The Succession

Page 79, Peace Is Possible

Bihari Singh debated with himself all the way to St. Joseph's. The night before, he had returned Shri Maharaji's body to Dehradun. This morning, he was filled with grief and disbelief, and it was difficult to make a decision. Should he tell Sant Ji and his brother Raja Ji the real reason he was picking them up from school early? Or should he just drive them home and let them see for themselves?

When Bihari appeared at the door of Raja Ji's classroom, his face told a painful story. He whispered something in the monk's ear, who then waved Raja Ji from the room. Together, Bihari and Raja Ji walked down the hallway to collect Sant Ji.

"Why did you come to take us out of class?" Raja Ji asked Bihari. "I thought you and my father were away on tour. Is Shri Maharaji home? Does he want to see me? Did he come back early?"

"He is back," Bihari Singh said.

Sant Ji was allowed to leave his fourth-grade classroom, and the three of them drove in silence to the residence. The boys had no idea what had happened or why Bihari was crying. But they knew something was wrong the moment they got out of the car, as everybody was milling around outside, crying and speaking in hushed voices.

Sant Ji went directly to his father's room. There sat Shri Maharaji in eternal meditation, his. eyes closed. Sant Ji approached his father's motionless body, touched his feet, spent a few moments in silence, and walked outside. "I wanted to feel him one last time," says Maharaji. "And I was filled up. It was a beautiful

80               Peace is Possible

experience, and yet it was terrible, too. Like it was the end of the world. Afterwards, I realized that something had just sprouted within me, that the beautiful fountain was really within me. The world had ended, but it had also begun, and everything was different."

Maharaji recalls crying for several days without stopping. He loved his father/master more than he could possibly say, and the loss was deep and substantial. At the same time, his mother was beside herself, lamenting, "Why didn't he give any indication? He wasn't even sick!" She ordered Shri Maharaji's body to be packed in ice, a customary practice in the heat of India to preserve a body until the cremation. However, the truth was, she believed that maybe her husband was not really dead, but rather was in a deep meditation and eventually could be revived. Was it denial or her belief in the extraordinary powers of the man she had married? No one can say for sure, since shock and grief can cause people to think and act in unusual ways.

Early the next morning, Shri Maharaji's body was placed in the top section of a van and driven to Prem Nagar, his final destination. Word had traveled quickly that Shri Maharaji had died and would be cremated at Prem Nagar. Hundreds of stunned and grief-stricken students were hurrying there to pay their last respects. When they arrived, they began searching for fragrant sandalwood (not readily available in stores) on which to cremate the master's body. In the twenty-four hours from the arrival of Shri Maharaji's body to Dehradun to his cremation the next morning in Haridwar, people managed to collect forty pounds of sandalwood by gathering a little bit here and there.

On the day of the cremation, Sant Ji stayed home with his mother. In Indian tradition, those present at the cremation poured coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter) over the pyre just before they set it on fire. As Shri Maharaji's body burned and smoke rose to the heavens, his students had various reactions—from sobbing and covering their eyes to feeling a beautiful peace.

81               The Succession

According to Hindu custom, a mourning period of thirteen days was prescribed, during which time the male family members shaved their heads. On the thirteenth day, the mourning would end. There was a general anticipation among the mourners because they hoped that when the mourning was over, it would be clear who the new master would be.

As the days passed, more and more people arrived at Prem Nagar full of anticipation. Shri Maharaji's students needed someone to take his place, someone who could guide them and inspire them, but there were no preset rules as to how the next master should emerge. Shri Maharaji's master, Swami Swarupanand, had not left behind written instructions, which had led to the various opinions and ensuing confusion as to who should succeed him. Shri Maharaji did succeed him in the eyes of a few, but because the others were not clear that he truly was the one, he had to start his work from scratch. And just like his master before him, Shri Maharaji had left no written instructions before he died.

"When my father was about to die," says Maharaji, "he did not sit down and write a will. He did not dictate to somebody what should happen next. He did not call anybody into his room and tell them, 'Ah, you should do this, and we should be doing this, and I wish I could do this.' He simply went into a room, sat down, and practiced Knowledge."

When Shri Maharaji died, Sampurnanand, like Charan Anand and other traveling mahatmas, was on tour, returning only after the cremation was finished. He was bereft when he learned that Shri Maharaji was gone, and he was crying in the backyard of the residence when he saw Sant Ji.

"Why are you crying?" the young boy asked.

Sampurnanand was so devastated, he could not answer.

Sant Ji soothed him. "What are you worried about?" he asked. "Do you think Shri Maharaji has gone? You don't have to worry about anything. Knowledge is my responsibility now, and I know how to spread it. You will never see me not being able to do that. I'll take care of it."

When Sampurnanand heard the boy speaking with such confidence and faith, he was taken aback. He recognized the new Guru Maharaj Ji speaking. In fact, he felt certain of it, as he remembered the subtle hints from Shri Maharaji about his youngest son being the next master. When Sant Ji later took Sampu into a room, together with Charan Anand, Bihari, and others, and talked tearfully about times and places where he would be going on tours to continue his father's work, it was clear to those gathered that Sant Ji, despite his young age, was the one.

The family and the senior members of the organization, however, did not feel that Sant Ji could succeed his father. They seemed to have forgotten Shri Maharaji indicating that his youngest son would be the one to someday carry his message. Or perhaps they held too many entrenched ideas that didn't allow them to accept this possibility.

On the eve of July 30, the twelfth day of the thirteen-day mourning period, people gathered in the large meeting hall at Prem Nagar. Sorrow and grief hung heavy in the air, and no one stepped onstage to speak because no one knew what to say. Instead, in a back room, Mataji and her eldest son, Bal Bhagwan Ji, were meeting with senior instructors and organizers, trying to decide who would succeed Shri Maharaji.

Charan Anand and Sampurnanand were purposely not included in the meeting, even though they had been prominent in Shri Maharaji's work. Charan Anand was probably seen as too uneducated, and Sampu was, as usual, taking care of Sant Ji, who was riding on his shoulders, commanding him to go here and there. When Sampu and Sant Ji approached the room where the succession discussions were going on, Sant Ji told Sampu to open the door. But when he did, Sant Ji's family stopped talking immediately.

Mataji had been pushing her favorite instructor, the organization's treasurer, to advocate her case. "Mataji is the one to lead us now," he had said, but that did not meet with general approval. A woman as master? That would be much too controversial. Even though Shri Maharaji had appointed as many women instructors as men, he had received his share of criticism for this, both from traditional religious groups and from Arya Samaj. The idea simply did not fly.

The people in the room were behaving as if the master's family or the organization that had supported him owned his work, as if the master's title, like some deed of trust, could be passed on through administrative criteria such as precedence and seniority. But soon enough, they would be reminded that the master's ways defied worldly logic and predictability.

Out in the great hall, thousands were waiting in anxious anticipation, feeling the profound contrast to what usually happened there. Whenever Shri Maharaji had spoken there, the hall had been filled with inspiration and devotional singing. Now, many people were crying openly, and others talked in hushed voices.

Behind the stage, Sampu took Sant Ji to a little window where he could watch the crowd, unseen. By this time, one of the organizers in the back room had named fourteen-year-old Bal Bhagwan Ji as successor, and Mataji was beginning to accept that outcome. But in the meantime, when Sant Ji saw the people's sadness and sensed the huge void, a desire to comfort them overcame him.

And so, while his mother, his eldest brother, and all the "important" people huddled in the meeting room behind closed doors, arguing and planning the organization's future, Sant Ji walked out onto the stage and sat in his father's chair. Behind him was a large picture of Shri Maharaji looking straight ahead with eternal serenity, decorated with flowers.

Sant Ji sat for a little while with his eyes closed while the audience quieted down "In that one moment of my life," he recalls, "everything changed The only thing I could do was close my eyes and listen to the words of my teacher, my father And believe me, his words echoed and echoed as if he was standing on that platform telling me exactly what to do. There are rationales I could have gotten into, but I didn't give myself a chance. I went for it. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that my destiny was changed in that moment. Absolutely."

"Don't cry," were his first words to the thousands of mourners. "You don't have to cry. That which you loved about Shri Maharaji will always be with you. Nobody can take that away from you."

Silence filled the hall as Sant Ji continued. "I feel that Guru Maharaj Ji is here. After all, what is in me? I have only flesh, nerves, blood, and bones. And I do not have anything more. But I have got the same soul. The same Guru Maharaj Ji is within me. He is within you, too. He is within everybody. We must understand that it is Guru Maharaj Ji himself speaking right now."

Sant Ji pointed to the photograph of his father and said, "You are looking for him in the picture, but look in your own hearts, and then you will understand." People were crying again, but their tears of sorrow had become tears of relief. When Sant Ji finished speaking, people filed slowly out of the hall, feeling that a seed of hope had been sown.

The next morning, on July 31, 1966, people gathered early in the great hall. Sampu, as usual, was carrying Sant Ji around on his shoulders. The family remained stubborn Even after they heard about Sant Ji's appearance onstage and how the people had reacted, they were still involved in discussions about the future.

As the large meeting hall filled up, Mataji asked Charan Anand to say something comforting. But when the PA system failed, Charan Anand passed the job to Sampu, whose powerful voice could reach the back of the audience. Sampurnanand asked the people why they were so impatient. Hadn't they heard what Sant Ji had said the night before? Mataji was not happy with his words, but she couldn't or wouldn't stop her youngest son from stepping on the stage next.

Suddenly the PA system began working, and Sant Ji said, "Look, good people. This is not an occasion for celebrations, because at three in the morning of the nineteenth, Guru Maharaj Ji left his mortal body. But I feel that Guru Maharaj Ji is still here and always will be Guru Maharaj Ji is not here anymore in his old body. However, I shall explain everything to you. A guru is never born and never dies Guru Maharaj Ji is and always will be present."

People started to shout, "Bolie Shri Satgurudev Maharaj Ki Jai" This meant "Glory to the master!" and was a greeting of jubilation called out in the presence of Shri Maharaji. Others picked it up, but some started talking amongst themselves or shouting remarks until Sant Ji said sternly, "Listen. You must open your ears and listen If you don't listen, then I will have nothing to do with you."

The hall fell silent again "When Guru Maharaji was here," Sant Ji said, "what did he do? He gave Knowledge to everyone, and he gave of himself as if it would never end. Everyone kept taking from that endless treasure, and now he has passed so much power over to me. He told me to do his work, and Guru Maharaj Ji is in front of us. He is within my heart and everywhere."

In the back room, senior officers of the organization were preparing to come out and announce Bal Bhagwan Ji as the next master—until somebody burst into the room and told them what was happening. They rushed out just in time to see Charan Anand putting the tilak on Sant Ji's forehead while Mataji looked on in surprise. Thousands were shouting for little Sant Ji, his shaven head covered by a piece of white cloth as he sat in the master's chair while Sampurnanand, Charan Anand, Bihari, Gyan Bairaganand, and several others improvised a ceremony to crown him. After Bihari put a crown on Sant Ji's head, never again would the students call him Sant Ji. For them, he was now Guru Maharaj Ji.

When Mataji and Maharaji's brothers touched his feet as a sign of respect, he garlanded each member of his family, including Older Mataji and Didiji. But while most of the audience were ecstatic, some were still not yet convinced. Maharaji told everyone that the next day he would show them proof that "Guru Maharaj Ji never dies."

The next morning, on the first of August, in front of a full hall, Maharaji told the attendees, "When I was in Dehradun, I was asleep in bed, and I felt that a man was there. I touched him with my hand and saw that it was Shri Maharaji. We spoke to each other for a long time. Guru Maharaj Ji is right here; he is not gone. If you want me to prove it, I shall prove it to you. Tonight, you shall see Maharaji right before you."

That night, eight-year-old Maharaji stood up and began to dance and play the manjeeras, the small cymbals that his father used to play. Within a few minutes, the people in the hall witnessed the same radiance they had seen and felt in Shri Maharaji. Here was Shri Maharaji himself, they decided, dancing before their eyes, with the same radiant grace, glorious smile, and shining eyes.

What really occurred that evening remains a mystery, something that words cannot describe. People say it was as if father and son were one and the same in front of them, as if time and death had been suspended for a moment and life was manifesting in an eternal moment of glory. When the dance was done, the new master asked his eldest brother to come onstage and speak, telling the people that he had been looking forward to listening to Bal Bhagwan Ji with much anticipation. Did Maharaji know what they had plotted behind closed doors? Did he know when he had been crowned that some had already chosen his eldest brother as master? It was likely that Maharaji, in his innocence, was unaware of this until several years later when his eldest brother and mother turned against him and embarked upon an organized effort to harm his reputation and push him aside.