Neemkaroli Baba, known by the honorific “Maharaji,” was newly famous in the West as the guru of Ram Dass, who in those years toured the country with mesmerizing accounts of his transformation from Richard Alpert (the Harvard professor fired for experimenting with psychedelics along with his colleague Timothy Leary) to a devotee of this old yogi.
By accident during Christmas break from my Harvard classes in 1968, I met Ram Dass, who had just returned from being with Maharaji in India. That encounter eventually propelled my own journey to India to find Maharaji.
Traveling with my friends Jeff and Jim (now better known as Krishna Das and Rameshwar Das) we managed to locate Neemkaroli Baba Kainchi, the small ashram in the Himalayan foothills. Living the life of a sadhu, Maharaji’s only worldly possessions seemed to be the white cotton dhoti he wore on hot days and the heavy woolen plaid blanket he wrapped around himself on cold ones. He kept no particular schedule, had no organization, nor offered any fixed program of yogic poses or meditations. Like most sadhus, he was itinerant, unpredictably on the move. He mainly hung out on a tucket on the porch of whatever ashram, temple or home he was visiting at the time.
Maharaji seemed always to be absorbed in some state of ongoing quiet rapture, and, paradoxically, at the same time was attentive to whoever was with him. What struck me was how utterly at peace and how kind Maharaji was. He took an equal interest in everyone who came – and they ranged from the highest-ranking government officials to beggars.
There was something about his ineffable state of mind that I had never sensed in anyone before meeting Maharaji. No matter what he was doing, he seemed to remain effortlessly in a blissful, loving space, perpetually at ease. Whatever state Maharaji was in seemed not some temporary oasis in the mind, but a lasting way of being: a trait of utter wellness.
Reprinted from ALTERED TRAITS by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2017, Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson.