These are excerpts from Ram Dass’ benefit lecture for THE SUN in Chapel Hill last August.
In our last issue (71) we printed an interview with Ram Dass, the former Harvard professor turned psychedelic explorer turned spiritual teacher, who has done for religion what the Beatles did for music.
In his books — Be Here Now, The Only Dance There Is, Grist for the Mill, Journey of Awakening, and Miracle of Love — Ram Dass translates Eastern ideas for Westerners and tells of his remarkable experiences with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaji, who died in 1973.
For information about Ram Dass’ work with dying people write The Dying Project, Box 2228, Taos, N.M. 87571.
The other week I was up in Ashland, Oregon doing a one-day workshop on dying with two Tibetan lamas, who had been trained in helping people to die. And they talked about The Tibetan Book of the Dead and things of that nature. And I was to be on in the afternoon and I wasn’t sure what to say. I’m not a professional die-er. But I work with dying people and was trying to figure out how I could convey what those moments are like. I found myself talking about changes in the 80s. The uncertainty. The feeling of inevitability that things are going to be different than they are. In most people’s lifetimes there will be dramatic changes one way or another. And that leads to incredible fear in someone who thinks that they are somebody standing somewhere.
Change is always a threat. If you think you’re young, you’re going to grow old. If you think you’re healthy, you’re going to get sick. You think things are bad, they’re going to get worse. You think things are worse, they might get better. You and I may meet the next time underneath a bridge eating putrid food out of a rusty can, after the holocaust. Which ones are you ready for? Is change per se frightening? Because if it is, you’re in for scary times. And that’s where the Moral Majority comes from and that’s where conservatism comes from. Because the power balances are changing all over the world, politically. Lots of people are going to have little red buttons. The preoccupations with power are getting greater and greater.
Under what conditions of your inner being would it be possible for you to face the 80s with, “Wow, this is going to be fascinating,” without any “ugghh,” or, “I’ll turn it into silver and bury it.” My father is 84 and he’s living on the thirtieth floor of a high-rise apartment. Imagine if the electricity stops. He’s really got a problem. He has fear of change. But need he? You are going to die as you know yourself to be psychologically. And you’re afraid, because you’re holding on to being somebody. If you weren’t holding on, there wouldn’t be any fear.
I think I am a man, I think I am 50, I think I am an American — every one of those conditions is changing. This April I was 50. I figured I’d milk it to see what it’s like to be 50. I have so little sense of age. I had five birthday parties. I kept calling everyone. I could see that my body was 50, a little older, a little slower, a little looser. Here I am. Nothing much seems to have happened yet. I don’t feel 50, I don’t feel 2 and I don’t feel 100. I just am.
The things people are afraid of are pain and death and violence. Working with dying people I must say that pain forces people to become conscious, if they hang in, faster than practically any other method. It depends on how hard you want to get free, how you handle pain. If you just want to have pleasure, then you want to avoid pain. So every time pain comes you want to do anything to avoid it, including destroying your own consciousness. Once you want to awaken you start to work with pain.
The reason I work with dying people is that it’s the biggest drama going in the society. Everybody thinks it’s real. You’re walking into a sea of total ignorance. Every now and then there’s a little light of somebody who thinks it might just be relatively real. And then, after we die, it’s here we are. “You here?” “I’m here.” “That was pretty far-out wasn’t it? How’d you die?” “Well, I got run over. Boy! Do you remember the time we both fell over a waterfall?”
Some of you don’t have any prejudices, but you may have a prejudice against people who don’t have bodies. But I don’t. And Emmanuel is one of my friends. Emmanuel has no body. He speaks through a woman named Pat Rodegast. He has a great sense of humor. I said to him, “Emmanuel, what should I tell people about dying?” He said, “Tell them it’s absolutely safe!” He says it’s “like taking off a tight shoe.” Those two alone are a whole manual for dying.
The reason I work with dying people is that it’s the biggest drama going in the society. Everybody thinks it’s real.
Last year I told a story here about a woman named Jean, who, when I talked to her the day before she died, said, “Ram Dass, I’m so bored!” I said that’s because you’re busy dying all day. Couldn’t you die five minutes an hour and the other 55 you could listen to the birds and just be one with God, and then you come back and you’re dying. Do you have to die all the time? If you do any one role all the time — “I’m a mother.” “But darling, we’re in bed together.” “I’m a mother!” — it gets boring. We’re all so many roles. If you’re afraid of change, you’re afraid of death. And if you’re afraid of death, you’re going to miss the whole thing. And that’s why the Easterners spend a lot of time preparing for death. They do what Don Juan says, they keep death over their left shoulder. They keep working with it. They keep opening to it; they allow that they were born and they’re going to die. As Buddha said, you’re going to get old, get sick and die. But the minute you have to build a reality based on the denial of what is, you’re in for trouble. And the problem is that everything is changing, so how can you have a model of how it is? The only model you can have is that it’s all changing, but that might change too. But . . . if you were to understand that you were like somebody who jumped out of an airplane and had no parachute but there was no earth. . . . To do that you would have to realize that who you think you are is your own creation.
You’re two people at this moment. Just follow that for a second. One of you is a creative spark, just creativity. Every thought you have is a creation. The other part of you is the creation. Who you think you are. If I identify with the spark instead of the manifestation of the spark, it’s all a creative dance for me. Or I can be the victim. I can be the creation and I can be Ram Dass. But the subtle point that has taken me numerous years to understand is that the wind-up part of it, the creation, is as much a part of God as the rest of it. I used to be so busy trying to get out of my creation, which was like molasses, because I kept taking myself seriously. I was busy huffing and puffing and meditating. And I could never figure out how the Zen people were doing it. They were so relaxed about it all. One monk was dying, and they said to him, “Your Holiness, you haven’t left a poem.” He said, “Oh yes, I haven’t left a poem. Hand me a brush.” He takes the brush and writes: “Birth is thus/Death is thus/Verse or no verse/What’s the fuss!” And he dies!
I’d been saying that getting to God is serious business. There are those of us who are doing it, and there are those of us who are talking about it. And I was busy doing it because I was righteous. But goodness doesn’t get you liberated. If it did, there’d be an awful lot of free beings in the world, because everybody thinks they’re right.
I realized I had pushed away that worldly stuff, to get high. And then I began to realize that the game was going to be much further out than that. It’s all going to have to come together. Loving at every level. Loving as the One loving itself, loving in the Christ-consciousness. Psychological love, physical love. It’s all here. Emmanuel said to me, “You were born into a school. Why don’t you take the curriculum?”
So I thought, well what’ll I do? How do I go about being human? So last winter I went off as Richard Alpert and I didn’t go to temples. I went through Europe with somebody and explored relationship. And I was just another human being on the beach in Goa. With all my angers, and jealousies, and self-pity, and loneliness, and elations. Too much sun and the smell of drying fish. And it was interesting to be lying on the beach with someone whom I was feeling tremendous love for, smoking dope, eating fresh papaya, and think of this as sadhana? This is spiritual practice? This is my route to God? I mean, what self respecting book of instruction would include that?
You see, you’ve got to wing it at a certain point. You have to begin to trust your own intuition, because that’s the doorway through for you. Everything in your life and my life is sadhana, or potentially so. That’s what we’re doing on earth. We’re on earth because our minds created us to be here. And we’ll be here until we extricate ourselves from our own creation. But that does not mean denying it; it means honoring it.
I am my father’s son and he’s 84 and I’m 50 and I’m still my father’s son and I hang out with him and I do it impeccably, without hypocrisy. I really am my father’s son. And at the same moment it’s totally empty. He isn’t only my father and I’m not only his son. Now and then we recognize it for a flicker of a second but most of the time he’s busy being my father. And that’s okay. Why do I have to demand that he say, “I’m not your father.” Compassion is finally leaving people alone to do what they need to do. If you meet somebody in kindergarten, you don’t lay them low because they can’t read and write. Is it better to be 30 than 10?
You’re just at a different place on the cycle. As long as you think it’s better, you’re judging. As long as you judge, you’re going to suffer. You don’t have to judge. Who cares what your judgments are? You just have to experience the universe as it is. I am what I am. I am very divine as well as physical and psychological and I’m right here. Mahatma Gandhi is put into prison and he’s given a lice infested uniform and he’s put to work cleaning the urinals. And he walks up to the superintendent and he says, “Thank you.” He’s not putting him on. He’s taking what comes down the pike and working with it. He’s using it. If you’re happy, use it. If you’re sad, use it. Because the more you use it, the freer you become. And the freer you become, the more you are an environment in which everyone who comes in contact with you can become free. The most I can do for you is to use you for me to become free. That’s the biggest gift I can give you. I don’t have to change you. You change you. It has nothing to do with me. I’m merely here. It has to do with me in that if you get changed, things get groovier. For all of us. But for me to think that you ought to change is for me to judge God. How do I know why you are the way you are? Why should I assume it’s other than the way it should be?
If you are without models of how you think it ought to be, then however it is, is just enough. How it is includes your part in it. And your part in it may well be to change it. And you will play your part impeccably but, as the Bhagavad Gita warns you, you will not be attached whether or not it changes because that’s none of your business. It’s your business as the creative spark but not as the creator. As you become more conscious, you more and more experience other human beings as being us, not them. And as you experience other human beings as us, it starts to change the nature of your acts. Because you act in the presence of us, not behind the back of them.
The funny thing is, the more conscious you become the less you want to change anything. And yet the more your actions are involved in bringing about change. The less I’m busy trying to change you, the more the situation is one in which you can change. Because everybody has their antenna out to feel how they’re being had. It’s called paranoia. It’s functional. It’s the way you survive. “What does he want? Where do I sign up? All he wanted was the $5. You want my soul? Is this the Anti-Christ? He must want something!” Can you imagine what it’s like to not want anything and be around people who all are saying, “What does he want?” I don’t want anything. When you really love somebody and don’t want anything in return, it blows their mind because hardly anybody feels lovable for just the way they are.
It was interesting to be lying on the beach with someone whom I was feeling tremendous love for, smoking dope, eating fresh papaya, and think of this as sadhana? This is spiritual practice?
I don’t know which scenario we’re in. Is this the New Age or is this the beginning of the worst horrors? Is Haig right or is Krishna right? Is it all OK or is it terrible? Is it getting worse or has it never been so good? Which scenario do you want? Walter Cronkite at the end of his newscast used to say, “And that’s the way it is today!” But that’s only the way he saw it. I don’t happen to think that’s the way it is today. In fact, if I hadn’t turned you on, Walter, I wouldn’t have known any of those things. Did you ever go away to the country or the ocean where you don’t have newspapers and radio and you notice how within a few days your whole world changes? It starts to be circumscribed by the trees and the distances and who you see in the day and you start to live in a different domain. And you feel a different quality of life. And then you come back into the communications network; it’s a conspiracy to define reality. And what breaks that conspiracy is anyone who doesn’t define it that way. But since the conspiracy is very powerful — meaning it holds the resources on practically every plane — if you’ve got a price at all, it’ll get you. It’ll keep upping the ante.
After a while it’s fascinating to notice how you’ve let go of models of where you are going to find the Spirit. You come into situations in which by the law of averages there should be the Spirit. But you don’t feel it. You don’t believe you’re not feeling it, so you make yourself believe you’re feeling it. And then you find yourself in very unlikely situations, where there is the Spirit. I drive an MG, and a car is an entity, to which you have to listen. And this car seems to be happiest when it’s going about 4500/rpm, which is about 83 miles per hour. But the community, probably very reasonably from the way they’re looking at life, feel that is probably bad. So they send out people who I help hire to stop people like my car from going 83. So I find myself quite often in the situation of sitting in a state trooper’s car. And they are such far-out encounters. Because I’m not busy, I know why he’s doing it, I hired him. It’s perfectly reasonable. He’s doing what he’s doing. My car’s doing what it’s doing. And I’m just a middle-man in the whole game. The last one was an American Indian in Arizona and we were sitting in this police car, he was writing out the ticket and I said, “What tribe do you belong to?” So he told me. And I said, “Oh, you know brother David?” “Oh yeah, he’s an elder.” “Oh, we were together in . . .” Slowly but slowly we started to realize we were brothers. And he’s writing the ticket and he’s writing slower and slower and slower. But I wait until the ticket’s all written because I understand the game. I’m not using that to get rid of this ticket. Forty minutes later we parted. Both of us were unhappy to part.
How do I know why you are the way you are? Why should I assume it’s other than the way it should be?
It’s interesting how you deal with the experiences of life. When you deal with these in a certain way, the Spirit is everywhere. I was in Marin County swimming at a nude beach, which is hidden away, so you leave your car up in a parking lot and then you climb down the rocks, and I came back and my duffle bag had been ripped off. It had been in the back behind the seats. And my first reaction was, “Far-out, Maharaji. Well, now I can have a whole new wardrobe.” I mean, there wasn’t even a flicker. I assessed immediately that there was nothing I was going to do about it. It was gone. So how long was I going to be somebody that had a duffle bag that had been stolen? I could milk it for an hour or two. “Jesus, you know what was in that duffle bag? That was good stuff I had in that duffle bag.” Hold on tightly, let go lightly. Now I’m somebody that doesn’t have a duffle bag. A whole new moment. That’s the secret of dying, and that, as it turns out, strangely enough, is the secret of living. Are you here or are you busy planning for or remembering when?
A couple of years ago I had a fire and I burned up all the boxes of memorabilia, my old bar-mitzvah certificate, love letters and pictures of old this and thats, old airplane logs and driver’s licenses, and important letters from the 60s. As Don Juan said, “Let go of personal history,” and that seemed right. Because I realized I was carrying all those boxes around with me waiting for the time when I would get bored and open them. I never had time to open these boxes. Who can relive his past? The present is so fascinating. If anything, we’re too fascinated. The old Chinese curse, “May you be born in an interesting time.” You want it, you got it. Somebody actually made a movie of me burning all that stuff, so it’s actually on film. But he owns the film. I don’t. He now has my personal history. It’s been haunting him for two years now.
We had a dying retreat at Yucca Valley. Some of the people were dying, some worked with dying people. And one of the things I showed them were the movies of Auschwitz, of Dachau. And I showed them a movie called “Red Asphalt,” put out by the California Highway Patrol about drinking drivers — heads through the windshield and bodies mangled. And the first time you show the movie everybody goes, “Ooo, ah, ugh, oh I can’t bear it!” That’s the human heart. And then when the movie was over I said to everybody, “All right now, bring your awareness to your breath,” and we started a formal meditation. I said, “. . . Let everything else just be, but keep your awareness on your breath.” And then we ran the movies again. That’s consciousness training . . . to recognize the way it is from many levels of consciousness simultaneously: to be totally involved in your incarnation, your passions, fears, desires, loneliness, yearnings, at the same moment; to fully appreciate in the Jungian sense your mythic structures, role, identity; at the same moment to realize that you are a soul who has taken a human birth as a learning experience for you — it’s learning for the soul and not for the ego. And at the same moment recognize that there is only one of us at play. And live with all of these planes of consciousness simultaneously. At first it’s sequentially, you go up and you come down, and this is real, then that’s real. But after awhile it gets thicker and thicker and thicker, it’s like baklava, just layer after layer after layer of ground nuts and honey. “Honey, we are nuts.”
That’s the secret of exquisite relationship, by the way. It’s when the two people use truth as a vehicle to come into a relationship in which it has gone beyond a relationship because there is only one of it playing that it’s two. And even when the two are locked in the worst nitty-grittiness — “I hate your guts! You’ve done this to me, I’ve been with you too long” — even at that moment there is this little whisper across the top, “You still here? I’m still here. Far-out! God, this is heavy!” As long as you are serious in your own story line, as long as you are who you think you are, you are really quite mechanical. You are determined. You are karmic run-off. But the minute that next plane of awareness starts, your karmic run-off just became relatively real, not absolutely real. Then you just keep adding plane after plane after plane. And then you’re just living out your drama. But through that comes absolute light because there’s nothing that narrows the pipe on the way through, because there’s nobody holding on anywhere. There is total involvement and no attachment. You are an environment in which anybody else — whether it’s your child, your spouse, your boss, your employee, your bus-driver, whoever — can be with you as one, if they choose. And if they don’t, if they are busy holding onto their separateness, it is perfectly OK because you don’t need them to recognize the fact that we are both God.
So you use all of it to work on yourself and you stop working on the other person because they are what they are. Rat though you are. You are essence rat. And when I can allow you to be essence rat then who knows what will change? Nothing has to change at that point. And when it doesn’t have to change, it all changes. When you don’t care anymore then it gets really far-out. But as long as you care, it’s just power. “I care too, and if you’ll give, I’ll give . . .” “No. You stay just your same miserable self. Because you are the divine Goddess in drag. I know who you are. And the fact that you get me riled up, or angry or horny or whatever. . . . Isn’t that great? You really got to me.” What more could I ask of a great teaching than that it show me where my secret stash of attachment is because I had sort of forgotten?
Is this the New Age or is this the beginning of the worst horrors? Is Haig right or is Krishna right?
At first on this journey that is no journey on this path that turns out to be a hype, you try to get high by hanging out with other high people. And you are a spiritual materialist and you want the “wow” then that still small voice within starts to say, “Hey, I thought the game was to get free.” Because as long as you are high and there is a low, you are still in polarity and as long as you are clinging somewhere you are suffering and afraid. Because if you are high, you can come down. If you are standing on tiptoe, you are going to get tired.
When you finally want to become free, because you’re tired of getting high and coming down, then you become appreciative of everything in your life. And then you’re going towards hotter and hotter fires. You’re looking for those things that catch you. You’re actually looking to find out where your anger and lust and greed and doubt are, because you want to clean up your act. Not because you’re a goody-goody gumshoes. Not even because you ought to. Not even because you better or else! Just because you’ve got to. It’s as if you are hooked by liberation and it’s pulling you in on a reel. And you’re flapping like hell to stay out, but moving in closer and closer. And as you move in closer everything becomes part of this journey back in. And the big fear is when I break the identification with my separateness, my separateness will cease to exist. But that isn’t true. If you break the identification, it’ll still be just where it is. You will be one and you will be the many.
Too many people that are gay have spent too much time . . . defining themselves in terms of their sexual identity . . . It’s like alcoholics being busy being ex-alcoholics if they are in AA.
Question: What is a good meditation for someone addicted to pain?
Ram Dass: You mean, addicted to pain, or addicted to experiencing pain? Does the person want the pain or is the person just addicted to being somebody who is experiencing pain?
Ram Dass: Somebody paints a picture of a cloud and you take it to a framer and he has a small frame and in order to make it fit he folds the picture back. So what comes back is this grey square. And you say, “Oh that’s a grey square.” Everybody looks and says it’s a grey square. If you had it framed properly, you’d say, “Oh that’s a cloud.” So I guess what you do is reframe your painting. So there is some part of you that notices you being the experiencer of pain. Ah, there I am being addicted to the experience of pain again. How poignant! There are ways, for example, of using the pain to go beyond the pain, to feel the shape of the pain, feel its intensity, feel its qualities, become friends with the pain. And then there’s the other method of surrounding the pain with space in which the space is one percent of the time and the pain is 99 percent of the time. And then very slowly there’s a shift in balance over time. I have sat with people in pain and meditated, allowing the whole psychological domain of that pain, opening to it, and then seeing the person come out of pain, out of being the experiencer of pain into another place. Pain is one of the toughest to work with. But after all, who promised you a rose garden? And you work with what you can and if you can’t you take something to stop the pain. No big deal. Not better or worse. Just work with what you can work with and don’t make believe you can work with what you can’t.
Question: How do you know when you are just hyping yourself about the Spirit?
Ram Dass: You don’t, because you are so good at it. There are an infinite number of ways to con yourself. All that you know is that after awhile it doesn’t taste so sweet and, as Aurobindo said, every time I fall in the mud I get up and at first I sort of look squeamishly at God and then later I just get up and get on with it. And finally, there is a place in you that tastes truth because it feels so relaxed and so eternal and so nothing special. Pretty soon your mind imitates it almost exactly but it has a lack of a living quality about it and you will find that as long as you cling to any quality of highness at all, you will keep doing that. When you can just open to what is then you don’t get into that trap because you’re not constantly trying to create a fantasy for other than the way it is.
Question: I’m struggling with the spiritual angle of my gayness. Do you have any ideas other than the developmental psychological material why humans manifest as gay? Do gay people have any particular spiritual paths they follow?
Ram Dass: It’s an interesting predicament that you and I often find ourselves in. Depending on which part of yourself you identify with, you have a very clear sexual identity or not. The soul isn’t male or female. The feminine principle is passive, receptive, receiving. And as you accept your responsibility for the creating of the karmic field, or the manifestation, you become very much like the male force in form, so that actually all of us are both female-receptive and male-assertive. It’s interesting that saints often, as years go by, begin to take on qualities that seem very androgynous. Gayness is just another way of manifesting. When one stands back far enough, one sees that just the way the biological dance has been designed and the way male’s bodies and female’s bodies are designed and the whole idea of maintenance of the species suggests that gayness may not be the optimum way of physically relating to the universe. But it is what it is. Too many people that are gay have spent too much time being preoccupied with their pathology, or protesting that they aren’t pathological, or being busy defining themselves in terms of their sexual identity. It’s like alcoholics being busy being ex-alcoholics if they are in AA. Intimacy with another human being is intimacy and searching through that intimacy to experience a oneness of awareness is searching of soul with soul. People shouldn’t make such a big deal about all of their individual differences. It’s just the way the cards were dealt in that incarnation for whatever karmic reasons you had in mind in creating it in the first place. There’s no one to blame. If your mother smothered you with love that’s what she did because she loved you. You just start to allow it and you work with it because you can get to God standing on one finger eating a steak. There is no route to God that is the way. There is no form to the Spirit. It’s all form or none of it is form.
Now, there are certain personality predispositions for people that are also sexually attracted to people of the same sex. I don’t think they are universal but they are certainly better than chance and those personality constellations make those kinds of people attracted to certain kinds of spiritual practices and not to others, just like everybody. Everybody has a karmic predicament which leads them to a certain doorway; what’s a doorway through for one person is a blank wall to somebody else. People that are part of minority groups, who have been badly persecuted, very often are spending most of their life fighting that persecution and that’s really what their work is in this lifetime. They get born into a minority group that was being persecuted and that becomes their crusade and that’s their vehicle; it’s not a vehicle necessarily that will finish the job in one birth but it’s what is real to them. Often, that kind of an adversity of being deviant or a minority group is a lot of the sandpaper or fire which forces a turning inward and a deepening which is not available to somebody who has got all of the cards. The winning hand is so easily the losing hand. Often you see somebody who is incredibly beautiful or very rich and you end up feeling sorry for them. Because their symbolic value is so strong nobody can see through it. And they could be starving to death in there. You end up taking whatever your condition is and you work with it because it’s the optimum condition you need in order to grow the way you need to grow in this lifetime. If it’s with gayness, you work with that.
There are times when I could have sex with somebody and it would be a profanation and it would be creating karma because it would come out of my desire and my desire would lead to a fantasy and in that fantasy that other person would be an object and that person would end up feeling more separate and alone and that’s what is called lust. That’s why the Bible enjoins, “Thou shalt not lust.” It doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not have sex or enjoy it.” It says, “Thou shalt not lust.” Thou shalt not get caught in seeing other human beings exclusively as objects, nor to deny that we have senses and endocrine systems and they awaken under certain conditions and not under others and that’s just the way it is. I would like to be other than I am in some way, but I am what I am and that turned out the way it is and I might as well buy it.
You can get to God standing on one finger eating a steak. There is no route to God that is the way.
Question: Would you say something about dealing with exploitation on a physical, material, and spiritual level?
Ram Dass: Nobody exploits anybody. You use other people to be exploited. You’re busy being somebody that’s being exploited; they’re just doing what they do. Here I am being exploited. What’ll I do? I’ll have to love the person that exploits me, and then I’ll have to damn well stop him from exploiting me anymore.
Question: How does one deal with exploitation of the planet?
Ram Dass: You would put a great deal of energy into awakening people about that exploitation and stopping it. But you would have to use that particular set of actions to simultaneously work on yourself, to break your exclusive identification with your physical body, so that your actions would not come out of fear but would come out of an appreciation of the way in which harmony can exist in the universe, so that your actions would not create the polar opposite of what it was you were trying to create.
Ram Dass: Because if you’re getting angry, you say, “God, how did you screw up to create people who throw paper on the ground?” You’re like Job. You don’t have to judge God. This is what it is. You can work to clean it up. I think we would all like to work to end completely unconscious nuclear proliferation, ecological insensitivity, starvation. Every human being has a right to be fed. It’s not our job to decide whether they should be. They have a right to it. And I think each of us more and more becomes an instrument for that in whatever light we see it, in the way we can. We have to honor and respect each other’s ways of doing it. But I think that doesn’t mean we have to judge everything else in the world. Because God manifests in many and complex patterns. And if you’re going to free the world of the polarization of love and hate, you have to enter into a space of allowing the universe to be. And then your vibration doesn’t polarize the world. Because who that person is that threw the paper on the ground is not just a person who threw the paper on the ground; they’re a soul. And then there’s the act of throwing the paper on the ground.
Question: In working with dying people, how about stuff that would help someone who is close to a dying person?
Ram Dass: The same rule applies to every one of us: the work is stay open to what is, to keep your heart and your mind quiet. And to stay present with what is. It seems to me there aren’t special categories. We all have roughly the same work to do. I work on being with people who are dying and the dying people work with their dying and we’re all doing the same work as far as I can see. We’re all dying more or less, now or later. One of the things I do is to encourage people to be very human, to not deny their grief, or their fear of loss, at the same moment not to walk away from it. I also suggest to them that they don’t lay any trips on the person who’s dying as to how they ought to die because how can you decide how a person ought to die? So, that sometimes you’re with a person who doesn’t want to admit they are dying. And that’s perfectly all right, they have a right to do that. You merely become an environment in which they could talk about it if they chose to talk about it.
Question: How do you deal with fear?
Ram Dass: I babysit my own fear. I just sit with it. And I allow myself to be afraid. And it’s very scary. But I sit with what it is I’m afraid of, as well as I can. For example, there are times when you meditate, and you start to have an experience where your breath starts to stop. Oftentimes people get very frightened and they pull back, back into breath or back into normal waking consciousness. My suggestion is to go up as close as you can and hang out as much as you can, and when it gets too heavy, pull back. I think that it is also good to focus on that which allows you to feel your own being getting rid of the fear, because that tends to make the fear more real. Then go back and check if it’s still around. Finally you treat the fear like an old friend who’s come by for tea. “Oh, you’re here again. Come on in.” I’m human, I’m afraid, I’m also separate. I’m not only the One, I’m the many — separate and afraid to die and afraid of being victimized, afraid of being hurt by opening up to love and then having someone turn away, afraid in a million ways. That’s my humanity.
Nobody exploits anybody. You use other people to be exploited . . . I’ll have to love the person that exploits me, and then I’ll have to damn well stop him from exploiting me anymore.
Question: How do you know what to do to bring yourself to liberation?
Ram Dass: You don’t. You just listen. And you hear, today I will eat Wheaties. And then the next day it feels like you’re going to do something else. Each day you are the product of everything before you and you are in the position to hear things. So you feel the game is truth, not consistency, and you’ll feel the changing from time to time and you merely listen as best you can and do as best you can. You hear the next day how your ego played a game with you and you get on with it. In it all is a little seed of tuning, or homing, because there is a place in you that is free. It’s like a beacon that’s calling upon you. And the quieter you are the more you experience the identity with that beacon. And you can get there through love or through the mind. You’ve got to listen to hear. If you are very open emotionally, you can work with bhakti yoga, you can work with love. You look for the divineness of every being. And just keep opening to that love. You might come to a point where you see you’re pushing away your intellect and that you really ought to deal with that for awhile. And sometimes you choose a path that seems to go through your weak strategy, and sometimes you play upon your strong strategy. Only you know what business you are about at any moment. Sometimes you work with your strong suit until your faith gets so clear and strong that you can start to focus in on the places you’ve been pushing away. That’s what happened with me. And very often what you find out at point B that turns out to be your particular route through was something that back at point A you were rejecting. Even though I talk good, basically my route is the route of the heart. To me, that was such a sloppy path. I wanted to be one of those neat Zen Buddhist types. I wanted to be good and tight, clear, sharp, and there were all those gauche Hindus with those horrible calendars and that yicky singing and all that stuff. And gurus, what a bunch of crap that is. And here I am with a guru and a Hindu name and I’m shlock and I’m a slob and it’s fine.
Ram Dass: For some people it’s very hard to keep their heart open to Ronald Reagan. And I would suggest that you take Reagan’s picture and you put it up on your puja table, next to Christ and Buddha, and you find that part of Reagan that is just like you and me. He’s just another being who’s doing the best he can. You may protest and vote against and as a citizen be gravely concerned and go to meetings of concern and share your concern with others as an impeccable warrior-citizen. But at the same moment, behind all the dramatic roles, here we are. And the fact that I can experience Reagan, and not get lost in the power dance in which he exists, is the optimum thing my mind can do to create an environment in which he can get free if he’s ready or wants to. My game is not to judge whether he can or will, but merely to create an environment in which he could. You do that for everyone. The minute you label somebody within a role, label them with identity of their actions, you are doing exactly what Krishna warns against in the Bhagavad Gita — identifying with being the actor, whether it’s you or someone else.
I babysit my own fear . . . Finally you treat the fear like an old friend who’s come by for tea.
Question: Would you share your here and now feelings?
Ram Dass: This is a very different evening than what I usually have. It’s much heavier, deeper, no nonsense, not gamey. I’m sure it’s alienated some people. And I have mixed feelings. The human side of me is sad. I don’t ever like to lose anybody’s love. And the other part of me feels awed by this kind of sharing of consciousness. I experience awe, and I don’t feel like I’m in a light and playful space tonight. And at first I felt guilty about that. But I now experience that as just another space. At first when I walked out here and I saw that the audience was smaller than last time, there was the ego part of me that said, “Well, you’re going out of style. You’re an anachronism after all.” And I thought, isn’t that interesting? Just when I feel I’m hitting my stride, I’m an anachronism. Well, that’s the way it went that time. And I was fascinated with my own counting the house. And I didn’t even know how to react, because I was having all the reactions at once.
I was sick a couple of days ago. I was driving across the country and I had the top down getting sunstroke and then taking baths and showers, and swimming pools and air-conditioning. Modern civilization will kill anybody. Part of it is, I don’t want to lay a vibration that is sick on other people. I would like to be light and feathery and joyful. But then I realize the issue is whether I identify with my sickness. My body is not optimum at this moment, but it’s holding together all right.
I wore these clothes because I thought they looked nice but they are hot as hell. I was ego-tripping. I wouldn’t wear these on my own. I wore these to impress you. I could have just come in my shorts.
You and I are one consciousness asking ourselves this stuff, just to get our act cleaned up together. I don’t think anybody here thinks I know anything they don’t know. Which is fun. I feel I’m among peers. I don’t feel I’m that one up there, but it’s hard because there are these lights shining in my eyes. I can’t see your eyes. I’m very alone up here, psychologically. I feel video is a very useful thing to share with lots of people because I don’t want to do this forever. I see now the value of video, cassettes and tape libraries, not just in a power-trippy way but as a way of sharing dharma. Technology isn’t something you have to fight against; it can be an incredible instrument for sharing dharma. But there’s a compromise involved with lights and stuff like that. The chemistry of the evening. If those lights were out, so I saw your faces and was getting the love back, it would have been an entirely different evening. Not better or worse, just different.
Question: How do you set up a goal and work toward it and not get attached to it?
Ram Dass: At any moment you hear how things are. When I finish here tonight, I’m going to walk back to the Carolina Inn and go to bed. That is a plan. It may or may not happen. Am I so attached to that plan that I’m walking down the street and there’s Christ, and he says, “I have come to give you eternal liberation.” Do I say, “Well, I’m sorry I’m on my way back to the Carolina Inn. Could I see you tomorrow?” You function within time as an impeccable warrior. You can say, “What are you going to do tomorrow?” And I could say, “I’m going to drive to New York City,” which is what I think I am going to do tomorrow. But whether I do that is a whole other matter. And tomorrow will define what tomorrow is. In other words, I have goals. But it’s all open. I’m not attached to whether things happen. I am merely orienting by listening and out of it comes, “Well, I think I’ll head towards that door that has the exit over it.” But, along comes somebody who says, “Would you mind walking through there?” OK. New goal. Hold on tightly, let go lightly.
Question: How do you deal with pride?
Ram Dass: I remember experiencing a mountain of my own pride. When Maharaji told me to give up anger towards a number of people, and I felt I was righteously angry at all of them, I saw that to give up the anger without getting them to apologize meant I was going to have to swallow my pride. And it looked awfully immense. To stand before those worms and love them. But I saw I wanted to get liberated more than I wanted my pride.
It’s very hard for me to show my vulnerability, but I want to get free so bad, and I realize I can’t keep a false front up. Truth is too liberating, I treasure it too much. I can’t keep secrets from you. It’s not worth it. To honor pride is to get lost in hypocrisy. Yet you must honor yourself, and that’s different than the kind of thing you’re talking about with pride, which is protecting the ego at any costs. And not losing face. You finally don’t give a damn about face, you just want to be with God.
Ram Dass: I got bored after a while with the teachings of Don Juan. I think they’re beautiful. I love the teachings. But I got bored with Castaneda’s form. Because I feel Castaneda is a power tripper. And hears those things about Don Juan that are oriented around power. I feel tremendous love in Don Juan but I don’t think Castaneda hears much of it. I’m not interested in that astral power-tripping. I think there were a lot of exquisite shamanistic methods that were available through those books. I have no idea at this time if they are real. I don’t care. But the books themselves finally fall short because they just don’t bring me into that space of love where everything’s OK.
Ram Dass: The question is about hurt. Well, you bear it. Sit with it. Last year I read a letter that I had written to a couple whose daughter had been raped and murdered. They were hurting bad, as you can well imagine. I remember I said something like, “This may leave you more dead than alive. And then you will understand why saints, to whom all people in the world are their children, are known as the living-dead. Because they bear the unbearable. It is only when you can bear the unbearable that you can see as God sees and love as God loves.” Your hurt is the karmic result of a psychological component in you that has masochism in it and uses the environment to keep hurting yourself. You sit with that. You begin to understand that through that hurt you can get strong. Not by denying the hurt and not by protecting yourself from getting hurt anymore, but seeing that it’s okay to hurt.
Oh, you’ll repeat the same things ad nauseam. I am always impressed with how one-pointed my ego is in maintaining masochistic styles. I can destroy anything. But believe me, the Spirit is stronger than your ego. You just sit and watch the repetitive nature, and that itself starts to liberate. You get to that point where you see yourself start a whole game that is definitely going to lead to a hurt. Out of a dozen people who bring you joy, you pick the thirteenth person who’s guaranteed to give you hurt. And you get to see just about as you begin to do it. And sometimes you keep going and pretty soon you see it before you do it, and you finally begin to allow yourself to be beautiful. To be lovable. To feel that I am all right. You begin to experience that it is OK to be what I am. You let go. You embrace original sin. And suddenly you aren’t creating the hells anymore. I was a master at creating hurt for myself and in destroying my happiness. I want to tell you people do change because I hardly do that anymore. I’m really enjoying being beautiful, being lovable, just being.