Stories about the Indian Sage, Neem Karoli Baba
Remember to listen to the silence into which the stories are set, for the true meeting with Maharajji lies between the lines and behind the words. For this effort, you will be amply rewarded through meeting a being of a spiritual stature rarely known on this earth.
How vividly I recall, after my first meeting with Maharajji, how all my disdain and arrogance disappeared before an almost overwhelming desire literally to be at his feet. It was perhaps the second or third visit with Maharajji when the opportunity presented itself. I was watching the man next to me. The expression on his face suggested that he was experiencing waves of rapture, and as I watched him out of the corner of my eye I felt jealous. We sat next to each other, cross?legged, before a large, heavy chest?high wooden table. The man, the principal of a school in the vicinity, was probably in his late fifties. He was dressed in a heavy woolen suit with socks (his shoes had been left outside the door of the temple), a tie, a muffler, and, in the fashion common to the men of the hill country in this late November, a woolen hat. Before us, sitting on the table cross?legged, was Maharajji, well?wrapped in a bright plaid blanket, so that only his head showed above the blanket and a bare foot stuck out beneath. It was this foot that was the source of both the rapture and the jealousy, for the man was massaging the foot with great tenderness and love, and I was yearning to be in his place. How bizarre to find myself sitting in a tiny Hindu temple halfway around the world, jealous because I could not rub an old man’s foot!
As I reflected on this strange turn of events, Maharajji talked now to one and now to another of the twenty or so people gathered in the small room at the back of the temple compound. He spoke in Hindi, which I did not understand, but he seemed to be asking one a question, scolding another, joking with a third, and giving instructions to a fourth. In the midst of these conversations I saw him move ever so slightly, and his other foot appeared beneath the blanket just beside me.
I suspected that only people who had been around him for some time were allowed to massage his feet—and I was the newest comer—but I decided I couldn’t be faulted for trying. So slowly my hands went up and touched the foot and began to massage. But instead of waves of bliss, my mind was full of the sharp edges of doubt and confusion as to whether I should use my fingers or my palms. Just as suddenly as the foot appeared, it was withdrawn back under the blanket. My mind was filled with self?recrimination about my own impurity.
As the visit went on, Maharajji took me more and more out of my self-consciousness and into a space that had no familiar boundaries. I was experiencing waves of confusion, bordering on hysteria. And that was the moment the foot reappeared before me. And again I reached for it. But this time my mind was too overwhelmed to analyze procedure. I just clung to the foot as a drowning man to a life preserver.
I had been in Bombay on a religious pilgrimage, where I stayed with a family in their home. The head of the family had to take a drink of alcohol every evening for his heart condition. He offered me some, and I ended up getting quite drunk on Scotch. Later, when I returned to Maharajji, he was talking to me about a sadhu who had gone to America. Maharajji asked,
“What do they feed him in America?”
“I don’t know, Maharajji, but I’m sure it’s very pure food.”
“They feed him milk,” said Maharajji.
“Do you know what they put in the milk?”
He leaned forward and said to me in a mock conspiratorial voice, “Liquor!”
“Oh, no!” I exclaimed it’s though he had just described the most horrendous breach of behavior.
To which Maharajji replied, “Oh, yes,” and looked at me significantly.
I broke up. He had just nailed me to the wall.
Since Maharajji would sometimes not let us Westerners come to him until the afternoon, one morning a group of us went to visit the tiny ashram that at one time had been the residence of another great saint of that area, Sombari Maharaj. It was a good visit. En route back in the forenoon, we encountered a hill that the VW bus just couldn’t climb with all of us in it, so we got out to push—that is, all of us except for the two young women in the party, who didn’t bother to get out.
We easily got the bus up the hill, but I was rankled by the fact that the young women had not helped us. I was too well?bred to say anything; inside though, I was angry and remained silent for the remainder of the drive to the temple. As we entered the temple Maharajji said,“ “Ram Dass is angry.“ But I had hidden it well and everyone disagreed with Maharajji and said that, on the contrary, I had been very pleasant. But Maharajji was not to be deterred.
“No,” he said, “Ram Dass is angry because the young women wouldn’t get out and help push.”
I had purchased a mohair blanket for Maharajji in Australia and was very excited about giving it to him. When the day for the presentation came, a group of us were ushered into the small room we humorously called his office and we knelt before him. Somewhat pridefully, I placed the blanket on the tucket next to him, and we all waited for whatever lila would follow. It would be fun to watch him put it on and maybe he’d give us his old blanket, or. . . There were a thousand maybes. But none of our speculations prepared us for his actions. First he ignored the blanket; then he reached down and with three fingers picked it up as if it were a dead animal. He brought the blanket across in front of him and gave it to a woman in our group who had come to meet Maharajji for the first time. Then he turned to me and said, “Was that the right thing to do?” We were all stunned.
It took me a moment to reorient, to appreciate what he had just done. Then I said, “Perfect.”
I valued meditation very highly, so when I found out that an essence meditation teacher was going to spend the summer rainy season in Kausani, a small remote village in the Himalayas, I made elaborate plans to join three other Westerners for a quiet, intense summer of practice. When I told Maharajji of my plans, all he would say was, “If you desire.” Then he said, “Go! I’ll call you.”
The house in Kausani was perfect, and we settled in with great delight, our summer meditation fantasy seemingly assured. We dug a toilet, took turns fetching water and cooking, gazed blissfully at the Himalayas, and awaited arrival of our teacher, Anagorika Munindra.
It was at the beginning of the second week that we heard a few Westerners had arrived in the village and were staying at a small hotel below. We all agreed that they shouldn’t be invited up to our house, for we should protect this space for the work we would commence with Munindra’s arrival. But the Westerners continued to arrive in Kausani, and they were not at all pleased to be excluded from the mountaintop. After all, Maharajji had told them to come. He had said, “Go be with Ram Dass in Kausani. That’s a beginner’s course. Not for Ram Dass.”
I was furious. Maharajji knew we wanted to be alone, yet he had deliberately sent what now amounted to twenty people. We decided to stick to our original plan, no matter what!
But we had underestimated the extent of Maharajji’s lila, for on Friday of the second week a letter arrived from Munindra: “Due to several administrative matters, I must take care of here in Bodh Gaya. I shall be unable to come to Kausani this summer.” There went the fantasy. Once we had surrendered the fantasy of a quiet summer of meditation, we joined with the other Westerners who had arrived in the village, moved into an ashram across the valley, and had a productive and intense summer ashram experience. We returned to Kainchi at the end of the summer, at the call from Maharajji. As we came before him for darshan he was laughing. He said, “Ram Dass teacher, Ram Dass teacher. Buddhist teacher never came. Ram Dass teacher, Ram Dass teacher,” and he cackled and pulled on my beard. No doubt about it—the events of the summer had not been just a chance misfiring of our plans. There was a paw in the pie.
He kept admonishing me: “Ram Dass, give up attachments.” I often tried to put the onus on him by replying, “It’s all your grace.” But he was reminding me that I had to make the effort, for he just kept repeating, “Give up attachments. You should have no ashrams. No attachments of any kind.”
Once Maharajji was reiterating to me for the hundredth time that I should give up attachments. I told him that another teacher had told me the same thing. “Does he have desires?” asked Maharajji.
“Yes, I think he still does,” I replied.
“Then how can he free you of desire?”
I once found myself becoming very angry while at Maharajji’s temple. Most of the anger was directed against my fellow Western devotees. Although there were perhaps some justifiable reasons for the anger, the fever pitch to which it had risen at the end of the two weeks was surprising, even to me. It was at that point that I walked to the temple and arrived late.
All the Westerners were sitting in the usual row on the porch, on the opposite side of the ashram courtyard from where Maharajji was sitting. From here they could watch him from a distance while they were taking prasad (lunch in this case). When I arrived and sat down, one of the Westerners brought over a leaf plate of food that had been saved for me. And at that moment the fury broke and I took the leaf plate and threw it. From across the courtyard, Maharajji watched.
Almost immediately I was summoned to his presence, and I crossed the yard and knelt before him.
“Something troubling you?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, looking over at all the Westerners. “I can’t stand adharma (those behaviors which people manifest that take them away from God). I can’t stand it in them (pointing to the Westerners), and I can’t stand it in me. In fact, I can’t stand anybody at all except you.” And as I looked at him, it felt that he was my only safe harbor in this darkness of my soul, and I began to cry. No, not just to cry but to wail. Maharajji patted me vigorously on the head and sent for milk, and when I could see through my tears, I saw that he was crying, too.
He fed me the milk and asked me if I loved him. I assured him that I did. Then, when I had composed myself sufficiently, he leaned up close and said, “I told you to love everybody.”
“Yes, Maharajji, but you also told me to tell the truth. And the truth is that I just don’t love everybody.” Then Maharajji came even closer, so that we were practically nose to nose, and he said, “Love everyone and tell the truth.”
The way he said it left no doubt about the way it was to be. For a fleeting moment I had an image of a casket—apparently symbolic of my death—but it was shaped in a way that was unlike my body. It seemed representational of this conversation in which, in effect, I was protesting that who I thought I was could not love everyone and tell the truth, and Maharajji was saying, “When you finish being who you think you are, this is who you will be. When you die you will be reborn to love everyone and tell the truth.”
Then he said, “Sometimes the most anger reflects the strongest love.”
Looking across the yard at those Westerners, toward all of whom I self?righteously felt anger, I saw suddenly that the anger was at one level, while immediately beneath that, at a slightly deeper level, was incredible love—two planes of relationship in which a person might say, “I love you but I don’t like you.” And if Maharajji’s instructions were to be carried out—and there was no doubt that they were, for he was my guru for better or worse—the anger would have to be given up to make way for the love.
Then Maharajji offered me a bargain: “You must polish the mirror free from anger to see God. If you give up a little anger each day, I will help you.” This seemed to be a deal that was more than fair. I readily accepted. And he’s been true to his end of the bargain.
It is now twenty?three years (written in 1995) since that day. The impurities haven’t fallen away as quickly as I would have liked, but slowly, very slowly, the boon is coming to pass.
Ram Dass has been writing and sharing his experiments in truth for almost thirty years.
From Miracle of Love. ©1979, 1995, Hanuman Foundation, Santa Fe, NM 87504. Reprinted by arrangement with Ram Dass.