Umadutta Shukla 2 Chapter

Neem Karoli Baba MaharajjiAt the Kumbha Mela of 1966, a big camp was set up in the mela grounds for the devotees who were coming to spend the entire period of the mela there and also for feeding the sadhus and pilgrims visiting the mela.

At the bhandara, thousands of people were fed without any distinction or discrimination all day, every day of the mela.

There had never been anything like that before, nor was there afterwards.

This was all done through the dedicated and inspired services of devoteees, not through hired cooks and servants, as it is mostly done in the ashrams.

Babaji used to visit the camp every day, but would not stay there. He would leave for the mela after taking his food at home, returning in the evening, sometimes late. I used to accompany him. Shukla was posted at the mela and had to stay there all the time. His duty was to visit the sadhus to notify them of the bhandara, receive them and arrange for their feeding. This was work very much to his choice, and he did it indefatigably. When Shukla was free from this duty, Babaji would send him to the camps of some well-known sadhus who were staying in the mela area. Shukla was sent alone to see for himself and to satisfy his interest or curiosity about visiting sadhus.  

One day he was sent to the camp of Mahesh Yogi, who was much publicized in the mela area. Babaji told Shukla to see for himself how this Transcendental Meditation was taught to the people. Shukla visited that camp, where many high-ups in society had gathered. He saw several persons in meditation and many others moving about and talking, but he could only observe from a distance, as he was taken to be a non-entity and not deserving of any attention. There was more activity than meditation. He was disappointed because he was judging from his own standpoint and knowledge of japa and puja, dhyan and samadhi. Babaji had sent him to learn how the new meditation taught there was different from what he had learned previously, but he could not because Mahesh Yogi was sitting too high to teach the secrets of yoga to persons like him.

Babaji realized that Shukla was much disheartened. He had gone with the high expectation of learning something that would help him in his own sadhana. Babaji then said, "I sent you to see and to observe, not to learn anything. One cannot learn these things so easily. You need time for that. You have to make effort and stick to it. What you wanted was something ready-made to be put in the palm of your hand. It was your mistake to go with that expectation. However, it was useful. At least you have seen how a business is run. Anyone who opens a shop and fixes it up can earn his income. If you learned only this much, that would be very valuable for you. But how can you learn? You could never learn how to run a shop. You have closed down the shop of your father and your own shop is in a bad state. Well, you must learn that a business is not run like this. You cannot leave your business in the charge of others and only enjoy its earning. I know only this much."

Shukla said that eveything that Babaji did was for our learning. Everything had meaning for us. We have to see, to learn, to disabuse our minds of many wrong ideas and notions. Whatever work you may be engaged in, full effort is needed for its success. In the absence of such effort, when failure comes, we accuse others of our lapses. We say we have been cheated and deceived, or that no one has helped us. We accuse others for our own faults and that is how we lose all our friends and well-wishers.

Shukla emphasized that Babaji knew his nature very well. "He was always trying to teach me to be more active and vigilant, and not as emotional and soft-hearted as I was by nature. Babaji knew that I could never be turned into a successful businessman. I did not have the makings for it. For Babaji there was nothing wrong with my choice to lead life as a religious idealist rather than as a shrewd and calculating businesman. But it could not be denied that I was not fully reconciled to being satisfied with things as they came, so Babaji wanted to teach me that what I was getting and what I was missing were both the result of my own doing. No one else was responsible for it.

"This is what I had to learn: I make and unmake everything for myself. If I wanted the successful wordly life, then I should go all the way for it and change the old pattern of my life and work to the utmost for the new pattern. And if I do not go for that or am unable to do that, I should accept it and be fully satisfied that success along that line was not for me. So, the false charm in the mind for those things should be banished. Do not shed tears for things that are not for you or that you cannot bring yourself to do. It is of utmost importance to be satisfied and reconciled with what you have received as your reward for your efforts.

"Brother, I only know this much: decide exactly what you want and what you will have to do to achieve it. What is the work that has been given to you? Look at it from all sides and then devote yourself to it with full strength and energy. We look to all sides expecting that somebody will come to help and finish the work for us. This never happens.

"After all, what is sadhana? Sadhana does not mean that while you sit in meditation with your eyes closed, cooked food will drop into your mouth on its own. Meditation and deep concentration are part of us. One has to learn when and how they are to be used. Doing your work with full attention until it is done, putting your whole mind on it with no diversions, is actually meditation. When your work is done there should be full satisfaction and total peace in your mind. This is actually samadhi that comes from the work in which one is engaged.

"This does not mean that for everyone dhyan and samadhi will come from the same thing or in the same way. You have not taken sannyas (renunciation). Why do you think that sitting like a yogi for the whole day with eyes closed will give you your samadhi? Your life is different, so how can you do the dhyan which is meant for the sadhus? I understand only this much: whatever work has come to you, take that to be your deity. Do your work accordingly and be satisfied that whatever comes out of it is your reward. Well, am I mistaken?"

Shukla narrated this with all solemnity. I was fully attentive, afraid that I might miss something unintentionally. As often happens with him in such cases, his eyes were full of tears and his voice choked. In order to console him I said, "What precious teachings we miss because we are not interested. We are careless and fail to realize what is being given to us. There are few who are drawn so close and had such devotion and such a receptive mind as you. So what we miss from him, we try to make up by hearing from others like you."

My participation in the mela camp was limited because I had not been 'baked'; I was not a full-fledged devotee, able to understand the hidden meanings of many of his activities. Moreover, his long history of active participation in the bhandaras at Hanumanghar and Bhumiadhar qualified him, more than anyone else there, to learn from them. However, he helped me in all possible ways to benefit from his experiences. He would always be with me when I visited camp with Babaji. Shukla would be busy with his work, and I would be sent to assist him.

Babaji would be sitting in a cottage giving darshan and talking to the people while others were busy with work for the bhandara. The prasad was prepared early in the morning. Brahmachari from Bhumiadhar, with a couple of helpers, would manage all the cooking. He did it admirably well, day after day, without any lapse in his work or trace of depression on his face. People used to say that he had some special shakti power from Babaji. There were also a large number of 'mothers,' both from the plains and the hills, who were staying in huts expecially prepared for them. They would rise early, take their dips in the Ganges, and then peel and cut vegetables and roll puris througout the day. As with Brahmachari, this went on for the whole duration of the mela.

When there was not much of a crowd and they could get a break, they would sit around Baba. While sitting nearby observing the mothers at work, I would often say that they were setting an example for everyone, young and old, of what really dedicated and selfless service meant. You could engage any number of persons, pay them as much as they demanded, but you would not get such perfect and accomplished work. On one occasion, Babaji agreed with what I said and added, "Dada is right, seva (service) should be like this. Everyone must learn by seeing them at work. These mothers have come to the mela, leaving their households behind, and coming here they have been trapped in household work again. Where is their freedom from household work?"

Everyone heard him with full attention. Many of the mothers felt that they were receving so much for the little work they were doing for Babaji's bhandara. One of the old mothers was much moved and with difficulty she said, "Baba, we are not so fortunate. We do not have any money, nor are we free from our own household work. There is so much desire to visit the places of pilgrimage, but we cannot go anywhere. Now God is so very gracious to us that he has drawn us here to Prayag, the crown of the pilgrimage centers, on this sacred occasion of the Kumbha, and has made all necessary arrangements for our stay. People go for baths in the Ganges in the morning. They purify themselves washing and cleaning in the river and after puja they leave Ganga Ma there. But Ganga Ma is exceedingly kind to us. After taking our bath and performing our ablutions and purifying ourselves early in the morning, we do not have to go away from Gangaji. We sit on her lap and do our worship for the whole day and offer water for her. Baba, we cannot see anyone as fortunate as we are. All we know is that you are our God, who has fulfilled all our desires and expectations.

These were not her feelings alone, but it was actually the expression of everyone sitting there. Babaji looked at me and then said, "How very pure and supreme is their love of God. How deep is their faith. They see the grace of God in everything. These are the people who actually get the darshan of the sacred pilgrimage centers. Anyone may go to any place of pilgrimage, but only those rare ones who have real faith and devotion to God get the real darshan."

Looking at Shukla, Babaji said that he had developed great admiration for these mothers since he started helping them in their work. Babaji then looked at me and said, "Shukla himself is a great bhakta. It is good to be a lover of God, but one must not neglect one's duty to others. These mothers work for the whole day, but do not forget their God. They see God in their work and that is why they do the work so well."

Babaji was talking in this tone of high admiration for them. Then Shukla told Babaji that he had talked about it to me also, and that he also had great admiration for these mothers and for everyone working in the camp. Then Babaji said, "What will your Dada understand of all these talks? He neither does any worship or prayers, nor reads any scriptures or takes his bath in the Ganges. All he knows is to teach his students, and he wants to keep them happy. What has he to do with this?"

Everyone was enjoying Babaji's sally. Things had been going on at a very high pitch and there was the need to bring it down to everyone's level. Then he asked me if he was wrong in his remarks about me. I replied that he was right because he knew everything that was unknown to others. There was laughter from everyone, and all were enjoying their time with him. They had worked for the whole day without bothering about anything else, and now they were getting their return. Their hearts were full.

I was reminded of what Ma and Maushi Ma used to say whenever they could sit with Baba after their whole day's work. Sitting with Babaji in his room and feeding him, they would say, "Baba, for the whole day we are engaged in your work. Being busy with this for the whole day, we forget our puja as well as everything else. People want to take us for a dip in the Ganges, but we take our bath in the house and spend the whole day in your work; that is our bath in the Ganges. When we sit with you, we are fully relieved from all the exhaustion and weariness of the day's work. You have so much kindness for us old women."

We were sitting in the mela ground surrounding Babaji. Everyone was silent. There was nothing more to say, only to enjoy the taste of what you already had in your mouth. Shukla was looking at me; he wanted me to break the silence and make Babaji say something more. So I took up his hint and said, "I heard from the elders in my boyhood that when Gangaji was being persuaded to come down to earth, she was not very responsive. She had many fears, and said, 'While on earth I will be on my journey across the land, carrying the refreshing and rejuvenating water on my bosom. All kinds of people will come for their bath, washing and cleaning. My water will be polluted and my bed will be dumped with their sins and impurities All my sanctity will be lost and my glory gone. People will stay away from me. That is my fear and it holds me back.'

"Then she was assured that she had nothing to fear on that account. People might pollute her water and deposit all their sins in her, but she would remain ever pure, her sanctity would not be lost. People would run to her to offer their pujas and prayers. She would be kept clean by the great saints visiting her in the course of their journeys. They would dip into her water, drink from it and return to her whatever they had taken in their palms after their bath. This would keep her from all impurities and pollution and guard her sanctity from attack from any quarter. She was convinced and agreed to descend on earth. We can see how true was the assurance given to her. Sin and pollution are being thrown into her in ever-increasing amounts, but still she maintains her purity and her children rush to make themselves sinless and pure. This is what I heard in my boyhood days from the people there.

"But here is something which I have seen with my own eyes. Prayag, like many other great centers, is an important place of believers and the atheists. All people come to it—the virtuous, the sinners, the believers and the atheists. Some come with their hearts full of love and faith and others with lack of faith and sarcasm. All kinds of crimes are performed here. There is cheating, robbing, murdering and whatnot. There is more filth and disharmony, greed and contempt, than love and affection. The whole atmosphere is polluted and has kept many from visiting. But still the sanctity is maintained and draws pilgrims. The saints dipping in the Ganges keep her pure, and performing their rites and rituals as ordained in the scriptures, preserve the purity in spite of the mounting crimes around. We see the full demonstration of this with our own eyes."

Everyone was silent while I was talking, but when I stopped no one took it up. Then Babaji said that it was late now. "Shukla, give tea to everyone, and after that go and visit the tents of the sadhus. Kirtan and bhajan and discourses are going on. Go and spend some time hearing them. Take the mothers who want to go with you. I will return home." Tea was served, but nobody would move so long as Babaji was there. So he stood up and caught hold of my hand and said, "We must return now. It is already late and people are waiting for our return."

The bhandara went on every day without much difficulty, but there were some problems for those who were feeding the visitors. Sometimes a large number of people would come at once. There was room for them all to be seated and prasad served, but the crowd was made of people of all ranks and castes. Complications arose because they did not want to sit with each other. Shukla, as well as others working with him, would get upset, and a few of the younger ones started quarreling. Babaji would send me there to help settle things. His instructions were to be obeyed in full and then everything would be simple: "Whoever comes is your guest. Receive them, honor them, and talk with them. Do not argue or quarrel with them, then feed them well." This is what I tried to do and it helped me.

This was in January, 1966, and when we reached Kainchi in the beginning of May, the same instructions were repeated again and agin, "Whoever comes here is your guest. Receive them well; honor them." The people would be satisfied and their mood would change when we regarded them properly, put the difficulties before them, and sought their help. This was the secret of Babaji's methods of work.

Sometimes Shukla had another kind of difficulty to face which disturbed him greatly. There would be some visitors who would not take their food, nor would they help you in your work, but were only there to give you some 'wise' advice which, in their minds, you lacked. "You are squandering your money by throwing it all away through your food and indiscriminate feeding. This is foolish. Money should not be thrown away like this. It must be saved for valuable, well chosen and permanent things." Shukla would be easily drawn into it and start arguing. "It is not wastage. It is the highest virtue. The Gita, the scriptures and the whole of our religion say so. But what have these gentlemen to learn from the Gita and scriptures? They think they know better."

So a quarrel would become inevitable and I would have to remove Shukla from there. Then I would ask the gentlemen to take their seats and have their food, at which time they would say that they did not come to seek food. But I would insist that they sit and then I would offer them tea and sweets. I would talk to them. "What can be done? When someone hungry comes to your door, how could you drive him away? You could not eat your own food if the face of the hungry man whom you have driven away came before you. It is just for this." The gentlemen finished their tea, ate their sweets and then went away, making it easy for Shukla to do his work again.

I had many such experiences at Babaji's bhandara at Kainchi and Bhumiadhar. By hearing these people patiently, not by arguing or quarreling, I could deal with them better. When I listened to them in silence, they felt that they had made me understand, that they had helped me, and then they all went away and we could go on with our work. People who have all the food they want, who can eat and never feel the pinch of hunger, cannot understand the value of food. Moreover, they consider that all these acts of feeding were due to our ignorance and false belief in scriptures. We needed to be taught and enlightened about the right nature of things. We wanted to do good to others by feeding them to overcome their pain of hunger. They wanted to do good by teaching us to remove the 'darkness and ignorance' with the teachings of the light they carried with them. Food costs so much money, and when money becomes one's deity, one cannot tolerate any insult to it.

I had some other experiences in this matter, after we reached Kainchi in 1966. The Gayatri Maha Yagna had already started. There was the big havankund around which a dozen priests were engaged in their Yagna. The number of assistants helping them made it a very big affair. The recitation of mantras was going on with the offering of grain; all the priests were pouring ghee from big wooden spoons onto the sacrificial fire, raising the flames high and attracting the attention of everyone coming to the ashram. Most of the people came out of their reverence, but a few came out of sheer curiosity.

One such batch of inquisitive people stood in front of the puja area and started arguing and asking all kinds of questions. Not being satisfied with the answers, they wanted to see the man who was in charge. They were given my name. I was sitting in Babaji's room with him and the doors were closed. Someone called me and the door was opened. The person calling me said that there were three elderly persons who wanted to meet me and ask about the havan and the waste of so much food and ghee. Babaji was enjoying this. With a smile on his face, he told me that I should allow them to have their say; there would not be any use in arguing with them as they had come prepared to teach me about wasting food.

When I went to meet them they actually challenged me, saying, "You are the person in charge of this show. You are wasting so much food when there is famine in the country and no food for the people to eat. So many tins of pure ghee are being poured on the ashes. You say that you are doing it according to your Shastras, but what kind of Shastra is it that teaches you to not look at the hungry mouths, to not give them food, and to throw all your food on the fire in the name of Yagna sacrifice? All this must stop."

There was no response from me. Then they asked me some personal questions. Where did I come from? What was my profession and source of income? I did not reply, but someone said that I was a professor in the university. They were surprised to hear than an educated man could believe in such havans and rituals, when there were one thousand and one ways of doing one's puja and prayers without any loss to oneself or loss to others. Finally, they must have taken me to be a lost one and decided that there was no need of arguing with me. While they were leaving, I asked one of the boys to fill up a small basket with prasad and add a few fruits that had been offered in the puja. I accompanied them out. When they came before the temples, the boy brought the basket. They said that they already had their prasad. I said that they should take it along with them in their journey and could give it away to others. They did not object, and the basket was taken.

They were well-fed and well-cared for persons. With their spotless white dress and white caps, they wanted to show us that they were set in their noble task of saving food by preventing its misuse and wastage. I left them free to enjoy the full satisfaction of their accomplished task—teaching us about the value of food and how it should not be wasted at all. According to them, feeding others is also a form of waste.

Babaji was in his room. I gave him a brief summary, and Shukla added something of his own. Babaji said they want to save food because of famine conditions, but they did not say anything about why there was famine. Then Babaji said, "This question should have been asked of them. 'Why do you want to save food? You want to save food to feed the hungry, but without feeding the hungry before you, you go in search of the hungry in far off places. This shows a lack of intelligence.' Their second issue was that there was famine within the country. This famine is not a new thing; it has been going on for a long time. But the question is, 'Why is food not being produced?' It is because there is no rain. Do they have any reply as to why the rains do not come? No, they do not. If you do not do any charity, perform virtuous acts, and do not celebrate havan sacrifices or have any faith or belief in God, then you begin to think that you are the Lord and everything depends on you. If you have become the Lord, then why don't you make the rain by yourself?' They do not have a reply for this, but I have got the reply."

Babaji came out of his room and made a round of the ashram to see things for himself, but the most important purpose was to make everyone alert and active—especially those who were busy with the Yagna. Then he went for his bath and food. He was already late for it. He kept sitting in his room just to avoid any confrontation with the visitors and their attempts to interfere with the Yagna, so his vigil was there from behind the doors. This was his method: to hand over the work for us to manage and accomplish it. We were given much autonomy in our work, but that does not mean Babaji did not observe from behind. In case anyone got annoyed or created difficulty with the work, he would come to our aid and give us protections. On the other hand, any dereliction of duty or misuse or abuse of our position was never tolerated and was severely dealt with.

Babaji always comes to the aid of those doing his work. Once Babaji was in his room, taking his midday rest. Two boys, Pappu and Kishor, were doing their work, giving prasad to the visitors and other works allotted to them. Then a young sadhu arrived with the full garb and wanted to meet Babaji, who was watching from inside the room. Seeing that Babaji was not there, he asked Pappu to inform Babaji that a sadhu had come to meet him. The boy asked the sadhu to sit in the room, take his prasad and wait for Babaji to come out. He took this to be rudeness on the boy's part and an insult to his position. He used strong words. The boy refused to go to Babaji's room to give him his message, saying that they did not do that, but that he could ask Dada if he wanted to. The sadhu was not interested in that and went on abusing the boy. I reached there and tried to argue with him, but without any success.

While we were busy with that, Babaji came out of his room and asked me to open the door of his sitting room. As soon as he sat down, the sadhu entered and sat on the floor. Babaji greeted him, "So you have become a sadhu now; that is why I could not recognize you. When did you return from Germany? How many years did you stay? What did you learn there?"

Everyone, the sadhu included, was taken by surprise. The sadhu did not reply. Then Babaji started his treatment: "Have you forgotten that having been unsuccessful in your examination you left home, breaking open your mother's box and stealing all her ornaments? You have forgotten but I have not. Your parents were worried, running everywhere in search of you. Then in Germany you did not learn anything. You only wanted to cheat everyone but you had to return when no more money was coming from cheating. When did you take this ochre robe? Who gave it to you? You are not a sadhu so long as you do not change yourself. Neither your clothes nor any person will be able to make you a sadhu. You got so angry that you were ready to fight with that boy who was engaged in his own work. You have become a sadhu, but does one become a sadhu like this?"

People had gathered round the room with surprise on their faces. He asked them to go to their work, and then he told me that I should take the sadhu with me and feed him, that he had come in the noon and had not taken his food. "Feed him well. You must have some sweets with you, feed him that. Tell your boys that they should not quarrel with their guests. When he has come to you in the afternoon then it is necessary for you to feed him and hear him. Go and feed him and tell the boy about it. I will remain inside."

The sadhu was in a sad state. He was hungry when he came, but there was little hunger left for food. He had been thoroughly exposed and had lost all his courage and confidence. It appeared that he felt that he was being taunted by his own robe, along with the people standing there. All he wanted was to find a way of escape, but with so many people around he could not try that. We tried to console him and asked someone to arrange for his food. We then told the boys to go to him and express their regrets, ask for forgiveness, and then feed him. I handed them some sweets for him and left the feeding to the boys. Once he started eating, his mental agitation calmed down and he could look at others.

I went to Babaji's room from where he was watching everything. Then he said, "Everything is all right now. It was very necessary to rebuke him. He goes on moving about in the hills of this region. Had his true self not been exposed he would have created trouble for everyone. Now he will not come this side anymore. You should talk to your boys. They have to do their work peacefully and not fight with anyone. It is true that he was not a real sadhu, but he was wearing the robes of a sadhu. Who can recognize a saint? You have to honor his dress. This must never be forgotten. Go and see him. He is taking his food. You stay there."

I narrated this incident one day in our satsang at Kainchi. Shukla said that we may not understand, but nothing Babaji does is meaningless. Whatever he does is for someone's good and for our teaching. We cannot derive full benefit from it while we still have some doubts in our minds. Without full faith in the guru, we cannot understand his teaching.

Saints are always busy teaching you or someone else when you are with them, and there cannot be anything meaningless or superfluous in their behavior, however much we might misunderstand it. We may not know for whom the teaching is meant, but there is always someone to whom it is directed and they understand it. The saints are actually the teachings and scriptures personified. They do not teach by quoting or reciting the scriptures, but by living and practicing them, and sometimes through a little acting.

In the early twenties, perhaps 1924, there was the Ardha Kumba (six-yearly) Mela at Prayag. There was a big congregation of sadhus, pilgrims, visitors and tourists. There were many great sadhus who, with their disciples, were running bhandaras to feed all and sundry. One of these great ones was Paramhansa Dayaldas Baba. He had no ashram or permanent residence. Wherever he moved on his journey, thousands of sadhus and disciples used to accompany him. In the course of one of his journeys, he came to Prayag and set up camp in the mela area. He had a large number of sadhus and disciples who were running the bhandara for the whole day. The bhandara was for whomever came; sadhus and householders, rich and poor, men and women, virtuous and sinners, high and low castes, all had their food and equal care and treatment.

One day the bhandara had been going on and the rush of people had been unabated. Dayaldas Baba was sitting on his little upraised seat to make it easy for him to see what was going on in the camp. He would greet everyone with his ineffable smile, hear everyone and satisfy all. His hands were busy accepting the offerings and then passing them over to be given away. The only thing that remained near his seat was his kamandal (waterbowl). It was such an ordinary seat with no decoration or display to call attention to his greatness, that people were liable to mistake him. However, this was his way. He just wanted to give you joy by the satisfaction of the hunger of your stomach and the satisfaction of meeting a saint who loves you and allows you to draw near. Everyone, except a few onlookers, were full of admiration for him. He was a real sadhu at work.

Standing aside and scanning everything carefully, a gentleman asked a disciple of Dayaldas Baba why his master was wasting his money so recklessly by feeding persons. "Lakhs of rupees are going down every day, leaving no trace of whatever good or benefit they have produced. Could you not get better use from your money by spending it for education or medical care? You should understand this and change your ways."

The disciple was silent. There was no question of entering into any argument or trying to convince him. All he replied was, "How can I understand why my master does this? You can see that all he possesses is his own waterbowl near him, and nothing more. Where all the money comes from and why he uses it in this way only he can tell you. All we know is that he knows what he is doing and it must be for the good of all. In our minds we do not have any doubt about this."

While the disciple was talking like this to his inquisitive visitor, a drama was taking place near the feet of the master. A certain gentleman had brought a bag full of money and presented it before his feet. He was a Seth, a rich man, and highly religious, so he brought this as his service. Dayaldas declined it, saying that he did not need the money any more as the day's bhandara was more or less over and there was already material for the next day's bhandara. He told him to give it to some other camps where it might be needed.

To console the gentleman, and also to convince him that it was not that he did not appreciate his generosity and love, the master said that it was for the good of everyone that he would not accept the money. "A sadhu must not accept anything more than what he needs at the moment. He must not pile things up or accumulate them for some other time. Why should I think of the future? Look at this bhandara for which you want to give me your money. This is not my bhandara. I am sitting in place with my empty kamandal. Feeding is Mother Annapurna's work. The Goddess of Abundance herself is arranging for this and so things come of their own. I do not have to look for or accumulate them. I am only here to pass them on to her claimants."

Everyone was watching the whole drama with its strong spritual flavor being enacted with utmost care and precision. Nobody could miss the lesson or fail to benefit from it. The inquisitive spectator had become one with the silent audience when it was over. The swami did not agree to accept the money, and the spectator told the disciple, "What a teaching, what a teaching! Only a great saint could teach this lesson of true dispassion, the vairagya (falling away of wordly attachment) with which a saint lives and teaches. Here is an actual incarnation of it."

After narrating this story I told Shukla that this only proves how right he was in his belief that there was nothing meaningless in what Babaji did and how his teachings were for the benefit of all.

After that day's bhandara was over, Babaji said that we should all go out for some time. There would not be many persons coming now to be fed, and those in the camp would be able to manage. I took a blanket in case Babaji wanted to sit somewhere, and Shukla took a lota. We were five in all, with Omkar Baba from Drona Giri and an old lady from Patna who was staying in the camp. We came to the bank of the Ganges. There was a big open barge tied to the shore, vacant except for the boatman's wife who was preparing her roti on a bucket oven. Babaji got up on it and we followed. I spread my blanket for him and then we all sat around him. He asked Shukla to fill up the lota with the clean water from the Ganges that was flowing there. Shukla put the lota filled with water in between the two of us.

Babaji was talking about the glory of these centers of pilgrimage and how those who come on pilgrimage with devotion and pure faith in God are never disappointed. "Mother Ganga never deceives anyone. She actually does not know how to deceive anyone. You complain that you are cheated because you do not get the thing you expected when you came to her. But when you are not worthy of it, how could Ganga Ma give it? There is not anything wrong with Mother Ganga. It is all due to something that is lacking in you. When you were a young boy and asked your mother for food, what did she do? Did she just give it without looking closely at you? Never. No mother ever did that for her child. She will look at you, observe whether you have taken your bath, whether you have clean clothes or not, and whether or not your hands are washed. You people approach Ganga Ma with your dirty bodies and clothes full of filth. This is how you come to her and expect that everything should be given to you. And when you do not get your cherished things, you malign her. This is not the right thing to do."

While he was talking, we were just sitting looking at him, fully withdrawn from the crowded environment. We did not notice the passing time, but Babaji himself said that it was evening, we were already late and must return to the camp. He stood up. I collected my blanket and Shukla took his lota. Babaji caught hold of my hand and got down from the boat. But before we could move on, he looked at Shukla standing there with the lota of Ganga water in his hand, and asked him why he was taking it back to the camp. It should be distributed to us to drink. Shukla looked at the lota and shrieked out, "Baba, this is milk and not water!" We joined our palms together to collect the milk poured from the lota. It was still warm and sweet. It felt like the first time in our lives that we ever drank milk. I suddenly saw with a flash the soft ripples on the moonlit Ganges flowing by, drawing our attention. Babaji had said in 1960 that the Ganges was not water but actually amrit—nectar. I did not believe at that time that it was nectar. Now, after drinking it, I could no longer believe that it was water, nor could I believe that it was actually nectar. I was in a dilemma: to believe or not to believe. But there was no such dilemma for Shukla. What he had drunk was actually amrit. He had no doubt about it.

We had finished drinking and started moving when Babaji began yelling at Shukla. Why had he saved some in his lota and why was he taking it back without giving us all of it? Then he started a volley of abuses for Shukla with full gestures and mimicking, "You want to give it to your Didi and tell her how Babaji gave you milk to drink today in place of water, and how it was not milk but actually real nectar, amrit, and how with great difficulty you have saved this much for her to drink! Then all the mothers would have stood and surrounded you. You could have heard your praises being sung: 'Shukla is such a nice fellow, he cares for us so much.' But I have spoiled all your glory. Now if you tell them about the milk, no one will believe you. They will say you are speaking lies. On the other hand, if they do believe you, they will start abusing you by asking you why you did not bring it for them. Now you can see that you will be a loser on both these counts. Now let us return, but first wash your lota."

We returned to the camp where people were waiting for Babaji. He started shouting at me, "You forgot that we have to return home. People are already there and are waiting for you. How can you not remember this thing? Once you start talking you forget everything. You think everyone is waiting to hear you. Everyone has their work but they cannot say that to you. Now we must go." He looked at Shukla, who was to stay there as usual, but then Babaji asked him, "Are you not coming with us? You have not been able to talk to your Dada. You have not been able to relate to him your whole day's experience. Sitting together you will start your story and he will be hearing you with full attention. Then examining it with all his mind and intellect, he will give to you his own experiences. All this is left for you to do. Now let us go."

We three started for home. Shukla was silent and Babaji did not disturb him. I was thinking in my mind, not of the miracle of water turning into milk, but of how gracious he is. Nothing escapes his notice so far as his devotees are concerned. Shukla was given a very high dose. It was given to all of us but it did not create the problem for me that was created for Shukla. I could swallow it and be free from it or store it somewhere in my mind for future scrutiny. But none of this worked for Shukla. He could not swallow it, nor could he be free from it by storing it in his mind. Shukla's feelings had risen very high and his emotions were surging to seek an outlet. There was no one in the camp to whom he could open his mind and relay his experience with a choked voice and eyes full of tears. It was not in his nature to ask Babaji to be taken with him, but what he failed to do for himself, Babaji did for him. This was grace.

That night Shukla told us that he was overwhelmed by this move of Baba's. "Dada, we cannot see things before our eyes, but he sees everything inside and outside of us. He dives deep and sees it in full detail. I had become very sad when you started moving. I could not join you however much I wanted to, so long as the order did not come from him. When you started moving, I was thinking myself helpless, like an orphan. Then the order came to accompany you. The Lord was there."

When we reached home, it was late in the evening. Many persons had gone away, but still there were many more. Babaji went to the hall, talked to the people there for a while and then asked them to return home after taking their prasad. While prasad was being given, he came to his room, sat on his bed and asked for the door to be bolted. The room was already full. Many ladies had been waiting for him in his room, not in the hall in front of everyone. Loud talking and laughter could be heard from within the room. I was busy with some work when one lady came and almost dragged me to his room, saying that there was so much fun to be had. He was on his cot in his favorite posture—head resting on the upraised palm of his right hand and the left hand dangling and making gestures. There was an old lady, past seventy, arguing and refuting Baba's words. Baba was talking loudly: "Mother, I was dead, I was dead, but afterwards I was reborn in the mountains. I am not that Baba whom you had seen before. I am not that Baba."

But she could not be silenced. Everyone was looking toward her and asking her to talk. She said, "I belonged to a village in the Farukhabad district. My father had some landed property and we were well off. My parents were great devotees of Baba and he used to visit our house. I got married and went away from my village, which was the last time that I met him before today. He was already an old man, older than my father, and my father said that he had been visiting our house for twenty-nine years continuously. My father used to say that twenty years back he looked as old as he did when I saw him in my childhood. I saw him last when I was about nine and now I am seventy-three—more than sixty years ago. That was why I said that a man who was that old back then could not live for so many years more."

Then he flung his question to her. "Ma, you are telling me that you saw me in the same state of health and age as your father had seen me twenty years before we first met. And then you say that you see me now as you had seen me sixty years back. How could this happen? Has my age not increased? Tell me, tell me, how could this be so?"

After the repeated questions she came out with her firm and emphatic reply: "No, you have not increased in your age." He pressed her how could she say so, how could she? Then she said, "The age of people like us increases, people who are getting nearer to their death, but not those who are not to die. You are not to die like us, so how could your age increase?"

Everyone sat silently. Someone came to remind Babaji that he was late for his food, and my Maushi Ma added that no one would eat so long as he had not taken his food. Hearing this, he sent everyone away. Everything was nicely timed. The sitting ended because it had served its purpose, so the talk of his food came.

We came out of his room. The lady was ready to leave but we persuaded her to stay a little longer, as we wanted to hear more. I narrated to her and to Shukla and a few others there how I came to know of her. I had heard about her from our friend, Dr. Singh, a devotee of Baba. He used to visit us, and in 1962 he came to meet Babaji thinking that he was here. He could not see him because Babaji had left that morning, so he sat with us and started talking. He had wanted to come much earlier but had been delayed. A neighbor had come to visit him and his wife with one of their guests. Dr. Singh told them that he was late, but his wife could visit with them as he had to leave to meet Babaji. They asked him which Baba, and when he took Babaji's name the lady who had come as their neighbor's guest blurted out, "What are you talking about? Baba Nibkarori must have died long back. This must be an impostor taking his name. I last saw him more than sixty years back and then he was already old. How can an old man live for so many years more? He is not the real Baba Nibkarori." That lady belonged to Farukhabad district.

Hearing the story, we wanted to know more about Babaji from her, so we asked Dr. Singh to try to bring the lady here. In case she did not agree, we would go to her. Two days later the doctor came to report that the lady had left the very next morning after his visit to us. I remembered that incident, and when I saw her today, I wanted to hear all she knew about Babaji. We talked with her for some time and then she went away.

A nice sitting was going on in Babaji's room. He had just finished his food. The mothers were sitting with him and talking. Then Maushi Ma spoke out. "It was good that you had your lesson. Whenever we say something which you do not want us to talk about, you stop our mouths. We cannot argue with you or speak out what we have in our minds. Today you did your best to stop her from talking, but you could not do that. You want to hide everything from us, but she leaked out some of your secrets. How correct she was when she said that we people get old and are carried nearer to our deaths, but age cannot mean anything to men like you. If Baba becomes old then to whom can people like us go? Baba is actually Bhagwan, God. God never gets old. We know this, and today she has said this to your face."

Then Babaji came out with his rejoinder. "Maushi Ma, you could not understand fully what she was saying. What was its real significance? No mother looks at the age of her son. Her son may be advanced in age, but she treats him as a young one, and this has been the case with her also. Every mother blesses her son with the same prayer, 'May you remain young.' You also do the same for your children. She has not told you anything new. You have not understood her correctly."

When he stopped, Maushi Ma said, "You might say anything, but we know she was right. When we ask you something not to your liking, you concoct all kinds of stories to gag us, but today you had your lesson. Why did you not tell her what you are telling us now?" She stopped after scoring her point. Then Babaji made his remark, as if in sheer helplessness, "You are all in the same group, acting together as one. How can I make anyone understand me?"

Later that night we sat for some time after taking our food. Shukla was in a better state, not so agitated, a victim of unmanageable emotions. He could now sit silently, and make his point in argument. "Dada, I was not wondering about the miracle, that is nothing for him, but I was thinking of how much care we get from him. In such moments you forget everything else, you can only think of him."

I had to check him, otherwise there would have been the return of that restless state which he had overcome with so much time and effort. I just said that the miracle was not important for me either, and that I had forgotten the taste of the milk by now. But I was recalling what that lady said tonight. It was a great revelation for us. We might say that we are not interested in his age and do not want to know how old he was, at least I could, but her statement did not end with the mention of age calculation. It had a very deep significance that the saints never grow old. However much the years might pile up one upon another, the years cannot carry them to their death beds. The storm might gather all its strength, charge with fury and scatter the whole area with uprooted trees and broken houses, but it cannot carry off a tree that is firmly rooted in its place. We hear about this from the wise ones and read from books of wisdom, but can our faith stand firm like her faith? The root of her faith is very strong, and a powerful storm cannot uproot it. This is the lesson I learned that day. Shukla was drawn into it and talk became easy. After much joy and laughter we returned to our beds.

When Shukla was ready to go to the camp early next morning, he went to see Babaji. I suggested that Shukla stay and accompany him when he went to the camp after his meal. Babaji shouted at me, "Why are you detaining him? Has he not work to do there? What would he do here with you? Have you not been able to complete your gossip? You want everyone to sit with you, so that you can talk, but people have their work to do, not like you. Let him go." So Shukla left. Everyone enjoyed his outburst. There were some people who did not like him to sit silently with them. So the shouting at me gave them what they enjoyed in his company. When we reached the bhandara in the afternoon it was in full swing and Shukla was busy with his work.

We would usually return home again in the evening. People would have assembled there for Babaji's darshan, and he would not like to deny them that. But one day there was an exception to it. Although it was not to his liking, Babaji returned home after midnight and all the people had left after waiting for hours.

It was the night before one of the important bathing days. Pilgrims were coming by the thousands, mostly from the nearby areas, to stay for the night. After taking their bath in the morning, they would leave for their homes. They had carried with them neither any bed or cover for the night, nor any extra clothes except one change for after the bath. They had come believing that nothing more would be needed, but they did not take the weather into account. The night became very cool. A cold wind had started blowing before evening and there had been some drizzle in nearby places. Most of the new arrivals were lying on the sand without any shelter above or thick cover for their bodies. There were no separate tents for them, nor would the camps that were run by sadhus and social workers welcome them, so they were left at the mercy of their Ganga Ma, to whom they had come. There was no question of running away or seeking help from unknown quarters. Suffering was their only alternative.

Babaji was observing those things, and could not come home in the evening as he did on other days. He sent devotees to arrange for at least two truckloads of firewood to be brought to the mela grounds where the pilgrims were staying. The trucks came after nine and were unloaded at places where the congregation was large. Babaji had come out of the camp after the evening and was sitting on the open sand bank. Not only did he not allow me to spread a blanket for his seat, he actually handed the blanket he was wearing to me. He had nothing on his body except a dhoti as the lower garment. He was not talking except to give a few instructions. He said that if it was available, some more firewood should be purchased and kept for the morning when people would need it after their bath.

It was past ten, and he asked some devotees to kindle fires at the places where wood had been collected. He also said that someone must stay to tend the fire so that it did not get extinguished and also to see that the wood was not taken to any other camp for their own fire. When someone suggested that we might kindle the fire later so that it would burn until the morning, he said, "When the need is so urgent, how can it be postponed? See how the people are sitting helplessly and suffering. There will be others who will follow and start fires. The govenment will do the same, but it will be late. Nothing has arrived in advance here, but it will come."

This actually came to be. By eleven at night there were several places where fires had been started, and Babaji sat there until midnight. Many devotees had assembled around him. He sent some of them to tend the fires, in turn, throughout the night. Shukla was with us, and he would often go to take a round of the fires and report back to Babaji. It was after midnight that Babaji got up and started for home. He had been sitting for almost five hours in one place, in the cold, without even his customary blanket. I asked Shukla, who was standing near me, what this might mean. Was it to absorb some of the cold blast and save some of the helpless ones? Or was it to bring cheer and courage to the noble souls, that they should not be daunted. They must stand firm in their faith in Mother Ganges, who herself was undergoing the cold with them? Or was it a hint that he was with them in their suffering and took his suffering along with theirs?

It was about one in the morning when we returned. Everyone in the house was awake, awaiting Babaji's return. The mothers did not ask him to take his food, seeing that the smile was missing from his face. They took him to be in deep thought or worried about something. Then Babaji said that he would not take his food that night, as he was tired and just wanted to rest and was not feeling hungry. Everyone came away, leaving him alone. No one else in the house could take their food either. All retired to their beds.

The next day he stayed in the house until late in the afternoon. Many persons came for darshan after taking their baths in the Ganges in the early morning. They said that there was no doubt that it was cold, but people had started taking baths before dawn anyway, and many of them left after that.

Babaji took his food and we left for the camp. The road was filled with people returning after their baths. When we reached the camp, the bhandara was going on. It had started early and it was difficult to manage the great rush, but after a whole month of experience, the people had become accustomed to facing such situations. I met Shukla, who was very busy despite being awake for the whole night tending the fire. Someone who saw him at work said, "Shukla is a real yogi, a karma yogi. We got tired, but he went on with his work." This was said in Babaji's hearing. His response was just a smile of approval.

As the days passed, the number of people who came for food got smaller and could be managed without difficulty. When we returned home in the evening, Shukla joined us. Babaji had asked him to take rest, as he had no sleep the night before. People were already assembled there waiting for Babaji's return. The sitting was dispersed early, and he went to his room and had his food. Then Babaji asked Ma if she would feed Shukla and send him to sleep. "Tell Dada not to start his stories, keeping everyone awake until late at night. Shukla needs rest, not Dada's stories." Everyone enjoyed his sallies. As some person used to remark, under such situations he always had something for you and the time was never dull.

During the days of the mela, Haridas came for a couple of days to meet Babaji. He stayed in the house, not in the camp. He was busy keeping silence at that time, and wanted to continue it here also, but Babaji told him that as long as he was in the house he must talk if anyone wanted to talk to him. So his silence was broken, although he did not have to speak much. Almost all his time was spent in sitting with Baba and replying to his queries.

One day he was sitting with Baba and several others. Maushi Ma brought a glass of milk for him, but he declined it, saying that he took milk only once in the daytime. He said that he had his rules for eating. He drank only milk for his food and did not eat cereals, and he drank the milk only once during the day and once at night. As he had already done so in the morning, he would not drink anymore now. When Haridas had finished, Babaji burst out, "What is this rule? For what purpose is it made? You can follow your rule of drinking milk only once in the day when you are in your own house, but what rules can there be with the mother? Whenever mother gives you anything to eat, then all your rules come to an end there. Take the milk and drink it. So long as one stays here, it is the rule of the mother that should be honored regarding the taking of our food, not our own." So Haridas had no option. He took the glass of milk from Maushi Ma and drank it. Everyone was thinking of how rules are made and how they are set aside.

It reminded me of the two cases where Babaji set aside his own rules regarding food. The parents of Sambhu Saran of Bhopal were great devotees of Babaji, and he used to visit them in their house. One day while his mother was preparing khir, she was remembering Baba, thinking how nice it would be if Babaji came and took it. She was imagining Babaji sharing her offering. When it was ready, she filled a very big pan and kept it aside for Babaji. It was two in the afternoon. Slowly, she began preparing food for the household. The door was suddenly opened from outside and Babaji entered, perspiring. Seeing the seats spread there for the food, he said he had come during the mealtimes and asked whether they had anything for him. She could not reply, because of her great excitement. She spread a seat for Baba and went to bring the khir that she had kept for him. He started eating as soon as it was placed before him, as if he had come all the way for it on this hot summer day.

He ate all of it. But as he was drinking from his glass he suddenly said, "Oh, today is ekadasi (a day of fasting). How could I forget it? I do not eat rice on the ekadasi day, but I took it today. Well, there is nothing wrong in it. When the mother offers you food, you must eat it. There is no rule against it. No rule can come before the food given by the mother." (Almost an identical thing happened in Allahabad when Ma served him khir on ekadasi day.) The mother was overjoyed and was thanking her master in her mind. How gracious he was! Every message of his devotees reaches him and brings him before them. Then Babaji said he would take some rest, as he had to come from a distant place and was tired. He asked mother to feed everyone in the house.

One summer in Kainchi, only a few years before Babaji's samadhi, we went to Mr. Soni's house in Nainital. There were already a number of persons waiting there for Babaji; among them was Mrs. Chisti, a very great devotee of Baba. He used to address her as Ma. Mrs. Soni was preparing halwa in the kitchen and brought in a big bowl of it. Mrs. Soni wanted to start by giving Baba a plate, but he said that he did not eat any sweets now, so she should spare him. She agreed and gave others their share. We all ate without looking at anyone. Then Baba spoke out, "Oh what have I done! I have eaten the halwa when I had stopped taking all sweets! Now Ma Chisti has done it. I was busy hearing and talking and she was putting the spoon in my mouth from her plate. But what can I do when mothers do that?" Mrs. Chisti had not eaten anything herself. Her share was put in Babaji's mouth. She was happy that her venture was a success.

While we were sitting in our satsang that night, Shukla referred to the incident with Haridas, saying that he himself had the same difficulty when he was with Babaji in the beginning. Being born in an orthodox Brahmin family, he had so many restrictions and rules guiding every act of his life—japa, puja, food and many others. He wanted to stick to his rules no matter what situation faced him, even when he was with Babaji. There would be occasions when Babaji would ask him to do something which was opposed to his rules, and a conflict would come in his mind. He would have to disobey one in order to obey another. When he failed to choose or hesitated, Babaji made the choice made for him. Then he had to break his rules.

The interesting thing was that Babaji was always in favor of obeying the rules that you had set for yourself. He said that it was necessary for a disciplined and successful life, and he would emphasize this all the time. For himself, he obeyed his rules with strict adherence. But his rules were never meaningless and mechanical. All his rules were for the highest good and one must respect them.

It is like going on a journey. Before we start, we know the goal we have to reach and also have ideas about the path. But we do not have full knowledge about the road we must travel; it must be learned while we are actually on our journey. The path is not straight or laid out before us and there are turns and twists, zigzagging up and gliding down, that have to be faced. New choices have to be made, and rules have to be changed for that moment. Shukla felt that this was what Babaji was teaching us.

Babaji left Allahabad in the end of March. He went to Delhi but did not take Shukla along. When Shukla asked permission to go with him he was told to return home and look after his family and shop, both of which were neglected. Babaji said, "If you want to stay away from hour house then why did you marry and start your shop? You do not want to stay at home to attend to your work and family. You want someone else to do it for you, so that you can move, running away from your family. How can I let this happen? You can come to Kainchi in summer, but you must return home now." That ended the matter.

When we reached Kainchi on the second of May, 1966, the great Gayatri Maha Yagna sacrifice was going on. Shukla had already reached there and was posted to look after the arrangements for it. So long as the yagna was going on, he was busy all day. We could sit together only at night. After the Yagna was over he was not given any special work for the bhandaras so he was free to sit with Babaji, which he had rarely been able to do, and would report everything to us. Some would be allowed to sit with him. Sometimes Babaji would ask Shukla to narrate about certain incidents at which he was present. This was his way of stalling people from asking unnecessary favors or help.

Shukla said that most of these private visits regarded matters of personal interest of the visitors. High government officials would seek intervention for their posting, promotion, seniority and other such things. Political leaders from the highest to the lowest would want him to recommend them for seats in elections for the Assembly or Parliament, a place in the ministry, or a change of portfolio. When talking about ministers and such matters, Shukla would sometimes make very sarcastic comments to us. "Dada, these people do not know of anything higher or superior to this world. Tell me, what kind of prompting from their mind, or under what inspiration, do they rush to the great saints for such trifling things of life?"

While Shukla was talking about these politicians coming for such aid, someone sitting nearby, who was sporting for a fight, objected that it was not so, and that the politicians were devotees who came for Babaji's darshan. I said that Shukla never said that they were not devotees. It was because they were devotees that they came to Babaji for his help and blessings in their work. But it was also true that they came to him for aid. All kinds of people came with different reasons to secure his help. Not only common people looking for a job or the marriage of their daughters visited him, but politicians, business and industrial magnates also visited, who did not fail to acquaint him with their problems and seek his help or intervention. This was a common practice with the whole stream of visitors coming to him day after day.

But with some rare exceptions, these visitors did not come with any abstruse problem of their sadhana or for untying any knots in their hearts. Everyone who had been with Baba on such occasions had seen the same thing. There was nothing wrong with these visitors asking Babaji for success in their worldly life and not for spiritual progress. Had there been anything wrong with it, he would not have encouraged them. Shukla looked at the whole thing from this point of view: we are aware that in our daily life there is so much wastage of food, money, time, energy and whatnot, but we are not aware of the wastage of opportunity when we visit the great saints and do not seek their cherished gifts.

For Shukla, these visits for personal interests were very distressing. He tried to emphasize that Babaji had such precious things for us, why were we asking for merely trinkets without caring for the higher things?

We are all mistaken when we try to understand and pass easy judgment on the acts and behavior of these visitors. The saints know full well that there is not one set of ready-made remedies to help the problems of household and religious life. There are remedies for persons in different states and stages of their lives as well as different needs, capacities and temperaments. It is the quacks and cheats who have ready-made remedies for all persons and ailments.

The saint always gives what is useful and necessary to the persons seeking aid. He knows what is to be given to whom and at what time, and we should leave these decisions with the saints. The only decision that might be open to us is whether or not to approach the saint, or to sit silently if we had nothing to ask. In case we were carrying a desire to ask for something, we should ask it without any hesitation and have no fear of the saint that we have approached. Sometimes we might be surprised to see what is in our minds, however much we might try to conceal it from our master, but it is futile to try to hide anything from him.

There is a story about a great saint who would hear everyone and give them what they asked for. No one returned disappointed. Some old devotee asked him one day, "Maharaj, you give to everyone that comes to you, but only those things that they ask for. You never choose for them before giving. They often ask for wrong things. Is that good?"

He laughed and then said, "Yes, I give them only those things that they want, and they return satisfied with that. But the time will come for them to ask me to give out of my choice, and only then will I use my choice in giving to them. The time has not yet come for them, so I have to wait and keep them coming to me." A saint has patience and he always waits for the appropriate time to give you things of his own choosing.

It is said of the great saint, Vishuddhananda Paramhansa, that sometimes while sitting with visitors, miracles might happen around him or he might show someone miracles on request. Once Ananda Mayi Ma was visiting him with some of her disciples. The disciples had heard of his miracles and were keen to see, so they pressed him. Ananda Mayi Ma was enjoying the fun enacted by the Swamiji at the request of her disciples. But then she spoke out in a rather complaining tone, saying, "Baba, for a sadhu of your height and realization, you are giving them very commonplace and ordinary things. You are holding back the most precious and rarest things." He smiled and said he was ready to give them, but since there was no one who would ask, or agree to accept them if they were given to him, there was no use in taking them out. They were allowed to remain hidden.

The same kind of reply was given by another great saint, Swami Gyananand Giri. The saint had become like a wish-fulfilling tree for his devotees, especially for the poor and helpless ones. The richer, educated persons also came in large numbers and returned with their wishes fulfilled. Some old devotees used to complain that he gave cheap things for household life. He said that he kept a shop with precious materials but no one came to purchase them.

In the story of the Mahabharata, when war became inevitable, both Duryodhana and Arjuna rushed to Dwarka to seek Lord Krishna's help in the war. When they reached there, Krishna was sleeping. They entered his bedroom as would household members. Duryodhana, entering first, took his seat on the decorated chair at the head of the bed, while Anjuna stood at the foot of the bed with folded hands. When Krishna woke up, he saw Arjuna first and then turned his head and saw Duryodhana. Duryodhana said that both of them had come for his support and both of them were his relations, but he was the first to arrive, and according to accepted rules, he must get the support and not Arjuna.

The Lord said that was true, but that his eyes had seen Arjuna first, so therefore he had the claim. He would let Arjuna choose either himself (Krishna), unarmed, as his chariot driver who would not fight or his entire army of mighty and well-armed warriors. He agreed to allow Duryodhana to have whichever of the two Arjuna did not choose. Duryodhana had also been drawn to the Lord, even though his arrogance caused him to go to the head of the bed instead of to Krishna's feet. Because of his faith, Arjuna did not even hesitate for a moment to choose Krishna, whereby Duryodhana received the mighty army, which was what he had wanted anyway. Both received exactly what they had come for.

Champak Lal came all the way from Gujarat to Pondicherry to be with Aurobindo—the one whom he had installed in his heart as his most gracious master. He became so near to him that he would know what his master needed and keep it at hand. Like Hanuman, satisfied with Ram's embrace, Champak Lal was fully satisfied being in his master's presence. That is the way of all great devotees: they do not ask for anything and the masters have the problem of choosing what they should give to their self-effacing devotees, as Ram had to do with Hanuman when he returned from Lanka with Sita's message.

The saints might meet their devotees in crowds or in big gatherings, but the real contact and communication with the seeker is always personal; there is nothing to prevent the hearts from meeting in private. The glory of the saints is that even in a crowd, when the two bodies are separated from each other through space and time, they can meet in the heart of the devotee.

One day Babaji returned to his room after giving darshan to everyone. The doors were bolted and we two sat for some time in the closed room. He asked me, "Anything more?"

"Nothing, Baba."

"Tell me. Tell me."

I repeated, "There is nothing."

Then he said with vehemence, "You do not have to tell me, but I know what is in your mind."

I retorted, "Then why are you asking me about it?"

The reply came with his smile, "I was just asking. That's all."

Being very close to Babaji, with his deep sense of devotion and surrender to the master, Shukla became a powerful medium, transmitting to us what he had received from Babaji. Shukla would tell us what he saw or heard without leaving any loophole for doubt or disbelief in our minds. He would always emphasize that Babaji had love for everyone, big and small, and gave to everyone whatever was due. "Those who deserve to be praised, he would praise fully, but never to their faces. The other day when you went away, Dada, he was talking about you for a long time, saying service should be done like that."

This referred to an incident in Kainchi on the day of a big bhandara. Many persons had to be received, fed, and then seen off. Babaji felt that when people were coming from distant places, in spite of all discomforts and difficulties, you had to pay full attention to them and treat them with care. Nobody should leave with the feeling that their warmth of love and devotion had been returned with cold indifference. He used to caution us, "No shame or disgrace should come to the ashram through your behavior. This is Hanumanji's ashram, so any reflection on this ashram will be a reflection on Hanumanji. One must learn from Hanumanji how one is to serve."

I was doing much running from one part of the ashram to another and had to pass before Babaji several times while he was sitting in his room. One time he called me in. The room was full with people: the Rani of Hillary and her daughter, a minister and others were sitting there. Then Babaji said, "These people are saying that Dada has been busy for the whole day, and did not have time for his food." I cut him short, saying that I had no time to hear those things. While coming out I heard him saying to those who were sitting with him, "Dada is so very busy with his own work that he has no time even to hear me."

Shukla said that he had not been a neglected child at home. He had care and affection from his parents and other relations, but it was only from living with Babaji that he could see what real care and affection meant. Moreover, our parents could only take care of us, not the neighbor's children, but you cannot imagine how Babaji was taking care of so many children in so many far away places.

It was difficult to stop Shukla when he started talking in this vein. Many persons enjoyed it when Babaji mimicked his voice or copied his gestures. Shukla would always be handy when some break was needed in the talks or some humor or laughter was needed to entertain his audience.

It was about eleven one night. Babaji was in his room, the work in the ashram over, and everyone had retired to bed, with only a few of us sitting together in a back room talking. Babaji came out of his room and shouted for us. When we reached him he was standing before his room. He told me to get everyone together. "They must arm themselves with sticks. Some wicked rogues are prowling nearby to make some mischief. I was trying to sleep, but could not do so, as I was hearing some noise. We must go and finish with them."

In a short while there were more than fifteen persons ready with sticks and fuel wood rods collected from the kitchen store. Kumardas was leading the brigade. Because of the commotion, everyone came out of their rooms to see for themselves. Babaji was standing ready to march. He had his dhoti tight, having lifted it up to his knees. His blanket was folded and twined as a girdle and tied round his waist. His hands were not covered under the blanket anymore but were free to handle the big flashlight. The flashlight was an unusually long one and he held it in his right hand, but sometimes both hands were used to focus on certain places or things.

He led the march with the flashlight in his hand; everyone followed in line. The younger ones joined also, keeping the rear guard. The going was slow in the beginning, as he would stop after every step, and turn to every side focusing the torch to scrutinize everything. We reached the main road after coming off the bridge. He stopped there and started looking all around.

Suddenly there came a volley of abuses in the choicest of words from his 'underground' vocabulary, and he rushed ahead at a high speed. Everyone tried to keep pace with him but few succceeded. Then we noticed that a few open army trucks were standing on the bend of the road above, and army men were running desperately and jumping on the open trucks. By the time Babaji reached the bend of the road, the trucks had already started moving. He stopped and we all surrounded him. The people from adjoining houses had already gathered there.

Babaji said that for the last hour he had been trying to sleep, but he had been hearing some strange noise, and he wanted to finish with the scoundrels. Everyone listened to his graphic description of the whole incident, which most of the people had not seen with their own eyes. He was emphasising again and again that as we moved we had been looking to this side or that side, but not in front of us. How could we do that since we were all so very terrified? But he was not like us, he was not afraid, and always looked ahead of him. That is how he was able to see them and rush after them. "Those wretches were tipsy after drinking. They were dancing and singing and clapping their hands. When I shouted at them they ran for their lives. They were all army men and had been trained to fight. They acted like such cowards, I cannot understand how they will ever be able to fight."

The old and the weather-burned people there were accustomed to seeing such hilarity due to drink and dance. While standing there hearing Babaji talk with such enthusiasm about such a minor affair, which they would have ignored, they felt pity for those of us who had to come out of our beds. Little could they know how much we enjoyed coming with him. Food and sleep are the routine affairs of daily life. For devotees, such incidents were actually festivities for them all to enjoy.

The next day Babaji was sitting in his room talking about the previous night's encounter with the hoodlums, how he had been able to see in advance what it was about, and how the actual attack was made. "But no confrontation came. How could it come? You cannot fight with the wind. They ran away for their lives after hearing my shouts."

Everyone was enjoying again what they had tasted the night before. Shukla said he was sorry for his absence in the group last night, but he had a pain in his stomach. Hearing him, Babaji laughed at him tauntingly and said, "What are you talking about, you coward? At the very sight of it you would have shat in your pants. Now you are saying you could not come because of pain in the stomach. See how he makes up stories?" Everyone enjoyed at poor Shukla's cost, although it had not effect on him. He was all at ease, fully reconciled as he had already learned to accept everything that came from Babaji as his grace toward him, whether it was bouquets or bricks. Looking at everyone's face, as if with a new inspiration, there came another round of the story with some new additions and new interpretations. The time passed quickly and it was the time for bath and food now, so he retired.

Shukla now started his comments: "Dada, we must not forget how very lucky we are that we could have joy like this. Moreover, I am the happiest of all when he uses me for his play to teach and entertain others. I never think there is anything for me to be shy or nervous about when I hear such remarks."

There were occasions, however, when Babaji's remarks, especially those about Shukla, would make it difficult for him to sit there and swallow them. One day someone who was serving in the ashram kitchen came to Babaji to seek his permission to go home. This gave Babaji a chance to come out with an attack, with all sarcasm and laughter, about persons like him running for home. He said that this person had nothing to do at home because he was afraid of his wife. "This time when he came from home he had his wife's permission, but he is afraid that his wife will be angry if he does not return now. He has no work except to obey his wife. He has to wash her clothes, cook food for everyone and fill up the buckets from the tap so that his wife can have her rest. These people are so much afraid of their wives that they spend all their time pleasing them. I have seen it all with my own eyes."

He was looking at everyone's face to see how they took his remarks. Then, as if satisfied with the response written on the face of his audience, he resumed, "Shukla is so much better off than him. Who knows how long ago Shukla left home? He had no interest in returning there, and has no fear of his wife. She does every job herself. Moreover, his daughters also help their mother all the time. There is no work left for him in his house. What could she make him do? How can one who cannot wash or clean vegetables be expected to cook food? While he is in his house he creates difficulties in the work of others, so his wife does not object to his staying away from his home. Whenever I advise him that he should visit his home occasionally, he argues with me that there is no work for him at home. Well, when he has no interest of his own to go, why should I send him back forcibly? So I also sit silently. Is it all right? I am not doing anything wrong, I hope."

Shukla took this sitting silently. No reply or comments were necessary, nor could he make any. He had learned to listen and sit silently. When one is asked something, then only does one have to talk. Sometimes Shukla would be asked to say something about his own experiences, especially of the temples or ashrams of eminent saints that he had visited. This also was done with Hubbaji when he sat with Babaji. Hubbaji had spent more than half of his life in the company of the sadhus and had very rich and first-hand experiences of some of them. Babaji would often draw from them for the benefit of his devotees. The same was done in a smaller way with Shukla. Babaji might raise some topic himself or it might come through someone's question, and without replying directly, he would ask Hubbaji or Shukla to speak, himself sitting or lying but hearing everything and commenting and correcting where necessary. Thus the talk would be by others, but would have his seal of approval. In Kainchi and also in Allahabad this used to be a regular feature of his stay there.

We were in Kainchi one summer. Babaji had left for Delhi and was not expected to return for the next two or three days. Those who had their allotted work to do continued to be busy. But there was no such routine for Hubbaji, Shukla, Jivan, and a few others who were staying there. They used to spend most of their time sitting with Babaji or accompanying him when he went to nearby places. Two days after Babaji had left, they felt that they had nothing to do. In this state of mind, they were sitting in Babaji's room before his cot, which represented his presence. I took my seat with them.

Hubbaji was talking about Babaji's visits to the Himalayas and the ashrams and homes and meeting with sadhus there. He had visited them many times in Babaji's company and many times alone. The last time he visited Kedarnath with Babaji, Shukla was also with them. Hubbaji said that Babaji seldom entered a temple, but would force everyone with him to offer prayers and pujas and perform the rituals ordained by the Shastras. He was very strict about this. The same would be the case with Babaji's visits to the sadhus. He would visit many, and sometimes he would ask us to make offerings to them, but seldom would he talk much with them.

But there were many sadhus who came to meet him, having heard that he was somewhere near about. He would meet them with full hospitality, listen to them, and advise them. What these talks were about, Hubbaji and Shukla did not understand. Often they were not allowed to be there when such talks were going on. Hubbaji made the very striking observation that no doubt Babaji had spent some days of his sadhana in places in the Himalayas, Vindhyachal and Nilgiri hills. He felt that every part of the Himalayas was very well known to Babaji and very dear to his heart. Babaji had visited these areas long before Hanumanghar or Kainchi and other temples in the hills were built. We do not know for certain what made him choose these temple sites, but Hubbaji felt that one of the reasons had been his love for those areas.

The talks continued, and Shukla took it up from Hubbaji. He told of his visit to Gangotri and Gomukha in the hills and then of other places in the plains. They were talking like this and I was listening with all attention, as I had not been with Babaji in any temple in the hills or in Vrindavan. Only at three places, Benares, Vindhyachal and Chitrakut, was I taken to the temples for darshan. But Babaji did not ask me to sing any prayer or perform any puja, as he knew very well I was totally ignorant of them. So to Shukla I said, "I could not collect even a fraction of the virtues earned by you with your offerings of pujas and rituals during your visit to the many temples. This only shows that Babaji had not been so very generous to me as he was with you all."

Shukla came out with an ouburst, saying that that was not all true. "If there were to be a charge of partiality against him it was in dealing with you. He is more partial to you than anyone else." There was laughter, and more of it when I pleaded my inability to reply as a minority of one. This was our way of engaging ourselves in his absence.

After three days, Babaji retuned and everyone got busy with him, and the satsang was shifted to night sitting as before. Shukla was sitting with me one night when Babaji came and took his seat on my bed, telling Shukla that he should return home and look after his household which he had been avoiding all of these years. Now the situation was different. Four of his daughters had been married and the son was to be married in the near future. Babaji said, "There are so many new relations with whom proper understanding and good will have to be maintained. Only under such conditions can the children be really happy in their new houses after marriage. Your children will receive the same kind of treatment as the way you treat, receive, and honor your new relations. You must not forget this. You love your children and you want them to be happy, so you must return home, stay there, and attend to all these problems of new relationships. Your wife has been looking after the house in your absence, but she cannot deal with these new problems.

"Moreover, your son is a professor in the university. He will be married into a richer family with a higher status. You have to maintain your own position as the father of the boy with dignity and honor, and not allow him to be treated with indifference. This cannot be done by your wife. It is for you to do that. Moreover, the work in your house has increased, but she has fewer helpers now after the marriage of your daughters. You have never thought of these things before, but how could you, since you have never looked at others or thought of them? You forget your duties and responsibilities when you sit with Dada and start hearing all his tall tales. What can he teach you about your duty toward your family? He does not know anything himself, so what can he teach you? It is Maushi Ma and Kamala who run his household. He cannot do anything himself, but will quarrel with them if they do anything not to his liking. You should never take counsel from such a person. But I am telling you the right thing."

So after a couple of days Shukla returned home and started looking after the family and his photography shop, which had been neglected for so long. His visits to Allahabad in winter were continued, but the duration of his stay was reduced. Babaji would ask him all the details of how he was managing his family and his relationship with the daughter's father-in-law and advise him accordingly.

Sometimes these talks would take place in his room where Ma and Maushi Ma would be sitting. Sometimes to break the tone of his talk, he would ask Maushi Ma's opinion. She would reply, "Who can teach anything to anyone in your presence? For such a small family, I have to seek your advice so many times a day. But you have such a big family that you manage single-handedly. What can Maushi Ma teach you?" The sittings would end with satisfaction for all.

Two years passed like this. The marriage of Shukla's son, which had been a big weight on his shoulders for a long time, was accomplished in a very satisfactory way. He came to Allahabad for a short while and then returned home, since Babaji was not here at that time. He came to Kainchi after that. He was sitting alone with Babaji in his room. I was standing nearby and closed the door to others. Shukla was in deep emotions: "I have accomplished what you wanted me to do. Through your grace the marriage of my son was well celebrated, so what should I do now? There is no other important work waiting for me."

Babaji listened attentively and spoke very softly and slowly, as if measuring his every word. It was very striking for both of us, but how could we know that this was to be Shukla's last darshan and the last advice he would receive direct from Babaji's mouth?

Babaji talked in a very affectionate tone, consoling him in every way, as Shukla was very agitated. "Your household responsibilities are not yet over. Two daughters are yet to get married. Your son has been newly married and you have to explain to him how to manage the household work. You have visited all the temples and sacred places, and have learned all about pujas and prayers. All going and moving about, hearing and talking, are over now. Now you have to complete them by sitting in your house."

Many such things were said that day for Shukla to treasure in his mind, to seek guidance from when not in Babaji's presence. Long afterwards, while sitting together and talking, every event of that scene came to his mind. I was reminded of Krishna parting from his dear and faithful servant whom he was sending away to Badrinath. All masters are the same in parting with their devotees. The devotees break down for having to part with the master for good, and the masters, however disciplined or free from attachment they might be, cannot fail to react amiably and affectionately to their tears.

Shukla said repeatedly, "Babaji has given us everything. We enjoyed it while we were in his presence, and he left us prasad to utilize all through our lives. We cannot exhaust it. But our difficulty has been that we were so close with him, so near his body all the time, that we mistook this to be all there was about him. We never took his teachings to heart or tried to understand them. That is why we are suffering now that the body is not there. But everything else about him is with us.

"This is what he was teaching us all the time, but we did not understand. Now when he is not before us in his body we have to live with him through his teachings and the tales with which we have filled our hearts. I realize this now sitting in this room looking at him, but not hearing him. While talking with you I can see afresh, before my eyes, the whole of it.

"Dada, whenever we can spare the time, we must get together. There is no more Kainchi or Vrindavan for us. We were interested in them because we had him there. But here in Allahabad, although it was also the same in many ways, it is different because we actually felt it to be his home and not his ashram. Here we felt as one feels in one's own house. We were not outsiders to him in this house—we were of this household—so his memory becomes very strong when we come here."

Our meetings became very rare after May, 1976. I did not visit any of Babaji's ashrams or the houses of his devotees. It looked as though Babaji was very serious with his old command, "Dada, you stay at home." But Shukla did not leave us altogether. Sometimes he would get very much upset, remembering Babaji all the time, but there was no one else to whom he could open his mind and secure help to tide him over his mental afflictions, and when we met it was actually a meeting of hearts, alive with Babaji.

Shukla was a very sad one in the last days of his life. The house, the family, the children—nothing could give him satisfaction. He was not financially well off, but mentally he was a renunciate. His sufferings from lack of money were never acute, nor did they have any effect on his outward behavior and life.

Many persons would come to Baba for power and money and position. High officials and ministers would come to Babaji to seek his favor. Shukla was a stranger in their company. He used to say, "For us, favor comes from Babaji without asking on our part. We can see very well that sometimes Babaji wants us to accept something which comes without our asking, and when we would not do that he would abuse us, saying that we did not care for our family and household. I said to him once that we have been spoiled by getting everything from him unasked by us, so why should be take from anyone else? His reply was, 'Well then, suffer. I wanted to do something good for you, but you would not obey me, so you suffer. What more can I do?'"

Once a minister and his secretary from Lucknow were with Babaji in his room. Babaji asked him if he could get such-and-such things done. The secretary said that there would be no difficulty in that, and wanted to know what was to be done. Babaji's reply was that he had just asked out of curiosity. When they went away, Babaji told Shukla that if he would accept a contract from that man he would get so much money by sitting at home and not doing much. Shukla not only declined to do so, but he actually asked Babaji why he wanted to make him greedy—was he wanting to drop him, to drive him away from his feet? He said, "Baba, when I have not been able to fulfill the contract that you have given me, how could I take then another from someone else?"

Baba added only this much in reply: "I wanted to do some good for you and your family, but you do not understand me, so what can I do? Wealth and power are not for you. You suffer as you like."

Continuing his talk, Shukla recalled what Babaji had said while they were returning from their visit to Badrinath. "He sent me away after the completion of the journey, and said that I should return home and look after my household and shop. Referring to the plight of my chldren who had faced starvation, and the Kashmiri mother who fed them, he said, 'If you wanted to be a sadhu, then why did you get married? Could you not think about it before marriage? Moreover, does anyone become a sadhu simply by running away? And how dare you think of becoming a sadhu? You are not bold or courageous. I have seen thousands of runaways from home—those who run away and leave their household duties. After getting a hard lesson, they returned home, shaving their head, closing their mouths, and begging for mercy, Forgive me, forgive me. I have committed a big blunder! You coward, you think you will become a sadhu by running away from home and leaving all your duties and responsibilities behind. Give up all these ideas and return home and look after your responsibilities. What I am saying is good for you. You should obey me.'"

While recalling this, Shukla said, "Dada, I did not hear him carefully or take his words seriously at that time. We all treated it as one of his favorite systems of entertaining everyone around him by making fun of someone. Tularam told me that because of me we could get this entertainment. But now we can see what it really meant for us and how he was always thinking of us and our children.

"He would test everyone, knowing what was in everyone's mind, however much we might try to hide it from him, and then he would decide what to do for us. After seeing that I could not be a success in business or in any venture for the householder's life, he permitted me to continue my own pattern of life, relieving me from my duty to the household. He knew I was timid, vacillating, and unworthy of making any serious effort for success in life. He also knew that even if he gave me everything for a happy household life, I would not really be happy there. From my early life I did not have attraction for the household life. My parents knew it. The cloth shop was closed only because they knew that I would not be able to run it. And my grandfather took all the care to teach me all the prayers, pujas and rites to make my life happy. Babaji knew everything, and then arranged my life accordingly. He thought of us all the time, and has helped us in every possible way by providing what was really beneficial for us. We can never think of accusing him of neglecting us. Whenever I think of what he has done for my children I cannot check my tears or relish my food. Since the day that he saved me from drowning myself in the river, it has been the same story. Even now he saves us from our calamities of life."

There were many devotees who suffered at the sudden departure of Baba from before our eyes, but then they calmed down and only occasionally remembered him or felt his absence. These people had busy lives and were able to forget everything else. They were not distubed by missing the life with Babaji. It was, at most, an important phase of their lives, but not the whole of it, so they did not feel that all was lost when he was not before them. But it was different with Shukla. He could not settle into this new turn in his life. He had never been interested in any business, nor did he take an interest in looking after the children when they were already grown up and settled. The pilgrimages were over long back, and the puja and rites could not engage the whole of his time and attention. So the vacuum was there.

Shukla had no trouble with his food nor about his clothes and other necessities of life. He had no desire to acquire and accumulate more and better things. When one of us remarked about these habits of his, he said that he was not taught to display his prosperity by getting costly food, or projecting his personality by being fashionably dressed. He could not be drawn into arguments about his choice or lack of interest in these things, which the vast majority of people consider to be the highest blessings of life. Sometimes we used to say that Shukla was a rare exhibit in Babaji's collection of specimens. Shukla was a rare specimen of contentment who remained satisfied with whatever came to him without unnecessary wastage of time and money. His santosh (contentment) was not resignation, due to being satisfied with having what was needed and not wanting anything more.

Babaji would sometimes wax eloquent while talking about contentment in life: "The real contentment comes only when there is no desire, no hankering in your mind for anything. How can you say that you have got everything and do not want anything more when you are holding an empty vessel in your hand? You might be saying this with your mouth, but there would always be the worry in your mind about how the pot could be filled, always looking from side to side with the expectation that somebody will come and fill it up. Well, how can you call this contentment? When one sees that when the pot before him is full to the brim, it is emptied, and when it is empty, it is refilled of its own—that is contentment. If anyone wanted to give him anything, he would show that the pot was full already. What would he do with anything more? Even if he wanted to share it with others, where would he put it? This is the real contentment and it comes only through the grace of God. When you have full faith in Him, full reliance on Him, when you can surrender everything to Him, then that grace comes to you by itself—you do not have to ask for it or make any effort. Such is the value of faith in God."

By his very nature, Shukla was unostentatious and unobtrusive. You could see this when he was sitting with Babaji and Babaji asked him certain things. He would often have some point to emphasize, but you would not get it by the rise of his voice or repetition, but only through the tremor in his voice. This sometimes created difficult problems for him and his audience, when Babaji made him talk of something deeply touching him. Babaji would never ask him to tell stories heard secondhand from others, but only from his own experience.

Although Shukla was known to all who came to visit Babaji at Kainchi, Vrindavan and many other places, he was not popular with many. Those who have some glamour around them and can talk glibly became popular in these gatherings, and Shukla failed there. But he was very popular and was treated like a member of the family by the old devotees of Baba who had known him. In Allahabad, Ma and Maushi Ma would always make some time to sit alone with him. Didi would often emphasize his very helpful and affectionate nature. Like Hubbaji, he would come forward to help Didi in her kitchen while preparing prasad at Kainchi or Allahabad.

During our last meeting at Allahabad, Shukla spent several days with us, but he was very restless. The peace and serenity that were his hallmark were not there. Not only was Babaji not in his body, but there was nothing that Shukla felt that Babaji had left for him. He visited Kainchi, Vrindavan and Allahabad only rarely because he no longer found the things he used to get there. Even though Babaji was no longer in the body, he thought that he must have been kept alive in the hearts of his old devotees. He felt as though he had been struck with frost and cold, and rushed there to warm himself up in the fire of the love. He was mistaken. For him the glow and the warmth were gone with Babaji's passing away. He said that he had learned a very hard lesson. All the fire was kindled by Babaji, tended by Babaji, and Babaji had taken it away when he left those places.

He said, "So long as Babaji was there, everything was there for me. There was nothing missing and nothing to ask for. Actually, that had become my habit—to look at him only and remain satisfied with what came to me from him. I did not attempt to do this nor made any effort. It came by itself, and I do not know how and why it came. I was actually accustomed to that, and it was the same whatever place I visited with him. But it is so different now. But no matter which place I might visit in his name, the sense of loss is so severe and the wrenching in the heart is so acute that I cannot reconcile myself anymore to this restlessness."

I tried to console him, mostly by sitting and talking about Babaji. Both of us were totally free and could sit for any length of time. We talked of the old things over and over again, and all of those years would reappear, giving a new taste through their maturity. We often said that there was no more interruption in our sitting, no Babaji shouting for us or stepping on our bed unexectedly.

While talking with him one day, I suggested that he was worrying himself by trying to hear things from others, and that he should live on what he himself had accumulated with Babaji. It was enough to occupy him for the rest of his lifetime. He said he knew that, but that he could not get the benefit from his experiences by himself. He had so many records of life-giving musings, but he could not play them. "I have the records but not the needles, and I do not know how to use them." So while we were here together, I played the records for him. Our last satsang continued for a long time, but after he left we did not hear from him. Time passed, and then one day we learned that Shukla was not there anymore.

Shukla was a great favorite with everyone of the satsang. His rich experiences, earned through the special care and indulgence of Babaji, were enjoyed by everyone. I have said that we were interested in dishing out Babaji's teachings for the benefit of others without practicing any of them in our own lives, but Shukla is a memorable exception, who practiced the teachings with utmost care and honesty.

In his outward life he was a householder, an affectionate father and benevolent relation, but he was not a success in the business of life, working and earning, grabbing and amassing whatever came his way. He was an utter failure there, and Babaji had to take great care that Shukla's household worked in his absence. In his heart of hearts, Shukla was a mendicant and not a householder. He was something of the tramp, as was Jivan, so that they could be good companions with the 'Great Tramp' in their journeys. Shukla is an unforgettable memory of love and affection, faith and dedication, and complete surrender to the master, not found in anyone else. We learned so much from him, and even now enjoy what we learned in his absence.

I have said that I was a newcomer, a non-believer with divided interest. My interest was in other things of life, and as if to be tolerant, I went along with the new situation. But because of the efforts of such persons as Tularam, Jivan and Shukla I came to be a convert, a new recruit to their ranks, as Tularam used to say.

Tularam would not like to miss being with Babaji at all after he had been drawn to him. He used to say, "Udhav, the joy that you get from him could not come from anywhere else. It is not fiction that I am talking. I have tasted all the joys of social and family life—the joys that the householder aspires for. If I had not been drawn to him in the end of my life, I would have concluded that there was no greater joy than the householder's life of 'eat, drink and be merry.' I believed that these were the only means open to you to enjoy your life, and that you must take to it fully and work vigorously to fulfill your aims, setting aside any unnecessary qualms of conscience of what is right or noble. What could be wrong with sticking to that only? This is how I used to think of my way of living.

"Babaji had been coming to the Nainital area for long, and all my friends and relations were well known to him. Siddhi was a great devotee and close to him from her early days. She had pleaded with me innumerable times to meet him, see him and then form my opinion about him, but all this was of no use to me. I resisted all of her efforts and often rebuked her. But when it finally came, there was no more resistance forthcoming from me and my surrender was complete. I then came to enjoy my life more and value it more, but in the new pattern set by him. I would not like to stay away from him even for a day, as if I could make up for the losses I suffered over the years through my indifference and resistance.

"I had been a hard-headed realizt who tasted life in both its bright and dark aspects. There was no sorcery or occult power that took me toward him. I was on the wrong path and I was helped to turn from it and put on the right one. This was out of his compassion not out of any expectation of gain from me, so how could it be wrong? Moreover, I was not taken by anyone else's words. My judgment came after the full experience of my new way of life and the joy of it. There was no joy in my householder's life as compared to the one I am enjoying now. I have experienced both fully now."

He would speak in this vein all the time we would be together. My actual initiation came from Tularam, and it was the seed-state of the impressive plant which grew into the satsang in the later days. He came in the very first batch to the new home in 1959, and prepared the ground for the regular congregation of devotees under Babaji's shelter. After 1959, others started coming and the satsang came to be a precious institution for our enjoyment and enlightenment. It came to actually be the clearing house for putting forward our ideas and experiences and getting them properly tested and verified for the benefit of us all. Tularam was actually the one who started it and he participated in it until the last days of his life.

There were also others in the satsang of the old group who made their contributions too, but I learned most from the 'tavern life' satsang—sitting on the same ground and opening our hearts and mouths to each other. This is how they passed on to me their most precious and cherished assets, their experiences of life with Babaji.

We came to value this as Babaji's greatest gift to us—our solace in times of distress, our joy during the peaceful and healthy times. I cannot say what the value was as teachings. That value could only be known and appreciated if we had applied it in our own lives and practiced it. But far from it, we used the experiences to tell others, and earn praise for ourselves as great devotees. Shukla is a memorable exception, who practiced the teachings with utmost care and honesty.

So many persons came to Babaji with their different aims and purposes, and he helped everyone as they expected. Most of them came as visitors, and they were finished with him when their purpose was accomplished. Babaji used to say that they came for their own purpose and not for him. But there were many who developed an abiding interest in him, and would return to him as often as they could manage. They learned many valuable lessons, and their experiences and anecdotes have been valuable as Babaji's teaching.

There was something very different in the experiences of the old devotees of whom we have been talking. The interest of the other ones was mostly in his teachings and not in his personal traits. For the old devotees, it was Babaji's person that was their greater interest. Their experiences were very human, alive and full, and not mere dry teachings. All through their association with him, their entire attention was focused on the full-fledged saint, without an interest or curiosity about the other stages of his life. Without knowing it, we were actually following the precious teaching given by the great saint, Swami Gyanananda Giri: "You can measure the height of the tree, but not of the roots beneath." We were only interested in the height of the tree, under whose shelter we used to gather, without any idea of its roots or how deep down they reached.

Our satsang talks would always be centered around Babaji but were not confined to him only. There were many saints who were the same as Babaji in their love and compassion, rescuing the fallen, standing by the deserted, and bringing cheer and joy to the distressed. The string in the garland passes through various kinds of flowers and links them together in one strand like the current of the stream and compassion which passes through the hearts of the saints. The devotees who sat together in our satsang had been with Babaji in different times and places and met different saints. The flowers were collected from various gardens, but by passing a string through them we could make a beautiful garland of our own. This is why we sought the benefit of each other's company.

The satsang was very precious to us, and Babaji encouraged us in every possible way to benefit from it by bringing us together, giving us full opportunity to hear the reports and stories, and making corrections or changes that might be needed. Actually these narrations came to be his gospel. For us they have that place of honor in our lives.

Dada Mukerjee
The Near and the Dear