Maharaj-ji was slippery. His devotees were always trying to track him down, to keep him in one place, to hold on to his form. When he left his body in September of 1973, he left no books, no written teachings, no real instructions. Recently, at a hotel in Chitrakoot, our friend Mahesh Das showed Raghu Markus an old photograph of the American satsang when they gathered to commemorate Neem Karoli Baba’s passing. On the surface level of the photograph, everyone seemed fine, but Raghu, being there himself, pointed to the fact that most, if not all of them except Ram Dass, were completely devastated inside. Their guru, the catalyst that had been their doorway to the divine, had, on one level, all but vanished.
Satsang "faking it" shortly after Neem Karoli Baba left his body
This American satsang, who had grown so close to Maharaj-ji in the short years they had known him, despite mourning the loss of his form, knew him on a much deeper level. As Ramana Maharshi said near the time of his death to his stricken devotees, “Where could I go?” Maharaj-ji may have dropped his body, but he is still here. His miracles never cease, as new stories involving his grace still to this day continually flow out like hidden mountain waterfalls after a rain shower. His presence is distinctly felt at his holy sites and on the altars of his devotees. Communion is never far away. But what to do? While his presence is always near, and his impact on the world so prominent, he still left very little directive or instruction for his devotees. There was one practice; however, which he handed down, that would spread like wildfire in the West, and act as a vibratory liaison to the embodied energetic field that Neem Karoli Baba represented. This was the Hanuman Chalisa. True devotees, deep down, want nothing more than to please their guru. They want nothing more than the opportunity to mirror back even just a sliver of the pure unbridled, unconditional love and mindful care that their guru has so selflessly given them. Last holiday season, my friend Matthew, sent out a Christmas card with Hanuman hugging Ram, and next to the depiction it said “You will get pure love for Ram by the blessings of Christ.” It took me aback at the time. Wouldn’t you want to be blessed by pure love ‘from’ Ram, rather than ‘for’ Ram? Sometime later; though, reading a translation of “The Ramayana,” we came across a passage that stated, “As much as you love Ram, Ram loves you twice as much.” It clicked in my head at that point, but not in my heart until we were at Neem Karoli Baba’s Kainchi ashram, singing the Hanuman Chalisa at the feet of his tucket. All of the love we were offering to him through the chant, was instantly being reflected right back inside of each of us.
Singing at Maharaj-ji's tucket in Kainchi (Photo by Saraswati Markus 2018)
Maharaj-ji, who many believe to be an incarnation of Hanuman, adored the Hanuman Chalisa. When the first waves of Western devotees journeyed to India for his darshan, they would sit and sing the Hanuman Chalisa for hours, and he would love it, completely soaking it up. Many sang it for his reaction, some sang it for the space it imbibed, and a good deal of them sang it because if they were chanting it, they wouldn’t get the classic, “Jao,” telling them to leave. Whatever the reason devotees were reciting it, it touched him on a deep intrinsic level. Knowing the stories of his reactions to this potent mantra, and inferring that he is always Here; the Hanuman Chalisa is a pure gift we can always offer to his space of divinity, which is not separate from our own. The Hanuman Chalisa itself is a forty verse devotional song to Lord Hanuman, spanning his epic tale and vital role in The Ramayana. The learning process may seem daunting at first, but once you start listening and using resources it pieces itself together rather succinctly and auspiciously. Congruent with our sadhana, our spiritual journey, it doesn’t quite unfold in a linear pattern. It will come together in various pieces, and start to fill itself in over time, akin to watching a web of bubbles in a bathtub pop away until you are just left with the clear water. There is something very special about taking the time to learn this mantra and recite it daily as a part of our practice. There is an unbridled potency to it that I cannot explain. Maharaj-ji told his devotees that, “Every line of the Hanuman Chalisa is Maha Mantra.” So, whenever we can, knowing his powerful love for this chant, we offer this song to Maharaj-ji. It is said we sing the Chalisa to help Hanuman remember who he truly is. And who is he? In The Ramayana when Ram asks Hanuman, “Monkey, who are you?” Hanuman replies back, “Lord Ram, when I forget who I am, I serve you. When I remember who I am, I am you.”
Ram Ram, Ganesh Das