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Ram Dass – 3
taking psychedelics and meeting my guru were the two most profound experiences in my life. Psychedelics helped me to escape–albeit momentarily–from the prison of my mind. It overrode the habit patterns of thought and I was able to taste innocence again. Looking at sensations freshly without the conceptual overly was very profound.
David: How did you then make the transition from Dr. Richard Alpert to Ram Dass?
Ram Dass: Initially it was all very confusing. I was teaching a course in human motivation. I took my first psilocybin on Friday night, and by Monday morning I was lecturing on stuff which was basically lies as far as I was concerned. (laughter) So, that was weird because my whole game started to disintegrate at that point. I still stayed as Mr. Psychedelic Junior in relation to Tim, and publicly my gig was turning on rich people and dealing and giving lectures on the psychedelic experience. By 1966, I looked around and saw that everybody who was using psychedelics really wasn’t going anywhere. I was around the best of them, but even if they had the Eastern models, they couldn’t wear them–the suit didn’t fit. I realized that we just didn’t know enough. We had the maps but we couldn’t read them.
Then I went to India in the hope that I could meet somebody there who could read the maps. I met Neem Karoli Baba and he gave me the name Ram Dass, and that put it in a bigger context than the drugs. The experience wasn’t any greater than the drug experience, but the social context of it was entirely changed. Neem Karoli took acid and said that it was known about for thousands of years in the Kulu Valley but that nobody knew how to use them any more. I asked, “should I take it again?” He said, “it will allow you to come in and have the Darshan of Christ. You can only stay two hours. It would be better to become Christ than visit it, but your medicine won’t do that.” I thought that was pretty insightful. LSD showed you an analog of the thing itself but something in the way we were using it couldn’t bring us to the thing itself.
David: Can you tell me about your relationship with Neem Karoli Baba?
Ram Dass: He is the most important separate consciousness in my life, even though he died in 1973. He’s more real than anybody else I deal with. It’s like having an imaginary playmate that is so hip and so wise and so cool and so empty and so doesn’t give a fuck and so loving and so compassionate–so any way you can go. It’s such fun. He is the closest I’ve ever come to finding unconditional love. He didn’t even want to stay alive. Most people you meet might say, “I’m an unconditional lover,” but you go to kill them and they go, “nooo!” (laughter) But it’s not him, he’s just the form of it. Once, Maharaji was warning this girl off this dubious guy she had met. She said, “he’s only my friend” and Maharaji said, “your only friend is God.” I really heard that. Your only friend is the reflection of the mystery in each form. And that’s what you want to be friends with–not with the story-line.
David: Have you ever had an experience that you would call an extraterrestrial contact?
Ram Dass: No. I assume there are lots of beings on every plane all around the place, but I myself have not had experiences of that kind. By extraterrestrial, do you mean beings on the physical plane, like other beings in the solar system?
David: Not necessarily. A lot of people have used the term extraterrestrial in the context of a psychedelic experience, where they’ve encountered entities that seemed to have evolved either on another planet or in another dimension.
Ram Dass: I’ve met many beings on other planes but I don’t call them extraterrestrial. Maharaji is not on this plane any more–but he’s here. He’s present as a separate entity, and the form I see him in is the form my mind projects into him. I’ve also written prefaces for three volumes of the books on Emmanuel. Emmanuel speaks through a woman called Pat Roderghast and he is an absolutely delightful spook. I know Pat very well and I know Emmanuel quite well now. I asked him what to tell people about dying and he said, “tell them it’s absolutely safe.” What a superb one-liner. He also said, “death is like taking off a tight shoe.” He’s just like this friendly, wise uncle. In the preface I say, I don’t know whether this is vertical schizophrenia or whether it’s a separate entity, and I don’t really care. I’m experiencing it as a separate entity and my criteria is whether I can use the material, not whether it’s real or not.
David: What is your concept of God?
Ram Dass: I think it’s a word like a finger pointing to the moon. I don’t think that what it points to is describable. It is pointing to that which is beyond form that manifests through form. A God defined is a God confined. I can give you thousands of poetic little descriptions. It’s all, everything and nothing. It’s all the things that the Heart Sutra talks about. It’s God at play with itself. God is the One, but the fact is that the concept of the One comes from two, and when you’re in the One, there’s no One. It’s zero, which equals one at that point.
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?
Ram Dass: I think it jumps into a body of some kind, on some plane of existence, and it goes on doing that until it is with God. From a Hindu point of view, consciousness keeps going through reincarnations, which are learning experiences for the soul. I think what happens after you die is a function of the level of evolution of the individual. I think that if you have finished your work and you’re just awareness that happens to be in a body, when the body ends it’s like selling your Ford–it’s no big deal.
I suspect that some beings go unconscious. They go into what Christians call purgatory. They go to sleep during that process before they project into the next form. Others I think go through and are aware they are going through it, but are still caught. All the bardos in the Tibetan Book of the Dead are about how to avoid getting caught. Those beings are awake enough for them to be collaborators in the appreciation of the gestalt in which their incarnations are flowing. They sort of see where they’re coming from and where they’re going. They are all part of the design of things.
So, when you say, did you choose to incarnate? At the level at which you are free, you did choose. At the level at which you are not, you didn’t. Then there are beings who are so free that when they go through death they may still have separateness. They may have taken the Bodhisatva vow which says, ‘I agree to not give up separateness until everybody is free’, and they’re left with that thought. They don’t have anything else. Then the next incarnation will be out of the intention to save all beings and not out of personal karma. That one bit of personal karma is what keeps it moving. To me, since nothing happened anyway, it’s all an illusion–reincarnation and everything–but within the relative reality in which that’s real, I think it’s quite real.
David: What do you remember from your stroke?
Ram Dass: I was lying in bed fantasizing that I was an old man. I was trying to find a way in myself to experience that fantasy because I was writing a book about conscious aging, and since I was only sixty-five, I thought I was too young to write the book. A friend of mine called from New York and said I sounded sick. While I fantasized about being old, I hadn’t noticed that I was having a stroke. So he called my secretaries, who lived nearby and told them that he thought something was wrong with me. My secretaries came right over. By then I had gotten out of bed and was lying on the floor. I had this weak leg, which I had figured I would have as an old man. My secretaries looked at me and then called 911. The next thing I knew I was looking up into the faces of these young firemen. I just thought that they were looking at me as an old man–I still don’t remember anything more that happened except for being wheeled on the gurney in the hospital. Friends, nurses, and doctors all came in with concerned looks on their faces, because they were told I was dying. But I just thought that I was enjoying this fantasy of being an old man and wasn’t really sick at all.
David: How has your stroke changed your body physically and mentally?
Ram Dass: It damaged my brain in such a way that I’m unable to move my right arm and leg. The whole right side of my body is pretty much numb at the skin, but there is plenty of pain. The stroke has also affected my ability to speak. I have difficulty expressing concepts. The dressing room for concepts–where I dress them in