Sculpting the Maharaj-ji Murti

In December of 2008 I began work on the Maharajji Murti as a form of bakti yoga. The decision seemed simple, I had a skill, I loved Maharajji, and I didn’t see any sculptures of him that bore a resemblance. I didn’t know it would be such an amazing journey, a gift that keeps on giving. And now, years later, the journey continues. I am meeting amazing people who were with Maharajji. The tears of joy and the stories that pour out when people who know him sees the Murti has been a great surprise to me.

The following is a little biography of Maharajji, some technical information about the sculpture and my journey that lead me to him.

About Guru Sri Neem Karoli Baba (aka Maharaj-ji)
Maharajji[1] established at least 108 temples, fed hundreds of thousands of people, advised government and corporate leaders, performed what some would call miracles, influenced current American and Indian society, brought grace into the lives of countless suffering people, and all the while remained out of the public eye.

In the late 60’s Dr. Richard Alpert, an eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer, later known as Baba Ram Dass authored a book, “Be Here Now” telling of the Indian Guru Neem Karoli Baba which led hundreds of Westerners, tired of American politics and new-world materialism, in search of Maharajji’s darshan[2]. Maharajji was as elusive as the stories tell, but many were allowed to be in his presence and they continue to share stories to this day that are a wonderment of love, grace, lilas[3] and awe.

In 1961, while at Harvard, Dr Richard Alpert, in collaboration with Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg, pursued intensive research of human consciousness with psilocybin mushrooms, LSD-25, and other psychedelic chemicals. Because of the highly controversial nature of their research, Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary were dismissed from Harvard in 1963.

For Ram Dass, psychedelic work turned out to be a catalyst for his journey to spirituality. He first went to India in 1967 where he met Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji. It was upon this meeting that Ram Dass received his new name, which means “servant of God.” Everything changed then – his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since.

Much of the yoga, meditation and Hindu spirituality movements in the west today can be directly linked to the western disciples who were taught by Maharajji. Some prominent musicians such as Jai Utal and Krishna Das spread the teaching through traditional Hindu Chants. And Baba Ram Dass, despite his paralyzing stroke, continues to spread the knowledge and practice through books, lectures and retreats.

Although Maharajji himself often forbad the discussion of, and never admitted to, the performance of any miracles, they were never-the-less seen and experienced by all who were around him. His devotees have authored many books, mostly telling of their personal transformations and the grace of Maharajji, but also detail the countless miracles that melted the hardest skeptical hearts into devoted servants of God.

Much like the path of Baba Ram Dass, my own psychedelic research led me on a spiritual quest. And through a series of seeming coincidences led me to his book, “Be Here Now”.  I then had the great fortune of meeting Ram Dass and hearing his lectures. I sang kirtan[4] with Krishna Das, and eventually even laid hands on the actual blanket Maharajji wore. The question I then had to ask myself was, “If Jesus were alive just 30 years earlier, and I meet his living disciples and heard their stories, would I believe?”

About the Murti[5]

The Sculpture took approximately one year to complete. It was originally sculpted using an oil-based clay, Chevant NSP Soft and Medium. The base was made of water-based clay. The supporting structure is a mix of Styrofoam and threaded pipe. I gathered the images from the Neem Karoli Baba website. I digitally grided the images of Baba and used them as scale reference. I wanted to express the proper emotion and the proper texture of his face. It went through many iterations, from smiling, to more subtle, to open mouth, to closed, to having hair and a beard to having none, to being smooth back to a rough tooled look. The sculpted blanket also went through many iterations.

A friend brought the unfinished piece to a Krishna Das Kirtan, where many devotees were able to see it. It was very well received, all who have seen other Murti’s of Baba said that this was the most accurate one they’ve seen. It was at this concert where Balaram saw it. Balaram was one of the westerners whom stayed the longest with Maharajji. Fortunatly, for me, he was also an avid photographer and took hundreds of amazing photos of Maharaji. He generously offered to share his personal collection of photos of Maharajji with me. This allowed me to have very high-resolution photos of Baba from all angles and allowed me to put in details that I could not otherwise see from low-resolution Internet images. This is also where the Murti was super-charged by very same blanket Marharajji wore during the summer of 1973.

A devotee offered to purchase the first casting of the Murti and paid for the rubber mould to be made. The casts of the Murti is made of Hydrocal Gypsum Cement, a modern day plaster designed for sturdy castings of sculpture. They are then hand painted and waxed to have a dark bronze patina. With each subsequent cast, the rubber mould deteriorates, and will only last approximately 30 castings.

Why Sculpt a Murti

Being in San Francisco during the first decade of the new millennium was an amazing mix of energies. First the dot-com boom came and went leaving a large group of young and highly paid college grads with free time and disposable income. That was followed by the disillusionment of 9-11. Mix in the “love-all”, ecstacy fueled rave scene and a new idealism of the Burningman psychedelic gifting culture. It was through these conditions that I ventured far away from my Christian and strict academic Chinese upbringing and into an exploration of my consciousness and an understanding of the truth behind happiness and suffering.

In my first experiences with psychedelics, I understood the healing and destructive powers it held. But even in my cautious use of the sacraments for strictly spiritual purposes, I could not have the moments of awakening without the months of depression that came afterwards. The realization that I could not hang on to the highs was like suffering the loss of a loved one. It was too much to bear.

It was the summer of 2006 that I pieced together the clues that have been all around me for the previous 5 years. I worked for a photographer in 2003 that had been trying to make a documentary of Ram Dass. I did not know who he was at that time. I was also handed the square blue book, Be Here Now, numerous times, never realizing what it was or what it was about, only thinking that it might be fun to look at the weird illustrations while high. It was in 2004 that I met Ram Dass, the old man with long white hair in a wheel chair who spoke too slow for my ADHD mind and wondering why everyone else was hanging on his every word and staring with such deep love.  At that time, my wife, then girlfriend, had been listening to the Hanuman Chalisa, not realizing what it was, but always appreciated the peacefulness it brought. When my best friend, Ray, heard the Chalisa for the first time, he nearly jumped out of his skin, remarking that he had heard those very same words loudly and clearly in a deep meditation. He had been fruitless in trying to track down the origins of these words, that is, until we played it for him in the car on our way down coastal Highway 1 to bury my cat.

It was in the midst of all of these strange coincidences that I was again handed the square blue book. I had known from watching a Ram Dass documentary, “Fierce Grace” that he was connected to Timothy Leary and his journey as a psychonaut, but had failed to understand his relationship to Maharajji. In my cover-to-cover reading of “Be Here Now” I finally understood how our journeys mirrored each others. I now understood that after the psychedelic phone rang and I received the message, it was time to hang it up. I began the practices in the back of the book, and meditated daily, calling upon the name of Ram. It was also this time that I began to look deeply into the lives surrounding this mysterious Guru Maharajji. I met more people whose lives have been touched by him, and read many stories by his devotees. I started to receive his teachings little by little, and began to lead a more dharmic life. Maharajji’s influence on my life and on the lives of those around me was unmistakable. To me he is synonymous with Jesus Christ and God.

Doubts did enter my mind before, during and after the process. I was afraid of being judged for creating an idol. And what if the idol created false hope, or misplaced devotion? What if it brought forth unnecessary dogma? What if my intentions are unpure and only wanted financial reward and ego recognition for the work done? Was I trying to win favor with the Gods? Of course, these questions themselves are traps of the ego, and  I only have faith to navigate by. I hope to share the Murti with as many people as possible. I hope it brings joy and relief to those who need it as it had done for me.

Namaste

Bibliography

Gurubhai. “Sri Neem Karoli Baba Maharajji.” Maharajji. 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 08 July 2011. <http://maharajji.com/&gt;.

“Albums By Neem Karoli Baba Photos – ImageEvent.” ImageEvent- Share Photos, Videos, Documents Online. Web. 08 July 2011.
<http://imageevent.com/neemkarolibabaphotos&gt;.

“Biography.” Ram Dass Love Serve Remember. Web. 08 July 2011. <http://www.ramdass.org/biography&gt;.


[1] Maharaj meaning Prince and –ji is an honorific suffix denoting respect.

[2] Darśana or Darshan is a Sanskrit term meaning “sight.” It is most commonly used for “visions of the divine” in Hindu worship. One could “receive” darshana or blessing of the deity in the temple, or from a great saintly person, such as a great guru.

[3] Lila or Leela, simply translated as miracle, is a concept within Hinduism describing the creative play by the divine absolute (Brahman) or the activities of God as distinct from the common activities of karma.

[4] Kirtan is call-and-response chanting of hymns or mantras performed in India’s devotional traditions.

[5] In Hinduism, a murti or murthi, typically refers to an image which expresses a Divine Spirit (murta). Meaning literally “embodiment”, a murti is a representation of a divinity, made usually of stone, wood, or metal, which serves as a means through which a divinity may be worshiped.

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