people in Rwanda, it’s hell. None of this doesn’t mean that you don’t do what you can to relieve the suffering. You do what your heart calls you to do. Saying that it’s all karma, isn’t a justification for non-action. That is a confusion of levels of consciousness. On the level of the human heart, you do what you can to relieve another’s suffering. On another level, it’s all karma.
Rebecca: How do you move within your meditation space so that you stop getting trapped in the, now I’m meditating, now I’m not syndrome, so the high can keep leaking into your life?
Ram Dass: You give up not meditating. It’s called meditation action. There’s no way out of it. Meditation means to be constanty extricating yourself from the clinging of mind.
Rebecca: So, it becomes part of the fabric of your life, rather than another thing on your list to do like the laundry or something?
Ram Dass: That’s right. People ask me, how much meditation practice do you do? Sometimes I say none, and they give me a worried look,(laughter) but the other answer is, all the time! I don’t do anything else but meditate.
David: What are some of the current projects that you are working on?
Ram Dass: There are several on the burner. I’ve just accepted a contract on a book on aging which will allow me to take about two years off to write. I’m hoping to understand the dysfunctional mythology around aging; aesthetically, cross-culturally and spiritually.
I’m also on the board of a group called Social Venturing Network – exploring the relationship between spirit and business. Out of that core group, we’ve started three organizations in the past year. We’ve started Businesses for Social Responsibility, we started Students for Responsible Business and we’ve started a European SVN. We have two conferences a year and it has about 500 people involved, including Ben and Jerry’s and The Body Shop. Working with dying people is dealing with my issues about death and working with business people is dealing with my issues about money and power.
I’ve been doing major fundraising work for SEVA for fifteen years which has been involved in relieving blindness in India and Nepal. I have one project in South India. The hospital have been given one and a quarter millions dollars by Lions International to set up an international community opthamology institute. It’s to train people to carry opthamology programs into Indonesia and Africa. But I’m phasing down a lot of the service stuff because I really don’t think I can carry it all at once.
I have to listen – we all have to – to hear how we honor all of the different levels of the games we are in. I’m a member of a family, I’m a member of a nation-state, I’m a member of the community, I have a sexual identity, I have an age identity, a religious identity. It’s important to feel how your incarnation takes form through these identities, and to ask yourself, what does it mean to live with integrity within each of those systems?
That’s something that I have had to learn because I used to be so busy seeing the spiritual journey as something that you did by yourself.
Rebecca: You’ve said that everyone should try and work from the edges of their experience. What did you mean by that?
Ram Dass: As chaos increases – and there’s a lot of inertia in the system that seems to suggest that is the direction we’re going in – it behooves us to prepare ourselves to ride the changes. If, in the face of uncertainty, people are busy holding onto something, the fear increases, then the contraction increases, and prejudice increases. The question is, what are you adding to the system to shift the balance? What you’re adding is yourself, and what yourself has to be is somebody who can handle uncertainty and chaos without contracting.
I’ve gotten over the feeling of being somebody special. You’ve come with a camera and tape-recorders, but that’s your trip, it’s not mine. I really experience the web of inter-connectedness of all beings. It’s like C.S Lewis’ line, you don’t see the center because it’s all center.
Rebecca: There are so many people who spend all their time dreaming about being somebody special.
Ram Dass: And the horror is to see people who thought that that would be something and then got it. Then you see them trying to hold onto it, even though they know it’s empty. I’ve been in a hall with thousands of people applauding and bringing flowers and loving me, and then gone to the hotel alone, feeling the absolute wretchedness of it all.
David: Could you sum up the basic message of your life?
Ram Dass: (long pause) I would say that the thrust of my life has been initially about getting free, and then realizing that my freedom is not independent of everybody else. Then I am arriving at that circle where one works on oneself as a gift to other people so that one doesn’t create more suffering. I help people as a work on myself and I work on myself to help people.
I’ve been perfecting that circle for thirty years. It’s karma yoga. It’s the Bodhisattva vow. My life is about applied dharma. On a socio-political level – I’m a survivor. Once that faith and that connection and that emptiness is strong enough, then I experience looking around for the fields I can play in.
I work with AIDS, with business, with government, with teenagers, with people dying of cancer, with blindness. It doesn’t matter, because your agenda is always the same. Do what you can on this plane to relieve suffering by constantly working on yourself to be an instrument for the cessation of suffering. To me, that’s what the emerging game is all about.