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Divine Reality



Sri Baba Neeb Karori Maharaj appeared to be an ordinary human, but he was actually divinity incarnate. He inspired people in unseen, intangible ways. No one could predict his behavior. His actions revealed an all-knowing, all-pervading, and all-powerful being who had nature itself under his command. Our rational minds made it difficult to accept such power in a human being, but Baba's divine love melted away our natural scepticism and submerged us in grace.

The accounts of Baba's lila, or his divine play, described in the main body of this book are devotees' personal experiences of Baba. Since he was averse to public acclaim, the accounts remained verbal during his lifetime and for some time after he left his physical body. Devotees rarely shared their experiences with people they did not know, and no one could gather the courage to keep a record of Baba's lila while they were with him. The renowned thinker and writer K.M. Munshi was impressed after meeting Baba and published an article on him, but he faced Baba's disapproval for his actions. The late Raja Bhadri, former lieutenant governor of Himachal Pradesh, made a great effort to collect many of Baba's lila, but when he sought Baba's consent to get them published, Baba not only refused but had the entire collection destroyed in his presence.

In 1971 Baba's American devotee Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert), former professor of psychology at Harvard University, was successful in narrating the powerful effect of Baba's influence on him in his book Be Here Now. In 1979, six years after Baba left his body, Ram Dass published another book entitled Miracle of Love. It was through this book that more of the western world came to know about Maharaj.

Others have also written about Baba in English, but there is a lack of literature about him in the Hindi language. Prabhu Dayal Sharma composed two beautiful poems in Hindi, Vinaya Chalisa and Pushpanjali, and after 1973 Vrindavan Ashram started publishing Smriti Sudha, an annual magazine in which devotees write about their experiences of Baba.

In preparation for writing this book, personal interviews were conducted with people from many nations, and all the literature available on Baba was researched. Every effort was made to give information about the people related to the events included except where individuals wished to remain anonymous. Enquiries were made to verify the authenticity of the accounts, and care was taken to reproduce them without exaggeration. In addition to incidents that took place before 1973, peoples' experiences of Baba after his Mahasamadhi are also described.

The accounts have been arranged according to their context and reflection of divine attributes rather than chronologically, for some people related their experiences based on the lasting impression they made rather than the exact date the event occurred. Since the attributes are interdependent, some experiences may reflect more than one. The word "राम" (pronounced Raam) closes every chapter because the name of Lord Ram was most dear to Maharaj.

Baba's mystical lila inspires us to discover the essence of truth and often brings about a spontaneous change in our perception of this world. His divine ways are so exceedingly impressive and attractive that contemplation of them encourages us to seek improvement of the inner self. As a consequence of this inner cleansing, people start experiencing Baba's grace and sometimes see him in dreams as well as in waking reality. Thus, by thoroughly contemplating and reflecting on his character and divine lila, it is natural that there will be changes in the thoughts and tendencies of aspirants. To facilitate this transformation is the purpose of this book.

I had the opportunity to meet Baba for the first time in 1944 in Lucknow. After 1953 my association with him increased, and I was blessed to be with Baba in Kainchi Ashram for some time every year from 1966 to 1973. In this way I became more and more in touch with his devotees and their wonderful experiences of Baba.

I bow to the revered feet of Sri Siddhi Ma, who inspired me to write this book, and with whose blessings this great task has been completed. I also express my sincere gratitude to everyone who shared their experiences and encouraged me, especially Shri Kehar Singh ji, who contributed so much from his many years of close association with Baba. I am also grateful to the Hanuman Foundation, U.S.A., for making several photographs of Baba available for publication in this book.

I acknowledge that I have neither the intelligence nor the capability to describe the greatness of Baba and so beg pardon of the reader for my inadequacies. Baba concealed his true nature, but by his grace, I present to the reader the little I knew and saw. I publish this book with a selfless prayer for the welfare of all humankind. If in the accomplishment of this task I have inadvertently hurt the feelings of anyone, I humbly seek their pardon.

In the end I submit the book to Sri Kainchi Hanuman Mandir and Trust.

Ravi Prakash Pande "Rajida"
Sri Kainchi Hanuman Mandir & Ashram
Kainchi, District Nainital
Guru Purnima, 11 July 1987

An Entreaty For Grace

O Haven of the shelterless, you are the compassionate one, the embodiment of grace, the forgiver. Some know you by the name of Lakshman Das, some as Neeb Karori (Neem Karoli), and a few others as Talaiyya Baba (baba of the lake). Some address you as Maharaj (great king), some as Sarkar (lord), and some as Baba (beloved elder). Baba is dearest to my heart.

Maharaj, for me, you are Ram, you are Krishna, you are Shiva, you are Goddess Durga, you are Hanuman. Your devotees were close to you, but you used your grace and humility as a curtain to hide your divinity. In childlike innocence, we did not realise that God had come to us as our guru. You said, "I make devotees, not disciples." This was enough to alert us, but we did not wake up. O God incarnate! Protect the bond between us.

Baba! It is your nature to elevate the lowly and make them worthy. You fulfil even the simplest wishes of your devotees. This servant of yours has nurtured a yearning. Knowing the innermost thoughts of all, it is not hidden from you. O Lord! I have a keen desire to spread the story of your divine play, but I feel quite incompetent for the great task. Efforts to describe God all end by saying neti, neti (not this, not this), yet one cannot help praising his glory. Similarly, words have not the power to express your divinity, for there is no end to you or your divine play. Any effort to express who you are is like trying to drain an ocean with cupped hands. No matter how much is said or how much is written, one cannot be satisfied with it.

I am aware of my own lack of capability on one hand and a lack of adequate knowledge of language, literature, and style on the other. Under these circumstances it does not seem possible to safely carry the nectar of your divine life to others. In the evening of my life, as unskilled a sailor as I am, it is my audacity to get into the tumultuous ocean in a worn-out boat with timeworn oars. Yet leaning upon your supernatural powers, may I persist in this stupendous task.

O Krishna! You made it seem as if your play in this human body was over. Your "disappearance" was a divine act in itself. Your compassion is still alive and giving support to those seeking your grace.

O Lord! May I know if your divine nature need still be concealed? If not, kindly be seated in the heart of this servant of yours, enlighten his wisdom, and gratify him by making his pen write. You alone can make an impossible task possible. By your grace all hurdles will be removed, and this work will be completed. O Ocean of kindness! I await the shower of your loving grace.

These flowers are offered with love and placed at your feet with care. Please accept them, O Beloved Gurudev.

Humbly I bow at your feet,
Ravi Prakash Pande "Rajida"
Sri Kainchi Hanuman Mandir & Ashram, Nainital
Bhadra-Shukla, Anant Chaturdashi
21 September 1983


Sri Baba Neeb Karori Maharaj was born in a well-to-do Brahmin family from the village of Akbarpur in District Agra and was known by the name Laxmi Narian. He exhibited spiritual powers from birth, and though he did not show an inclination for study as a child, he seemed to know everything. One night he told his family that there would be burglars in the house. Taking it to be a child's imagination, no one heeded his warning, but his words turned out to be true. Burglars broke into the house the same night.

At the tender age of eleven, Baba left his home and went to Gujarat, where he lived for seven years. He stayed in the ashram of a Vaishnav (a worshipper of Lord Vishnu) saint who gave him the name Lakshman Das and made him wear the clothes of an ascetic. His hair grew long and matted, and he wore a loincloth tied around his waist with a rope made of reed. His sole possession was a kamandal (a pot made out of a gourd). He also stayed for some time at an ashram in Babania, a village outside the town of Morvi. There he practiced spiritual austerities, which included immersing himself in a lake for long periods.

From Babania, Baba set off on a journey around the country. While traveling, he arrived at the village of Neeb Karori, in the district of Farrukhabad, and stopped to take some rest. Baba's speech was divine, and although he had little contact with the villagers, whatever he told them came true. They became attached to him and beseeched him to stay. They built an underground cave for him in which he immersed himself in spiritual practice all day. No one saw him coming out even to attend the call of nature. He came out only in the darkness of night. Later the cave gave in, and a new cave (which still exists) was dug out about two hundred meters from the old one, on a neglected piece of land owned by a Brahmin named Goverdhan. Baba had a Hanuman temple built on the roof of this cave, and on the day of consecration he shaved his long, matted hair and started wearing a long, cotton dhoti (length of cotton fabric) instead of the loincloth.

After moving into the new cave, Baba started interacting more with the villagers. He developed a friendly association with the younger people of his age group and often participated in their sports. He mingled with them so freely that it was not possible for them to be over-awed by the peculiarities of his astonishing deeds. While playing hide-and-seek, he was able to locate any one of them instantly, wherever they might be hidden in the forest, but when his turn came, he became invisible and was not to be found anywhere. While climbing trees in the forest, his pursuers would follow him up one tree only to reach the top and see him sitting on another. No one saw him leaping from tree to tree. While swimming in the village pond, Baba would disappear under the water and come out after a long time. It was all a matter of amazement and fun for them.

During this period a poor bird catcher named Gopal became Baba's ardent devotee and came to attend to him every day. One day, forgetting Baba's instructions not to enter his cave, Gopal made the mistake of going in with a pot of milk that he had brought for him. He found Baba in deep meditation with serpents wrapped around his body. He was so horrified to see Baba in his Shiva-like form that his legs gave way and the pot of milk slipped from his hands. He ran outside and fainted. Baba came out and lifted him up saying, "You should not have entered the cave without permission." It was by Baba's touch alone that Gopal regained consciousness.

One time Baba did not get food for several days. This was more of his lila. The villagers said that he appeared agitated. He shouted at the holy image of Hanuman (an incarnation of Shiva and beloved devotee of Lord Ram, he is the reliever of suffering, the embodiment of blessings, and a bridge between people and God), "Will you starve me to death?" No sooner did he say these words than several people came to the temple with plates full of fruits and sweets. Showing disrespect to the deity was an incomprehensible act, but the villagers believed that Maharaj could do such a thing because he was not a devotee of Hanuman but Hanuman himself.

One day Baba was on his way to the Ganges, where he used to bathe on the auspicious days of Ekadashi and Purnima. He was walking with his devotee Gopal and a Muslim companion when he saw a train traveling towards Farrukhabad on which he wished to travel. The moving train, which was about two hundred meters away, suddenly stopped and did not move further until Baba and his attendants boarded. As soon as Baba sat down, the train continued its journey. Later on, at the request of villagers who wished to keep the memory of the event alive, the government of India set up a railway station at the place where Baba boarded and named it Baba Lakshman Das Puri station after Baba. (Baba was called Baba Lakshman Das by the villagers of Neeb Karori.)

On another occasion Baba went to Farrukhabad from Neeb Karori in the first-class compartment of a train. Seeing his sadhu-like appearance, an Anglo-Indian conductor told him to get off the train at the next station. Baba got down and took a seat on the platform. Despite all efforts of the station staff, the train did not move; its departure was delayed for two hours. The conductor could not explain the problem since no mechanical defect was found. In fact, the engine was running, but the wheels would not turn. All the compartments of the train were checked thoroughly and no fault was found anywhere.

While the authorities were deliberating over the problem, some railway employees asked Baba in jest to make the train move. Baba said, "I am turned out of the train and you are asking me to let it go!" An employee replied, "Perhaps you had no ticket." At this, Baba showed them several genuine first-class tickets. Amazed, they begged him to re-board the train and let it move. Baba willed it to be so, and the train moved instantly. From then on Baba Lakshman Das became famous as Baba Neeb Karori, the baba from Neeb Karori village.

In 1935 a rich man came to Neeb Karori and offered Baba a silver plate full of gold coins in the presence of Goverdhan and some other Brahmins. Baba did not accept the offering. His rejection of it antagonized the Brahmins, for they had wanted Baba to give them the money. Later another rich man came to Neeb Karori bringing thirty cans of ghee (clarified butter) for the forthcoming yagna (fire ceremony) on the full-moon day. Baba was in Farrukhabad at the time, taking a bath in the Ganges. In his absence the Brahmins spoke to the rich man in a derogatory way about Baba and persuaded him to go away with his cans of ghee. Baba could see all that was happening at Neeb Karori from Farrukhabad, and on his return he reprimanded the Brahmins and gave up the idea of performing the annual yagna. One day shortly thereafter, he left the village. He had lived there for eighteen years.

After leaving Neeb Karori, Baba lived for some time on the bank of the Ganges at Kilaghat in Fatehgarh. There he associated with the local people and even reared some cows. To the amusement of his devotees, the cows obeyed Baba's commands. During his stay he gave his blessings and darshan to many soldiers. He also changed the heart of Colonel J.C. McKenna, his first western devotee, who had been averse to Indian saints and monks.

After leaving Kilaghat, Baba wandered from place to place. Nothing can be said for certain about where he went and what he did during this time. There was, however, a steady growth of reverence for him among people in the towns of Bareilly, Haldwani, Almora, Nainital, Kanpur, Lucknow, Vrindavan, and Allahabad, and also in Delhi, Shimla, and even Madras (Chennai), a far-off city in the South.

Without any publicity, urban and rural Indians of all ages, castes, and classes, as well as people from the West became Baba's devotees. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and even atheists were drawn to him. V.V. Giri, former president of India; Gopal Swarup Pathak, former vice president; Justice Vasudev Mukherjee; Jugal Kishore Birla, the famous industrialist; Sumitra Nandan Pant, the poet; former prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, and many other well-known and distinguished persons had Baba's darshan and showed great respect for him.

During the 1940s Baba began spending more time in Nainital. A great many of the town's inhabitants became devoted to him. If they saw Baba going anywhere, they would leave their business or chores and like carefree beings, follow him wherever he went. There was an inexplicable bliss in the households that Baba visited. No effort was needed to find out where he was in the town at any particular moment because his presence could be felt by the spirit of joy and festivity pervading that place. He would occasionally stay in the houses of his devotees, but he spent much of his time on the secluded Manora hillside, about two kilometers outside of the town. Sometimes he would pass the nights on the roadside parapets, and householder devotees accustomed to domestic comforts would remain awake with him all night, night after night, and still attend to their usual routine during the day. Instead of feeling fatigued, they felt a new spirit of energy.

In the early 1950s Baba had his first temple, which he named Hanumangarh, constructed on the Manora hillside. Over the next two decades he also had temples, and in some places ashrams, constructed in Bhumiadhar, Kainchi, Kakrighat, Kanpur, Lucknow, Vrindavan, Shimla, Delhi, and other places. Baba valued the temples and ashrams, but he had no desire or attachment for them. As soon as each temple was completed, he would turn its management over to a trust.

Because of the social limitations faced by women in India, Baba made special facilities available to them in the ashrams. Consequently the women devotees adored Baba as their guru, father, brother, or son, according to their feelings. They participated in all the activities of the ashrams and contributed greatly to the spirit of service that Maharaj encouraged.

Many visitors were fed every day in Baba's ashrams and given packets of prasad (blessed food) to carry home for their families. The visiting ascetics were offered money and blankets as well as food. Baba would say, "If you do not empty the stock, how can it be replenished?" Just as the sun never sees darkness, Baba never faced a shortage of anything.

From the 1950s until his Mahasamadhi, Baba visited the temples and ashrams but never stayed in one place for long. Wherever he stayed, he lived simply and was always concerned with the welfare of others. Like a benevolent father, he shed his grace on all.

He nurtured the concept of Vasudhaiv kutumbakam (the world as one family) and would say that love binds all together. His blood relations, along with countless others, merged within this worldwide family. Devotees only learned about Baba's relatives when his last rites were performed. Baba said, "The whole universe is our home and all residing in it belong to our family. Every woman is a mother or sister and every man a father or brother. This is all God's family. You can do service of the highest order only if your thoughts are centered on God. Instead of trying to see God in a particular appearance, it is better to see him in everything."

On 11 September 1973 Maharaj ji left his physical body. Much remains a mystery about him and his lila before and after this date. K.M. Munshi, former governor of Uttar Pradesh, wrote, "Nobody knows where he came from or where he went away to, nor is his original name known to anyone." What we know about him is only by his grace. He is a perfect example of how the eternal power assumes human form and dwells for a time amidst the masses.

Baba's Divine Nature

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.

Baba's Durbar

Lovingly addressed as Maharaj, Baba was a master of the spiritual world. Some compared the gathering of devotees around him to the court of a king surrounded by his courtiers. Unlike a king's court, however, no one held a position in Baba's durbar nor did it have a set venue, time, or duration. Everyone could sit wherever they liked, and there was no obligation for visitors to bow to Maharaj. The durbar would assemble anywhere—in the ashram, by the side of the road, under a tree in the forest, or in the house of a devotee. It was always open to everyone. One of the remarkable features of Baba's durbar was that although it assembled and dispersed, its continuity was maintained. One durbar would end, but another would assemble in no time, wherever Baba went. His great love for people and their love for him assured an unbroken sequence of visitors.

The subject of conversation in Baba's durbar arose spontaneously and was never prearranged. Baba usually asked the new visitor three questions: What is your name? Where have you come from? What do you do? It was often from these three questions that a conversation would ensue. Once, Baba put the third question as follows, "You, lawyer, what do you do?" Everybody burst into laughter, for Baba had revealed his omniscience. Maharaj just smiled.

Many of Baba's lila took place in his durbar. Sometimes he answered the questions of foreigners before the interpreter had finished translating them, and he would ask about members of their family by name.

While Baba did not preach or give religious discourses, he would often turn the conversation towards spiritual matters. Even when the topic of conversation was common and worldly, which it often was, the implication of Baba's words always had a deeper meaning. Sometimes Baba constantly repeated an ordinary word like a child. Two words, "nan" and "thul," from the Kumaon dialect are synonyms for "small" and "big"; Baba used these words like a chant and would utter "nan, nan" and "thul, thul" continuously. Occasionally he would repeat these words in his durbar for days on end. The mystery lay in the repetition; hearing them again and again, the devotees lost the distinction between big and small or high and low. Consequently the vast community of Baba's devotees greeted and embraced each other without discrimination of caste and creed.

The purpose of Baba's advice or orders was always very deep. Even common words like "come" and "go" had special implications when spoken by him. Those who were experienced with his way of speaking always thought it better to follow his commands verbatim. The result of non-compliance with his orders or of making any change in them according to the dictates of one's own mental ability was always disappointing and sometimes damaging.

Baba would often say something simple to one person while another person would receive a powerful message from the same words. Sometimes he would speak in a gathering and only the individual to whom he directed his words would hear them. Others would not hear anything. On occasion Baba would accuse an innocent person of a misdeed when the guilty person was present. The innocent person, although surprised at the accusation, would consider this as part of Baba's lila, whereas the guilty person would understand that Baba knew the truth and feel remorse for his deeds.

Baba enjoyed solving people's problems and happily gave answers to their questions all day and night. People came to him with spiritual questions as well as all types of worldly desires and problems. Some came to him to enquire about their job prospects, some regarding their health or family problems. Businessmen came seeking advice, and others sought boons for prosperity. Students and politicians crowded around him hoping for a glimpse into their future, and childless couples sought his blessings for children. Baba would provide practical solutions to all kinds of matters. He would even speak on subjects such as child-care and suggest remedies for various ailments. Questions were asked on politics, philosophy, yoga, devotion, ethics, diverse personal subjects, conduct, and many other topics. Baba answered even complex questions in a few clear and simple words, sometimes before the person with the questions asked them.

Baba openly admired virtues in his durbar so that people might be inspired to take on good qualities. Likewise, he condemned wrongdoing, immorality, and deception so that people might renounce them. Baba showered affection on a woman who was devoted to her husband in thought, word, and deed, and addressing her as "Sati" (the virtuous), praised her profusely. On the other hand, he was displeased with men and women who argued a lot and disturbed the peace at home. Behind this apparent disapproval, his grace would still flow towards them indirectly. Baba would openly discuss and solve family problems, and in this way, he encouraged others to improve upon their own behavior. Baba said, "A wife dedicated to her husband is greater than a yogi." And, "Mother is the image of God."

Baba's devotees came from all walks of life, and although some of them led lives of dissipation, he did not always insist on making them give up their bad habits. On the contrary, he gave them opportunities to carry on and spent time in their company. In due course they gave up their bad habits on their own. He often told people, "All are born into this world with natural wisdom and God is the great giver of this wisdom." Whenever Baba addressed an atheist or a wicked person as a devotee or saint, he sowed a seed of goodness that often brought about a change. With the passage of time, the seed would sprout, grow, bloom, and finally bear fruit. It was common for such people to pass through a transformation.

Baba treated everyone equally. Although saints generally maintain distance from women, Baba mingled with them freely. He could playfully hold the hand of any woman and without any hesitation, catch hold of her nose and tweak it for fun. Nothing was seen as inappropriate in his behavior. Both male and female devotees pressed and massaged his feet. His presence and touch communicated such good thoughts and feelings that everyone felt uplifted. Baba regarded all human beings as his own children and treated them accordingly. He often said, "You feel pestered with a few children, but I have so many."

Like parents with children, Baba was familiar with everyone. He addressed even eminent persons using the words "tu" and "tum" [In the Hindi language, both "tu" and "tum" mean "you," but they are used to address people of inferior status or as a term of endearment] and he used "hum" (we) to refer to himself. His use of informal language was soaked with love and affection. His utterances, like "Tum samajhte nahin, hamari kahi suno" (You do not understand, listen to what I say), and "Hamein bawla mat banao, hum sab jante hein" (Don't drive me mad, I know everything), delighted everyone. A devotee said that Maharaj once asked a group of people who had gathered to see him, "Why do you come to me?" Baba answered himself saying, "You come to me because of my love for you."

Sometimes Baba showed his familiarity by asking someone to shake hands with him on some matter. When the person hesitated, he would quickly take their hand in his own. People generally had no reluctance to talk to him, however, even when a visitor was at ease in Baba's presence, sometimes their thoughts and speech would inexplicably change. Perhaps they would only say what Baba wanted them to say or others to hear. If Baba did not want a person to say anything, the person concerned either forgot or with every effort, could not say anything, even though they were perfectly free to do so. Whatever Baba willed to happen would happen, and what he did not want would never take place. Sometimes a photographer would come to take Baba's photo. Baba would smile and allow it. Yet when the film was developed, Baba's image would not have been captured. The same thing happened if someone tried to record Baba's voice without his consent.

If a devotee convinced someone of Baba's greatness and took him to have darshan, Baba would present himself in such a way that all the eulogies about him appeared exaggerated or embellished and the devotee felt embarrassed. Incredible as it may sound, Baba's darshan could only be had by his grace. No one could come to him of their own accord. Similarly, some people would become devoted to him after one visit. Others could not understand his elevated spirituality even after a long association with him. In any case, all were blessed by his sight.

The attraction of Baba's presence cannot be expressed in words. His countenance fascinated visitors. Hours spent with him felt like fleeting moments. Those who came to him never wanted to go away. Nevertheless, Baba knew of people's responsibilities and sent them off saying, "Come again." If Baba told someone to go, they generally did not encounter difficulties on their way, and their work at hand was often accomplished without delay. On the other hand, a person with pressing work would be waiting to get Baba's permission to leave the durbar, and Baba would turn to a person who wished to stay and send them away instead. Eventually it was seen that whenever a person was asked to go, it was the appropriate time for him or her to leave. Either way, Baba's durbar could be summarized as "Aao, khao, jao (Come, eat, go)," and the flow of grace as well as the coming and going never ceased.