OCEANO, CA, USA
The other page which is connected to this one is found in "Personalities" select Sam Cohen from the list.
Baba in the Dunes
Reported by Kathleen O'Quinn
Hollywood and the "Dunites" 1934
Meher Baba returned to Hollywood in 1934, avoiding publicity and instead working with a number of screenwriters and filmmakers on proposed film projects. During the earlier 1932 visit he had met a spiritual seeker named Sam Cohen, a Theosophist and resident of a loosely knit freethinkers community named "Moy Mell" nestled among the dunes on the beach at Oceano, California. The benefactor of this group of intellectuals, spiritual seekers, artists and social misfits was Chester Alan Arthur III, grandson of the 21st President, who went by the name of Gavin. For a time Gavin published a magazine called the Dune Forum, which included articles by such notables as Stuart Edward White (author of the spiritualist classic, The Unobstructed Universe), and photographic contributions by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston (whose dune photographs are well-known). Gavin would frequently entertain the intellectual and artistic elite of America at his cabin in the dunes. Although accounts differ somewhat, it appears that Baba sent disciple Meredith Starr and his wife to Moy Mell in 1932, and that they stayed on for a period of time (this was approximately a year and a half before Meredith's defection).
When Baba returned to Hollywood in 1934, he agreed to visit the "Dunite" community. On the evening of Christmas day (accounts different as to the exact days), Baba arrived with eighteen of his followers, including Norina Matchabelli, wife of Georges Matchabelli, known for the popular perfume brand. Norina had previously arranged for a special cabin to be built for Baba, but he chose instead to stay in Gavin's cabin. Gavin was not in Moy Mell at the time, and it was decided that he wouldn't mind. There was also a Theosophical center called the Temple of the People in nearby Halcyon, founded in 1904 with the intent of preparing for the arrival of the next incarnation of the Avatar, but there is no record of Baba visiting it.(21) Baba and his group stayed overnight and spent the following day visiting with Sam Cohen and other Dunites, many of whom were eccentric characters and spiritual seekers who gave little importance to social convention. Hugo Seelig was a seeker of truth from an early age, who, after his father's suicide, roamed the coast of California meeting other seekers and visiting places where they could be found. At Stanford University, he met a resident of Halcyon who told him about Oceano and the little dune colony there. When WWI broke out and America entered the war, Hugo went to live in the dunes and became part of the community, pursuing his writing. George Blaise was an ascetic who despite being in his 60s, was in splendid physical health with long white hair and beard. He was strictly celibate and a vegetarian who lived on grains and fruits, especially fruits which had fallen to the ground (he believed that vegetables like carrots and lettuce suffered because they remain alive after being pulled up or cut off). He seemed impervious to the elements, living naked in the dunes and only putting on a loincloth if he had to enter the nearby town. George was a reformed alcoholic and a lay preacher who attracted attention from outsiders, eventually developing a small following.(22) Both of these men, along with Sam Cohen, were the "Dunites" who spent the most time with Meher Baba during this visit. In a letter dated July 1st, 1966 written to another of Baba's followers, Filis Frederick, Sam Cohen wrote:
Baba arrived with his group the day before Christmas... The next day Baba spent in granting interviews to different people who had heard of his coming. In the late afternoon we all trekked to the beach to escort Baba back to town, from where he would resume his drive back to Hollywood. As we walked along the beach single file, Baba's car had broken down, and we all kept looking at Baba in the hope that he might perform a miracle, but Baba decided to let the law of mechanics take its course. So the car was pushed forward and Baba and I walked on ahead. This was when a most unusual experience took place: Baba looked at me, and then pointed to the Pacific Ocean. I said, "Oh yes, it is very big." Baba shook his head, as if to say "No." Again he waved his hand, and I said, "Oh, yes, it is very beautiful." Once again, "No." Finally, a loud speaking voice said, "I AM AS BIG AS THE OCEAN." And you know Baba does not speak.(23)
The poetic history of this area goes back through the Dunites of the Oceano Dunes. They were a small, loose-knit community of bohemians, artists, writers, hermits, hobos and spiritual seekers who lived wild, unfettered and rent-free in driftwood shacks and tents in the Oceano Dunes. Jane Elsdon cared for the last of Dunites in his last days. The Dunites were visited by and connected with swell people like photographers Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, writer and socialite Gavin Arthur, grandson of US President Chester Arthur, Indian guru Meher Baba, musician John Cage, and others. Earlier on, Upton Sinclair hung out around Oceano. The Theosophists established Halcyon in the first decade. It is said the first Buddhist monastery in the US was near Oceano. Long before that the Chumash exhibited their poetic bent in their stories of their deities. The word, slo from which I named my monthly poetry reading "Slo Deliverance" is the Chumash word for the god, the eagle, with its all-seeing eye. The myths of the Chumash are incredibly poetic.