Embracing the Mystery


“Real compassion is bringing the cosmic giggle into the moments of your life.” With this intriguing statement, Ram Dass invites us to embrace life’s profound mystery. He calls us to transcend our small sense of self and victimization, to open our hearts to suffering with compassion, and to let go of our need to control the uncontrollable. Instead, we can rest in the spacious awareness that embraces all phenomena without judgment—holding both our individuality and our unity, reveling in the cosmic giggle.

Presented at the Omega Institute.



This is a culture that feeds on victimization, and it is making you ineffectual as a human being. And I don’t think it’s interesting enough to be a victim—of the government, of your parents, of your economic status, of whatever it is. It’s just not interesting enough. And that’s fierce. And what we have formed is many groups around shared victimization. And I think they are very helpful at a certain stage, but graduate! Really! Graduate.


There’s a great quote in Buddhist literature that gives one pause. It says:

I have no scruples of change nor fear of death.

I was never born, nor had I parents.


Try that as a mantra for a while! “I have no scruples of change nor fear of death. I was never born, nor had I parents.” See, this is a technique of remembering who you are. What do you mean, I never had parents? And you watch how real—that’s absurd! Must be some error in the…! Must seem—nor had I good parents.


But Anandamayi Ma, just remember her expression: before birth, I was the same. My family arranged for my marriage, I was the same. Even after death, I will be the same. Just try that one. Hang out with that one, and just start to look at your life from that place. That place. See, these are all devices. They’re all techniques to help you remember, to help you transform your life, so that it is living spirit. So that from that place of always the same—of spaciousness, of no time of going nowhere, of presence all the time—here, with the glass of water, helping the person die, being with somebody that’s suffering. When somebody is suffering, your empathy is strong, you’re there for them, but you don’t have to lose your presence. You don’t have to lose it into their drama. You don’t have to prove to them you care so much that you can’t keep your cosmic giggle.


I sit with people that are frightened, anxious, in incredible pain, and it’s ripping my heart to shreds—my human heart. But at the same moment there is another part of me that is just watching the trees bloom, the leaves fall, the process go on, and the awesome nature of the universe and the mystery of it all—it includes the suffering, and it includes the death—and I’m just so blown away by it, all I can do is giggle. And you can experience how socially inappropriate a giggle is at that moment, you know? And it’s an inner giggle, until you feel somebody has really invited you in to be with them in the fullness of the moment, and then you can giggle together.


But for you to give up your giggle out of being socially responsible is misunderstanding what real compassion is about. Real compassion is bringing the cosmic giggle into the moments of your life. You’re not laughing at something, you’re laughing with the universe about itself. And you’re experiencing life—including the suffering, including the violence, including the death, including, including the birth and all of it, the sun and the rain, the storms, all of it—as the celebration of the dance of form, including your own aging and your skin not going back down. It’s all celebration, it’s all celebration.


There were two other pictures that you received in your booklet that some of you were asking: what are they? I assume you probably know now from… yes? There’s Hanuman and Maharaj-ji, besides Anandamayi Ma. They’re also rams. Hanuman, the monkey, is (as I told you before)—Hanuman is the statement of that path to freedom that lies through service. It’s the path that is often called karma yoga, which has a complex meaning. But I just invite you, when you’re caught in your stuff and your heart is closed, to reach out to find someone else who’s suffering, to be there, be here with them, for a moment. What I find when my heart is closed is: somebody else’s need, the purity of their heart, pulls me out of myself very quickly. Very quickly.


And for those of you that have gotten caught in individualism and separateness, the act of serving another human being is a doorway back into your connection to the universe. Because their real need pulls you out of yourself. When Mira gets to Guatemala in two days and is sitting in a village talking about the corn crop, the realness of this situation will override her fatigue from the trip and all of the stuff of her personal life. It’ll just take her beyond it. And that art form, that service—I mean, I feel a part of the web of the world through just the calls, the service, the holding, the raising money, the visits to Nepal, the working in the Blindness Institute in South India, all of that stuff. I just feel like I’m part of the web of the world, and it’s allowing this incredible quality of compassion of the individual human heart to find expression in a spontaneous, generous way.


We are so afraid of our hearts, it’s unbelievable. We hide in our minds because of the fear of our own hearts—because the fear of our hearts, because our hearts will give away everything, they’re too unruly, they care too much, they don’t know what to do, they’ll be burned out by suffering. I invite you to really embrace the question, the issue, of the mystery of the universe. And the mystery is most manifested in suffering and in death.


A woman came up to me the other day, a woman I’ve known for many years. Her son—her eighteen-, nineteen-year-old son; beautiful, beautiful, deep spiritual boy—had just gotten spinal meningitis and in two days died. And she said—and she was a very deeply religious person, and she said, “He died a horrible death. He was frightened, he was in excruciating pain.” She said, “What’s left that I can believe in?”


And it’s interesting: when belief has been undermined, what is left? When you are cast into that which is unbearable, what is left? Any word, concepts—don’t work. What’s left is: you are just in the presence of the mystery. Just in the presence of the mystery. I don’t know! And it’s why people that have done spiritual work to the extent where they have opened their heart to let people in, to embrace people into themselves, so they begin to see all of the world as their children. They’re all their children—the spinal meningitis, the AIDS, the cancer, this this, the that, the starvation in Somalia. It’s all your children. How could you bear it? It’s not just one woman with one child.


And those saints are known as the living dead. That’s an interesting expression for a saint: the living dead. Because they are bearing the unbearable, and we’re still here. We’re still here. You’ve looked at the universe as it is without the filter of your beliefs, or your dreams of how it could be, or your judgments about how it should be. You just look at it how it is, and you bear the unbearable. And you go through the death of everything you held onto to protect yourself from it. Well, after birth there’s reincarnation, there’s God, there’s something. It all is ripped off you. There’s nowhere to hold on to, and here we still are. Now what? Now what?


Rilke said that we can hold death gentle in our hearts and go on living. How extraordinary! That’s the root of real compassion. That’s the root of real compassion: is living with a mystery. I can’t justify why that boy died the way he died. I can give you cute answers about reincarnation and karma, but I don’t know. I don’t know. But the place in which you and I have played with planes of consciousness, and we’ve been privy through the edge of our eyes to sense the wisdom, the incredible, awesome nature of the way phenomena are at play—leads us to just sit with the mystery (as the Bible) says with awe. The awe-full nature of the mystery. It is indeed awful awe-full.


You can see that the mind’s desire for control makes the mystery seen as something that has to be solved. I invite you not to solve the mystery, but to become friends with it. To become friends with it. So you can just look at what is. Ah-so. Ah-so! Ah-so. And when you say, “I can’t stand anymore because my heart’s breaking,” I invite you to examine—as Surya Das kept inviting us to do—which “I” is that? Which “I” can’t stand anymore? And perhaps make that “I” suspect rather than getting wedded to it.


I would say that for years I protected my human heart, because when I had love affairs and my heart broke, I felt so dead and closed down I thought I’d never open again. But, you know, I did. And again I got hurt and I closed down. And again I thought, “This time I really won’t open.” And you know what? I did. And I realize now that the human emotional heart has a capacity to break and close and open, and break and close and open, and break and close and open. And there is a deeper heart. There is a deeper, compassionate love that builds and builds and builds like a huge, huge energy until your love for form, your love for people, your love for animals, for the Earth, for the heavens, your love for yourself, your love—it’s so deep it embraces your breaking heart. It embraces. That kind of love embraces the part of your heart that keeps breaking.


It is such a privilege to join with you in exploring all this. I mean, just the recognition of how fortunate we are to have this moment to do this. Do you realize how rare in the whole course of human history these moments are? When people are not so busy surviving, or fighting off a competitor or a warrior, or something, that the fear is quiet enough so that this can happen.


So what is the model? Are we just narcissistic people at play? That we can afford to, and we have forgotten the world? Or do we understand? I feel I understand—and I think you do, too—that we are part of the system, and that our doing this work is what we feed back into the system. As we become what we are learning, as we get our spiritual ground for life, we bring that spiritual ground for life into the workplace, into the home, into the politics, into the social action. So that, when you march for peace, you do it with peace in your heart, not saying, “Until I have peace, I can’t be peaceful.” You say, “I am peaceful, now let there be peace.”


I mean, I know that in the course of the next hour or two, many of you will thank me—and if you don’t, you’ll be damned, of course! But just realize that I’m thanking you, too. We are all thanking that which allows us to be here together. Because even though the form is that you are paying money and I’m making money, and we’re all here in this dance at Omega, and it’s all a game, at another level, at another level, we all are being fed. We are all at the breast of the mother of the universe. And most of us, I would say, are feeling that we got fed this week. And now our job is to become that which feeds the universe. And so you’re remembering not because of yourself, you’re remembering because that’s the part you play. That’s the part you play. That’s the part you play.


And the only person I didn’t mention was Maharaj-ji. That picture. And I would invite you just to hang out. Put him on your refrigerator. And if you want to know who he is, there’s a little book called Miracle of Love, and another, One by His Grace. Just little stories about him. He’s a great friend to hang out with. He’ll suck you in. His existence is a constant reminder. He’s a great, great, great playmate. And he’s yours. He’s dead, so he’s yours as much as mine. He’s just here for all of us.


Just for a moment, just expand into the space that we are all sharing in this room. Let the boundaries of mind relax. Let my voice be inside of you. Let all of us in this room be inside of you. Let us meet in the awareness that embraces all of us in this room. We are all part—just like our fingers and our hands—we are all part of a body of awareness. And in this awareness exist phenomena, and one of those phenomena is who you think you are as a body and a personality—just as if you were looking at yourself from this vast awareness, just as if you were looking up at the sky and singling out one of the stars. Not so different from all the other stars. Play with (for a moment) the balance. Feel yourself to be the star—the separate, unique entity sitting in this room—and also feel yourself to be the vast awareness that permeates this room, that embraces all the stars within itself. Just practice for a moment.


See that when you think you are the star, you are in time, you have uniqueness, you have a curriculum, you are coming and going, you are here and there. But the awareness we share that embraces all of these stars—there’s no time, no space, no agenda, no suffering, no loss, no gain. Just awareness that appreciates how it all is with clarity. What is it like to drive away from Omega? The star is driving. The awareness is just embracing all of it: all of the stars in their cars driving away from Omega. What about the other stars you meet along the way? Well, let’s embrace them, too.


What fun to start to just rest in the awareness—even as you are driving, stopping, eating, hello-ing, looking at your mail, making the phone calls, getting back into life. The star is doing its unique karmic unfolding within its incarnation, and the awareness is just… ah! Ah. Which one was real? Is one more real than the other? Can you stand nowhere? Can you embrace and remember all of this all at once? Don’t miss the birds that are singing right now. The fans overhead. The sense of your body. All just phenomena arising in this vast awareness. Ha-ha! Ha-ha! Ho! Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho! The cosmic giggle.


Somebody says, “How nice to meet you.” Who are they meeting? Did they meet the star or did they meet the awareness? See, it takes one to know one. You’re looking for stars. If you think you’re a star, you only meet stars. If you’re awareness, there isn’t even relationship. There’s just awareness. Awareness is: know one another because they are one another. Stars are separate. Can you be separate and non-separate simultaneously? What fun! What a delicious game! May you enjoy the game. Namaste.

Ram Dass


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