In the words of Dada, “We all think we are chasing the guru, but really, you see, he is chasing us.”
All I knew about the hardships of India made me sure I didn’t want to go there, yet in October of 1971 I found myself at JFK Airport with two friends, waiting to board a plane for Bombay. A large crowd of our New York “spiritual” group had come to see us off, or, as I suspected, to make sure we actually got on the plane. We were all three in varying states of panic, wondering what we were doing. Both the panic and the confusion were to intensify a hundredfold when we actually arrived in India.
We three, like nearly all the group of Westerners we eventually joined around Maharajji, first heard of him through Ram Dass. Yet, though my life totally changed after the night I first heard Ram Dass lecture, I did not feel drawn to go to India. Partially, the mystique of what going to India represented in those days made it seem presumptuous for me to even consider the trip. Nor was it clear to me that the power of the awakening I had experienced was, in fact, a connection with Maharajji—that he could possibly be my guru. We had all heard how difficult it was to find him. And what if he sent me away as he had others?
Now, three years later, I was going to India, but I still hadn’t the temerity to chance rejection—I was going to see some south Indian saints and perhaps later “visit” up north, if there seemed any hope of being received.
Coming off the plane in Bombay, we were met by an airline representative (in India, a feat in itself), who advised us that we had reservations on an afternoon flight to New Delhi and that tickets were waiting for us at the counter. This was a stunner, but after a twenty-six or twenty-eight-hour fight we were too dazed to feel more than mild wonder. After all, we were in India—anything could happen here. (This mystery of tickets and reservations to Delhi was never solved in any “reasonable” way.) In Delhi, we thought of going to the American Express office to ask for messages, as we had planned to do in Bombay. After all, since we were here, there must be a message. There was: “Go to Jaipuria Bhavan in Vrindaban. Maharajji expected soon.” It was signed, “Balaram Das.” We didn’t know who that was.
We learned that Vrindaban was not far from Delhi and that we could get there by an afternoon train. Somehow we never thought of pausing in the relative Westernness of Delhi. The message said go and go we did. We thereby learned the first great lesson of India: Never travel by third-class unreserved coach! It was the equivalent of a three-hour ride on a New York City subway at rush hour, with the addition of sunshine, dust, and engine smoke pouring in the open windows.
Eventually, we battled our way off the train at Mathura, and in the glowing dusk of the Indian plain, whose beauty we could not then appreciate, we found a bus to take us to nearby Vrindaban. There we were put down in the large bazaar of what to all appearances was a thirteenth-century village of winding alleys full of people, rickshaws, dogs, pigs, and cows. By now it was dark and most of the illumination came from lanterns in the shops lining the streets. We asked for directions to “Jaipuria Bhavan” in our nonexistent Hindi and were directed first up one alley and then down another. It grew later and the shops were beginning to close. Our panic grew with our exhaustion and hunger, for even if we came upon the hostel we would not recognize it, for every sign was in Hindi. We began to envision ourselves huddling for the night among the cows in some doorway.
Then suddenly approaching us appeared a Westerner—someone whom I’d met the year before in California. In hysterical relief, I threw my arms around him, but he, an old-timer in India, was totally calm in the face of our emotion. Oh, yes, Jaipuria Bhavan was just there, around the next bend.
During the next few days, the small Western satsang (community of spiritual seekers) began gathering at Jaipuria Bhavan, awaiting Maharajji’s arrival at his Vrindaban ashram (monastery). Many of them we knew from America, including the mysterious “Balaram Das” whom we’d known as Peter. We heard their stories of Maharajji with relief and anticipation. He didn’t sound so fierce and terrifying after all. Then word came that he was here! The next morning we could go to have his darshan.
I arrived at the ashram a little late with Radha, nervously clutching my borrowed sari and the offering of flowers and fruit. We circumambulated the temple and pranammed (bowed) to Hanumanji*, then approached the gate in the wall between the temple garden and the ashram. How well I remember that green wooden door! When we knocked, the old chaukidar (gate-keeper) opened it a crack and peered out at us. Then, as each time afterward for as long as I was in India, I wondered if he would let us in. But he stepped back, pulling the door open for us. I looked through, down the vista of the long verandah along the front of the ashram building. At the far end, Maharajji was sitting alone on his wooden bed. When I saw his great form, my heart jumped so that I staggered against the gate. That first sight of him is still piercingly clear in my memory.
Radha had already rushed through and I ran after her, losing my sandals along the way. It was all so simple and familiar—bowing at his feet, giving the fruit and flowers (which he immediately threw back in my lap), weeping and laughing. Maharajji was bouncing, smiling, and crowing in English, “Mother from America! Mother from America!” During that first darshan, though Maharajji spoke mainly in Hindi, I understood everything without the interpreter who stood nearby. And I recognized the love that had poured through Ram Dass, that had irresistibly drawn me to India: Here was the source.
– Excerpt from Miracle of Love: Stories about Neem Karoli Baba, compiled by Ram Dass