The Saint Called Nobody
"He appeared and disappeared for years, being known by different names in various parts of India. His western devotees knew him as Neem Karoli Baba, but to the Indians he was simply Maharajji,” writes Baba Ram Dass of his guru in his book Miracles of Love. Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert, professor of psychology and colleague of LSD guru Timothy Leary, met Neem Karoli Baba in 1967. During that time, Alpert was quite a firm believer in the mysticism of psychedelic drugs. However, one meeting with Maharajji changed his whole view of life. And after Neem Karoli Baba left his body on September 11, 1973, Ram Dass, along with some other disciples, compiled stories and anecdotes about the sage. The result was Miracles of Love—an attempt, in the words of Ram Dass, “to give Maharajji’s darshan to all”.
Neem Karoli Baba never gave any discourses as such. His mode of teaching was through simple stories and practical examples. Little is known about the saint’s background. He did not appear to belong to any religion. His only message was loving and living in spirit. The enigmatic mystic abused, shouted, lied, even experimented with drugs and had tea with dacoits. But, like the wind, he belonged to no one. In his own words, he was ‘nobody’. What follows are excerpts from Miracles of Love:
TOO BIG, TOO LITTLE When you finally arrived at the right place at the right time and were told: "Yes, he's here," and found yourself seated before him, what was it like? Even the tongues and hands of the gods and goddesses of speech, music and poetry could not do justice to those occasions.
When Maharajji came out, you never knew what to expect. He could do the same thing a week in a row until you'd think: "Well, he'll come out at 8.00." Then he might not come out at all that day, or he might just go into another room and close the door and be in there for two days. You had to learn to expect the unexpected.
One day he came out and all he said all day long was "thul-thul, nan-nan," repeating these words to himself like a mantra. Days went by like this and somebody finally said: "Maharajji, what are you saying?" And it turned out to be an old Bihari dialect and all it meant was "too big, too big, too little, too little". When he was finally asked why he was saying this, he finally said: "Oh, all you people, you live in the world of judgment. It's always too big or too little."
A policeman and a dacoit were both once visiting Maharajji. Each was massaging a leg. Maharajji said to the dacoit: "There is a bounty out for you and anyone who brings you in gets a reward. Isn't that true?"
"I don't know, Maharajji," the dacoit replied.
Then Maharajji turned to the policeman and, indicating the dacoit, said: "Do you recognize him?"
Such was his play.
The lessons Maharajji taught about rituals were fraught with paradox that outdistanced the rational mind. He seemed concerned that the rituals be done properly, yet he broke all the rules. But as one devotee said: "When there was work, he would set aside the rituals, and the minute the work was completed, he sent you to do puja." Perhaps he also broke the rules, such as upsetting the fire ceremony, to show people that the thing itself was not the ritual but the spirit. Do the ritual to tune in, but don't get caught. Once, two old men who had taken sanyas after raising families and having done their duties, spent many months at the Kainchi temple (near the hill-station Naini Tal in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh). Maharajji heard them singing "Sita Ram" for several hours each morning. When it was time for them to leave, Maharajji called them in front of him and, in what appeared to be outrage, yelled at them for beating an iron pan in front of the idols. In the scriptures, iron is not to be used in the temples. Maharajji told them that they didn't know how to behave properly and so he threw them out. As they turned to walk away, Maharajji broke into a grin and sang in a high falsetto voice, sweetly: "You beat the gong, and I threw you out."
A young fellow once came and Maharajji asked him how he was, and he said: "Oh, Maharajji, I've overcome anger." Maharajji said: "Very good," and kept praising him. At that time, there was another fellow present who had been asking Maharajji for many years to come to his house, but Maharajji had never come because the boy's father did not believe in sadhus (ascetics). But now Maharajji suddenly agreed. The whole party went to the boy's house and Maharajji sat on a cot belonging to the boy's father. Then Maharajji leaned over, looked the father in the eye and said in Hindi: "You're a great saint." But he used the personal form, which you use only to intimate friends or to people of lower caste. So it was really an insult. The old man got upset but held himself together. A little time passed and Maharajji leaned over once again and said: "You're a great saint." The father's temper was rising by the minute, but he still kept control. A few minutes later, Maharajji said the same thing again. This time the father screamed at Maharajji: "You're no saint. You just eat people's food, and take their beds. You're a phony." At this point, the young fellow who had overcome anger leaped to his feet, grabbed the father and started shaking him, saying: "Shut up, you don't know who you're talking to. He's a great saint. If you don't shut up now, I'll kill you." Now Maharajji got up, looked around bewildered and said: "What's the matter? Don't they want me here? We should go—they don't want me here." So he got up and started walking out. On his way, he turned to the young fellow and said: "It's very difficult to overcome anger. Even some of the greatest saints don't overcome anger." The fellow said: "But Maharajji, he was abusing you!" "That's right," Maharajji said. "But why were you angry?"
Once I (Ram Dass) said: "Why do you feed so many people and why so much? I could eat only four chapattis and still stay alive." Maharajji answered: "We have an inner thirst for food. We don't know of it. Even if you don't feel you can eat, your soul has a thirst for food. Take prasad!"
Maharajji was talking in a room with only a few people, and to one man the talk appeared meaningless. He said: "Babaji, you should give instructions and lessons to people." Maharajji didn't answer. "Sometimes," the man went on, "give us answers and teach us something." Again Maharajji didn't answer him. The man repeated his statement a third time. Irritated, Maharajji shouted: "What are instructions? What is this? What are lessons? This is all foolishness!" Turning to the men standing there, Maharajji asked each how each one would pass the next day. Each man gave a similar reply, saying that he would go to work as usual. Maharajji said: "So many people would pass the day and they'll all do what they have to do tomorrow and they have all pre-planned it. What is the use of giving a particular teaching? No matter what I say, you'll still go on and do what you want. Yet you want me to dictate something. These teachings have got no meaning. It is the Almighty who teaches everybody-they all come well-taught."
Reading the Gita in front of Maharajji, a devotee paused and asked him what was the quickest and shortest method to see God. Maharajji laughed and asked the man if he knew how to swim. The devotee replied that he did. Then Maharajji said that, in that case, he should first bind his arms and legs, tie himself to large boulders and throw himself into deep water. "Then, you'll see God right away," he concluded.