This is my third interview with Ram Dass. At our first meeting, in 1973, I was as tongue-tied and nervous as when I first called a girl for a date, except back then I asked my mother to write down what I should say, and this time I was on my own. I felt a strange mixture of exhilaration and relief when it was over; it’s exhausting to be with your hero.
The second time, last year, I’d come to understand that making someone a hero diminishes me — but I knew it in my head, not in my tight muscles and sweaty palms. Pretending to be relaxed is hard work, too.
This year, the man I was with was neither guru nor hero nor even teacher, but a man, like me, struggling with the ambiguities of loving another person, sometimes “climbing the walls” in pain, and breaking down the walls between what is and what should be, between God and the world. A remarkable man, who keeps tossing away his invisible clothes about as quickly as I notice his nakedness.
Ram Dass was in Chapel Hill last August 15 for “An Evening With Ram Dass”— a benefit lecture for THE SUN. We’ll print excerpts from his talk in our next issue.
This introduction I wrote to last year’s interview is reprinted here. All I’d add is that he’s tanned and healthy-looking, more relaxed, spends a lot of time talking with a non-physical entity named Emmanuel, and even more time traveling around the country in his orange MG, with a rear bumper sticker that reads: “This Too Shall Pass.”
To some, Ram Dass’ story is as familiar as their own. He is a superb storyteller, with a flair for the dramatic and a keen sense of timing. His humorous tales about his inner struggles have kept us laughing for years.
To others, Ram Dass is an unknown — there were no reporters at his talk here last month — or perhaps he’s vaguely identified with a carny-world of gurus, teachers, and spiritual leaders, with strange-sounding names and stranger ideas.
There’s nothing stranger than his own life, nothing more quintessentially American. At 49, he’s one of the best-known, most widely-respected spiritual teachers in the West. His book, Be Here Now, was a phenomenal best-seller; his ability to translate ancient Eastern ideas into language that penetrates Western minds and hearts is unique. So is his cultural savvy; first, he’s talking about pizza and Jimmy Carter and LSD, then he’s describing the trance-like state of samadhi or reading from the Ramayana.
He was born into a well-to-do New England family as Richard Alpert. (His father was a lawyer and later president of the New Haven Railroad.) He studied psychology, got his doctorate from Stanford, and became a professor at Harvard By outward appearances he was happy and successful — he had a Mercedes, an MG, a motorcycle, a sailboat, and a Cessna 172 airplane; he played the cello and hosted dinner parties; he was much in demand as a teacher and as a therapist. But something was missing. The academic world “didn’t really have a grasp on the human condition . . . the whole thing was too empty.”
One day, down the hall, a new colleague moved in. The new psychology instructor was Timothy Leary. They became friends; Leary began experimenting with psychedelic mushrooms — which triggered, for him, “the deepest religious experience of my life” — and Alpert was invited to share. On that first trip, he went through a profound ego death, watching all his “personalities” — professor, lover, man-about-town — slip away. Then his body started disintegrating. The terror mounted, panic set in. But then he felt engulfed by calm. He had touched the inner “I,” the universal essence “independent of social and physical identity . . . beyond life and death.”
For the next six years, he kept ingesting psychedelic substances. He and Leary were tossed out of Harvard and Alpert criss-crossed the country, lecturing on psychedelics and the inner realms of consciousness that were opening for him. Eventually, he came to a deadend: no matter how high you went on acid, you eventually came down. When a friend invited Alpert to accompany him to India, he accepted.
In India, he met his guru — a remarkable saint called Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaji (in India, the title Maharaji — great king or wise one — is available for the taking by tea vendors or perfect masters). Their first encounter is related in Be Here Now. Alpert kept his distance while the other devotees threw themselves at the old man’s feet. At first, Maharaji teased him about the car he was driving, asking if he’d give it to him. Then he called him closer and whispered that the night before Alpert had been thinking of his mother, who had died a year earlier. This was true, though Alpert had mentioned it to no one. He felt a wrenching inside him, and broke down. This was someone who “knew”; the journey was over, he was home.
He stayed on to study yoga and meditation for six months. When he returned to the U.S. in holy robes, his father whisked him away from the airport before anyone would see him. But it wasn’t long before thousands began to seek him out.
In the decade since, the changes have been less dramatic, but no less important. In 1970 he returned to India, “freaked out by how much I was lost in the world,” to have his guru assure him that he would eventually become “pure enough.” His guru died in 1973, which deeply shook Ram Dass, but in the years that followed Ram Dass says he has often met with Maharaji on other planes of consciousness.
In his books, and lectures, he keeps refining his message: his appeal is no longer merely to hippies and rebels, but to a broader constituency; he wears ordinary clothes again and his beard and hair are trimmed short; his own attachments, lust and fears are discussed with a candor striking for any public figure, let alone a “spiritual” teacher. A few years ago, he became involved, spiritually and romantically, with a teacher named Joya in New York City; it was a disillusioning experience, exposing to Ram Dass his own spiritual greed. After 15 months, he disavowed her teachings — he wrote an article about it called “Egg on My Beard” — and many of his admirers were let down. Among the many inconsistencies of his life during that time: he insisted his own students be celibate, while he was making love with Joya, who was married. “Finally,” he wrote, “I had to admit that I had conned myself.”
In Ram Dass’ latest book, Miracle of Love, he explores more intimately than in his other works (The Only Dance There Is, Journey of Awakening, Grist For The Mill) his relationship to his guru, and the nature of this remarkable man. Reading it, it’s hard to resist the suggestion that Maharaji was an avatar on the order of Christ or the Buddha; at the very least, he was a saint of extraordinary awareness, with a profound love for all of humanity.
Ram Dass is the first to acknowledge he himself is no saint; but his passion is the quest for God, and everyone I spoke to who came in contact with him moved by the depth of his caring and the clarity of his consciousness.
SUN: How do you spend your time these days?
RAM DASS: Well, I’ve slowed down a bit. I drive instead of fly which gives me a lot of time in my MG. I’m alone a lot and that’s good for me. I do weddings and I hang out with people who are dying and I do a lot of teaching. I was at Lama for three weeks and that was great. And the relationship that I discussed last year continues. That’s very intense, growing. A couple of days ago I spent three hours with a group of Chicano ladies called “Open Hand” which works with elderly people. Before that I was visiting the Santa Fe prison. I’m reading a LeCarre intrigue story, Smiley And His Friends. I spend more time in people’s homes than I used to, visiting. I gave up trying to have a home at all. I gave away all my furniture and everything to a dying center. We have a new dying center in Santa Fe, a five-bedroom house. And I spend time editing Stephen Levine’s book, Who Dies? — I’m writing a preface for that. I spend a lot of time talking to Maharaji. I don’t know. I guess I spend a lot of time looking for gratification of one kind or another: food, sleep, sex. I’m very human.
SUN: Last year you told me,“It’s a much more far-out dance than I’m yet playing it to be. I’m just getting up the courage to let go of some of the cultural, habitual ways of expressing consciousness or love. . . .” What have you experienced along these lines in the past year?
RAM DASS: I’ve gone much further out in honoring and acknowledging my humanity in order to be my divinity, if you will: lying on the beach in Goa, smoking good hash, or being in Florence with Michelangelo or all the things I did this past year, realizing that those were all part of my spiritual growth, although you wouldn’t find them in any textbook. The more human I am, the more vulnerable I am, the more I am just what I am in the moment, the more there is a transmission of living spirit from one human being to another, rather than when I get myself into my more holy stance. After I had been Richard Alpert for three or four months last winter in Europe and India — I didn’t go to any temples, I didn’t do any of that — by the time I got back into Ram Dass, which was in New Zealand and Australia, I experienced an incredible change in myself. I experienced that l was much more vulnerable and felt more human in my daily dealings with everybody — and I felt that everybody who knew me could feel that.
I’m allowing myself to be much more of a rascal, much more relaxed. The retreat I just did at Lama was called “Laid Back With Ram Dass” and it was a sort of a Club Mediterranean of the spiritual circuit. I realized that the more I gave people license to do exactly what they thought they ought to do, the more they could grow. Like, we’ll have silence but if you want to talk this is where you talk. If you want to hang out at the bar downtown through the whole retreat, that’s perfectly fine with me. How presumptuous of me to decide why you’re at this retreat. I’ll give you all the structures. There will be meditation at 5 and hatha yoga at 6, but you don’t have to do any of it. And it’s perfectly okay. And that goes against all of the traditions which are usually presented for spiritual work. But not the tradition of my own lineage, which is Maharaji, which had no form to it. And I experience more living spirit the more relaxed I get, the more fun I have, the more playful I am, the more I learn what Emmanuel said about how to embrace original sin.
SUN: How do you embrace original sin?
RAM DASS: By acknowledging one’s humanity, by allowing what is. If you have desires and those desires are coming out of the illusions you bought into, which you aren’t at all, which are really a mask you’re wearing, you’re nevertheless wearing the mask. That is the way it is. That is all the product of original sin and finally you just say, okay I’m human and I have those desires and here we are. Until the past few years I was constantly pushing and pulling and holding models about how it ought to be. What’s very subtle is to not have the models and yet being on a path that you know is no path and yet it’s a path. Nothing to do and yet doing it all the time. Speaking and yet being silent. It’s all those different little plays of polarity and paradox. Maharaji is quite a rascal and I’m in rascal-training. I’m learning how to say “no” to people with love, to allow whimsy, to tool around in my MG without worrying about whether that is exactly the appropriate thing. You realize that when Gandhi says, “Think of the poorest person you’ve ever known and ask whether your next act will be useful to that person,” it doesn’t mean that you have to disfigure your face. It isn’t a prescription about a style of life. The game is much further out than that. You can feel comfortable that the service is happening, that you are caring. If you’re feeling guilty you’re not caring enough. Then you’re always upset about everything. But if you feel that you indeed are a caring human being, you can have fun and you can be playful and you can enjoy the luxury of your own predicament without somehow feeling that you’re killing people by having pleasure.
SUN: Do you think of yourself as a spiritual teacher? What does that mean to you?
RAM DASS: I obviously play the role of being a spiritual teacher. I don’t think of myself as anything. I fulfill that role. As awareness proliferates into separate entities, then those awarenesses relate. When you’re the only one, you don’t relate. When you’re two, you relate. The vehicle for relationships has got to be mythic roles or forms and structures. Teacher is one of them.
It’s interesting, talking about your earlier question about how far out it gets. I give a lecture and at the end of the lecture I usually am so far out of my body that people come up to hug me, because there’s a lot of love — I really just love people more and more — and I really love hugging and then at some point I begin to feel pelvises and I know I’m back into my desire system, and I’m watching the third person down the row and waiting for that person. Usually then I stop. That’s a certain lurking kind of sacred/profane polarity. Well, at Lama this year, I didn’t do that. I just stayed open and allowed it all to be there because I experienced the strength of the spiritual love. It was so deep it could embrace the physical as well. It wasn’t polarized anymore. And I began to experience all these people — there were about a hundred — as my lovers. I wasn’t going to bed with them because I didn’t want to, it didn’t feel in the way of things. I had nothing against doing that, but the love was more total and more complete. And that’s a teaching, a teaching of love, a teaching of flow. It’s a different kind of teaching. It’s not teaching conceptual words. It’s a teaching of being. But we’re all teachers and we’re all just transmitting our being from one to another. So I don’t experience that at all as particularly unique. I’m not juicing off of it. I don’t really have any definitions about myself and I don’t care to have any. It doesn’t seem necessary.
SUN: In discussing your relationship with a man in California last year, you said you’d give him up “in a second” if the relationship wasn’t “useful” in getting you to God. Some people said that’s callous. How do you respond?
RAM DASS: It’s very subtle. There are certain relationships that are given, like with my father. I can’t impose a criterion on why I’m with my father. I’m with him because he’s my father. I honor that, I love honoring it, it’s part of my being, my humanity, that I’m his son. I’m with him and I don’t demand anything when we’re together. I work with what happens and that becomes the stuff through which I grow. And he grows or doesn’t grow as he chooses to grow or not grow. And we’re just together, looking at the ball game, playing Yahtzee, taking little side trips, whatever we do.
But when I intentionally go into a relationship, it’s primarily designed for liberation. If I’m in a relationship with somebody and we get lost in a drama, in our habitual responses, all I’m doing is increasing his suffering. I’m not liberating him. All I can do for him is to become free, because my freedom helps him become free. If I’m trapped, he gets trapped too. So, it sounds callous but it’s the most compassionate thing I can do. I mean, the worst thing is to be kind to somebody, in a way that makes him an object: I don’t want to tell him this because it would hurt him or I don’t feel like I’m growing but I’ll be kind. Those kind of relationships, in the long run, are more corrosive to human dignity and human liberation and to the end of suffering, although that’s mostly what we do in relationships. We’re very kind with each other. But I find that truth, which is fiercer, is often kinder in a more profound sense. I’m not saying this very well. But I know what I’m trying to say.
In the relationship I’ve been in, I got to the point where I felt “we’ve gone as far as we can go” and then said to him, “I think we’ve gone as far as we can go.” And that’s been a catalyst for us to open to another place and start to go deeper. But it’s painful to say that because it’s scary. You’re jeopardizing the whole thing. You’d better be willing to risk the end all the time, to have the new beginning. You’ve got to keep risking it all. Saying that if it doesn’t liberate me, I don’t want to be in it means I don’t want to be just two personalities locked together. I want to be two manifestations of God, dancing together. Which is a liberated relationship. It’s a relationship where there’s one dancing as two, not two locked in their separateness. To me, the prison of two people locked in their own separateness, which is being together out of habit or out of kindness, is just too horrible.
There is a tremendous amount of separateness and fear that leads people to settle for living an interesting kind of hell of the comfort of familiarity, but no living spirit. I used to travel in my van and I’d often be in places where there were a lot of motor homes of retired people. And you would watch the relationships, talk to people and have a drink with them and play with their pets. And you could sense often these walking mechanical scenes. It’s like old shoes, they’re comfortable, but there’s nothing living happening. It’s presumptuous to say, except, as I get deeper in as a therapist with people, I feel that. It’s like sleep-walking until it’s all over. There’s a kind of ghastliness about that. That’s very common. We are all prone to it because we are getting a certain payoff and we don’t want to risk going for broke. We’ll settle for 22 percent rather than going for even 30 percent. And we settle very quickly. Very quickly. I watched us do it. It’s not enough.
SUN: In talking about intimacy last time you suggested that it can enhance our separateness. Can you talk about romantic and sexual intimacy as it relates to the spiritual journey?
RAM DASS: What I think separates you from the living spirit is your fantasies. You end up making love to your fantasy projection. Often in relationships, I’ve experienced that I want somebody to be a certain way and I have a model of what kind of intimacy I want and need. And I’m just trying to fit somebody into that slot, to be that for me, and a sensitive somebody screams and says, “Look! I’m not an object to be manipulated in your fantasy. I’m right here.” And when both of you let go of fantasies about how it ought to be or what you think you need or who the other person is, you begin to hear more clearly together.
It’s interesting, this stuff I can’t speak about clearly because I’m working on it so deeply at the moment. I can speak about stuff that either I haven’t begun to work on yet or I’m finished with, but when I’m in the middle of it there really aren’t any words for it, because it isn’t conceptual.
Coming back to your question — I can often get incredibly gratified by physical intimacy. But I am getting gratified from the physical intimacy. There is another person that is involved but there’s not one of us. And I slow down enough so that we can hear each other, so that what emerges is the ultimate intimacy, where there is only one of it. It’s union, it’s yoga, it’s union in that sense. It’s the intimacy of God. It’s more than the I — Thou of Buber. There’s only one of it. And that’s the intimacy that I’m going for with other human beings. How that intimacy will manifest in form is totally based on the karmic predicament of the two individuals involved. There isn’t a right and a wrong way. From moment to moment it changes. I can experience being locked in physical closeness with somebody and we’re not intimate at all, in that most profound sense. We are physically rubbing and all kinds of things and there’s arousal but there’s no real intimacy. And at other times I can just touch somebody’s finger or I can just look at them or I can just know they’re in the same room, and the intimacy is breathtaking. It’s oneness.
That’s what I’ve been exploring a lot this year. I often found myself unwilling to give up my fantasy. If I have the fantasy that I’m going to enter into a relationship to become liberated, that’s a fantasy. And then I demand the other person fit into what it is I want them to be — for me to become liberated, for them to become liberated — and that means we’re going to be truthful and we’re going to be this or we’re going to be that. But the other person is a person and they are who they are. And I’ve got to buy who they are. And then I say, “Well, I’m not going to do that, because I have to give up my fantasy and I really wanted that fantasy more than I want them.” I went through periods in Europe last winter when I was climbing the walls, just screaming pain. I think both of us were. Because neither of us would give up our fantasy. And then comes the fact, though, that we stayed in the situation because that was the thread of shared awareness we had behind the screaming, raging pain. Not screaming at each other so much — there were a few times when at a restaurant I threw something or something like that — but generally it wasn’t that melodramatic. It was just this turned-off place we’d both be locked in. But there was a shared awareness behind it. And that gets stronger. I was just staying overnight with Bo and Sita and they’re just having their 15th wedding anniversary. And talking about how deep the communion gets when people finally surrender into being together, just the way they are, not the way they think they ought to be. And how much living truth starts to emerge. Because I’m more and more aware that God is how things are. God is not apart from how things are — which is very Zen. Maybe I’m finally hearing Zen.
I’m more and more aware that God is how things are, God is not apart from how things are — which is very Zen. Maybe I’m finally hearing Zen.
SUN: It’s hard for many Americans to understand how a spiritual teacher can demand exclusive allegiance from his students. Can you talk about that?
RAM DASS: A true teacher wants specifically that the people he works with become free. And the teacher has the sense of where the other person is holding. A good teacher will usually create some situation which will force that stuff into the open, either through anger or through some discipline. Most of us are willing to surrender the things that are not very interesting but where we really live, where the ego roots are, we don’t want to go near them. With most teachers, their compassion is that they say, “Well, leave the person alone, they’ll do it at their own rate,” which is what I do. There are other teachers who really push. And in order to push like that you’ve got to have a pretty deep commitment or contract on the part of the disciple.
I can remember moments when I turned away from Maharaji. I really didn’t want to do what he wanted me to do. I didn’t want to surrender that far. I still think there are these places in me. I think he and I have a living relationship and that he is saying, “I’ll wait.” But it’s there. It demands total surrender. It demands surrendering how I thought I wanted it to be or how I thought I am or how I think it is. He’s cold in that sense. He’ll just wait. Maybe a less awesome teacher would push me to get rid of it and demand more external surrender. Maharaji didn’t care. He didn’t care if I went off and fell off the path. He just loved me anyway.
Everybody knows in their heart what’s going down. You know if another person’s motives are for your own liberation or not. People often say that they were terribly surprised that the teacher turned out to be really just horny or manipulative with power. But everybody knows all that stuff, if they just listen. I mean, we’re all like animals and babies, we didn’t lose that. We know when a vibration is dishonest or hypocritical. Sometimes we cover it over because we want so badly to hear a certain thing. So we make a commitment to a teacher and then we begin to sense intuitively that the teacher isn’t quite straight. But we deny the intuition because we want to appear consistent, or we made such a big commitment, or we want the thing to work, or we want to hold onto our fantasy more than we want to trust our intuition.
I’ve been impressed by some teachers who demand a tremendous amount of their students. I’ve been pushed by a lot of teachers. Joya pushed me very hard. And I hated it and a lot of people said I was an idiot to do it. And later I thought about it and I realized that I had gotten some good teaching. I wouldn’t ever send anybody there. And yet I treasure what I got from it. Trungpa Rinpoche is a very demanding teacher. And for most people it’s too heavy. They don’t want it.
It’s a fallacy to think you’re surrendering because they’re going to do it to you or for you. You’re surrendering into an environment in which you can do it for yourself. That’s really what you’re doing. You’re not surrendering to their ego, you’re surrendering to their instrumentality of spirit. Although a really fierce tantric teacher will confuse you so much that you’re constantly feeling you’re surrendering to their ego. “I’m not going to surrender!” I mean I can see now sleeping with somebody, I can see demanding all their money, I can see, you know, forcing everybody all the ways they don’t want to be forced. And doing it for their liberation. But I also can see that if I wanted any of that, that I could be doing the same thing apparently but I would be doing it for my own motives. And I’ve watched myself doing the same act with two human beings: one in which I was motivated because I wanted that thing, I wanted that intimacy or I wanted that money or I wanted something, and in another case where I really wanted them to be free. And it’s interesting. When I started just wanting to be free and did those acts, I still distrusted myself because of the way I had done them previously. Because I had been untrustworthy previously. But I had been such a good con man other people couldn’t believe that I was untrustworthy.
Do you hear what I’m saying about being a teacher? What I say to everybody is listen with your heart and if it doesn’t feel good, run like hell. And that includes me as well as everybody else.
SUN: Much of your message has been to accept the lows as well as the highs, because it’s all a teaching. How about prosperity consciousness and other forms of creative visualization, which seek to amplify the highs. Are they useful?
RAM DASS: I think it’s all right to seek pleasure and happiness, seek ease of living, as long as you aren’t attached to what you’re getting. I think there’s a tricky business about juicing up your own power trips because they’re really based on your separateness. I mean, wanting prosperity is based on the idea that you don’t have it to begin with. And that particular kind of prosperity is unfortunately an external kind of prosperity that isn’t going to do it for you anyway. You can say, “If you’ve already got enough, then you can ask for it all. If you don’t have enough, you’d better watch it.” Because if you’re going to do it out of deficit mentality, you’re not going to get it. Whatever you get isn’t going to fulfill you. Like the statement, “You have the power to get whatever you want.” The question is: which you is it that has that power to get whatever you want? Because the truth of that statement applies to the creative spark of the living soul, of the living spirit. It doesn’t respond to your ego. You don’t have the powers of ego to get anything you want. And a lot of it is converted into how to use it as an ego game to get what you want and that to me is a profaning of spiritual truth.
That’s a lot of what this prosperity consciousness game is about. It’s saying you have choice and responsibility and free will, you ego. And that’s not really what has choice and responsibility and free will. The more you identify with that creative spark which does have all that stuff, the less you want anything other than the way it is, because it’s already so much. I don’t wish I were younger, or I had hair. It is what it is. And when I’m broke, I’m broke and when I’m rich, I’m rich.
I’ve got nothing against prosperity or people wanting it or enjoying it, but I think that it tends to soup up the ego identification. And I think it’s digging everybody’s hole deeper. In that sense, the spiritual movement has got a very middle-class quality to it, and that’s not the spiritual movement any longer. It’s merely some permutation of the growth movement. There’s a tremendous amount of power-tripping in what are called the “New Age” ventures these days — people wanting to play with worldly power from spiritual vantage points, people wanting to play with astral powers, people just wanting to play with powers, so to speak, to “do good,” but that’s still power-tripping. And the deeper connection is that there’s nothing to be done, there’s nothing to do, you have no power to do it anyway. You are part of the totality of things in which things are done. That’s real power. That’s tuning to the powers of the universe, rather than separate powers.
SUN: When you get stuck in anger or jealousy or fear, how do you get unstuck?
RAM DASS: Well, sometimes I can’t get unstuck, but things can unstick me. Like, I can be full of self-pity and anger and jealousy, but somebody comes along that really needs something from me. In purity, I mean they really need it. And they got me, that just pulls me right out. Purity will pull me out immediately. Most of the time, I just sit with whatever it is I’m stuck in, and just appreciate the qualities of the stuckness. I go into it in the same way as I would feel water while I’m swimming, I go in and feel the viscosity of it, the thickness of it, the poignancy of it. I go into the quality of my humanness, in that sense, exploring what it feels like. I used to do things like mantra to get out of it, but then I realized that I was pushing something away, grabbing at something, and I don’t even want to do that anymore, because I realize that as long as I’m pushing something away, it’s still around. And if I’m afraid of my lust, or my jealousy, or my anger, or my loneliness, or my self-pity — they’re there. And I’m going to have to make friends sooner or later with all that stuff.
So, it’s almost as if I no longer see those things as other than the spirit. I used to really dichotomize my life between the sacred and profane. The profane is the spiritual. That’s part of what’s exciting. Fifty percent of my life, at least, was unacceptable to me before, and now 100 percent is getting acceptable. Because my greed is as much part of God as anything else. Why am I so busy saying “If I were only not greedy, I would be with God”? I extricate myself from my identification with my greed and appreciate that greed is part of what the human condition of separateness is. If you’re separate, you’re feeling vulnerable and frightened, you want to possess and collect — that’s natural, for a human being. Part of it is merely recasting it; it’s a perceptual shift. Rather than trying to get rid of the thing, it’s trying to sit with it until you see it.
SUN: Do you still try to improve yourself?
RAM DASS: In the sense of having a model of how I ought to be, other than the way I am, no. I think I am experiencing a deeper and deeper acknowledgement of myself. I’m not trying to change myself, but indeed I do change. The fact that Maharaji exists in my consciousness, and I know what a real one is about, constantly is affecting me, even though I am not trying to become like Maharaji. So the motivation isn’t to change, but in fact change happens, just by the juxtaposition of all the things in my consciousness. And it’s the same thing as Ramana Maharshi saying, “I didn’t eat, so they said I was fasting.” It’s that one, you know. I realize now that so much of it is timing, that for so many years I was busy getting behind myself and pushing and trying to become holy. And now I’ve given that up.
SUN: What contact do you have with Maharaji?
RAM DASS: It’s like the breath within the breath, it’s so intimate. It’s a dialogue that’s going on much of each day. A lot of the time it seems that every experience I am having is part of a dialogue between him and me, and that’s really all there is. In those times he’s real, and everything else is just the dance between us.
When I bless my food, for example — I can’t eat the food till I’ve offered it to him, until he’s accepted it, and I’ve seen him eat it, and then I touch his feet with my head and I feel his feet against my forehead. And this goes on all day long, and I’m doing this all the time. Then there was this bizarre thing, with this fellow I’ve been with for a couple of years. Every time when I finish offering the food then I ask Maharaji to bless whomever I’m with. And usually he hits them on the head or he laughs or he does something. But every time I asked him to bless this guy he’d turn away, and it freaked me. I mean, I couldn’t tell this fellow for a long time, you know, “You’re not blessed by Maharaji.” Then I thought it was my own guilt about entering into the relationship that was creating Maharaji not blessing him. Then, last winter, we got to a place where our relationship was such hell, that I figured, well, I guess I’ll just have to give up, there’s never going to be anyone special. And we came together after that and I no longer had the fantasy. The relationship was dead, as far as I was concerned. And then it started to take on a new life, and the first thing I noticed was that when I offered the food, Maharaji blessed him too. I realized that the blessing was now coming out of my non-attachment.
Maharaji doesn’t come to me in visions, particularly, or in dreams. He’s not solid, like you are. It’s like being in a dark room and knowing there’s somebody else in the room with you. And I just know he’s with me. I’m usually embarrassed to talk about it because it’s so psychotic from a psychological point of view. But I don’t feel any question that I am protected by him, loved by him. I think he would let most anything happen to me because at this point I could use most anything in order to develop. When I get into a really tough situation in working with somebody, I almost always ask his help. Ever since I wrote Miracle Of Love, letters that come show me that he is giving darshan to people. Even though he isn’t in his body, he’s a living presence for lots of people. And sometimes the power of that transmission comes through me to other people. I can feel him doing it to them. I feel very mediumistic in that sense.
I never ask Maharaji to change something or make it other than what it is. I can merely try to be with him through it, which is different. I don’t ask him for success or that something I’m doing work, because how the hell do I know how it’s supposed to be? I can just open to being with him. And that’s what changes it, just the quality of that love and that presence.
SUN: Can you tell us about your experiences with Emmanuel?
RAM DASS: I’m having a wonderful time with Emmanuel. I get to ask Emmanuel all the questions you’ve always wanted to ask somebody who isn’t in a body. Some of the dialogue is just breathtaking! I’m working on a book, a series of interviews that I’m having with Emmanuel. And I am having a ball.
It’s very reassuring because a lot of things Emmanuel says are some of the teachings that I have been giving, that I wasn’t quite sure of. Like in dealing with dying people. He says “Ram Dass, don’t underestimate yourself. You know much more than you are willing to admit you know. And you’re doing it fine.” He’s also helping me put stuff into perspective that I didn’t understand. Because I picked up my understanding from readings and from a little this and a little that, a little meditation and a little acid. A lot of those things fall into place and I teach them as clearly as I can. But the clarity with which he sees those issues! If I can ask the direct question, he’s right there with an answer that is so sweet to my intellect and my heart.
SUN: Some people talk about humanity making “an evolutionary leap.” Can you comment on that and, more generally, talk about what the term “new age” means to you.
RAM DASS: Emmanuel has said that many of us have taken birth at this time to bring a change of awareness into the world picture. At the same moment, Emmanuel and I both appreciate that this is like the in breath and the out breath, and that there are much vaster kinds of processes that are going on. And that the earth plane is a working plane for certain kinds of stuff to happen. And it’s not so important that it change from the way it is but that it just continue the way it is, continue to be available. I don’t feel that ultimate destruction is inevitable or even probable. I think it’s just going to go on. It almost appears sometimes as if there is increasing energy that is manifesting as increasing darkness and increasing light, or increasing paranoia and increasing awakening, and they offset each other and keep the balance. It feels like that is the sandpaper or the grit with which we’re working.
When I look at who comes to my lectures, and I’ve said this before, it’s a much more heterogenous group than ever before. They are coming out of the woodwork. They all hear each other clearly. We hear each other. I don’t talk down to anybody, as you know. And they’re not flower-children. They didn’t all take acid. They didn’t all come through any one set of experiences. And yet we’re communicating on a higher level of dharma, consciousness, than we’ve ever done before.
But I also face the fact that colleges are more materialistic than they ever were before, that the kids want degrees and good jobs and there’s lots of fear in the culture and the fear leads to increased materialism, increased righteousness, the Moral Majority, increased inquisitions, increased horror shows. That’s all more in evidence, too. I’ve watched what was the “spiritual new age” turn into a middle-class boutique. And that’s our humanity.
No, I don’t feel any great things happening. I just feel it’s more of the same. I feel I have a part in more of the same, just as you do. I don’t feel I have to grab onto the coattails of a great myth in order to justify my existence. I don’t think I have to be part of the critical moment in history. You know, I’m more of a historian than that. Being in Florence last winter, I could imagine people coming up to Michaelangelo and saying, “Stop playing with that stone. I mean, the Medicis are causing a lot of trouble. Come on down and protest on the steps of the church.” And yet, we need Michaelangelo and what he contributed and I think I’ve gotten a richer appreciation of the complexity of what that mix of humanity and divinity is about. He certainly speaks to us about our divinity.
I think that any kind of myth you have about what you think is happening is too small and heady for what really is. What really is, is that this is the manifestation of God. And it’s all just fine. It’s horrible but fine. I mean fine with all of its horror. I read all the stuff I get from Amnesty International and I’ve certainly supported them. Save The Children. Oxfam. I really care about my fellow human beings and I don’t want them to suffer. But I don’t judge God. It feels okay and, at the same moment, let’s make it as good as we can. This is what maturity is to me. It’s being able to embrace all these different parts.
What conditions of culture would be better for you to grow, or me to grow? Chuang-Tzu said, “The truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing.” It’s very hard to see without wishing it were different. You can only see when you aren’t wishing it was different. Then you can see how it is. And that includes the suffering, and the darkness, and confusion and anger and Secretary Haig and all that.
I just can’t play the game of revolution when there’s the game of evolution.
SUN: How do you deal with the increasingly repressive political climate in this country?
RAM DASS: I see it first of all as a reaction to what we did in the sixties, as a pendulum swing. I see it as a provocateur for awakening the opposite reactions in a lot of people that have become very lost in the seventies. The eighties will be more a period of polarization, which is scary and exciting at the same moment. I see it as a harsh and yet not necessarily unhealthy process shaking up our consciousness. I was at a Baptist church in Brooklyn, right after it was declared a lot of the federal funds were going to be cut off. And I heard them talking about how they need to take care of themselves now. And then I was back in New York and Channel 13 was raising money on television. And they said, “Now that funding to the arts is going to be cut, we need to raise this much more money and this is what we’re going to have to do.” And I saw people rallying behind it and new strengths coming up. Whether we support each other or whether the government takes care of us — those different philosophies may need to alternate, painfully crunching back and forth, for a healthy quality of life. To see ecological standards and human rights issues being thrown out, to see a lot of caring being overlooked, paranoia being fed, fear used as a motivator for upping the military budgets — it’s hard on most of us that have compassion in mind.
From a bigger place, I can hear Emmanuel saying, “It doesn’t matter who’s President. The Spirit is running the scene anyway.” The game is much bigger than the one we’re playing. And I just can’t see those figures as that big an issue. I just can’t play the game of revolution when there’s the game of evolution. I know that love is a much greater power than any of the stuff that Reagan is working with. I just don’t see the Washington scene as terrible. It’s us. It’s another part of us we don’t like so much.
SUN: Last year you told me I was too mushy and needed to be more empty. What’s mushiness? What’s emptiness?
RAM DASS: Mushy is emotionality in the heart rather than quiet, deep clarity. It’s romanticizing life. We’re all awash in our emotions all the time. The question is whether or not you feed the reality of that, or you enjoy the wash of it, the flow of it. It depends on where you’re standing in relation to the emotions, because standing too much in them is like being in quicksand all the time. You’re constantly shifting weight. Now you’re happy, now you’re sad. It’s where you push against somebody who’s very soft and nice but also, when I meet somebody, I want to experience that we meet in that place of . . . Ahhhh! . . . it’s just you’re here, I’m here. It’s a place back behind our drama. It’s like two Himalayan peaks recognizing one another. It’s the recognition of a kind of vastness that has no time, no space. It’s the recognition of the formless in the forms. And when you meet somebody that’s that way, it’s like meeting a dead person. It’s like God recognizing itself. And there’s nothing romantic about it. There’s nothing dramatic and there’s nothing mushy. Then, all that stuff happens around it, like little flies around the light.
SUN: Do you think you’ll become perfectly realized in this lifetime?
RAM DASS: I can build a case either way. I mean, when I see the stuff I’m stuck in, I say “Oh my God! I’ll be stuck for thousands of lifetimes,” because I seem to be holding so desperately: At the same moment, the changes are happening so fast. I was with a very far-out astrologer in Bombay, and one of my questions was: “When I die, will I have a little bit of consciousness?” “You’ll choose,” he said, “when you’re going to die. You’ll die with full consciousness.” I felt he wasn’t coming on to me to build my ego. He was saying something from somewhere else. Sometimes I’m just awed at how much less I am ego-tripping. So something is going on. But I don’t know where it is, where I am. I mean, the difference between me and Maharaji — when I think about that game, which I don’t do very often — it’s so absurd, it’s like the difference between the firefly and the sun. And yet I can see people’s reactions. I see us in a space that is closer to straight dharma, closer to living truth than I’ve ever been party to before. And Emmanuel’s taught me something else. I said to him, “Emmanuel, one of my concerns is that when you die, you cease to be. When I’m talking to people about death, they get a little frightened.” And he said: “Oh, you humans with your dualistic minds. Why do you think that when you’re the one you’re not the many?” And I said, “Well, with my guru, no matter where I look, I can never find him.” And he said, “Don’t worry. He’s there. He’s all of it, but he’s also somebody.” And I think that as I am letting myself into somebodiness more, after going through the nobody special stage, that I’m getting into the vaster quality of it. I can feel going both ways at once. I don’t know the answer.