A Tribute to Mohammed the Mast
The Heart That is Alive to Love Never Dies:-
[Received through e-mail]
by Eric Nadel
Some time in the first decade of the last century, Khondabai, the wife of the potter, Laxman Chawan, gave birth in their small clean mud house, roofed with long grass and reeds, to a handsome boy they named Tukaram. They lived together with Laxman's brothers in the premises of his family's traditional pottery business by the banks of a stream in a small village named Sonawadi near the larger town of Sawantwadi in the Ratnagiri district in Kokanputti along the coast of Maharashtra between Goa and Bombay.
Laxman was a fair handsome man who wore a white turban. He was a khumbhar, a potter by caste. Khondabai was a kholi, the caste of water carriers and fisherfolk. She wore a horizontal red kumkum mark across her forehead, a green sari, and green bangles; she was short, plump and fair. This intercaste marriage at that time in that village was undoubtedly a love marriage arranged by the couple themselves.
Tuka was the much-loved youngest child of the 15 kids in his Hindu extended family; thus they all called him "Nana-Bhau" or "little brother". "Nana-Bhau" was very fond of his aunt, Kaiserbai. He grew and learned his father's trade: to make pots on a wheel and to fire them. Later, the family trade evolved into a brick business. Mind you, in a sub-tropical jungle in the early 1900s, fired brick was a hi-tech enterprise. Years later, after he had lived in Meher Baba's court for many years, "Nana Bhau", known to us as "Mohammed the Mast", showed and described to me how he used to fill up the rectangular wooden forms with clay, consolidate the mass with a paddle, and then set the raw brick to dry in the sun.
He attended a village school briefly- for a few weeks only- that convened under a tree. He was plump and happy. With his childhood friend, Sakaram, he played when they were not working: climbing trees, gulli-danda, forms of tag, marbles, kite flying. Balls and hence ball games were rare. They swam and played in the stream. And they explored the dense forest. There was lots to see: peacocks, monkeys with black faces, snakes, fish, frogs and occasionally tigers.
Tukaram grew and married Lakshimi. She was a khumbhar like him, small, pretty, fair and graceful. She wore a red sari and green glass bangles. They had two children, a girl, Sakubai, and a younger boy Gangaram. Their family prospered.
The young men, Tukaram and Sakaram, would stroll the bazaar after work and occasionally play gambling games for fun. Suddenly Tuka began to win constantly with no effort. He could hardly ever lose. They had difficulty carrying home his winnings . They would both have to fold up the front bottom flaps of their shirts to make a large pouch, and fill it to transport home the loot he collected.
Shortly after this extraordinary turn of luck began, Tukaram awoke early one morning, as was his habit. His wife and children still slept soundly inside his little, grass-roofed house. He stood up, and tied a large red cloth about his waist, as he did every day, to serve as underwear.
When he narrated this to me for the first time in the early 1990s, "Mo" paused here a moment and then said, "And then it happened like that!" and sharply snapped his fingers.
-"What was it that happened?" I asked.
"I became a deva!" he said.
-"What did you do then?" I asked.
He told me that he had then stretched both his arms directly up above his head; he stood to show me how he had remained standing, dazed and ecstatically entranced in that position, clad only with underwear, in his hut for about 12 days.
At the end of that time, the trance began to weaken. He put on his sandals and clothes, gave his money to his wife, told her good bye, and left for Bombay, eventually arriving there by train.
He remarked that he had not been a seeker before then in this life, but that in his previous life, he was named "Vitol" and had been a priest in a small Khandoba temple. "Khandoba" is regarded as an incarnation of Shiva. After many years there, he fell in love with the statues of Khandoba and His two wives, Banu and Malsa. When that happened, he left the temple and its duties and stayed by himself in the jungle. Years later at Meherabad, the servant girls would gather before him to sing Khandoba hymns, and he would silently weep in joy. He told us that he simply sat in the jungle, and ate occasionally if food was given to him until he eventually passed away and "was born into the family of Laxman because Laxman was a good man."
Returning with our story to the events of this life, "Mo" told us that he went to Bombay because, "so many dalinder [unkempt] Bhawajis were there." Upon hearing this, I puzzled a few minutes trying to grasp his meaning. In daily conversation at Meherabad, Mohammed the Mast would often refer to respectable old Parsi gentlemen as "Bhawaji". They were hardly ever unkempt. Eventually, I understood that he meant since there were many other masts in Bombay, he was naturally drawn there.
His problem in Bombay was how to eat. He did not know how to get food. Eventually he hit upon a plan.
In Bombay there has been for many years a thriving "numbers" racket, colloquially called "mutka" [a big clay pot]; "Mo" referred to it as "chugga-punja" [6-5]. It pays out 600 to one. Many many folks are addicted to playing. There are also many tipsters preying on the gamblers. Some of these sharks pretend to be mystics or masts to lure their customers.
So Mohammed pretended to be one of these shysters; that is, a real mast imitated a fake one. He would give the number for free to a few people. Some would play his number. Some would return to offer him a share of their winnings. He would then ask for something else instead: a cup of tea, a slice of bread, a samosa.
While living on the street in the Bhendi Bazar in Bombay, sleeping under a tea stall at night, sustaining himself on "chugga-punja" tips, he was nicknamed "Mohammed" as a token of respect by the neighborhood's inhabitants who included pious folks as well as prostitutes, all of whom recognized him as a man of pure heart. It was here that Pleader found him, gave him his first good meal in several years, and proposed a visit to Rahuri by train to met Pleader's "Dada" [Elder Brother], i.e., Meher Baba.
About his first meeting with Dada he said simply and movingly that he did not recognize Dada at first, but that they both immediately wanted to embrace each other and as they did, they both were filled with great happiness. He said 4 or 5 days later, he recognized that Dada is indeed "Dharma cha Dada". In this context, "Dharma" means "all the religions of mankind"; "Dharma cha Dada" would be "the respected elder brother of all humanity's faiths", i.e., the Avatar.
He would repeat for us from time to time his "Baba stories". They were simple, evocative, highly compressed recollections of incidents accompanied by graceful illustrative hand gestures:
"Dada would bathe me with hot water like this; He would hand feed me rice like this; He would embrace me like this; Dada clapped His hands sharply like this and all the people came at a run!; Dada walked very briskly."
When in the mood, Mohammed would imitate members of the Meherabad Ashram, alive or dead:
"Sidhoo always sang, 'Mookera, mookera!'" [thy countenance, thy lovely countenance!]
"Padri shouts like this: 'Your esteemed mother's butt!'"
"He farted like a rifle-shot!"
"Pendu always says, 'Brother, just let it be!'"
"Chanji-seth was typing on the veranda once, with just one hand and, with the other, throwing pebbles over the bamboo partition to pester Nilu Doctor, until Nilu finally yelled, 'Who is throwing those stones at me?!!!'. And I told him that it was Chanji!"
"In the morning, Nilu Doctor always spoke to the cooks thusly, 'Sister, kindly tell, what will be the vegetable today?'"
"Masaji was an old fighting cock, and had a furious temper."
He intensely enjoyed his reminiscing.
There was obviously a kind of "professional rivalry" between Mohammed and Bapji, the other fifth plane mast who lived at Meherabad for a long time. Inquiries about Bapji inevitably drew forth imitations of Bapji's indecipherable style of speech, "Bolay ke bola." [after having speaking speaks], and then with exaggerated seriousness, "Mo" would confide that Bapji was "miyaat" [mad]. Further evidence was tendered to support this: "Do you want to hear? Shall I tell you now? Wait, I am going to tell you! Bapji would shit while standing up! He was shameless!"
I have seen many folks ask him, "Where has Baba gone?" and he would generally ignore this question or become irritated. It was the wrong question.
If asked instead, "What does Baba look like?", he would enthusiastically reply something like, " His face is pure white! His hair is absolutely black!" Thus prompted, he would often then volunteer, "Baba speaks / would speak ["Mo" would use either tense] like this: 'Hoo, hooom, hmmn'". The sound he made was a humming sound in his throat. I gathered that in his first days in the Ashram, before He intensified His Silence, Meher Baba did not speak but hummed to him. And I suppose that for a man in the Mental sphere, God is both always Silent and always Speaking; I took the "Hoo Hu!" sound that Mohammed produced to be the gross plane shadow of the Divine Word he always heard.
What was it like to live with this old wizard?
28 years ago, he was not the gentle sorcerer of later years, radiant, commanding, sitting leisurely, warming himself in the morning sunshine, wrapped in a blanket like an exalted E.T; he was very jalali [fiery], like a ferocious Zen master with an occasional fondness for bars of soap and handkerchiefs.
His "nakedness", i.e., the perceptible presence of his very alive emotional "heart", was always at the surface of his being: direct, exposed and expressive without any artifice; the things we knew, cared for or thought about, the things we felt important, he spontaneously gave up in an instant long ago; so the immediate impact of both his utter indifference and of his fiery intent to forge ahead in his way of loving God was stunning, and awesome to all.
Padri: - "Mister, he is as simple and guileless as a child, but, mind you, a Tiger's Child!"
At that time, new residents at Meherabad, heard from Mohammed from their first day this type of "beginner's" lessons, recited repeatedly with feeling and passion:
"This is Dada's bungalow."
"This is Dada's water tap."
"This is Dada's water!"
"This is Dada's door."
"This is Dada's window."
"This is Dada's stone."
"This is Dada's door stop."
Padri had a nice direct way of putting things that quickly cleared up our natural questions:
"Of course he can read your mind. But do you stare at shit all day for entertainment?"
Padri pointed out Mohammad's different moods of intoxication.
For example, he called our attention to "Mo's" habit of absorbedly gazing at something. "Mo" would stop and gaze ecstatically at something either visible or invisible to us. He might utter, "bugto mi..." [I am gazing...] He would become motionless. His breathing would slow, become strong, forceful and deep, almost stopping as his mind slowed, condensed and crystallized; he would lean, tilting more and more to the left until the right foot came off the ground when he would suddenly catch himself, re-balance and move off abruptly, broken out of the trance. Padri explained that Baba remarked that "Mo's" habit of gazing was a fixed characteristic or personal trait of his and would not vanish until he died.
Padri's insights enabled the whole household to synchronize around Mohammed's place in it and to the riverine flow of "Tiger's Child's" ecstatic moods.
"Mo" continuously felt the presence of God. What did that mean? Padri patiently explained:
Imagine someone standing absorbed in something. His dear friend tip-toes up silently from behind; although his approach is unheard, his presence is eventually sensed and the head of the friend of the friend begins to turns about and search for him. In a similar fashion, particularly in his jalali moods, "Mo" restlessly "turned" here or there seeking out the presence he sensed. Or imagine a man seated with his back to a log fire. In this figure, a wayfarer on the sixth plane sees the fire directly; on the fifth plane, he feels the warmth, knows he is near to it and sees the light cast by the fire, but does not see the fire itself.
Padri explained that Baba told them that, unlike a salik pilgrim who was a traveler through one of the inner planes, a mast is the owner or king of the plane they inhabit. They automatically command our respect, and do not demand it.
In the "Wayfarers", Donkin gives an idea of how tedious caring for "Mo" could be, but Padri could handle any situation with him with ease. One time while walking to take his bath, "Mo" changed his mind and announced to Padri, " I don't want Erico to bathe me."
Padri replied, "Certainly. That is fine. It shall be as you wish," then turned and called out theatrically for my wife to come right now and bathe "Mo".
"Mo" quickly grabbed my hand and hurried to the bathroom muttering, "No, no! Not a female! That would be immodest!"
Padri showed by his example how to behave with "Mo" and how to care for him. In every aspect Padri's conduct was a marvelous guide. Padri and Mohammed treated each other with sincere respect. "Mo" referred to Padri as "Padri Seth", i.e., "Padri the boss-man". When Padri died, Mohammed the Mast consoled us, "Don't cry, Padri has taken Samadhi near Dada's side [beside Baba]."
Without Padri we were daily on tinter hooks that "Mo" might slide off the rails; we had fresh in mind his 13 month fast in that ended in July of 1973. So, when he showed signs of going off his food, we simply tried to get him to eat. I have been criticized by some who patiently explained to me that Mohammed surely had an exalted spiritual reason for not eating. I could only reply that that may indeed be true, but I didn't know about spiritual matters, I only knew that Padri requested us to look after this old gentleman, and he wasn't eating.
We could not force the "Tiger's Child" to eat, or scold him. And he was still quite jalali then. So we had to use stratagems. For example, I would, with some pre-arrangement and rehearsal, pretend to scold his cook.
She would come theatrically to me and say, "The honored old man is refusing to eat his food."
I would reply, "That is not true! He would never do such a thing! He always eats his food! Don't slander him like this! It is your fault! You are a rotten cook! You didn't cook the food well! You get out of here! I'm calling a new girl to cook for him right now! Go! Go back to your house in the village and stay there! Don't you ever come here again! "
While this little pre-planned drama played out, "Mo" generally would quietly go back to his table, sit, begin eating, and after we paused for a moment, he would inform us in a sweet artless voice, "See, I am eating now!"
But it could still get difficult. One morning, after 5 days of refusing his food, and not sleeping, he seemed to be rapidly gaining velocity and planning a trajectory that would take him quickly beyond the solar system. His health was clearly deteriorating. I was at my wit's end. The servant girls were all in tears. We were helpless.
At that moment a 9 year old girl visiting from Bombay came running up. In a torrent of joy, she exclaimed, "Where is Mohammed the Mast? I want to serve him!" She saw my astonishment and quickly explained, "I have a baby brother who is 4; I know how."
She did. We gave her the plate of food and brought her a stool so she could reach him. The instant he opened his mouth to protest, she put some fruit in it. He polished off his whole meal and over the next few days, she taught us how to feed him.
Mohammed adroitly created fresh excuses to counter every new ploy. Eventually we listed these on paper:
"I sorry, I'm busy right now."
"I would, but my feet hurt."
"The floor is too hot."
"The food has no taste."
"There is too much / too little salt."
"You did not put enough sugar in it! Why are you stingy with sugar? Is it your father's sugar?"
"There is a cold wind blowing."
"My foot might slip."
"I can't possibly bathe with this water; it is too hot! It is boiling! Are you planning to cook me?"
"I'm about to go to sleep."
"There is the possibility of danger from tigers."
"That might make me vomit."
"I have to take an enormous piss."
"It is too dark for that now."
"I don't want that now. Send it to the market and sell it; you will get a pile of silver rupee coins!"
"I am un-accustomed to do that."
At one time the list contained over 105 items. When he would decline a request, we would add the new excuse to the list and begin reading out to him the entire catalogue. He would listen, chuckle and laugh, relishing his wit, and then generally accede to our request.
Some of his requests were idle whims. He readily admitted this: "It was just a fleeting impulse." Some of them were impossible, grossly impractical or too difficult. If a request seemed a whim, we would also make clever excuses, as we had learned to from him:
-"Yes Mohammed Sahib. We will certainly cut down the all of the trees tomorrow. But first the saw needs sharpening."
-"Please kindly understand, Mohammed Sahib, we dearly wish to give you 1,200 more spoonfuls of sugar in your tea right now but unfortunately the sugar jar is empty and the store is closed all day today."
If it was a whim, he would accede and not mention it again. But if he persisted, we endeavored to do as he asked. And so, for example, one resident painted his shoes red, many others never wore watches or rings, and another only dressed with white pants.
Of course we made many mistakes. Some times "Mo" would become upset. Then I would say to him, "Yerda oor burkoo naka. Mala kai nay sumjut." [Please don't scold this mad-man; I don't understand anything.] The "Tiger's Child" would become a lamb-child.
"Mo" would say with pure humility, "Let it be forgiven. Please forgive me for loosing my temper with you." In his mood of humility he was even more deeply moving than he was as a jalali. I cannot even begin to describe how it felt to have such a great soul ask me to forgive him for his loss of temper over my clumsy mistake. Let it suffice here to say simply that we saw in him what is true humility.
One day he began asking me to remove his mattress and gift it to his cook. I tried to put him off by telling him it would take a few days to have a replacement made. He was adamant. Eventually he patiently explained that it was his mattress, thus he could do whatever he liked with it, and I should listen to him. I took it off the bed to hand over to the girl.
I was stunned to see that the mattress was covered in the identical red and white checked cloth that Khondi Moma, a fourth plane mast, the well known and much revered spiritual chargeman of Ahmednagar, only and always wore; Khondi Moma had passed away that very morning.
Like many of his preoccupations and "workings", which he told me I could not possibly ever understand, there was here a very strong sense of hidden relationships behind events. We did observe that from time to time, he would be preoccupied, absorbed in some invisible task, laboring day and night for a few hours or days or even weeks. Abruptly, he would announce the return to his normal routines:
"I will have a bath."
"You may shave me today."
"Tell her to cook sweet potatoes for me now."
We often noticed some upheaval in the world, like a devastating hurricane, earthquake, war, revolution, etc., followed a while after.
A "soo-rung" colloquially refers to an underground blast like in a mine or in a quarry or in the excavation of an open well. We often heard him spontaneously declare things like, "Allah-miyah cha soo-rung ratri nigal!" [Respected God's 'soo-rung' will come out in the night!] Once I alertly listened all night: nothing. In the morning the radio reported a devastating earthquake had occurred near Turkey. I told him the news of the "soo-rung". He replied, "Another will come in two weeks." And it did.
His behavior was so simple, so fresh and so permeated with his joyous love that it was always refreshing and often startling. For example, an earnest, sincere, high-minded young man, who had recently come to Baba's fold, visited one day. He was a "true Christian", a minister who spent all his time caring for his flock and trying to improve his love and service. Though he was a little stiff and awkward in his manners, his sincerity was almost physically palpable. He was much moved just to sit near Mohammed.
He inquired if "Mo" ever gave discourses or lectures.
No, I said, he never did.
The minister said with much fervor and emotion that "Mo" must know so much; he could tell us about the creation of the universe and how it all began.
I replied that Baba had covered that nicely in "God Speaks".
He asked me to imagine what wonderful guidance "Mo" could give on devotional practices. I replied that Baba had said many wonderful things on this topic in the "Discourses".
At that moment "Mo" began to eat his fresh papaya. He stopped a moment, glanced over at our guest, and shouted out, "It all emanates from a little black seed!". [A very condensed discourse on the "Big Bang" and the beginning of the creation of the Universe from out of the Nothing, latent, unmanifest, embedded within the Everything that is God. Please refer to "God Speaks".]
Then he finished off the papaya, glanced at us again, put down his plate and spoon, chuckled deeply, and raised his arms gracefully up over his head, turned towards us again and deliberately, joyfully sang out, "Jai Baba, Jai Baba!" to illustrate and communicate with this example a favorite devotional practice of his own.
When he lived in Meherabad Hall, Mohammed often sang enthusiastically in the early morning. The whole building filled up with his joy and delight. The songs were of his own making; one or two lines, simple words repeated for hours; the words might slowly change; the melodies were generally from folk songs from his childhood in Kokan:
"Dada nay burliyah!" [Baba has filled it up!]
"pivla dev ougowlah!" [the yellow god (the sun) has arisen!]
"Allah-miyah yeel!" [ Respected God Himself is coming!]
The freshness and purity that his absorption in Divine Love bestowed upon his mind was clearly seen in his sense of humor. He would readily enjoy a good joke, laugh until he was almost breathless, then rapidly say, "Ankin sanga!" [Tell it again!] He would enjoy the same joke any number of times with the same glee.
His humor was also witty. At the start of my life at Meherabad he assigned me the duty of washing his bottom. Pleased with my work, he gave me a title, "Boocha cha Maalik" [Lord Rectum]. I was very chuffed even after I realized that he was humorously calling me an "asshole." When my youthful athletic belly started to become a middle-aged pot, he nicknamed me "one and a half", i.e., I now sported "one and a half tummies."
Meher Baba has explained that the difference between a Perfect Master's consciousness and that of an ordinary person is similar to the gap between an ordinary person and a stone. I would describe a comparison between "Mo" and us folks in a similar figure: the difference between a ordinary man and a small puppy dog.
So, why did he take any interest in all of us ignorant muggles? I don't know, but I feel that he was intrigued. He knows Who Meher Baba is, with profound certainty. Thus of course he loves Him. He could see that we don't really know much about Meher Baba at all, but, none the less, we still try to love Him. Perhaps "Mo" was curious to see how this musical line in the Canon of Divine Love would play out.
He constantly tried to encourage us to seize our great opportunity: The God Man is always loving, always available to our love and ever eager to draw us closer to Him. At every moment anyone can try to move nearer to Him through the intimacy of love.
"Mo" always occupied himself with that. It was his profession 24 and 7.
We all likewise have the same wonderful prospect. It is not necessary to be pure, to be spiritually advanced or a mast, pious, learned, wise, young or old, rich or poor, to make use of this opportunity Meher Baba gives us all. Merely to be human well-qualifies us to try. "Mo" encouraged us by responding to our any selfless gesture with joy and self-giving love. With his lively play, he tried to train the puppies around him to something he knew to be of ultimate use to them. With dazzling efficiency he gently pursued this hobby. The tricks he played, the tricks he taught, the method and content of his teaching, the lessons, stages, steps, degrees, goals and Goal all were and are one and the same: strive to be near to Him.
For so many wonderful years he sat on the veranda saturating the air with the Love that saturated him, like a live action display in a Divine Museum. For this particular Divine Exhibit, the explanatory text could be:
"Do you want to love Love? See it here or there, see it everywhere! God's Oceans of Love flow everywhere continuously. Like this and like this. Yes, like that too. It is so simple that it can be difficult. Drink! Savor the fragrance of the morning breeze that arrives from the Beloved's garden! Let the warmth of His Sun refresh you! The Beloved made the wonder of life so that we may love and know Him. There is no other purpose; let there be no other work."
I know that those of you all who have seen him will agree, if you reflect for even a moment, that this is what you felt and saw. Those of you who have not met Mohammed the Mast can also feel and understand because this wonderful man was so uniquely a creation of Meher Baba, sculpted and painted by His amazing Love.
At the end of his last serious illness 12 years ago, I asked him if he was staying or leaving. He said, "Mala azoon bara varsha." [12 more years for me.]
About his passing: He clearly knew he was dying and accomplished this fairly quickly, gracefully, without any agitation, anxiety, fear or distress and with occasional bursts of humor and cheerful nagging. He was composed, sweet and co-operative when awake, uncomfortable from time to time, increasingly exhausted and slept alot. And beautiful and loving even after the end.
Padri told me that Meher Baba told him that Mohammed the Mast would be a Perfect Master after several more lifetimes. If we have good luck, we will meet him then.
Some time, I would like to tell you more about this wonderful man and how he shared himself with us, but now I will just say that if I made that recitation the constant daily work of the rest of my life, I could never exaggerate nor do justice to either his generosity and loving kindness or the love he inspired in us for his beloved "Dada", our Beloved Lord, Meher Baba.
for Tavern Talk
29 June 2003
Tavern Talk is the electronic newsletter of the Avatar Meher Baba Trust.