Ram Dass made his mark on the world by teaching the path of the heart and promoting service in the areas of social consciousness and care for the dying. When Ram Dass first went to India in 1967, he was still Dr. Richard Alpert, an eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr.Timothy Leary. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Ba...ba, affectionately known as Maharajji, who gave Ram Dass his name, which means "servant of God." On his return from India Ram Dass became a pivotal influence in our culture with the publication of “Be Here Now”. In fact those words have become a catch phrase in people’s lives for the last 40 years. With the publication in 2011 of “Be Love Now” Ram Dass completed his trilogy that began with “Be Here Now” in 1970 and continued with “Still Here” in 2004. His newest book is “Polishing The Mirror: How to Live From Your Spiritual Heart.” Ram Dass now makes his home in Maui and teaches world wide through his website RamDass.org and continues the work of Neem Karoli Baba through the Love Serve Remember Foundation. More

What is the importance of investing in family?

What is the importance of investing in family? What is the importance of investing in family?

Over time we have ended up with a lot of confusion in ourselves about our roles in relationship to our families.


So why would you invest in the family?


You would invest in the family because you understand that part of your incarnation and part of being in the way of things is to find your function within family. Now it doesn’t mean lockstep, it doesn’t mean that every mother is the same mother or every father is the same father. You have to hear your unique way through, but unique doesn’t necessarily just mean personality desire. What is appropriate in view of my skills, opportunities, needs of the family, economics, political situation, and so on?

When you’re poor, and a family of six is living in one room, it’s a very different set of roles and demands than if you’re living in a situation where everybody has their own room they can go in and lock the door. It’s hard to face, because we think we won that affluence which has given us the privacy to have our own rooms, but it’s really a mixed bag. It’s given us the privacy to become very isolated and cut off from each other and very private and very secretive and very ashamed and very embarrassed and very uncomfortable, with a whole lot of stuff to carry around with us.

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What is the difference between knowing and being?

What is the difference between knowing and being? What is the difference between knowing and being?

When you walk down the street you see other beings who are doing things, who are thinking things, who are wearing things, who are older or younger, who have personal lives. You see all the individual differences, but you also see them as packaging which holds that being.


This is a 1931 body and it’s decaying at a certain rate. It’s inevitable. I mean, I may prolong it or slow it down, but it’s inevitable. The personality of this being has a lot of residual little neuroses hanging around in it. It’s also charming, it’s delightful, it’s warm, it’s intelligent, it’s a personality, and those are my vehicles for being here on Earth.


It’s like a space suit, when you see those guys on the moon, and they’re encased in these suits. Those suits allow them to be in that particular element, and so we are in an element which requires that we be sheathed in a body and a personality.


Notice what I’m doing. I’m suggesting that we are not an identity with our personalities or our bodies, we are something more than that, and the predicament we face in recognizing this part of ourselves is that it isn’t ‘see-able’ with our eyes, isn’t ‘tasteable’ with our tongues… isn’t recognizable by any of our external senses.


So do we take this whole part of ourselves and assume it isn’t real?

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What does it mean to see God in everyone?

What does it mean to see God in everyone?

Many years ago, back in the early 70’s, I had a Buick limousine that I had made over into a camper.

I opened the trunk up, and I lived there, and I was driving across the country. I started out from Boston and I had been in India. I had developed certain practices that I just loved doing and at the time I loved doing mantra, or just saying the names of the Beloved over and over again, “Ala, Yahweh, Krishna, Ram.” I would just take the names and keep repeating it, and I sometimes sit with beads and I could go into these extraordinary states of deliciousness.

I was driving across the country, and I wasn’t listening to the radio, and the car is big. It was like a tank, and it just went slowly. I had one leg tucked under me, and I was just driving along in New York, doing my “Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, Krishna, Krishna,” just keeping enough consciousness to keep steering the wheel. I was doing this when I became aware of a flashing blue light, which might have been the blue light of Krishna, but it looked like a state trooper, so I pulled over and I stopped, and this being got out. He came up to the window and he said, “May I see your license and registration?” Turned out I was going too slow. 

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How Do We Liberate Ourselves from the Power of Others?

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Recently I was at a conference, and one of the men at the conference was very powerful, and very preoccupied with power, much like a teenager might be occupied with power, except that he was considerably older.

I experienced this as he was introduced to me and he said, “How ya doing Ram?” I spent time with him and saw that he had decided in his mind that I was irrelevant. Everything I stood for was irrelevant, and I felt my irrelevance in his presence, and I watched that pour through me. I watched myself get caught in it at first, so that I started to crunch up into irrelevance and get slightly deviant. Those are the ways I responded to irrelevancy in his mind about me.

Then I saw my predicament, saved by my meditation bell, and I saw what I was doing. I saw my mind buy his model of myself, and just the noticing of that started to loosen its hold over me. He had brought me into the dimension of power, and found me wanting. He found that I was not powerful enough to be important in his eyes, and I just sat with it, and I felt what it felt like to be irrelevant and somewhat litigious. I just noticed all this, and slowly as I noticed it, and just allowed it. I didn’t push it away, I didn’t make believe that it didn’t exist, I just noticed and allowed it.

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If you had an open heart, what would you do with it?

If you had an open heart, what would you do with it?

When I talk about opening the heart, what exactly do we do? Well, one thing you do is acknowledge that you feel closed. That’s the first thing. You don’t make believe you’re open hearted, which most people do much of the time, when they are actually a little more aloof than they’re feeling themselves to be. They always feel a little hypocritical.

First thing is to acknowledge what you’re feeling. I’ll tell you there are numerous practices for doing this, and you have to find one that’s comfortable for you. For example, I work a lot with my breath, and I breathe in and out of my heart, and when I’m breathing out in my heart, I allow whatever love I can muster for anything to be offered to people, to beings around me, and when I’m breathing in, I’m taking the existence of the universe into myself. I keep feeling this breath going back and forth and the breathing out is, ‘may all beings be free of suffering, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be happy.’

I’m just saying to myself that no matter how hard-hearted or closed hearted I am, I am going to use my energies to the extent that my mind and my heart can do it for the benefit of others. I’m gonna wish them well, and I start out very uptight, you know, so I start out and then I watch.

 

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Will Your Relationships with Others Create Unity or Isolation?

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Our relationships with each other can be vehicles for our unity and they can be vehicles for our entrapment.


They can be vehicles for bringing us more into the universe, into the moment, into the flow of things, or they can be vehicles for isolating us more into our separateness. In my relationship with you, who I think I am affects who I see you to be.


Say I’m driving down the street and I’m in a rush to get to an appointment I’m a little late for. There’s a car in front of me that is slowing down at a corner unnecessarily. I experience anger at the person that’s driving. I swerve to go by the car with anger in my heart and I look and I see that it is an older, confused looking man who is lost, and then I feel guilt. My attachment to getting to my appointment made me see that person as an obstacle.

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How do we remain mindful within our anger and righteousness?

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So it turns out there’s no rule book to take with you in life that says, “When I get into this condition, do this.” My rule is actually really simple, I continually work to quiet my mind, to stay mindful.

I continue to work to soften my heart, to stay ‘heartfelt.’ I work as well as I can to keep the energies moving in my system. I mean this is energy. I am constantly opening and watching and listening and tuning. I am listening my way into the universe. I am hearing my way, not listening actually.

You can feel that when you really listen, you almost start to dissolve into the other person’s storyline. You can feel that when you really listen, you tune your way into the universe, and when the fear arises, you sit with it. I sit with it and I don’t push it away. I don’t grab at it. A know what my limits are, and I often say, “I can’t handle that one just yet,” and I don’t end up feeling guilty about it.

I stopped holding myself to a standard of where I should be as a means of beating myself up when I’m not there.

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How can we create a culture that supports our process of transformation?

How can we create a culture that supports our process of transformation?

You and I are a part of a process that’s going on in our culture at this moment.

And to that extent we are conscious of that process, it’s easier for us to let our acts support that process while simultaneously holding the confusion we feel because the process is leading us in uncharted ways into feelings we have not had before. It seems to me we are all traditionalists, we are all modernists, and we are all ‘cultural creatives.’ To the extent that you bring it all into consciousness, you can feel the way it affects all of it. I often feel like Kahlil Gibran, the prophet: “Speak to us of love, speak to us of pain, speak to us of child rearing…” all of the aspects of life that he taught about.

To the extent that you bring each aspect of your life under scrutiny, there is an opportunity to have that aspect of your life be something which supports transformation.


I mean a lot of people are incredibly generous in the world, but with their family, they are very, very tight, and yet they’re bringing offspring into the world. Many people have greed in one corner of their consciousness and philanthropy in another corner of their consciousness. I’m not knocking them, but just to be conscious about it, to cope with it, to be with it, that’s the first thing.

I’m not arguing for everybody to give up everything, It’s not gonna solve the problem.

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How can we positively embrace change in our future?

How can we positively embrace change in our future?

It’s interesting to observe your own reaction when change presents itself in life.


It may be economic change in your circumstances, it may be a change in the way you spend your life. A lot of people, as their children grow, have an opportunity to change their lives, but they have such strong habits in how they’ve always done things and who they’ve always been, that they get frightened at the freedom to change when an opportunity presents itself.

Up until now, they justified their existence by what their karma commitments are; “I have to be this way,” and I would say that doesn’t have to be the case. They don’t have to wait for their kids to grow up, because that waiting becomes their daily routine.

How much of who I was yesterday is defining who I am today? How much can I allow who I am today to be totally open and tuning and responding to the situation, which includes everything I was yesterday, but also all that I will be tomorrow?

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What is the significance of having (or not having) a guru?

What is the significance of having (or not having) a guru?

I find that in this culture, every time I say I have a guru, I feel like I am holding up a red flag to people, because they say, “Well, I wouldn’t want that,” or, “Why don’t I have one?” or something else, so all I’m doing is creating suffering every time I mention it. It’s hard to have something you treasure so much, that you can’t share with people for fear of the impact it’s going to have on them. But I see that what I have to get rid of is my own reactivity to that issue. I am a member of this culture also, strange though it is.


The words that come to mind are that true surrender is no surrender, and the way it was put to me by one of my teachers in the old days, Baba Hari Dass was, “You can’t rip the skin off a snake. When it’s time, the snake sheds its skin.” If it’s a situation where somebody says,“Surrender to me” and you say, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” forget it. It’s not gonna work anyway, because even if you say, “I’m surrendering to you,” that’s ego saying, “I’m surrendering,” which is not surrender. There is a point where your surrender becomes just so obvious and absurd, that you’d be a fool not to – it’s not something where you decide, “I will surrender.”


It’s very interesting that my relationship to my guru is not one that my rational mind shows. In fact, the whole thing was very abhorrent to me in the beginning. When I met Neem Karoli Baba, the whole idea of a Hindu guru was absolutely absurd. I didn’t like Hinduism. It was day-glow paint and calendar art and I didn’t like it, you know… I liked the cleanliness of Buddhism. I mean I was really, you know, a Southern Buddhist. And here I meet my guru, you know, a big fat guy in a blanket, and what the hell is this all about? The fellow I was with was lying down touching the man’s feet and I’m sitting with my arms crossed standing there thinking, “I’m not gonna touch his feet.” You know, I mean, it was just, that symbol of the whole thing, and I wouldn’t do it.


An hour later it was all I wanted to do.

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How does consciousness affect the direction of our daily lives?

Ram-Dass-how-does-our-consciousness-give-direction-to-daily-lives

There are big changes that are happening in terms of the information age, with travel, with movements in psychology. You are a member of a large number of people who are starting to see the world differently from the socialization process they grew up with, the way they were cultured.


The question is, “How do you deal with change?” Or really, “How do you deal with the unknown?”


I watch people who understand that the economic disparities in this culture are creating destabilization and seeds of discontent, hatred, ill will, revolution, and everything. Some of these same people have a lot of money, and so they have the discomfort of realizing they are a problem. They are anxious because they grew up in a value system where they were taught that money is important for happiness. I watched some of those people begin to realize that keeping that disparity the same, in terms of excess and unnecessary expensive stuff, is cutting them off. It’s hurting them and it’s isolating them from the rest of the world, because they’re busy having to ‘not see certain things in order to stay happy’ and hold onto what they have.


I was teaching a course around homelessness at St. John the Divine some years back, and everybody in the class, a couple hundred people, had to go out and do service with a soup kitchen or shelters or something, or helping with street patrols.

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How can we can stay open to both the suffering and the joy of life?

How can we can stay open to both the suffering and the joy of life?

You and I are in training to be free. We’re in training to be so present, so spacious, so embracing, we’re in training to not look away, deny or close our hearts when we can’t bear something. The statement, “I can’t bear it,” is what burns you out in social action. When you’re in the presence of suffering and contracting, it’s the contraction that starves you to death.

When you close your heart down to protect yourself from suffering, you also close yourself off from being fed by that same life situation.

If you can stay open to both the suffering and the joys and the stuff of life, all of it, then it’s like a living spirit. It just connects to your living spirit and there’s a tremendous feeding going on.

Once you see all this, what else is there to do but keep working on becoming conscious? You’d be a fool not to. You’re only going to perpetuate your misery and suffering and everybody else’s if you don’t. I’ll give it one year, I’ll settle for two, for you to live on two planes of consciousness simultaneously. The other thing is to do it joyfully! When you meet somebody that’s suffering, what do you have to offer them? You could offer them your empathy. That’s a good thing to offer because they feel somebody else is listening to them. The other thing you can offer them is your joy, your presence, and your ‘not getting caught in it all.’

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Ram Dass Explores the Illusion of Time Passage and Aging

Ram-Dass-explores-the-illusion-of-time-passage-and-aging

Now, when you get older one of the things that happens is the change of the meaning of time, in a whole raft of ways. First of all, time gets short before you get ready to leave your body, and that has a certain way of ‘making it all more significant.’ Not that this is the last picnic, but I mean you just start to feel it differently. There’s this agitation and there’s a whole chemical thing in it that makes you experience time as moving faster. When you’re a child spring is a big thing, and summer is ‘summer’ and then, I mean, you know, the feeling of each season is really present. Autumn is going back to school, at least it was in my day, and for adults, it runs a pace.


We seem not to have enough time for anything, and then we get older, the years go by very quickly, and that’s one dimension of time.


Then there’s another interesting dimension of time when you say to friends, “How old do you experience yourself being?” instead of, “How old are you chronologically?” or, “How old is your body,” it’s, “How old do you experience yourself being?”


There are different kinds of responses. People like me would say, “No age at all, I don’t experience myself as age.” Some people would say,” I have always felt like I was 14 years old. I’ve always felt like a little girl up in a tree.” I think for the first 35-40 years of my life, I felt like I was a precocious child. I was a child who was living in over my head. This may be alien to all of you but bare with me. It’s just my pathology. Then I began to feel like I had gotten through puberty. I was about 40 and I started to experience this change in my psychological age. There were a lot of things that occurred in those years, of course, and I got up to the point where I started to feel that I was just who I was. I mean, I was this age at that time, 50-55, and it felt fine and comfortable. Then I went deeper, and I started to feel no age.

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How can we hold onto our identities more lightly?

Ram-Dass-How-can-we-hold-onto-our-identities-more-lightly

When you take birth, you are extremely vulnerable. You’re at the whim of all the forces around you, so what you develop through socialization are techniques for your own survival as a separate entity. That survival comes from creating boundaries so that you don’t just get wiped out. Those boundaries as a little person, as a child, are enlarged by being a member of your family, where you have allies, and are now a part of a group. It becomes, “I have people that are gonna help me. We’ve agreed to help one another.” You know, not all the time, but I’m thinking more in physical proximity than in a psychological sense.


So we grow up feeling that our identity groups gives us power, while it’s also securing our separateness. You can see this within the bigger system of nation-states where there are these huge egos. What’s very interesting historically at the moment we’re living in, is that the sometimes multicultural economic structures are becoming more powerful than the nation-states. The nation-states are in deep doodoo economically, and the industries are doing great. So that the reference to, “I am an American,” while it’s great, is no longer absolute salvation for you, because there’s a whole other ball game playing here.


Now, the more insecure people get, the more they’re frightened by existing conditions.

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How can we use our expanding set of opportunities in society to awaken?

How can we use our expanding set of opportunities in society to awaken?

You have been given a great luxury in this society. You don’t have a fixed identity that you’re locked into, because of caste or because of economics or because of anything. You’re free to ask the question, “What do I want to do?” At first, what people do is they say, “Oh, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna…” and then after a while, you realize that perhaps what the game is about is listening and tuning into who you are on a deeper level, and what this birth is about, and your work of life.

Most people in most societies in the history of the world have never had that option to ask, “What do I want to do?” They’ve gone through their life with the feeling of, “If only I didn’t have this, I could be free.” Then you are free, and now it has to come from a different place in you…how to find the way in your life and you go through the period of, “What do I want? What do I desire?” and then you begin to see the kind of hollowness of it. It doesn’t quite resonate deeply enough in your being.

A lot of very wealthy people in this society, that’s where they live; desperately wanting to have something that will justify their existence.

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What is required in our spiritual journey besides the desire to open?

What is required in our spiritual journey besides the desire to open?

I was raised by a Jewish middle class woman, my mother, who was very busy being just that, very concerned with propriety, and the appropriate food and the way to raise her children and I reacted as an appropriately neurotic Jewish son. And then my mother died and I met my guru, Maharaji. He spoke about my mother and he said, “You know, she’s a great saint.” At the moment that he said that, my entire conception of her shifted and I saw the few moments when she and I had met as spiritual entities, and suddenly the whole way we had interacted as mother and son in this particular round fell into the background, a reversal.

Your daily life is full of this and that, it’s full of pulls and pushes, it’s full of clinging of mind. You are literally at the mercy of your senses and your thoughts. And those senses and thoughts just keep recreating your mold or model or view of the reality.


It keeps reassuring you that you’ve got it all pegged, that’s just the way it is. But every one of you had moments when you broke through, as if you stuck your nose through the veil and you saw that wasn’t who you were at all. But then because most of you had no context in which to put it, you pulled back out of fear. You reassured yourself that the world was the way it was and you referred to those experiences as hallucinations, “I went crazy, it was far out,” as something discontinuous with your daily life.

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How can we use our hearts as agents for social change?

How can we use our hearts as agents for social change?

In the beginning, when I used to sit by the bed of dying AIDS patients, I’d come to their door in my usual, “Aren’t I holy” disguise to see this person. I was visiting the moribund, you know, but then I realized that I was depriving them of what human hearts can do for one another. So then I became like Superman going into the telephone booth as I grasped the doorknob of their room, galumphing along. Now when I put my hand on their doorknob I immediately become a soul. I start to shift my identity, or perspective in myself, into the soul.

You see, I have learned that you can’t see a soul until you can be one.

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How do you free up your consciousness for people who are suffering?

ram-dass-How-do-you-free-up-conscious

People ask me now, “Are you happy these days?” and I say, “Yes, I am. I’m very happy,” and they say, “Oh, that’s good.” Somebody else says, “Are you sad these days?” and I say, “Yeah, I’m sad.” That was a very big one to find out, cause I grew up in a world where in order to be happy, you had to make believe you weren’t sad.

It was a great relief to understand that all the emotions are present in every moment, and somehow they’re present in their unmanifest or imminent form; and then within a moment is something that awakens grief or pain or joy, or preciousness, or humor… you’re just dancing through all the forms of life, and what I saw was that as long as I had aversions, I couldn’t be free, and until I could be free, I couldn’t see anybody else.

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How do you align with your true identity?

How do you align with your true identity?

It was a great moment when I was thrown out of Harvard in 1963. I was the first professor from Harvard in 6,000 years or whatever to have it happen, so I was a really bad guy. I was on the front page of The New York Times. That was good.

So I found myself at a press conference and all the reporters and television people were there to interview me. I felt like a fighter who had just lost the ‘big fight,’ and was now going to sweep the gym for the rest of his life, and they were sort of bidding me goodbye, a fond adieu after having battled Goliath, you know. The problem was that as I stood before the cameras I thought, “I won, I’m right.” That thought was immediately followed by the thinking that that was a psychotic thought. Even I saw the diagnostic categories. When you think something is real that nobody else thinks. The next thought was, “Well, so be it,” because for me to have denied what it was that I had experienced would have left me with a life of total hypocrisy with myself.

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What is an effective process for dealing with the mechanics of your mind?

dealing with the mechanics of your mind

At any time you can look at a thought form and get involved in the content of the thought. In therapy you start to get psycho-dynamic. You can say, “Ok, now I’m gonna look at the mechanics of my mind,” in which case every thought is just another thought. It’s not some special thought or the deepest thought. So I would take the kind of internalized feeling and thought, and I would bring my awareness back to my breath, and then the thought would come again, and I would go back to my breath, and then the thought would come again, and again I would come back to my breath, until eventually I started to appreciate it as just another thought, because at this point I am treating it like that, rather than like it is ‘real’ or ‘solid.’

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