(1924 – 2010)
By Ross Keating
John Grant passed away on the 17th June 2010. In the last months of his life he was lovingly cared for by his son Hugh and daughter Diane. John will be remembered as one of Australia’s early Baba lovers who first met Meher Baba when He came to Australia in 1956 and who unstintingly gave his life in service to His Master’s cause. Here are some passages take from John Grant’s book, Practical Spirituality with Meher Baba, which give a fascinating account of his life as a spiritual seeker and convey something of John’s character and distinct voice.
“I was born at Canterbury, a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales. As a boy I went to Sunday school, but my family often moved house during the depression of the 1930s and sometimes there was only one Sunday school in the town where we were living. It was usually of a different Christian denomination at each place. So I had attended many Sunday Schools taught by many different Christian Religions by the time I had gown-up.
“When I was in my teens, I was very idealistic and was very impressed with the stories of the life of Christ that I read in the New Testament of the Bible. But I noticed a marked difference between the life of Jesus and the lives of the people of the Church who taught others about His life. He lived truth and love in His life, they only talked about His living it and didn’t seem to try to live it themselves.
“I soon discovered that each Christian Religion had its own interpretation of the meaning of what was written in the Bible and they considered anyone with a different interpretation to be misguided and wrong. Instead of living the spirit of His teaching of “love thy neighbour as thyself”, they were quarrelling about the letter of the teaching — did He say ‘this’ or ‘thus’?
“When I went to read about other great Spiritual Masters of history, the only accounts that I could find written in the English language were written by Christian scholars and these accounts were definitely prejudiced. I didn’t know then, but I know now, that there is an inner and an outer teaching of every religion and I was only finding the outer teachings of them, which are all different, while yearning for the inner teaching of any one of them, because the inner teachings are all the same, because God is always the same, even although He is given different names, in different languages, in different religions.
“But with the passing of the centuries the inner teaching, the essence or spirit, is often lost, while the words of the teaching and the external ceremonies and rituals are always preserved. However, even the meaning of words can change. I have known in my own lifetime many words that have changed their meaning completely in my language and I believe this has happened in most languages. So it would not be surprising if some of the messages written in the Bible became unintentionally changed with the passage of time.
“In 1945 while visiting a second hand bookshop in Auckland, New Zealand, I could not find any book that interested me, so as I was about to leave, in desperation I took a book in a brown paper cover from one of the shelves and opened it. I found that it was a book on Raja Yoga. I had no idea what that was, but I looked at the headings of the chapters, they were on such topics as; attention, concentration, perception and will-power. They certainly seemed to be interesting topics to me so I bought this book on Raja Yoga and later started reading it.
“It was an unusual book because at the end of each chapter there was a summary of the chapter and then a mantra to repeat daily. Also there were frequent references to other books that presumably I should have read before reading this one. I was a Radio Officer on a ship at sea at this time and I didn’t have an opportunity to obtain these other books that I should have read first. I realized that part of the power of the summary and the mantra would be auto-suggestion, but the values suggested were opposite to the ones usually accepted as being worldly values or commonly accepted values. They were more mystical or spiritual values.
“So I started doing as the book instructed, i.e., after reading a chapter I would meditate on the summary and then repeat the mantra. After a while I began to think that if I was not careful my mind could suddenly flip over and I may not be able to get my consciousness back to this world or plane which we think of as normal or reality. However I decided that I would continue reading the book and saying the mantras but I resolved to be very watchful while doing so. After reading a chapter I would meditate on the summary and then repeat the mantra — I thought if anything happened I didn’t like, I could stop and all would be well. I had repeated the mantras for a few weeks, when early one morning after I had finished my shift of duty at 4:00 a.m. I went to my cabin and after changing my clothes I got into my bunk and put out the light. I had been in my bunk for only a minute or so and I was not asleep, when suddenly I saw a very bright light. It was brighter than looking into the sun, but whereas the sun just appears as a small, very bright object in the sky, this light seemed to cover the whole of my visual horizon.
“As I was looking at this light, a very loud voice called my name — JOHN GRANT — I was frightened. All that I could think of was that it was the voice of GOD. I opened my eyes. It was dark, so I turned on the light and sat up in my bunk. I didn’t know what had happened, but I associated it with the Raja Yoga and having said the mantras. I didn’t say the mantras anymore and I resolved to buy the books that I thought I should have read first, before reading this one. Although I was still interested in Raja Yoga I decided that I would not go on with it unless I had a living Spiritual Master. In Australia in the year 1945, I couldn’t find a Master, so I resolved to obtain more information, but not to practice mantras or anything else until I had a living Master. However it did awaken in me an interest in mysticism and later an interest in spirituality. I now realized that there was a different world with different values, very close to this world with its values.
“By the same author of the book on Raja Yoga, there was a translation of the Bhagavad Gita which I obtained and read. I was quite impressed by this book and read it over and over again. I particularly noticed one passage as follows: Lord Krishna said, ‘Whenever the world declines in virtue and righteousness, and vice and injustice mount the throne — then come I, the Lord, and revisit My world in visible form, and mingle as a man with men, and by My influence and teaching I destroy the evil and injustice and re-establish virtue and righteousness. Many times have I thus appeared; many times hereafter shall I come again.’
“I was very impressed with this idea and I never forgot this statement attributed to one of the great Spiritual Masters in history. It also seemed to me that by and large this is what had happened in the world. There are historical records of this happening, but the different Advents are not normally associated with each other, because they happened at a different place, at a different time and the messages were given in different languages at a time when most people were illiterate and communication between widely separated communities in different countries was difficult and almost non-existent. I could not help feeling that we were overdue for the next visit.
“I had an old friend who was a theosophist and he gave me Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia which introduced me to the life of Buddha. Later I discovered and read books on Vedanta. One day I was at a motor tyre-works overlooking Manly, a Sydney suburb, having my car tyres changed and I was talking to the foreman as he changed it. I don’t remember what was said, but he finished up mentioning about Sufism and he said that he was sure that I would be interested in it. He even took me to a meeting of a Sufi group that was held every Thursday evening at Cremorne, another suburb of Sydney.
“Here I was first introduced to the books of Inayat Khan, and I loved them. Such books as The Unity of Religious Ideals, and In an Eastern Rose Garden and many, many more. Through this Sufi group I met Francis Brabazon. He was a poet, but he was also much more than a poet. Before the war Francis had met Baron von Frankenberg, who was a Sufi teacher from the School of Hazrat Inayat Khan who had established a Sufi Order in the Western World in 1910. It had branches in Europe and America — an offshoot of the American branch was in Australia . . . [Soon after I came to meet] Baron von Frankenberg [who] gave me a copy of the book Avatar to read. When I read this book it brought tears to my eyes. Von Frankenberg noted my reaction to Meher Baba and said to think the matter over, and if I felt so inclined, to write to Baba asking for His guidance and to ask Him to take me under His wings.
“I decided that was the thing for me to do and I wrote to [Meher] Baba. I received a reply in November 1947, this was my first personal contact with Him. I also received letters from Him in March, June, and September 1948. As a result I left the Sufi movement at this time . . .
“In 1956, Meher Baba came to Sydney and stayed in the house built for him at Beacon Hill and it was here that I met Him for the first time. This was a highly charged and deeply moving experience.] Sometimes during Meher Baba’s discourses, when I was present, I would be moved to tears. One time when I was sitting in front of Him, I glanced behind me, first to the right and then to the left, and everybody that I saw was weeping. Then I looked up at Eruch [one of Meher Baba’s Indian disciples], who was interpreting Baba’s gestures [for Meher Baba was observing silence] and there were tears trickling down his cheeks as he spoke the words. He must have interpreted these discourses many times and yet he was still moved to tears. I wondered why I wept. I came to the conclusion that I wept for the rest of humanity that could not be here, to experience what I was experiencing. When I told other people about Meher Baba they just thought I was mad. At that time I felt so inadequate to convey to them what He had conveyed to me.
And yet for many people, including myself, who later heard of Meher Baba but never met Him, John very adequately conveyed what it was like to be in Baba’s presence and how to deepen that spiritual presence in one’s life. John did this in a very natural way, unselfconsciously, by just being himself. At the end of his book he writes:
“I have tried to emphasize in this book the availability and importance of inner contact with Meher Baba and for those people who are interested in having this, how they should go about achieving it. In the course of His ministry Meher Baba gave out many messages and although they were appropriate to that specific time, they are also universal messages appropriate to all times. One of these messages was given out on the 7th October 1954, the last day that He used His alphabet board. It was also His last message given on the alphabet board, which at that time had been His means of communication for almost three decades.
“This message is very appropriate for today, after He has withdrawn even His body which was yet another means of God’s communication during this Advent. Meher Baba Himself was continually emphasizing the importance of inner contact and connection with Him as this message illustrates.
“This message given by Him in 1954 has even more importance now after He has dropped His body. It is with this important message that I conclude this book:
There is no reason at all for any of you to worry. Baba was, Baba is, and Baba will also be eternally existent. Severance of external relations does not mean the termination of internal connections. It was only for establishing the internal connections that the external contacts have been maintained till now. The time has now come for being bound in the chain of internal connections. HENCE EXTERNAL CONTACT IS NO LONGER NECESSARY. It is possible to establish the internal link by obeying Baba’s orders. I give you all My blessings for strengthening these internal links.
I am always with you and I am not away from you. I was, am and will remain eternally with you, and it is for promoting this realization that I have severed external contact. This will enable all persons to realize Truth by being bound to each other with internal links.
Oh, My lovers! I love you all. It is only because of My love for My creation that I have descended on Earth. Let not your hearts be torn asunder by My declarations concerning the dropping of My body. On the contrary, accept My Divine Will cheerfully. You can never escape from Me, even if you try to escape from Me, it is not possible to get rid of Me. Therefore, have courage and be brave.
If you thus lose your heart, how will it be possible for you to fulfill the great task which I have entrusted to you? Be brave and spread MY MESSAGE OF LOVE far and wide to all quarters, in order to fulfill My Divine Will. Let the words ‘BABA, BABA’ come forth from every nook and corner of the world and from the mouth of every child, and let their ignorance be reduced to ashes by the burning flame of My Love.
Come together in order to fulfill My Will by taking your stand on TRUTH, LOVE AND HONESTY, and be worthy of participating in My Task. I give you all My blessings for spreading MY MESSAGE OF LOVE.”
If there is a single message of Meher Baba’s which John embraced and tried to fully embody in his daily living, I think it is this final quote in his book. And indeed his book stands as testimony of that embrace and a statement of what he felt was the essence of practical love and service (spirituality) for his Beloved Spiritual Master, Meher Baba.