hamming for the camera and I forgot to take a breath and she went down. I thought, this is where we part company Rosie, and she came right up so I could get air. Then I started to get so cold that I was blue and shaking. She pulled away from me and went and got Joe and they both nosed me over to the platform and out of the tank.
David: How wonderful! Have you ever had an experience that you would label an extra-terrestial 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 extra-terrestial 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 extra-terrestrial in the context of a psychedelic experience where they’ve encountered entities that they feel have evolved from somewhere else either from another planet or plane.
Ram Dass: I’ve met many beings on other planes but I don’t call them extra-terrestrial. Maharaji is not on this plane any more – but he’s there. 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 Emmanual. Emmanual speaks through a woman called Pat Roderghast and he is an absolutely delightful spook. I know Pat very well and I know Emmanual 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.
Rebecca: How do you act or feel differently when you are in the presence of a dying person?
Ram Dass: Well, theoretically I don’t act any differently because we’re all dying. Basically, the human relations boil down to creating an environment in which another person can manifest as they would manifest. That’s what love is. You’re in love with the universe and you want it to do what it needs to do. You’re creating an environment that is the least limiting.
So, my job isn’t to have somebody die my philosophical or metaphysical death, my job is to create a space of listening and quietness and presence with no boundaries. My job is not to use a denial of their experience out of my fear as a way of distancing myself through being kind and helpful or whatever, because that traps them in objectivity.
There is one awareness in which some of it is dying and some of it is visiting some of it that’s dying. To me then, the one awareness frees both of us immensely, and it frees them of being busy dying. If they’re ready to let go of dying then it’s really great fun. It’s woooooow! It’s oooooooh!! (laughter) If they’re busy dying, it’s none of my business. I’m not going to say, “come on, you know you’re not really dying,” I have no moral right to do that.
Rebecca: The ability to create that space in yourself must take some practice though.
Ram Dass: What happens is, wherever there is desire, there is clinging in you. Situations that awaken that clinging are the ones that are really fruitful. Death is certainly the most clinging situation that humans have to deal with.
So, I’m attached to working with dying people because it’s the closest I can get to one of my deepest clingings. I can slowly watch my heart open and close, and I can stay mindful in it. I see also how there is a certain cosmic giggle about the whole thing, but that’s just so socially unacceptable – even to me.
David: Can you describe one of the most profound experiences you’ve had working with a dying person?
Ram Dass: The most profound awakening I’ve had recently, was two years ago, working with a woman who was dying of AIDS. I just fell into love with her like the way I’ve been talking about. That’s what it is, it’s being in love with somebody, in the sense of no boundary and no model of how they should be. I could open myself, and being that open, you experience what they experience.
I watched how I stayed open, right until she couldn’t breathe any more and she was dying from asphyxiation. I watched my awareness disengage itself. I couldn’t die with her. I couldn’t love her through death, I could love her to death.(laughter) That’s an interesting moment for me, to see where the automatic defense locks in and I get pushed back into my separateness, because that’s the moment where I’m not with her.
Rebecca: How could you have gone further?
Ram Dass: If I were not caught, then whatever was catching her would have been totally in her. I wouldn’t have been perpetuating it, so she could have let it go faster.
I meet somebody and they think they’re real. My job is not to deny that reality, but to have a context in which that is not the only reality. So I’m always here in case they want to let go of that one. I don’t demand that they let go of it, but if they would like to let go of it – I’m here. If you’re a Christian you can speak about focusing on the soul as well as the manifestation. You’re constantly saying, are you in there? What’s it like being you this time?
Rebecca: How do you help a person in their dying process?
Ram Dass: By working on yourself to keep unencumbered by clingings of mind, so you stay in compassion. That’s independent of whether you give them water and plump their pillows and hold them and all that stuff. The question is, where do you do it from? That’s more interesting.
We’re not dealing with the issue of whether you do it, if somebody is thirsty, you give them water, naturally. The issue is how you do it. In order to not create suffering, you can only work on yourself. That’s the gift you give. The process of working with somebody as they’re dying is an exercise on yourself to keep you in love and watching when you fall out of love from moment to moment.
Rebecca: It must be a challenge to maintain that kind of openness when the person dying is expressing bitterness or anger.
Ram Dass: There can be anything. There can be sweet happiness that’s phony, there can be pain and struggle – but all you can do is create the space where they can do what they need to do. They might come on with their whole trip of this is terrible, but there’s nothing they get out of you. Sometimes they come on strong, and then they see that nothing has happened in you.
I remember a woman coming to see me and telling me this terribly sad story about her being a seamstress and having a child and how her child is now forging checks. And I listened very carefully and at the end I said, “I hear you.” That didn’t satisfy her and she went and told the whole story again. She was used to using that story like the ancient mariner. And the second time I said it, this smile came upon her face and she said, “you know, I was a bit of a rascal at that age too.” She had come up for air.
Rebecca: So you offer someone another option to the drama.
Ram Dass: Yes. It’s available, but you don’t try to get them into the other option. The minute you try to change somebody, you play into the unconscious paranoia that is in everybody, and when they feel manipulated they push against it and it isolates them even more.
Rebecca: What is your position on euthanasia?
Ram Dass: A human birth is an incredible vehicle for working on yourself and you should milk it for as much as you can get out of it. But if you’ve had enough and you can’t cut it, you should certainly have the “choice” to end it, even though it’s not really your choice – your karma just ran out for that round.
I have nothing against that. You just go on from that point instead of from another point. I can’t see that there’s any rush – it’s a circle. Where’s everybody going anyway?! (laughter)
Rebecca: So you don’t see some heavy karmic consequences from bailing?
Ram Dass: No. If somebody asks me, “should I?” I say, “well, I wouldn’t.” But I don’t know, I might if I got into a certain situation.
David: What do you believe happens to consciousness after the death of the body?
Ram Dass: I think it’s a function of the level of evolution of the individual psychic DNA code, or whatever. 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.
Then the question is, what of you is left after that? If you’re fully enlightened, nothing of you is left because nothing was there before. If there’s something before, there will probably be something after, and it will project onward. I can imagine beings that are so dense and caught in life that when they die, there is no place in awareness that they can conceive of the fact that they’re dead. The word conceive in this context is strange because they have no brain, so it really raises questions about who is thinking this. (laughter) But I think that identifying the brain with thought is a mistake, I think that the brain is a way of manifesting the thought but I don’t think that it is actually an isomorphic thing.
So, 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.