Richard Alpert went to India, met Neem Karoli Baba and returned to America as Ram Dass, author of the mega-bestseller “Be Here Now.” He wasn’t supposed to speak about his experiences, but he couldn’t keep silent. His stories inspired an unhappy kid named Jeffrey Kagel to rush off to India. He returned as Krishna Das, now the Bruce Springsteen of kirtan. Later, Baba influenced Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. For a guy who never left India, he definitely got around.
Neem Karoli Baba — also known as Maharaj-ji — was born rich, married at 11, and was well along the guru path before he was 20. Before his death in 1973, he established more than 100 temples, performed miracles, fed the poor. He did this without seeking public notice. More remarkable, he did it without traditional spiritual teaching. His core message could not have been simpler: “Love Everyone. Serve Everyone. Feed People. Remember God.”
For this book, Parvati Markus collected stories from the people — Americans, mostly — who knew Baba best. But although he was endlessly quotable, words mattered for him less than experiences. Here’s Ram Dass: “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 pat on the head or back, and they were sent away.”
This book delivers stories of remarkable experiences, one over and over — his ability to know everything about you. I realize that is not a sentence that has any credibility with many of you, but it seems Baba did know the thoughts, hearts and secrets of everyone who came before him. And the bigger miracle: He knew all that and still loved them unconditionally. You will have a hard time resisting the conclusion of Krishna Das: “This shit is real!” [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Stories? Try these:
“Answering before we could get our questions out and all of the other miracles meant nothing to me. The true miracle was his state of consciousness, his being, his infinite love, that oneness with god, that beyond the beyond. His presence – that’s the whole thing. “
“It wasn’t that he loved us, it was that when we were around him we loved him and each other so much. The experience of the fully open heart –– once you have that experience, you may not always dwell in that place, but you know it.”
This sounds… pleasant. It was, in fact, challenging for all those who were returning to the known world. Love everyone — without exception. Try it for five minutes. It’s beyond impossible. But on that point, Neem Karoli Baba was unyielding.
The challenges were bathed in love. When he sent devotees away, it was because he knew they were needed elsewhere. And as he was dying, he started sending away those he knew would have trouble being there when he died. For him, it was nothing. “I’m leaving central jail,” he joked.
When he died, a devotee sat by the body all day, fanning flies off his face: “It was a meditation on impermanence unlike any other.” At his funeral, his son smashed his head with a large stick to liberate the spirit. And then he was burned.
Dead? Those who knew him laugh, for Neem Karoli Baba is now as potent an influence — maybe more — than when he was in his body. This book makes the case for those who want to believe we are more than walking corpses. Some days I know that, many I can’t. This book is like light on water. It tips the scales.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
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