By Sam L. Ervin & Margaret Magnus
Agnes Baron, co-founder and lifetime caretaker of Meher Mount, spent a year living the life of a Vedanta nun before her time at Meher Mount. Vedanta played an important role in Agnes’ life, particularly in helping to prepare her for recognizing and accepting Avatar Meher Baba.
Beads on One String
Avatar Meher Baba said that He would bring the world’s religions together “like beads on one string.” 
One of the most important of those “beads” is Vedanta, one of the great schools of Hindu thought and tradition. It is celebrated for having first stated the principle that the soul (atman) is one with God (Brahman).
Vedanta is based on the Vedas, the sacred scripture of India. It affirms the oneness of existence, the divinity of the soul and the harmony of all religions. Vedanta is one of the world's most ancient spiritual philosophies and one of its broadest. 
Swami Paramananda Meets with Meher Baba
During Avatar Meher Baba’s first trip to America in 1931, the Vedanta monk Swami Paramananda came to meet with Him at the Vendome Hotel in Boston on November 22. Paramananda (1884-1940) had come to the US in 1906 as a disciple of Swami Vivekananda  and three years later founded the Vedanta Center of Boston. 
During the 1931 interview, Paramananda invited Meher Baba to visit the Ananda Ashrama in La Crescenta in Southern California, a 120-acre retreat Paramananda had established in 1923 as an extension of the Boston Vedanta Center.
Meher Baba replied, “It is not possible on this trip. When I visit America again after six months, maybe I can.” 
Agnes Baron Lives at the Ananda Ashrama
Coincidentally, it was Agnes Baron, co-founder and lifetime caretaker of Meher Mount, who later in the 1940s visited the Ananda Ashrama in Southern California. Agnes was living at the Ashrama around 1945 when she first learned about Meher Baba.
Agnes (1907-1994) said that her experience with Vedanta, including her study of Sri Ramakrishna and his chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda, helped prepare her to recognize Meher Baba as something great when she first heard of Him. Agnes said she had never considered herself a “spiritual” person, though she had always been drawn to provide service to others.
A Young Woman with Insatiable Curiosity
As young woman, Agnes had shown an insatiable curiosity and a spirit of adventure when after graduating from Antioch College in 1928, she traveled around Europe and the Middle East for 13 years learning 13 languages and studying local cultures.
During that time, she worked as a journalist for the New York Herald Tribune, a New York City-based newspaper published between 1924 and 1966. Agnes also wrote economic studies for the U.S. State Department.
As the Hitler (German) and Mussolini (Italian) regimes gradually spread over Europe in the 1930s, she worked in Lisbon, Portugal, to help get refugees out of Europe.
Troubled, Disillusioned and Angry
After the U.S. declared war on Germany on December 11, 1941, all Americans were told to leave Europe. Agnes then returned to the U.S. deeply troubled and angry over the inhumanity and suffering she had witnessed. She did not know what to do.
She went to see her longtime friend, mentor and college professor, Dr. Manmatha Nath Chatterjee for guidance. Professor Chatterjee and his wife had taken Agnes in when her parents had written her off at age 16 because she had insisted, against their wishes, on attending Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH.
Agnes knew that Chatterjee’s grandfather had been the village Hindu sage in India. And she knew that “Chat” meditated daily, although he never discussed that part of his life with her until much later.
Agnes Goes to California
Chatterjee suggested Agnes 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 and scientific activities and communities.
Isherwood introduced her to the swamis at the Vedanta Society of Southern California. At that time, various swamis from India were developing Vedanta temples at various locations in California based on the life and work of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa (1836-1886).
Agnes was quite taken with the teachings and life of Sri Ramakrishna. She joined Isherwood and the swamis in a celebration inaugurating the new Vedanta Temple in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, CA. This Temple is operated by the Vedanta Society of Southern California and under the spiritual leadership of the Ramakrishna Order of India.
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.” She said 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 said she was the first live-in person at the Santa Barbara Vedanta Temple where she lived the meditative life and worked in the gardens for a year. She later said this time of contemplation and getting in touch with the earth and plants helped her regain her balance and health after all the pain she had witnessed and experienced in Europe.
Agnes Meets Jean Adriel, Author of Avatar
Shortly after her time in Santa Barbara, Agnes was staying temporarily at another Vedanta place, the Ananda Ashrama in La Crescenta, California, founded by Swami Paramananda in 1923. It is 120 acres with gracious buildings and grounds shaded by large pine and oak trees. It includes residences for retreats.
Agnes said other people staying at the Ananda Ashrama complained that the “clacking” of her typewriter until late in the night was keeping them awake, and she was asked to stop or please relocate. Then someone mentioned she might want to meet a lady named Jean Adriel who lived at an adjacent spiritual center, the New Life Center. Agnes went and was introduced to Jean. 
The New Life 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, Jean asked if Agnes would edit the book for her. That encounter was Agnes Baron's introduction to the life and words of Meher Baba.
Agnes said that she did edit Avatar for Jean. She said that 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 Agnes’ life revolved around Meher Baba.
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.
Karma Yoga Is a Central Practice in Agnes' Life
Through Vedanta, Agnes found a conceptual construct that supported a driving force that had always been present in her life: Karma Yoga, one of the major “ways” or yogas for the life of the spirit.  Karma Yoga is the discipline of selfless action. It is the “path of dedicated work: renouncing the results of our actions…” 
Agnes often said that service to others had always come naturally to her. Karma Yoga, service to humanity without attachment to the fruits or personal consequences, as explained in the Bhagavad Gita  and the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda illuminated the spiritual dimension and meaning of selfless service. Throughout her 48 years at Meher Mount, Agnes continued to find ways to practice Karma Yoga.
Agnes would often advise the young Meher Baba lovers who showed up at Meher Mount to, “forget yourself in service to others.” She would quote Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, “To work thou hast the right, but not to the fruits thereof.”
She would say, “Don’t say you are helping others. You don’t know whether you are helping someone or not, you just serve as best you can.
“When you are serving others without attachment or thought of reward, you are serving God in them,” she said. Agnes echoed Meher Baba’s words, “Real happiness lies in making others happy.”
Agnes Baron’s Work in the Community
Agnes devoted her life to helping others. After having helped many refugees escape terrible fates in Europe before World War II, she assisted many immigrants over the years to adjust to life in America. She helped them find jobs and make connections. Agnes stayed in touch with many of these people from various countries, and they admired her and appreciated her always being there for them.
She helped start the first Head Start program for pre-school children in Ventura County. She studied Montessori education and taught in Montessori schools. She also worked as a substitute teacher in public schools to support herself and pay Meher Mount expenses. Agnes inspired quite a few young adults to study Maria Montessori’s books, and some went on to become Montessori teachers. In the 1950s, Agnes helped start a school at Meher Mount that operated for a few years.
Inspired by Meher Baba’s admonitions in the 1960s regarding the dangers of drugs and His call to help young people get off drugs, Agnes provided a temporary residence for a dozen people in a drug rehabilitation program at Meher Mount in the late 1960s. She also “bullied” the Ventura County Board of Supervisors into funding the DART (Drug Abuse Reorientation Training program) for teenagers arrested for drug offenses in 1970.  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. In the evenings, she would sit by her phone, and if a call was routed to her, she would talk to the person contemplating suicide. She would both counsel them and determine if she thought intervention by police or mental health professionals was appropriate.
Agnes worked and advocated on behalf of various social and environmental causes. She encouraged the young people who came to Meher Mount in the late 1960s and 1970s to work for the causes that were important to them.
As part of her regular routine – even with all the responsibilities she faced caring for Meher Mount – Agnes would search the newspapers to identify people in need. Then she would contact them, even driving down the mountain to find them, and offer whatever assistance was possible. She would advocate fearlessly and passionately for people she felt could not represent their own needs.
Agnes Baron did not just talk about selfless service or Karma Yoga. She practiced it as her way of serving Meher Baba.
Agnes’ immersion in Vedanta and the study of the great Perfect Master Ramakrishna appears to have helped prepare her for the complete dedication to Avatar Meher Baba when the opportunity came. Thus, when Meher Baba asked her to take care of Meher Mount for Him, she responded that she would keep it for Him through hell, fire and damnation. Accordingly, Meher Baba nicknamed Agnes His "watchdog."
 Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher: The Biography of the Avatar of the Age Meher Baba, Online Edition, pg. 1370, accessed September 3, 2017. This quote from Meher Baba was part of an interview with Him in a newsreel by the Paramount Film Company in London on April 10, 1932.
 "What Is Vedanta?" Vedanta Society of Southern California, accessed September 2, 2017.
 Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) was the chief disciple of the 19th century Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886). Vivekananda brought Vedanta to the West in 1893. (Vedanta Centre, Cohasset, MA) (Wikipedia)
 Ananda Ashrama in Cohasset, MA, was established by Vivekananda in 1929 and is now the permanent headquarters of the Vedanta Centre.
 Kalchuri, op.cit., pg. 1321.
 Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was an English novelist, essayist and screenwriter best known for his novel Brave New World (1932) set in a dystopian future. He moved to Southern California in 1937 where he became a follower of Vedanta in the circle of Swami Prabhavananda. Prabhavananda founded the Vedanta Society of Southern California in 1930, including the Santa Barbara Vedanta Temple (1944) and convent where Agnes first lived after returning from Europe. Huxley was introduced to Vedanta by Gerald Heard. (Wikipedia)
 Gerald Heard (1889-1971), born (Britain) Henry FitzGerald Heard, was a historian, science writer, public lecturer, educator and philosopher. Heard was the first among a group of literati friends to discover Swami Prabhavananda and Vedanta. Heard became an initiate of Vedanta. (Wikipedia)
 Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), also British, is best known for The Berlin Stories (1935-1939), two semi-autobiographical novellas inspired by his time in the Weimar Republic Germany. They were adapted into the play and film, I Am a Camera, and later in 1996 into the Broadway musical Cabaret. After emigrating to the U.S. in 1939, Isherwood sought advice from Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley about becoming a pacifist. Like them, he became a disciple of the Ramakrishna monk, Swami Prabhavananda (1893-1976), head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. He also wrote the book Ramakrishna and His Disciples. (Isherwood Foundation)
 Kalchuri, op.cit., pg. 2555.
 There are four paths of Yoga: Karma Yoga –The Yoga of Action; Bhakti Yoga – The Pat of Devotion or Divine Love; Raja Yoga – The Science of Physical and Mental Health; and Jnana Yoga – The Yoga of Knowledge and Wisdom. (International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres)
 International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, accessed September 11, 2017.
 The Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as simply the Gita, is a 700-verse Hindu scripture in Sanskrit that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. (Wikipedia) The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana. (Wikipedia)
 Sam Ervin & Margaret Magnus, “I Bullied Them into Funding the DART Program,” October 4, 2016, Meher Mount’s website, accessed September 11, 2017.