If You Do Not Make It Empty

Neem Karoli Baba MaharajjiBabaji had built the ashrams at Kainchi and Vrindaban, but they were not run as ashrams in the strict sense of the term.

A visitor unacquainted with his name would take it to be a big household rather than an ashram. Except for a few sadhus who might be staying for a short while, it was the life of the householder that was lived at the ashram.

No one was a permanent resident; all were visitors. They came to the ashram for a break from the worries and burdens which go with the life of the average householder.

The life in the ashrams all centered around Maharaj ji. People came and tried to spend as much time with him as possible.

There were certain hours when everyone was sure to see him. Everyone looked to him as the head of the household: it was his responsibility to provide everything for everyone. He took upon himself all their burdens so they could enjoy the happiness of being near him. Many performed various kinds of service out of sheer joy and not from any compulsion.

Sometimes Babaji would say that people living in other ashrams did all kinds of work, even ladies from rich families. But in Kainchi or Vrindaban the work was done by servants. He asked me, "Dada, why do people not work here as in other ashrams?"

I said, "Baba, in those places people go for the purpose of serving, but here people come to the nana's [maternal grandfather's] house for enjoyment."

He said, "Who is the nana here?"

"You are, of course. All fun and no work."

He laughed and repeated, "I am the nana, I am." And he laughed about it all that day.

In Baba's ashrams the storerooms would be full of all the essential things. What was needed, where it was to come from, how the payments were to be made—that was all his responsibility. How he did this was a great mystery. Huge amounts of provisions would be used every day but he would always know the exact inventory, although no records were maintained.

The provisions for the kitchen were purchased on credit from shops at Haldwani and other places. Haridas used to be in charge of ordering supplies and making payments. One day Babaji reminded Haridas that a payment had not been made to a shopkeeper in Haldwani for a long time and shouldn't be delayed any longer. Haridas was certain the shopkeeper was owed 11,000 rupees. Babaji said the amount was less. The next morning Haridas was given the 11,000 rupees and when he left Babaji told me he would only have to pay 7,000 rupees, which was in fact what happened.

Some of the visitors who came to Kainchi wondered where Babaji got his money. They saw bhandara going on all the time and money being spent lavishly. One day, a certain person asked to meet me alone. He had seen me distributing prasad and being close with Babaji and wanted to know where the money came from. He wanted me to testify that Babaji was creating money. Such cases were not rare. They made us realise that all kinds of people came to Babaji with different aims and motives. In this way we could understand when he said, "So many come not for meeting me, but to test me."

Money came from many quarters, but Baba was very selective. He would often say that money came to Hanuman ji—it belonged to him. If you used it properly and avoided all misuse and wastage, there would always be enough. We would see him accept money from a devotee who loved to give with no other motive. If there were strings attached, he would reject it outright.

Back in 1966 there was a small wooden bridge over the river in Kainchi, not the big bridge that is there now. He would sometimes go and sit there in the afternoon and take his food. A few days before the June fifteenth bhandara he was sitting there when a devotee from Bareilly came in a truck. He had brought some supplies for the bhandara—a basket of clay cups and two or three packets of leaf plates. He came and sat before Baba and said to me, "Dada, tell me what else is needed?"


He went on pestering me. "What else? What else?"

Then I said, "All right, if you want to send something, then send another two baskets of those clay cups." Those cups are not easily available in the hills.

Maharaj ji cried, "What? What are you going to do with them? You have got so many. You are very greedy. Whenever somebody offers you something, you jump for it." I kept quiet.

When the man had taken prasad and was about to leave, he took a hundred rupee note and put it before Babaji. "What is this?"

He said, "Babaji, it is for the bhandara." Babaji took the note, tore it into pieces, and threw it into the river. The man gasped, but had no words to say. He went away very sad and disappointed.

Babaji said to me, "You didn't understand? You should never accept money or eat food offered by a miser. You can never digest that! That man has so much money, but he never gives anything in charity or feeds anybody. I know him well."

One day Baba was giving darshan to some high dignitaries and big businessmen. There was lots of talk about the stock market. While discussing the price of gold, Babaji said the price would start falling because Russia would stop purchasing gold on the international market.

A month or so later, an impressive, middle-aged man in a silk kurta [Indian shirt] and white jacket was sitting with some people in Babaji's room. He had been given prasad but was still sitting, and it seemed to me that he was waiting for an opportunity to talk to Babaji alone. When the others had left, he took out a large amount of currency notes and put them on Babaji's tucket.

"What is this?"

"This is for you to use for your bhandara. You have saved me from such a big loss. I am a bullion merchant. I was purchasing gold when the prices were rising. I was actually taking out a loan from the bank to purchase more, but I was here when you said that the price would fall. I sold some of my stock and made a large gain."

Maharaj ji said, "Accha? Accha?" as if he did not know anything of such matters. Then, "Dada, do you need money?"

"No, Baba."

"I do not need money; Dada does not need money. What shall we do with the money?"

The man said, "Baba, please take it."

But Babaji would not do so. After the man went away he said, "Dada, you must be regretting the loss of so much money." I said this was so. "Dada, what can you take from human beings? What have they got to give you? It is God who gives. God has everything. You did not understand why he was giving the money. That was not an offering to me, but my purchase price. If I had accepted it, then he would have come every time he was making a big deal to get tips from me. He would have thought that he had a claim on me."

But there were many devotees whose offerings Babaji would accept easily, saying they were offerings to Hanuman ji for his bhandara. Some would be asked to give money or provisions for the ashram. Many devotees felt that all was given by him and they were only passing back again what was already his.

One day while Babaji was sitting on the porch surrounded by people, a car stopped at the ashram gate. Babaji told me to open the door to his room as this visitor would want to talk to him alone. While going to the room with Babaji, I said that he looked like a pickpocket. Babaji laughed and said, "No, no, Dada. He is going to give you money for your bhandara. He is a great devotee of Hanuman ji and often sends money for prasad."

On so many occasions we saw him take money from some and refuse it from others. It was obviously not the money, but the person giving it and what he had in mind. Sometimes other issues complicated the matter. This was the case with money offered by the western devotees.

Harinam Das was one of the western devotees in Kainchi in the summer of 1971. He wanted to offer some money to Babaji as a token of his love for him. He proposed writing a check in my name, knowing the money would reach Babaji. I had to decline, saying that I could not accept it without Babaji's approval. When we talked to Babaji about it, he said I had done the right thing—money should not be taken from the westerners.

Harinam Das left the room very upset. Babaji said to me, "Dada, it is not proper to take money from them. They have come from long distances and have spent so much money getting here, they must be discouraged from giving money to me. They are not like you; they offer their money out of a pure heart. But once we start taking it, many persons will ask them for money, which will bring a bad name on this ashram."

The matter did not end there. Harinam Das asked Babaji several times over the summer about the money. Finally Babaji gave his consent and Harinam wrote a check for $2,200 in my name. When it was credited I was to send the amount to the ashram. On reaching Allahabad I did as I had been advised and was told by the bank it would take three months to clear the check and receive the money.

Four days after that I had a long letter from Babaji telling me that he had thought the matter over and decided the money should be returned. Although I knew full well that I did not have that amount in my account, I sent the check as ordered by Babaji.

When I was back in Kainchi in September, Harinam Das came and put my check before Babaji, asking him to take it back. To his great disappointment, Babaji did not agree. In Allahabad, I learned that only two days before Harinam had cashed my check, his original check had been credited to my account—months before it should have been!

Harinam was unhappy about the whole situation, as Babaji well knew. When he was leaving for America, Harinam left the money with Anjani, hoping that some day Babaji might be gracious enough to accept it. When Anjani brought the money to Kainchi, Baba told me that the money should be put in Hanuman ji's donation box in the temple. It should be at night when no one would see it being done. He said, "When Anjani puts the money in the box, push it in with a stick. Otherwise the priest has a way of taking it out." So after everyone had gone to their rooms, we went to the temple, went behind the curtain and stuffed the money in the box. It was great fun!

Many of his devotees who brought food, fruits, blankets or clothes wanted Babaji not only to accept the gifts, but also to use them himself. This seldom happened. His wants were few and as soon as these articles came, he usually gave them away.

One exception was when Krishna Das's mother, Sylvia, came from America and brought a very nice pullover for Babaji. He was so delighted, asking where it was made, saying the wool was so very soft, and all those things. "Imagine, she was coming from such a long distance, but she has brought something. Look at the people who are here with me, they would never think of getting anything for me." It was seldom possible to make him take anything, even food, but when this lady brought this pullover, Maharaj ji not only accepted it, he also showed it to all and wore it.

On the other hand, there was a high Indian official who used to come with his wife to see Baba. Once his wife said to me, "Dada, I want to knit a pullover for Baba. Shall I do it?"

"That is your choice," I told her.

"No, no," she said, "Will he wear it?"

"Of course I don't know if he will wear it."

"No, you have got to make him wear it."

When she insisted that I could make him wear it, I said no one could make him do anything. But she decided to take the risk and make the pullover. When she brought it to Baba he said, "Dada, it is good. Keep it and I shall wear it later."

She said, "No Baba, you wear it now."

But he would not, nor did he ever. He gave it away. He knew the terms and conditions attached to it and what had gone into the making of it.

His clothes were very simple, usually a dhoti and a blanket or white sheet. So also his bed and a few other things were the simplest. He was quite at home in the houses of his poorest devotees and relished the modest food offered to him. Living with him one felt that even food was not necessary and he could easily manage with nothing.

After Maharaj ji would take his daily bath in Allahabad, we would give him a new dhoti to wear. Siddhi Didi said, "There is no need for a new dhoti every day. The same dhoti can be washed and given to him to wear again." But I wanted to do it and Baba seemed to like it.

One day before leaving with some of the devotees he said, "I must change my dhoti." Even though he had changed in the morning, I gave him a new one. When they returned a week later, Babaji was a sight! He had no blanket, no undershirt, only the dhoti, which was wrinkled and covered with dust and cow dung.

I said to those persons, "You wretched people! You are so keen and particular about your own clothes and washing every day, but look at this fellow. What is he wearing?"

They protested, "What could we do? We asked him many times to take a bath and change his dhoti, but he would not do it. He said, "I shall keep this. I shall not change.'" He had been wearing it for one whole week, sitting anywhere and everywhere, visiting the Jagganath temple, Dakshineshwar and Benares. But no bath, nothing of the sort. That dhoti afterwards was kept by us.

Seeing Baba spending so much money and surrounded by so many things, some people thought he was attached to them. Not only householders made this error, but sometimes sadhus too.

Once in the month of October, when Kainchi was already cold, Babaji was sitting in front of a charcoal stove when a sadhu came and began shouting at him, "So it has come to this. You have accumulated so much wealth that you have forgotten all your sadhana and live like a prisoner. Don't you remember that attachment is the deadliest poison for a sadhu? This was not expected of you." Baba persuaded him to sit and take some prasad. He then asked the sadhu to give him some money. The sadhu said he had none, but Babaji kept pressuring him and reluctantly he took out a few hidden rupee notes.

Babaji kept coaxing him to give more. Babaji went on counting and fondling those notes while looking directly at the sadhu, talking to him. As if by accident, the notes fell on the burning charcoal. Seeing his money burning up, the sadhu jumped up and began abusing Babaji in the strongest terms, "You are swelling with money and therefore you do not attach any value to these notes. You do not know how very precious they are to me. It has taken a long time to accumulate that amount and I have been holding it for my needs."

Babaji kept quiet and reached for some tongs. He began to stoke the fire and started pulling new notes out of the fire and counting them.

Seeing what was happening, the sadhu became quiet. When Babaji offered him the notes back he bacame very repentant and apologetic. Babaji said, "You have been saying that sadhus must not have attachment. How then did that come to you? You were so attached to these few pieces of paper, taking them to be so very precious in the journey of your life. That is not the nonattachment you were preaching." The sadhu sat silent a long time, took his prasad, and left.

In Kainchi and Vrindaban and also in Allahabad, Maharaj ji would have me distributing money. "Give him so much, give her so much." The money would be in the pocket of my black vest. When that money was gone, I would go and take more from Didi's box. Sometimes Maharaj ji would give me some. "Here, take this money, you will spend it." From the very beginning there was no question of whether I was spending my money or the money came from his hand.

One day the money in my pocket was gone and I was going for more. Jiban Baba was waiting outside the room and, knowing where I was going, he gave me a bunch of notes. He had done this on a number of occasions. When I returned to the room Baba said to me, "Dada, if you do not make it empty, how are you going to fill it up again?"

Maharaj ji would give all kinds of things as prasad, including blankets. Once a sadhu came who was going to Badrinath and he was to be given a blanket. The blankets in the storeroom were all gone. Baba said, "Dada, what will you do now?"

"Oh, I will give him a blanket." I went to my room and took a blanket from there.

Maharaj ji said, "That blanket is not yours! That is Kamala's blanket."

I said, "What of that? She will not mind."

"Accha? She will not mind? You are giving her blanket?" Later Babaji said, "Dada, a devotee from Barielly has just sent you a big bundle of blankets!"

In Allahabad one day he said to Didi, "Kamala, it is very hot. I will take off my blanket and I want a shawl." She brought a thick one but he said, "No, this is too heavy. There is a shawl in that chest, bring that one."

Now in my college days I used to sometimes wear a shawl. A dear friend from the hills brought me a very fine shawl which was dove color and actually matched the kurta [a kind of tunic] that I wore. Babaji had never seen it, I rarely took it out of the chest, but he asked for that shawl and wore it that day. Later he gave it away.

When he gave away my clothes or blankets I didn't mind, but when he gave away my books I was not very happy. The books were very precious to me. When I was teaching in the university, I generally didn't borrow books from the library, I bought my own and I didn't like to lose them. So when Maharaj ji started distributing my books, it was hard. I thought at first I would hide them somewhere, but there was no way of saving them. One day Baba suddenly said, "You give away all my books and do not keep anything for me to read! You must keep my books." He took a book and wrote "Ram Ram Ram" in it and said, "This is my book and you must keep it." He did that to several and those books were kept on a shelf in his room. Afterwards I understood that he wanted me to read them. Those books about the saints and sages helped me to understand him.

When we were in Kainchi in 1972, I was alone with Babaji after he had taken his evening meal. He asked me who slept in one of the rooms in our house in Allahabad. I said, "Ma, Maushi Ma, Subodh and Vibouti."

"Who sleeps in Kamala's room?" he asked.

I said, "No one."

"Where does Ashoka sleep?"

Ashoka was staying at the house while we were away. I said she slept on the verandah. "Why does she not sleep in that room?"

"Because it is hot and therefore she sleeps outside."

"Accha, accha." The matter ended there.

The next morning a telegram came from my brother in Allahabad: "Dacoits broke open and ransacked the storeroom and took away jewels and ornaments." There was no question of leaving Baba to return to Allahabad.

Several days later Baba said, "Look at this fellow. There has been a theft in his house and they want him to go there, but he is completely indifferent about it." Later we came to know that the clothes and other things were not taken, but the ornaments of Didi and Ashoka were gone. Baba said, "Dada, they would not make charity, they would not make gifts. That is why the things have gone away."

People who saw Babaji in the ashram procuring supplies and urging their safekeeping could be forgiven for thinking that he was attached to these things. But they were misled. If he had been indifferent or very slack, everything would have easily vanished in no time. Once many stainless steel cups and plates came to the ashram, but within a few months most of them were gone. I said, "It is surprising that ashram supplies go away like that."

Babaji laughed, "Dada, here everything goes away as prasad. That is what has happened to your cups and plates."

The day of the main bhandara of the year, about five o'clock in the afternoon, a large number of people were still on the ashram premises waiting for Babaji to return to the ashram. We were standing in front of the temples when someone came running and told us a gang of young men had entered the ashram from the back side. They were knocking at every door, threatening people into vacating the rooms. Then we saw them—about fifteen young men—pounding against some closed doors and demanding the keys, which I held. They began shouting at me, "What do you people think about this ashram? Flatterers like you from the plains who surround Babaji have started to think this ashram belongs to you. You are fools. The ashram belongs to us—the ones who built it!" They threatened me and demanded the keys. One of the gentlemen standing in the group knew the troublemakers and was able to calm them down and persuade them to go away.

A short while later Babaji came rushing in, asking what the rumpus in the ashram was all about. Babaji began shouting at the people narrating the incident, saying, "They should have shot me and not insulted Dada like that!" Rushing out of the ashram, he got into the jeep. Reaching Bhumiadhar, he sat on the verandah by the road in the dark. The young me had traveled from Kainchi by truck, planning to set fire to the temple at Bhumiadhar. They began marching towards the temple, carrying burning torches in their hands. As they approached, Babaji jumped out towards them, roaring like a lion. They ran down the road, fearing for their lives. Babaji ran after them, driving them far away, and then returned to the temple. He was talking, as if to himself, "They wanted to make a fool of me. I knew what they were after and gave them a long rope." Later he laughed and told me, "They came to frighten me, but when I shouted at them it was enough to make them pee in their trousers!"

The next day everyone was talking of the incident. Babaji said it had been planned for a long time and that he knew the persons who were behind it. In the afternoon a man came, touched my feet, and began to apologise on behalf of his son, who had been one of the gang. I told him that I had not taken any offense, but he must go to Babaji and get his pardon. He said that he had seen Babaji first, who had sent him to me. This gentleman who was pleading for his son was the older brother of Haridas Baba.

When we reached Babaji's room, we saw him surrounded by the elderly relations of those involved in the rumpus. Some of them pleaded ignorance about the involvement of their children in the conspiracy, but Babaji refuted their arguments and exposed them all fully.

A few days later Haridas came from Hanumanghar. As Haridas was ill, Babaji went to his room to talk to him. Baba told me no one should come in, and the Mothers were actually locked in their rooms. I stood at the door. Babaji went on exposing the whole conspiracy and the people close to him who had been involved. His voice was raised to such a high pitch that many people became frightened at his loss of temper. Haridas had broken down and was crying the whole time.

Babaji was shouting: "Do you think that I am accumulating wealth and building up assets in ashrams and properties? Do you think I am going to be tied down by them? I shall burn Kainchi and go away!" Not only the people in the ashram, but those out on the road were actually trembling.

All this was because Haridas would not agree to leave Kainchi and this was a way of pushing him out. It was not that Maharaj ji had taken it to heart. It was just a shadow play. Later I said to him, "You cannot discharge anybody, you can only transfer!" That is what happened to Haridas. He wanted to build a small community of his own devotees. Therefore, Haridas was "transferred" and now, of course, has found his place. Baba did not make Haridas an orphan, or take revenge on him. He gave him what he wanted.

Those involved in the incident could see what Baba possessed, but did not see that the wealth or property did not possess him. It must have been painful for Baba to accumulate so many possessions, but it was a self-imposed pain. He suffered this because of his compassion—helping and assisting the helpless, doing good for others. He said, "Dada, I could have been a great saint, but I suffer from a serious handicap—too much compassion." It was that compassion that made him a prisoner.

When he left Kainchi for the last time he said, "Now I am leaving Central Jail." Even his blanket dropped from his body.