Sri Baba Neeb Karori Maharaj was the very embodiment of grace and compassion. He showered affection, fed people, and made them laugh. He loved everyone without discrimination and could not bear to see anyone in distress. He was so affable that each of his devotees felt that Baba had special affection for them and believed him to be their very own. Even simple words spoken by him always brought good, just as seeds, in whatever way they are sown, always sprout upright.
He was like a kalpataru (a celestial wish-fulfilling tree) in satisfying the beneficial wishes of people. Baba would often call strangers by name and relieve them of their suffering by advising them suitably. He would cure the diseases of people without their knowledge. He alleviated afflictions—whether physical, spiritual, or mundane—with a mere glance or touch.
Some people call Baba the greatest ascetic, some the supreme saint. One devotee said that Baba appeared according to one's thoughts or as a reflection of one's own feelings—often as a beloved family member or as a revered teacher. Baba came to one man in the form of Sri Ram, to another in the form of Goddess Durga. Many believed him to be an incarnation of the all-powerful Hanuman. Swami Karpatri Maharaj said, "In Kali-yuga, many learned saints have come into the world, but none is so enlightened as Baba Neeb Karori." Swami Chidananda, the president of the Divine Life Society and Sri Shivananda ashram, called him "a wonder mystic of Northern India." Baba himself said, "If people got to know the truth about me, they would even pinch off the hair on my body and make talismans."
Baba, however, kept his divinity concealed. The villages of Akbarpur and Neeb Karori in Uttar Pradesh were the fields of his lila for more than half a century. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of his native Akbarpur were not aware that their own Laxmi Narain Sharma was known elsewhere as Baba Neeb Karori or Baba Lakshman Das. Nor did the residents of Neeb Karori know that the baba who became famous all over the world by the name of their village was none other than their own Baba Lakshman Das.
Baba's unassuming appearance caused common people as well as spiritual aspirants of a high order to mistake him for a prosperous Indian householder. He made no pretensions about being a saint in order to gain respect. He did not mark his forehead or wear a string of beads around his neck, nor did he wear the saffron clothing of a sadhu. Instead, he wore a white dhoti and a blanket. In his own ashrams, if a stranger asked him where they could find Baba, he usually replied, "There is no baba here. Go and have darshan before the murti of Hanuman."
Baba often created a misleading impression of himself and bewildered people in order to divert their attention. Many say he exhibited human weaknesses to this end. Baba credited other people with his own extraordinary deeds, and if any of his devotees tried to speak highly of him in public or look for more details about him, he did not allow them to stay in his company for long. Baba disdained the fawning ways used to show esteem for him, though sometimes he would accept ritual adoration (puja) when it was offered with true love and simplicity. Outwardly, however, he would still be busy talking or lost in thought.
The opinions of others, whether favorable or unfavorable, did not affect Baba. He would unhesitatingly act contrary to expectation and at times even in ways that seemed humiliating in the eyes of the world. His reasons were generally incomprehensible, yet he appealed to people so much that he always remained the object of their reverence and affection. His paradoxical actions could often be explained by the fact that Baba, like other saints, made use of the subtle, unseen forces of the universe. In this way rational logic could not be applied to them.
Swami Ramanand said that Baba's state of consciousness determined his behavior. When Baba appeared to be asleep, it would be just as likely for him to be in a state of bliss or on another plane. More often Baba appeared restless. Even while sitting or lying down, he was rarely still. Baba's apparent mobility was often attributed to the numerous benevolent works he was doing elsewhere unnoticed. Even Baba's physical form would sometimes reflect his inner state. The photographs in which Baba's hand looks like a monkey's paw suggest his absorption in the contemplation of Hanuman.
Baba never got tired of moving about day or night. He would often joyfully pass the nights in solitary places, on parapet walls by the roadside, or in jungles. Sometimes he roamed about without food. Sometimes, even after eating meals in the many homes he was invited to, he would say he was hungry and ask for more food. [It is believed that Baba was taking on negative karma by eating at people's homes, thus saving them from adverse effects.] At other times a piece of dry bread from a pious soul satisfied him.
Swami Rama ('Living With the Himalayan Masters') said that Baba was beyond the physical awareness of his own self and so his behavior appeared childlike. He would occasionally forget to eat or to take his bath. His attendants would remind Baba, and then he would perform the daily chores.
Sometimes Baba would be smiling at jokes and those around him would be laughing. In an instant he would change the mood and people would start weeping. At times a few lines from the Ramayana (the epic depicting Lord Ram's incarnation on earth), a recollection of Christ, or even an ordinary conversation would touch his heart, and his own tears would flow profusely. Even his picture was seen to shed tears when someone wept before it.
Baba led such a simple life that there was nothing one could give him. He did not accept money from foreigners and discouraged others from doing so, but he would honor and accept humble offerings from the poor. He had a natural affinity for the destitute and disadvantaged and would walk into their homes uninvited and ask for food. He often said, "Everyone is poor before God."
At the same time Baba encouraged charity, generosity, and sacrifice and exhorted the rich to spend money on the construction of temples and ashrams, on bhandaras (public feedings), and for the welfare of others. On occasion he would put a devotee to the test by asking them for something that they were very attached to or felt unable to part with. This again was his lila. He told people that generosity was a result of good deeds performed in a previous birth and said, "To give or sacrifice for another at the cost of hardship to yourself is very difficult. Such acts can only be performed because of sanskaras (predispositions or positive tendencies) of previous births."
Baba's nature to forgive was unparalleled. He did not look down on anyone for their evil deeds or for exhibiting human weaknesses such as desire, anger, pride, ignorance, or avarice. It is said in the Ramayana that if God took heed of all of man's deeds, his redemption would become unthinkable. Even though Baba knew everything, he accepted everyone as they were. Indeed, he would become unhappy if someone mistreated a person who had committed an offense. Once, Baba ignored the traffic rules at a crossing and was verbally abused and manhandled by the police officer on duty. Baba did not mind, but someone else reported the incident to a higher authority. When the police officer was called to task, Baba himself went to plead for the man and saved him from punishment.
There were times when Baba made a show of anger—scolding and shouting. His Shiva-like wrath was not easy to cope with. He did not hesitate to use a stream of course swear words, and sometimes he would even strike out with his hand or foot. The person who was the object of his fury, as well as anyone witnessing it, was shaken at these moments. Strangely enough, immediately after such incidents, Baba would appear very calm and kind-hearted, as if nothing had happened. Eventually it was seen that his anger averted the misfortunes of people and acted as a blessing in disguise. Even knowing that his anger was never real, none dared to take it lightly.
No one knew how or on whom Baba's grace would fall. Even though people generally go to the hermitages of saints and sages to have their darshan like a thirsty man goes to a well, Baba would visit the houses of his devotees and often bless them by eating food prepared by them. He would extend this type of blessing to anyone and eat vegetarian food without the slightest hesitation at the houses of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, or Christians. He often brought other devotees along with him and expected them to be fed as well. Even when he arrived unexpectedly, there would always be plenty. By his grace the quantity of food would increase to the appropriate amount and save the hosts from embarrassment. Prosperity, peace, and contentment filled the house wherever he took a meal.
While staying at the homes of his devotees, Baba would sit among them like the head of the family, take interest in and listen to their day-to-day problems, give his opinion, and help them. Many families asked Baba for advice on matrimonial alliances, and at times he would name a suitable bride or groom. Whenever Baba suggested an alliance, it was bound to take place whether it was agreed to at the time or not. Having expressed his view in respect to marriage, Baba would indirectly get it performed in a satisfactory manner and thus relieve the family members of their anxiety. Certain people did not think it proper for a saint to be interested in the worldly activities of householders, but these thinkers betrayed their ignorance of Baba's divine nature. It is said in the Ramayana that the illustrious saints are moved by the sufferings of others. Baba was benevolence itself, and so it was natural for him to shower his grace in so many forms.
In addition to visiting his householder devotees, Baba would also go to the hermitages and caves of spiritual aspirants (sadhaks) and grace them by his presence. Real sadhaks could not remain hidden from Baba. He always helped them, directly or indirectly, in their spiritual practice.
Unlike some sadhus who do not tolerate children or consider them worthy company, Baba, having a childlike temperament himself, loved their company and always fed them his nectar-like prasad. He ignored their pranks and sometimes playfully encouraged them by giving preference to their wishes. Baba's only expectation from children and young people was that they respect their parents and teachers, which he insisted they demonstrate by bowing and putting their heads at the elders' feet.
He used to quote examples of how one man carried his mother on his shoulders for a bath in the Ganges, or of one who ate only after he had offered food to his parents. Those who showed such devotion to their parents were dear to Maharaj. In one context he said, "It is not necessary to seek God so long as the parents are alive. The worship of living parents is difficult, but it is the best sadhana (spiritual practice)."
Baba would bring people to a higher state of awareness just through normal conversation. Sometimes he kept people so absorbed all through the night that they were surprised to see the approach of dawn. During discussions on spirituality, whatever he uttered touched the heart and had the effect of a great mantra, or devotional incantation.
He said, "All religions are basically the same and they all lead to God. All human beings are equal. The blood that circulates in the body through the heart is the same in all." He went to Mecca at the request of Indian Ambassador Shri Kidwai, to church at the request of the American devotees, and accompanied Sikhs and others to temples. Baba, who was initiated as a Vaishnav, appreciated whoever followed their religion conscientiously and respected all religions alike, but he himself was not constrained by any. In making the rituals less cumbersome, he would disregard the precepts of the scriptures when appropriate.
Baba encouraged the devotees to recite the Hanuman Chalisa (a forty-verse prayer in praise of Hanuman) and the Sundarkand (the chapter in the Ramayana that describes Hanuman's exploits). He also guided them in the prayers and annual religious functions at the ashram. Yet he himself would not participate in them and kept aloof from formal ceremonies such as the consecration of temples.
He would tell people, "God resides within every heart." Sometimes he said that food is God. About God's darshan, he said, "God exists in all aspects of nature, his creation. He is everywhere so is never out of our sight. The fault is ours if we are not able to see him or do not earnestly try to see him. We must not limit our vision. The narrow tendencies of the mind keep us so entangled in mundane activities that we are not aware of him. Our impure thoughts prevent us from achieving peace of mind and divine love." He often said that love is the best means for God-realization and would repeat again and again, "There is nothing dearer to Ram than love."
Baba was continuously uttering "Ram, Ram" or sometimes "Radha, Radha" (names of God). Even while talking, he could be seen moving his thumb continuously around his finger, as if repeating a mantra. At times he became so engrossed that he appeared to be lost in himself. His devotion was sublime. He often said, "Ram's form left this world, Krishna's form left this world, but the name stays. By reciting his name everything is achieved," and shaking his head, he reiterated, "Everything is achieved."
Someone asked, "Isn't it hypocritical to worship God when you are not sincere in your devotion?" Baba answered, "If you can't do it with true feeling and you don't want to otherwise, what will you do then? Something is better than nothing. To begin with, one may not be entirely sincere, but in due course of time, the thoughts get purified and the honesty of intention comes by itself. Can anyone have the vision of God with naked eyes? One must have divine sight to visualize him and a person only gets it after the purification of thoughts. For this, a pious life, bhajan, and spiritual practice are essential. Go on reciting Ram and one day the true call for Ram will come out and you will be redeemed." According to Baba, one true recitation of the name of Ram from the heart was equal to countless recitations otherwise.
He would also say, "Go on worshipping God in thought, word, and action. Then you will be able to perform nishkama karma (deeds performed without any attachment or desire). The ability of nishkama karma can be achieved only by his grace and cannot be acquired by any other means. None can claim a right to his grace. It is up to him to give it, to refuse it, or to take it away."
Baba would say that attachment and ego are the greatest hindrances to the realization of God and that "a learned man and a fool are alike as long as there is attachment and ego in the physical body." He would advise people to surrender to God's will above everything else so that they might develop love and faith in him and thereby be free of unnecessary worries in life.
To strengthen people's faith, he would repeat the lines, "O Lord of the Helpless! The strings of my destiny are in they hand." And, "Like a fish in deep water, everyone is secure and happy under the protection of God." He would tell people that prayers made in front of his photographs were answered by him. He also said, "Have trust in God and the most difficult tasks become easy. For success, hard work alone is not enough, God's grace is essential."
Baba was surrounded by people all the time and mingled with them freely, but like the wind he touched everyone and remained unaffected. He listened to and inspired people, sometimes giving guidance in dreams. He existed on many different planes. He would quote Kabir saying, "Of this world I am, desirous of the world I am not, passing through the bazaar I am, the buyer I am not." In some ways Baba remained like an open book that everyone could read, but few had the capability of understanding.
In truth, Baba cannot be fathomed. He was transcendent, all pervading, and beyond duality. His physical form performed many miraculous deeds, but the real miracle was the love and concern for human welfare implicit within them. To the seeker, Baba showed possibilities in human life that were beyond imagination. To the man of action, he showed the path of righteousness. To his devotees, Baba gave a glimpse of God in human form.