What makes Jobs to Zuckerberg run to babas and godmen?

What was it that drew all of us to Neeb Karori Baba? It was the complete purity of an experience of love.

 |  5-minute read |   04-10-2015
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There is a modest complex of lime-washed buildings, with a modest temple, situated in a modest wooded valley on the banks of a modest stream in a modest part of Kumaoun, called Kainchi - so called because of two scissor-like sharp hairpin bends on the road that bring you down to the riverside hamlet. The complex, a small ashram, now given the exalted name of Kainchi Dham, is named after Neem Karoli (or Neeb Karori) Baba who died in 1973. Although the baba was a nomad with no permanent base, Kainchi was the place where he spent a lot of time in the later part of his life.

The ashram has tried hard to preserve its modesty because unlike other ashrams, it is not a part of a religious chain store, nor part of a holy business empire. It does not offer magical mystery tours, or yoga camps or spiritual and religious instruction. It has no mission to accomplish, no overwhelming purpose to fulfil. It would like to stay modest, avoid the glare of publicity and continue, like a poem, to just "be". Much like the baba who inspired it.

Yet, every now and then someone discovers the connection between the Kainchi Ashram, the baba and some megastar of the Western world and suddenly all media wants to investigate why 42 years after the baba died, his intangible legacy still holds such sway. Four years ago, when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died, the media discovered his Kainchi connection and then other names kept scuttling out - Richard Alpert, the Harvard psychology professor who became Baba Ram Das, Kermit Michael Riggs (Baba Bhagavan Das), Jeffrey Kagel (Krishna Das - the kirtan man), Larry Brilliant, Julia Roberts - all of whom owed some or all their inspiration to this modest place. And now it turns out that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg too was sent by his mentor Jobs to Kainchi to find focus and purpose to his own business career.

While I certainly haven't met either Jobs or Julia Roberts (alas) or Zuckerberg and may have passingly encountered Alpert and Riggs between 1967 and 1973, I am glorying in my connection with all these people through Babaji (as we called him) whom I had known from my early childhood.

I had a wonderful, bantering, irreverent relationship with the baba. While his intuitive abilities and ability to read your mind were literally "mind-blowing" (he could floor you completely by telling you exactly what you may have been thinking a moment ago, or a few hours ago or a few nights ago as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be a kind of benevolent thought-policeman), he performed no sleight of hand tricks, or miracles; gave no sermons, expected nothing, accepted no gifts, and was sure to disappoint you if you went in search of magical solutions to your worldly (or even other-worldly) problems. Your problems would occasionally get solved almost magically if you remembered him hard enough and sometimes he would look you meaningfully in the eye when you met him as though he knew you knew he knew.

He was nomadic with no possessions and no assets and no property. He seemed to have a horror of any kind of material possession and if you took him a basket of fruits or sweets as a gift he would immediately distribute everything to the assembled gathering treating you as a fielder engaged in catching practice. He carried nothing other than the bed sheet or blanket he was wrapped in. He spoke little, constantly muttering "Ram, Ram, Ram" under his breath. He was often very restless and would just get up and leave a place and disappear, sometimes for months on end, never tried to give you gyan, never insisted on any particular code of behaviour, would sometimes just lock himself inside a room or go into a cave and not speak although his followers would think nothing of shouting at him to come out, would eat anything or not eat anything for days, had no fixed schedules, no particular discipline. He was completely unpredictable: would call you names and be very dismissive one day or make you sit next to him and look at you with such ineffable love that you had to melt on another day. He did not expect you to be religious or pious or believe in anything. He never sat in pooja or followed any devotional rituals, did not genuflect to a deity or visit a temple including the temples in his own ashram because he was in a sense beyond all this.

In the years when the hippy crowds first started gathering round him, he would sometimes ask me to be an interpreter. This led to very droll results. The admiring crowds of white Westerners in search of oriental mysticism and ancient wisdom would be looking out for deep meanings in his curt, non sequiturs and aphorisms, some of which were really made for no other reason except to break the mood of silent worshipful reverence which he found oppressive after a while. But most of these remarks had no hidden, deep meaning. He would, for example, ask me to tell the crowd that the "mango is a unique fruit" and I would do so. All the lissome, pyjama-clad, bra-less, diaphanous blouse-wearing, dewy-eyed, young things (and inside of me lust would rage) and their scruffy, long-haired, bearded partners with jholas would look up to me sitting beside the baba on his takhat, from their cross-legged positions on the floor with open-eyed wonder and expect me to explain the deeper meaning. The baba would then go on to ask me to tell them that "the Mango is unique because it is the only fruit which you want to continue sucking even after you have sucked the flesh and the juice out of it" and this would cause a lot of wonderment as they would keep asking me to interpret the wisdom in this remark and I would tell them, to their great disappointment and suspicion that it meant just that and nothing more. And the baba would find the whole thing very amusing. He had a really puckish, elf-like sense of humour.

What was it that drew all of us to him? I think it was the complete purity of an experience of love in its purest form - selfless, undemanding, unrelated to any purpose or any material, emotional or spiritual transaction - a truly liberating and exhilarating experience of a kind which I have never had with anyone else. Just that.


Amitabha Pande Amitabha Pande @howlatt

The writer is a retired IAS officer.

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