Adventures in India

This is an open journal of some of the things I see and think about while trying to find a place to live in India. It may or may not be interesting. I make no promises.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

gurus, babas and sadhus (with photos)

When My friend Steve and I went on our first trip to India back in '82, I was looking for a guru. I was nineteen, and had read a few books on the mysterious spiritual teachers to be found in India, and I fantasized that I would find a wise, powerful teacher just for me. He would answer all my questions and lead me on a magical mystery tour through the chakras and across the astral planes. Of course, he would also perform all sorts of cool miracles to put to rest any lingering doubts I had. Then I would become enlightened.

I remember sitting in a hotel room with Steve in the early evening. "So Tim," Steve said to me, "When you meet your guru, what are you going to say to him?"

I didn't have a clue.

I can't say I never met my guru, because according to Indian tradition everything can be considered a guru. In that hotel room in India, my friend Steve became my guru. And I still refer to my friend Sheldon as my "guru", because he asked me a question the first time we met that opened my soul, "Tim, what do you think love is?"

The guru is said to dwell in the heart, and sometimes...due to a confluence of karmic and celestial factors, takes on a self-aware, human guru form. This is a great thing when it happens. But in India it is said that it is the student's loving heart that allows the guru to work. Even if the guru is a "false" guru, the love of the student can cause a spiritual awakening.

Anyway, not all holy men in India are considered to be gurus. The following three babas are ones I met in Varanasi and felt a strong connection with. All three of them gave me their blessing and a small gift.

This fellow is a priest at a small Kali shrine near the Ganges river. Usually the priests are fat brahmins with shaved heads, who seem more interested in monetary offerings than prayers. But this fellow moved me very much. On the morning this photo was taken I had brought a garland of one hundred and eight red hibiscis flowers to offer to Kali. After he drapped the garland around Mother's neck, I dropped a small offering onto the puja plate. "Is that enough?" I asked. He smiled and said in perfect English, "I am just happy when someone brings my Mother a gift." We spoke for a bit and he invited me to a puja he was performiong that night at 8:30.

I got there a little late and things were already swinging. Drums howling, the priest clanging a huge bell and waving a flaming camphor stand. A small crowd stood on the steps as folks drifted past us, and the priest clanged his bell and chanted his chants and waved his flame and the drums beat louder and louder. Then I saw that the priest was quietly weeping, his face wet with tears, shoulders shaking helplessly, his eyes closed in the ecstasy of love. Everyone standing before the shrine felt his pure devotion and pressed forward eagerly.

The puja lasted about forty-five minutes, and then exhausted, the priest began to give out puffed rice as blessed prasadam from Kali Ma. I was dithering with my money trying to find a small enough offering not to embarass myself with a huge note. People were dropping coins onto the tray and scarfing down the blessed rice. By the time I got up to make my offering the rice was gone and I was bummed. Then the priest reached over to Kali's feet and picked up a large sweet and offered it to me. I took it very gratefully and bowed down low. He smiled and held out his hand in a blessing.

Next day I brought another garland to the shrine for Kali. He told me that every day the temple made food to feed the fifty beggars lining the walk. I told him I was trying to get a teaching job in India. He said, "I will pray to Mother for you; you will surely get it." "Oh no!" I said, "I don't want that, I want the pure devotion to God I saw on your face last night."

He just smiled at me, and chuckled gently.

I was struck by this fellow the moment I saw him. He was always smiling and often I would see him sitting and chatting and laughing with friends. Once in the evening I saw him striding along the ghats and a huge crowd of children were up above him on one of the balconies, cheering him as if he was a pop star. He laughed and waved at them happily. I learned that he is an "aghori". These folks are very powerful, and conduct secret rites in the cremation grounds in order to pierce the veil of ego-illusion and realize reality. They are said to possess great psychic powers. But this guy seemed pretty easy-going.

I saw him sitting by the river once talking quietly to a small group. I sat down and listened to him, not understanding a word, but enjoying what he was saying. Later on I got up during a pause in his discourse and gave him some money. (Babas need to buy things too.) He touched my head and gave me the longest, sweetest blessing. The next day, he saw me walking in the crowd and called me over to sit by him. He gave me a banana (blessed, of course) and told his friends something about me. One woman looked at me and smiled, "Very good," she laughed, "very good.".

This is the famous "Standing Baba". One of his students called me over to the little temple where he hangs out. Literally. He hasn't sat or laid down in tweleve years. He has a chest high swing he draps his body over when he sleeps. At other times he leans on his staff. The first time I saw him I said, "I love you; I want to be your wife." He smiled (understanding me/not understanding me?)and gave me his blessing. I spent a lot of time with him,and he taught me how to invoke Shiva before smoking ganja in a sacred chillum. He would never let me rub his legs, since his special attendant had that privilage. But one night during a blackout, as we smoked and chanted, he relented. Before I left, he blessed a handful of ganja and gave it to me as prasadam.

I took this photo in the dark, and yes...that is my finger in the upper left corner.

Some say that the great majority of holy men in India are charlatans and fakes. I don't care; so am I. Who is not a fake, in the image they present to the world and to themselves? There is only one thing to be done, and we are all doing it (no matter how circuitous the route): discover who we are. This has been the inner driving force of Indian culture for more than 8,000 years. This is why the aghori baba wears flowers in his hair.


  • At 8:20 AM, Blogger cameron burgess said…

    thank you, thank you and thank you

    this love knows its fullness in you

  • At 5:10 PM, Blogger YUVA said…

    thanks a lot. can you tel me the route you took to find sadhus. contact me at
    please please send it to me.

  • At 1:10 PM, Blogger Speak said…

    Hi Tim,

    Great post. Loved reading it. I am the passenger of the same train, in search of mysterious and uncanny Guru. I am yet to travel Varanasi, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Kashi, known to be a place of such Gurus.

    I need to explore more on this. Do let me know how can I reach you. Your email id? Visit me at where I interview people from various sectors of life.

  • At 4:39 PM, Blogger love back said…

    This is the thing which is appreciable. I like your post and i really wanna to come back here in future for more informative post. Its true that Vashikaran Mantra provides all solution to the problems. You can use it to get out of the problems. Thanks for this information...


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