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Shambhala Sun | January 2011
You'll find this article on page 33 of the magazine.

Ram Dass; photo by Kathleen MurphyBe Love Now: A Q&A with Ram Dass

When the Sunís editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod mentioned to me that he had been picked up hitchhiking by Ram Dass in 1973, I began to feel I was unqualified to do this interview. I wasnít alive in í73 when Ram Dass was driving around Vermont in a hippy van with images of Indian gods and gurus on the dashboard, and I certainly wasnít alive in í71 when his landmark book, Be Here Now, was published. But qualified or not, I wanted to do this interview. Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, helped to shape a whole generation. He was a respected psychologist who, with his Harvard colleague Timothy Leary, became a psychedelic pioneer. Then, after Harvard saw fit to fire him for his drug experiments, he went India where he met and became a devotee of Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba. Now, more than forty years later, Ram Dass is still on the same spiritual path and, he tells me, still growing spiritually. These days, due to the stroke he suffered in 1997, he speaks slowly and sometimes canít find a word heís looking for, but he remains articulate and his smile remains radiant. Our conversation was in honor of Ram Dassís latest book, Be Love Now. Ė Andrea Miller

How are you feeling?

Iím feeling wonderful.

Good to hear. But youíve had some serious health problems. Have they aided or impeded your spiritual growth?

I think aging minimizes my desires, so that makes it easier to work on spirit. In total, Iíd say that my health problems have helped me. Now that Iím aging Iím very content, and contentment means good food for spiritual growth.

Why has service been an important part of your path?

Because of my guru. We worship Hanuman. Hanuman is a monkey, and he worships the diety Ram. Hanuman loves Ram only, and all he wants to do is serve Ram. My name is Ram Dass, meaning ďRamís servant.Ē So, service is my path. You serve with love everybody you can find. You feed them, nurture them, and do service. Service is a part of bhakti yoga.

How would you define bhakti yoga?

Itís the yoga of the heart. It is a path of loveólove of God, Ram, or your god. Youíre loving your god, youíre loving your guru, youíre loving.

It sounds so simple to love yet itís not. Why is it so difficult to be truly loving?

Because we are mind people and you canít love through the mind. The ego canít loveóitís too anxious. We try very hard to love with our minds, but we canít do it. Thatís what our problem is.

Do you have any tips for making it easier to tap into love?

You can have my guru. Heís up for grabs, and heíll love you until you bust.

In your book Be Love Now you talk about faith and grace. How do you define these words?

Faith is not belief. Belief is up here [taps temple], and faith is down here [taps heart]. Faith means you let other planes of consciousness in, for example, serendipity or things in your life that are not rational. You say, Come on, come on. Grace is lubricating the well, the way. Itís the way in which my guru, or God, makes my life graceful. Itís light hearted. My life was full of grace, and then I had the stroke, and all the people around me were like, ďTch, tch, tch, terrible, terrible, terrible.Ē And I started to feel maybe it was terrible. But I talked to my guru inside, and I saw that it was grace. The stroke wasnít graceóthe stroke was from natureóbut the way I take it is grace.

You did a lot to shape the sixties and seventies. Where do you think the boomer/hippie legacy stands now?

We added things to the culture. We added a lightness, and a playfulness, an inside-ness and spiritual-ness. Iím very happy we did all that. But then we made mistakes. The things we added were pushed in peopleís faces, and the culture responded from the right. There was a pendulum swing. If we had been a little quieter about what we were doing, maybe it would have been different, but we didnít want to be quiet. We didnít want to be quiet about psychedelics, and we didnít want to be quiet about the East and the powerful Eastern influence on our Western ways. Our legacy is not big, but it stands in the hearts of the people. It stands in our music.

Itís great music!

Also, it stands in the movements that are creeping inóthe environmental movement, the womenís movement, the sexual freedom movement. And it stands in how many of us have gone to the East and have brought the East here.

Some people of my generationóGeneration Xócriticize Westerners who practice Eastern religions. They think itís silly to look to Eastern philosophy, or to Eastern teachers, as being a font of wisdom that is superior to what we have here in the West. What do you think about that?

Eastern philosophy teaches us to go inward. In the West thereís a god with a beard. In the East thereís the god within, and the East meditates. Eastern cultures have always welcomed holy people, and we havenít in the West. You can go to a village in India, and theyíll find you the holiest person they know. In our culture, itís all about the wealthiest person you know, the best-looking person. Itís a different culture.

Recently here in the West, yoga, or rather the asana practice of hatha yoga, has become extremely popular. What are your thoughts about that?

I think that they miss the point of what yoga is about. They make it into body beautiful, and they make it worldly. Really, an asana is a conversation with god.

What are your thoughts about todayís young people?

They are texting and multi-tasking. Now and then I meet a high school or a college student. Their hearts are okay.

Do you have a message for the younger generations?

Trust your intuition.

Thank you. Thank you very much for having this talk with me.


Photo by Kathleen Murphy.




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