There can be no biography to him, 'facts are few, stories many, 'he seems to have been known by different names in many parts of 'India, appearing and disappearing through the years. 'His 'Western devotees of recent years knew him as 'Neem 'Karoli 'Baba, but mostly as "Maharajji" - a nick name so commonplace in 'India that one can often here a tea vendor addressed thus. 'Just as he said, he was 'nobody'.
'He gave no discourses; the briefest, simplest stories were his teachings. 'Usually he sat or lay on a wooden bench wrapped in a plaid blanket while a few devotees sat around him. 'Visitors came and went; they were given food, a few words, a nod, a slap on the head or back, and they were sent away. There was gossip and laughter for the loved to joke, orders for running the ashram were given, usually in a piercing yell across the compound. Sometimes he sat in silence, absorbed in another world to which we could not follow, but bliss and peace poured down on us. 'Who he was was no more than the experience of him, the nectar of his presence, the totality of his absence - enveloping us now like his plaid blanket.
In 1967 'I met 'Neem 'Karoli 'Baba, a meeting which changed the course of may life. 'In the depth of his compassion, wisdom, humor, power and love 'I found human possibility never before imagined ... an extraordinary integration of spirit and form.
'I was with him only briefly for he left his body in 1973. Still he entered my heart as living truth, and his presence continues to enrich and guide my life.
"When the Flower Blooms..."
In 1967 I met my guru. That meeting changed the course of my life, for through him I came to perceive my life in spiritual terms. In him I found new depths of compassion, love, wisdom, humor, and power, and his actions stretched my understanding of the human possibility. I recognized in him an alliance of the human and the divine.
After our initial meeting I remained in India, as close to him as I was allowed to be, for five more months before returning to America. Before leaving India I had received his ashirbad (blessing) for a book, which until that moment I had had no thought of writing. Back in West, I found many kindred souls open and ready to share what I had received; and his blessing and their thirst gave rise to Be Here Now.
In 1970 I returned to India and remained with him, off and on, from February 1971 until March 1972 when my visa expired and I was evicted from the country. However, with him or away for him, he remained the source and impetus for my spiritual awakening.
From the beginning, I had wanted to share him with others, but initially he forbade me bringing people directly to him. A relatively few (several hundred) Westerners nevertheless found their way to him and were touched at the core of their beings as I had been. On September 11, 1973, he died, or, as the Indian would say, he left his body.
In the succeeding years, I have found that the absence of his body has not diminished his influence upon my life. To the contrary, with each passing year I have increasingly experienced his presence, his guidance, his love, and, each time I have taken myself too seriously, his comic giggle. This suggested the possibility that others who had never "met" him in the body could similarly be touched by him. This suspicion has been confirmed by a surprisingly large number of people who have reported that through books, lecture, tapes, and personal contact which devotees, they have experienced him in a way that has graced their lives.
I speak of him as "my guru," but in fact I never think of him or our relationship in such a formal way. For me, he is very simple Maharajji, a nickname (which means "great king") so commonplace in India that one can often hear a tea vendor addressed thus.
Those of us who were with Maharajji meet again frequently in India or in the West. The conversation invariably turns to recollections of him. Story after pours forth, and each story is punctuated with silence, laughter, or expostulations as we savor its depth and elegance. In those moments the space becomes rich with the living spirit and we know that he is among us.
In my travels I have now met thousands of awakening beings whose open-hearted receptivity makes me want to share the intimacy with Maharajji to which stories about him give rise. And yet thus far only a very few stories about him, primarily concerning my personal experiences with him, have appeared in print. It was in order to rectify this situation that the present book was undertaken.
Immediately after his death, I encouraged several Westerners in their plan to travel throughout India collecting stories. They were able to obtain some four hundred anecdotes, but, at time, they found many of Indian devotees reticent to a peak about him. He had always frowned upon their talking much about him, and they were still feeling that restriction. In 1976 two of us were again in India and found, to our delight, that many of the Indian devotees - who, of course, had known him far more extensively and over the course of many more years than we had - were now willing to freely share their treasure of stories. At that time we collected twelve hundred stories. Since then, with the help of another Westerner, we have added an additional four hundred stories gathered from East and West, thus bringing the total number of stories, anecdotes, and quotations based on interviews with over a hundred devotees to over two thousand.
Of course, even a hundred devotees are altogether but a fraction of the thousands who were touched by Maharajji in the course of his life, each of whom holds some precious memory and piece of the puzzle. But lest we would drown in such an ocean of recollection, at a certain point I made an arbitrary decision to stop gathering and being to organize what we already had.
The devotees whose stories are included are from a wide range of social and culture positions. Interviews were gathered from important officials in their offices and from sweepers on the streets. We taped discussions of women from the Himalayan hill village as they squatted warming their hands around a coal brazier in the late afternoon. We listed to reminiscences in living rooms, streets, temple, compounds, while sitting around fires under the stars, in cars, hot tubs, airplanes, and on long walks. Stories were offered by Hindu priests as they puffed on their chillums (hashish pipes), by professors, police officials, farmers, industrialists, by children and their mothers, who spoke while stirring their bubbling pots over wood and charcoal fires. Always there was the same feeling of shy joy at sharing such a private, precious memory with another. These gatherings to speak about him were indescribably graceful.
Having gathered these stories, our next question was how to present this formidable body of material. For three years I had been working with this problem, writing and rewriting. My initial effort was more in the way of a personal chronology, but I found that such a structure did not easily include all the material, and, additionally, it demanded the incorporating my personal experiences as merely additional stories and grouping selected stories around various topical headings. The result is the present compilation.
These stories, anecdotes, and quotations create a mosaic through which Maharajji can be met. To hold the components of this mosaic together I have used the absolute minimum of structural cement, preferring to keep out my personal interpretations and perspective as much as possible.
But this strategy of sharing with you the material in its purest form makes precious little compromise for your motivation, for I have excluded the usual seductive story lines that would make you want to read further. I did not want to manipulate your desire to want to read about Maharajji; rather, I merely wanted to make whatever was available to me, available to you. As you will see, Maharajji demanded that all of us make some considerable effort to have his darshan (the experience of his presence). I feel that it is in the spirit of his teaching to demand that those readers who would have his darshan through this book make a similar "right" or "real" effort (in the some spoken of by Buddha in the eightfold path and by George Gurdjieff).
So if you approach this book with the desire to meet him and have his darshan in a way that could profoundly alter your life, as it has ours, than you will want to work with this book slowly and deeply. I can only assure you that in my opinion each stories carries some teaching and is worthy of reflection. You will neither want to nor be able to read this book through from cover to cover-in one or even a few sittings. Rather like fine brandy, these recollections must be sipped slowly and the taste and aroma allowed to permeate deeply into your mind and heart. And 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.
It is difficult to separate Maharajji and his teachings from the environment in which I knew him. His form, in its larger sense, is for me India and the beautiful Kumoan Hills and the Ganges - it is his devotees and all their tenderness and bickering; it is his temples and the photographs of him. His teachings were the love of the Mother Earth that I first experienced in the Indian Villages - and my dysentery and visa hassles, and the sacred cows and the rickshaw rides, the teeming markets and misty jungle walks. And yet, while the drama of being with him was played out on the rich stage of India, the value of the setting seemed merely as a reservoir of experiences through which the teaching could occur. He himself did not seem particularly Indian, no more Eastern than Western. Although we met him in Hindu temples, he did not seem any more Hindu than Buddhist or Christian.
He used all the stuff of our lives - clothing, food, sleep; fears, doubts, aspirations; families, marriages; sicknesses, births, and deaths - to teach us about living in the spirit. By doing this, he initiated a process through which we could continue to learn from the experiences of our lives even when we were not with him. This accounts at least in part for the continuity in his teachings that we have all experienced since his death.
I hope that through working with these stories, you can tune your perceptions in such a way as to meet and being a dialogue with Maharajji through the vehicle of your own daily life events. Such a moment-to-moment dialogue, carried on in one's heart, is a remarkable form of alchemy for transforming matter into spirit through love.
I have been hanging out with Maharajji in just this way. And I can't begin to tell you
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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