Baba Ram Dass – The Metamorphic Journey of Richard Alpert – by Sara Davidson


The Metamorphic Journey of Richard

by Sara Davidson

 Ramparts Magazine, February 1973, pp.

Get the article in a PDF


Traveling where the saints
have trod Over to the old golden land

….Incredible String


a sunny May afternoon, a 41-year-old man with long, wiry,
graying hair emerged from the Boston International Arrivals
Terminal carrying a suitcase full of Indian silks and an
unwieldy, bowl-shaped instrument called a tamboura. Tall and
light of step, he wore a sweater and bell bottom slacks, and
his face shone with healthy color. He hesitated at the door
to the waiting room, for in his head was flickering an
extraordinary film: a film in which he saw himself swallowed
by a living wave of white-robed bodies, strangled by hugs,
and suffocated by a hail of flowers, grapes and mangos. For
the man was Baba Ram Dass, formerly Dr. Richard Alpert,
returning to the United States after a year and a half in
India, his second journey to the East.

During his absence from this
country, a book he had written, Be Here Now, had been
published in paperback and sold 200,000 copies. That is
twice the trade most bestsellers do, although the book was
not promoted and never acknowledged by any national
publication. Tapes of his lectures had been played on radio
stations, and transcripts were printed in underground papers
and scholarly journals. For a year, Ram Dass had been
receiving about 100 letters a week, asking and begging for
his attention and advice.

A week after his return, Ram Dass
reflected, “I was afraid of the karma I had brought on
myself with that book, afraid of the numbers that were going
to overwhelm me. So I put off coming home, and hung around
England for six weeks. I felt I wasn’t ready to wrestle
with fame and power.” Finally he cabled his father that he
was on his way to Boston. “I got to the airport all prepared
for some Frank Sinatra hysteria scene, and there was nobody
there. Nobody! My father was out of town and didn’t get the
cable.” Ram Dass took a bus into the city, checked his
tamboura and wandered around “really digging this total
reversal of my expectations.”

Had he sent word of his arrival to a
few strategic people, there indeed would have been throngs
at the airport, and I might have been among them. I had read
Be Here Now in 1971 and was interested in meeting the
author. Although I had had many opportunities to see the
folly of this impulse, there, nevertheless, it was: if I
could just talk to Ram Dass, get near enough and ask the
right questions, certain mysteries and doubts might be
resolved –

The concepts Ram Dass expressed
matched suspicions I had long held but never fully trusted.
What hit the strongest chord was his assertion that one
could hold all the keys to the kingdom money, power, beauty,
achievement and still not be happy, still have an unsatisfied
gnawing in the gut: “It’s not enough.” You might want
success in a project, or a trip to South America, or a house
in the country, and as soon as you get it, you find yourself
wanting something else.

Most of us, he said, spend the first
part of our lives living in the future and the rest living
in the past. In order to live in the moment, totally
fulfilled, one must be free of attachments to those unending
desires. We have all had tastes of the here-and-now
experience sailing on a perfect summer day, or sitting with
a group of especially close friends, when there is an
absence of wanting, of needing anything more. For a fragment
of time, we’re not worrying about past troubles, or planning
what to do when the boat docks or the friends leave. We are,
briefly, outside time, outside desire. And by “working on
yourself,” Ram Dass said, one can progress toward inhabiting
that state more frequently.

I made inquiries about interviewing
Ram Dass, for habitually, whenever I have wanted to pursue
an interest, I’ve found a way to make a work project out of
it. He was back in India, and when I met him a year later,
his tuning had subtly changed. The stakes in his game had
been jacked up since the last round. He was headed for the
gap across which lies sainthood, or psychosis whatever you
want to call it a state beyond the range of perceiving we
consensually call normality.

One of the first things he said was,
“I’m living in a totally psychotic space now, because in my
universe there’s only one other being besides me and it’s
God. All day long I’m constantly talking to Him. That’s
clearly not a sane statement in the Western rational model.”
He said he sensed in India the profundity of the surrender
required, “the power of the death, the true death of the
ego. I had figured I could go through the whole
transformation without ever missing a step. But you can’t
take any personality baggage with you. Whoever is left of
the old separate being has to die. It feels as if something
irrevocable has happened and my faith is not quite shakeable
anymore. My relationship to my guru and through him feels
somewhat beyond the pale.”

Because of this faith, he no longer
needs to wear white garments and holy beads, or set up a
little altar wherever he goes with his books, candles and
pictures of saints. “I don’t need the physical reminders for
fear I’ll go under.” Neither does he need to persuade or
teach anyone. He will avoid public activities, speaking to
large groups and “playing the holy man so much. I’m just
going to be another guy and hang out.”

So once again, the master
metamorphosis has pulled his disappearing trick. Ram Dass
said, “I see my value at this moment as symbolic: somebody
who was a psychology professor, was a drug person, and is
still all but primarily none of those anymore somebody who
was an Indian student but, is not primarily that now either.
By changing form, I can help people get the essence of the
thing without getting caught in the form. That’s really the
fun, because they’ll say, ‘I thought you were!’ and I’ll
say, who was that? You were focusing on the wrong thing,
it’s just that I was wearing a brown jacket yesterday.” He
laughs. “When expectations are broken, people

Ram Dass once said he felt “blessed
by having been given everything that Western society could
offer: affluence, lots of love, the best education, and the
fruits of advanced technology, including drugs, the best
drugs. All that was part of my preparation to now know
something else.” The affluence came from his father, George,
a dignified, Republican financier-philanthropist, who was
president of the New Haven Railroad and helped found
Brandeis University.

When Ram Dass talks about Richard
Alpert, he tends to paint him, often hilariously, as a
tormented, miserable wretch. But those who knew him as a
student and later at Millbrook say he was always warm and
charismatic, with an infectious sense of humor and zest.
David McClelland, a psychology professor for whom Alpert
worked at Harvard, says he was an excellent and ambitious
scholar, who gained rank with rare speed. “No one observing
him would have known about the inner anxiety, and he didn’t
talk about it.”

At Harvard, Alpert taught psychology
and practiced psychotherapy. He flew his own plane,
collected antiques, cars, a sailboat and scuba-diving
equipment. Although he had spent five years in
psychoanalysis, he says, he was tense and suffered diarrhea
every time he lectured. He drank heavily and was a closet
homosexual, “living with a man and a woman at the same time
in two different parts of the city a nightmare of hypocrisy.”
He looked at his colleagues on the A team at Harvard and saw
that none seemed fulfilled or content. He feared he himself
would wake up 40 years later no less neurotic or more wise,
and he panicked. “I thought, the best thing I can do is go
back into psychoanalysis. But then I started to have doubts
about the analyst. Is his life enough? Whose life is? Who’s
saying, right, it’s enough?”

He was, at this time, an atheist,
and had difficulty even pronouncing “spiritual.” But on
March 5, 1961, a tab of psilocybin was to blow out all the
old holding pegs. One of his faculty drinking buddies,
Timothy Leary, had started a research project with
mind-altering drugs, allegedly to explore their potential
benefit for criminals, addicts and sick people. Alpert was
brought in as the steadying influence, to control Leary’s
wild flights and keep the research within respectable
scientific bounds. But the first time Alpert took psilocybin
with Leary, he discovered an exalted place inside himself
where an “I” existed, an essence deeper than his social and
physical identity, a steady center unaffected by the play of
time. And this “I” was all-knowing. The more drug trips he
took, the more he trusted the inner voice, and the less
reinforcement he needed from the environment. In 1963, when
he and Leary were fired from Harvard in a ritual of public
exorcism, they barely broke stride; moving to Millbrook, New
York, they set up the Castalia Foundation to study the
mystic aspects of drugs. They created the word
“psychedelic” mind revealing and for seven years used their
bodies as test chambers to discover a permanent route to
higher consciousness. They took new drugs as fast as they
were invented, but each seemed to have built into it a crash
back to the ordinary waking swamp.

By 1967 Alpert was in a state of
despair the dimensions of which must have been truly
hideous. He had cut all his lifelines and was adrift in the
midst of nowhere. He could not go back to the straight
world, and after hundreds of acid visions, neither he nor
anyone knew how to make constructive use of the

His mother died early in the year,
and when a friend invited him to travel across India, he
accepted not in hope of learning anything but because, oh
well, what else? He watched the countryside go by and his
depression never lifted. Then, in Katmandu, a chance
encounter with a gigantic, blond, 23 year old American boy
led him to an ashram in the Himalaya where he met his guru,
Maharaji (a title meaning Great King).

For each of us, it probably takes a
certain kind of jolt to break the shackles of absolute faith
in the rational mind. For Alpert, it was meeting a twinkly,
fat, old man wrapped in a blanket, who immediately told him
exactly how his mother had died, and indicated that he knew
everything in Alpert’s head. At first, Alpert says, his mind
raced to come up with an explanation. Then, like a computer
fed an insoluble problem, “my mind just gave up. It burned
out its circuitry.” There was a violent wrenching in his
chest and an outpouring of tears. “All I could say was it
felt like I was home. The journey was over.”

I have heard an assortment of rumors
about Ram Dass and they all center on what “really happened”
in India. According to various, comically murky sources:
Alpert was on morphine; Bhagwan Dass was on heroin; Alpert
followed Bhagwan Dass because he was sexually attracted to
him; Alpert never went barefoot; Alpert spoke constantly
about his mother and it would have been no feat for the guru
to pick up the vibe. The need for these rumors is puzzling,
because the undeniable fact is that something happened in
India and Alpert came back transformed.

In his book, he describes studying
yoga in the Temple of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey God who
exemplifies the perfect servant. Dass means servant, so Ram
Dass, the name Alpert was given, means servant of Ram, or
God, as Ram was one of the incarnations of the God Vishnu,
the preserver, Baba means father, and is a term of
endearment and respect.

Alpert followed a ritual of study,
meditation, a cold bath at 4 a.m., vegetarian diet,
exercise, breathing and cleansing practices. He vowed sexual
continence, and for six months he was silent, using chalk
and a slate to communicate. As a result of not speaking or
expending sexual energy for so long, when he returned to
this country he was like a spring uncoiling with tremendous
force. He met with Tim Leary in San Francisco, who suggested
he simply hadn’t finished with his sexual trip. “If you’re
turning incident later, he said, “I saw it all of your
energies into your own strange man with a beard, driving a
being, it becomes autoerotic, masturbation.”

Alpert laughed, and later told an
interviewer, “I haven’t cured my neurosis, I just got bored
with it”.

The notion of destroying the ego is
scary because we tend to think that if there is no ego,
there is nobody to be conscious of anything, and so we no
longer exist. But if you can conceive of yourself as a spark
of divine essence, a bit of life force, which is being
expressed through your thoughts, feelings, body and behavior
but is not seated in any of those, then you are open to what
Ram Dass suggests: “a complete perceptual reorganization of
who I am. I am without form, without limits, beyond space
and time. I am light, love, consciousness, energy. It’s a
hard one. I’m still doing it.”

In this framework, the ego is only a
surface casing; all the searing emotions which seem to lie
deep within you are but twitches in that outermost crust.
“It’s interesting, because as a psychologist I always
treated the personality as real and terribly serious. That’s
what the whole growth movement, the encounter thing, all of
western psychology does. But it’s not real, it’s all just
stuff. Pain, pleasure, anger, guilt they’re only mind
moments, and there’s always a new moment.

Even the mind is not really you.
“Cogito ergo sum is a lie. We exist behind our thinking.”
Ram Dass says there are other ways of knowing besides
through the senses and the mind, and quotes Albert Einstein
as stating:

“I did not arrive at my scientific
discoveries through my rational mind.”
The other way of
knowing is intuitive, subjective, and requires transcending
the rational mind. The mind must be transcended because it
works in time, and can only think with an object.

The place we’re aiming for
Heliopolis, highsville, lives outside time, and there is no
subject object. There is no knower who knows a thing, no
experiencer having an experience. The knower is the
knowledge, the experiencer is one with the

That’s why they say LSD is a false
samadhi, because there’s still an experiencer. The drug
doesn’t kill the ego. If it were a real samadhi, you
wouldn’t come back.

The trick, though, is that when you
do reach the end of the line, you re exactly where you
started, but everything is in different perspective. When
you give up your attachment, your anxious need, for money or
power or sex, then you’re free to make money, wield power
and have sex. When you transcend your mind, you still use
your mind, but it’s a servant, not your master. When you
crack the ego and feel your personality as completely
unreal, you don’t lose your personality. All holy men have
distinct personalities. But you no longer identify with that

At the end of his talks, Ram Dass
always told people that whatever course they were following
was perfect, because it’s all predetermined anyway. The
very moment you wake up is determined. There are no
accidents in this business. The guru is inside you, you
don’t have to go to India. The next message you need is
always right where you are.

Ram Dass returned to India in
November of 1970. The book was being hand lettered at the
Lama Foundation, a spiritual commune in New Mexico, to which
he had assigned all rights and royalties.

There were also, by this time, more
than 160 hours of Ram Dass tapes in circulation. WBAI in New
York played them through 1971, and that summer, a group of
listeners formed a meditation group in which Hilda Charlton,
a woman who had been seeking God for many years, became
spiritual leader. Meanwhile, rumors flew back from India:
Ram Dass was coming home in December, January, February,
never. His head was changing. He would not teach or give
interviews anymore. I decided to write him, telling him
about myself and my interest in an article.

He answered last March, saying he
would be in America soon and we might “share a moment.” If
writing an article brings you closer to God, he said, “it is
good sadhana (spiritual work), which is all there really is.
Your letter felt good, so it all seems OK. You can keep
contact through Marty Malles in Brooklyn.”

I called Marty Malles, and we had a
strange conversation in which I spent the first half
stammering and the second half laughing with him. He said he
was 34, a salesman of ladies’ underwear, and had just been
to India with his wife and two children on his annual three
week vacation. He had been following Ram Dass since 1969,
and Maharaji was now his guru. “You’re calling because
Maharaji sent you to us. Maharaji shines through Ram Dass.
Maharaji wrote that book, and if it touches you it’s because
Maharaji loves you.

He asked me to come to the
meditation group. I walked into the apartment on Riverside
Drive, found the usual jumble of shoes by the door and about
70 people sitting in near darkness reciting “Affirmations:”
“I am God’s perfect child, I am free, I am free, I am free.”
On a corner table were pictures of Ram Dass, Christ,
Maharaji, Sathya Sai Baba, Pir Vilayat Kahn, and Hilda
herself. “My God,” I thought. “These people are

They began to sing “Praise be to
Jesus,” and I recoiled. Seventeen years of Jewish cultural
conditioning had given me no faith in God or reverence for
the Hebrew tradition, but it had left me with a visceral
antipathy to Christ. With each chorus, the group substituted
the name of another saint, and when it came to praising Ram
Dass, I found myself joining in. Marty led a meditation,
there was singing, ever more joyous, and when the lights
came on, everyone was in each other’s arms.

I went regularly to the meditations,
and for long periods, forgot that I had originally come
there on business, to get to Ram Dass. Then a report would
filter in about Ram Dass’ whereabouts and shock me into a
state of confusion. I was not sure, anymore, why I was so
compelled to reach him.

One Friday in May Marty came to pick
me up for the meditation. As we were walking out the door, I
said casually, “I bet he’s in Boston right now.” Marty went
to the phone and dialed George Alpert’s number. Ram Dass
answered the phone.

“Hi!” he said, in that buoyant voice
I recognized from the tapes. “Did you finish your

“No, I haven’t started it yet. I’d
really like to talk to you.”

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know where
I’ll be from moment to moment. I’m not living in

“Could I come see you in

“You could,” he said, “but you might
get here and not find me, and you’d have a round trip to New

I said that wouldn’t bother me, but
I had heard he might want privacy and I didn’t want to

There was a long pause, and then Ram
Dass said: “If you can find me, you can have me.”

I was on the first shuttle flight
the next morning. It was pouring rain when the taxi dropped
me at the orange brick townhouse. I pressed the buzzer and
shouted through the intercom, “Is Ram Dass there?” I heard
muffled voices: “Oh what, Sara, New York, groan just a
minute.” Phyllis Alpert, George’s second wife, answered the
door in a pink housecoat. It was just after nine, a Saturday
morning, and I had woken everybody up. I sat alone in the
immaculate living room. After some time Ram Dass appeared,
put his hands in the temple pose and nodded. “I took you at
your word,” I said.

I sensed in him an openness, an
almost palpable receptivity, yet there was also a kind of
crystalline sternness. He went to the kitchen to brew Indian
tea. “How does it feel to be back?” I asked. “I can only
think about the tea now, unless you want a superficial

He brought out the tea on a silver
tray and took me to the back room. “This is where I hang
out.” It was a cozy, well appointed study, with an oriental
rug, a wall of dark wood bookcases, a white fireplace with
fluted columns and cherubs, and a gold velvet convertible
sofa on which the bedclothes were left as Ram Dass had
climbed out of them shortly before. We sat on cushions on
the floor. There was a damp chill, and Ram Dass, wearing
pants and a tunic of thin white material, put on a jaunty,
plaid, Scottish wool cap, and wrapped himself in a mohair
blanket. He was much taller than I had envisioned about
6’2″. His crown is bald, but from the sides and back of his
head and from his face, hair sprouts in a wildly capricious
assortment of lengths. His blue eyes, fixed unshakeably on
me, were open so wide they seemed more vertical than

I told him I had been asking myself
why I had pursued him so single pointedly, and it became
clear that I was to try to write something. I had questions
to ask which he could answer or not. He nodded. It was all
so easy. “You have me. Go ahead.”

He picked up the tamboura and sang
devotional songs, ending with “Sri Ram.” After a silence, he
opened his eyes; I turned on the tape recorder. I asked what
being with Maharaji this time had meant to him. “Wow. I’m
speechless.” He shook his head and thought a few minutes. “I
went back to India with the fantasy that I would be going
back in, that I had been out in the world, the marketplace,
and now I was going back to the cave to recharge.” He
laughed softly. “Maharaji knocked that into a cocked hat. In
a year and a half in India, he allowed me exactly 11 days
when I was not surrounded by Westerners, doing the same
thing I do in America. You see, when I was speaking and
running ashrams in New Hampshire, all the people who
gathered wanted me to help them with their trips. So for
like 19 hours a day, I was rushing around being there for
everybody, and I started to feel starved to death because
nobody wanted me. They wanted it but not me, and I was
starving and I rebelled. I got to hate them all because they
were my murderers. So I went to India thinking, now I’m
going to get away from them all, and preserve my ego in a
cave. Far out. Can you hear that inversion? But lots of them
followed me there, and every time I tried to be alone,
Maharaji would send huge numbers after me: ‘Go be with Ram
Dass. Ram Dass is your guru, he’ll help you. Like, kill him,
kill him faster!

“It was an incredible period, the
longest I’ve ever gone through with no conceptual
understanding of what’s happening to me. Because I’m so good
at describing things, but Maharaji’s so far out I can’t even
find him! At moments he seems like a bungling old fool.
Other times he’s a wizard, he’s divine, or he’s just a nice
teacher. Every time I label him he immediately crashes the

On his first visit, he said, the
guru had been a remote, loving presence; this time he did
more direct, intensive teaching. “He took me through fierce
trips about anger, jealousy, sex, greed, and attachment to
the physical body. I saw that my bonds to him were much
deeper than I had planned them to be. It was as if I had
surrendered more, so the next level of operation could take

At their first meeting, Maharaji
asked Ram Dass why he had come back to India. Ram Dass said
because he was not pure enough. “I asked him for only one
thing, one boon that I could be pure enough to be an
instrument of his service. I said I don’t want to be
enlightened, I just want to be pure enough to do whatever
work I’m supposed to do. He gave me a mango to eat, hit me
on the head and said, ‘You will be.'”

Maharaji sent Ram Dass on a
pilgrimage of temples in Southern India, and then Ram Dass
arranged to spend the summer monsoon season in a remote
mountain ashram meditating. I saw that my mind was out of
control. I knew a lot, I was becoming wise in certain ways,
but I felt that I couldn’t go further until I quieted my
mind. So I arranged for the essence meditation teacher to
come, and I put up money for a new water system, just to try
to snake it all beautiful. I told Maharaji about it, how I
was going to go very deep, and then I looked at him, like,
aren’t I good? And he said, “If you desire it.” That was the
first inkling I had that my craving for meditation was one
of my ego desires, that there was a power thing in my
meditation, it wasn’t pure. Maharaji didn’t say meditation
was bad or good, but he said the way you’re doing it is from
ego. He kept showing me that my path, my dharma, is one of
devotion and service, my route is the route of the

Ram Dass went to the mountains
anyway, thinking, “at least he’s still gonna let me do it.”
But a week later the teacher wrote that he couldn’t come,
and Maharaji sent 30 Americans to follow Ram Dass. “That
ruined it. I gave up. I figured Maharaji’s just stronger
than I am. So I set up a place for the 30 of us and we had a
beautiful summer.” Each person had his own cell to meditate,
they were silent at meals, and Ram Dass worked with people
individually. On Sundays they read the Bible, and on
Tuesdays they fasted, worshipped Hanuman and read the
Ramayana, the story of Ram. Maharaji’s presence was very
powerful. When we saw him later he told us everything that
had happened. “When I meditated I felt him so near me, he was
like a shadow that I couldn’t see no matter how fast I spun
around. Then I started to feel this great loneliness, that
he had gone away from me. It took a while to realize that we
were merging. I was just drunkenly falling into him
through love, and ultimately there would be only one of

In the fall, he attended a nine day
holy fire ceremony, at the end of which people took a
coconut shell, put whatever they wanted to get rid of in to
it and threw it to the fire. Ram Dass decided to throw
sexuality in the fire. “‘My God, I’m 40 years old, I’ll give
it up,’ I thought. And right afterwards I went through the
most ferocious anger I’d ever experienced. One of the things
that freed me to be angry was that I saw that every
relationship I had was sexually toned. With women and men,
young and old, there was always a slight, gentle
titillation, and the minute I stopped seeing myself and
others as sexual objects, that whole pull to get that little
rush wasn’t there.”

Ram Dass and the group were now back
with Maharaji, and Ram Dass resented the fact that he
wasn’t alone with the guru as he had seen the first time.
Maharaji made him commander in chief of the Westerners,”
told him to love everyone and always tell the truth. “I
figured I’ve never really told the truth that much,” Ram
Dass said, “and the truth is I hate all these people. This
one’s obsequious, that one’s whining and selfish, this one’s
too messy, that one’s too neat. It got so that out of 34
people, there wasn’ t one I could stand. So I thought I’ll
be truthful about it.” He stopped speaking to them all, and
for two weeks wouldn’t allow anyone near him.

One day at the Temple, in front. of
Maharaji, a boy brought him a leaf of consecrated food and
Ram Dass threw it at him. “Holy prasad, living grace! And I
threw it at him because I hated his guts.” Maharaji called
him over and said, “Something troubling you?” Ram Dass said,
“Yes, I’m angry. I hate everybody but you.” Maharaji asked
why, and Ram Dass said, “because of the impurities which
keep us in the illusion. I can’t stand it any more. I can’t
stand it in anybody including myself. I only love you.” Then
he broke into racking, screaming sobs. Maharaji sent for
milk, and sat patting Ram Dass on the head, feeding him,
crying with him, and saying over and over, “You shouldn’t be
angry. You should love everyone.” Ram Dass said, “But you
told me to tell the truth and the truth is I hate everyone”
Maharaji said “No.” “A saint doesn’t get angry. Tell the
truth, and love everyone. There’s only one. Love every

He looked at the group and saw
standing between him and them this huge mountain my pride.
For me to give up the anger, I had to give up my whole
rational position, my reasons for being angry, without
sitting down first and talking it over and winning a few
points for my side.”

Maharaji sent him off to eat and
called the others over and said, “Ram Dass is a great saint.
Go touch his feet.” This made Ram Dass cringe and feel more
furious. “I saw my predicament I was going to have to do
this all myself.” He cut an apple into small pieces, went to
each person and looked in his eyes “until I found the place
in him I loved.” Then I let all the rest wash away, silently.
I fed them all, and when I was finished there was no more
anger. Later I got angry again, but it went through very
quickly because I relived that whole moment. I saw that
anger is only because you’re attached to what you were
thinking a moment ago. It’s not real, it’s only a mind
moment. Yes I was angry then OK, now is now, and if you’re
right here, everything starts all over again.”

It was still in the back room in
Boston, Ram Dass had been talking for three hours. I took an
apple from my bag, cut it and we shared it , He showed no
sign of weariness or impatience, so I put a new cassette in
the machine, and asked what he feels are his

“I’m afraid of my desires. Like you
being here, your desire to interview me that comes out of
desires I had which led to the book and the whole scene when
I came back from India. When I went there, I had used up the
psychedelic thing. I was sort of remotely known as a partner
of Tim Leary’s, and I could very easily have just
disappeared into the background. But I didn’t, because I had
desires. When I saw those hippies in New Hampshire and said,
‘I am not that kind of connection’ there it was. All I had
to say was, ‘Gee no, I don’t have any acid,’ get in the car
and drive off. And I still would be that anonymous

Theoretically, if Ram Dass were pure
enough, it would be irrelevant whether people mobbed or
ignored him. But he is still determining, controlling, how
he wants to serve. He refuses to appear on a public stage,
but says he finds it “useful for my own consciousness to
work with individuals.” Maharaji instructed him not to have
ashrams or students, and not to stay in any place longer
than five days. But when people manage to slip through the
net and find Ram Dass, he will sit down with them and ask
questions designed to unleash the secret horrors they are
keeping chained with in. All the while, Ram Dass is looking
in their eyes repeating a mantra to himself. “Whatever they
say gets completely neutralized the minute they bring it
into my consciousness. Because I don’t care. I know it’s not
real and they feel this tremendous re lease.”

I asked him if one could bypass
neurosis through spiritual work. What happens to a depressed
person the day after he sees Ram Dass, or the hour after he
does his meditation? Ram Dass said at the moment “when we’re
here together and not caught in any of that stuff you can
call it high it’s a very real feeling. Now the next moment
you may go back to the old place, but the experience of the
other moment we had loosens the hold just a bit. It’s new
input. A new kind of valid experience.”

He said spiritual work is everything
that happens in your life. “Every neurotic hassle I’ve had
was part of my awakening, which, is why I tell people not to
do anything about neurosis, just go to God and let neurosis
worry about itself.”

Ram Dass said he is at a point where
he welcomes rather than tries to avoid pain, because he
understands that suffering is purification. “And it’s got to
be real, not make believe suffering, where your faith is
gone and you’re in despair, suffering is the fire that burns
away attachments. Despair is the prerequisite for the next
level of consciousness.” He said he has little interest in
taking drugs because “when I’m down it’s higher for me than
when I’m up. When I’m up, I’m overriding the spots I have to
work on, and I’m more interested in doing the work than in
remembering how groovy it is. I know how groovy it is.” He
said drugs take people to one plane while excluding the
others. The state of being happy or high is implicitly
defined by its opposite being miserable or down and a truly
conscious person is beyond all dualities. He is both present
at and absent from all states and levels. ‘That’s why when
Maharaji takes acid, nothing happens.” So if you’re charting
levels of consciousness, with heaven, bliss or satori at the
top and hell at the opposite pole, he said, “you’re not
finished. You’re seeking experiences, and all experiences
are to be transcended. When you meet a realized being, you
see that there’s no where he isn’t, nor is there anywhere he

Ram Dass finds himself feeling,
thinking, and experiencing less. “It’s like watching
emotions and passions fall away.” Sexual desires still
ripple up, and in London he spent time with Caroline Winter,
the woman he lived with before the first trip to India. “We
feel like we’re already married in heaven but we can’t get
it together on the physical plane, we can’t be conscious
enough. She’s seeing Maharaji now, and I don’t know, maybe
we’re going to be 50 year old married people with ten kids.
I can’t write the script of this, because sex is one of the
last ones you ever get conscious about.”

It was late afternoon now. I had
been checking off my question list and watching the tape
recorder to make sure I was getting it all, and the re
porter in me was no doubt about it thrilled. But another,
subtler voice was still unsatisfied. I asked Ram Dass if we
could do some personal work, the kind he had described
earlier. He agreed, but said because he was recu perating
from hepatitis, he did not have the energy at the moment. We
arranged to meet the next morning.

As I left, I turned impulsively to
hug him. He laughed with intense sweetness and joy, held me
and patted my hair. Then he said abruptly, “Maharaji told me
not to touch people.”

Sunday, ten a.m. Ram Dass was
sitting in front of a window; because his face was backlit
by brilliant sun, the features were difficult to distinguish
and at times dissolved into blackness.

“There is a Sikh saying: ‘Once you
know that God knows everything, you’re free,’ ” Ram Dass
said. “We all have rooms in our head we keep closed and
guarded, as part of our social posture. That guarding is
energy, and it makes the things real. Freedom lies in
realizing that everything you were protecting isn’t who you
really are.”

He said he would look in my eyes as
a focal point, “nothing personal about it. And I just do
mantra. And our base camp, the base from which we work. And
all this verbal … ahlala lalala . . . this is just stuff.
That’s the most expressive word I can find to describe what
all of our attachments are. It’s beautiful stuff, it’s the
Divine Mother, it’s illusion. It’s all to be enjoyed
without attachment.” He was silent a while. “As I look in
your eyes, you’re direct, you’re honest, but the level of
your trust is something else. There’s nothing you can say to
me that makes any difference. So the simple question I’ll
ask again and again is: if there is anything you can bring
to mind that would be difficult, embarrassing or painful to
share, share it with me. When I ask the question, say
whatever comes. Don’t judge it, just let it spill

I waited. Nothing came to my head
that felt particularly difficult or em barrassing to say. I
began to talk about falling prey to self pity and self

Ram Dass: “The other side of that
coin is self love. It’s attachment to good and evil. It’s
judging, you’re judging yourself, are you good or horrible,
admirable or pitiful? You identify with the judge. You think
you are the judge. But the judge is just more stuff. Behind
that, we are neither good nor evil. We just are.”

He asked the question again, and two
words danced forth bringing tears:

“Long … suffering. You said suffering purifies, but I feel I’ve suffered enough. I’ve had
enough punishment. I don’t want any more pain. I don’t
if I stand still for eternity, I
don’t want to suffer anymore.. It’s the whole self pity
thing, nobody else suffers as much, it’s all

Ram Dass: “Can you hear that? All
right. It’s very hard to extricate your self from your own
melodrama. Self pity’s a very powerful attachment. But evil
and self pity are just more stuff. It’s stuff and you’re
right here. And there’s self pity. There it is.”

By now, despite the fact that I was
crying and wringing kleenex, it was as if I were playing in
a soap opera. It actually didn’t feel real at

Ram Dass said, “There’s nothing to
fear. What is the worst fear, death. If you die, so there’s
death. You’ll work through it and start again.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“You don’t have to. Here we

The interplay went on for several
hours. I heard a soft bleeping noise, but dismissed it as
probably something like a telephone off the hook. I kept
talking, until he said, “I think that’s your machine.” I
looked down. The wheels had stopped turning, a red light was
flashing, and tape was spewing out the slits of the casette
like spaghetti. This was, curiously, the first time in my
professional life I had decided not to worry about whether
the machine was working. “You’ve got to keep it all
together, not get lost in the clouds,” Ram Dass said. I put in
a fresh casette, and he added, laughing, “Wait till you hear
all the self pity in there!”

He was focusing on the judge more
and more, calling it “Her Honor.” I would describe something
as “incredible” and he’d interrupt: “Incredible is a
judgmental word.”

“I feel like there’s nothing I can
say. You’ve stripped me.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. There’s lots
more. We haven’t even begun yet.”

“But if I’m not to judge, I don’t
know how to operate. You’ve taken away everything I

“You’re still using things you can’t
even see yet.”

If this sounds harsh, it did not
feel that way at all. I sensed his complete, unconditional
acceptance while he was smacking my ego, he was in no way
attacking me.

I could read nothing in his eyes,
however. No sympathy, encouragement, discouragement,
pressure. I told ferently. but I’m beginning to think Ghandi
was absolutely right on when he said if you’re in true
harmony with the universe, the only time you have sex is to
reproduce .”

On the issue of women, he was more
insistent. “Most women’s major work is to understand why
they were born a woman. It wasn’t random. You take a woman’s
body because you have certain work to do, and it’s my
understanding that it’s not a full incarnation if you don’t
honor your bio logical impulses to reproduce, and nurture
children. The idea is not to end up more womanly, or
restrict yourself to the house, but to under stand what your
incarnation is about. Just as I have to understand my incarnation, why I didn’t come out a man in the full

This view does not preclude sympathy to women’s liberation, he said. “I honor people’s
efforts to end inequality and relieve suffering, and if it’s
your dharma, your path, to be in women’s lib and change
things, change them. But don’t get caught in thinking that’s
what it’s all about.”

People involved in political
efforts, he said, tend to confuse external and internal
freedom. “They’re not the same thing. No matter how much
another person suppresses you, even if he crucifies you, it
has nothing to do with your internal freedom. These are the
hardest things to accept the relationship of the spirit to
the external world. Political work is a noble way to spend
your time here, so long as you do it without attachment, and
with the understanding that it’s not the whole game. Because there
are people who have all the freedom, all the things these
movements are designed to give everyone, and they’re not fulfilled as human beings.”

He said, the highest thing anyone
can do for society is to work on him self, because “every
advancement in man’s condition has come about by someone
becoming a little more con scious. War is the result of lack
of con sciousness. So is hunger. There’s enough food to feed
every human be ing that exists, but the consciousness of man
is such that he says, it’s my food, not yours.”

I asked Ram Dass what he does about
money, and what has happened to the book royalties, which I
estimate to be more than $100,000. He said the money is used
by Lama Foundation to subsidize a “mish mash of spiritual
projects.” Lama gives Ram Dass living expenses, and his
father is “always waiting at the post to give me money but I
rarely take it. I could do lecture tours, you know, and make
$1,000 a night, but I would like not to be connected with
money in any way. Nothing I have is for sale.”

He was starting to rock back and
forth on his heels, and indicate, by sighs, that the
interviewing had gone on long enough. But before I left, I.
wanted to check something out. There had been contradictions
in his theories, and some of his statements about India
seemed jejune, but what troubled me was something I had
learned the day before from a group of New Yorkers who had
driven up in the rain seven hours over flooded roads to see
Ram Dass. When they reached Boston, .he said he couldn’t see
the group, and there was no reason for them to have made the
whole trip. Cathy, the exuberant young woman who organized
the caravan, said she felt disappointed , because “nothing
passed between us. He didn’t even acknowledge the

This had set off in me a rush of
emotions. Why was he giving me so much of his time? Why did
he say yes to me and rebuff the others?

When I asked, Ram Dass curled up
like a cat. “Let’s see if I can recon struct this. I think
the fact that you were doing an article had something to do
with it, not because of publicity but because it was a
collaborative ef fort that would push me to formulate
things. When Cathy called up all gush ing and emotional, I
thought, oh, why do we need this hysterical home coming

He rested his chin on his hand.
“Cathy’s a beautiful being, but there’s a place in me that
doesn’t like that kind of woman. When a woman is overbearing
and smothering, I can’t stand it.” He made a sour face. “I
want to shove her away. But I have to wrestle with that
that’s where I haven’t finished my work. I can’t see the God
in her.”

I started gathering my things. Ram
Dass said, “This has really been interesting. I can see
from when you probe certain areas that there are

places where I’m not pure. I’m not
all done with it.”

“You never said you

He laughed, and stretched out his
long legs. “Yeah, but I implied it.”

Several weeks later when I was back
in New York, a friend called to tell me Ram Dass was passing
through and would be at the’ meditation group that night.
Within six hours, word of mouth brought out more than 250

At about half past seven, a man
wearing a faded yellow polo shirt, brown pants and orange
socks walked through the door. Heads turned. “Is that Ram
Dass?” He would not take the seat of honor, but squeezed
into ‘the row facing Hilda. Hilda said “I’m not going to ask
Ram Dass to speak, so it’s up to you kids. If you have
enough will..

“I give up!” Ram Dass laughed. He
rose on his haunches, and turned toward the crowd. As the
words began, the figure in faded clothing became something
else a perfect showman. He repeated stories he had told me
during the interviews, but now they were polishished little
dramas, complete with sub plots and comic relief. “I didn’t
really want to end up on the path I’m on,” he said at’ the
start. “I wanted something much more esoteric and exquisite.
I wanted to know some secrets, and give myster ious
initiations, and have powers, and be able to do things to
people, and just have a little shtick to go along with it.
But all I know is to love my guru, love everyone, and see
God everywhere. You can’t earn a living telling people

He spoke more than an hour, and
seemed, in the outflow of stories and ideas, to lose his
consciousness of self. For he sat back, finally, onto the
tier of cushions that had been so carefully built for

“I know the day will come, and not
too distant, when I’ll walk into a room and nobody will say,
‘There’s Ram Dass.’ Because it’s, ‘There’s everyone. It’s
all the light. Ultimately you will feel the light in
yourself and you’ll see it in everyone you look at,
everyone! Then you’ll realize there’s nobody special. No
heroes and no villains. It’s just all of God’s




21, 2000, Sunday
Dass Effect
By Sara

Karoli Baba Ashram – Taos, New Mexico – A