Yoga

Sitting Down With Ram Dass | An Interview via LA Yoga Magazine

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Be here, be love, be now.

The below article from LA Yoga Magazine, enjoy!

To even attempt to put words to the impact Ram Dass’ grace and presence has had over the past forty-plus years would be a task, indeed. In 1967, one young Dr. Richard Alpert, former Harvard psychologist, made a foray to India in 1967, where he met the iconic blanket-clad Hanuman devotee, Neem Karoli Baba, who named him Ram Dass, servant of Ram. Numerous books (including the classic Be Here Now, celebrating forty years of inspiring seekers), the founding of the Hanuman Foundation in Taos, which initiated the Prison Ashram Project (now run by Sita and Bo Lozoff), co-founding the Seva Foundation and the creation of the Dying Project, are only a few of his multitude of influential endeavors. Probably the most impactful teaching Ram Dass offers is his presence itself. He is an iconic guide, role-model and teacher, who is always ready with a bright smile, an easy laugh and a curious exploration into the heart of the spiritual journey. We had the opportunity to share some grace and some laughter with this much-beloved connector of ideas across time and tradition.

Felicia M. Tomasko: What do you see as the greatest gift that you have received from your teacher?

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Ram Dass: From my teacher, my guru, I learned to surrender to God in my life. He showed me how much I can live in my Atman, the real self. The gift was him and he is with me most of the time during my life. He gives me a perspective on my life and of the events in my life – that this is only one life. I see my life is so enriched. He’s given me faith. His grace gives me the experience that my life is full of grace.

FMT: How would you describe that grace in your life?

Ram Dass: Every moment is spiritual. You look out at the trees and the sky and know it’s from God. I think that is what grace gives to me.

FMT: Having that ongoing spiritual experience sounds like a great gift. Is there anything you have to do to perpetuate that or be able to stay in that space? Do you ever forget and what helps you to remember?

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RD: I always forget! I have mechanisms and spiritual practices that make me remember. I can just say that I have forgotten, and when I forget I usually ask, “What am I doing at this place?” Then I know to quickly do my practices.

FMT: As people are starting out on their own spiritual path, how would you recommend they find their own mechanisms to remember or find their own way to connect with that grace?

RD: They would have to be identified with their real self and be free of identification of the ego. That means that they have to go from here [Ram Dass gestures to his head] to here [Ram Dass gestures to his heart].

The way I do it is this: I think, “I am loving awareness.”

If they focus on the middle of their heart space and repeat, “I am loving awareness, I am loving awareness, I am loving; I am loving,” they’ll then repeat it from that place where they will be a witness to their melodrama.

That brings them closer to other people because they see their souls. It brings them closer to their guru. They may not have a guru on this plane, but everyone has a guru.

I sat in the bus debating, “Ice cream or holy place; ice cream or holy place?” and I went through a very tough time trying to make a decision. I said, “We’re all here in India for spiritual things, we should visit a holy place.”

FMT: That’s a strong statement.

RD: For example, my guru left his body in 1973, but I don’t notice any difference. Everybody has a guru that they can call on. They can call their guru by any name: an angel, or Jesus or Hanuman, Krishna; there are plenty of names.

FMT: I know many people who call Neem Karoli Baba their guru even though they have never met him physically.

RD: I give everybody my guru [Neem Karoli Baba]. He said, “All a person has to do is to think of me and I’m there for them.” Anybody who says, “I haven’t a guru,” he is there for them.

FMT: He has been one of your great gifts to so many people. You have given this gift in sharing what you have learned from him. Did you have any idea when you wrote Be Here Now the impact that it would have forty years later?

RD: I didn’t have any idea, but before I left India the first time in 1969 (something like that), he [Neem Karoli Baba] gave me his aasheervaad for my book. I said, “What is aasheervaad and I’m not writing a book.” He said, “Asheervaad is blessings and I don’t know what the book is or what it’s going to be.”

I went back to New York and gave some lectures. A woman in the audience was a stenographer and she copied the words down and gave me this sheet of paper saying, “Here are your words.” Then I carried it in the trunk of my car to California and the guy that took my bags asked, “What’s that?” I told him that this woman made it for me he asked, “Well, can I look at it?” When he looked at it he said, “Those are some really good stories.”

I put it back in the trunk. For my next stop, I was in New Mexico at a wonderful commune that I helped form [The Lama Foundation]. Steve Durkee began to take my bags down and asked, “What’s that?”

We sat around the dinner table reading the stories. He is a great artist and he and other artists were saying, “I can do that,” “I can do this.” It wasn’t my book anyway. It’s his [Neem Karoli Baba’s] aasheervaad. All their creative talents came to me. In the first version of the book, all the components were in a box including a record with kirtan, pictures of saints that you would stick up in the refrigerator and little quotes from spiritual masters you could put on your mirror in the bathroom. Then we decided to make a book, this is what turned out to be Be Here Now.

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