An excerpt from the autobiographical book, ‘Sometimes Brilliant’ by Larry Brilliant, were he recounts a meeting with Maharaji (Neem Karoli Baba).
That night, after dinner, I tried to find the words to tell Girija, but she already knew. We both knew. If Maharaji was the real deal, then I might have lost my chance for entrance into the Kingdom. If he was a fraud, Girija was going to stay with him anyway. Either way, this was how it would be. She had faith; I did not. I wasn’t sure I even wanted it. That night, she asked me whether I would come to the ashram to say goodbye to Maharaji.
“Of course,” I replied. I was devastated, but not without manners.
Early the next morning, Girija and I divided our meager possessions. I put my orange backpack and travel gear in a taxi outside the hotel. We arrived at the ashram before anyone else. I asked the taxi to wait because I did not expect to be long. Girija and I passed through the gate, crossed the bridge to the temple area, removed our shoes, and walked through the public yard. We settled in front of Maharaji’s tucket. As we waited for his entrance, Girija looked at me with such deep love, deep sadness. She has been asking Maharaji, “Will my husband find God?” He hadn’t answered her either.
We held hands while we waited. I scanned the ashram, the temples, the statues of the gods and goddesses, the red roofs, the yellow windows and doors, the deep green forests, the soft, gurgling, winding river, the line of Westerners arriving on foot, by taxi, and by bus beginning to congregate by the front gate.
Devotees from the neighboring houses had left flowers and fruit offerings on Maharaji’s tucket arranged in a design that spelled out the name of God, Ram, in Hindi script. One of the apples in the “M” of Ram had fallen to the ground, which made God’s name incomplete. God’s name should not be incomplete or imperfect in any language.
I got down on my hands and knees to pick up the apple and replace it to repair the name of God. At just that moment, Maharaji burst through the oversized double doors from his room, and before I could look up or move, he seemed to lunge at me, deliberately stepping on my fingers, pinning my right hand to the ground just as I grasped the apple. I was stuck. He seemed to weigh hundreds of pounds. I couldn’t free my hand from under his foot. My worst fear in the ashram. I couldn’t get up off my knees. It was weird.
Maharaji looked down at me, giggling. “Where were you yesterday?” he asked in simple Hindi that even I could understand. “You are not here. Were you sick?”
I twisted my hand, trying to get free but could not.
“Were you at the movies?” he asked.
“Were you at the library?” And then he paused. “Oh, yes,” he said, “were you at the lake?”
Up to that point, he had said everything in Hindi or the local mountain dialect, Pahari. But when he said “lake” in English, I felt exposed, naked; a strange buzzing feeling started at the base of my spine, my whole body began to tingle.
“What were you doing at the lake? Were you horseback riding? Did you go swimming?”
My stomach lurched, I began to shiver. The tingling intensified, rising up my spine like mercury in a thermometer. I could barely feel my fingers.
He leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Doctor America! Doctor America! What were you doing by the lake?”
He paused and then put the back of his hand on his forehead, his eyes darting between Girija and me.
“Oh, yes. I know. You were talking to God.”
I stopped struggling to free myself. His voice echoed inside my head.
“Doctor America! Did you ask God for something?”
Looking up, I saw him, as if for the first time, clear as day. It was like he was on fire. I could not catch my breath. My spine buzzed; so did the paint on the doors and windows of the ashram. My skin hurt. My eyes hurt. Was the light always this intense?
Time slowed, then stopped entirely. But my heart still pounded like a jackhammer. The sparks in my spine became a four-lane highway of lightning bolts, moving from my sacrum up to my belly, to my chest and neck. I could feel my neck veins bulge.
I was terrified. I might die! I was filled with love, I might live!
Maharaji sat down and released my hand. He was as massive as a Himalayan peak. He smiled the most loving smile I had ever seen, his eyes filled with lifetimes of compassion. He pulled me closer to him.
“Did you ask God for a sign?”
Maharaji twinkled. He reached over to my face with his fingers and tugged and twisted at my beard, caressing my tear-drenched face. He opened his eyes wide and our gaze locked. Light seemed to pour out of him into me and I felt like I was being filled with love upon love. It became too much, my container too small to hold everything he was beaming my way. When he saw that I was full, he broke the contact like nothing had happened, giggled, and tugged harder on my beard.
What little was left of my skepticism vanished. I felt utterly at peace. He knew. He knew. I do not know how. But he knew. I felt loved like never before, completely understood, naked and yet unashamed. I felt accepted. Tears streamed down my face.
Girija wrapped her shawl around me and hugged e, and so did the rest of the Western satsang. Maharaji twinkled once, twice more, and then released his spell.
I was home.
Maharaji sat back on his tucket and began doing japa on his fingers, repeating the name of God again, his thumb again counting the names of Ram. His eyes half closed as he mouthed the words of his own mantra: “Ram, Ram, Ram.” It felt like the whole world converged on him while he was radiating out love for everyone, every being in the world.
In that moment, I was not surprised that he loved everyone. That is his job, I thought, if he’s a saint, at one with God, He’s supposed to feel that way.
What astounded me more than anything then was not that he loved everyone; it was that in that moment, I loved everyone too. I loved Girija for her patience with me, the Westerners in the ashram who had annoyed me, the colleagues who had stuck a hypodermic needle in my picture the first day of my internship in San Francisco, my parents in a way I never thought I could, politicians, antiwar protestors, the cops who had beaten Wavy in Chicago, friends and enemies, myself and all others. I was in love with the love, with the moment, with Maharaji, even with my own bursting heart.
Maharaji had lifted the veil of maya, the illusion that makes us all feel separate and alone. When he did, he took me to a place where I forgave everything and everyone, including myself, and found nothing but love. This was real magic. I didn’t worry about being accepted or whether the ashram harbored a cult of my marriage with Girija.
And then without a care, I touched his feet. I do not know what prompted me to do it, but I felt like I was connected to electrical cables that were plugged into the wiring of the universe and it triggered something in me. This was the first time I felt that powerful love – certainly the first time I felt it without a psychedelic like LSD coursing in my body – and I’ve felt it many times since with no drug other than love. It blew away my intellect and blew my guarded heart wide open.
That moment in which I found myself awash in a tsunami of love for every being in creation became the touchstone by which I measured every future experience, and a state to which I constantly yearn to return. At the heart of it is Divine Love. That moment of pure love has driven everything in my life. That is what I keep coming back to – love, love for everyone. I fail hundreds of times each day. But the aspiration alone changed everything about me. It made me act unpredictably. I was governed by love. It made me ambitious in a different way. I had not context for the experience. I knew it was a gift, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it.
Book review by Kaiyum: ‘Sometimes brilliant’