Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently told PM Narendra Modi about his visit to Kainchi Dham, a small temple situated on the banks of the Kosi, in the North Indian state of Uttarakhand. Zuckerberg had gone there on the advice of Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs, who had made the journey himself many years ago, to see Neem Karoli Baba (lovingly called Maharaj ji). Jobs was unfortunate in having missed out on a meeting, since Neem Karoli Baba left his body before Jobs arrived. A devotee of Hanuman, Neem Karoli Baba had many well-known disciples including Bhagwan Das and Krishna Das.
In this article, an excerpt from the popular book “Midnights With the Mystic”, author Cheryl Simone looks back at her mystical experience with Neem Karoli Baba’s disciple Ram Dass. She also recounts her conversation with Sadhguru, many years after the experience, as he explains exactly what happened.
Neem Karoli Baba’s Disciple
Cheryl Simone: While making money and growing my career, I also went after my inner growth. I moved along these two avenues simultaneously: the business, self-help, personal growth arena, and the spiritual arena. I met the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass and went to many of his talks and retreats. Ram Dass was easy for me to relate to. He was an intellectual and spoke in terms I could understand. Like me, Ram Dass had experimented with LSD. During an early meeting with Ram Dass, I had a profound mystical experience, that I could not explain.
I was still quite young at the time, twenty-two to be exact, and I had many burning questions. By this time, I had read much about yoga, enlightenment, and Eastern religions, and I had had both psychedelic experiences and some unusual experiences during meditation. Because of what I had read and experienced, I was convinced that somehow there was much more to us than the physical and that God is not some kindly grandfather off in some remote place.
I knew that science says that all matter is contained energy, that everything physical can be reduced to energy and that energy cannot be destroyed. The more esoteric my studies became, the more I seemed to be reading in more than one place that there is only one God and that God has taken the form of the many and that underneath all us is God, and we just did not know it. My mind was constantly grappling with that.
So, the burning question I had when I met with Ram Dass was, “How can we possibly all be one when I feel and experience life so separately?” Yet, somehow I knew that everything was connected. I had heard life described as Maya, or illusion. That always made me angry. It seemed so cold and callous. Life seemed too brutal to be passed off as some mere movie, so to speak. I thought it was way too painful to be called unreal, but I also was constantly aware of the transitory nature of things. So, what is real? I wondered. What doesn’t die? God? Was there something real that I was and could somehow know?
Ram Dass’s Time With Neem Karoli Baba
Well, all this turmoil was with me when I sat down with Ram Dass. At that time, he had not been back from India for very long. He was quite magnificent. He had spent a lot of time with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, and had done a lot of spiritual work. Some of my friends had moved to New York City to be with him, and they called to tell me that he was going to be in Atlanta and that I should go talk to him. I was a little reserved in those days, but something propelled me to approach him after the talk he gave in Stone
Mountain, which is part of metropolitan Atlanta. When I asked Ram Dass if he would have any time to meet with me, he looked up at the ceiling a few minutes and said, “Yes, okay. Come to the Stone Mountain Inn tomorrow.” He gave me the time, place, and room number.
The next day I was there with bells on. I knocked on the door, and Ram Dass told me to come in. When I opened the door, he was sitting crosslegged on the motel bed. I asked him if he was taking a break, and he said, “It is all a break.” I thought that must be very nice for him since, for me, life seemed to be somewhat of a struggle.
Anyway, he told me to come in and pull up a chair. I sat directly opposite him, and we started talking. He asked why I wanted to meet with him, and I told him that it was difficult to put into words but that somehow I knew that I was bound and I wanted liberation. I believed a much bigger experience of life than this was possible for a human being. As we talked, he began telling me things about myself as if he had an inside view. He told me a lot of very personal, specific, insightful things.
Then something very strange happened. While we were sitting there talking, Ram Dass no longer looked like Ram Dass. As I sat there watching him, he started to look completely different. Everything about the way he looked changed. His eyes, his face, his hair all kept changing. He took on many different forms, which looked like the embodiment of ancient wisdom and grace, which I perceived as manifestations of many various masters. It looked as if with every breath he was changing into a different enlightened being. His physical form actually changed.
After some time, he asked me what was happening with me, and I can only imagine that I must have had a funny expression on my face. I said that nothing was happening; I was just watching his form change. He said, “Does that freak you out?” I said, “No; I can’t believe this, yet somehow it seems more real than anything else that has ever happened to me.” Not only is it strange to watch someone’s form change and even disappear, but it’s even stranger to find this so familiar and normal. It was as though what I refer to as myself was also the same self sitting in the chair across from me. I was in a presence that felt like home, that felt like me. This experience made me realize that our forms are so transient. I understood that our individual identities were transitory and that there was something absolutely stable within, which I longed to uncover.
The experience was powerful. It showed me that we all have the same inner self, which is just covered by our different personalities and who knows what else. After the meeting, I was elated. I thought that now I would have no difficulty uncovering what was truly me.
Of course, I did not feel comfortable telling many people about that experience. Most people would think I was simply a nutcase. One of my friends I did mention it to said it must have been an LSD flashback, but I had never had even one drug flashback before that, and I’ve had none since, so I knew that was not what it was. A New Age person that I knew told me that my third eye chakra had opened, but I was clueless about what had happened. I only knew that I was deeply struck by the experience and more than ever, I wanted more. Later, I visited Ram Dass at his home in Northern California and asked him if he was my guru. He said no, he was not a guru. He said that sometimes, when someone’s seeking is intense, things happen through him. He said that when I met my real guru, I would know it. I thought my spiritual journey was off and running and that big things were going to happen to me.
Thirty years after this incident, I met Sadhguru. I told Sadhguru my Ram Dass story. “When I saw you for the first time,” I said to Sadhguru, “you seemed to be the same being or the same essence I had seen so long ago with Ram Dass. It was all so familiar and all I could think was, uh-oh. I knew this gig was about to be up for me. What is real had finally shown back up.”
Neem Karoli Baba: A Phenomenal Mystic
Sadhguru then started to explain what happened. “Ram Dass, as you know, went to Neem Karoli Baba,” he said. “Neem Karoli Baba was a phenomenal being of immense capabilities. Out of his love for Ram Dass, or out of Ram Dass’s own sincerity and willingness to receive, a certain dimension definitely descended upon him. “I don’t know whether Ram Dass said this only to you at a certain moment or if he said it to everybody, but in the very nature of things, Ram Dass cannot be your guru. However, he can be a good window to show you another dimension of life, which is exactly what he did. Because Ram Dass is not Ram Dass out of his own capabilities, Ram Dass is not Ram Dass out of his own sadhana. Ram Dass has become Ram Dass because in his life he did one sensible thing: He sat with a man like Neem Karoli Baba. He had the necessary sense to just sit there with him, and he imbibed a certain aspect of that being. Neem Karoli Baba wanted many windows to open, so he created one window and sent it to America.”
Neem Karoli Baba Made Ram Dass A Window
Sadhguru then asked if I was familiar with Microsoft Windows. “I think you are using XP. You know that? So, this is like that. This is a certain kind of software, a window. He opened a window and sent it to America so that you could see something. If you sat with him with a certain intensity and involvement, you would see things, but the window itself may not see it.” I wondered about that because I had later read where Ram Dass said that sometimes he isn’t even there in meetings with people.
“Windows never see,” Sadhguru said. “They are capable of making people experience and see things way beyond their own capabilities. Windows only show. Through the window you can grasp the beauty of the
Himalayas, but the window itself may not have grasped the beauty of the Himalayas. So, Ram Dass is a good window, not muddled with muck; a clean, glass window. It is good. It shows you many things and it is wonderful. It is wonderful of Ram Dass that he admits to you that he is not your guru. He is just a window. It is so wonderful. His humility is wonderful because most people in his position would immediately claim that, being a window, they are themselves the Himalayas. Ram Dass is a wonderful window because he knows his limitations. He knows the beauty of who he is and at the same time he knows the limitation of who he is. It is a beautiful thing when a human being knows his or her own limitations, when a human being is straight with themselves.”
“I am not talking about limitations you have set for yourself as a matter of convenience. I am talking about the limitations that existence has put on you, which are not convenient. When you admit your limitations, it brings certain humility in you. It puts you where you belong. It is very important that you are always where you belong because whatever you imagine about yourself will not take you anywhere.”
“So, whatever you think about yourself is irrelevant,” he said. “You may tell yourself all kinds of stories about yourself. You may think all kinds of fancy things about yourself, but it has nothing to do with the existential reality. Your ideas and thoughts may have some social relevance, but the relevance ends there. The way existence holds you—I want you to understand—the very way you are existing right now, is perceived by life, and the life-making material you call God perceives you exactly as you are right now. The very space in the existence perceives you exactly as you are right now, not the way you wish you were, not the way you are dressed, not the way you look, not the way you speak, not the way you tell yourself you are, and not the way the world thinks about you. But, just the way you actually are is constantly perceived by the existence.”
“You can deceive yourself, you can deceive your society, you can deceive the world around you, and you can deceive your friends, but this existence cannot be deceived. To try to deceive existence is to make a fool out of yourself. Everything you are is constantly perceived. You cannot get away with pretending anything. All deceptions are the product of the mind. Your fundamental existence is not of the mind. One way of describing what is spiritual is that it is beyond the process of the mind. Right now, all that you perceive through your sense perceptions goes through the process of the mind. Mind is make-believe. It is in this context that it is said that everything is Maya, or illusion.”
As often happens while listening to Sadhguru answer a question I’ve asked, I fell into a deep stillness. I began to resonate with his answer, realizing it shed some light on a change that had taken place after the experience with Ram Dass. Sitting with Ram Dass, I really got the understanding that God is yourself, the same inner self that is always observing my life, that is in everyone and everything. We all have the same inner self. We have different personalities and egos, but our inner selves are the same. When that self spoke to me through Ram Dass I also felt totally bathed in love—and the love stripped me of all pretenses. I came to the realization that if there isn’t anything about me that’s not known, and I’m loved regardless, then what’s there to hide? It was a very liberating thing, like all is forgiven because you’re loved anyway. You are free to be yourself.