One morning, Babaji began talking about pujas and prayers and going on pilgrimages. “Prayer and worship should be done by everyone, every day, as the highest obligatory duty to God; visiting temples and pilgrimages should be undertaken only under favorable conditions and suitable times. They are not essential for your worship and religious duties, whereas prayers and pujas are, and must be done in some form or other.” When everyone was hearing him with full attention, he looked at me and said curiously, “Dada, you stay at home.” I did not understand what he meant by that, so I could only reply simply, “Thikhai, Baba.” (All right, Baba.)
While we were sitting that night and talking, Tularam said that what Babaji said was not random, but had something to do with my sadhana, my spiritual endeavor. Staying at home meant avoiding pilgrimages to temples and religious centers. He said that they were not necessary for us, since we had secured shelter at Babaji’s feet; there was nothing rare or extraordinary we could get from pilgrimages that we could not get by staying with him.
However, most of the time in pilgrimage was spent in Babaji’s company, and that would not be possible for me if I were staying at home. Tularam had become so intoxicated in his love and devotion to Baba that there was no sense in trying to place before him my own differences and disagreements with his judgment. My silence was taken by him to be full concurrence with his opinion.
Two days later, our morning sitting with Babaji was interrupted by the visit of an old devotee. He wanted to say something in the presence of all of us, but Babaji prevented this, and took him alone to his room. After some time, Babaji asked me to give him prasad and arrange for a rickshaw. While I was going with him to the rickshaw, the man said he was from Madhya Pradesh. When he was young and working under a forest contractor, he had known Baba. Many miracles happened there at that time. He had been cut off from Babaji for all these years until some people said Babaji visited this place in winter, so he had come in search of him. He had wanted to talk before us all, but Babaji took him to his room and told him that he should not talk about those things. Babaji said that when people who had known him for so many years did not believe these legendary miracles, how could these people believe? It would be better if he did not talk at all.
We had been standing before the rickshaw talking for some time when Babaji shouted for me. He had shifted to the study room and was lying silently on the mat laid on the floor. There were several others with him — Tularam, Siddhi, Girish, and a few more of the house. Babaji asked Tularam to hand over his packet of cigarettes to a young man standing nearby. When that had been done, he said smoking was kharabhar (bad); Tularam must not smoke anymore. He asked the boy to destroy the cigarettes and throw them in the nearby basket. Then he pointed to Ram Prakash to bring his packet of cigarettes from the pocket of his silk kurta and to throw it in the basket. Then the boy came with my packet of cigarettes. Holding it in his hand, he said that this was Dada’s packet and he should destroy that also. Babaji stopped him saying, “Give Dada his cigarettes back. Let Dada smoke.”
No one could understand what he meant by allowing me to continue smoking. It was a mystery. Was it because smoking was not harmful for me? We were all left guessing. But when I was sitting with Tularam he said, “Did you understand what this meant? Smoking is not bad for you — at least not now. Babaji knows this, and there must be something deeper behind it.” He went on, saying that he knew that smoking was not good for him; everyone in his family also knew it, but they had not been able to stop him. Babaji knew how much we enjoyed our smoke when we were sitting together — it was actually the lubrication in our unceasing talks, and he would not stop that. But now because he (Tularam) was to go away, his smoking could be stopped. It was grace coming all the time, but in different forms. I did not understand him fully then, but after going over it for all these years, now I do.
Excerpt from The Near and the Dear: Stories of Neem Karoli Baba and His Devotees
by Dada Mukerjee