How Do I Know?
Someone recently asked me what it was like to be around Maharaji. As a child, all I remember was that it was great fun. As I replay those meetings in my mind, I feel differently today – here was a man who did not look like any other sadhu that I had seen or met; he did not sound like any saint that I had met – his language was often colorful; he did not have the same hang ups as most other sadhus that I had come across – most have severe restrictions about where they will eat, who will cook it etc.. His devotees did not fit into any pattern either – they were rich, they were poor, they were Hindus, they were Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, and even the atheists who did not realize that they had been drawn.
There were the VIP’s and the dacoits, all in the same room. He preached nothing and yet his devotees were constantly learning. He met no pattern, he fit no description, and yet from where he sat, he was telling the kitchen what he wanted cooked; he was telling an eight year old what he would be when he grew up; he was scolding someone else about a recent lapse of judgment; addressing someone else about a concern that he/she was yet to express and probably dealing with creation elsewhere in the Universe, all at the same time. The answer to every question was still “How do I know?” He defies description and he does so on purpose.
– Excerpt from Barefoot in the Heart: Remembering Neem Karoli Baba, edited by Keshav Das
Babaji Leaves At Night
Sometimes during our nightly satsang, Babaji used to visit us in our room, where we were busy with our talk. One night, more than an hour had passed and we were still talking when Babaji entered the hall, sat down on Sukla’s bed and began counting the layers of bedding. Babaji said, “You are enjoying much luxury here.”
Everyone laughed at the joke, but Sukla was much moved and said with tears in his eyes, “This is my Didi’s house, so I have got them.” Babaji said, “Your Didi is good, but she is generous to you and gives you five layers for your bed, but only three layers for mine.” Our satsang was punctuated with many such visits and inimitable comments. Everybody would say after such an experience that this really was our Babaji, the one whom we all seek.
Days passed in quiet succession. All we wanted was that the ecstasy and excitement in which we were spending our days should not halt. But one night, after Babaji had gone to bed, the devotees finished their meals and assembled in the hall as usual. After some time, we noticed that there was no light in Babaji’s room. Taking him to be asleep and thinking we would have no visit from him that night, we all took to our beds. Before twelve, everyone was asleep and all the lights were switched off.
We were all in deep sleep when we heard Tularam shouting, “Dada, Babaji has gone away. He is not here in the house.” Tularam caught me by the hand and started running for the gate. Siddhi was already there waiting for us. We had not even taken our slippers, when we started running on the road. We came across a rickshaw by the roadside, but the rickshaw-puller was asleep on it. Tularam actually pulled him down. We two took our seats and Siddhi jumped on the footboard and asked the rickshaw-puller to drive fast. He was not fully awake, and that there was no accident was only because there was no traffic on the road.
When we arrived at the railroad station, we saw Babaji sitting alone on a bench. The two devotees who had come with him had been sent for their tea, so Babaji was alone when we came before him. We were agitated and could not talk, so he started the talk in a very casual way. It was as if he was sitting on his bed, where we had left him earlier. He inquired how we came to be there. Tularam replied as Siddhi and I could not talk or even open our mouths, “We came in search of you. How was it possible for us to stay at home when we learned that you had gone away?”
Babaji behaved as if it was a very common and everyday affair and we had unnecessarily given so much importance to it. Then the usual questions began, as if cursorily directed to Tularam: how did he know, what did others think when they heard of it, and all such questions. Tularam could tell him only the little which he had heard from Siddhi when she came rushing down to wake us up.
Everybody had been sleeping in the house, but Siddhi and two other ladies who slept on the roof above, were sitting looking toward the road in front of the house. It was a full moon night, and they were sitting silently, as if in meditation, when they saw some movement going on there. Two rickshaws had come and were standing at the gate when someone came out carrying something in his arms. The gate was opened, and there were some others waiting there. They all sat on the rickshaws and started off. The ladies saw but did not understand what it was all about. The eyes had given all the snapshots to the mind, but it could not develop them immediately. What all the pantomime was about, they could not know.
Babaji said that the thing was so simple that it was a surprise for him that we could not understand it. He said that he had some important work at Mathura and his presence was necessary there. Moreover, Ram Prakash, who had come from Agra, was wasting his time here and his work was suffering, so he had to be taken home. He continued, “This was decided at night when I was going to bed. You were busy with your food. Kanhai Lal came to see me before leaving for home. I asked him to come with two rickshaws after two in the morning. I could not ask you for that because you were all busy with your food. When the rickshaws came, I was ready to start but you were all asleep. So I came out of my room alone and when I saw Ram Prakash sleeping on the verandah along with others, I lifted him and took him out of the gate. My problem was that he should not know it. If he woke up, he was sure to draw everyone from the house by his shouting. So the wise thing was not to wake him. For such a simple thing there was no sense in making a fuss like you people would have done. One must use one’s brain before anything. You people do not do that. That is the cause of all your trouble.”
The sermon was over. Then as consolation for our troubles, he said that his work was very urgent. It had not been in his plan to go now, so he did not talk to us about it. However, he would return soon. Ram Prakash and Kanhai Lal had returned and were standing nearby. It was almost time for the train to come, so Babaji said we should return home. It was then that Tularam asked him the question which had been itching at his mind for so long. He said his only request to Baba was that henceforth he should not leave the home without telling Dada about it; it was painful for Dada when he learned that Babaji had gone while he was sleeping. Babaji smiled, and granted his prayer outright, “All right, from now on I will let Dada know before leaving the house.” A promise, very precious, extracted by Tularam for the benefit of us all. Babaji honored his promise till the last day before taking his samadhi. Whenever Babaji informed me that he was leaving the house, I was reminded of Tularam and his love for me.
Babaji returned after five or six days. Many devotees had left for their homes, so Tularam and I had plenty of time to talk. He had much to say about Baba. He had spent many sleepless nights sitting or moving with Babaji in Nainital, Almora, Bhowali and Bhimtal. It was a life spent on the streets, sometimes inside a culvert on the roadside. For those who spend their lives in furnished houses and soft beds, it was a tough life and often painful. But no one would think of giving it up. They were caught like bees in honey, but not in the hive anymore.
– Excerpt from The Near and the Dear by Dada Mukerjee
I was introduced to Siddhi Ma by my aunt and was given permission to stay at the ashram even though I had made no prior arrangements for staying.
I didn’t even realise what a huge privilege this was and that not many are given it.
Siddhi Ma placed me in a room which I shared with Marilyn Miira Pranno who has become a dear satsang friend.
My days at the ashram were euphoric and I was so consumed by the meeting of so many satsanghis who shared my love for Maharajji that the temple routine went by me quite unnoticed.
I had not realised that a maha arti had been scheduled to close the Navratri celebrations at Kainchi.
On my last night at Kainchi I went to retire into my room around 10 pm but try as I did I could not work the combination lock to open.
I had been having trouble with the lock and decided to seek Miira’s help with it as she seemed to know how to work the lock better. I found her sitting at the havan and singing. I went and joined her in the arti singing deciding to leave when she was ready to retire.
I expected she would leave in another 15-20 minutes as Miira liked to be up early for Siddhi Ma’s morning darshan. However, an hour later I found that Miira was showing no signs of leaving. That’s when she told me about the overnight maha arti which she wanted to participate in! Then it dawned on me that that was what Maharajji had planned for me. He wanted me at the havan singing the maha arti and I had foolishly thought of going to bed early!
We stayed up all night singing our hearts out… breaking for spicy, sweet, milky tea under the starry night sky in Kainchi… sheer magic. Maharajji’s parties are like no other!!!! By 5 am my throat had packed up and I could stay up no longer. Miira obligingly opened the room lock for me and I crept into bed to sleep and Miira returned to the maha arti. I found myself wide awake and completely refreshed with just an hours sleep and made my way back to the arti but found myself getting a little restless and distracted by 10 am.
I was to leave for Nainital that morning and the pragmatics of that began to occupy my mind. I was getting impatient and wishing the arti would get over when suddenly the conch shell (shankha) was sounded and something within me collapsed and I broke down weeping uncontrollably. I managed to control myself for a few seconds while I did arti to Maharajji and then broke down weeping again and had to be escorted out of the havan.
Just as suddenly as I was in the grips of this hysteria I was suddenly out of it and rapidly found myself composed and quite calm. I have no idea what happened or why it happened. I left Kainchi very high and very confused.
– From Rachna Jhala, London, UK; Original post on Maharajji.com
The World Is My Family
One winter I was in Vrindavan for Holi. Papa Singh, one of Maharaji’s longtime devotees was there that year. Papa Singh was of the Jat caste and known in his younger days to be very forthright and something of a go-getter. One time when he’d been unable to have darshan of Shri Siddhi Ma for three days, he sent a message to her saying that if she refused to see him for another day he’d drown himself in the river. Shri Siddhi Ma sent a message back saying, “This will never happen. When your time comes, you will die in glory.”
That year at Holi I’d been shooting a lot of video around Vrindavan and remembered that night reviewing some footage with Papa in it, thinking how at peace Papa looked earlier that day, sitting outside his room, wrapped up in a warm shawl, taking in the winter sun. It was a special kind of equanimity that I’ve seen in many of Maharaji’s old devotees. The next morning I was told that Papa had passed away. Later in the morning Siddhi Ma asked that two Westerners should lead some kirtan out on the verandah in front of the room in which Papa left his body. There were perhaps thirty of the old Mas sitting behind them singing the response part of the kirtans. A bier was made for Papa and he was placed on it and all took turns carefully placing flowers on the bier until you could only see his face. It looked like a truckload of flowers. Later a beautiful puja was done for Papa. I’ve always had a lot of fear about the manner of my own death and had often prayed that when my time came – it would be quiet and painless.
I learned that several days before, Shri Siddhi Ma had been traveling with the mothers and when they were in Delhi and changing trains, she had suddenly told all her companions that she intended to turn around and head to Vrindavan. The mothers were concerned because she had a bad cold and they tried to talk her out of going to Vrindavan because they wanted her to take rest, but she insisted.
She arrived in Vrindavan that same day and late in the night she got up from her bed and went to be with Papa. He was too ill to move so a devotee propped him up so he could pranam. Papa leaned over and rested his head upon Ma’s knee, and left his body. Strange to say, after hearing this I had felt tearfully envious of Papa.
I remember thinking that death was so commonly visible in India and that people too often seemed indifferent to the pain of others outside their own circle and how fortunate Papa was to have seen out his last days in Maharaji’s ashram amongst old friends. Later that day – a group of male devotees picked up a bier with Papa on it and we began to walk it through the busy traffic in the narrow streets of Vrindavan. We turned down one little lane in which only three days earlier, I had seen a man who had died. His family had been too poor to afford a proper funeral and he’d only been covered with a ragged blanket. A few cheap candles had been burning around him as he lay there in the middle of a busy street.
Nearing Loi Bazaar a farmer passed us on a tractor and he offered to transport Papa’s body to the Yamuna. We arrived at the Yamuna and the puja was completed and the body burned. As we were walking back along the sandy banks of the river, I remembered the dead man lying in the street three days before, thinking that none of the people I was with would have given him a second glance. And as this thought occurred, two rough looking characters came our way dragging a sack across the rocks and weeds and through the mud. It was the body of some very poor man to be burned – being treated like a sack of rubbish. Instantly four of Maharaji’s oldest devotees went to the two men and began to talk. “That’s no way to treat one of God’s creatures,” one of them said. I was amazed to see these old Brahmin men hustle over and without and discussion pick up the body. We carried it back down to the burning ghat, purchased wood and incense and performed full puja – for a complete stranger. Nobody asked about the caste or social standing of the dead man. Maharaji had always said, “The world is my family.” For those truly touched by what he’d expressed, this was not a “sermon” but words to live by.
– Excerpt from Barefoot in the Heart: Remembering Neem Karoli Baba, edited by Keshav Das
Mother From America
In the words of Dada, “We all think we are chasing the guru, but really, you see, he is chasing us.”
All I knew about the hardships of India made me sure I didn’t want to go there, yet in October of 1971 I found myself at JFK Airport with two friends, waiting to board a plane for Bombay. A large crowd of our New York “spiritual” group had come to see us off, or, as I suspected, to make sure we actually got on the plane. We were all three in varying states of panic, wondering what we were doing. Both the panic and the confusion were to intensify a hundredfold when we actually arrived in India.
We three, like nearly all the group of Westerners we eventually joined around Maharajji, first heard of him through Ram Dass. Yet, though my life totally changed after the night I first heard Ram Dass lecture, I did not feel drawn to go to India. Partially, the mystique of what going to India represented in those days made it seem presumptuous for me to even consider the trip. Nor was it clear to me that the power of the awakening I had experienced was, in fact, a connection with Maharajji—that he could possibly be my guru. We had all heard how difficult it was to find him. And what if he sent me away as he had others?
Now, three years later, I was going to India, but I still hadn’t the temerity to chance rejection—I was going to see some south Indian saints and perhaps later “visit” up north, if there seemed any hope of being received.
Coming off the plane in Bombay, we were met by an airline representative (in India, a feat in itself), who advised us that we had reservations on an afternoon flight to New Delhi and that tickets were waiting for us at the counter. This was a stunner, but after a twenty-six or twenty-eight-hour fight we were too dazed to feel more than mild wonder. After all, we were in India—anything could happen here. (This mystery of tickets and reservations to Delhi was never solved in any “reasonable” way.) In Delhi, we thought of going to the American Express office to ask for messages, as we had planned to do in Bombay. After all, since we were here, there must be a message. There was: “Go to Jaipuria Bhavan in Vrindaban. Maharajji expected soon.” It was signed, “Balaram Das.” We didn’t know who that was.
We learned that Vrindaban was not far from Delhi and that we could get there by an afternoon train. Somehow we never thought of pausing in the relative Westernness of Delhi. The message said go and go we did. We thereby learned the first great lesson of India: Never travel by third-class unreserved coach! It was the equivalent of a three-hour ride on a New York City subway at rush hour, with the addition of sunshine, dust, and engine smoke pouring in the open windows.
Eventually, we battled our way off the train at Mathura, and in the glowing dusk of the Indian plain, whose beauty we could not then appreciate, we found a bus to take us to nearby Vrindaban. There we were put down in the large bazaar of what to all appearances was a thirteenth-century village of winding alleys full of people, rickshaws, dogs, pigs, and cows. By now it was dark and most of the illumination came from lanterns in the shops lining the streets. We asked for directions to “Jaipuria Bhavan” in our nonexistent Hindi and were directed first up one alley and then down another. It grew later and the shops were beginning to close. Our panic grew with our exhaustion and hunger, for even if we came upon the hostel we would not recognize it, for every sign was in Hindi. We began to envision ourselves huddling for the night among the cows in some doorway.
Then suddenly approaching us appeared a Westerner—someone whom I’d met the year before in California. In hysterical relief, I threw my arms around him, but he, an old-timer in India, was totally calm in the face of our emotion. Oh, yes, Jaipuria Bhavan was just there, around the next bend.
During the next few days, the small Western satsang (community of spiritual seekers) began gathering at Jaipuria Bhavan, awaiting Maharajji’s arrival at his Vrindaban ashram (monastery). Many of them we knew from America, including the mysterious “Balaram Das” whom we’d known as Peter. We heard their stories of Maharajji with relief and anticipation. He didn’t sound so fierce and terrifying after all. Then word came that he was here! The next morning we could go to have his darshan.
I arrived at the ashram a little late with Radha, nervously clutching my borrowed sari and the offering of flowers and fruit. We circumambulated the temple and pranammed (bowed) to Hanumanji, then approached the gate in the wall between the temple garden and the ashram. How well I remember that green wooden door! When we knocked, the old chaukidar (gate-keeper) opened it a crack and peered out at us. Then, as each time afterward for as long as I was in India, I wondered if he would let us in. But he stepped back, pulling the door open for us. I looked through, down the vista of the long verandah along the front of the ashram building. At the far end, Maharajji was sitting alone on his wooden bed. When I saw his great form, my heart jumped so that I staggered against the gate. That first sight of him is still piercingly clear in my memory.
Radha had already rushed through and I ran after her, losing my sandals along the way. It was all so simple and familiar—bowing at his feet, giving the fruit and flowers (which he immediately threw back in my lap), weeping and laughing. Maharajji was bouncing, smiling, and crowing in English, “Mother from America! Mother from America!” During that first darshan, though Maharajji spoke mainly in Hindi, I understood everything without the interpreter who stood nearby. And I recognized the love that had poured through Ram Dass, that had irresistibly drawn me to India: Here was the source.
– Excerpt from Miracle of Love: Stories about Neem Karoli Baba, compiled by Ram Dass