Ram Dass is ready

was tripping today when i found this in the NYT


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For more than 50 years, Ram Dass has watched as other nontraditional spiritual leaders have come and gone while he has remained. He has been active since the early 1960s, back when he was still known as Richard Alpert and worked alongside his Harvard psychology department colleague Timothy Leary, researching the mind-altering effects of LSD and psilocybin and helping to kick off the psychedelic era. Later, as did many people before him, he ventured east, spending time in India as a disciple of the Hindu mystic Neem Karoli Baba. Upon his return, newly known as Ram Dass, he wrote the philosophically misty, stubbornly resonant Buddhist-Hindu-Christian mash-up “Be Here Now,” in which he extolled the now-commonplace, then-novel (to Western hippies, at least) idea that paying deep attention to the present moment — that is, mindfulness — is the best path to a meaningful life.

Published in 1971, that book, an early classic of New Age thinking, has sold around two million copies, according to his website; Ram Dass, who has since written a dozen other books, continues to find new readers via praise from the likes of Lena Dunham and the presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. The 88-year-old’s archived lectures have also found second lives as popular podcasts, and he has been the subject of multiple documentaries, including the life-spanning “Becoming Nobody,” which premieres on Sept. 6. “First I was a professor,” said Ram Dass, who in 1997 suffered a stroke that affected his speaking ability. “Then I was a psychedelic. Now I’m old. I’m an icon.” He smiled knowingly. “There are worse things to be.”

In “Be Here Now,”  I would never argue that the contents of “Be Here Now” have a ton to offer as a systematic philosophy, but there is something comforting about its litany of exhortations, like “When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru.” you write about going to an ashram in India and spending months in deep meditation. Most of us can’t drop out like that and can find it hard enough to not check our phones every five minutes or get away from work email for a day, let alone spend hours a night focusing on breathing, as you did. All of which is a preamble to asking: Is modern Western life anathema to the effort needed for the kind of spiritual development you espouse? Yes. Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts: Those are the daily attention-grabbers that make it so that you can’t come from your mind to your heart to your soul. The soul contains love, compassion, wisdom, peace and joy, but most people identify with the mind. You’re not an ego. You’re a soul. You’re not psychologically full of anxiety and fear.

Ralph Metzner, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass) in 1965 in Laredo, Tex., where Leary was standing trial on charges of marijuana possession. Lawrence Schiller/Polaris Communications/Getty Images


Speak for yourself. If you identify with the ego plane, you’ll find you’re in time, you’re in space, you’re a little body. But go to the spiritual heart, and there will be a doorway to the next plane of consciousness: soul land.  My guru  Neem Karoli Baba, whom Ram Dass refers to as Maharaji, taught from an ashram in the Himalayan foothills in northern India. Steve Jobs went on a pilgrimage to meet him in 1974, only to learn that he had died the previous year once called me over after I threw a plate of food at a Westerner at the ashram. Maharaji said: “Ram Dass! Is something the matter?” I told him my complaints about the Westerners who were hanging around, and he got a glass of milk and fed it to me, and he said, “Now, you do it for them.” So I fed the milk to every one of the Westerners. It made me feel good in my heart. Feed them. Love everybody.

Well, along those lines, your belief is that the universe is unfolding perfectly. So how do we, as human beings, make sense of that perfection given the impending awful catastrophe of something like climate change? Humans can have consciousness on two planes. For example, when you are a reporter at The Times, it’s a game. It’s a dance. How many people do you have to impress? It’s stuff like that. But the soul has in it the witness, and it witnesses our whole incarnation. The soul watches the game without judgment.

Am I playing the game the right way? Um, no.

Ah, Christ. Is there at least a “but” coming? But your intellect will keep you on track! I sense that you are in your spiritual work. You are a soul. Your baby is a soul. Your wife is a soul. The reader is a soul. The editor is a soul. I am a soul. But many of those people don’t identify with their soul. There’s a metaphor that Maharaji described for me: There’s a fisherman, and he’s got a pole, and you’re the fish and I’m the worm. In India, they say: “Don’t look for a guru. The guru looks for you.”

You believe that the “I” is an illusion, and in your most recent book That would be “Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying.” It was written with a co-author, Mirabai Bush. there are quick references to your being gay, which isn’t something I’d seen you mention before. But what does individual sexual orientation mean if the “self” is just a construct of the ego? It’s part of a dream. From when I was a teenager until I found Maharaji, I was homosexual in my head. In high school, prep school, I was attracted to men. That tendency shaped my life. Owsley — you know Owsley?

“A Discussion of LSD and Consciousness Expansion” poster for an event with Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass). The New York Public Library Digital Collections

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