Seeing Through The Illusion

Ram Dass reveals how our senses and thoughts dupe us about the essence of reality. By liberating our consciousness from clinging to the body and mind, we can plunge into the primal energy coursing through all form. This raw perception exposes our supposed detached self as a fantasy.



So what happened to me was: I went through the doorway and I thought, “Oh wow! It isn’t like I thought it was at all.” I mean, if I’m going spend my whole life manipulating this puny ego through a set of power games, and a set of sensual gratifications, and what’s the payoff? The end is: it’s all going to end anyway, because it’s all in time. And suddenly I [???] that who I am at that moment when I’m “stoned,” “high,” I am out of time. I am out of space. But boy did it feel valid, does it feel real. It feels like the first real thing that’s ever happened to me. Everything else had a certain, like, hustle quality to it. Except my suffering. I mean, I was really into my suffering. You really get into your suffering. Self-pity, that’s real. Everything else may go, but boy, you’ve got to suffer!


And we’re just coming out of the dark night of the Protestant ethic, you know? Suffer, baby! That’s the only way you’ll be good. Suffer some more. Really suffer! Ugh! It feels so good, it hurts so bad! We’ve all been the trip. We’ve all been the trip. Suffering is great. It’s like [???] by fire. It’s pure fun. It’s very good. But the funny thing about another paradox: this trip requires total suffering, but it’s got to be suffering that’s no suffering. I mean, you’ve just got to go the whole suffering trip, but you can’t be the guy that’s suffering. Do you think, by the way, that when Christ is standing there and they’re nailing nails in, he says, “Oh man, does that hurt!” He’s probably forgiven the guy that’s nailing him with absolute compassion. He digs why the cat’s doing it, what he’s stuck in, how much dust covers his eyes, why he’s got to be doing it. That’s the way it is. He said the night before: “Well, tomorrow’s the big trip. I’ve got to go on it. I’m going to go do this thing.” Yeah right, there are the nails. Wow, look at that!


I go to the dentist and the dentist says, “I’m going to have to drill near a nerve. I’ll give you Novocaine.” “Nah, don’t give me Novocaine.” “What do you mean? You want Novocaine. It’ll be terrible.” “It’s pain. It’s interesting!” “Well, alright.” “Aaaaaah! Boy, it’s pain! It’s really interesting. Really interesting.” So who am I? Am I he who is being pain? No, that’s the thing. Once you know that, then pleasure and pain and fame and shame and loss and gain are all the same. They’re all just happening to you. They’re just like, ooooh! You know, you’re standing on a bridge, watching it go by. Wow! Wow, look at that. Boy! Oooh! Whew!


Once you have seen through the illusion—and that, as I told you, wasn’t your choice. It just was your karma that at this particular lifetime—and I know you all went through changes when I say “this particular lifetime.” You mean there are other lifetimes? You mean you believe in reincarnation? Well, I’ll take you through that very gradually in about five minutes. You’ll get the whole trip tonight. Last night—let’s blow it off. For some reason or other, this trip you woke up. I mean, you went through lots of trips before this and you can see all the trips you went through out on the street. You’re meeting them all the time. The guy carrying the burden of his personality through life. I’ve spent 32 years in analysis, and I’m now coping. Boy, he’s not gonna make it this round!


But the minute the moment has come where the veil just gets thin enough so that you see through for a second. So that, when you go to church on Sunday and they sing a hymn,


Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen,

who thy glory hidest ’neath these shadows mean;

lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed,

tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.


That’s a hymn from the [???] Protestant hymnal. The words were St. Thomas Aquinas. Now, you could very easily be somebody who’s gone to the episcopal church on a Sunday morning—because somebody took you or because you were looking. And you may have sung “Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen.” Just think of all the thousands of people who sing that and they don’t know what it’s talking about. They’re just doing the word as if… it’s like praying to idols: they’re doing the words as if the words are going to do it to them. But the seed hasn’t been planted. The veil hasn’t lifted. They’re on an ego trip: look how good I am, going to church! It’s called the golden chain in India. The golden chain.


They’ve grouped people. They’re not bad people. Bad people are, like, doing heavy things. They’re laying heavy things on each other. Of course, good people are laying heavy things on each other, too, but it’s—the word “heavy” is too complicated for you. In fact, it’s going through a metamorphosis. It’s got a whole new meaning now. Good people are in a tricky position because they’re doing what the outward manifestation of a thing is, but the inner thing isn’t happening. It’s very poignant, very poignant. But it’s alright because they’re going in the right direction. Another round or two. Another round or two and they’ll make it. They’ll hear the words that they’re singing.


I go to church in the little town I live in in New Hampshire. And all the people sing hymns and nothing’s happening. They walk in all uptight and they walk out all uptight—maybe they’re a little calmer. I see them and lights flash and I get so stoned I want to run down the aisle and shout, “Woooah! Listen to those words! That’s really here!” You sing about it all. It’s really like the book says. Not like you think it is at all. Psychotic! Watch it! Watch it! Watch it! Careful.


The psychosis business is interesting business. You see, if you go through the doorway too fast and you’re not ready for it, and you’re getting [???] into outer darkness, you may land anywhere. And lots of people land in mental hospitals. And the reason they do that is because they went in through the door with their ego, see? They said like, “Wow, I’ve been invited to the wedding feast! I mean, dig me! Sam Jones in heaven!” You know, Sam Jones standing at the right side of the Lord. There’s the Lord, and there’s Gabriel, and there’s Sam Jones. They don’t understand that you’ve got to be die to be reborn; that only when you have been born again do you enter the kingdom of heaven. So they’ve gone in on the first round. And what happens is: they go on a huge ego trip. And it’s called messianic complex, it’s called paranoia, delusions of grandeur.


I have a brother who is in a mental hospital. He thinks he is Christ. Well that’s groovy; I am Christ also. But he doesn’t think I’m Christ, he just thinks he’s Christ. Because it happened to him, and he took his ego with him. So he says, like, “I’m special.” And when I say to him, “Sure, man. You’re Christ. I’m Christ, too,” he says, “You don’t understand!” And so when he’s out he steals cars and things like that because he needs them; because he’s Christ it’s alright. So they lock him up. He says, “I don’t know.” He said, “Me, I’m a responsible member of society. I go to church. Me they put in mental hospital. You, you’ve got a beard, you wear a dress. You, you’re out free!” Sure, because as far as I’m concerned, we’re all God. That’s the difference. That’s the difference. And if you really think another guy’s god, he doesn’t lock you up. Funny thing about that, but you’ve got to be really pure. You’ve got to really think it. You can’t just make believe you think it. Anything less than total purity, [???] out in darkness, send [???].


That’s what you learn after a couple of hundred psychedelic trips. Well, I might as well get straight, because I’m getting to feel like a yo-yo, you know? I keep going up and comin’ down. Up and down. As long as there’s an up and down, as long as there’s a high and a low in your head—outer darkness. As long as you’re in the world of yin and yang—outer darkness. It takes a lot of purification. Purification of what? Purification of thought, purification of body, freedom from attachment. Freedom from attachment.


And after a long time of going up and down—without understanding why I was going up and down or how to stop it, how to stop the going down—slowly, slowly it dawned on me that: why did I keep trying? The answer is very simple, and almost all of you know the answer already. The answer is: once the seed is in you, you don’t have any choice. Again, it’s karma. I mean, I keep raising that nasty word, and I’ll define it in a moment, but it’s built into you. Once you have seen what it all is like, you just can’t go back to playing bridge. It just doesn’t make it. It’s like: imagine you’re a prepubescent. You’re just at puberty, see? And you have been playing [???] hide and seek. Or you’ve been playing baseball, and you collect baseball cards, and you’re really into collecting baseball cards and Coca-Cola caps that have baseball. You’re really into it. I mean really. I mean it’s really important. Really important. And then some strange thing happens uncontrolled by you, and you find yourself turned on by the chick next door. And through some strange set of circumstances you find yourself kissing her, and all kinds of lights flash. Well, from that moment on the baseball cards are just different. They’re just different. You can go back and say, “Well, that’s all interesting. But the baseball cards are really what’s important!” That’s called defense. The thing happened, the seed got planted. No turning back. No turning back.


Once you sensed the possibility, once you just feel that other thing inside of you, you start in this almost—it’s completely on your conscious mechanism of searching, listening for the messages. Do you know? Do you know? Do you have the key? Where is the next message? Where is the next message? And the interesting thing is: there is always a next message, and it’s always available to you. Now, that’s a high one. Some of you—I’m going through this thing of, like, people saying, “What’s going to happen when you go away?” Who is going where, first of all? Second of all, it has nothing to do with me. The process is going on in each individual. Whenever you are ready, you get the next message. The next message is where you are when you’re ready to hear the next message. If you come here this evening and you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, you’re not ready to hear this message. And you can be sitting here, and there’s no message. Somebody else comes here and they say, “Wow! That’s the message I was waiting for!” Both of you were in this room at this very moment. The handwriting is always on the wall, saying, “Magic here for madmen only. Price of admission: your mind.” Hermann Hesse’s metaphor from Steppenwolf. Always there! Question is: can you see it?


The funny thing about all of the secrets of the East, or of the secrets of mysticism, is: they’re not secrets! Nobody’s saying, “Don’t tell him.” They’re telling you. They’re yelling it, saying, “Except ye be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven”—that’s a secret. Think of how many times you heard that, and you say, “Why, yeah. That’s really interesting. Yeah, great. That’s a minister talking. He’s doing his thing. He’s got to earn a living, too. He’s a good guy.” Because you can’t—the secret is a secret to you because of where you’re headed at. Your receiving mechanism isn’t tuned for that particular frequency.


Okay. Now, no nonsense: how do I really think it is? I’ve been on a trip now. My trip has taken me through psychology—more or less responsibly. Then it took me from my academic career, psychology, into psychedelics and exploring the within chemically, which led me to end my psychology career rather… dramatically by being fired from Harvard. Then I pursued the psychedelics for a long time. And then I got that feeling of being a yo-yo. And then I finally went to the East looking to see if anybody knew anything else, since I didn’t know enough to figure out how to do this trip. I couldn’t stay inside the door. I didn’t know what to do next. I kept reading the books, but I didn’t understand them. They were yelling the secrets, but I couldn’t hear them because I was looking at them from the wrong place. That was my problem. And I couldn’t get my head in the right place to see what [???]. Because I still wanted to know I knew, see? I was still Western rational man. “We’ll figure this thing out. Psychic phenomena—very interesting. We certainly must do further research.”


So I went and I looked and I looked and I looked. And as long as I looked like a rational man looking, I didn’t find anything. I just found my own shadow all the time. So you can never find yourself. You only read yourself, you only talk to yourself, you only ever know yourself. That’s all there is. It’s all there is, strangely enough.


And then I gave up. I saw that my whole game didn’t work. It didn’t work. It gave me all the rewards that seemed to be offered, but it didn’t work. It didn’t—you know, there was that place in me that knew it wasn’t working. I knew there was something else and I couldn’t get to it. Couldn’t get to it. At that point I gave up, and then I was ready for the next message, and then the next message was standing right there, was sitting right in the Hippie restaurant; the blue Tibetan restaurant in Katmandu Nepal. And the message took me by the hand and took me the whole trip, and took me to my next message-giver, who was a being who had finished the trip. He didn’t come down anymore. He was inside the gates. There he was: he was a realized being. And he did the thing. He blew my mind and finished me with my rational trip.


That is a brief chronology of the series of Brahmas that unfolded in this illusion that one calls sādhanā, or “spiritual path.” Now, after having studied psychology, and guided psychedelic trips, and read Eastern books, and met realized beings, and listened to innumerable stories from people about other realized beings and their own trips and inner heads, and been a psychotherapist for ten years and all, this is the way it looks to me. I’m not asking anybody to buy anything. There’s no sale going on here. No sale. Even, there’s nobody sending a message. You and I are here. We are observing this process. That’s all that’s going on. If I’m trying to convince you, I might just as well pack up my… whatever holy men have, and wend my way down Third Avenue. Because if I’m trying I can be assured failure. There’s no trying because there’s no “you” and there’s no “me.” Here we are. We’re just exploring how it is. I’m our mouth. I’m our mouth.


I once took LSD with Alan Watts, and his wife and he started to talk and talk for eight hours. And at first I got uptight. I mean, you know, like: “I know something. Why doesn’t he ask me?” You know? He’s just going to talk all night? And then it dawned on me that he was just our mouth. He was our mouth. And it was beautiful, because every time our thoughts didn’t fit with what he was saying, what he was saying would change. He was extremely sensitive, and he was the most erudite mouth I’ve ever spoken through!


How is it? And how is it, then? Say for number one: we, rational man, is not the highest being on the evolutionary scale at this moment. There are beings that are realized beings that do not live in bodies, whose awareness functions at a higher rate of vibration than ours does. They do not process data through gross senses—through eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin—or do they know through their intellect. Say for number one.


Say for number two: we are all eligible to enter the next evolutionary stage to the extent that we are able to extricate ourselves from the time-space locus in which we find ourself—by which I mean changing one’s vibrational rate, if you will. Available to everybody. It has nothing to do with: you’ve got to wait until you die. It’s available right here, now. This minute. Here and now. In fact, if you could turn off your senses and turn off your intellect right now, you’d be here. You’d really be here. It’s as simple as that. You don’t have to plan: shall I go become enlightened or become a physicist? It doesn’t work. You don’t have to do that.


If you think of mass as solid, that’s because you are trusting your senses, and you look at something and it’ll look solid—most of the time, if you’re at the usual way of seeing things. Everybody agrees it’s solid, and when it hits you it hurts. Must be real. When you get a little more sophisticated in rational ways, if you get a little further into physics, you understand about the relation of mass and energy, and you understand that what appears as mass only appears that way because of the nature of the receiving apparatus of your senses, and that in fact all solids are, in fact, just energy. They’re patterns of energy. You could call them slowed-down light. Slowed-down light. And when it is slowed down and forms into certain patterns, it gets gross enough so you can see it through your eyes. It’s just like going from infrared or ultraviolet through the spectrum of the visual field. When the vibration rate changes, you can see it. Or it gets to a point where you can’t see it or can’t hear it. It gets too high; only dogs can hear it. You can’t hear it.


As you go up in that rate of that frequency, that vibrational frequency, you get to light. You get to thought. And the reason we can’t measure thought yet, really, is because we just don’t have apparatuses for measuring at those vibrational rates yet. I mean, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of cases of people transmitting thought from one being to another. I once visited J. B. Ryan down at Duke, North Carolina, and J. B. was sitting there with this peculiar position on his desk, pile like yay high, and in closets are letters from thousands of people describing the experience of thought transmission. But when he tries to do it in a laboratory, he can only do a little bit better than chance. It’s like we know it exists, but we can’t know we know it. One of those problems: we can’t know we know it.


Keep going faster and faster in the vibratory rate, and in the smallness of the unit that’s vibrating, until you get to the tiniest quanta of energy. The tiniest quanta of energy. It is so tiny that it’s only in combination that it makes up atoms, or makes up the components of atoms, even. Physicists now work with these things theoretically. That energy is so fine that the entire universe is composed of it, and it’s solid. You, Mars, the air, vacuum, flowers, the candle flame, my thought—it’s all made up of the same stuff. It’s just in pattern. Just in pattern.


Now, if you are able—this is a fact I am telling you now from where I’m sitting—if you are able to pursue the discipline of extricating your awareness, your consciousness, from your own senses and from your own thought, you become part of that finest energy. What are the qualities of that energy? It is totally interchangeable in everything in the universe. Totally interchangeable. So that if a part of it was a part of this flower at this moment, it might be a part of Mars the next moment, or a part of the vacuum the next moment. It’s all the same stuff. At that point, if you could look at the world, if you could clear away all that stuff out of your eyes and see the universe at that level of energy, if you could turn your receiver so you could get it at that level, all you would see was a homogeneous white light. You’d see the clear white light. You’d say, “That is all and everything.” And yet it has no form to it, because it is where energy lies behind form. Where energy lies behind form.


When you are able to extricate yourself from the time and space illusion—and it is an illusion, as it turns out—the question is: who am I? Who am I? Am I this body? Am I these senses? Am I this thought process? Cogito ergo sum—it’s a lie. It’s a lie. Sum ergo cogito is perhaps reasonable. That’s a lie, too. But so are all words.

Ram Dass

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