I’m an instrument of God and God is never wrong, therefore I am never wrong,” and losing the self-consciousness required to keep one’s ego in check?
Ram Dass: I think that if your intention is freedom, then you will get caught in that, but you won’t stay in it. You’ll get caught in `I represent the Godfather so don’t screw around with me,’ and then you’ll see that that’s a horrible place to be standing in. That’s ego.
The mechanism that corrects you is not even the grossness of that conceptual understanding. It’s almost a vibratory thing. You feel a thickness or a heaviness and you just know that you’re caught. You don’t even know how you’re caught – you don’t know whether it’s lust or anger or fear, and you don’t even give a damn which one it is, you just start your mechanisms to remember, to bring your consciousness out of sticking in a place. You can be stuck anywhere, in `I am God’ or `I am empty’.
I’ve lost it thousands of times, and what I’ve done is surround myself as best I can with people who bust me. When I get caught I can get very resistant to admitting that I’m caught. It’s the use of one thing in the service of something else. I kid about it and say, “wouldn’t you like to come up and see my holy pictures?” My guru put it very succinctly, he said “siddhis (spiritual powers) are pigshit.” (laughter)
Rebecca: Do you still find yourself getting caught on occasion?
Ram Dass: You have to want something a little bit, but the wanting is really going down a lot.
Rebecca: What is karma?
Ram Dass: Karma is another way of saying that everything is related to everything else in the universe in a lawful way – future, past and present. A limited interpretation of karma has to do with looking from the past to the future, but actually it’s all inter-related. You just feel the unfolding of the process of interaction leading to a certain moment.
If you chart it you can plot it somewhat and see that this came from there in a series of cause and effect, but actually it’s not linear at all. You are already enlightened, so you are actually going from where you started back to where you started. You’re nowhere because nothing happened and in that moment you realize it – aaaargh! (laughter)
They say that when a being becomes free, all that is left in form is old karma running off. When you do an act with intention, it’s like a pebble dropping in a pond. It creates waves – it’s an action. When you become no longer identified with that which has motives, (they are there but you’re not identified with them, you’re just awareness) then you’re not creating new karma. When the old karma runs off – you aren’t. That’s what a being that finishes is. You run out of karma.
In other words, in the course of things with everything interacting with everything else, you just cease to exist as a separate thing. It’s still everything, because you were everything already. Nothing happened to you, if there is a you.(laughter)
Rebecca: The concept of personal karma is becoming more and more popular, but it’s often seen as a justification for
non-intervention in the sense of; I have my karma and that homeless person asking me for a quarter has his karma, and who am I to intervene with anybody else’s karma?
Ram Dass: His karma is that you have that karma – your karma is not intervening. He stays hungry, so that’s his karma. Everybody is everybody else’s karma. The fact that you saw the homeless person is part of your karma and it’s having an effect on you all the time. You are my karma and I am yours at this moment.
It’s so profoundly subtle because who I see you to be is a projection of my karma. The way karma manifests is in desire systems. If I don’t have any attachments at all, what I see is something entirely different. To see symmetry, to see familiarity, to see warmth when I look at you, I’m having to do all this stuff with my mind. Who you really are, I have no idea – until I have no karma.
David: It sounds as if it’s all so organized that there is little room for free will.
Ram Dass: I’ve been grappling with the concept of free will for a long time, and this is what I’ve come up with. To the extent that we are in form (and that includes thought) we have no freedom, because of the nature of karma, of everything being lawfully related to everything else. So then when somebody says free choice, does that mean anything? Who has choice?
I can think I have choice. I can say, “I’m going to go to the movies tonight,” but if you knew enough about me and if you could handle a multi-variable approach, you could predict that I would say that. If you knew enough about my gene structure and the shape of my hands and my father’s behavior, you could predict my position in the chair at this moment. So where is the free will? The fact is, that only when you aren’t anybody do you have free will.
Rebecca: So you’re saying that you only really have free-will at the point where the concept of free-will is meaningless – when you no longer even have the desire to have free will.
Ram Dass: Right. When you want something, you see only the manifestation of the outward container. God is free, or the formless is free, or non-dualism is free. Awareness has no form and so you as awareness are free basically, but every way it manifests through form is itself within law. One of the things I got from Maharaji was a sense of his seeing the universe as just law unfolding. There is nothing personal about it, it’s just stuff happening.
And he was offering to meet me behind it, where we are free. I couldn’t handle the fact that he understood the nature of suffering and I learned that the line that goes, `out of emptiness arises compassion’ has that mystery right in it. You’d better be empty of intention and desire. The Tao says `the truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing.’
David: So are you saying then that being embodied in form means that everything is predetermined?
Ram Dass: No, it’s not predetermination. Everything is related to the future and past – what’s pre?
Rebecca: Be here now.(laughter)
Ram Dass: (laughter) When somebody says to me, “don’t I have free will?” I say, “it depends on who the `I’ is. Most likely if you think you are somebody who could have free will, then you don’t.” You are free will, but you don’t have free will. So, if I’m facing a choice, I always know I’m standing in the wrong place. Mostly nowadays I’m watching my life to see how it came out, rather than what to do about it.
Rebecca: Isn’t there some creative quality? Aren’t you given a riff on which you can them improvise?
Ram Dass: Yeah, but the improvisation isn’t really creative. It’s creativity the way we think about it, because it surprises us, but it’s still lawful.
(Insert) Rebecca: How do you explain in karmic terms why, once you have set yourself upon a path to the absolute, signposts and guides seem to appear out of nowhere?
David: Could you share with us the experience you had swimming with John Lilly’s dolphins?
Ram Dass: (long pause) I went with my friend to Redwood City, Marineworld because I had been invited by John and Toni Lilly to swim with Joe and Rosie. It was a cold, grey day. I stood on the edge of the tank and I thought, “I’m too old for this. I don’t want to swim with the dolphins anyway!” (laughter) The problem was that everyone was standing around watching to see what Ram Dass would do with the dolphins. It was a real drag.
So I get into the water, and as the dolphins go by me I realize that they’re much bigger than I thought they would be – and I could feel their power. Then one of them, Rosie, began just hovering right next to me, so I reached out to touch her. Now in my model, if it’s got a tail it’s a fish, and when you touch fish they go away – but she didn’t go away. Then I ran my hand down her back. It was the silkiest thing I had ever touched. It was like water with form. A thrill went through me. Still she didn’t move.
Suddenly I realized that she had opened to the contact. The recognition that her consciousness was right there, allowing me to do that, did the same thing to me as Maharaji’s “spleen” (of course, my mind is much more blowable by this time – I’m ready to remember.) Up until then I’d been thinking, what am I supposed to do with the dolphin? But while I was touching her, I gave up and my heart just opened.
When that happened, she flipped until she was upright right in front of me. My heart was so open that I leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth. Unstead of pulling back, she started insinuating her body into mine. I was going into ecstasy, I was saying, “oh Rosie, oh Rosie,” (laughter) and I started to get an erection. Then the thought occurred to me, “is this legal?” And all the time I’m smiling and everyone is watching to see what Ram Dass is doing with the dolphins.(laughter)
Then she swam around and came in under my arm, and I thought I’d really like to swim with her. I grabbed her dorsal fin and she went down and my hand slipped off the fin, so she came back and I grabbed it again. I didn’t want to grab it too hard because I didn’t want to hurt her. She went down and it slipped off again, and she kept coming back under my arm. So I thought, what I really want to do is to hold her underneath the stomach, so I grabbed a fin and I held her.
She went down and she was very active so I thought, I must be bugging her so I let go and I came to the surface and she came right in underneath my arm again. So I grabbed her and held on and we started to go wild through the tank. It was just incredible! I got to the point where my breath started to give out and I thought, Rosie, this is lovely, but I’m one of the those other creatures! And with that thought, she immediately came to the surface while I got a breath and we went back down. This went on several times.
Once we came up and people were taking photographs. I got to