During the summer of 1973 I was staying at my father’s farm in New Hampshire, and was there in September when the telegram arrived. My father and my stepmother, looking rather concerned, met me when I returned from shopping at the village. Dad said, “This telegram just came from India, don’t understand it, but I copied it down word for word as the operator gave it to me.”
“At 1:15, September 11, Babaji left his bojhay (sic) in Vrindaban…” The telegram went on with further details. My father asked, “What does it mean?”
“It means,” I said, “that Maharaji died.”
They immediately tried to console or at least commiserate with me, but their words seemed strangely irrelevant, for I felt absolutely nothing – neither sad nor happy. There was no sense of loss. Perhaps I was just numb. A couple with marital difficulties were waiting for me, so I went and sat with them and helped them unwind the tangle of thread of their loves and hatreds. Every now and then in the midst of the discussion, my mind would wander and I’d think, “Maharajji isn’t in his body. Isn’t that strange,” or “I wonder what will happen now?” But I pushed such thoughts aside and forced my consciousness back to the task at hand, for, whatever was to come, there was no sense in stopping service to others.
Throughout that day and many times thereafter I remembered the words of the great Ramana Maharshi. He was dying of cancer and in the past had shown power to heal others, and his devotees were now begging him to heal himself. He kept refusing, and they cried, “Don’t leave us, don’t leave us,” to which he replied, “Don’t be silly. Where could I go?”
After all, where could Maharajji go? I had him in my heart. I had been living with him moment by moment and yet not with his physical presence – so did it really make any difference? I wasn’t sure.
When the couple left I started calling other devotees in the United States and Canada and asked them to call others. It was agreed that those within a radius of three or four hundred miles would join me in New Hampshire. By the next noon some twenty of us were gathered. It was a peculiar meeting. We were all somewhat dumbfounded by the news and many were crying, but at the same time we were happy to be together and felt Maharaji’s presence very strongly with us. We cooked a big meal, which we ate around the fire. But before the food we went up to my room to sit before the puja table and meditate and do arti.
While all of us sang the ancient Sanskrit prayer, we took turns offering the light (in the form of a candle flame) by waving it before Maharaji’s picture. After my turn I went to the back of the group and watched. In the reflection of the candlelight I looked at the faces of my guru brothers and sisters and saw their expressions of love and the purity of their hearts. And finally I was able to cry – not out of sadness at the loss, but rather because of the presence of pure and perfect love that is Maharaji and which I felt in this gathering of hearts.
– Ram Dass, excerpt from Miracle of Love: Stories about Neem Karoli Baba