An Interview with Mirabai Bush
In 1970, Mirabai Bush met her guru, Neem Karoli Baba (Maharajji). His inspiration and emphasis on seva (service) led her to co-found, in 1996, the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. CCMS’ mission is to bring contemplative practice into mainstream institutional life—corporations, law schools, professional organizations and universities—as well as social justice activism. She reflects on her work and her experiences with Maharajji in this interview.
IYM: How did meeting your guru, Neem Karoli Baba, influence the direction of your life?
MB: He utterly changed my life. I was with Maharajji from 1970 to 1972. He died in 1973. My Yoga since then has been trying to understand more deeply what he taught us. He didn’t talk a lot. He wasn’t a philosopher. He taught us in short sentences, like, “Always tell the truth and you’ll never be afraid.” These are koans you can work on for the rest of your life—and it’s kept me busy ever since.
Daniel Goleman, also a Maharajji devotee and author of Emotional Intelligence, recently has been writing about “mirror neurons.” We change each other just by being in each other’s presence. I always knew you could change someone’s mood or their mind, but what this research is now showing is that we literally change the cellular structure of each others’ brains. That is what it felt like to be with Maharajji. When I was with him, I felt like he knew me completely and that he loved me exactly as I was. Everyone wants this unconditional love, because it opens up the heart and allows us a great sense of spaciousness and possibility. To be loved this way changed what I thought was possible in this world.
We would meditate and do Yoga in the mornings and then we would spend the day with him; mainly we just sat with him, ate the sweets he gave us, and sometimes we would sing kirtan. I began to feel like my heart was growing bigger. If he encouraged us to do anything, he would say, “Love everyone, serve everyone and remember God.” This is what I’ve been working on—especially the service part. When I first began spiritual practice, I had a more narrow idea of what spiritual practice was. It took time to understand that serving other human beings was deep a practice as meditation and Yoga, especially when done in combination with them.
IYM: You seem to have truly taken this teaching to heart as you and Ram Dass wrote a book together on service, Compassion in Action, and, over the years, each of you has served as chair of Seva Foundation.
MB: Yes, well we began to realize that service to others is key. Many of us in Seva had met in India where we were on a mission to discover the meaning of life. Larry Brilliant (now head of Skoll Urgent Threats Fund) and his wife, Girija, were also part of the World Health Organization’s successful smallpox eradication team. After their work ended, they convened a conference of friends and colleagues to consider how to serve next. They gathered together an eclectic mix of health professionals and cultural activists—including Ram Dass and myself, Wavy Gravy and others and we decided to start an international public health organization with the goal of eliminating blindness in Nepal. That was how Seva was born…
Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2009 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.