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.
And then there are beings who are so free that when they go through 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.
Rebecca: It’s interesting how in Buddhism you learn about the general definition of reincarnation and then as you go up the lineage, this definition becomes increasingly relative.
Ram Dass: Right. You’re the Buddha already, you’re only in drag. And then you wake up and realize you’ve been had by your own mind.
Rebecca: One of the things that comes up time and time again in your writings is that when a person is involved in service, they do a lot better when they can operate from a position of full acceptance of the other’s condition, whether that person is a drug addict, a mass murderer or a terminally ill patient or whatever, and not operate from the desire to change the behavior or conditions. Can you elaborate on this as many people would say that the purpose of service is to change certain behaviors and conditions that are perceived as harming another?
Ram Dass: The purpose of service is to relieve suffering. Now the question is, what is the nature of suffering? Maybe if the person is thirsty the purpose of service is to give them a glass of water. God comes to the hungry in the form of food.
Rebecca: What if they’re dying of thirst and they say they don’t want a glass of water? Do you think that a person is ever justified in assuming control of another’s welfare?
Ram Dass: I think that if you’re dealing with a very young child where you are responsible for their biological survival, then you have some grounds for having a preference that is different from theirs. But if you’re deciding what is best for somebody else and you’re dealing with an adult consciousness – therein lies the tyrannical state.
David: But you may still be relieving suffering though, even if your efforts aren’t being appreciated.
Rebecca: I had a lot of friends who were sent to mental hospitals instead of universities. Most people would think that’s too bad but I think they came out with more cylinders than many who went to university.
I don’t know how it’s going to come out. I see people suffering in their dying so intensely. They’ve had big egos all their life and that suffering and pain finally wore them down until they just gave up. And at the moment they give up, it’s like a window opened and there they are in their full spiritual splendor.
Now do I say that the suffering stunk? It was terrible and I would have taken it away from them in a minute if I could. My human heart doesn’t want them to suffer, but when I look at it I say, “boy, the game is more interesting than I thought it was.” That’s why I include suffering as part of the mystery.
You and I can only meet through roles. So, let’s say you come to me and I’m your therapist. You came to me to change you, and my job is to relieve the suffering that brought you there. Part of my job is for me to help you see the forms of your pathology, but the deeper suffering that I understand is your separateness, your isolation. Therefore, what I can offer you is my being and my presence. That’s the real gift. You and I may come together through the form of therapist and client, but we may meet as just two beings who are dancing into love through the form of those roles.
Somebody might ask me if they should go to therapy, and I would say, “yes, but try to find a therapist who doesn’t think they’re a therapist.” If they think they’re a therapist, they have an agenda and they are caught in their mind which is treating you as an object to be manipulated for your own good.
Rebecca: You talk about how suffering can awaken us more than pleasure can, but I’m wondering about ecstasy. The ecstatic experience of God seems to be able to link up with the compassionate acknowledgment of suffering in the same way that suffering is able to lead us back to the ecstatic experience. Is ecstasy as valid a path to God as suffering is, in your view?
Ram Dass: I’d much rather use the ecstatic path. I’m no fool! (laughter) I guess the thing is that ecstasy is easy for the ego to socialize in and protect itself. Suffering has an effect kind of like dripping water on stone. It eats your ego away.
Suffering confronts you with where you are holding. It shows you your stash; the attachments which you have been hiding from yourself. If you have no attachment then you wouldn’t be suffering. When you are suffering, you say, why am I suffering? I’m suffering because I’m holding onto a model of how it should be other than the way it is.
Pain is a strong stimulus and what model you have of what pain is has a lot to do with how you cope with it, and whether or not you can open to it being a part of you rather than trying to isolate it. One of the things with pain is that you tend to try to make it separate from yourself.
The art is to be mindful of it and yet fully with it. It’s the pushing against something that gets you into trouble: pushing against aging, pushing against the weather. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be an activist and push against things. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have opinions, it means that you’re notattached to your opinions. As Don Juan said, you huff and puff and make believe it’s real, even though you know it isn’t. (laughter)
Rebecca: How then do you think we can avoid the kind of polarization that we see in the abortion issue for example, where both sides seem beyond the point of being able to communicate with one another.
Ram Dass: If I were in a position to have some say, I would bring some of the leaders from each group together for a retreat where I would invite them just to listen to each other. You not only have to hear the other person, but they have to feel that they have been heard. If I feel you’ve heard me, then you and I can start a dialogue, but if I don’t feel that you’ve heard me, then I’m in opposition to you.
The question is, how do we create a meta-identity? We all think life is beautiful, we all think that life is sacred, but we also think that freedom from suffering is sacred. It’s not sacred versus profane. It’s not people of ill-will on either side. Everyone is trying to be as true to the light as they can.
Engaging everybody in the meta-game is a tricky one. You want to help them break their identification with their position. They’re not giving up their position, but their primary identification can shift from being an abortionist or an anti-abortionist, to being a human being who has an opinion about abortion. That’s a different place. Then everyone can sit around and say, what do we do about this? If everybody lays their cards on the table, the game is possible.
Rebecca: So you’re talking about developing a respect towards the other, even if that other doesn’t agree with you.
Ram Dass: Yeah. It’s like in politics. Everybody is using all of the external symbols of the fact that they’re doing that, respecting the other and trying to understand the other, but they’re not doing it. All alignment has been pre-empted in the service of third chakra ego power. It’s inevitable, I guess.
Rebecca: You talk about learning to use all life experiences, whether good or bad as grist for the mill and potential for spiritual growth. And I think about the people in Rwanda and what they’re going through; the disease and the famine and the apparent meaninglessness of it all, and I wonder what kind of spiritual growth they are achieving or have even the possibility of achieving from that.
Ram Dass: (long pause) That’s the mystery. That’s the mystery of suffering. If you could stand back enough to see the whole trip it might look quite different. Say you have freeze-frame photography and my arm is moving from pointing downwards to straight up in the air. If the middle frames are missing, then you see one situation and then another, with no apparant connection between them. You’re seeing the horror which is Rwanda, but you’re missing out on witnessing the beauty.
I would sit in front of Maharaji and I felt like he had a deck of cards of all my reincarnations. I could sense that he saw my incarnations in a context that I couldn’t see. It all seemed terribly real to me. If you look back at the events of your life, you’ll see that when you were in them, you didn’t see the context. I look back at my miserable times and realize how profoundly that helped me in where I am now.
Rebecca: So, if you see suffering in the context of a continuum then it becomes easier to understand.
Ram Dass: It all has to do with your time-frame. For the