September 17, 2021, 08:55:20 AM

Author Topic: Herakahan Baba - Part 3 of the Dio Urmilla Neff interview  (Read 3353 times)

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Herakahan Baba - Part 3 of the Dio Urmilla Neff interview

According to His Indian devotees, Babaji is available in a physical body for a period of time, then He vanishes and appears to His followers only in visions. When He manifests physically again, He has a new body, they say, and a different appearance. They say He does not incarnate, but materializes; He is not born -- but appears full-grown. Yogananda's description of Babaji in his book (Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship, 1971, LA) apparently refers to a time in the mid-1800s. Another book, by Baba Hari Dass, covers Babaji's life between 1890 and 1920 in the Kurmachala region of India, adjacent to Nepal (Hariakhan Baba: Known, Unknown by Baba Hari Dass, Sri Rama Foundation, 1975, Davis, CA).

Babaji was most often called Herakhan Baba then, because of His long association with the village. Photographs show Herakhan Baba to be tall, with a relatively light complexion, short dark hair, and noble features. It was said He didn't sleep at all, had no hunger or thirst, and was unusually strong. He emanated a sweet, musk-like scent. Herakhan Baba reportedly performed miraculous acts in front of large groups of people. He was said to heal the sick, raise the dead, appear in two places at once, sit in sacred fires without a scorch. Eventually He had thousands of followers in various parts of the Kurmachala region, and wherever He went, crowds of people gathered to receive His blessing. In 1922 (or 1920 by another source) He walked into the water at the confluence of the Gori and Kali Rivers in front of a group of devotees and was not seen again.

One morning a few days after I arrived, I was returning to the ashram after washing my saris in the river. Babaji called me over to Him as I approached the ashram steps. He was sitting with a few people in a tree-shaded garden near the riverbed and reached out his golden hand to help me up beside Him on the low rock wall. He related the simple message He gives to all his devotees. "Live a life of truth, simplicity and love", He said, "and mentally repeat the mantra Om Namah Shivaya continuously". Soon afterwards I talked about the mantra with a young photographer from Gwalior, a long-time devotee of Babaji.

The photographer told me of the time he'd accompanied Babaji to the province of Bihar, where Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda's guru, had taught Kriya Yoga to thousands of people. Most of the devotees they met still practiced Kriya, and they knew who Babaji was -- the originator of the technique. "Teach us more Kriyas," they demanded, crowding around Babaji. They would hear of nothing else. So Babaji directed the people to sit in several rows, and told the photographer to go up to each one and instruct them in the correct Kriya technique for this age. I asked him what he'd done."I just whispered, Om Namah Shivaya," He said.

The story of how Babaji appeared in his current form really begins in the 1920's when a five-year-old boy in Bihar had a vision. A splendid glowing young man briefly appeared before him and gave him some prasad, blessed food. The boy was filled with devotion for the youth, and until he was a grown man he wandered on foot all over India, Nepal and Tibet, searching for his shining vision. Finally he spotted a photograph of the legendary Herakhan Baba on a Kurmachala families altar and thus came to know the guru he'd been seeking.

In 1949, in an ashram dedicated to Herakhan Baba, the devotee locked himself in a room and vowed he wouldn't eat or move from his yoga position until his beloved vision again appeared to him. And Babaji did appear, so the story goes, and rewarded the man's devotion by making him his harbinger. The newly christened guru was called Mahendra Baba. He established ashrams for Babaji throughout all of India and drew together the remaining devotees of Herakhan Baba in Kurmachala, revealing that their beloved Herakhandi [holy resident of Herakhan] and the historical Babaji were one and the same -- and that He would appear again.

As I became accustomed to ashram life, learning to find the riverbed bathroom in four a.m. darkness and mastering the art of bathing fully clothed, I turned to what seemed the major occupation of the ashram -- watching Babaji. His activities seemed to consist, as far as I could tell, of a special pre-dawn fire ritual, attending the morning and evening singing sessions, meeting with devotees in His room, and periodically supervising Vedic rituals. Sometimes He would sing in the garden and have a leg massage, paint with watercolors or play chess with a group of Westerners. Other times He would vigorously direct devotees in a project: planting a tree, clearing an overgrown trail, or carrying riverbed rocks to a building site.

He would often appear at lunch-time, briskly moving among the sitting diners, asking a question here and there . . . how did they like the rice, were they comfortable, etc. His energy seemed inexhaustible. One might well be puzzled by Babaji's rather simple daily routine. He didn't appear to perform spectacular miracles like Herakhan Baba or seem forbidding and strict as in Yogananda's description. How do we know He's the one? I'm no help at all on this issue, for I felt I knew Him to be the historic Babaji the moment I heard of Him. My husband once playfully asked Babaji if He was the man in a photo of Herakhan Baba. "Yes," Babaji said, smiling, and autographed the picture.

Mahendra Baba had predicted Babaji would be called Bhole Baba, Simple Father, because He would not perform obvious miracles. And so He doesn't -- at least, most of the time. I learned of the occasion when the ashram was suddenly visited by a busload of one hundred devotees from the nearby town of Haldwani.

It was noontime, and the guests had filled the courtyard, the steps, and even the paths in the garden, waiting in the hot sun for lunch. The Indian cook was very concerned, for she had only prepared enough food for twenty people and knew she couldn't possibly feed them all. "Serve the food," Babaji ordered, over her protest. So the serving staff waded into the throng of sitting villagers and began ladling rice and vegetables onto their banana-leaf plates.

They ladled their way though the packed courtyard, down the steps and into the garden. They filled the plate of the last guest and went back to the courtyard to serve seconds. The cook realized Babaji had intervened somehow, but she couldn't prove it. Babaji, characteristically, pretended ignorance. My friend from San Francisco told me another loaves-and-fishes story from the time she'd served as ashram cook. And I heard many stories like these: Babaji bi-locating to heal a farmer's wife in a distant village; Babaji speaking fluent English or German when alone with certain devotees; Babaji making himself suddenly lighter when an ardent devotee would insist on carrying him across the river.

The closest I got to witnessing "miracles" was when Babaji appeared to read my mind -- an act considered very ordinary by ashram standards. I was told that I could petition him mentally, and he would sooner or later answer my request. And I found, to my amazement, that I only had to request some understanding of a concept or some insight into a problem, and the answer would come a few days later in some subtle way, by a flash of understanding or by someone else suddenly telling me the answer. This was often followed by some small physical manifestation as well.

I would know an answer or get a small realization, and suddenly I'd get a mango from Babaji. It seemed that every time I was on the right track mentally, I got an instant confirmation from him: a quick look, a raised-palm blessing, a gift of prasad. The more I saw of Babaji, the more wondrous he seemed. When he'd walk into the kitchen compound the place would suddenly come alive. The saried ladies would jump up from cleaning the rice and greet him. The youthful cook would emerge from his wooden hut, beaming, his bubbling vegetables temporarily forgotten. The kitchen workers would crowd Babaji, their faces lit with the radiant "He's here" look I came to know so well.

In June of 1970, so the story goes, a Herakhan farmer named Chandramani dreamed he should cross the Gautam Ganga and enter a cave at the foot of Mt. Kailash. He did, and once inside, found a beautiful youth sitting in a lotus pose [a yogic pose used in meditation with both legs crossed]. The youth was tall and slender, with dark, shoulder-length hair and a fair complexion. Chandramani went home and returned with some milk for the young man.

The farmer continued to bring milk each day and soon moved into the cave to better serve the youth, to whom he'd become very devoted. Shortly thereafter they climbed Mt. Kailash. On this holy mountain the youth sat in a perfectly still yogic posture for 45 days, neither eating nor drinking nor ever opening his eyes. Later, he and Chandramani crossed the river to the small octagonal temple built by Herakhan Baba decades before. They lived in a nearby hut, and one by one the awestruck villagers came to pay their respects to this remarkable young man, believing him to be their own Herakhan Baba,returned at last.

About a year after he appeared in the cave, the young guru began to travel to various villages and cities in Northern India. In this way many more people became aware of him, and soon there was a steady stream of city people hiking to the remote temple in the Kumaon Hills. An Indian friend from Bombay told me how she first met Babaji in those early days, and how he revealed himself to her. My friend is a rather westernized, no-nonsense sort of person who had first read  Autobiography of a Yogi in 1959. She felt an intense yearning to find Babaji, and so set out for the Himalayas to find him. She didn't find him then, and so tried again in 1965 -- still without success. One evening in 1971, she was sitting with her father by their family altar which was covered with pictures of deities and saints.

A relative came to the door and insisted on bringing a young guru in to meet the family. My friend had given up on Babaji and on gurus in general by then, and didn't want to meet another one. But her father, ever hospitable, agreed to see him. The relative came in with a strikingly beautiful youth who walked straight over to the altar and sat down. Looking intensely at my friend, and not speaking, he pointed to a picture on the altar that, most oddly, she had not seen there a moment before -- the small line drawing of Babaji from Autobiography of a Yogi. Then he pointed to himself. Still silent, he pointed to the picture and to himself twice more.

Moved to tears, my friend fell at his feet. She'd found Babaji at last. This woman told me, as did other Indian devotees, what Babaji was like in the early years at Herakhan. In 1971 and 1972, they said, he would sit for hours in a lotus pose with his eyes closed, apparently in a deep meditative state. Even when not in meditation he hardly spoke, they said, and then only in monosyllables. His eyes seemed to radiate a light, and often his gaze was so bright and penetrating people couldn't look at him. Photographs of Babaji at this time show a slender, beautifully-featured youth of about twenty, with dark, arresting eyes and a mass of tangled hair. He looked in some photos like a Sioux warrior, and in others like a madonna.


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