Howard Murphet

Howard MurphetHoward Murphet was an author and devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. Howard Murphet was born in Tasmania and educated at the University of Hobart. Many of his books were instrumental in people discovering and visiting Sathya Sai Baba.


Howard Murphet is well known to Sai Devotees world wide. In the mission of the Sai Avatara, Howard was called forward, along with others (most notably, Jack Hislop) and chronicled his experiences seeking the spiritual path, discovering Sai Baba, deepening his store of wisdom (and finally, to his great joy, his store of prema) and sharing those experiences in print. Howard has a most frank manner of writing. His is the rare knack of involving his reader in his narrative and his questions, and the answers to the many questions he raised about Sathya Sai Baba. The result was a magnificent trilogy of Sai books, Sai Baba – Man of Miracles, Sai Baba – Avatar, and Sai Baba – Invitation to Glory.

Howard Murphet asked the questions – he even put the questions to Sai Baba – that everyone should ask when they first encounter the mystery of a Divine Incarnation – God become human. He asked the basic, simple questions and came up with reassuring answers – even answers to his own doubts and anxieties.

In a darkening era when the lights of humanity have been dimmed by planetary-wide wars, diminishing economies of welfare, the population explosion, and the gee-whiz electronics in home, hearth and workplace that divide the haves from the have-nots, Howard Murphet emerges as a beacon shining in the darkness, guiding those in travail to the safe shores of Sathya Sai Baba.

Howard has been to war. He evaluated the cause of war spiritually, before joining up. He knew there was a great spiritual goal of his life, amid the twists and turns he has observed in his ninety plus years. He was a modern Parsifal, a knight-errant of the Round Table in search of the Holy Grail which he called his “Star of Destiny” or his “Star of the East”. Howard Murphet’s quest was to discover that star and satisfy the restless yearning in his soul.

This modern Knight-Errant of the pen, since his days as a school teacher in Tasmania, had always sought a deeper meaning in the affairs of humanity, and sought to improve humanity at large via the humble offering of his skill with eye, pen, learning, writings, and his finely honed discrimination. This is the true vidyartha, the true cumulative wealth of an education pursued beyond the classroom and which gives a great wealth to humanity. His labours with the pen and his spiritual seeking are an embodiment of that ancient prayer:

Asatoma sadgamaya
Tamasoma, jyotirgamaya
Mrithyorma, amritam gamaya
Amritam, gamaya

(From the Unreal, lead us to the real,
From Darkness, lead us to light
From Death lead us to immortality)

This time Howard Murphet was born in Tasmania, the ‘apple isle’ of Australia, in 1906. His family came from a strong Christian background, and he was blessed with a mother of great faith, whom he names as his first guru. In his youth, he had a miracle after falling into a deep pond, and later on, had a vision of another world, perhaps Heaven:

As I gazed upwards into the blue, absorbed in the beauty of this dome-like roof of the world, suddenly a window appeared in the roof. Beyond the window was a glorious scene that made me feel I was looking into Heaven. There was a radiant light shining on white or light-coloured buildings in the background. In the foreground were figures moving about as if in a street scene. Their robes were of rich colours with red and gold predominating. I could see some of their faces which to me looked wise, benign and somehow noble. I remember too that there was a soft drift of heavenly music coming through the window and reaching my ears as I lay on my back among the silent oats. A wave of bliss flooded through me as time stood still. Then as suddenly as it had come, the window disappeared, leaving nothing but the clear blue of the sky. But I knew that the radiant, heavenly scene in the sky had been real while it lasted… Was it really Heaven I had been looking into, I wondered… but I had not seen the golden throne of God, and the figures moving about did not have wings, as angels should, according to my mother.

 

One Teacher School in Tasmania
One Teacher School in Tasmania

Howard Murphet spent his childhood attending the local one-teacher school until the teacher married and left. Due to the required number of children in attendance falling below the necessary levels, the school did not reopen. Young Howard commenced working on his father’s farm. When a new teacher arrived his talent was quickly spotted and a regime of attending school one hour earlier every day, to make up for lost ground was instituted for him. This was prepare for the state examination. Howard, like all bush children of his day, he had to get up even earlier again and milk the cows before going to school! He passed the examination and commenced attending classes at boarding school in Launceston. He was inclined, at one stage to enter the church and become a minister. He changed his mind, and entered teacher training college and the University of Tasmania, Hobart. He had great ideals about education in forming childrens’ minds in such a way to build character and integrity. He was to later become disillusioned:

“It was a terrible disillusionment to find myself caught up in the mechanics of a factory where knowledge was fed in at one end, called the classroom, and came out at the other, called the examination room. By the end of my first year as a teacher, I had realised the futility of my altruistic dream, my dream of laying the foundation stones for a new world in the classrooms of Tasmania. The idea was laughable and, thank God, I still had my sense of humour. I would have resigned then but I was bonded to teach for four years to pay for my training at the Teachers’ College and University.”

The Depression Years

Howard left Tasmania for Melbourne where he had a brief sojourn in suburban newspapers. He had come to realise that there was an important knack to writing, finding the unusual, the unexpected facet of something amusing, something that revealed a quirk of human nature. The great depression had begun, and when the newspaper decided he and his stories were superfluous, so Howard joined thousands of other jobless men roaming the country. They were called ‘bagmen’. Part of the financial mobility of men on the swag was begging, but in the vernacular slang, it was called the “bite”. Howard explained:

Generally the ‘bagmen’ seemed to think that the community owed them their food and were not averse to begging. But they never used the word ‘beg’. It was always ‘bite’. Perhaps they thought that this word made the act seem less demeaning. Though some great spiritual masters, such as Gautama the Buddha and Shirdi Sai Baba, carried their begging bowls as a religious ritual to give their fellow men the spiritual merit of giving, I myself had not reached this status with its accompanying humility to beg for food, even if it was called ‘bite’. I always carried a small amount of money to buy the food I needed, though I was ashamed to let my fellow ‘bagmen’ know this. Once this led me into a trap. I had gone with a fellow traveller known as Bill the Bagman into the shopping area of a small town to ‘bite’ some food for breakfast and the rest of the day. He had un- concernedly gone into several shops and in each case came out laden with supplies. Announcing that we had all that we needed except butter. Bill said to me pointedly, “It’s your turn now to ‘bite’ the butter.” We were standing in front of a very modern-looking shop that would today be called a mini-supermarket. I went in and bought half a pound of butter. When I came out. Bill looked at me with approval and some admiration. ‘That was a very good bite,” he said, “in a shop like this.” I was ashamed to tell him that I had actually bought it. After that I always did my shopping alone, instead of in the company of an experienced ‘beggar’ or ‘biter’.”

 

World War II

After gaining employment in Sydney and studying the art of copywriting, Howard decided he would better serve his cause overseas and sailed to the United Kingdom. He arrived in London on the eve of World War II. He had a deep conviction that the war was a just war and was determined to be involved. He joined the British Red Cross, under whose auspices he travelled to France. Soon after he was to enlist in the Horse Guards and trained as an officer. Attempting to catch his regiment and take up the theatre of war, he arrived in Jerusalem and spent three months waiting assignment. He took time to visit the Holy Land and various sacred places such as Nazareth, Bethany, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives. Thereafter he was assigned to the Eighth Army as an Escort Officer for War Correspondents. He served with the Eighth Army from El Alamein to Tunis, took part in the invasion of Sicily and Italy and later, with the British Second Army, the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Under instructions from the War Office he was to visit a Concentration Camp and make independent verifications of the horrors being reported. He also interviewed some inmates of the one concentration camp. His final task before being stood down from active service was the charge of the British Press Section at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials.

Nuremberg War Crimes Trials
Howard Murphet was in charge of the British reporters at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

Yoga and Experiencing Bliss

After spending further time in post-war Germany (he felt a curious affinity to the German peoples), Howard returned to Australia. There, he began to attend Yoga classes and study Yoga. He had a bliss experience, and went out of his body whilst attending bhajans.

“I think it was during the chant ‘Oh God Beautiful’, which appealed to me greatly, that I was flooded with bliss. So much so, my consciousness disappeared. Nothing existed anywhere but the unutterable bliss of being. I came out of it, back to consciousness, as my body fell sideways, almost hitting the floor. This out-of-time experience of the Ananda that is part of our inner nature, taught me a number of things. A practical one was the reason for having a firm seat, preferably cross-legged on the floor, for meditation practice. The aim of meditation is to reach that state of samadhi of which I had tasted a little. With its coming, awareness of the world vanishes and, unless firmly seated in a stable position, the meditator is liable to fall to the floor, as I almost did. More importantly, however, the experience was a reaffirmation of the Reality I sought. Brief tastes of it, such as this, whet the appetite for the bottomless chalice of ambrosia, and to find it the pilgrim moves onward, ever onward.”

Several years after participating in Yoga classes, Howard met Iris, his wife to be and companion in travels and spiritual seeking. Together they studied and travelled to Europe. Howard was to visit his beloved Germany again, and England. After visiting and attending a spiritual practice called Subud for a time, they sailed East to attend the School of Wisdom at the Theosophical Society’s Adyar Institute, on the river Adyar, Madras, in 1964.

The Star of the East

Howard and Iris settled in at Adyar and took up the School of Wisdom. Thereafter, they travelled North to visit some of the many ashrams in the Himalayas, first stopping at Dharmasala and calling on the Dalai Llama. Moving on to other ahsrams, they visited the Sivanandanagar Ashram, the newly-constructed ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the ashrama of Charan Singh, and the Radha Soami colonies founded by Sahibi Maharaj. Shortly after returning to Adyar and Madras, Howard and Iris met Sathya Sai Baba for the first time. Later, Howard was to travel to Puttaparthi alone and attend the Maha-Shivarathri celebrations. Howard describes his arrival at Prasanthi Nilayam:

Listening to the sweet sacred music that floated trom the prayer hall, I could see that what Kasturi called the prayer hall was in the largest building, in the centre of the ashram. It was a white, two-storey building with a veranda and balcony in front. Near me was a line of single-storey terraces, out of which Kasturi had come. On the side over which the sun was now dipping, were more low buildings, and on the opposite side from where I sat were two large open sheds. Something inward must have happened to me as I sat there in the glorious peace coloured by the sunset and filled with sacred music. All I know is that there, sitting on my valise, I decided that Sai Baba was too great for just one chapter in the book I was proposing to write. The whole book must be about him. The haunting strains of Arati were sounding, though I did not know its name then, when Kasturi reappeared. My first words were, “I have decided to write a book on Sai Baba.” I saw doubt written all over his face but he said politely, “Well, that will be nice if it happens.” Perhaps his lack of faith in my statement came from the fact that others had made similar statements and promptly forgot about them. Kasturi’s next words were “Swami has told me to put you in the Guest House”.

The search had not ended. Howard had certainly found his Star of Destiny, his Star of the East that he had sought all his life. It was the Crown Prince of Venkatagiri who shared his belief with Howard that Sathya Sai Baba was a full incarnation of God, an “avatar”. Howard departed Puttaparthi, armed with books gifted by Sathya Sai Baba, and was determined to answer the question, “was he also an avatar, a descent of God to earth?

 

The Poornachandra Hall, where the great celebration of Maha Shivarathri was held ...
The Poornachandra Hall, where the great celebration of Maha Shivarathri was held …

Howard, has written that he was “probably the first from the Western world to come to Sathya Sai Baba as a Western sceptic and stay with Him or near Him for some six years in India in order to solve the problem of His true Identity and why He was here in the world. He writes, “After returning to the west I have been back many times, pulled by the strong magnet of the Divine Love and fascination of One I decided was an Avatar of God. He taught me what an Avatar is. His relationship to ordinary human beings in the world and how His Purpose was to lead those who are ready, to their own inner Guru or the God within. I did not immediately accept Him as an Avatar, but after He taught me in a humble manner what an Avatar is and how we are all Avatars, descendants from God without being aware of it. As I stayed on I became more and more certain that He was indeed an Avatar. This is not based on the fact that He materialises things.”

Howard has used the ancient vedantic method of learning in his evaluation of Sathya Sai. This is critical today. This is Howard’s gift to devotees. Sai Baba himself says: Well. Making the questioner himself give out the answers Is the Sanathana method of teaching. If those who question, themselves give the answers, they would clearly understand the subject. The lecturing style is different. In olden days, all the Rishis enabled their disciples to understand Vedanta only by this method.

Those who read Howard’s books must follow in his footsteps and ask their own questions, or they will create their own version Sathya Sai and be filled with doubt instead of their own explored questions and answers. Someone else’s questions and answers do not lead to liberation. In this wise, Howard has been an exemplar who has adequately illuminated the path for others to walk. The task of the devotee is excavation of Truth.

 

Howard Murphet with Sathya Sai Baba
Howard Murphet with Sathya Sai Baba

Howard describes greatest of the Sai miracles is the Divine Love by which He brings about a deep change in the nature of people, his followers. “I experienced this also in 1966 on the first occasion when I was alone with Sai Baba. I have described this inner change which might be called the birth of the Christ-child within one. We are born of course with the embryo of the Divine Child within us but this initiation that Swami gives things about the actual birth of the Christ within, then, it is that we begin to know the meaning of true Love and the feeling of oneness with our brother man. This comes about gradually through the years after what I have called the birth of the Christ-child or the initiation into the Divine Life. Many, many people throughout the years have been changed in this way, this deep rooted inner change that is really your first footstep on the path of the homeward journey. Then there is the great compassion of Sai Baba which requires miraculous action for its fulfilment.”

In 1982 Howard was diagnosed as having an incurable disease He prayed very earnestly for healing. He was in a beautiful room in the Adelaide Hills “while Sai Baba in the body was of course at that time in India at His ashram. My prayer was so intense that after a sleep on a couch while the sun was shining through the windows I woke up to see Swami’s Hand and Arm as it circled over me and I knew hat He had come, that this was a healing gesture. I saw it in that brief time between being asleep and fully awake when as you might have heard, everybody has a short period of clairvoyance. When that short period has passed His Hand and Body disappeared from my vision but He was still there in the room and I knew this by the unbelievably soul-moving sense of the luminous in the room. In fact the room was filled by it and it penetrated the wall to where my wife was sitting in the breakfast room and then, when Swami left, the luminous went also. This is what the ancient Romans called “sense of the Presence of the Divine” (the luminous or lumina). Well, I knew that I was cured of the disease and all tests afterwards proved that this was so.”

Howard writes, although blind: “Before I came into Sai Baba’s private interview, near the end of 1989, I had accepted unhappily the prospect of a silent rest from the labours of writing, which had been my life and joy for many years. As Swami knew, through retinal haemorrhages into both eyes, I was quite unable to read or write. All I had was minimal peripheral vision in one eye. But in a firm, commanding voice he said, “You must write the book that’s in there.” He patted my chest. “Go home and write it and bring it back to me in two years.” My wife and two friends who were present in the room looked startled at this royal command. “May he have a co-author to help him?” asked my wife. “No,” replied Swami. “He must write his own book. I will give him all the help he needs.” I knew that I must somehow carry out this task set me by my divine Master. But how? For many years my writing had been born of a happy partnership between me and an old typewriter. The art of prose writing demanded that I work with words and phrases on the written page, polishing towards perfection or as near to it as attainable. To reach a satisfactory standard in prose expression through auditory means would be quite impossible for me. Yet I must make the attempt.

The Lord Sai’s help is often given through the hands of others. I saw the first signs of this when a dictaphone and other equipment necessary almost fell into my lap. This was mainly through the help of some occupational therapists at Concord Hospital, Sydney. So began a new, unfamiliar road to creative writing. As it came aboiut, the new book, Where the Road Ends was written by its blind author.

Howard Murphet presents his final book to Sathya Sai Baba
Howard Murphet presents his final book to Sathya Sai Baba

Insofar as Howard has

  • discovered his light
  • said why it is his light
  • pointed others toward that light
  • given those others a method by which too make their own evaluation and excavate the truth for themselves
  • He does all an invaluable service in the gloom of Kali Yuga, and the wakening dawn of the Golden Age.

Howard once told me his favourite poem was “Brahma”

BRAHMA

If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1867

 

Prashanti Nilayam
Prashanti Nilayam as it was when Howard Murphet first arrived.

 

This page last updated 16 October 2019
This page first updated 1 October 2001
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