening of Baba’s dropping the body, so certified by qualified doctors, were to be treated as something else other than dropping of the body. However, let us examine all the relevant facts as reported in the Family Letters and in other documents.
To understand the significance and meaning of the above event one should recall to one’s own mind the fact that the physical body of Beloved Baba, right from the time [when it] was supposed to be dead on 31st January 1969 till it was finally entombed, after 7 days on 7th February 1969, was as fresh as ever, without the slightest signs of decay or decomposition. Let us also recall how and why the interment of Baba’s physical body in the tomb at Meherabad was held over from 1st February 1969 (when it was announced to take place) till 7th February 1969 (when it was actually done). The original telegram sent by Sri Adi K. Irani to all Baba lovers the world over informed that Baba’s physical body was to be interred on 1st February 1969 at 10.00 a.m. Why and how this proposed interment on 1st February 1969 was got postponed from time to time till 7th February 1969? It was an undisputed fact that this postponement from 1st February 1969 to 7th February 1969 was not at all premeditated nor preplanned nor predetermined; it was purely an act of God beyond the control of the concerned persons. What exactly happened was this.
Soon after the information about the event of Baba’s dropping of the body reached the peoples of all the countries, His lovers started journeying to Meherabad for their final darshan. Each party requested Sri Adi K. Irani through telegrams to keep Baba’s body available for taking their darshan without entombing; and the parties began arriving at Meherabad from midnight of 31st January 1969 onwards. There was an incessant flow of His lovers not only from all parts of India but also from abroad, through whatever mode of transport that was available to them. In view of the ever increasing Darshanardhis (pilgrims) hour by hour from the morning of Saturday 1st February 1969, the mandali were in a fix as to how they could complete the interment without causing deep disappointment and resentment to hundreds of Baba lovers arriving there continuously.
The mandali therefore decided among themselves, in consultation with the doctors, that the interment should be postponed till all the Darshanardhis arrived and had their darshan, or till the physical signs of decay or decomposition of Baba’s physical body show themselves, whichever is earlier. To facilitate this arrangement, two of the doctors were examining Baba’s physical body every two hours and were allowing the darshan to continue, after they were satisfied about the absence of any physical signs of decay or decomposition of the body. In this manner, quite unexpectedly without any prefixation, the darshan programme continued not merely for a few hours beyond the time fixed originally for interment, but for days and days, as per the permission of the doctors, who continued their examination of the physical body every two hours from 1st February 1969 to 7th February 1969. Even the interment that finally took place on 7th February 1969 was decided upon not because of the presence of any signs of decay or decomposition, but for purely different reasons. As explained by Sister Mani in her 81st family letter dated 14.3.1969:
Men wanted not to leave Meherabad until the Beloved’s body was interred. None could say when this would be. The time of 10:00 a.m. on February 1st, as first declared, was based on medical advice that as the body was not embalmed, interment would be delayed longer than 20 hours, even though surrounded by a border of ice blocks as arranged. Mehera and I felt that the Beloved Himself would give an indication of when it should be done, that as long as His dear body remained fresh and lovely we would not have it covered up. Even after a week it was not found necessary to place the covering. But as Baba had told us on the last day, the morning of 31st January 1969, that after seven days He would be 100% free (from suffering, as we interpreted His hand gestures to mean) we took that as an indication. And so seven days after the event at 12:15 noon on Friday 7th of February 1969, the interment took place amid thousands of voices singing His glorious name and resonant cries of “Avatar Meher Baba Ki Jai.”
It was therefore clear that neither decay nor decomposition of the body took place even to a slightest degree in spite of the body being kept in an open crypt without any scientific protection against decay or decomposition of the body during all the days. It was also a fact which was noticed and mentioned by the same doctors, as well as by everybody else, that the rigor mortis never set in at all. This was indeed a very strange and a rare phenomenon unknown to the medical history. There was never a case before, where rigor mortis failed to set in. The medical science is clear and firm that setting in of rigor mortis in the case of a dead body will take place within hours after the life is extinguished. But contrary to all medical knowledge, here was a case, the only one of its kind till now, where there was a total absence of rigor mortis which was an important indication of a dead body.
The doctors who examined Baba’s physical body at 12:15 p.m. (on 31st January 1969) and after pronounced that Baba’s body was a dead body — because they found respiration stopped, heartbeat stopped and body temperature falling. Because of these indications they could and did say that there was no life in the physical body of Baba. The medical science tells us that for a body to be said to be living there must be respiration of the lungs, heartbeat or pulse, and temperature of the body maintained within the limits. It also tells us that the chief symptoms of a dead body are presence of decay, decomposition and rigor mortis. It may be in some cases that rigor mortis might disappear after some time but its presence must take place a few hours after death occurs. The total absence of rigor mortis after death is unknown to medical science.
As the reports go and as was made clear in 81st Family letter dated 14.3.1969 of Sister Mani, there was no trace of decay, no trace of decomposition and no trace of rigor mortis, the presence of which symptoms alone characterise a dead body. Here was the physical body of Baba, seen by all between 31st January 1969 to 7th February 1969 without respiration, heartbeat or pulse, and without body temperature (which are symptoms of lifelessness) and also with total absence of decay, decomposition and rigor mortis (which are symptoms of dead body). The physical body of Baba was lying in a peculiar state — without signs of life and without symptoms of death —continuously over a period of 168 hours (seven days). The body would have continued undoubtedly in the same condition had it been allowed. Unfortunately there was no means of verifying this assumption, as the body was entombed, and slab laid on the crypt in the tomb, on the eighth day.
It [His face] remained smooth, shining and lustrous for all seven days. The face looked natural and Baba seemed to be sleeping. In fact, when a high ranking Government Officer came to see Baba on the sixth day, he spontaneously exclaimed, “He looks as if He is sleeping.” In short, changes that should have occurred in a dead body did not occur with Baba’s body. [H. P. Bharucha, The Last Sahavas, p. 33]
Thus till 31st January 1969 there was no incidence of any strange disease attacking the physical body of Baba. Then, which was that strange disease to which Baba referred in His Final Declaration? Furthermore, Baba said that this strange disease would be the cause for His humiliation.
Let us see what this humiliation means. In May 1957 and also in June 1957 Baba called for a meeting of His lovers and workers which was attended by lovers from Poona, Bombay and Navasari. During this meeting Baba asked the gathering whether they remembered His final declaration at Meherabad, and whether they understood and grasped the phase of His humiliation referred to in the Final Declaration. Baba Himself explained to the gathering this word “humiliation”:
Now let Me first explain what I mean by humiliation. Suppose you are loved by someone very dearly for several years and one day when you happened to meet him, he suddenly begins to abuse, kick you and spit on your face; in the context of your previous relations with him, your plight becomes an example of humiliation. In the same way, if some persons who have previously adored Me and raised Me up to the skies in adoration for years suddenly turn against Me and express extreme disdain for Me, by throwing Me in filth, it will be another example of humiliation. [Warning from Baba to His Lovers, 1957]
Baba thus made clear that the humiliation which He referred to in His Final Declaration would be from His own lovers. Many people were under the impression that humiliation to Baba would be caused by general public who did not believe in Him.
As it is, it is only a very negligible fraction of the world’s population that has come to believe in Baba. The general public were mostly either indifferent to Baba, or ignorant of Baba or non-believers in Baba. The constant reference to His “Humiliation” by Baba on every occasion was a pointer in itself. The people who never believed in Baba were there at all times ever since Baba claimed Himself to be the Highest of the High, the Avatar of the Age. But Baba was pointing to something else. He was telling us that His humiliation would be a future event connected with the so called “dark cloud.” When there were always people who did not believe in Him, and if not believing in Him was a humiliation, the phase of His humiliation could be said to have commenced from the day when Baba declared Himself as Avatar, which people in general did not believe or accept. On the contrary, Baba declared during the Meherabad meeting on 30.9.1954 that the humiliation phase in His life would be a future event connected with a strange disease. It is therefore abundantly clear that His humiliation would take place when His own lovers, admirers, adorers and devotees, would leave Him consequent on the attacking by a strange disease, or bursting of dark cloud (in Baba’s words).
As warned by Baba in 1957, we now find gradual change in the attitude of some of His lovers. Some of them felt the need of another living master, because of the physical absence of Baba, and went to other Masters or saints (real or false is not known). In the case of some of the lovers the earlier enthusiasm and ardency towards Baba began to cool off. In some cases they have reverted back to other conventional types of sadhanas; in some other cases, while their faith in Baba’s Avatarhood did not diminish they don’t seem to have faith in what Baba had said during the Final Declaration meeting and subsequently. In some other cases, while they maintain that Baba is the Avatar, they believe that Baba’s words have already started coming into effect. Likewise every lover seems to be having his own interpretation of Baba’s words regarding His Silence, breaking of His Silence, uttering of the word, the manifestation, the effect of manifestation, the symptoms of manifestation, etc. While every one is free to have his own interpretation, he should satisfy himself if such an interpretation clashed with Baba’s own words. No doubt our human minds can never grasp the real meaning of our Beloved. At the same time He also assured us that only the fulfillment of events could unfold to us, in due course, the meaning of what was said by Him.
During the same meeting in 1957 where He explained about the humiliation, He also cautioned His lovers, in His infinite compassion, about the circumstances when such a kind of humiliation (i.e., when the attitude of His erstwhile lovers would begin to change), and the circumstances under which such humiliation would take place, etc.
I will also give you an example of circumstances under which, this kind of a thing can happen. You are worshipping Me for so many years. Suppose you suddenly find Me eating rubbish and roaming about naked in the streets, behaving like a mad person, what will be your reaction to this behavior of Mine? I do not want any one of you to think or say that Baba is going to become mad! On the contrary I have come to make the whole world go mad after God and truth. [Ibid.]
In giving an example of circumstances when the lovers are likely to cause humiliation, Baba chose a wonderful and a striking example. He cited the case of external behavior of what a mad person would do. He wanted His lovers not to be misled, even to a slightest degree, by His external outward appearance and behavior. If He were to behave in the manner of a madman, like doing such physical actions as a mad one only could do, He wanted His lovers not to take Him to be a mad person even if His external physical actions would point out that He had become mad: “I do not want any one of you to think or say that Baba is going to become mad.”
His lover who accepted Baba as Avatar and worshipped Him over a number of years was therefore severely warned not to take Baba as having become mad even though, under certain circumstances, he might find Baba’s outward behavior similar to that of a madman. It means that even though Baba were to appear mad, He should not be regarded as really mad. Whatever madness was noticed by His lover was only to be taken as apparent and not real. It is very significant for Baba to imply that, at a future date, His external “behavior” would be such that it would confuse His lovers totally and during that period, He warned, such behavior (which would be found to be unbecoming of an Avatar!) was not to be treated as a real condition of His state; but was to be treated as a mere appearance or pretense! This example, given by Baba, is very strikingly close — in meaning and content, to what Baba said earlier, namely:
So that if I do not drop My physical body, I will yet, so to say, “die,” for I will then become actually dead to the world up to the end of the modified period of time. [Life Circular no. 23, 3rd Feb. 1955, para 8]
Here also Baba was indicating certain circumstances when He would, though not actually drop His physical body, so to say, “die.” He was indicating a certain condition and appearance of His physical body when it would be treated as dead, though He would not actually drop His physical body! The world at large would take Him to be dead, and not His lovers and believers. Even then the world would not take Him to be dead for all time, but only up to the end of the modified period of time.
When Baba warned His lovers not at all to be misled by His apparent behavior like a mad person, though the world might believe and take Him to be a madman, considering His external behavior, He warned His lovers not to be misled, at a future date, by His appearance and behavior like a dead man, even though He would “then become actually dead to the world.” Then, as Baba assured His lovers that He was not going to become mad, He also assured His lovers that His becoming “actually dead to the world” would be “only up to the end of the modified period of time.”
Thus the event of 31st January 1969, which was generally understood and treated as Baba having dropped His physical body, was the one about which Baba cautioned all the while. Here also when the event took place His external physical condition and behavior was like that of a dead person, inasmuch as breathing stopped, heart stopped, and temperature of the body came down. This condition of Baba was shocking to His lovers and to the world. His lovers were confused because His dropping the body without breaking His Silence and giving the word, was unthinkable and was very much contrary to their expectations.
How could Baba, The Avatar of the Age, the God in human form, fail to keep His promise of breaking His Silence before dropping His body? How could He fix the Darshan programme from 10th April onwards (when He was to drop His physical body even on 31st January 1969)? Could not Baba, who was supposed to be All-knowing, know what was going to happen on 31.1.1969? What was all this? Such questions had surfaced themselves in the minds of His lovers at the happening of this event on 31.1.1969. This was exactly the situation about which Baba forewarned His lovers. Baba warned earlier that such a reaction as indicated in the above questions, on the part of His lovers, would constitute what He termed as “humiliation.” Though the circumstances warranted arising of such questions in the minds of His lovers, His lovers should immediately recall the warning given by Baba and remember His words, namely:
So that if I do not drop My physical body, I will yet, so to say, “die,” for I will then become actually dead to the world up to the end of the modified period of time.
The event of 31st January 1969 was therefore to be interpreted as an apparent physical death but not death in the real sense of the term. Not that Baba would never drop His body or that His physical death would not at all take place. Baba Himself said that He would drop His body; but not before breaking His Silence. In the Life Circular no. 22, dated 20.11.1954, while giving the clarification to His final warning, He did mention about the dropping of His body. But this dropping of the body was to take place as the last event in a sequence of events out of the seven events mentioned by Him. In His Life Circular no. 24, issued on 10.4.1955, Baba was emphatic:
All that was declared in My Final Declaration must come to pass exactly in the same sequence and with the same intensity of effect but with modification in the time factor.
The human mind could never conceive of the idea of apparent physical death. It understands the physical death but could not conceive what apparent physical death is. It is an extraordinarily strange idea because there is virtually no difference between real death and apparent death. It is not in the experience of any human being — it never happened — that a person could be dead temporarily for only a limited period of time. There was never a case of a dead body coming to life after an interval of decades. Therefore, when Baba hinted that His physical death would only be till the end of the “modified period of time,” it was beyond comprehension. So it was natural for anyone to interpret the event of 31st January 1969 as Baba’s physical death. If it is to be a different interpretation, it could only be because of His lovers’ faith in Baba and His words when He said that the Darshan to be given from 10th April to 10th June 1969 was to be “the last to be given in Silence” and that “I will not lay down My body without giving the word.”
There is an episode in Mahabharata which may help us to understand the “apparent death,” till the end of the modified period of time. During the war between Kauravas and Pandavas, one day under the leadership of Dronacharya, the armies of Kauravas took up positions into peculiar formation called “Padma Vyuha” and challenged Pandavas to attack them, if they can! Arjuna was the only warrior who knows how to break this Padma Vyuha, but he was out to another sector in the war field. The other Pandavas do not have any knowledge as to how to attack this peculiar army formation — they were in a dilemma. Abhimanyu, the teen-age son of Arjuna, offered himself to lead the army from Pandava side, as he learnt from his great father the way of entry into such formation, but he pleaded his ignorance about the way to come out of that Padma Vyuha. But Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva, uncles of Abhimanyu, promised to follow him behind and be close to Abhimanyu, and protect him, on the way. Thereupon, Abhimanyu led the army into Padma Vyuha.
There is one warrior named Jayadradha, fighting on the side of Kauravas, who secured a boon from Lord Shiva, that he would be able to resist Bhima sufficiently and successfully just for one day only. This Jayadradha could therefore obstruct Bhima that day from closely following Abhimanyu, during his march into Padma Vyuha. Abhimanyu without support from Bhima and others had to fight alone against the combined might of the enemy. He was killed mercilessly by all the Kauravas together.
Learning about this tragic death of his son Abhimanyu, Arjuna became furious against Jayadradha (who was mainly instrumental in his son’s death) and took a vow that he would kill Jayadradha before sunset the next day, or else he would throw himself in burning fire and immolate himself. Jayadradha was then carefully hidden in a secret place by the Kauravas, to thwart the attempts of Arjuna for the entire day, so that if Arjuna fails in his vow, he would commit suicide, and without Arjuna, Pandavas could not fight but [must] surrender.
Arjuna was searching for Jayadradha the whole day but could not succeed. It was time for sunset and the sun was about to set. Arjuna, acknowledging his failure to fulfill his vow, was preparing himself to commit self-immolation, for which a huge fire was getting ready. Lord Krishna (as Beloved Baba was then called) used his Mayavic Powers, and made the sun invisible to the human eye by covering the sun with his celestial disc, called Sudarshan. When the sun was thus hidden behind “Sudarshan Chakra,” there was total darkness and people thought that the sun did set. Kauravas were beaming with joy at the prospect of Arjuna committing suicide, and along with them, Jayadradha also came out of “hiding.” As soon as Jayadradha was spotted by Krishna, Arjuna was instructed to shoot the arrow at Jayadradha and kill him. But Arjuna protested that it was against his vow, as he took a vow to kill Jayadradha, before sunset and not after sunset. Thereupon Lord Krishna assured Arjuna that the sun was not yet set and removed his celestial disc from hiding the sun. As soon as the Chakra [disc] was removed, the sun became visible again, and Arjuna immediately shot at Jayadradha with his arrow and killed him.
Thus we see that the sun did not actually set, even though the sun appeared to have set. That is the difference between apparent sunset and real sunset. Likewise, Baba is using His “Maya” aspect to make the world believe that He is “actually dead” till the end of the modified period of time.
Maya, being the showman displaying things that do not really exist, will make everything, including my health, body, energy, words and promises, go against me, and this will automatically test the faith of my lovers.
Maya, being my instrument for fulfillment of my work, has to do its utmost to bring about the utmost results of this work.
Maya, having existence only in non-existence, will in the end give way to the one and only Reality that is God. And so God will manifest in His Glory.
I want all my lovers to guard against Maya’s tricks and hold firmly to my Daaman. [Message of 13th Aug. 1959, in C. B. Purdom, The God-Man, p. 349]
Since Silence itself continued during darshan period (according to Baba Himself) till 10th June 1969, the event of 31st January 1969 could only be termed as apparent death or “so to say death” (in the words of Baba). Perhaps this must be the strange disease which was referred to in the Final Declaration.
One will not be wrong if this physical condition of Baba’s body from 31st January 1969 to 7th February 1969, exhibiting neither symptoms of life (such as respiration, heartbeat, body temperature) nor symptoms of death (such as rigor mortis, decay and decomposition), is interpreted as “the strange disease” for the following reasons:
The doctors were surprised and amazed when the “coma” did not take place in spite of high blood urea — which phenomenon was contrary to medical science. During one of the occasions when Baba was undergoing severe fits of spasms, a doctor from Bombay was called and when he examined Baba, He was found to be quite normal. In fact the doctor found nothing wrong with the physical condition of Baba. When the physical condition of Baba could baffle the medical men, was it not a phenomenon contrary to all the established medical knowledge? In a similar way the physical condition of Baba which manifested from 31st January 1969 to 7th February 1969 was also unknown to the medical science.
This physical condition of Baba on 31.1.1969, could also be understood as the result of the “LINK between My physical body and all My external activities as carried on up to now,” having been dropped. [Life Circular no. 23, 3rd Feb. 1955]