Neem Karoli Baba, aka Maharishi, was the revered Indian guru of Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) and many other American spiritual seekers in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. He died in 1973. During the pandemic I discovered the Here and Now podcast, which plays recordings of Ram Dass’s talks, radio shows and conversations with spiritual aspirants. He spoke often of his beloved guru. “He’s with me all the time,” Ram Dass would say. “It doesn’t matter that he left his body.”
Many people who never met the saint tell stories of seeing him and/or hearing him, both while he was alive and after his death. Ram Dass said Maharishi knew his thoughts and could see into his heart. He knew of events occurring miles away and stories are told of him being in two places at once. His life was one of service to others, easing their suffering and opening their hearts. He was a trickster too, playing jokes on people, getting them to see themselves with levity.
I thought of Maharishi when I was cycling today. I imagined his smiling face and his lighthearted nature. And I invited him to join me. The old man instantly appeared. I felt his presence at my back- his familiar blanket wrapped around him, arms around my torso, legs spread wide with his bare feet and toes pointing upward, “visible” in my peripheral vision. “Wheee!” the long-gone guru trumpeted as we careened downhill. His joy was infectious, childlike, and I laughed as I rode faster and faster.
We journeyed together for quite some time, this ridiculous duo- me in my black and pink cycling gear (from shoes to helmet) and an old (not to mention dead) Indian guru wrapped in a worn plaid blanket. I, a middle-aged western woman, and he, an eastern spiritual master from another time, sharing pure joy together… for no other reason than joy was there in the moment, accessible, natural, permeating every molecule.
There was joy in the wind on my face, in the trees whizzing by, in the majesty of the distant Rocky Mountains and in the vitality of my legs circling round and round. There was joy in the bursting of my heart with the idea that a holy man was in my presence. The immortal saint was/is a doorway, an invitation, a reason when no reason is actually needed, to experience the joy of being alive.