It was early 2013 when I decided I needed to make some changes in my life. I was constantly stressed, suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, and monthly migraine headaches that could have been considered debilitating had I been able to let them. A friend had recommended I consider seeing a chiropractor and despite my skepticism, I went. The chiropractor (Jared Kohler at The Vital Energy Center- who I highly recommend) suggested I consider meditation to manage my stress. When I asked where or how to start he simply suggested I go to the bookstore and find what I was drawn to. So that is what I did. I scanned the shelves of light blue covers, images of people sitting in lotus posture or simply lotuses sitting peacefully on the waters surface. Finally among the sea of peace, there was a hot pink spine that said, Journey to Awakening, by Ram Dass. It was an old book, printed in 1978. I randomly opened to a page thinking, this will be the test… if I like what I read this will be the book I get.
“There once was a king who was going to put to death many people, but before doing so he offered a challenge. If any of them could come up with something which would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy, he would spare their lives. All night the wise men meditated on the matter. In the morning, they brought the king a ring. The king said that he did not see how the ring would serve to make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy. The wise men pointed to the inscription. When the king read it, he was so delighted that he spared them all. And the inscription? ‘This too shall pass.'”
This too shall pass. The advice was so profound I later tattooed it on my arm. As I meandered through the book I was reminded of Franny and Zooey, when Salinger writes, “I don’t think you understood Jesus when you were a child and I don’t think you understand him now.” Basically, Ram Dass was telling me the same thing and because of the way he told me, I believed him. He was funny, charming, told stories that I could relate to, and used words like “groovy.”
The book had a profound impact. I finished it and immediately bought Be Here Now. I was captivated by the images and words. Could a text so easy to get through be true? In school it seemed truth came from large books with complicated language, but Ram Dass was saying it all so simply.
"In my case I kept reading the books but I didn’t understand them. They were yelling the secrets but I couldn’t hear them because I was looking at them from the wrong place! That was my problem. I couldn’t get my head into the right space. I still wanted to know what I knew. See? I was still a Western rational man so I went and I looked and looked and looked and as long as I looked like a rational man looking I didn’t find anything. I just found my own shadow. All this time that is all you ever find: Yourself.
You only read to yourself
You only talk to yourself
You only ever know yourself
That’s all there is! Strangely enough!"
Ram Dass became my first spiritual teacher. Born Richard Albert in 1931, he pursued the path of education first. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford and taught at Stanford, UC Berkeley and Harvard. Though he walked away from academia, he went through it— which in my book allowed me to trust him. He met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba in 1967 in the foothills of the Himalayas. And that was it. He changed his name, which means “servant of God” and dedicated the rest of his life to sharing the teachings of the East. Among some of his famous talks were those held at Naropa University, then Naropa Institute. I listened to his talks daily, took his online meditation classes, read his canon of books, and ultimately he led me to my own guru—Paramhansa Yogananda.
Ram Dass never became less important to me. Though I never got the opportunity to meet him, it was through him that I experienced pure bliss for the first time. In 2017 I went to India on pilgrimage through many sacred sites, among them Kainchi, the ashram of Neem Karoli Baba. I sat at the mahasamadhi mandir in the rain meditating. I received there a blast of joy. My body filled with warmth and my smile, unshakable. I could hear Ram Dass laughing, and despite the cold wet marble underneath my bare feet—I was laughing with him.
I felt this same immersion in pure joy on December 22, 2019, the day that Ram Dass left his body. Sitting in meditation, I sang to myself the version of Rama Rama that he used to often share at satsangs. I thought to myself, I should be sad he has passed. But instead I felt that he was profoundly more present, more accessible perhaps, now that his body has been left behind.
For more information about Ram Dass visit www.ramdass.org.
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