Promises and Pitfalls of the Spiritual Path


The spiritual path is a groovy ride, my friends. We expected enlightenment right away in the sixties, but it’s a longer trip than that. We got high on siddhis and phenomena, but true freedom demands surrender of who you think you are. It’s a journey of being human, embracing suffering with joy. Use every experience as your curriculum to cultivate compassion and presence. Stay true to yourself and let your life be your message.



Good evening. Can you all hear me? Aha. How about now, can you all hear me? Yes. Okay.

After that invitation I just want to sit and gloat and glow, and just have you all stoke me. I’m really great. I didn’t realize how good I was. When you get old enough—it’s interesting—you just sort of become an elder and you get points just for living. Somebody came up to me and said to me today—they were telling me what they do—and they said, “You know, Dr. Fadiman was one of my professors,” and remembering back when he was one of my students. It took me through. I was starting to go like this.


Tonight I’m speaking on promises and pitfalls of the spiritual path. And then, after I speak, Rama and Gungadar (who are two of my dear friends) and I are going to lead some chanting for those of you who would like to play that spiritual practice out. The reason I’m speaking on the promises and pitfalls of the spiritual path is because Stan Grof couldn’t get in touch with me, so he created the title. Since I respect Stan so much—because he’s one of my teachers—I felt that if he set the title, I should rise to the occasion. So I am going to speak on promises and pitfalls of the spiritual path. It’s probably the same lecture, you just keep working it around into a….


It was interesting to reflect about it today when I was putting this together. I’m talking primarily about the spiritual work in the United States tonight, because that is the one that has been most visible to me over these past years, even though I am now teaching more in Europe and Australia and abroad. Certainly there is a history of mysticism in America. There’s Emerson, and Thoreau, and Whitman, and so on. But it was in the sixties that there was a dramatic awakening of spiritual consciousness in America. And that is in no small part due to a speaker who has been here on this program, Dr. Albert Hofmann, who I certainly want to honor.


I know this is in confidence, but the first time I met Dr. Hofmann was in Basel. And we had lunch together; outdoor restaurant. I was meeting the head of research for Sandoz, which (from our point of view) was quite a coup. And it took a while before he described to me how he would, once a year, go out into a field where the flowers were with his wife, to explore with psychedelics. Then I knew why I was with a Landsmann. But he spoke this morning about realities and the shift in reality. And that was a major shift that occurred in the sixties: the shift from what you call absolute reality: thinking that what you saw and what your thinking mind thought it understood was only one kind of reality. And there were other kinds of reality. William James, of course, had said that many years before. You remember his quote: “Our normal waking consciousness is but one type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the slightest veils, lie other types of consciousness. We might spend our entire life without knowing of their existence, but apply the requisite stimulus and there they are in their completeness.” And of course it’s interesting that William James said that when he was a professor at Harvard, and I was thrown out of William James Hall for doing what he said.


Up until the sixties, the primary spiritual containers were the organized religions of this culture. And they were primarily the holders of the ethical constraints of the culture. They motivated people to ethical behavior through fear and through internalized superego. And they were—primarily the mediator between you and God was the priest. So there was a priest class. And what the sixties did through psychedelics, initially, was blow that whole system apart, because it made the relationship to God a direct experience, once again, of the individual. Of course, the Quakers have had that, and had a long history of it, as did other traditions. But in terms of mainstream, this was a new concept coming into the culture, which was spiritual and not formally religious.


Most of the time up until then, mystical experience had been pretty much denied and treated as irrelevant in our culture. I was a social scientist and I just spurned it. I mean, I just cynically spurned it. I wouldn’t even read that stuff. Rilke said about that period: the only courage this demanded of us, to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, the most inexplicable, that we may encounter. That mankind has, in this sense, been cowardly, has done life endless harm. The experiences that are called visions, the whole so-called spirit world, death, all these things that are so closely akin to us have by daily parrying been so crowded out of our life that the sense with which we could have grasped them are atrophied—to say nothing of God.


But then, in the sixties, that changed. And most of us recognized a part of our being that we had never known before. We experienced a part of our being that was not separate form the universe, and we saw how much of our behavior was based on the desire to alleviate the pain that came from our own separateness. It was the first time that many of us broke out of the alienation that we had known all of our adult lives. And we began to recognize the health of our intuitive, compassionate hearts, a health that had been just lost under the veil of our minds and the constructs our minds had created about who we were and who everybody else was. In other words, we transcended dualism and experienced our unitive nature with all things. And there was bliss, and there was all kinds of wonderful feelings for it. And that glow lasted into the middle sixties. And there was the Summer of Love in 1967. And then, of course, it had started to turn by then. And it did turn.


But it’s interesting how mainstream those ideas have gotten in the 25 years since that time. When I was lecturing in those days, I was speaking to audiences between the ages of 15 and 25—those were the explorers in those days. And these meetings were like members of the explorers club, and we were just comparing maps of the terrain of the travels. And 25 years later, when I speak in, say, Des Moines, Iowa, there are 1,500 people. And I’m saying roughly the same thing—probably not to my credit, but I’m saying the same thing I was saying 25 years ago. And I would say most of those people, at least 70 to 80 percent, have never smoked dope, they’ve never taken psychedelics, they’ve never read Eastern mysticism. And they’re all going like this. Now, how do they know? How do they know? And, of course, the reason they know is because these values, the shift from that narrow view of reality into a relative reality—which made all institutions up for grabs if you look deep enough—all of that has permeated into the mainstream of the culture. So that, in a way, a person nowadays has much more options about reality than they had at the time that I was coming through graduate school, for example—as is reflected in all the proliferation of new kinds of social institutions for education.


To understand what was happening to us, we started to look for maps. The best maps that were available to us at that time (that seemed to be readily available) were Eastern maps: maps from Buddhism, Hinduism, those traditions. Most of the Middle Eastern religions, the maps about the directness of experience, were part of the esoteric instead of the exoteric religion, and thus they were sort of guarded, in a way. The Kabbalah and Hasidism were not as popular as they are now. Sufism wasn’t as popular as it is now. So in those early days we were going to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, things like that. And what we found was that since this experience was happening to many of us, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, there were different strokes for different folks. Different people interpreted the experience differently. And people turned to different forms of practice in order to further experience or to integrate what had happened to them, often to them through psychedelics; only partly through psychedelics, of course, but much through that.


At that time, in the early sixties, it had happened to us so dramatically that I remember Tim Leary and I had a chart on our wall at Millbrook, which was a curve showing—it was a geometrically rising curve—showing how fast everyone would get enlightened. And it did involve putting LSD in the water supply, but other than that it was not terribly dramatic. It seemed so inevitable and irrevocable, because the experience was so powerful and so irreversible once it had happened that we started to surround ourselves with other people who had experienced it. And pretty soon, at Harvard, we were considered a cult because the people who hadn’t experienced it no longer could talk to us, because we couldn’t talk to them, because they didn’t know. And that unbridgeable gulf had started to occur right in our own department of social relations.


That kind of naïve expectation that it was all going to be over immediately denied all of the information that we read, but didn’t really—we said, “Well, we’ve got a new way,” because psychedelics are going to do what Buddhism couldn’t do and Hinduism couldn’t do. Because when the Buddha described how long we’ve been on the journey—since he was talking reincarnation talk; you know the image—he said, “Imagine a mountain six miles long, six miles wide, six miles high. Every hundred years, a bird flies over the mountain with a silk scarf in its beak, and it runs the silk scarf over the mountain once every hundred years. In the length of time it would take the silk scarf to wear away the mountain, that’s how long you have been doing this.” So you look at this life, and it’s less than the blink of an eye. It’s just ah! And then I had a birth like that. And then one like that. And It’s like still-frame photography. And those are all births. And with that kind of time perspective, you take your chart off the wall. You start to relax a little bit.


Now, at the same moment, a lot of the spiritual literature suggested urgency. Buddha said: do it as hard as you can. This is a precious birth. It’s a rare, rare experience to have a human birth. Work as hard as you can—which is just what Western achievers love to hear, of course. Kabīr said,

Friend, hope for the guest while you’re alive. Jump into experience while you’re alive. What you call salvation belongs to the time before death. If you don’t break the ropes while you are alive, do you think your ghosts will do it after?” The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic just because the body is rotten—that is all fantasy. What is found now is found then. If you find nothing now, you will simply end up with an apartment in the city of death. But if you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire. So plunge into the truth. Find out who the teacher is. Believe in the great sound.


So there was this desire to get on with it, and which we interpreted it as taking the entire spiritual journey and making it into an achievement course. And there is a lovely story about a boy who goes to a Zen master, and he says, “Master, I know you have many students. But if I study harder than all the rest of them, how long will it take me to get enlightened?” The master said, “Ten years.” The boy said, “If I work day and night, and just double my efforts, how long will it take?” The master said, “Twenty year.” And the boy asked “With further achievement?” And the master said “Thirty years.” And he said, “Why do you keep adding years?” The master said, “Well, since you will have one eye on the goal, there will only be one eye left to have on the work, and it will slow you down immeasurably.”


And, in a way, that was the predicament: that we got so attached to where we were going that we really had little time to deepen our practice to get there. And that is something that has… we’ve grown. We’ve grown where we have developed patience and we’ve stopped counting. And that is great growth for a western consciousness to do that. I do my spiritual practices because I do my spiritual practices. And what will happen, will happen. And whether I’m going to be enlightened, or free now, or 10,000 births is of no concern to me. Because what difference does it make? What else am I going to do? I can’t stop anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference to me.


But you watch to make sure you don’t get too trapped in your expectations about any practice. There is a lovely story about Nasreddin, the Sufi mystic, slob. He’s kind of a bum. He’s great. The stories of Nasreddin are delicious. An aside, the one I love (this isn’t the one I am telling) is the one about Nasreddin going to the bank with a check to cash, and he hands the check to the cashier, and the cashier studies the check. And the check looks wonderful, but Nasreddin looks like a complete derelict. And he said, “Sir, this check looks fine, but can you identify yourself?” Nasreddin reached into his pocket and pulled out a mirror and he said, “Yup, that’s me.”


But the one I wanted to tell you, of Nasreddin, was: Nasreddin went to his neighbor to borrow a large cooking pot, and his neighbor said, “Nasreddin, you know you’re very undependable, and I really treasure this big pot, and I don’t think I can give it to you.” And Nasreddin said, “My family is all coming. I really need it. I will bring it back tomorrow.” Finally, begrudgingly, the neighbor gave the pot to Nasreddin. Nasreddin took it home, very thankful, appreciative. Next day, he was at the door with the pot. The neighbor was delighted. He said, “Nasreddin, how wonderful!” And he took the pot, and inside the big pot was a little pot. He said, “What’s that?” Nasreddin said, “The big pot had a baby.” So the neighbor, of course, was delighted. So the next week Nasreddin came and he said, “I’d like to borrow your pot. I’m having another party.” The neighbor said, “Of course, Nasreddin. Take my pot.” So Nasreddin took the pot. The next day, no Nasreddin. The day after, no Nasreddin. Finally, the neighbor went to Nasreddin and he said, “Nasreddin, where’s my pot?” Nasreddin said, “It died.” See how you get sucked in by your own mind?


Starting from the sixties, there was an influx of Eastern spiritual teachers. I remember going to the Avalon Ballroom in the company of Sufi Sam to hear Allen Ginsberg introduce A. C. Bhaktivedanta, who was going to chant this weird chant called Hare Krishna. And that was just in the early sixties. The Beatles, of course, were jetting with Maharishi Mahesh. At one point I went with a group of hippies from the Haight-Ashbury—I was the elder of that group—to meet with the elders of the Hopi in Hotevilla to arrange a Hopi-Hippy be-in in Grand Canyon. Because we were honoring them as our elders, but they didn’t really want to be honored by us, I don’t think. Because when we went there, we made terrible mistakes. We gave feathers to the children. Some of us made love by the well. Because we didn’t really know how to honor lineages properly. And that is something we learned over these years, through our connection with Eastern traditions: something about lineages.


The problem with lineages was: how much we would incorporate of the lineages as they were from the East, and how much we would modify them. And the predicament about all of that was that, to modify them, you have to modify them from inside them. You can’t modify from outside. And what many Westerners started to do was take a tradition, say, from Mahayana Buddhism, and say: “Well, that’s all fine for Tibetan Buddhists. But really, what we should be doing is this.” And they did that prior to fully understanding the practice from the deepest place inside. Carl Jung talks about Richard Wilhelm and his preface to the I Ching. And he calls him a gnostic intermediary, and he said—what he did was: he incorporated into him (the Chinese being) into his blood and his cells, so that he was dreaming that way. And then he brought it back to the culture. And the interesting thing about the gnostic intermediaries is: we were so eager to get ahead that we were really doing violence to a number of the lineages. Because we went to the East and bought them, but kept modifying them in order for our own convenience and comfort, and because we in West are much more of a personality cult than the East. We are much more focused on what I want, what I desire, what I need. And that isn’t true of Eastern cultures as much. I mean, it may be more repressed there, but whatever it is, it is not a dominant theme. And so a lot of the spiritual practices are not focused around personality, and thus they are not quite immediately transferable to the West.


I didn’t really understand lineage. I remember doing a television show with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and we were talking about non-attachment as the quality of mind that was so desirable. And I said to him, “Well, if you are so non-attached, why don’t you give up your lineage?” And he said, “I am not attached to everything but my lineage.” And I said, “Well, you have a problem.” And it was out of my grossness of not understanding the way of the intimate love affair one has with the method, where one goes into a method first as a kind of a dilettante, and then one gets into the method in a more or less fanatic way. Then one comes out the other end. And then one wears the method—or uses it, or honors it—without being attached to it. Just because you become the unique carrier of that lineage. It’s a whole different place that you carry a lineage from, once you don’t need it any longer. And that was something I didn’t understand at that time.


Well, what we did was: we gathered around our newfound spiritual awakenings on all the ways we knew to get high. So there were people that gathered together around sexual freedom. There were people who gathered together around drugs. There were people who gathered together around chanting. Others around meditation. And we had wonderful Eastern names for them: the satsaṅg and the saṅgha. And the predicament is that, after a while, most of those went from being very fresh and pure and joyful coming together—they started to turn into having boundaries around them, having elitism, having who was in them and who wasn’t in them. And professing that their way was the only way. And a lot of us have seen much violence done from just that simple concept that my way is the only way. It reminded me in those days of that story of God and Satan walking down the street, and they see this brilliantly shiny object on the ground. And God reaches down and picks it up and he says, “Ah, it’s truth.” And Satan says, “Oh, yes. Here, give it to me. I’ll organize it.”


And that, roughly, was what it felt like. That it started to become institutional and structured in the seventies, and faddish. It became the in-thing to be part of these large spiritual movements. And they were beautiful, and they got people incredibly high. The predicament was that many of the Eastern teachers who came over had come out of primarily celibate renunciate paths. They weren’t ready for Western women, who were at the middle of their sexual freedom and feminism, and they could do anything. And they were absolutely vulnerable; they just fell like flies. Because these people were teachers. They were not gurus. A guru is a cooked goose. A guru is done. The difference between a cave and a city makes no difference to a guru. To a teacher it makes a hell of a lot of difference. Because a teacher is pointing the way, while a guru is the way. It’s a very different quality. What a guru does is mirror for you where you aren’t. That’s all they do. But we took that whole concept of guru and we turned into our need for a good father—in a psychodynamic sense. And we wanted the guru to do it to us when, in fact, what happens is that the guru just is, like a tree or a river. And depending on your karmic predisposition or readiness, you do it to yourself—in the presence. And the guru is a presence that allows you to do it. It’s a presence that doesn’t catch you anywhere. Only you catch yourself.


And so what happened was that we, after a while, started to bring our judging mind to bear on the whole scene, and I was surrounded by people coming up with gossip about this spiritual teacher or that spiritual teacher. And it seemed like everybody was becoming a connoisseur of clay feet. And they were busy deciding whether they could afford to take a teaching from somebody who was impure. And they were looking for the impurities in order to protect themselves, because they misunderstood the concept of surrender. They thought that what you do is: you surrender to somebody else as a person, when what you really surrender to is the truth. Ramana Maharshi says, “God, guru, and self are one and the same thing.” And so what you’re surrendering to is your higher truth, or your higher wisdom, in the guru.


And it’s an interesting issue that has gone on for many years, and I’ll talk about it on the next page—the issue about surrender. Because surrender is a very unpleasant word to us in the West. It always has images of MacArthur and… you know. It’s terrible images of, “I accept your surrender.” And it’s the showing of the neck in vulnerability. The fact that surrender is such a deep part of the spiritual path is something that we have had to stretch a great deal to understand. I’ll come back to that.


As we learn more about the traditions, we realize that if we were going to incorporate what had happened to us through psychedelics, but we were going to use these other methods to stabilize and integrate them into our lives, we were going to have to do a lot purification. At first we pooh-poohed that. It was like the ten commandments. Who cares, you know? That’s all old stuff. That’s all those uptight people. And we can have all of our things. Then we began to see that you had to stop creating karma: to get your head in a place where you could get high and not come down—that was the interesting question: how do you get high and stay there? That was the way we used to say it. We don’t say it that way now. And so there was a big push for renunciate practices. Because the idea was that this earth plane is the illusion, it’s causing trouble. The best thing to do is get up there; get out there in sort of la-la land. Get really high. Get into the place where it’s all divine. And this is sort of an era that we all ended up here anyway. That was kind of a renunciate model.


And so people felt that by giving up a lot of things, they would get much purer, to have deeper experiences. And many did. But others just ended up sort of like horny celibates. Because they collected this stuff as an achievement again. And Meister Eckhart said, “We are to practice virtue, not to possess it.” And that was the issue: we tried to possess it and wear it like marks on our sleeves about how pure we were. But even a little bit of Shila or Yama or whatever your purification rituals are—just not creating suffering; not stealing, not killing, not having adultery, not causing a lot of trouble—even that affected us, and we started to have many more spiritual experiences. And that led to a time of such spiritual materialism, it boggles my mind. Because everybody was in rapture or bliss, everybody was having experiences, seeing radiant balls coming to talk to them. It was an incredible time.


Now this is all true, but the way we reacted to it was what was interesting, because we got absolutely enamored of all of the phenomena that occurred as a result of our practices: our meditation or our spiritual purification. And we really were very vulnerable to spiritual materialism. If we had a Ford in the garage, we had an astral being in the bedroom. The traditions warned us about this. They said: don’t get stuck—like Buddhism said—don’t get stuck in the jhānas, in the trance states, because you’ll go into the traces and you’ll experience omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence. Don’t get caught in it! Just notice is, nod to it, and go on. Don’t get stuck in it. But it was too tasty for us to let it go. And it continues to be quite tasty. It’s very hard to understand that the spiritual freedom is very ordinary. It’s nothing special. And that’s what’s so precious about it. We keep trying to make it into something.


With all these powers came a tremendous amount of energy. Because if you meditate, you quiet your mind just a little bit. The amount of energy that is dissipated through your monkey mind of thinking—brrrr, going from here to here—the minute you concentrated even the tiniest bit (through chanting or meditation or anything), you start to tune to other planes of reality where there is incredible energy. It’s like if you’re a toaster, sticking your plug into 220 instead of 110, and everything fries. And many, many people had these incredible—and continue to have—these incredible experiences of energy, or śakti, or what’s often called kuṇḍalinī, which is the energy rising up the spine.


I recall the first time it happened to me I really thought I had damaged myself. I mean, it was so violent. As it started up my spine, it felt like a thousand snakes climbing my spine. And it got to my second chakra and I remember I ejaculated automatically. And then it kept going up. And I was really frightened, extremely frightened, because I hadn’t expected anything this horrendous. And I get calls all the time—as I am sure does the Spiritual Emergence Network; Stan and Christine, who have done a wonderful job with that organization, by the way. I get calls often from people who are having kuṇḍalinī experiences, who say, “I’m a therapist in Berkeley, and this thing’s happened to me, and I ride my bicycle for six hours a day, and I don’t get tired, and I can’t sleep, and I cry at the strangest moments, and I think I’m going insane.” And I said, “Well, let me read you a list of all the symptoms,” which I have on a xerox. And she said, “I thought I was the only one having that.” I said, “No, it’s xeroxed. Swami Muktananda published it a long time ago. And it’s just mother kundalini at work. Don’t worry, it’ll pass. Just breathe in and out of your heart, and keep It soft,” and so on.


But a lot of these phenomena started to happen to us, and they scared us, or they excited us, or they entrapped and enamored us. And we stopped to smell the pretty flowers. Many people, when they went into the plane where they experienced this power, brought their egos up with them and interpreted it as “my” power, and they went into a messianic journey where they tried to convince everybody that they were The One. And that was very painful for everybody. Extremely painful. I remember a moment with my brother, who was in a mental hospital because he was Christ, and he was doing terrible things as Christ, it turned out. And there was a moment where the doctor and my brother and I met in this hospital ward together. The doctor wouldn’t let him see anybody without the doctor being present. I came in a beard and a dress and beads. My brother was in a blue suit and a tie, see? And he was locked up and I was free, which… the humor of which didn’t escape any of the three of us. And he said to me—we were talking about whether the psychiatrist would ever know that he was God. The psychiatrist was writing on his clipboard. Very uncomfortable, I mean, because my brother and I were really out there, floating. And then my brother said, “I don’t understand. Why am I in a hospital and you’re free? You look like a nut!” And I said, “Well, you think you’re Christ?” He says, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, I’m Christ, too.” He says, “No, you don’t understand.” I said, “That’s why they’re locking you up.” The minute you tell somebody they’re not Christ, watch out! And so that was the messianic phenomena that happened along the way.

Is this too heavy or are you still with me? Because I’m trying to cover an awful lot of material a little fast. And I’m sorry about that.


Now, in a lot of people, when the energy got so intense from their spiritual practices, they really lost their ground. They lost it on this plane. And that’s what the Spiritual Emergence Network has done to help these people. Because in India, or other cultures, when that happens, those are called—like Meher Baba—serve those people. They were called [mosts] [?], or “God-intoxicants.” And everybody knew if somebody flipped—like Anandamayi Ma, one of the greatest saints of all time. She was a Bengali woman, a very dignified woman, and she spent about two years doing cartwheels in her front yard and throwing off her sari and stuff. Now, in our culture, that is Bellevue material. And in that culture it is: “Ah, there’s a God-intoxicant. We must take care of them at a temple.” So that there was a very—we have not had a support system for that type of transformative loss of ground, which you need to go through at times. And you go through the ground, and then you regain it. A lot of people just went out.


Y’know, I remember in the early days, the whole game was to get everybody out: to get them to let go of their minds and the heaviness. Then you looked out and everyone was floating. And I look at half the audience now, I I want to say, “Hey, come on up for air. It’s okay! It’s not so heavy in life.” The other half I wanted to say, “Come on! Get your act together. Learn your zip code. Get a job, for Christ’s sake!” You know?


When spiritual practices work a little bit, but you’re not stable in your transformative experience, your faith is flickery. And that is when fanaticism breeds strongly. The mosquitoes of fanaticism breed in flickery faith environments. And that is really what happens to most disciples in spiritual scenes. They become much worse. When you meet a spiritual master—in any tradition; you meet a Zen master, or a Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, American Indian—whatever time you meet a master, you know, you meet, and you recognize another. A Mensch, you know? And like: we’re really here. And they don’t sit around saying, “Well, you’re not following my way, so you’re lesser.” But all of the disciples right under them usually do.

[Audio cut]


—deep enough in their faith yet to where they haven’t come out the other end. Because, you see, the thing about a method is that, for a method to work, it has to trap you. If you try to dilettante your way through, it doesn’t work. You’ve got to become “a meditator.” But if you end up “a meditator,” you lost. You want to end up free, not a meditator. There are a lot of people who just end up meditators. “I’ve meditated for 42 years!” And they look at you with intense… with earnestness, you know? It’s the golden chain of righteousness that caught them again. But a method must trap you.


And then, finally, if it works, it self-destructs and you come through the other end, and you’re free of method. That’s what Ramakrishna’s Gospel of Ramakrishna is so wonderful about, because he just went through Kali worship and then came out, and then started to explore all the other methods. Because once you come through your method, all methods lead you to the same thing. People say, “Well, how do you do Buddhist meditation, and you’ve got a Hindu guru, and you’re a Jew?” You know? I say, “I don’t have any problem. What’s your problem? It seems fine for me. All Shema Yisrael… there’s only one God, and the one has no name, so there’s no form, so that’s nirvana. I don’t have any problem with that. What do you…?”


The righteousness that we were… the way we were approaching the spiritual path had an element of righteousness in it. And teachers came along who really helped us a lot with it. The teacher who helped me most about my righteousness probably was Trungpa Rinpoche. And what you look for in a really good teacher is that quality of rascalness. Not scoundrelness, but rascalness. And I remember when I was teaching at Naropa (the first summer that Naropa started), I was having a hard time with Trungpa Rinpoche. And one of the problems was that he had all of his students drunk most of the time. He had them busy gambling. Heavy meat diets. And I though, “What kind of a spiritual teacher is this?” I mean, you can understand my dilemma. I came out of a Hindu renunciate path, you know? Uh-nuh-uh! Hindus are always afraid of falling over the edge, so the best thing is to just keep it all separate. But here he was, just taking them down the path to hell as far as I was concerned. And I was sitting, judging. Oh, was I judging! Ugh, when I think back!


When I looked at those same students a few years later, I saw students deep in the 100,000 prostrations, deep in the heaviest spiritual practices. Because he had taken them through their obsessions and then on to deeper practices. He wasn’t afraid to do that while most of the other traditions were afraid to do that for fear of what would get lost along the way. And that’s what a tantric teacher is not afraid to do. And tantrics are very exciting and very scary, and you never know whether the tantric is just hung up her- or himself, or whether they’re an exquisite teacher. See? And there’s no way you can know. Was Rajneesh’s 92 Rolls Royces a ploy, or was it really a hung-up Indian, you know? I mean, you never know. All you know is that if you want to be free, you use them as hard as you can to be free, and their karmic problems are their karmic problems. See? And that’s the secret you finally find out about teachers.


So our period was a period of the—we were called the “me-generation.” And that was because there was a narcissism. There was an inner work we had to do (and we still have to do it): an inner work that made us somewhat oblivious to our social roles in society. We were less interested in political things. And there was some metaphysical confusion around that, which is reflected in the difference, say, between Theravadan Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. Theravadan Buddhism, in the simplest—this is simplistic, and we all agree; and Jack Kornfield’s here, he knows I’m not speaking seriously—but the Theravadans, in effect, say: “Look, my job is for me to get enlightened. Then, if I get enlightened, nothing exists anyway.” That solves the problem. The Mahayana Buddhists say: “Nobody makes it until everybody makes it, so I might as well take the boddhisatva vow and hang back and help everybody. Because I can’t go anywhere until you get done, too.” See? You can see these are two—that’s oversimplified, okay?


But it did catch us a little bit, because many of us said, “I’ve got to work on myself to become free.” And others said, “I’ve got to work with everybody else to help them become free. We’ve all got to become free together.” And part of the anti-Vietnam action was part of the “we’ve all got to work together,” and the turning inward of many of us that just pulled back from political action was “I’ve got to get free myself.” Even though I could rationalize it and say: “I’ve got to get free so that, when I do something for somebody else, I’m not creating suffering through the attachments of my own mind.”


A lot of people, in the spiritual journey, once they realize that enlightenment wasn’t going to happen the day after tomorrow, and once they started to get some powers—because their mind got quiet. I mean, if you do TM twenty minutes a day, you will definitely get quiet and you will start to have powers. There’s no doubt about it. Then the question is: what do you do? Those are called siddhis. And siddhis, or powers, are a terrible trap on the spiritual path. They are a real pitfall, because one is inclined to want to use them to do good. See? That’s the one. And once you realize—because the minute you see siddhis, you realize the game is not at all how you thought it was.


Example: I was with—which story shall I tell? I was with Sathya Sai Baba, the miracle man of southern India. Beautiful man. And he said, “Ram Dass, let me give you something.” I said, “No, Baba, I don’t need anything. I have a guru.” And he says, “No, let me give you something.” And he held out his hand, and I went up really close—and I knew what he does, see, so I wasn’t going to blink. See? Because I figured he might be a magician. I’m really going to watch. So I was about this far, and my eyes were fixed on his hand. And he went like this, and this bluish light appeared, and it turned into a medallion which he then gave me. It was cold. It looked like it had been made in Tijuana. It was very badly made. It had a picture of him on a star on a circle. And I thought, “My god, if he’s going to bring some from somewhere else, the least he could do is bring me a crystal or something like that.” So I said to one of the swamis there, nearby; I said, “Well, that’s wonderful that he produces these.” He said, “Oh, he doesn’t produce them.” I said, “No?” He says, “No, he keeps them at a warehouse. He just moves them with his mind.” I said, “Oh! Well, if that’s all he does, who the hell wants it?” You know?


I’ll just give you one more, because they’re hard to stop. I’m not going to tell you my guru miracle stories—because I wrote a book, Miracle of Love, and you can read them all to your heart’s content. This one was with Swami Muktananda, who was a great guy, really. He was a real rascal. And he and I were traveling in southern India on a pilgrimage together, and one morning he got me up at four in the morning, and he took me to a little temple, and he sat me down, and he whispered a mantra into my ear, and then he started to do a puja, and I passed out. I don’t remember anything. About five hours later, somebody came and said, “Baba wants you,” and I don’t know where I was, but I felt good. I came back and the mantra was in my head. I said, “What’s that mantra?” He says, “That will give you vast wealth and vast power.” Now… being a Jewish boy from Boston, that’s what my father told me I wanted, you see? However, I’m now a righteous spiritual seeker, you see? So I said, “I only want those if you give me an equal amount of compassion and love.” And he says, “Just do the mantra.” Well, I couldn’t stop doing it. I mean, I was doing it day and night, and waiting for the wealth and power. And I got back to his temple in Ganeshpuri, and he put me to meditate in the inner room of the meditation hall inside. And I went down there around two in the morning, and they unlock it with a big key, and it’s hot. It was like 110 degrees. And I took off all my clothes, and I was lying there naked, and I started to do the mantra, and I was ripped out of my body—this is like two in the morning. And I come to another plane, and I’m at a doorway, and I look in, and there’s Muktananda sitting on a table. So I go in and I kneel down in front of him, and I start to fly up over his head. Now, this is all in the astral. And I think, “Whoa, I’m flying! I’ve always wanted to fly.” And so then I was sort of flying, and I started to tilt, and I went to right myself, and I was back in the meditation hall. This all took about six minutes. I was so manic from that experience—I mean, so high—that I put on all of my clothes, rattled my gates, and they came with a key. And I opened the gate, walked outside into the dark night of the courtyard. And there was Muktananda with one of his disciples walking around in the middle of the night. And he walked over to me, and the man spoke English, and Muktnanada said to me, “How did you like flying?” Okay?

I mean, those are my direct experiences, so I have to live with that stuff.


So the question is: when you get powers—like the power to just stay quiet enough to hear what’s really going on in a situation; you get quiet, so you’re not reactive so much, but you’re more responsive.—there is a tendency to want to take your winnings and get on with it. I had a funny experience. I was in Oahu, in Hawai’i—oh, I don’t know, maybe eight or ten years ago—and a fellow that I was with, Rick Bernstein, said, “There’s somebody that wants to see you in a shopping mall.” I said, “Okay.” So we went to this shopping mall after hours. It was closed. Except there was a place in the shopping mall where there was a new Honda, where there was a competition to see who could keep their hand on the Honda the longest. And whoever did would win it. And there were three people left. And they had been there for something like five days. Okay? Day and night, they had their hand on the Honda. So I said to one of them, “How do you do it?” He said, “I’m a Buddhist.” Another one, I said, “How do you do it?” She says, “I’m a Christian fundamentalist.” Third one said, “I’m your devotee. I’m a Hindu.” And I realized that each of them was going to win the Honda through their spiritual powers, right? I’m not even going to tell you who won.


But you take your game and you put it to work. And it’s an interesting question of whether I’m one of those people, because instead of my being in a monastery now, getting on with that kind of inner work, I’m out here teaching. And is that a cop-out? Is that my dharma? I can say that it’s my karma, my dharma, whatever. But I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know how we, in the West, are ready for the kinds of discipline that are necessary for the kinds of practices that we have been offered.


I was in Burma three years ago, meditating in a monastery for several months. Very, very severe meditation practice with Sayadaw U Pandita, who’s my meditation master. And you got up at three in the morning, you meditated until eleven at night. In your cell you did sitting and walking. That was all. You saw the teacher for five minutes a day, otherwise you were alone. You didn’t read, you didn’t write, you didn’t do anything. You just did that. And it gets very subtle. I mean, after you finish with your seven-hour sexual fantasies, and all that stuff. I mean, that you run through in the first three days. There was two months of that. And so I got a telegram that my stepmother had cancer and was going to be operated on. And my father was very old. And they would probably need me. She didn’t say that, she just said she was going to be operated on for cancer—which, I didn’t know she was ill. So I went to the teacher, Sayadaw, and I said—I showed him the telegram. And he said, “I don’t think you should leave.” I said, “Well, my stepmother, my father… my father’s old, they need me. It’s a frightening time.” He said, “You’re making such spiritual progress. Don’t leave.” He said, “If you were a Burmese, I wouldn’t let you leave. But I don’t feel I have that power to do that, because you’re from another culture.” And I looked, and I saw that my karma—as a boy from Boston with a responsibility for my family—I wasn’t a sadhu who had renunciated family, and I said to him, “I’ve got to go.” And we both saw the poignancy of the situation, if you can hear that. I mean, I had to go because it was my part as who I was to do it. At the same moment, he was saying, “If you continue your path, you may relieve many people from suffering. As it is, you’re going back, you’ll relieve suffering of a couple of people.” I said, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to do it.”


And it’s like: you get to the point where you see that you can only proceed on the spiritual path so fast because of your own karmic limitations—not because of what anybody’s doing to you, but because of the stuff in you. And you begin to recognize the timing of spiritual work. That you can’t get ahead of yourself. You can’t be phony holy, because it comes back and hits you in the head. You can get so high, but you’ll fall. And a lot of people fall off the path. They say they fell off the path. You see somebody who was busy in white doing dancing with big smiles on their faces, and you see them about a year later, and they’re in a bar having a scotch and soda, and, “I thought that was all bullshit.” And then, later, they say, “Really, I fell off the path.” And I say, “No, you didn’t fall off the path. The impurities with which you were doing it in the first place had their karmic effect.” This is all the pact. Once you have begun to awaken, you can’t fall off the path. There’s no way. Where are you going to fall to? You’re going to make believe it never happened? You can forget for a moment, but it’s in there. It’s going to keep coming back, and getting you, and getting you. So don’t get upset. It’s okay. Go be worldly. And very often I really push people into worldliness. You know? Go out, have more sex, have more… you know, really! More dope. Come on! Make more money. Do it! Do it! Do it until you’re done with it. Don’t get done too soon, because you’re going to be greedy if you do.


So a lot of our expectations were that the spiritual path—I’ve just got a few more minutes; can you handle just a few more?—that the spiritual path would get us healthy, psychologically. That was an expectation. I’ve said this in many lectures that some of you have heard, but it’s interesting to me that: I was trained as a psychologist. I was in analysis for many years. I taught Freudian theory. I was a therapist. I took drugs for six years intensively. I have a guru. I have meditated since 1970 regularly. I have taught yoga. I have studied Sufism and many kinds of Buddhism. In all that time I have not gotten rid of one neurosis. Not one! The only thing that’s changed is: where previously they were these huge monsters of “No! Don’t take me over again! Aaagh!” That kind of stuff, sitting in the bathtub, cowering. Now they’re like these little shmoos, you know? “Oh, sexual perversity! There you are! I haven’t seen you in days! C’mon in and have some tea!” And to me that is the product of the spiritual path. That what’s happened is: I have now rested comfortably in another contextual framework which makes me much less identified with my known neuroses and with my own desires. If I don’t get what I want, that’s as interesting as if I get it, it turns out. D’you ever notice that? All this “I need you!” Well, you’re not gettin’ me. “Oh. Aargh!” And then: isn’t that interesting? And then you grow from that.


It’s far out. When you begin to realize suffering is grace, you are so… you can’t believe it. You think you’re cheating! Along the way on the spiritual path, you begin to get bored with the usual things of life. And Gurdjieff said that’s just the beginning. He said, “Our friends found us becoming dull”—Ouspensky said. Gurdjieff said, “There is worse to come.” Gurdjieff said, “He’s an interesting man who lies well. You have already begun to die. It’s a long way yet to complete death, but still, a certain amount of silliness is going out of you. You can no longer deceive yourself as sincerely as you did before. You have now gotten the taste for truth.” And that happens, and you lose a lot of friends, and your friends change. And you don’t grow at the same rate. And it’s very painful. People you have loved, even in marriages, where other people aren’t growing along with you. And that’s a pitfall. It’s very painful to go from “until death do us part” to “we are together as long as the quality of loving growth is present in the relationship.” And that’s a complex topic that I really can’t get into, because it’s very interesting. There’s a lot of permutations of that one. But it’s one that did catch many of us: about feeling guilty about letting go of friends, and realizing you needed new kinds of relationships and new kinds of friendships.


Along the way, when that gets deep enough—when the stuff that you justified your existence in order to achieve starts to become meaningless, when even when you win, you didn’t win anything, you start to experience the dark night of the soul. The despair that comes when the worldliness starts to fall away. Never are we nearest to the light than when darkness is deepest. The dark night of the soul. And, in a way, what’s happening is: the ego (the whole structure of it) has been based on our separateness and our needs and desires to make us feel comfortable and happy and at home. And as Trungpa Rinpoche said in his rascally way, he said, “Enlightenment is the ego’s ultimate disappointment.” And that’s the predicament. You see the fact that your spiritual journey is an entirely different ball game than the one you thought you were on. It’s a different path than you thought you were on. And it’s very hard to make that transition. And a lot of people don’t want to. They want to take the power from their spiritual work and make their life nice. That is wonderful, and I honor it, and it’s great. And it’s exactly your karma-uppance. But that is not freedom, and that is not what the spiritual path offers as the potential. It offers freedom, but freedom demands complete surrender. Meaning: surrender of who you think you are and what you think you’re doing into what is. And it’s mind-boggling when you understand how powerful—it’s the game of dying into yourself. But there is a death in it. And people grieve. There is a grief when who you thought you were starts to disappear.


Kalu Rinpoche says—he’s a beautiful, beautiful man—he said, “We live in illusion, the appearance of things. But there is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing. And being nothing, you are everything. That’s all.” Is that so far out? Can you hear that? We live in illusion, the appearance of things. But there is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing. You’re nothing special anymore. You’re just part of it all. And being nothing, but you are part of it all! You are everything. The minute you gave up your specialness, you’re part of all things. Then you’re in harmony, you’re in the Tao, you’re in the way of things, you’re in the moment. But you’re not anybody anymore. You’re just part of it. This is just phenomena happening at this moment. The illusion that I’m doing this and that you’re busy listening—that’s all our minds. Behind it, here we are! There’s just this. Nothing else, nothing special. This stuff is very, very far out. And we don’t want to hear how far out it is.


I just take people through the first line of the third Chinese patriarch of Zen’s writings. Just the first line. It’s a little booklet; it’s only about ten pages long. The first line says: “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. To make the slightest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.” Sorry I don’t remember it exactly. You can see why I don’t want to remember it. It’s interesting, because that doesn’t mean: “have no preferences.” And now, this isn’t a cop-out. This is as deep as I can get. It doesn’t mean having no preferences, it means not being attached to your preferences. Of course you have preferences and opinions, but you don’t have preferences and opinions. That’s the one. If you don’t get what you want, you don’t get what you want—how interesting! Because the interesting process is the transformation: not getting what you want all the time. Surrender. Surrender. Surrender. Surrender. Surrender.


Mahatma Gandhi, one of my great teachers, says: “God demands nothing less than complete self-surrender as the price for the only freedom that is worth having. When a person thus loses herself or himself, she or he immediately finds themself in the service of all that lives. It becomes their delight and recreation. They are a new people, never weary of spending themselves in the service of God’s creation.” It reminds me of the story of the pig and chicken that are walking down the street, and they’re hungry and they want breakfast, and they come to a restaurant, and they start to go in. And the pig says, “I’m not going in there.” “Why not?” “Because there’s a sign that says ‘Ham and eggs’.” The chicken says, “Oh, come on. We’ll have something else.” Pig says, “Look, it’s fine for you. All they want is a contribution from you. From me they want total surrender. They want everything.”


Okay, I’ve got to finish quick. I’m sorry I’m running so far. It’s just such interesting stuff—if I do say so. It’s not mine.

One of the things we develop along the way is the witness: the ability to quietly observe the phenomena, including our own behavior, our own emotions, our own reactions. And it’s fascinating. And as you cultivate the witness more deeply, it’s like you’re living simultaneously on two levels. There’s a level of witness, and then there’s the level of desire, fear, emotions, action, reaction, et cetera. That is a stage in the process. And it gives you, again, a great deal of power. There is another stage beyond that, which is, again, the surrender issue. Here’s a quote: “When the mind gazes into the mind itself, the train of discursive and conceptual thought ends and supreme enlightenment is gained.” See, when the witness turns in on itself, when the witness witnesses the witness—it’s like a Zen kōan technique—then you go in behind that, and then you come into awareness where everything just is. And you’re no longer busy with one part of your mind watching another. You’re not busy watching, you’re just being. It becomes very simple again. I’m having the most extraordinary experience these days that I have gotten an increasing number of letters. Here I have spent 25 years trying to become divine. And most of the letters I get now say, “Thank you for being so human.” Isn’t that far out?


One of the big traps we have in the West is our intelligence, is our thinking. Because we want to know we know. And the thing about freedom is: you can be wise, or you can know knowledge. You can’t know wisdom, you can be wise. Wisdom has simplicity to it. When my guru wanted to put me down, he called me clever. When he wanted to reward me he’d say, “he’s simple.” And I can understand the way in which the intellect is a beautiful servant (as I think Vivekananda or Yogananda said), but it’s a terrible master. The thing is that the intellect is the power tool of our separateness. And the intuitive compassionate heart is the doorway to our unity. And the dialogue between the mind and the heart has gotten out of balance in this culture. So that we are enamored of our intellectual powers, just like we must’ve been at one time of our prehensile capacities. We are enamored of our intellectual power, which is in the service of protecting us as separate entities. So to the intellect, the heart—which would give away the shop—is seen as a threat. An inward threat. Because when you see somebody on the street—“here, take my coat,” “here, take my money,” “here.” And the mind’s saying, “Now wait a minute. Forget that lilies in the field crap. Just think about tomorrow.” And, in a way, what the spiritual path at its best offers is a chance for us to come back into the innate compassionate quality of our heart, and our intuitive wisdom. And get back into the balance where, when we need our intellect, it’s available as a servant. But we are not ruled by it and trapped in our thinking mind. And to me, that is well worth working for, because as Albert Hofmann pointed out this morning, most of the social, ecological, and political problems we have are the creation of the human intellect—as along with all the benefits. And the answer to that is the re-recognition of the unitive nature of all things, and realizing you are nothing, and therefore you are everything.


What I have done tonight is try to show you that the spiritual path is a graceful opportunity for us. The fact that you and I even hear there is such a path is such grace for a human life, from a karmic point of view. And each of us must be true to ourselves to hear what is our unique way through. Because if you get phony holy, it ends up kicking you in the butt. You’ve got to stay true to yourself. And for people to say things like, “If I didn’t have my children I could meditate,” your children are your path. For many people, service is their path. For many people, their marriage is their path. Relationship yoga is exquisite yoga. I don’t mean sloppy. I mean really discipline, techniques. Meditation is a beautiful baseline for the whole game. Devotional practices are extraordinary. These are all incredibly useful. Study of metaphysics, of the words of holy people, are just incredible. We have the chance to become the truth which we’re yearning for. One of Gandhi’s strongest lines that guides me all the time is that he’s sitting on a train and a reporter rushes up and says, “Mahatma-ji, give me a message to take back to the people in my village,” and Gandhi just has time to scribble on a paper bag, and he hands it out, and it says, “My life is my message.” And it’s like the rabbi who said, “I went to see the Tzadik”—the mystic rabbi—“in the other village.” He said, “I didn’t go to study the Torah with him, I went to see how he ties his shoes.” And St. Francis says, “It doesn’t pay to walk to preach unless our preaching is our walking.”


Finally, we must integrate the spirituality into our daily lives: bring into it the equanimity, and the joy, and the awe, and the ability to look suffering in the eye and embrace it into yourself without averting your glance. When I work with AIDS patients and I’m holding somebody, and my heart is breaking because I love this person, and they are suffering so much—with fissures in their rectum and social ostracism and all of that shit—and I can’t handle it. I mean, I’m crying with them. And at the same moment, inside of me, is this equanimity and joy. And I don’t… the paradox is almost too much for me to be able to handle. But that is what real helping is about. Because if all you do is get caught in the suffering, all you’re doing is digging everybody’s hole deeper. Finally you work on yourself spiritually as an offering to your fellow beings. Because until you have cultivated that quality of peace and equanimity and love and joy and presence and honesty and truth and simplicity, all of your acts are colored by your attachments. You can’t wait to be enlightened to act. So you use your acts as ways of working on yourself.


So while we started out tonight talking about paths and practices and lineages, for me, my entire life is my path. Every experience I have—as Emmanuel, my ghostly friend, said to me: “Ram Dass, why don’t you take the curriculum? Try being human.” See? Because it’s all the curriculum. It’s an exquisite curriculum. I invite you to join me in matriculating. Thank you!

Ram Dass

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