I’ve written a lot about Neem Karoli Baba, so I won’t bother you with the details now. Just follow the links below if you want to know more.
If I turn my head to the right and glance up, I’ll see the photo you see here. I’m the guy with his hand on his hip in the back of the photo (circa 1972). I have a rather bland expression on my face. Was I being critical, observant or something else? I didn’t feel many emotions at all when I was around Neem Karoli Baba. That was what I loved about hanging out around him. I was just, to use an overused phrase, “being here now.” It happened every time I was around him. I was content just to hang out.
The time came when I had to return to America and Neem Karoli Baba died shortly thereafter. My relationships with the others in the group unravelled after Ram Dass called them out to New York, where a “psychic” was supposedly channelling Maharaj-ji. He publicly apologised later in a Yoga Journal article, Egg on My Beard, but by then it was too late. I didn’t communicate with any of Neem Karoli Baba’s devotees again until 2005, when I caught up with Krishna Das briefly in Sydney.
Out of curiosity, I joined the Neem Karoli Baba Facebook page a couple of years ago. After looking at their individual pages, I recognised a few of the members from their old photos. Many more joined the satsang long after Maharaj-ji died and a few new ones seem to pop up occasionally even now.
Comments on the Facebook page are usually short. Most of them just say, “Ram Ram” or राम राम, which is the same thing in Sanskrit. That is their way of expressing their devotion.
Looking back, I still don’t know what to make of Neem Karoli Baba. He could have been “just an old man,” as he sometimes said he was or he could have been the enlightened being his devotees believe him to be. They still talk of feeling his presence. I don’t.
As I look back on those days, I’m as bemused as ever. I never experienced anything extraordinary in Maharaj-ji’s presence and he went out of his way to make it seem like he didn’t like me. That was and is fine with me, but what remains a mystery is that every time I did as instructed by him, the things I was looking for in India came to me. When I went to see Sai Baba in Bangalore, I had an experience of samadhi so deep, I was oblivious of my surroundings. When I went to Chitrakoot, the mantra I was hoping to get from Maharaj-ji popped into my mind as I was walking up a sacred hill to a Hanuman temple. When I read the New Testament as instructed over Easter, I learned who Jesus really was — or at least who he is to me. On a more mundane note, nearly 10 years later, I had sex with the woman I was most attracted to in Maharaj-ji’s group.
My path has certainly been different to the paths followed by the others, but all of us share one thing in common. Being around Neem Karoli Baba was an extraordinary experience, to put it mildly. Saint or crazy old man, one way or the other, he’s impossible to forget.