"By the time the 1960s rolled around and vast numbers of westerners were assaulting India for Spiritual prowess, etc., the absolute top dog in all the Maharshi stuff, theBhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi had long since departed his earthly paradise. Of the high profiles floating or climbing to the top, basically only Sri H.W.L. Poonja or Neem Karoli Baba remained, the two of which most downstream eastern religious types in the U.S. currently hang their hats on. Neem Karoli Baba died in 1973 effectively ending the flow of direct disciples. Poonja, however, didn't pass until 1997, in turn releasing on society a whole slew of Poonja clones that have, like protozoa and amoebas, gone off and split and re-split so many times there are more of them, with a few exceptions, than there are recruits to be under them."
In the west, when it comes to India-based spiritual types, such as gurus, saints and holy men, et al, by virtue of some rather well known and prominent Americans along with a press that is inexorably wrapped up in such people, Neem Karoli Baba (d. 1973) is perhaps, at least in recent years, the most well known and revered. How many adherents or followers he has actually amassed is not generally known, it is known however, that people such as Steve Jobs of Apple fame and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, even after the holy man's demise, sought solace or spiritual insight of some type simply by visiting the guru's temple or onetime place of abode.
Such pilgrimages by the high and mighty, as well as the masses seeking out the sadhu's grace and light, although long known in parts of India, began for westerners as not much than a mere trickle sometime just around the end of the 1960's, growing exponentially thereafter. In 1963, Dr. Richard Alpert, a university professor who had been formally dismissed from his academic position at Harvard for a number of so-called violations, including the mishandling of research LSD and civilian-based psychedelics, traveled to India and Nepal. During his travels he met an itinerant American traveler in his early 20's from Laguna Beach, California named Kermit Michael Riggs, known under the name Bhagavan Das. Das, a follower of the venerated Indian saint and holy man Neem Karoli Baba had, after several years in India become fully and deeply ingrained into the country's spiritual culture. After crossing paths with and becoming cognizant of Alpert's spiritual quest --- or just hoping to get rid of him depending on who you listen to --- Das took Alpert to Neem Karoli Baba. Following closely Alpert's dedication toward a deep spiritual struggle, it is reported that Neem Karoli Baba gave Alpert the name Ram Dass, meaning 'servant of God.'
After a year and a half in India Alpert returned to the United States and fully immersed as Ram Dass eventually wrote Be Here Now, published in 1971. The book, an unqualified success, became a wildly popular best seller and almost a bible in the counter-culture. The success of the Ram Dass book sent thousands of hippie-era wanderers to India in the quest for gurus and spiritual Enlightenment. It also escalated the existence of an unknown Indian holy man Neem Karoli Baba, who died in 1973, into the stratosphere, with the unintended consequence, but karma related, inundation by hundreds and hundreds of spiritual seekers.
Most of that inundation of seekers, both known and unknown, rather they be Jobs or Zuckerberg or some other slug of an Inconsequential being because of lack of notoriety or billions in their pockets, without being significantly aware of it, owe their trek or knowledge thereof of Neem Karoli Baba in some manner to the infamous 1950's Beat poet Allen Ginsberg or perhaps maybe to a lesser extent the missing woman of the Beat Movement, Hope Savage, in whose footsteps he followed and who later simply just disappeared or vanished during her travels in India. In March of 1961 Ginsberg, following Hope's long since earlier departure, on extended travels, left the United States, eventually ending up in India in February, 1962. Ginsberg spent the next fifteen months traveling throughout India, leaving May of 1963. After Ginsberg returned to the U.S. he and one Ron Zimardi crossed paths, becoming in Zimardi's words, his poetry mentor. Zimardi, born January 3, 1943, in the Bronx, New York. writes the following in his book The Sacred Wanderer: An American Devotee's Story (2010):
"As background, one of the first post 1950s westerners to really delve into the mystery that was India, Allen Ginsberg, my poetry mentor, had been to India in 1961 in Calcutta and Varanasi with Peter Orlovsky. He was instrumental in making me wait to I finished my BA at CUNY and gave me his original backpack as a blessing to return to India."
As stated above, it was Ginsberg who suggested to Zimardi, an otherwise non-entity, that he go to India. In September 1964, following Ginsberg's suggestion, Zimardi left for Tangier, Morocco aboard a freighter, ending up in Athens, Greece in the winter of 1964, eventually meeting another at the time otherwise non-entity named Kermit Micheal Riggs, soon to become famous as Bhagavan Das. What most people don't realize is that after he and Bhagavan Das met up, it was Zimardi on HIS OWN journey a la Ginsberg who, after leaving Athens, for the entire trip overland across Afghanistan and with no money, shepherded Bhagavan, who was tagging along, to India. Again from his book, regarding his role, Zimardi writes:
"Bhagavan Das oddly omitted me as his guide or even travel companion to India in 1965 in his book It's Here Now (Are You?) published a few years ago. In Ram Dass' Be Here Now I am not mentioned either. Bhagavan Das made it seem that he only connected with me in Rishikesh(pg. 28)."
It should be brought to the attention of the reader that even though it was Zimardi, AKA Ravi Dass, that Bhagavan Das traveled with and followed to India, Bhagavan Das, after parting ways with Zimardi sometime after their arrival, went on his own to eventually meet Neem Karoli Baba --- the first to do so of the 60s era seekers and well before Zimardi's encountered him for the first time. Zimardi did not meet Neem Karoli Baba until after crossing paths with Ram Dass and had read or at least seen a copy of 'Be Here Now' after which he asked Ram Dass to take him to his guru. In a sense going full circle.
The early 1950's found me as a teenager in high school, living along the coast in a Southern California beach community primarily under the auspices of my grandmother. During those high school years a sort of unusual single older man moved into the house next door. He was always barefoot, always dressed in dark clothes, and always walked wherever he went. Eventually, as neighbors, at first on a hello basis, then as they got to know each other coffee on occasion. One morning over coffee he told my grandmother he had plans to refinish the floor-to-ceiling all natural knotty pine walls in a couple of rooms in his house and wondered if he might hire me to help. A few days later, after a minor discussion with my grandmother, I started.
The time spent on that refinishing job turned out to be one of the most wonderful times in my up to then short lived life. Not because of the bucks or good times, but because of the insight, knowledge, and intoxicating sense of oneness the man-next-door seemed to possess. At first the man spoke little, listening mostly to my small talk and chit-chat, but as the summer wore on the subjects began to wax philosophical, eventually through him, turning to the Universe and man's place in the scheme of things...when and why, where and how, space and time...all of which was fairly heady stuff for a guy whose primary concern up to that time had been how large the size of a girl's chest was. In a peculiar, general sort of way he seemed to know everything about everything, and as we sanded, worked, reworked, and painted the wood, he talked and I listened. The most elaborate subjects were always described in the most graphic, mind-visual metaphors somehow easily understood on my level of comprehension. His inner soul seemed to breath and undulate with an understanding that penetrated my brain, painting my mind in brilliant splotches of color, running thick with an embryo of knowledge and dripping heavy with meaning...all done with the quiet flair of a person whose thirst had long been quenched and whose only real want, if there even was a want, was to occasionally sip now and then when the need arose.
Under constant pressure by me during or conversations he slowly revealed his background. He was an only child. Both parents died when he was quite young, his mother giving birth to him, his father sometime around his eighth year or so. He was raised by a guardian. He had inherited a trust fund and had never really worked over any period of time. Although he didn't tell me specifically at the time, during World War I, at age sixteen, he joined the Canadian army, became a pilot, and fought in Europe. He was aware that many thousands of young men were dying on the ground beneath him, plummeted to death by artillery shells, gassed, and rotting to death in the trenches, but it wasn't until his own best friend died in front of his own eyes that he was shaken to his spine with remorse and repugnance. Driven by an unquenchable desire to find the accountability of life and not knowing what to look for, he embarked on a ten year journey that took him through Europe, China, Burma, and India in search of an answer. After a series of events over several years he found himself in the south of the Indian sub-continent studying at the ashram of a venerated Maharshi...all prior to World War II and before most people had ever heard of the word guru
One day during break, after, for me at least as I viewed it, one of our in depth conversations, as we sat out on the front porch drinking iced teas, he handed me a small, almost pamphlet size book, well worn and crudely made, that had been published in India to look at. The name of the book, which I really didn't have time to absorb because I dropped it from my hands in a sort of stunned disbelief, was titled Glimpses of the Life and Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by Frank H. Humphreys. Although my thoughts and feelings would eventually open and morph through it's passage, at that very specific moment in time --- and for years afterwards --- I was sure I had never heard of a Bhagavan, a Sri Ramana, or a Maharshi. Even so, I immediately grasped why he thought the book should be important, and it wasn't who wrote it or what was inside, but what was outside. Outside, on the cover, was a picture of the EXACT same man I saw that night in the old stage stop atop Catalina, short-cropped white hair and beard, walking stick and all.
(please click image)
Which brings us now, back around to Neem Karoli Baba. In the geographic location of the general northern India area where Neem Karoli Baba lived and traveled he was well known by followers and non-followers alike as having, as well as manifesting, many mystical and spiritual abilities typically associated with the super normal perceptual states known in Sanskrit as Siddhis --- such as for example, appearing and disappearing out of nowhere at will, translocation and bilocation, often over great distances, etc. The following is one of his most famous and most oft-cited translocation events:
"Once he was in Allahabad. Some of his devotees built a temple in Panki so they asked Maharajji to come to the opening ceremony but he refused. Still, the day of the ceremony, Baba locked himself in the room in Allahabad, saying he doesn't feel well and asked for the doors to be opened again for visitors only at 12 o'clock. It was 7 in the morning. Everything went on as established and, at 12 o'clock, Neem Karoli Baba opened the door of his room. Next morning, the devotees from Panki showed up in Allahabad with a basket of offerings. They said that the previous day, Maharajji was together with them the whole morning, but in 12 o'clock he suddenly disappeared, without tasting the offerings, so they came to bring them to him."
Because of my mother's illness and the consequences of that illness eventually leading to her death, as a very young boy I was fostered out to a couple who almost immediately took me to India, staying at the ashram of Sri Ramana, a stay that lasted so long I missed the whole last half of the school year. During my stay, even as the young boy that I was, I sat many hours in darshan before the Maharshi. Approximately two years later, back in the United States and more specifically, Catalina Island, one of the Channel Islands just off the coast of Southern California, Sri Ramana was once again became a prominent figure in my life.
While visiting the island, the quasi-tourist that I was, I went on what was called the inland motor tour, a bus tour that went deep into the rather rugged, at least in those days, interior, far up and away from the usual around the town tourist haunts. Part way into the tour the bus stopped at a one time old stage coach stop called Eagles Nest to give all the passengers a stretch-break. During that bit of a break I went off exploring and in the process missed the tour bus when it left. Thinking I would just wait for the next one I ended up staying overnight sleeping in an old horse stable after discovering I couldn't get into the abandoned stage stop without breaking in. Later in the night, cold and uncomfortable and not able to sleep, I noticed a light coming the previously locked stage stop and went over to investigate, thinking I might find a warmer place to stay and possibly something to eat. Finding the door now unlocked I opened it and when I did the light, coming from a lantern, went out, with the following results:
"Moments before when I had been outside looking through the dirty glass windows I had noticed a small box of matches on the floor near the lantern, so in the dark on my hands and knees, I started fumbling around until I found them. When I finally got the lantern lit neither man was there. As I turned, still on my knees and holding the lantern high in an attempt to illuminate the room as much as I could with a turning sweep of dim light, I clearly saw the dark-skinned man standing in the open doorway no more than a few feet away, facing me and holding, although not actually leaning on, a down to the ground half-his-height bamboo staff. As though an electric current was passing through me he looked right into my eyes with an intensely piercing gaze, eyes shining with an astonishing brilliance --- and somehow TIME SEEMED TO SLOW --- maybe even stopping altogether. From far away I felt myself losing balance, all the while trying to brace myself with one arm while trying to hold the lantern high with the other. I weighed a ton and could barely move. In ultra slow motion the light, moving now at such an overwhelmingly reduced rate I could hear it, flickered and nearly went out. Then, just as the lantern reached the top arc of its swing and stilled to start back, the light rekindled itself. In that waffer-thin edge-on membrane of darkness the man was gone."
If you remember from above, when I was helping the man next door --- who would eventually become my Mentor in things spiritual --- refinish the knotty pine in his house and we took a break one day he handed me a small, almost pamphlet size book, well worn and crudely made, that had been published in India. As soon as I saw it I immediately grasped why he thought the book should be important, and it wasn't who wrote it or what was inside, but what was on the outside. Outside on the cover was a picture of the EXACT same man I saw that night in the old stage stop atop Catalina, short-cropped white hair and beard, walking stick and all. The Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
What Sri Ramana had done, in translocation or bilocation for me, and although many of Neem Karoli Baba's followers don't like it or unwilling of any acceptance as it relates to me, what was done was exactly the same that Neem Karoli Baba had done executing his translocation to Panki that I cited in example above. Sri Ramana was not about to let any spiritual traveler, little boy or otherwise, slip back into the day-to-day quagmire of the Samsara world. Especially so after, through HIs grace, from a mere spark, he had ignited a spiritual fire --- with all my mental barriers reduced to nothingness.
"Even though the stage stop was thousands upon thousands of miles away from India, Ramana was there. What he was doing was replicating what happened considerably less than a few years before at the ashram, only now a super-concentrated effort on his part to bring about or re-insitgate the Experience. On my own accord, in the darkness, I sought out and found the matches and struck the flame. The 'spark that ignited my spiritual fire' is mirrored in the spark of the match held to the light-generating properties innate to reasons of the lantern. I was holding the lantern high above my head, the lantern emitting a dim light --- or more accurately the room was so big and filled with darkness relative to that first small flame that the darkness simply absorbed the light --- giving the impression of a dimly lit room. The dimly lit room was me, the lantern and the light were one, the light intended to illuminate the room (me). With a turning sweep of dim light, at the top of the arc the light flickered and went out. I clearly saw the dark-skinned man standing in the open doorway and then, in that waffer-thin edge-on membrane of darkness he was gone. That membrane of darkness was when I entered the blackout period, and the man, Ramana, was gone --- gone from any memory. The light rekindled itself. That is, Ramana returned through the use of Siddhis to the stage stop to rekindle the lost light. Next to him was the man who was to become my Mentor, there to ensure Ramana's efforts were not lost."
THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
That is why, in what was for all practical purposes a classical case of resurrection, Ramana interceded at the stage stop and implemented the use of, for him, the rarely used supernormal perceptual states known in Sanskrit as Siddhis. In the preamble to "The Guru" by David Godman, speaking of the words of Sri Ramana, Godman says:
"Just as the prey that has fallen into the jaws of a tiger cannot escape, so those who have come under the glance of the Guruï¿½s grace will surely be saved and will never be forsaken."
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
30 MINUTES TO ENLIGHTENMENT
ON THE RAZOR'S
STEVE JOBS----------------------------BHAGAVAN DAS------------------------------RAM DASS--------------------------------ALLEN GINSBERG
(click graphic for info on each individual)
MAJOR HISTORICAL BUDDHIST MASTERS, ZEN ANCESTORS AND ZEN PATRIARCHS
Bodhidharma, Hui K'o, Hui Shen, Hui Neng, Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien, Zhaozhou, Moshan Liaoran,
Mugai Nyodai, Kuan Yin, Tung-Shan, Te Shan, Dogen
There is a good chance that long before Bhagavan Das ever heard of Neem Karoli Baba, let alone having met him, another American, a less heralded one in the overall scheme of things came ahead of him. He was a man of great spiritual awareness by the name of William Samuel. In that he didn't have a Richard Alpert or anybody else following him around in his footsteps drum-beating his cause, he has to this day, remained virtually anonymous. Samuel writes in his book The Awareness of Self-Discovery, albeit somewhat cryptically, the following:
"Some years ago I was honored to be the first American student of a renowned teacher in India. For fourteen days a group of us sat at the feet of this 'Master,' during which time he spoke not one word, not so much as a grunt, until the final day when he bade us farewell and assured us we had learned much.
"And to my surprise, I had. It took months before the seeds of those silent days began to sprout one by one, revealing that there are indeed many things for which the uptight, recondite babble of books and teachers is more hindrance than a help."(see)
Most Samuel supporters jumped the gun wanting what he wrote about meeting a 'renowned teacher in India' to refer back to the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. It just doesn't, at least in how he wrote it. While it is true Samuel did in fact meet Ramana, the above quote by Samuel does not refer to him. Samuel met Ramana for the first time in 1944. By then the Maharshi had already had a long documented legacy of western disciples, among them several Americans, including such notables as Guy Hague in 1938 --- thus then, by Samuel's own words, eliminating Ramana as a potential candidate.
During WW II Samuel had fought all along the Chinese-Burma Himalayan border and was familiar with the topography, peoples, and environment. He had already been to the southern part of the sub-continent and by mid-April 1950 Ramana had died. So hugging up along the northern reaches of India most likely seemed the thing to do. In the process he met Neem Karoli Baba, most likely right after his WW II discharge but before the start of the Korean War. According to most Samuel biographers, and I am in agreement, the eight year period between 1952 and 1960 would have been a much more difficult time for him to have done so.
If such is the case, then not only would William Samuel be Neem Karoli Baba's first American disciple, he would most likely be his first western disciple, a combination of distinctions usually given to Bhagavan Das who showed up under Neem Karoli Baba's grace sometime in 1964 or so. It should be so noted that Samuel, some years after having met Neem Karoli Baba, during the throes of the Korean War as so described by him personally in his tome, A Soldier's Story, attainted a highly exalted spiritual Awakening. See:
A SOLDIER'S STORY
JAPANESE INVASION OF INDIA
DURING WORLD WAR II
WILLIAM SAMUEL: A SECRET REVEALED
SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI'S WESTERN DISCIPLES