Yogic Masters and Saints of India
Neem Karoli Baba’s Teachings to America
The transmission of wisdom from the East to the West began around 1900 and has continued to this day. The last article showed a fraction of the timeless wisdom of Yogananda and the message he brought across the oceans in the first half of the 20th century. Yogananda wrote prolifically having many bestselling books which introduced Americans to a universal approach of direct experience to the divine, teaching the science of yoga and the teachings of Christ. He preached a message that god is universal and can be seen through many lenses and traditions.
Later in the 1960’s Americans were seeking out spiritual nourishment by traveling to India and seeking Gurus. This trend was most publicized with the journey of the Beatles to Rishikesh in February of 1968 to attend Transcendental Meditation classes with Mararishi Mahesh Yogi. The Beatles were not the first Westerners to seek spiritual India in the mid-twentieth century. Bhagavan Das (Kermit Michael Riggs) pioneered a new path through Asia and eventually studied with the great saint Neem Karoli Baba as well as going into Nepal to study with numerous Buddhist Rinpoches. Later Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) met Bhagavan Das who then introduce him to Neem Karoli Baba. Neem Karoli Baba changed Richard Alpert’s name to Ram Dass by which he is known up to the current date. Ram Das became a widely respected teacher of spiritualism. His teachings are based on psychology, Bhakti Yoga (devotional Yoga) and his experience with Neem Karoli Baba.
Neem Karoli Baba was referred to as Maharaji,. He was a god realized being who seemed to defy the laws of physics and exuded an air of peace, love and bliss. There is no record of Maharaji’s birth. He appeared in 1955 and he died on September, 11, 1973. He never wrote anything and thus the knowledge of his teachings is told through the voice of his devotees. He was a huge man with a mostly bald head. He had long and incredibly strong arms. He had a deep hunch in his shoulders and was always repeating ram inwardly or outward. He is said to be one of the most loving, generous and compassionate beings. He owned nothing and gave everything away. He was supported by his followers and offered advice, blessings and teachings to all who came for free. Maharaji is said to be the reincarnation of Hanuman a Hindu Deity who is depicted in the form of a monkey. Hanuaman and Neem Karoli Baba both have an unwavering devotion to the divine. In Buddhist terms Neem Karoli Baba was a boddhisatva, a being who came to help humanity.
Before Ram Dass became a devotee of Neem Karoli, he was a psychedelic and personality researcher in the psychology department at Harvard. He was fired from Harvard because of the controversy caused by Timothy Leary and his promotion of LSD. Ram Dass went off to India to find a form of true spiritualism and to introduce spiritualists to LSD while recording their response and experience. He was directed to Bhagavan Das, an American,who had become a sadu or renunciate. Bhagavan Das had nearly no possessions at the time and was focused on his inner journey when a giant Land Rover with stressed American elitists arrived with copious amounts of acid. Ram Dass was at first in love with Bhagavan Das with his loin cloth, dreadlocks and spiritual life. Eventually Bhagavan Das brought Ram Dass unwillingly to kneel before Neem Karoli Baba’s feet. Ram Dass had had a dream the night before that his recently deceased mother spoke to him. Ram Dass was silently grieving and had not told anyone about his Mother. Neem Karoli Baba then commented on both the dream and the cause of his Mother’s death. Ram Dass was overwhelmed with emotion and openly wept. He then made the decision to become a devotee of Neem Karoli Baba.
Bhagavan Das and Ram Dass were often sent out during that time for isolated meditations, their lives were completely changed by their experience. The closest devotees of Maharaji were not Americans; however, the story of Maharaji and his teachings were communicated through the American students into western consciousness. The rest of the essay will focus on what these two American disciples had to say about Neem Karoli Baba and what Maharaji said. They provide the most extensive record available to the West about this great saint.
Ram Dass in a Lecture at Naropa in 1974 recited an exchange with a local man and Neem Karoli Baba, in which Neem Karoli Baba describes how one can know if a teacher is their Sat (true) Guru.
“How do I know if a person is my guru?” A man asked Maharaji.
”Do you feel he can fulfill you in every way spiritually? Do you feel he can free you from all desires and attachments? Do you feel he can lead you to final liberation? When you feel all these things perhaps then you have found your guru.” (Ram Dass 1974)
Neem Karoli Baba would remind his disciples constantly to share the message that gurus do not have to be experienced physically. He stressed that there are many astral beings available to guide us. He says:
“The guru is not external it is not necessary to meet your guru on the physical plane.” (Ram Dass 1974)
Neem Karoli Baba was asked what is in the heart of a saint? He responded lovingly:
“The saint’s heart melts like butter, no, it melts even more than butter. Butter only melts when it’s near heat itself. The saint’s heart melts when anyone else comes near the heat.” (Ram Das 1974)
Bhagavan Das wrote a spiritual memoir entitled, It’s Here Now (Are You?): A Spiritual Memoir. He tells us about his first impressions with Neem Karoli Baba:
“Neem Karoli Baba had opened my heart. All I wanted to do was be with Maharaji, my guru. And Maharaji seemed delighted to see me. I was so happy to be near his body. He had the most beautiful fragrance you’ve ever smelled. It was like the top of a newborn baby’s head. It took me out of my senses.” Pg. 50
Bhagavan Das is expressing the deep devotion and love which was always present around his Guru. All the devotees express incredible love for their Guru and delighted in his presence. Neem Karoli Baba is said to have an energetic field around him which creates bliss and love. He guides all who come to him through their journey in life. Often students like Ram Dass make a dramatic transformation from an elitist intellectual to a man of god in spiritual love and surrender. Many of the devotees gladly do whatever they are told to do because it always leads to realization about some aspect of themselves and brings them closer to god.
People would bring gifts for Neem Karoli Baba or ask what they can give him in thanks. He would respond:
“I don’t want anything. I exist only to serve others.” (Ram Dass 1974)
Dada, Neem Karoli Baba’s closest disciple says. “The only thing we can offer him (Maharaji) is the purity of your singing to god.” (Ram Dass 1974)
Neem Karoli Baba could find one’s personal issues and blocks obscuring realization and expose them. Once exposed the walls that separate us from universal love crumbles, often to the shock of the disciple. He encouraged one to let go of their attachments. He would say, “Attachment is the strongest block to realization.” (Ram Dass 1974) He also encouraged peace and the end of anger. He once said, “If you polish the mirror free of anger you will see god” and “You should not disturb anyone’s heart even if a person hurts you, give him love.” He encouraged his disciples to feel liberated cautioning, “Do what you do but never put anybody out of your heart.” He wanted everyone to understand that the other person or object is truly themselves. “If you cannot love each other you cannot achieve your goal.”(Ram Dass 1974) Fear is a major wall that divides us from others and from our highest self. Neem Karoli Baba when asked about fear said:
“How do you turn fear into love?”
“If you trust in Christ you don’t have fear.”
“What if you fear god more then you love him?”
“Fear of god is just another kind of love. The more you love god the more you fear him. You have to develop faith and love in Christ.” (Ram Dass 1974)
Many people would come to Neem Karoli Baba with terrible illness, grief and suffering begging him to tell them why they suffer. Suffering is a major theme in religions around the world. Suffering is a great fear for many and a sharp reality for others. There seems to be no way to avoid suffering in life. Neem Karoli Baba was asked, what he thought of suffering. He said:
“I just love suffering. It brings me so close to god. You get knowledge from suffering. You are alone with god when you are sick in the cremation ground or in the hospital. You call on god when you suffer.” (Ram Dass 1974)
Bhagavan Das expresses how he felt about his experience of being challenged to grow in this way. He allowed nearly all of his material possessions and some personality attachments to disappear and his worldview was dramatically transformed. He says:
“Maharaji was the physical body of the vast inner reality, the Atman. He read my mind like an open book to remind me that I was no more separate and independent than the fingers of a hand. He’d tell me my innermost secrets, and I’d be astonished and a little afraid. The reality of who we all are, and of what Maharaji was, can really scare the ego if it’s invested in its own universe. The whole cosmos around us collapses like a house of cards when the Guru huffs and puffs and blows it down. The guru is the big bad wolf. He’s come to eat us. If you’re not willing to offer him the pudding of your being, it can be scary. You need to give your whole self to him, inside and out. Only through surrender can you come to understand the power of atman.” Pg. 96 – 97.
The message of universal love was the central core of all his teachings and actions. The universal love is the gateway into the realization of the divine. Through surrendering our lives to the service of others and focusing on god, we become loving and blissful. This message is similar to the message of Christ and like Yogananda, Neem Karoli Baba would speak about Chirst. He agrees with Yogananda that Jesus came to Earth as a god realized being, a Boddhisatva, to help humanity. Neem Karoli Baba would say many things about Christ to illustrate his own teachings.
“No one believes in Christ, but I do. You must accept the teachings of Christ and follow them. Christ said to be like a little child, never speak or think anything that can hurt anyone.” (Ram Dass 1974)
A man asked Neem Karoli Baba, “How did Christ mediate?”
Neem Karoli said:
“He lost himself in love. He was one with all beings and had great love for all in the world. He was crucified so his spirit could spread throughout the world. He was one with god. He sacrificed his body for the dharma. He never died. He never died, he is atman living in the hearts of all.”
Neem Karoli Baba seemed to have the power to change the course of events and to transcend the conventional limits of what is thought possible. He could perform miracles. There are many stories of psychic powers like telepathy, mind reading, being in two places at once, transforming his image, growing and shrinking in size, materialization of objects, miraculous healings and more. Bhagavan Das recalled his experience with his teacher and his unique powers in his memoir.
“Maharaji performed a miracle a minute. Food, money, a trip to the hospital – whatever the people needed was taken care of. One time I brought Maharaji eight apples. He put them under his blanket, and he had no other apples. Then he started giving out the apples, and I counted as he did: one, two, three… thirteen … forty-eight. I carefully counted. From the eight that I gave him he had created forty-eight apples.
Another time, a man came to see Maharaji because he had only one rupee. The man said, “Maharaji, this one-note rupee is all I have – I need more.”
‘Give me your rupee,’ said Maharaji. He took the man’s rupee and put it in the fire of his coking stove.
‘What are you doing? That’s all I had!’ screamed the man.
Maharaji took a pair of tongs, and I watched him pull numerous one-hundred note rupees out of the fire and give them to the man.” Pg.91
Neem Karoli Baba says, “All the money in the world is mine.” (Ram Dass 1974)
“Maharaji hid his miracle attainment – that was his illusion. But the miracles were so common that it got to the point where I hardly paid attention to them anymore. It was so matter-of-fact. They were the background of reality. Whenever questioned about them, he would answer, “I did nothing. God did it.” (Pg. 97 Bhagavan Das) or “The whole universe is mine. I have no powers. I do nothing. God does everything.”(Ram Dass 1974)
The miracles were not for show but were used as tools to show the illusion of the reality we have constructed in our minds. The goal was simply to love god and to realize that we are all god. We are all one. Through devotional love and surrender to their Guru, the disciple receives deep insight into the nature of the ultimate reality. His followers were urged to follow the creed, “Serve others, feed people. All is one.” He stressed repeatedly, “Don’t have evil thoughts of others. You can’t realize god if you see differences. Learn to see the love with-in.”
“What is the best service you can do?” a man asked. “The best service you can do is keeping your mind on god. Keep God in your heart like you keep money in a safe.” (Ram Dass 1974)
Or he’d say:
“Serve the poor.
Who is poor? A man asked Maharaji.
Everyone is poor before Christ.” (Ram Dass 1974)
In the series “Love Devotion and the Ultimate Surrender” (1974) Ram Dass gives some inspiring quotes from Neem Karoli Baba. Expressing his teacher’s universal spirituality, Ram Das recalls the answer to a question about what deity is best to worship. Neem Karoli Baba Responds:
“You must honor Shiva through love. Ram and Shiva are the same. Ram worshiped Shiva; Shiva worshiped Ram. It’s all one.” Or he’d say, “God is everybody.” (Ram Das 1974)
Neem Karoli Baba was Hanuman embodied. He loved all around him and was continuously repeating the name of god, “Ram, Ram, Ram.” He told his disciples to serve others and to follow the teachings of Christ. He brought out deep spiritual realization through giving love and demonstrating the illusion of our own perspective through mind blowing miracles. He emphasized to his students that the guru is with-in and there is no need to meet a guru externally. He can send messages beyond space-time to help or teach devotees, including changing the physical circumstances of one’s life through incredible synchronicity.
Neem Karoli was a god realized being, a bodhisattva, who returned to Earth to share love with all mankind and to liberate those who became his devotees. He did not offer writings, religion or a systematic approach but instead focused on universal truths such as service to others, sharing love with all, recognizing that all is one in the cosmos and keeping the mind focused on God. Though his body has since passed away from Earth, the presence of his love is all-pervading and his teachings continue to change lives through his devotees and his astral presence. Neem Karoli Baba’s most common words were, “Love everyone, serve everyone.” and “All is one.”
By Transpersonal Spirit
Bhagavan Das. It’s here now are you? A Spiritual Memoir. Broadway books New York. 1997.
Paramahansa Yogananda. Autobiography of a Yogi. Self Realization Fellowship. 1946, 1974, 2005.
Dass, Ram. Love service Devotion and the Ultimate Surrender. Audio recordings from Naropa University Boulder, CO 1974. Sounds True. Boulder Co.
Dass, Ram. A spiritual Journey. An Audio Renaissance audiobook. New York, NY. 1989, 1990.
Dass, Ram. Be Here Now, Remember. San Cristobal: Lama Foundation, 1978.
Das, Rameshwar. Be Love Now. London: Rider, 2011
Dass, Ram. Miracle of love: stories about Neem Karoli Bab a. New York: Dutton, 1979.