Chatting With The Love Guru: A Q&A with Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass
Ram Dass won’t be appearing in person at Book Passage in Corte Madera on Nov. 7 to promote his new book, Be Love Now: The Path of the Heart (HarperOne)—a follow-up to his 1971 bestseller, Be Here Now. He suffered a debilitating stroke 13 years ago, and now stays put in Maui, so he’ll be appearing by teleconference. But that won’t stop local metaphysical junkies from showing up to talk spiritual bliss with the iconic author and teacher.
Dass (né Richard Alpert) began his path to enlightenment in the early ’60s during his professorship at Harvard, where he co-conducted the Harvard Psilocybin Project with Timothy Leary. Needless to say, administering LSD to divinity students in order to determine if the drug could elicit profound religious experiences didn’t go over well. So a few years after Dass was fired in 1963, he traveled to India, where he immersed himself in Hindu spirituality, learning philosophical mantras, yoga asanas, and the value of service from his guru, Maharajji (from whom he received the name Ram Dass—more on this shortly).
The 79-year-old has been teaching Hinduism in the U.S. since 1969 through his various nonprofits and many books. Below, he shares with us his advice for getting spirited away.
Explain how you came to be called Ram Dass.
Ram is a name for God, and Dass means “servant.” So my name means servant of God. In India, the names go together—one doesn’t work without the other. I don’t mind being in the servant class. A servant of God is not a bad gig.
Good to know, considering the high unemployment rate. What are the qualifications for becoming a spiritual guru?
One of the great Indian sages of the last century, Ramana Maharshi, said that God, guru, and self are the same. If you not only know that, but are that, then go ahead and sign right up for the job.
Does enlightenment ever reach a plateau?
I think that the enlightened state is just a continuous flow of being, a state of totality that is completely here, completely fulfilled on every level. Truth, consciousness, and bliss all rolled up into one is a way of describing it. There’s no time in that state. It’s the eternal moment. There’s no more. Realized beings have one foot in the infinite and one in existence.
Apparently, you spiritual types love things that come in threes. Will you turn Be Here Now and Be Love Now into a trilogy?
Who knows what comes next? Be Love Now is about losing yourself in love. Love is more than just a human emotion. It’s also the emotion of merging, the river that carries us into the ocean of oneness. I think that when that process is complete, you’re just radiating love, like the sun. Maybe the next installment will be called Nobody Home.
How are your two books different?
The transition from Be Here Now to Be Love Now is an understanding of consciousness to unconditional love. Be Here Now came from my first trip to India, where I was blown away by the experience of meeting someone who had knowledge of me inside and out. Since then, I’ve changed my perspective on these early experiences. It was my guru’s love, not his power, that opened me up.
What’s your daily spiritual routine?
I’ve been working on contentment. Since I had a stroke some years ago, I don’t do physical yoga, so I just practice being with what is. I find there’s real joy in that. I use the mantra, “I am loving awareness,” which helps me see everything from my spiritual heart. Whether I’m talking to someone, or eating, or riding in a car, I keep tuning into my loving awareness.
You’re obviously more enlightened than most. In what ways are you fallible?
My guru used to enumerate the human failings that keep us all stuck: desire, anger, confusion, and greed. I have my share, thank you very much.
You live in Maui. Why do you think Hawaii is an epicenter of spiritual pursuits?
It’s a very beautiful, healing, and peaceful environment with a lovely community. I decided to live here in 2004 when I got sick. I vowed not to leave Hawaii by plane. Now I am an island boy.
What’s the one message you’d like people to take away from your new book?
I hope everyone who reads Be Love Now will come to know that they can experience unconditional love for themselves and that it comes from within them—it’s their own soul, their true self.
For those of us who don’t consider patience a virtue, what’s your best advice for attaining quick enlightenment?
There’s an apocryphal story about my guru and a devotee who asked him how to see God. Maharajji asked him if he could swim, and when he said he could, Maharajji told him that if he tied rocks to his body and jumped into deep water, he would see God right away. Maybe you’d like to try some of the devotional practices in Be Love Now first.