The Master Gardener
The words and apples and tea and silences and laughter were all washed in a continuous river of love that poured forth from Maharajji. The devotees who “knew” were equally as happy with Maharajji’s insults as with his praise, for it was all palpable love and food for the spirit.
We took our cue in this respect from one of Maharajji’s long-term, trusted devotees, called “Dada,” who served Maharajji with a singleness of purpose that awed us. When Maharajji would compliment him, Dada would say, “Ha, Baba,” meaning, “Yes, Baba,” and when Maharajji would shout insults at him, sometimes upbraiding him from morning till night, he would reply, in exactly, the same tone, “Ha, Baba!” Obviously, fame and shame were one to him, at least when Maharajji was the source. No longer could Maharajji get Dada angry or guilty; over the years it had all been burned out. For Dada, it was all grace.
Sometimes Maharajji would talk to one person and everyone else would listen, perfectly content just to be present.
There was the sport of watching the newcomers arrive, skeptical, with questions, and then seeing their hearts gently open and their soft, flowerlike quality emerge under the tender care of the master gardener. We would sit in those groups as Maharajji turned this way and that, attending now to a person at his side and the next moment to a devotee far distant who was just entering the temple; and changing the mood of the group from easy laughter to fierce intensity in a moment and then back again. One felt at such times as if Maharajji was the puppeteer and we the puppets.
Maharajji’s company was very special. He was always natural, like a child, a saint in the traditional manner. He set no conditions nor expected any particular behavior from his devotees. He was rarely affected by the outside. He could converse with half a dozen people simultaneously with a camera held a foot from his face. He had no form. He performed no rituals or puja. He followed no orthodox customs such as ritual bathing. Yet his presence was more than inspiring; it was enlightening. While meditating in or near his presence, even though he’d be talking and joking loudly, one quickly reached the place of clear light, a place difficult to achieve without his grace and power.
– Excerpt from Miracle of Love compiled by Ram Dass
When He is My Dada
Just a few weeks before the construction of the house started, Baba arrived. Since the old lady had gone away, the atmosphere was peaceful. Ma and Maushi Ma had already become very close to him. For them, Babaji was a very wise and dear member of their household. His talks with them would always be intimate and affectionate.
Ma and Maushi Ma and Didi were deeply religious and became close with Baba from the first day he came. He actually began asking about each and every detail of the family and advising them. My mother and auntie would discuss even the minor things of the household with him and he would solve all their problems, family or financial or material. He could be so very affectionate, behaving just like a son to his mother. “Ma, bring me food … I am feeling hungry. Kamala, please scratch my back.”
Babaji at first called me by my name, Sudhir, or just “Professor.” It was in 1961 that one day he started calling me Dada [elder brother]. Others followed, but not my Ma and Maushi Ma. He asked them why they called me by name and not Dada. When they said that a son is not addressed so, he said, “When he is my Dada, he is your Dada also.”
One day I was alone with him and he asked me, “Your friends are not coming now. They must be warning you about the danger of coming under the influence of a baba and being close with him. They love you and therefore they warn you for your own good. Am I wrong?” I had no reply to give. He was right.
I was rather an outsider at the beginning, and I was not psychologically or mentally prepared for the difficulties and disturbances his coming created. I was quite interested in social and cultural life, going to the pictures, making friends, addressing various kinds of cultural gatherings, meetings, debates, and I had a very large circle of friends. They would come and gather together just like members of the family. Now when Babaji began coming, there was no place for them to come and sit. Also, many of my friends did not like the idea. “Oh, you have become the victim of some baba!” When his visits continued, they would say I was wasting my time. In spite of all their solicitations, I could not change my new way of living. I was losing my interest in my old life, but I could not think that Babaji had anything to do with it. For me it was just like dry leaves falling from the tree, without anybody’s hand behind it.
– Excerpt from By His Grace by Dada Mukerjee
Our Beloved Older Brother
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 itself 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.
– Krishna Das
A Case of Transmission and Reception
In the beginning of May, Didi and I used to go to Kainchi for our uninterrupted stay of three months. Babaji had left Allahabad after Holi, and we were looking forward to our visit to Kainchi. During this time, Didi’s mother had arrived, and Didi could not leave the house for too long as there was no certainty about the duration of her mother’s stay here. The university was closed, and although I was free, I was persuaded not to leave for Kainchi without Didi. I had to wait, which of course, was not much to my liking. I spent three or four days trying to argue with them.
While this was going on, I felt very strongly one day that Babaji was remembering me and was waiting for my arrival. The feeling became so strong that I decided to leave by myself for Kainchi that evening. When I told them of my decision, they again asked me to postpone the journey for a couple of days more. Mashima said that if I went away, Didi would not be able to go alone. Then my mother produced her last card and said, “Babaji has asked you to stay at home. Since then, whenever you have gone out it was either with Babaji himself or when he sent his intimation. This time there is neither Babaji to take you along with him, nor any intimation from him. It would not be proper for you to go now.”
Their arguments were strong, but stronger was my decision to start for Kainchi that very evening. All I could tell them was that I had my intimation. It was a case of transmission and reception, and I had received it.
Leaving the house was not easy. There was a tussle in my mind whether to yield to the pressure and stay at home, or to follow the call that had come without any further delay. These thoughts haunted me all through the night in the train, taking the sleep away from my eyes. Was I mistaken? Was Babaji actually remembering me? How could I believe it was so when there was no tangible proof to support it? The sense of guilt was also uppermost in my mind. Had I not disobeyed Babaji in leaving the house without his full permission? Was it not a make-believe sort of thing to support my own desire to enjoy the life in the ashram? This was the state of my mind until I got into the taxi in Haldwani at noon. At that point, I could only look ahead to when I would meet him. Would he be annoyed that I had come, not obeying the mothers, forgetting what he had asked me to do only a half-dozen years back? I was trying to seek courage by thinking that nothing was unknown to him – he would know what had made me leave the house. There was no doubt that I had disobeyed the mothers, but I had not disobeyed him.
I was lost in this mental duel when the driver stopped in front of the temple at Bhumiadhar. He was booked for Kainchi, but he had seen Babaji sitting with a few others in front of the temple and he felt that we had reached the end of my journey. Seeing me approach, Babaji said that he had been remembering me for the last few days, as it was time for my visit. He asked, “Why was I late? Was the university closed? Why had Kamala not come with me? How were Ma and Mashima?” And other such questions which needed no reply. They were just his way of drawing me in. Then he asked rather excitedly, “Did you get my telegram? Did you get my telegram? When did you get it? I had been asking the people here to send you a telegram, but no one would obey me.”
Unconsciously, without any thinking on my part, the reply came out, “Yes, I had the telegram.” This was not a lie, nor a slip on my part, because in fact the telegram had been delivered to the house in Allahabad after I had left for the station. Babaji sent me inside to the house to take my tea and eat something, after which we would go to Kainchi in the taxi that was waiting there. While waiting for the tea, Siddhi Didi said that Babaji had been remembering me, saying that it was time for me to come. “Because of the delay, he sent the telegram. He was sitting inside talking to us when he suddenly went out, just five minutes before your arrival, saying, “Dada is coming.”
– Dada Mukerjee