Just Being in His Presence

The following account is by Dr Dattatreya Bakre’s nephew, Subash Tengse. I have included it here because it gives an interesting and detailed picture of daily life around Papaji during this period.

My uncle, Dr Dattatreya Bakre, his son, Dr Narayan Bakre, my elder sister Sumati and many of my other relatives lived in Londa. I went straight to their house and was warmly welcomed. That evening I went with Dr Bakre to the newly-built bungalow that he had called ‘Ram Mandir’. It was there that I encountered Poonjaji for the first time. In a small room filled with incense smoke there were several people facing a large man who was wearing a white kurta and a lungi. No one was speaking and everyone appeared relaxed. I felt something in the air that I couldn’t immediately recognise. When I finally realised what it was, I had a sudden shock: it was a tangible feeling of peace, fulfilment and joy. Occasionally questions would be asked and he would answer them. His moods seemed to change from moment to moment. Sometimes he would be laughing innocently like a small child. Then he would suddenly switch to being fierce and aggressive. Nobody was arguing with him. People just listened to his words and accepted them.

I was dumbfounded by his personality and by the presence in the room. Something inside me felt, ‘This is a complete and perfect man. I can see no defect in him at all.’ His presence was overwhelming, and everyone there seemed to be in awe of him.

In the days that followed I found out a little about him from the people who lived nearby. Dr Bakre’s elder son, Narayan, told me that Poonjaji was a disciple of Ramana Maharshi, that he had recently retired from the mining business, that he had once been in the army, and so on. But none of the facts I discovered seemed as impressive as the feeling I got whenever I looked at him or sat in his presence.

Some of the people around him – Babu Murgod, Indru Baba and Keshav Dhume – had formed a company to buy and sell forest products. The profits were either given to Poonjaji or were spent on whatever project he recommended.

There were three other boys who seemed to be about my age: Arvind Tengse, Suresh Dhume and Ajit Tanshikar. We ended up doing most of the daily chores in and around the Ram Mandir. Every day we had to pull up water from a well that was about seventy feet deep. We also had to clean the house and all the kitchen utensils. In those days Poonjaji would get up at about 5 a.m. and go alone into the jungle. He would not return till about 9 or 10 a.m. At that hour my sister or Mai, Dr Dattatreya Bakre’s wife, would prepare breakfast for him. Sometimes other devotees would bring food for him to eat. He would take a small portion and then distribute the rest as prasad. We all felt like children being fed by a loving father.

By nature I am a lazy person, but when we were in and around Ram Mandir, we all had to keep busy. Poonjaji wanted us to work hard, so we all worked hard, partly out of love and respect, and partly, I suspect, because we all feared him a little. Throughout the day people would come and tell him their stories, and not just local people. They would come from Karwar, Dharwar, Belgaum and other places in the neighbouring districts. Sometimes the visitors would come with domestic problems, sometimes spiritual ones. Many people came with descriptions of their dreams, their visions and their profound experiences. Strange and wonderful things seemed to be happening around him all the time, and there was always someone waiting to talk about some new experience he or she had had.

I must confess that after some time I began to be a little jealous of Poonjaji’s lifestyle. He seemed to spend most of the day relaxing, doing nothing, while everyone else ran around, doing things for him. I began to resent the work I had to do, thinking that I was being exploited as an unpaid servant. I thought that my thoughts and feelings were not being noticed, but nowadays I realise that Poonjaji was silently watching and checking on us all. The crooked thoughts in my mind kept me away from him because I suddenly became aware that I couldn’t face him any more. I actually started avoiding him. My thoughts about him made me feel guilty, and my guilty conscience kept me away from him.

However, this period didn’t last long. Either by Poonjaji’s grace or by his will, the ugly caterpillar that was crawling around in the dirt at his feet suddenly and instantaneously metamorphosed into a beautiful butterfly that spread its wings and flew into freedom. It was like a sudden and unexpected stroke of lightning. Recalling that moment as I write this twenty-seven years later, my body starts to tingle.

What happened was something like this. It was an August evening, about 8.30 p.m. In Londa at that time we all went to bed between 8.30 and 9 p.m. There were no sounds to be heard, only the chirping of crickets and a few other night insects. Far away I heard a train whistling. Poonjaji was sitting in a chair. Arvind, Dr Narayan’s cousin, was seated at his feet, massaging his right ankle. A small bulb was burning in the ceiling and Poonjaji was sitting under it in a calm and quiet way. After some time he had a brief conversation with Arvind. I was about to leave the room when Arvind called me and asked me to massage Poonjaji’s other foot. In those days I had the strange idea that massaging Poonjaji was a very low-grade, menial job, and I resented being asked to do it. I began in a bored and disinterested way by encircling his ankle with my hands. My first thought was, ‘What a big body he has! Even with two hands, I cannot completely encircle his leg.’ I carried on with my work with these and other similar worldly thoughts passing through my mind.

What happened next is beyond anything I can speak about or even imagine. I can’t explain that experience to anyone. In one moment I was massaging him, but in the next moment I was no longer aware of either Arvind or Poonjaji, although my mind could still feel the latter’s presence in some way. There was a tingling sensation in my spine followed by waves and waves of pure joy. A radiant energy engulfed me and I was floating on an ocean of pure energy.

Suddenly, there was no more Subash and no more Poonjaji. Nothing existed except pure happiness and an unbelievably real feeling of total fulfilment.

In that moment of fulfilment somehow there was the knowledge that this was what my mind had been seeking unsuccessfully for eons and eons. The impact of this experience on me was so powerful that even today, whenever I remember it, I instantly drop into a state of thoughtlessness. No one before or since has given me a happiness like this, a happiness that was dependent on nothing material. I didn’t have to do anything; I didn’t have to perform anything. This moment of fulfilment arrived by itself, unasked, and was dependent on nothing and no one.

The period of being unaware of anything except this happiness probably lasted about five minutes. Later on, when I had had more experience of Poonjaji, I saw other people become immersed in states like this for hours at a time. But whether it is hours or minutes is immaterial. What is important is going beyond all experiences, even for a second. Once that has happened, one can never be the same again.

Though people had been coming to Londa and talking about their wonderful experiences, it didn’t really occur to me that something similar was possible for me. I wasn’t looking for an experience, nor was I doing anything to try and get one. I want to emphasise that no one needs to do anything to obtain Poonjaji’s grace except come into his presence. There is a palpable radiation around him that causes those who are exposed to it to drop all their thoughts and ideas and discover what underlies them. Perhaps a better analogy would be that he is a tiger who eats the thoughts and minds of those who come near. One cannot hide, run away or climb a tree. One can only stand paralysed in his presence until the moment comes when he pounces and eats you.

After this experience I now see Poonjaji from an entirely different angle. It is rather like seeing the whole instead of just some of its parts. I no longer recognise him as a body; instead I see him as a form of pure love.

Excerpt From Nothing Ever Happened Volume One, pages 279-282
By David Godman