Ram Dass made his mark on the world by teaching the path of the heart and promoting service in the areas of social consciousness and care for the dying. When Ram Dass first went to India in 1967, he was still Dr. Richard Alpert, an eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr.Timothy Leary. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Ba...ba, affectionately known as Maharajji, who gave Ram Dass his name, which means "servant of God." On his return from India Ram Dass became a pivotal influence in our culture with the publication of “Be Here Now”. In fact those words have become a catch phrase in people’s lives for the last 40 years. With the publication in 2011 of “Be Love Now” Ram Dass completed his trilogy that began with “Be Here Now” in 1970 and continued with “Still Here” in 2004. His newest book is “Polishing The Mirror: How to Live From Your Spiritual Heart.” Ram Dass now makes his home in Maui and teaches world wide through his website RamDass.org and continues the work of Neem Karoli Baba through the Love Serve Remember Foundation. More

“Ram Dass, you have only three things to do in this lifetime…”

spring-daisy-flowers-picture-id915614956 “Ram Dass, you have only three things to do in this lifetime…”

I think that every institution has a difficult time staying as the edge of truth for a very long time, because of the pressure of survival. There has got to be enough structure for the game to work, and the structures often find this kind of mentality too high risk for its stability.

It’s too chaotic, and the question of how an institution is able to leave some degree of that free creativity is the secret of whether or not it has a long life, or it just turns into a nice big institution.

What I’ve noticed in most of the institutions I’ve been part of is that for the first few years it’s very exciting, and everybody feels challenged and at that living edge. Then everybody figures out how to socialize the game, how to appear to be changing and not actually changing, and everybody, because they have children and families now, have to get insurance policies… They’ve got to make the thing stable, and that sort of tempers their way of playing with that chaotic edge, and recognizing what is interesting.

You can make that edge your object of study, and it can draw you in altogether in a new way.

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The Birth of Be Here Now – An Origin Story

vintagebuddha The Birth of Be Here Now – An Origin Story

There are a lot of things that my guru Maharajji said to me in the small amount of time I was with him.

I had been with him from November, 1967 to March, 1968. “With him” means I was in a temple to which he was connected. I’d estimate I saw him a total of four hours in that time span. Out of that time came “Be Here Now,” because he was involved in it very clearly.

There was a moment in 1968 when Hari Dass, who was the teacher that Maharajji had given me, came to my room, and he was silent. He wrote on his slate, “Babaji has just given his ashirvad for your book.” I said, “What does ashirvad mean?” and he said, “Blessing.” What book was he talking about? I had no idea, so when I left India and came home, and started to live like a yogi in New Hampshire, I didn’t know what to do with my time.

I thought, “He gave me his blessings for a book, I guess I’m supposed to write a book.”

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How can you bring a contemplative quality into academics and the environment?

looking How can you bring a contemplative quality into academics and the environment?

It requires inner work for you to cultivate a perspective within yourself that sees your intellect as a servant, not as your identity.

To the extent you are capable of doing that, you can then play the game of academia, do the work that only can be done in that analytic fashion without being trapped in it, and have your interaction with other people through the game.

It’s like Monopoly in which you’re the top hat and I’m the thimble, but behind it you’re here, I’m here, and you’ve gotta be there. The predicament in academia is many people identify with their thoughts so much that they think they are an academic, instead of being a being who’s doing academics.

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Dealing With Suffering and Seeing it as Grace

gracesuffering Ram Dass on Suffering as Grace

Question: What are some of the ways that I can deal with suffering and then start taking it to a place of Grace?

Ram Dass: For most people, when you say that suffering is Grace it seems off the wall to them. And we’ve got to deal now with our own suffering and other people’s suffering. That is certainly a distinction that is very real, because even if we understand the way in which suffering is Grace – and the way in which it can be a vehicle for our awakening, it’s quite different to look at somebody else’s suffering and say it’s Grace. And Grace is something that an individual can see about their own suffering and then use it to their advantage. It is not something that can be a rationalization for allowing another human being to suffer. And you have to listen to the level at which another person is suffering. And when somebody is hungry you give them food. As my guru said, God comes to the hungry person in the form of food. You give them food and then when they’ve had their belly filled then they may be interested in questions about God. Even though you know from, say, Buddhist training, or whatever spiritual training you have had, that the root cause of suffering is ignorance about the nature of dharma. To give somebody a dharma lecture when they are hungry is just inappropriate methodology in terms of ending suffering.

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How can we reconcile our spirituality and our religion?

womaninchurch How can we reconcile our spirituality and our religion?

There was a great moment when I asked Trungpa Rinpoche for some meditation instruction.

He was sitting there with this saki bottle and he said, “What you should be doing now is this form of yoga called Ati yoga.” And he says, “You just will expand out, let’s do it.” So we sat there looking at each other and started to meditate.

Then after about 20 seconds he says, “Ram Dass?” I said, “Yes?” He said, “Are you trying?” I said, “Yes I’m trying!” He said, “No Ram Dass, don’t try, just do it.” I realized that in my zeal towards enlightenment, I’d turned it into another Jewish middle-class achievement task.

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Ram Dass Reminisces about his Neuroses

Make love not war Ram Dass Reminisces about his Neuroses

Now, what happened in the late ’60s was that there was a bifurcation of people into political-social activists and spiritual seekers. In those days, they were the two different groups.

Both of them had had an experience of what was possible, and one group said, “For all of it to happen, you’ve got to change the way things are,” and the other group said, “I’ve gotta change me first, and in order to do that, I have to push everything else away.” That’s what’s known as the renunciate path, which says the world of desire, the world of politics, the world of drama is so thick and seductive that what I must do is draw my awareness back from that. I must renounce the forms in order to cultivate a space where I can hear the deeper truths, and quiet flutes of deeper truths amidst the screaming trumpets of my desire system.

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What happens when we make assumptions about spiritual methods?

the-woman-knits-earrings-in-the-shape-of-a-flower-picture-id605777410 What happens when we make assumptions about spiritual methods?

Good evening, my name is Ram Dass, which means, “Servant of God.” However, I also use it as an acronym for “Rent-A-Mouth,” because sitting up here implies something that I don’t really cop to.

It’s hard not to get into a model of who I am and who you are because of the way we’re sitting. And as far as I can see, you know what I know. It’s what Aldous Huxley calls the “perennial philosophy”. I know you know it because when I say the deepest thing I figured out, you’re out there going like, “yes, yes.” But we need to gather in these kind of ritualistic processes to say it to ourselves again. It’s like Satsang, or Sangha – to come and experiment in truth.

See, I don’t even have any idea who to be tonight because I’ve spent so many years becoming nobody that now I could be whatever somebody is appropriate, and since the lights are set up I can’t see you, so I’m basically talking to myself. That’s interesting. It changes the whole nature of the lecture, by the way, because the lights are up, I can see some people sitting there like someone else brought them and they’re having to be here.

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How can we Heal our Heart when it Closes?

silhouette-of-man-on-bench-picture-id512131741 How can we Heal our Heart when it Closes?

When I talk about opening the heart, what exactly do we do?

Well, one thing you do, is you acknowledge that you feel ‘closed.’ That’s the first thing. You don’t make believe you’re open hearted, which most people do much of the time. They’re making believe they are open-hearted, while they’re aloof a little more than they’re feeling themselves to be. They always end up feeling a little hypocritical.

First thing is to acknowledge what you’re feeling: “My heart is closed.”


I’ll tell you there are numerous practices for this, and you have to find one that’s comfortable for you. For example, I work a lot with my breath, and I breathe in and out of my heart, and when I’m breathing out in my heart, I allowed whatever love I can muster for anything to be offered to people, to beings around me, and when I’m breathing in, I’m taking the existence of the universe into myself, and I keep feeling this breath going back and forth, and the breathing out is, “May all beings be free of suffering, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be happy,” and I say:

“Hard-hearted though I am, and closed hearted though I am, I am going to use my energies to the extent that my mind and my heart can do it for the benefit of others. I’m gonna wish them well.”

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How can we stay grounded within a conscious relationship?

holdinghands How can we stay grounded within a conscious relationship?

We can see that a lot of our spiritual practices are moving us from ego to soul. We’re clawing our way up and out of the darkness.

It’s a darkness which turns out to be not dark at all, but it seems shadowy from where we’ve been. So we claw up, and then when we’re at soul, and we’re established in soul-ness, we start to have that beautiful dialogue that Rumi and Kabir speak about, we’re intimate with the Beloved, with the guest:

“Where are you, old friend? Where have you been? Where can I find you? I hunger to be with you.”

It’s no longer a practice now. It’s like making love, a celebration of the many with the one. You’re constantly “Ahh, ahhhhhh.” I can only invite you to read that poetry to feel that the separation of you from all of it is not a mistake. It’s not a failure. It’s part of the dance of form and formlessness, so that you are “the One” and you are also “the many”.

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The Answer to Dying

walking-on-beach-in-india-picture-id152540263 The Answer to Dying

The answer to dying is to be present in the moment. And the way in which you die is by being conscious at the moment of dying and saying, ‘Right! Look at this! Far out! Look at this energy!’

Be fully conscious now. People say to me ‘Is this the Aquarian Age do you think? Do you think the Apocalypse is about to occur? Are we in the dark as part of the Kali Yuga? What do you think?’ And I say ‘I have no idea!’ ‘Are the dark forces going to win? Is somebody going to push the button? Have you noticed that as you go around the world the tremendous resurgence of the living spirit?’ All I say is that as I get higher I notice highness every where I look, but that’s just my projective system I don’t know what’s going on out there. But the further point it that I don’t care, that’s my predicament. I’m not waiting for the Messiah, I don’t care whether there’s an avatar or if there isn’t an avatar.

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Using Mantra to Connect to the Sacred

lake-1030810_1280 Using Mantra to Connect to the Sacred

A word, a name of God, or a spiritual phrase that is repeated over and over again is known as a mantra.

The practice of mantra is an effective way to concentrate your mind. But as important as concentrating your mind is what you concentrate on. Although the mind can focus on anything, only certain words can qualify as a mantra. A mantra must connect you with the sacred. Most of them focus you on God through repetition of a divine name. A mantra provides a boat with which you can float through your thoughts unattached, entering subtler and subtler realms. It is a boat that steers itself – to the threshold of God.

The use of mantra sets up one thought, one wave, that repeats over and over again, dislodging your attachment to all other thoughts, until they are like birds gliding by… Offer all your thoughts as a sacrifice to the mantra. If you think, “This isn’t going to work,” take that thought and imagine yourself offering it to the mantra on a golden tray with a silk handkerchief, incense and a candle. Offer it as you continue to repeat the mantra undisturbed. Keep offering your thoughts, your doubts, discomforts, boredom, even your sore throat.

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What happens when your righteousness and mind trips disappear?

Tree of Life What happens when your righteousness and mind trips disappear?

The predicament is that as you awaken you realize you have been the perpetrator of the conspiracy you’re caught in.

It’s not real paranoia, it’s not like, “They did it to me. They’ve got this terrible conspiracy.” You’re it. You are it. We are it. We are the conspiracy, and the interesting question is, when you extricate your awareness from being part of the conspiracy, what happens? A mature person isn’t in the conspiracy, and is not in the conspiracy even to the point of putting down the conspiracy. They’re just not in it, and then them not being in it, buying it, becomes freedom they are able to offer others, for them to also not get caught in it all.

It’s as if we meet through our prison cells.

To see the maturity of being able to extricate your awareness from entrapment in a role, and then, without violence, still fulfill the role, it requires coming from a different place.

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How can we balance solitude and socialization on the spiritual path?

spiritualrelationship How can we balance solitude and socialization on the spiritual path?

Maharaji said to me, “Ram Dass, you shouldn’t be with people very much. You should be alone. You should take your food alone. You should eat alone. You should just be alone.”

So I went back to the hotel where all of the Western devotees were hanging out, and I put up a sign on my door that said, “Do not disturb,” and I stayed in my room. Two days later a couple that was with us had a fight during the night. The next morning they were with Maharaji and he said, “You were fighting? When? Well did you tell Ram Dass?” and they said, “No, he had that sign on his door saying DO NOT DISTURB!” He said, “Oh… you didn’t go to Ram Dass? He wasn’t there for you?” He said this and looked at me in disgust and I was about to say to him, “But you said I was supposed to be alone.”

 

In those conflicting messages I found a message, that at first you have to be alone by pulling back from people, before you can understand what the game is. Then, finally you see that the game is to be with people, yet always be somewhat alone.

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What is our purpose on earth at this moment?

What is our purpose on earth at this moment? What is our purpose on earth at this moment?

When you as an individual feel threatened, one of the things you do is feel power through a group identity.

You feel power through identifying with a country, “We’re Americans,” and all of what that represents. When the Jews faced the Holocaust, which placed the individual life so utterly at the whim of a dark force, the people, as millions of them were destroyed, increased their identification with the group rather than with the individual, because although that group was still vulnerable, it was less vulnerable than the individual.

 

It’s important that compassion exists in our hearts for whatever changes go down. We have to be able to deal with uncertainty, change, chaos and loss of power without the depth of the fear that makes us go into massive denial and massive violence to other human beings.

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What are some methods to help us inhabit the fullness of our being?

What are some methods to help us inhabit the fullness of our being? What are some methods to help us inhabit the fullness of our being?

The interesting question is, “How do I manage this temple for consciousness? How do I take care of my body? How do I do it without being trapped by taking care of it?”

 

You will see that the minute something is wrong with you, if you’re not very careful your consciousness will narrow, until you’re busy being your symptoms. The minute you start to cultivate these techniques of mindfulness, you begin to see the game that you’re playing, the life that you’re living, the way it’s unfolding, the roles you’re in, and you listen more deeply into your life, so that you hear what roles are. What you’ll learn is that you have a unique karmic predicament and that will manifest in certain ways at each moment, and to the extent that you push against the manifestation, it takes a lot of juice. Ultimately what you’re doing is dancing deeply, but lightly. There’s no clinging.

 

The statement, “Hold lightly, let go lightly,” is to be in it without clinging. And to differentiate, it’s interesting because when we love somebody we want to possess them, we want more of them, we want to collect them, we keep wanting to hold on while we keep getting these old moldering dead butterflies in our collection. You know – old loves that were a moment of love, and then we destroyed them through possessing them – and the letting go of holding your interpretation of the moment too tightly.

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Anandamayi Ma: Serving the Formless Through Forms

anandamayima-730x400 Anandamayi Ma: Serving the Formless Through Forms

I’d like to share with you two bits of wisdom from one of my favorite saints, Anandamayi Ma.

For those of you who have been on our circuit together for years, you may have many pictures of her by now, because we usually hand out pictures of her. The reason I like these quotes is because they convey two different planes of consciousness, one of them in which she exists ‘in form’ and the other in which she’s ‘beyond form.’ In each of these, when she’s speaking, she’s speaking from that place at that moment, and it gives you a chance to hear, which is not so frequent, from a true ‘free’ being on different levels of consciousness.

 

So, when she is in the level of ‘form,’ she has millions of devotees and beings in her presence. For me, it was like being with a wild deer or fox or something like that, just an intimate, non-human connection, non-social.

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How can we add more dimension to our spiritual existence?

How can we add more dimension to our spiritual existence? How can we add more dimension to our spiritual existence?

This is a great story: Every month a disciple faithfully sent his master an account of his spiritual progress.

In the first month, he wrote, “I feel an expansion of consciousness and experience my oneness with the universe.” The master glanced at the note and threw it away. The following month, this is what he had to say: “I have finally discovered that the Divine is present in all things.” The master seemed disappointed. In his third letter, the disciple enthusiastically explained, “The mystery of the One and the Many has been revealed to my wondering gaze.” The master yawned. In his next letter, he said, “No one is born, no one lives, and no one dies for the self is not.” The master threw up his hands in despair.

 

After that a month passed by, then two, then five, then a whole year. The master thought it was time to remind his disciple of his duty to keep him informed of his spiritual progress, so he wrote to him. The disciple wrote back, “Who cares?” When the master read these words, a look of satisfaction spread over his face, and he said, “Thank you God, at last he’s got it.”

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How can we be more gentle with ourselves on the spiritual path?

How can we be more gentle with ourselves on the spiritual path? How can we be more gentle with ourselves on the spiritual path?

Question: “A lot of us are putting a lot of effort into being more fully present and to being ‘here now’ and we head towards the fire, and in the process, I know for myself, I lose my sense of humor, and I wonder if you could talk about ways of taking care of ourselves in the process?”

Ram Dass: See, if I were in a more Zen state, I’d say, “Take care of whom?” or, “Which self do you want to take care of?” I’d just take it obliquely right out of that question, because that is psychological, it’s like, here is this little self trying to do good and get enlightened, poor thing, it should take a vacation, it should go to Hawaii and maybe surf a little, you know?

Don’t do it too heavy, because that fire is hot. Like, I should say nice things and make you feel comfortable, but another part of me just says, “Go deeper into the fire if you really want to take care of yourself – burn baby, burn.”

I’m showing you the different levels of the way this whole discourse could be going. I’ll tell you, from where I’m at in this place, I’ll say that in Buddhist tradition it is thought that because a human birth is so precious and so rare that you should not waste a moment, and you should work just as hard as you can and make real effort, and not let a moment go by.

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How can you have plans and goals while remaining in the present?

How can you have plans and goals while remaining in the present? How can you have plans and goals while remaining in the present?

There was one question I was asked by someone who was shy, because I think maybe she thought it was too simple of a question to ask, but I think it’s one worth noting, which is, “How do you have plans and goals and still stay in the present?”

I may be overly simple-minded about this kind of stuff, but on the short term, I have my date book. Somebody calls up and they say, “Would you do something next November?” and I’ll look in my book, and there’s either space or there isn’t, and then I’ll listen to their voice, and listen to my economics, and listen to the world, and listen to where I would imagine I would be next November. What state of mind would I be next November? Would I really want to do it when that came? And then I either say yes or no. If I say yes, I put it in the book, if I say no, I don’t.

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How can we hold both the good and the bad within us?

How can we hold both the good and the bad within us? How can we hold both the good and the bad within us?

Question: “How can a soul know another soul, and can an ego know a soul?”

A soul can know a soul. An ego cannot know a soul. But souls like Maharaji, for example, draw out your soul, and then you see him. Otherwise, you see an old man without a blanket. Am I saying it right? I have discovered this when I visit sick or dying people.

When I used to do it like, “I’m a kind man who’s visiting sick people, so therefore, you must be a sick person,” I was caught in my role, and therefore, all I did was keep them caught in their roles. When I stood outside the bedroom door, and felt myself to be a soul, and then I went into the room, I was able to see it clearly. I went in and massaged the sick man’s feet. And there we were as soul friends. He didn’t find my mind reinforcing his model of himself, so I thought, “Hey, you can fluff a pillow or put a blanket over someone and you are helping people.” But Krishna in the  Bhagavad Gita is, “Do what you do, but put the flowers at my feet.” It’s doing God’s work, doing these things. So when I went to see that fellow, characterizing him as a spiritual person, I felt I was doing God’s work. Maybe that’s just psychotic.

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