By Sam Ervin
Agnes Baron, whom Avatar Meher Baba called His "watchdog," was born on January 17, 1907. Agnes Baron, along with Jean Adriel and Alexander Markey, were founders of Meher Mount.
Agnes played the role of "watchdog" as caretaker of Meher Mount in Ojai, California, from 1946 until her death on July 5, 1994.
Agnes was often called "Agni," meaning "fire" in Sanskrit. She often exhibited a fiery passion: for Meher Baba, for what she perceived as truth, and for service to anyone suffering or in need.
She explained her approach as "karma yoga," and said one can't know if you are "helping" others and the goal is to forget yourself in service while being detached from the results. She demonstrated this approach throughout her life.
Agnes as a Young Progressive
Agnes' parents refused to support her when at 16 years old, she enrolled in Antioch College in Ohio, a progressive institution too far away for the family's liking.
Having little money of her own, Agnes was taken in by a prominent Hindu professor, Manmatha Chatterjee, and his family at Antioch. She introduced him to Meher Baba many years later.
Traveling Alone in Europe & the Middle East
After college she traveled alone around Europe and the Middle East, working some of the time as a correspondent for the Herald Tribune.
She assisted the U.S. State Department by writing economic analyses aimed at helping Balkan countries bolster their capabilities for staying out of the expanding Axis sphere during the 1930s. For a while, she lived with bandits in the mountains of Albania.
As World War II loomed, she watched the Nazis march into Vienna, Austria. In Lisbon, Portugal, Agnes worked to help Jewish and other refugees escape the death and oppression they faced in Europe. She stayed until all Americans were told they must leave when the U.S. entered the war.
During her time in Europe, she said, she visited 13 countries and learned 13 languages well enough to get by.
Return to the United States
When Agnes returned to the U.S., Professor Chatterjee suggested she go to California and look into what Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard and Christopher Isherwood were up to.
In the early 1940s, they were researching and experimenting with various "spiritual" activities and communities.
Isherwood introduced her to the swamis at the Vedanta mission to the West, based on the life and work of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, at a time when the swamis from India were developing Vedanta temples at various locations in California.
Agnes was quite taken with the teachings and life of Sri Ramakrishna. She joined Isherwood and the swamis in a celebration inaugurating the new Temple in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, California.
The Life of a Vedanta Nun
Agnes asked the head swami if she could live the life of a Vedanta nun at the Montecito Temple.
He said yes and that he would be glad to initiate her personally. Agnes told him no, that she knew from reading Ramakrishna that one must have a deep rapport with one's spiritual teacher, and that she did not feel that with him.
The swami was taken aback, as they had never allowed anyone to live the cloistered life without initiation by one of the swamis.
For Agnes, they made an exception. She was the first live-in person at the Montecito Temple where she lived the meditative life for a year.
Agnes Meets Jean Adriel, Author of Avatar
Shortly after that experience, Agnes was introduced to Jean Adriel, Chairman of the New Life Foundation.
The foundation owned a large parcel of land called The New Life Center at La Crescenta, near Los Angeles, California.
Jean was writing the book Avatar, a biography of Avatar Meher Baba. When she heard that Agnes was a journalist, she asked if Agnes would edit the book for her. That was Agnes Baron's introduction to the life and words of Meher Baba.
Agnes said that she did edit Avatar for Jean. Reading the book convinced her that if it was true, Meher Baba was truly something very special.
From that time on, there was no question that her life revolved around Meher Baba.
The Founding of Meher Mount
Meher Baba's guidance also led Meher Mount founders Jean Adriel, Alexander Markey, and Agnes Baron to the heights of Sulphur Mountain in 1946 and the founding of Meher Mount.
Agnes was not on the board of directors of the New Life Foundation.
She said she just wanted to be the "outside man" at Meher Mount, discing and mowing with the caterpillar tractor, wielding a scythe, posthole diggers, crosscut saws for firewood, and generally working as a laborer at her labor of love.
Karma Yoga Is a Central Practice in Agnes' Life
Throughout her 48 years at Meher Mount, Agnes continued to find ways to practice karma yoga.
She helped start the first Head Start program for pre-school children in Ventura County.
She studied Montessori education and taught in Montessori schools and as a substitute teacher in public schools to support herself and pay Meher Mount expenses through the years.
Agnes helped start a school at Meher Mount that operated for a few years. Agnes provided a temporary residence for a dozen people in a drug rehabilitation program at Meher Mount.
Separately, she worked to assist many programs for alcoholics, ex-convicts, juvenile delinquents and others.
Agnes was a regular phone volunteer on the Suicide Prevention Hotline for many years.
Agnes Would Search the Newspapers to Identify People in Need
Agnes provided temporary housing to many people over the years who had lost homes in fires or been evicted or were homeless for other reasons.
She would read the newspaper to find stories of people who needed some form of assistance, then visit them to see if she could offer some service.
She particularly enjoyed taking on officious "bureaucrats" in fearlessly and relentlessly advocating for someone in need.
She Heeds Meher Baba's Call to Help Get Young People Off Drugs
When Meher Baba told some of the young Western Baba Lovers to work to get young people off drugs, because illicit drugs were harmful "physically, mentally and spiritually," Agnes took His words a personal call to action.
Armed with research about various successful drug programs, she said she "bullied" the County Board of Supervisors into providing $20,000 in 1969 to enable her to develop "DART," the Drug Abuse Reorientation Training program.
The program provided counseling for teenagers who had been arrested for drug related offenses at high schools all over Ventura County.
She recruited young Baba Lovers, including some from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) who had experience with psychedelic drugs, to act as "counselors" with whom the kids might identify.
The program was effective with a good number of the teenagers, and their families and Agnes continued to get Ventura County funding for it for several years.
Agnes Was a Mentor to Many Young Baba Lovers
Agnes was a mentor to many young Baba Lovers who found their way to Meher Mount over the years, and many of them have remarkable stories of their interactions with her.
At the same time, she was not always easy to be around. She had strong opinions, which she emphatically expressed.
She challenged people, especially if she detected self-righteousness, smugness, selfishness or what she called a "pink-cloud" attitude toward spirituality.
She would say, "Okay, Baba, I'll be a watchdog. I'll snap at the heels of the hypocrites."
At the end of Meher Baba's visit, He slapped her on the shoulder and chuckled, "I like you the way you are. I like your spirit!"