Neem Karoli Baba
One time he called me into his “office” in Kainchi and had me sit up on the bed with him. I was under the impression in those days that meditation was “something,” and here I was with the guru. It was, I thought, time to meditate, to really “tune in.” Not with words, but with, well, nonreaction, Maharajji kept breaking down these false concepts of meditation. Each would fall away until finally there was, nothing left and I was just sitting there, feeling nothing transcendental, only emptiness. At that point, as soon as I got it, he jao’ed me.
(A devotee’s account of a meeting with Neem Karoli Baba in “Miracle of Love” by Ram Dass)
Neem Karoli Baba (c. 1900–1973), popularly known as Maharaji, is one of the most influential gurus from India to encounter the West. Although he never visited America or wrote any books, he graced the lives of many devotees during the 1960s and 1970s. Baba Ram Dass was particularly inspired by Maharaji and Ram Dass’s works were among the first to introduce Eastern wisdom on a large scale to the West, particularly through portrayals of experiences with Neem Karoli.
Neem Karoli was born Lakshmi Narayan Sharma to a Brahmin family in Akbarpur in Uttar Pradesh, India. In his childhood he was described as detached from desires of the material world. When he was 11 his family arranged a marriage with a girl from another Brahmin family. After the wedding, the groom left home and wandered the country as an ascetic for several years. His father, Sri Durga Prasad Sharma, eventually found him in the village of Neem Karoli (hence his name) and demanded that his son return home. The young man complied and spent the remainder of his life in dual roles as householder and saint.
Neem Karoli always considered the world as his larger family and stated that the key to attaining salvation is to love all, serve all, and feed all. Devotees who were close to him describe the guru as one who radiated love. He based his teachings on a form of Bhakti Yoga, emphasizing service and unconditional devotion to God. His techniques have been described as both subtle and literal, and his teachings varied from individual to individual. His advice was determined by the needs of the student, even though he always asserted that one’s focus in life should be toward the welfare of others. .
Neem Karoli established two ashrams, at Kainchi in Uttachal and at Brindavan in Uttar Pradesh. Over 100 temples have also been founded in his name. American devotees, including Ram Dass, gathered together in 1977 to form a common place of worship in honor of Neem Karoli. The group proposed the construction of a statue representing Hanuman, a deity most revered by Neem Karoli. The statue was commissioned in India and completed in 1978. It found its permanent home in Taos, New Mexico. Devotees formed the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram around the Hanuman figure and have since held annual celebrations in September, marking the mahasamadhi (death) of Neem Karoli Baba on September 11, 1973.
( Encyclopedia of Hinduism)