We have just spent a little over 7-days at Neem Karoli Baba’s ashram near Nainital. 3,500 feet above sea level in the little village of Kainchi. He was a 20th century miracle-working saint whose profound compassion irrevocably altered the course of thousands of lives. And you may or may not believe in miracles, but it’s hard not to believe in the only teaching he ever gave: Love All. Serve All. Feed all.
Siddhi-ma, known to all simply as Mataji, has been the mainstay and anchor of the ashram and its work since Maharaji’s 1973 “release from Central Jail” as he phrased it. She served him unfailingly for more than half a century. I first met her when I was thirteen or fourteen, and she was visiting Aravind for what has become, over the last 20 years, pretty much an annual visit. As I grew older I would be increasingly struck by her vibration of unconditional love. To just sit quietly in the same room with her would sometimes bring inexplicable tears to my eyes. I had never meditated, or really even tried too at the time, but I could sense sitting there, a shift in the quality of my being. I don’t know that I’ve met anyone else who generates such a strong field of compassion.
When she heard we were planning to head to Almora for the second phase of our writing retreat, Mataji offered us a little room just up the hill from the ashram. I cannot really explain what it has meant to live there over the last week. In a little white house with blue windows, and three black cows out front. Within earshot of the temple bells that start ringing at 4:30 in the morning and punctuate the day with their urgent clanging call to devotion or mindfulness or truth or goodness or whatever you want to call it. I miss those bells. All our meals were offerings – Prasad — from the temple, prepared and served with such love. These hills have hosted so many extraordinary journeys. Its rocks, trees, caves, peaks, rivers brim with stories of unsung holiness. So many pilgrims met each with so many stories of how their lives have been touched by grace.
Each day charged with learning, working, growing – and a spill over of gratitude – for the thread of sacredness that runs unbroken through the mess and tangle of our lives. So many moments where the head bowed and the palms folded of their own accord.
It was that kind of time and space.