you feel that you’re coming even closer to him as time goes on?
Ram Dass: Yeah. When I think of who he was – this giant of a being – the idea that I could be him is such chutzpah that I can’t even entertain it in my mind. But I can see that as fast as I can, I’m dying into him. The heat is being turned up so fast and I’m aware of it. If you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out, but if you put it in cold water you can boil it and it won’t move. I’m aware of the heat being turned up, but I don’t want to jump out.(laughter)
Rebecca: A lot of Westerners have a hard time understanding the guru/devotee relationship. Could you describe this relationship as you understand it?
Ram Dass: Ramana Mahashi said, “God, guru and Self are one and the same thing.” The real guru is not anybody busy being somebody. If you asked Maharaji if he was a guru he would say, “I don’t know anything, god knows everything.” The guru is a door-frame. You don’t worship the door-frame, you’re trying to go through the door. It’s like that saying about, if you meet the Buddha on the road, slay him.
You don’t owe the guru anything but your own liberation because that’s the only way you come into the guru. What the guru does, as far as I can see, is mirror for you where you aren’t. The guru shows you all your neuroses writ large, because there’s nothing you can project into the guru. You keep trying to make him into somebody like you, but he isn’t because he doesn’t want anything – and you still want something.
That understanding can come through books or on the astral plane – it doesn’t have to come through a physical guru. But once you’ve tasted this stuff you can get very attached to your method of getting there. Many people who get closest to God through sex, get very addicted to sex. They get attached to the method rather than to what the method is for.
The guru is just another method, and it’s a trap. But you have to get trapped for it to work and then you just hope it ejects. If the guru isn’t pure they won’t let you eject, they won’t let you go. You’ll know in your intuitive heart that you’re being had, but you might not want to admit it.
Rebecca: Again there’s that Western suspicion because of the history of power-tripping gurus.
Ram Dass: Right. The true guru doesn’t want any worldly power – it’s a joke to them.
Rebecca: Did you find yourself testing your guru a lot in the beginning?
Ram Dass: He so overwhelmed me with his first gambit that there wasn’t any way that I could test him any more. He just did it to me so thoroughly that there couldn’t be a question. He could have gone in there with a shovel but he went in with a bulldozer! (laughter)
I was coming up a hillside and I saw him sitting under a tree with eight or ten devotees around him. I’m standing at a distance and the guy who is with me is on his face touching this his feet, and I’m thinking, “I’m not going to do that.”
Neem Karoli Baba looked up at me and said, “you came in a big car?” We had come in a friend’s Land Rover that we had borrowed so this guy could come and see his guru to get his visa. So I said, “yes.” And then he said, “you will give it to me?” Now, coming from Jewish charities as I do, I had been hustled, but never like this! I was speechless. The guy I was with leans up and says, “if you want it Maharaji, it’s yours.” I protested and said, “you can’t give David’s car away!” I was aware of everybody laughing at me, but I was very serious. (laughter)
Then Neem Karoli said, “take them and feed them.” So we were taken down to the temple and fed lunch. Then he called me back up and he told me to sit down. He looked at me and said, “you were out under the stars last night,” Then he said, “you were thinking about your mother.” My mind started to get agitated and I started to entertain hypotheses as to how he could have known that. Then he said, “she died last year,” and the dis-ease kept growing. Then he said, “she got very big in the belly before she died.” My mother had died of an enlarged spleen. And then he closed his eyes and he rocked back and forth and he opened his eyes and looked at me, and in English he said, “spleen.”
When he said that, my mind just couldn’t handle it. I just gave up. Something shifted and I started to feel a wrenching pain in my chest. There was a radio show on many years ago called Inner Sanctum and they opened this screeching door at the beginning of every show. I felt like this door that had been long closed was being violently forced open. I started to cry and I cried for two days. And after that, all I wanted to do was touch his feet.
I had recognized that not only was he inside my head, but that everything I was, he loved. There was not a part of me that he didn’t know, and he still loved me. So, all the models of `if they only knew that little thought that I don’t even admit to myself, they wouldn’t love me,’ didn’t apply.
This wasn’t an intellectual process. It was a direct experience of that quality of unconditional love. It took that long (snaps his fingers) and all the rest of it has been basically irrelevant. I cherish everything that came after and I got all kinds of teachings, but the thing happened at that moment. He didn’t do anything, he just was it. He was an environment where my ripeness to open had a chance to express itself.
Rebecca: Did you get a lot of flack from your peers and friends when you came back to the United States from India?
Ram Dass: Well, I came back wearing a dress, I was barefoot, I had long hair, a long beard and beads. I wouldn’t have noticed flack if it had hit me in the face!(laughter)
David: What was Timothy Leary’s reaction?
Ram Dass: I don’t remember precisely. Tim and I weren’t very close during that period of time. He had been to India just a few years before I had, so he understood the context from which I was speaking. When we started to come back together again, we had by then gone in such different directions that there were certain topics that we kind of agreed not to deal with.
Tim is a little bit of a mystery to me. He seemed fascinated by the conceptual play around the psychedelic experience, while I was much more about dying into emptiness. But I didn’t have a vested interest in being an intellectual or a scholar. Tim goes out of conceptual space obviously, you only have to read Psychedelic Prayers, but the venue that he wants to hang out in, is the conceptual mind. That isn’t my domain.
Kalu Rinpoche, who is an incredible Tibetan lama, said, “Ram Dass, you have three things to do in this life: honor your guru, deepen your emptiness and deepen you compasssion.” And that’s just what it feels like to me. I live a lot with mystery. Tim sees mystery as a challenge. I see it as a delightful place to play, so, when somebody tells me they have just solved a mystery, I am only passingly interested.
Rebecca: That’s a classic East-West dynamic.
Ram Dass: Very much so. I spent many years being very defensive about the fact that I was not schooled in Western metaphysics and philosophy, but it left a blank slate on which I could write when I went to the East. Then I came back and I could view Western philosophy from that perspective.
I see this role of mediating between the East and West as a delicious dance. I went Western and then I pushed West away to embrace East. Then I came back like a virgin afraid of the West, and then slowly over the years stuck my toe in again. I shaved the beard, put on the pants, got the credit card and the MG and a house in Marin, and oh my God what happened! (laughter) It’s like being in the world and not of it. It has to come at a point where it’s not scaring you or trapping you. It’s empty form.
Rebecca: You’ve compared the process of persistent self-analysis to playing with one’s feces. Where do you think self-analysis can take us, and what are its limitations?
Ram Dass: It depends on your intention in having fecal play. It can be as a practice of mindfulness – in order to find a place of witnessing and seeing it for what it is. Then there is being in the drama and self-analysis can be just a way of exacerbating the drama and making your identity in the storyline more real.
Unfortunately this characterizes most of the dialogues between therapists and patients. Everybody is so caught in the stuff that they are just reinforcing caughtness even as they are trying to get you out of it. It’s like rearranging furniture in the prison cell rather than trying to get out of prison.
But as an exercise in mindfulness, self-analysis can be very useful. It can help you to deal with the phenomena of your life as they rise. You notice them and the noticing gets stronger and stronger until you’re not going into them so much. That’s a stage, because you’re still distant from them and then you have to come back in until you’re in them and not in them at the same moment.
I think the fallacy is that if you’re standing in one place, you can’t be standing somewhere else. I think that freedom is being conscious on all levels simultaneously. Freedom is not standing anywhere. You have no perspective, and then you just adopt a perspective for a functional situation. The situation brings you into perspective at that moment, but you’re not resting in perspective. Is that clear?
David: Yes….. it’s just difficult to do.
Ram Dass: Well, as long as you think you’re doing it – that’s a place. (laughter) That was the beauty of Trungpa Rinpoche, a wonderful Tibetan lama, he sat down and said, “I want to show you a new form of meditation, let’s do it together.” We sat down looking at one another and after a while he said, “Ram Dass, are you trying?” and I said, “yes, I’m trying,” and he said, “don’t try – just do it.”
Rebecca: You speak about operating from the point of view of God’s instrument, but isn’t there a risk of becoming self-righteous with that perspective and thinking, “well,