When Ram Dass returned to the United States from India in August 1972 after being with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaji), he appeared on a radio show and spoke about the experience for the first time. We are releasing the audio and transcript of Ram Dass’ first sharing Maharaji with the West en masse in celebration of Guru Purnima. On this day, people honor their teachers and gurus, and share appreciation for the light of wisdom that they have bestowed upon us in this lifetime.
“It’s a topic that is as big as any I can conceive of because I just turn into liquid when I even think about it let alone try to describe it. I’m looking at this moment at a picture of his feet, that’s how far out it is. I could describe his feet to you. But I think it is useful just to try to convey a little bit about my feelings about my guru.”
The delicate thing is that I’m not interested in creating desires in other people or making other people feel frustrated because they don’t have a guru in the same relationships that I do. Because what you and I may see in Maharaji is just what you and I see, and that’s because of what we need to see for our own work. And other people find their direction through ways very much other than the guru and so I’ve been very reticent to speak about this because of that. Otherwise, I think I would probably not want to talk about much else because where it is in my head. And he has never encouraged me to send people to him or to talk about him publicly, so you are the first person that’s even mentioned his name on the air.
I always called him “Maharaji” which covers many, many holy men in India which I think is the best way to deal with that, because those that he needs to have find him will find him, I guess. To talk about him a little bit… I get speechless.
On the physical plane, he is a jungle sadhu who has in recent years started to spend more time in temples around Northern India that devotees have built in order to try to capture him or hold on to a little bit of that light. And he appears in one and stays for a little while, and then just when they get all their rituals in order to hang on to him forever, he’s gone in the middle of the night, he just disappears again. I mean, not in any astral sense, he just gets somebody with a car to take him off somewhere. Nobody knows where he’s gone, and he turns up somewhere else. And he floats around in that way so that nobody can really control that kind of light in him.
When you’re with him, when I am with him, I experience many, many levels. At the personality social level he’s often infuriating and frustrating, and Mickey Mouse, and repetitive and childlike, and stubborn, and willful, and playful, and funny, and an old man, and a little child, and very concerned, and very indifferent, and that’s at one level.
At another level when I’m in his presence I experience ecstasy and bliss from the depth of the love that our relationship has for me. And that’s a drunken kind of love where I often find myself just dissolved into tears because I’ve just never experienced such profound love from any being.
And often just when I’m going into that he will interrupt it with some question like, “How much money does Stephen make?” or something like that, just to bring me back to the plane. He keeps me very firmly down in the physical plane until my work is done. He doesn’t allow me to just float around in bliss very much when I’m around him.
Then on a deeper level, this time when I was with him he said to me when I first met him, he asked me why I’d come back, and I’d told him to purify myself more, and he said, “I am always in communion with you.” And I have more and more deeply understood that to be the case and in fact, that’s now who he is for me.
He is a being who is with me always, and sometimes he’s with me so closely that I am him.
That is what I’m saying things to people, or I’m acting towards people in certain ways where I look at the reaction they’re having to me, and I see they’re not reacting to me, but they’re reacting to him. That is that he’s just coming through me completely. And at that point, I don’t feel his presence because in some sense I am his presence. And then the rest of the time I just feel like I am constantly hanging out with him at this very, very subtle plane.
And at this plane I just feel him as this gentle, firm, guide who’s slowly drawing me towards himself, just pulling me ever so gently. And there’s no rest, it’s a continuous process. And I take almost everything that happens to me as part of his teachings to me. I take everything if I can remember. Like if I get uptight about wanting to do good about something, I see him saying to me, “Well you’re still caught, aren’t you? You really still care, don’t you?” And I can just constantly talk with him all the time at that level.
He has devotees at many, many different levels of attachment to him. Some are attached to his body and to him, sort of as a grandfatherly figure to their families, in many Indian families. He has many, many Indian devotees or villagers, very simple people. And there are no big gatherings, ever, except a few small ones at the temples, but no great big public thing. And his sort of simplicity and humility is awesome.
He has just a blanket and a dhoti, and he sits on a wooden table. And when you go into the room he’s staying in you’re struck by the absence of everything that you would associate with somebody’s bedroom. There is no reading lamp, and there are no books hanging around, and there’s no evidence that there’s a human being living there. It’s just… he walks in, he sits down on this wooden table that’s sometimes covered with some quilt, and there he is, and that’s his universe, and he’s fulfilled. You can see, and there are many pictures of him just sitting by the side of a road, and that was enough for him.
Others are very attached to him because of the miracles that are associated with him. There are many stories that the Indians have of various things that he’s done that are showing the use of incredible siddhis, or powers, for all kinds of things. So many Indian people come to him asking for favors, asking him to use these siddhis.
And there is a very awesome quality about those interactions because they’re asking as if he were somebody who uses the siddhis or doesn’t. And the whole dance is almost as if he’s somebody who bestows grace or doesn’t. And at the same moment, when I’m sitting with him I see that there really is nobody there at all. There is merely a form. And that the only time that they are going to get what they ask for is if it is their karmic predicament that that should happen. And if it is further their karmic predicament that they should perceive it as happening through him. That it’s not like he’s sitting around deciding, “Shall I do it or shouldn’t I do it?” And even when he’s saying the words like he’s deciding whether he should or shouldn’t, that’s all part of their karmic runoff; that you begin to see that all he is is a manifestation of the desires of the people around him.
And that a being like that only is in form because of desire of other people, because there isn’t any desire in him. And every time you project desire in him, that’s why a being like him is such a pure mirror, because he keeps showing you where you’re not.
Because if you get ten people sitting around talking about him everyone will describe him a different way. And they’re all describing, of course, it’s like the blind man with the elephant. Each person is describing what he’s touched of him, and he’s touched what he was capable of touching. You know the story of the blind men and the elephant, I assume. Where one touches the tail, and another touches the leg, and another touches the side, and another touches the trunk. Later they’re talking at lunch, and one blind man says an elephant is very like a tree, and another says no he’s like a snake, and another says he’s like a wall. And they get into a tremendous fight because each of them has touched a different part of the elephant.
Then there are other devotees who merely see him as God incarnate. And they are just very humble before him, and they ask for nothing. And they just serve him in any way they possibly can. They just feel so blessed to have a being like that in form, to be even near. There is one particular being who is one of his closest devotees, I guess. It’s interesting, see he doesn’t have any big ashrams or there’s no ‘scene’. And most the time he just throws you out if you go near there. He lets you stay five minutes and sends you away. So you can’t collect him, you can’t hold on to him. You can’t just hang out the way you’d like to. Unless that’s what your work needs to be at that moment.
But there is one devotee, he’s a professor, he’s a PhD. He’s a professor of economics. He’s the head of an economics department at a major university in India. And he is one of the older devotees of Maharaji. And his devotion is a model for me of this form of yoga that I’m pursuing, which is really called guru kripa, or the method of the Guru. And he pursues the total surrender to Maharaji.
And here is a man who in his own right, he’s the editor of the leading economic journal in India, very reputable high intellectual being, and everything in his life is done only in relation to Maharaji. He only keeps his job or works because Maharaji tells him to do that. And when he’s with Maharaji his service is so total and pure. It’s just as if, if you look at your hand and you go to make a fist, and you notice how your fingers come together. Each finger doesn’t think for itself, “Should I come together?” You send a message and the fingers come together. And he is exactly like a finger on Maharaji’s hand. He’s just a perfect instrument. There’s not any place in him that has that little will that says, “Should I do it or shouldn’t I?” Or, “But you said…” or anything like that. He’s just a perfect, perfect extension. He’s like Hanuman is to Ram.
Then there’s the other aspect of Maharaji, of course, in which he is very intimately related with Ram and Hanuman. Just how intimately related is a source of some mystery to those of us that are around him. There are many beings who have reported being with him when he has turned into Hanuman. And there is one man that every time he comes near Maharaji he takes one look and he passes out cold. And when they revive him all he says is, “All I saw was a huge monkey!” And my feeling is that on an astral plane, or in another plane, Maharaji is, he is Hanuman, he is Hanuman manifest at this time. That’s who I think he is.
But even that is only a game, you understand. Because a being who is nobody is everybody. And he’s merely taking that form because that’s the particular form that’s connected with that particular sect.
I think it would be even too limiting to call him anything at all. Because in a way a being such as that is every way you think of him, he is. And there’s nothing you can say he isn’t, in a funny kind of a way.
He’s known to show up in many places simultaneously, to appear and disappear, to all these kinds of things. And he always denies it all, by the way. I mean he leaves you always with the doubt. He leaves you always in a very funny space, that if you were going to test him you’d always come away saying, “Oh well he’s just an old man in a blanket”. And it’s only those that are saying, “Look, the hell with testing, I’m going going going”. Those are the ones that start to experience his grace.
And that’s the predicament with the West. People say to me, “Look, if he’s so high why doesn’t he come here to the West and demonstrate his powers for us so science can get ahead?” And that’s like asking the elephant to reorganize his life in order to serve the mosquito in some kind of a way. I mean, Western science is just a trivia in the presence of a being like this. It’s all nice and well-meaning and good, but the rational mind is just another little dance.
And it’s only when you’re thinking of moon, and tides, and the Sun, and universes, and the passing of yugas and kalpas of time, and timelessness, and eternal beings and so on that you’re dealing in the realm of Maharaji.
And the quieter your mind is, the more you’re sitting in your own ajana where you can meet him. Any time you want to meet him all you have to do is bring your mind totally to one point right at your ajana, at the place between your eyebrows. And all you have to do is ask for him. Your thought brings him, anybody, any human beings thought brings that pure guru to him the moment that thought is pure enough, intent enough, single-minded enough.
A guru only exists to serve his devotees, that’s the only reason for his existence. And seeing him in the physical form is only another part of the dance and another part of the illusion.
The devotee, the economist I was telling you about said to me once, “I am closer to Maharaji when I’m away from him than when I’m with him, because when I’m with him my senses get in the way, I get lost into enjoying because he’s such fun to hang out with.” And it’s interesting, that it’s true for me that I’m meeting him in a much deeper place when I’m not around the melodrama of the temple life with him. At the same moment, of course, it’s fun to hang out with him. But less and less is that a pulling matter.
Like for me it doesn’t really matter whether I go back to India or not. It would be fun, but I don’t think I’m going away from him. When he just threw me out of India this last time I was sobbing and a woman came up and said, “Don’t cry, you can come back,” and I said, “I’m not crying out of sadness, I’m crying out of bliss.” I said, “I’m just so happy that he’s even telling me to do anything because I just want to be an instrument of him.” That’s all I can ever ask him, is make me a pure instrument of your will.
And that’s the far-out thing because no longer do I even have a desire to be enlightened. I’m not interested in becoming, being all done.
That is not a realistic thing for me. It may happen or it may not, I don’t know. But I feel a thing because he has kept saying to me, “I’ll do that for you, I’ll do it for you.” And what’s been happening to me is that more and more I am less and less in evidence to myself. More and more I’m just, whatever it is I am doing at the moment. I mean it’s just happening. I’m just action, I’m not self-conscious action. And I can feel that I am, in a sense, becoming like a finger on his hand, or like Hanuman is referred to Ram in relation to the breath of Ram, it’s the breath of Ram.
And I’m perfectly content to be the breath of Maharaji. That is, I think, enough of that.
– Ram Dass, 1969