No Borders For God – A Sikh Woman finds Freedom at the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram

Last Saturday I went to the ashram for the usual 7pm arti and I had the opportunity to speak with a lovely Sikh woman who frequently visits. We have known each other for some years on a friendly basis. She is one of the few women I have know to be very devoted to God and conscious of her actions. In between chatting with her here and there. I noticed a young gentleman from Isreal who was kind of wondering around and didn’t know where to go as it was his first time here. I asked if I could help him and with a big shy smile he said sure. There was some business going on in Baba’s kitchen. A young Indian family from Albuquerque was preparing evening prasad for devotees. Since it was a bit cold outside I thought I’d take him to the kitchen to see the joy taking place. There were about 5 people preparing, cutting or rolling something. They were making daal soup with chapatti pieces in it. One of the women said it is Indian comfort food, which was perfect for the wet weather that came in the later part of the evening. I might add it was a really delicious dish and yes comforting too.

Somehow in trying to show the young Israeli man around the ashram I kept bumping into the Sikh women and we would engage in a conversation. I got to learn about part of her story. She has been a Sikh for 22 years and lived in the Espanola sanghat (Sikh community or fellowship) for 13 years. Over the past few years she didn’t feel she could relate to her sanghat. She often felt judged and uncomfortable that led her to avoid idle conversations. Her sadhana (a daily spiritual practice to eliminate the ego) practice wasn’t going to well either. The only place she found some refuge in her community was with the Siri Guru Granth Sahib (the sacred book considered to be the last living guru of all Sikhs). I totally understood where she was coming from because I had lived in that sanghat on various occasions also. The Siri Guru Granth Sahib is amazing and having the chance to read it every week for the Akhand Path (continuous recitation, without break, of the Guru Granth Sahib) is god’s grace and a lifetime blessing. She told me that she felt free with the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.

I asked her what she likes about visiting the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram every week. You know she has to drive about 45 minutes to get here. She told me that even though she sees that devotees here are using drugs and not living such a straight lifestyle she feels free here. It’s her spirit that feels free to express her devotion. She can go into the temple room, sit with others and chant the Hanuman Chalisa , Hare Krishna and even Wahe Guru without feeling judged. She said, “It is all God, and that chanting God’s Name in any religion is the sadhana for Kali Yug.” This is what Maharaji teaches us that all is god and love- “all is one.”

I am really happy that she has found some refuge here, I remember chatting with her two years ago when she was struggling about her spiritual situation. In fact she even mentioned that last year she got deathly sick with asthma and felt it was related to feeling angry and unable to express her devotion. Now she has a sanghat she feels comfortable with and can be a part of on her spiritual journey. Even more good news is that her sadhana has become stronger since Guru Purnima and she’s chanting the maha mantra for 11 minutes as part of her sadhana. I’m so thankful that she has been given so many blessings and is able to visit the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram, it makes the drive seem so irrelevant. Wahe Guru, wahe guru, wahe guru.

Spanish-french fusion night at the ashram

It was an amazingly beautiful fall day in Taos. The leaves on the trees have turned to a golden yellow, you can see the snow capped mountains at an arms distance, the sun filled the clear blue skies and a gentle cool breeze rustled through the trees.

To end this beautiful day we had a lovely evening prasad meal at the ashram. Our beloved care-taker Ram-ji prepared for us a spanish treat. IMG_1352

 

 

 

 

He made a hearty pot of veggie chili beans, spanish rice and ‘french’ fries. According to one of the care-takers the “french” fries are what made this meal a spanish-french prasad. Ok, some of us can tell really goofy jokes here at the ashram sometimes, hehe.  IMG_1350

 

IMG_1346Many devotees enjoyed the meal in the sunroom while chatting with each other, while some blessed us with kirtan in the temple room. It was a warm, friendly and cozy way to spend a cool fall evening at the Taos ashram.

 

 

 

Since Maharaj-ji was an international baba were going to start having international prasad nights every Tuesday starting next week.

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Stayed tuned to see what international dish Ram-ji has in store for us next week. Any suggestions? We may even have live-streaming just for you!

Journey to Maharajji – Part 5 – Supriya discovers there is no separation

Make sure to read the previous parts if you haven’t already:

Part 1 – Journey to Maharajji – Meeting Maharajji
Part 2 – The Journey to Maharajji continues – “Nothing to Achieve”
Part 3 -Journey to Maharajji – Supriya Meets her teacher the Mahasamadhi Ashram Manager
Part 4 – Journey to Maharajji – Supriya meets with a fatal accident unscathed

supriya-2.photoIt was early 2008 and Supriya was having some difficult times in Australia. She felt full of uncertainty; unsure about her life and her career, and was concerned that her parents were alone in India while she studied for her master’s degree in Australia.

She kept in continuous touch with Bauji. Once, while going through a tough time in a relationship, she called him. He told her, “Isn’t it so beautiful, Supriya that we are waiting for Maharajji to give you a better situation in your life?” “No, no it’s not,” she replied. He told her, “Waiting can be so beautiful. Tell your heart to understand one thing – if there is a better place to be than where you are right now, then Maharajji would put you there.”

In July she went to India for 3 weeks and spent a day with Bauji back in Vrindavan. As she left, she was so desperate for his blessings and said, “Bauji please bless me!” He replied, “Supriya the only blessing one human being can give to another is of ‘love’. And you already know that I have ‘prem’ (love) for you!”

IMG_1475In November 2008, Supriya called Bhauji back in India to seek his blessings on her birthday, but a women answered instead. Supriya asked, “Who is this?” “I’m Bhaskar’s wife,” the woman replied. This was the first time Supriya had spoken with his wife and wondered where Bauji was…

She was told that he passed away in September.

Supriya was devastated with the feeling of loss, but then felt that Bhauji was around and always with her as ‘love’. This gave her the peace she needed.

She checked the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram website and the following quote came up:
“I’m everyone’s guru.”

She realized that Maharajji was there for her, through Bauji as well as Paramhansa Yogananda. She felt that her own mind created doubt and separation, but in the world of God’s Saints- there is no separation.

She is content now, knowing that Paramhansa Yogananda is her guru and teacher, and that Maharajji is like her family, allowing her to simply ‘Be’.

Journey to Maharajji- Part 4- Supriya meets with a fatal accident unscathed

Make sure to read the previous parts if you haven’t already:

Part 1 – Journey to Maharajji – Meeting Maharajji
Part 2 – The Journey to Maharajji continues – “Nothing to Achieve”
Part 3 -Journey to Maharajji- Supriya Meets her teacher the Mahasamadhi Ashram Manager

supriya-2.photo

After some days at the ashram Supriya was asked to meet Maharajji’s younger son, who looked exactly like his father’s photo. Bhauji advised her to meet him. She took Bhauji’s words as law and loved and trusted him, and realized that he never talked bad about anyone. He didn’t care about the nonsense of religious rituals. She feels this really helped her break out of being the “ritualistic good hindu girl” and focus on awakening the God within oneself. Maharajji’s son asked her to write a story for the blog about how she got to the Vrindavan ashram. After she received this request she went to Maharajji’s Mahasamadhi temple and asked him what to write. But nothing came to her and she thought, “How can someone as small as me write about someone as big as him?” She felt as if Maharajji told her not to write anything, because the truth for her was that Maharajji’s website didn’t need publicity. Supriya had never met Maharajji in person and yet by his grace she was touched by him long after he took Mahasamadhi. She felt that writing a blog would be like advertising, the one thing that didn’t bring her to his ashram doorsteps. And so she didn’t write the blog.

Eventually, Supriya met the young man staying in the room next to hers at the ashram. His name was Kunal and he was getting his PhD in Kriya Yoga. She had read the legendary book, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, when she was 14 years old in the 8th grade. After learning more about Yogananda’s kriya initiation from Kunal she ran to Bhauji. Feeling strongly that she had to do something Supriya asked Bhauji, “What do I do to know God?” Bhauji replied, “What do you want to do, because if you’re asking then you already know.” She said, “I want to go with Kunal to Rishikesh and take kriya initiation.” Bhauji spoke his words of wisdom again and said, “Take an overnight bus to go to Rishikesh. You can try that as well!” And so she left for Rishikesh, got initiated into kriya practice and came back to Maharajji’s Mahasamdhi ashram to see Bhaskar. “So are you happy now?” Bhaskar asked her when she returned. “Yes, yes now I can do something in getting to God.” He told her, “Ok. Good. Just ‘Be’ Supriya!”

Some time passed and it was now 2006, Supriya was doing her daily kriya practice and calling Bhauji at least once a month. By 2007 she got accepted to a master’s program in architecture in Sydney, Australia. Before she left for Australia she wanted to see Bhauji and went to Vrindavan to spend a day with him. When Supriya got into the cab to go back home after her visit, Bhauji told her to sit with her feet up on the back seat. So she did what he said and waved farewell. After about an hour of driving in thick fog, the cab driver drove straight into a huge truck. It was a terrifying accident and could have ended her life. The driver was seriously injured and couldn’t move. But because she had listened to Bhauji to put her feet up on the back seat she actually fell in between the two seats and didn’t get hurt. The first person she called when she got out of the car was not her mom, nor her sisters but her Bhauji. For the first time in her experience with Bhauji she could feel his human concern for her. He told her, “Well as a human being we all have to experience human emotion also. Call me when you get home.”

To be continued……………

Journey to Maharajji – Part 3 – Supriya meets her teacher, the Mahasamadhi Ashram manager

Make sure to read the previous parts if you haven’t already:

Part 1 – Journey to Maharaji – Meeting Maharaji
Part 2 – The Journey to Maharaji continues – “Nothing to Achieve”

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Fast-forward 2 years later, in 2005. Supriya was working 10-14 hours a day for a big architecture firm in India and feeling exhausted. Her roommate’s mom visited Vrindavan every month and during each visit asked Supriya to come along…but she was never interested. Then, Supriya began wondering why people always go to Vrindavan. As many of us do these days for spiritual matters, she did a google search. Coincidently, the first website that appeared described Neem Karoli Baba’s Mahasamadhi in Vrindavan. That was all she needed. She took one week off from her job (which she eventually extended to one month’s leave without pay) and left for Vrindavan on a bus.

Her mom had always told her that whatever place someone takes Mahasamadhi in becomes powerful by the continuous presence of the Universal Conscious energy. That place would hold so many blessings that even angels will live there. But getting to Maharajji’s temple was complicated and tiring. She first went to the main bus stand of Delhi, almost 20 kms away, only to find out that a bus to Vrindavan left from a local bus stop, just one block away from her apartment. She finally got on the right bus, which happened to stop in Mathura, the city of Lord Krishna’s birthplace, before ending up in Vrindavan. For anyone who knows India this extra stop to Mathura is 10 kilometers away from Vrindavan. I have a hunch this was a place of importance for her to visit. If all travel plans had worked out smoothly Supriya would have arrived at Maharajji’s mahasamadhi ashram at 4pm, but like her travels to his temple in Taos she arrived late in the night at 11 pm. She got out of the small auto rickshaw and told the driver to wait. She didn’t know anyone in town, mostly everything was closed and so she started banging on the big locked ashram gates.

Then along came a watchman “How many are you?” he asked.  She responded, “only one.” The watchman looked shocked, as he couldn’t believe a single girl would wander around close to midnight, just to come to an ashram. Then he went inside and asked for the manager to come out. This was her first meeting with the man who would become her confidant, close friend and her first teacher in physical form – Bhaskar Bhat. He had a very stern look on his face, a deep frown on his forehead and a sharp gaze. She thought for sure she was going to get scolded. She felt so exposed and uncomfortable that she started looking around, and then, without warning, the manager started laughing. Finally, he told her to come on in.

She had profound memories of him and would affectionately come to call him Bhaskar Bhauji (father). Bhaskar lived like a hermit according to Supriya. His room was austere, with one small bed, a small desk, and a single cooking burner. He was the manager at the ashram because Maharajji had told him he couldn’t leave unless he found someone better to be the manager. 13 years later, he still remained at his post. Bhaskar told Supriya, “People are not meant to stay here more than three days, but you can stay as long as you want. And if you have any problem just come to me.” He would often laugh when he looked at her.

Some devotees who lived with Maharajji say that he taught them through other people, and this was Supriya’s experience with Bhaskar.  For example, one morning she found out it was an auspicious day for Hindus to do parikrama (circumambulation around sacred site) around Vrindavan barefoot. Doing the parikrama barefoot around Vrindavan is not for the novice and burns a lot of karma, along with the feet. Supriya came back with numb feet and Bhaskar laughed at her. She couldn’t take it any longer and respectfully asked him, “Why do you keep laughing at me?”

“What are you looking for?” he replied. She told him that she is looking for God. Looking intensely into her eyes he said, “Let me know when you find him.”  Then he noticed she was getting annoyed and told her “anyone who walks through that ashram door is God for me. Because when you look for something you become That.”

Another day, she went to see Bankey Bihariji (Lord Krishna) and it happened that day was the only day of the year on which there is no singaar (ornaments) put on the deity. When she told this to Bhauji with a lot of excitement he humbly asked, “Is there a day of the year that ever gets repeated?” And she found such wisdom in that, because no moment of life is ever repeated again, and so we must make sure to value it. He would often say, “This ashram or the temple is not the only temple, but the whole world is His creation – a big temple, only if we can see it that way!”

Supriya says it took her years to understand those simple concepts from Bhaskar Bhauji. The pieces of advice he gave her were glimpses of wisdom that kept her inspired as if Maharajji was talking to her through him.

(Next week you’ll read about Supriya meeting with a fatal accident on a Journey to Maharajji…………..)