It is the soft time of evening. On Dada’s porch we listen to the sounds that attend the approaching night: people speaking softly as they pass along the roadway, children’s laughter, dogs barking, a baby crying and being comforted; in nearby houses kitchen sounds—of pots being moved, water being poured.
We sit with our cups of sweet tea watching the shadows lengthen, the colors dissolving into darkness. We see each other silhouetted against the last light, and then it is just our disembodied voices that appear to float in a blackness punctuated now and then by the striking of a match or the glow of Dada’s cigarette.
The conversation is quiet. . . the silence often conveying more than the words. We are savoring stories about our Guru, Neem Karoli Baba (“Maharajji” or “Baba” as his devotees call him): how he came into each of our lives, how our lives were changed by knowing him, what good samskaras allowed us to be in the presence of such a saint. We compare notes, report incidents in minute detail, struggle to find expression for our feelings about him.
Each new story is an invitation to enter more deeply into the mystery. For to us he represents enlightenment… freedom … God … Rama… Hanuman … Krishna … Shiva … the play of form … compassion itself… a beloved and wise grandfather … the closest member of our most intimate family. They say in India that God is like the sandal tree, and the Gurus are like the winds that diffuse the perfume throughout the atmosphere. We are intoxicated.
Each of us knows him in our own unique way. Each thinks that the Maharajji he knows is the true Maharajji. But he is fooling all of us. And seeing his many facets reflected through each other’s stories and hearts, we come to know his play; to realize that his identities are infinite. And yet we still thirst to know him; to contain him with our minds. Oh that we could be to him as Hanuman is said to be to Rama: his very breath.
He is our way home! He is the beloved! He is wisdom incarnate! He is grace itself!
In these precious moments there is a suspension of the doubts or disbeliefs born of mind. There is no judgment, only appreciation. The tones of our voices reflect faith, reverence and wonder, delight in being privy to the cosmic joke, discomfiture at our own stupidity, and love so palpable that it is difficult to catch our breath.
There are of course his miracles: his awakening of kundalini in others with a touch, his appearing in two places at the same time, his healing the sick and bringing the dead back to life. But those things are just the beckonings that entice us to the feast. Far dearer for us are the stories of his humanity … his sweetness … delicacy … rascality .. . tenderness … his childlike delight in our delight… his pain at our pain.
In these timeless moments when we are together, egos are forgotten. We see it is not so important that he looked at us individually or spoke to us personally. For in relation to him we are a single “we.” As he speaks to one of us, he speaks to all of us.
For me and other Westerners, these moments of sharing in faith are especially precious because it is so difficult to speak of “Guru” in the West; so hard to express unabashed devotion; so culturally unacceptable to speak of the yearning to surrender to another being.
But now, as we are gathered on Dada’s porch with Maharajji in our hearts, it is as if we are not just speaking about Maharajji; he is here with us. Maharajji once said, “When anyone thinks of me, I am with him.” And so he is. The moment itself is his darshan.
And as our faith allows, he shows us through his eyes a speck of what he sees: the exquisite web of “maya,” the dream that we call “life.” He allows us to taste of his peace within, while at the same moment he is buffeting us with the winds of chaos. We are ecstatic; we are confused. And we ask ourselves, rhetorically, “Who can understand the ways of the Guru?”
Dada begins another story. We have all heard it many times before, and yet we know that this time we may hear something new. For who we are at this moment is new to the story, and in this newness is another whisper, another touch of the divine.
Dada is recognized as one of the devotees who has been closest to Maharajji. Their relationship has been so intimate for so long that we treasure Dada’s stories about his “Baba” as especially precious. He is our elder brother in Maharajji’s spiritual family.
This man we know as Dada also has been Professor Sudhir Mukerjee, a professor of economics at the highly regarded Allahabad University. He edited a prestigious economics journal, was a political activist, delighted in ideological discussions with his many intellectual friends. He was a responsible family man whose household included his wife (Didi), his mother and aunt, and his brother and nephew. While he had grown up in a religious culture and family, he, unlike the women, had little interest or time for spiritual matters.
And then into his life stepped Maharajji—a barefoot sadhu wearing only a dhoti. He moved right into Dada’s home, uninvited. Initially, Dada was kind and courteous, as you might expect, though skeptical as befitting his role as a scholar. But his intellect found ilself to be no match for his intuitive heart, through which he came to treasure Maharajji and acknowledge him as nothing short of God in form.
Dada had been offered a ringside seat at the play of the Lord. And the price of admission had been giving up who he had been.
Whatever Dada did, it involved a remarkable degree of surrender. For, by the time I met him, the transformation seemed complete. There was no sign of the Professor; there was only Dada. Maharajji had said to him, “You are mine,” and so he is.
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