The Advanced Course


Got wisdom? Let Ram Dass be your guide to enlightenment. He takes us on a trip through changing myths, social action, peaceful protests, corporate responsibility, and more. It’s all part of life’s fascinating dance. Suffering arises when we cling to the intellect. But we find freedom when we open our hearts, embrace oneness and see the perfection in now. So tune in, turn on and wake up! Peace, love and understanding await.



One of the women in this group, yesterday, said to me, “Are you ever going to give the advanced course? Or is this all you have to offer?” Can’t help but admire that. I must say, that’s as good as you can get. Wish I’d said it. I will from now own. And so I mumbled all of the usual things I say about why most of the people who come to be with me come to be with me and with the group that I gather, and so on. I guess I teach at the level that is resonant with the collective consciousness. That’s why I do what I do.


But I don’t quite believe that. It seems to me it has to do with love. When Aretha Franklin would sing—or people like that—the person would play the audience until the audience opened. And then the audience created this incredible wave of energy, and then the singer sang. The singer sang the voice of that energy. And you can feel that in great rock music. I mean, these great rock concerts. Like, a Grateful Dead concert is basically like a religious church experience. For me it’s an incredible experience in which the audience is as much a player as the player is a player. And everybody realizes it’s a group experience that everybody’s having together, and all the people up front are doing are steering the ship, they’re not necessarily [???] on the ship.


When I asked myself if I was going to give the advanced course, what would it be like? Would I just be silent? Since I understand that words are a hype, that here we are, trying to get out of the addiction to our conceptual mind, and all I’m handing you is concept. I’m inviting you to see them the way I see them, which are like birds flying through the air. And see the concepts from a place of absolute emptiness. Words are just the stuff. They’re like the paintbrush to paint, canvases. And the Zen monk who keeps painting canvases and them throwing them over his shoulder into the river, as he’s floating downstream.


I thought there are a number of things I would do if I were giving an advanced course. I wouldn’t demand linearity of myself. Because when you’re talking to yourself you don’t have to complete all your thoughts. You sort of see where they’re going and you go on. But when you’re talking to other people—but are there any other people here? I mean, are you them or are you us? Or even, if you’re us that’s not very interesting. Are you me? Am I talking to myself? If I’m talking to myself I don’t have to explain it all. Am I ever going to get to the point where I assume I am talking to myself? Or I act as if I were, or whatever that level that is. So you can hear that part of the way in which you and I are dancing together.


And then I examined the way in which I love other people. That would come into my advanced course. Because that’s the place I’m playing with now. Because I realized that if I expressed all the love I felt for other people, I wouldn’t be able to get rid of them. And I’m much too smart for that. So if I were giving the advanced course, I’d be talking only to myself. And whether you got it or not would be your problem, not mine. Whether you were busy being who you think you are, or being ourself. If you want to be separate—blessings! We’ll wait. It’s 100,000 incarnations. This is the advanced course, see?


Like any advanced course, I’d read things like this quote from the Prajñāpāramitā:

All this fleeting world,

A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,

A flash of light in a summer cloud,

A flickering lamp, a phantom, a dream.

All this fleeting world. A bubble. A dream. Fleeting world. A bubble. A dream. A phantom.


If I were giving the advanced course, this is the place I’d give it from. I’d give it as fellow connoisseurs and appreciators of the bubble. A shared awareness delighting in the play of the Lord, the play of the forms of the universe. Not so afraid to look at what is because you’re afraid you’ll melt. Being made of tougher stuff. That you can look at Kālī, and Śiva, and their work, and you can look at change without freaking because your awareness is not identified with that which changes.


You and I are living in a culture that is paralyzed by fear. Its creative juice is almost totally drained out of it by its fear. This fear is the fear of change, the fear of the unknown. And yet, at this moment in history, we are in a moment in which we are like a snake: getting a mythological structure in order to grow a new one. Recently, I made a list of myths that you and I were in the middle of shifting. We are caught between stories. And that’s the ground for incredible anxiety. Because who you were was defined by the myth; where you fit in the scheme of things. Just let me run through this list and get a feeling for how it embraces you.


Many of us grew up with the American Dream myth. And we saw the GNP rising and rising before our very eye. And every next generation was better off than the last one. New moment. New myth. This generation is not as well off. Their money doesn’t buy as much security and safety and luxury and love. And they have more endangered resources to live with. That’s what we are giving not the seventh generation, but the next generation. So we have a shifting myth. We’re still holding on to the old one. In each case you’ll see how much we hold on to the old one because we don’t want to face the new one.


We are a youth culture. Our values are in youth. Our world mastery, et cetera. However, the baby boomers will be 50 in 1996. So not only is that the power realm age of the society, but it’s just over the edge. The baby boomers are starting to go out by the cultural values. Because when you’re old—if you’re a part of a hunting tribe, they just leave you behind. If you’re a part of a gathering tribe, they have jobs for you within the social structure. You’re part of the system: you care for the children, you’re an elder, you are the holder of the wisdom of the tribe. But what our culture has done to aging people is fear, panic, loss, isolation, irrelevance—irrelevance? A kind of a burden to the social system. And yet, all of us are on that path to aging.


In India they have ashrams with stages of life. In the first stage you’re a student. And then, after about 20, you’re with family. And your job is to work in the world and do very, very well. Very successful in terms of resources. And those resources—there’s a formula for how you use them during that period. You use them for your family, you use them for children and old people, you use them for holy people. And then, in the third stage of your life, your children are grown, they take over the business, and you start your studies. Your spiritual studies, your pilgrimages, things like that. Alone or with a partner or with a community. And then comes, when you’re sixty, the saṃnyā stage, where you’re free of all structures and the society just says, “Go, baby, go!” Society is there to support you because it needs what you have to offer. And it’s a mature enough society to recognize this fact. That’s the interesting shifting myths of youth.


We grew up, many of us, with the myth that humans were the stewards of nature—or, even worse—nature was there for humans. “Stewards,” at least, was a nice rationalization cop-out. But the game that you’re afraid of is that you are just part of it all. You are part of a biotic community; you are part of many, many social structures. And that’s as much your identity as your being busy being an individual.


And there’s the next myth that’s in transition. I remember participating in the support of a number of myths that are now dysfunctional, by the way. I thought splitting the atom was great. I was wrong. But I thought that individualism was wonderful because it was liberation from social institutions. And it was empowering the individual to think for themselves and feel for themselves, and that’s what the Sixties seemed to be, in large part, about: feeling and thinking for yourself so that, if you went into a community, it was an intentional act on your part to be part of a community. You weren’t locked into systems. And the Sixties were far out in that sense, because all of the vertical systems, all the vertical power structures turned into paper tigers. Oh, they could sting, but they were still paper tigers. I mean, the image that I love is of all of the hippies surrounding the Pentagon and holding hands and Om-ing to make it rise. I mean, doesn’t it change the image of the Pentagon now? “Not the Pentagon?” Yes, the Pentagon. Omm! Now, it is true—only a few people saw it rise! But it wasn’t the issue of whether you saw it rise. They gave credence to that. It was the issue of the symbolic statement that was being made.


And that break from vertical patriarchal authority institutions that preserved incredible discriminations and oppressions and so on started to crumble. Civil rights, sexual freedom, environmental consciousness, women’s movement, anti-Vietnam movement about the immorality of economic wars. And once you take Humpty Dumpty apart, it’s really hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, no matter how hard George Bush tries, or Ronald Reagan, or Bob Dole, or whoever. They all happen to be Republicans, but they could be Democrats. But you can see that creative government is that tension, by the way, between the force of preservation and the force of change. And the art is not to get so carried away with change you lose the baby with the bath, and not to get so caught in inertia that you miss the opportunity for survival, basically, because you don’t adapt.


Then there was the myth of material acquisition, in which the temples become the shopping malls. And you watch thousands of people going through with eyes fixed. Their whole culture centered around the shopping mall. Social institutions, there are the old men counting beads, there’s the whole structure. And it’s the social institution that represents some of our highest aspirations.


And emerging is another myth that is demanded by the limitation of the resources we have available. It’s that voluntary simplicity is going to be in. Living simply, not collecting stuff, is going to be in. Not just using up resources, because you’re not under the illusion it’s going to make you happy any longer. I’ve told about collecting boxes—that, every time I move, I carry the boxes with me. I rent a truck and these boxes are all my memorabilia. And after a while I thought, “Why am I carrying these with me? They cost me money, I’ve got to put them in storage. I never open them.” They’re all the important papers that I’ll want later. But why will I want them later? That’s the assumption that later will be less interesting than now is, because now is so interesting I never open the boxes.


You’ve got to [???] Graceland.



That would be a later-thing, yeah. Much later, baby! Much later! The art is to leave no footprints.

But all of this is a selection from the vast formless universe of creating a reality called a news story. It creates reality for all of our consciousnesses. And it creates the sustaining of a certain kind of value system that is not just. And the rational mind is in the service of protecting your separateness first. Then you can use it for play and sport and technological advance. But it’s to make you more comfortable and feel safer in a basically unsafe situation. Because your separateness is part of that which is changing. And when you’re—it’s like trying to stand on sand that’s in the ocean, where it’s all constantly giving way beneath your feet.


I was in New Haven going to New York, and I had to take the late night train where you bought the ticket on the train. And so—I’d just become sixty—and the conductor came along and I said, “Umm, senior citizen, please.” And he immediately gave me a ticket that cost half of what I would have paid if I hadn’t said that. And I said to him, “Don’t you want to see any identification?” And he said, “No.” That was a story I didn’t tell you before because I was [???].


But we now value what we really put down before—and what our Native American friends have always valued—is the intuitive heart-mind. A deep, deep wisdom in people. We have gotten fascinated with knowledge and we forgot wisdom, so that our mythic heroes are people like Henry Kissinger. We’re going from a myth that the separation of the church and the state is, therefore, license for the state to be immoral and have no values, and lie and cheat and do whatever it needs to do. And that reflects the separation between business and church as well. That was based on the assumption that the church had the power to balance the system; that we’d have some social institutions that would be based on greed and some social institutions which would be based on compassion.


I would say both of those things prove false. Doesn’t work. System doesn’t work. It’s just like doctors who say, “My job is only to save lives.” As technology makes it possible to keep a life going longer and longer, they have to face the ethical situation. Dr. Kevorkian is just saying: hey, fellas, you can deny it as long as you want, but this is the way the universe is. And you will watch all the laws have to struggle with this. And he may go to jail just like Ghandi went to jail, just like anybody goes to jail. I mean, I think he’s a creepy guy, but at the same moment I think what he’s doing is extraordinary. I wish he’d smile a little more. I wish he saw the humor of his own predicament so he could really enjoy it. He is enjoying it, but he’s enjoying it a little bit from somebody; somebody’s enjoying it instead of nobody enjoying it.


I work a lot with nobody. For my own mind. And Wavy is very helpful to me with his “Nobody for President” campaign. Because he has all these slogans: “nobody can solve our economic problems.” His best one is “nobody cares,” that’s the one I like. See? To me, that’s a statement of compassion: nobody cares. See, I’d say that in the advanced course.


I went through one that I think is not one that we’re in the transition of at the moment, but I was passed through the moment when scheduled feeding was in. Remember that? So I could cry my little eyes out, and nothing happened. And I’ve been disempowered ever since. That’s change. We now have demand-feeding, within reason.


We had monogamy. Remember that? By 1975, over 50% of the marriages, of the people getting married at that point, would end in divorce. Not were married, then divorced, because that’s people from previous generations. We basically, now, are living in a culture of serial monogamy. Now, is that bad or good? That’s your mind that determines that. It just is what is. Do people have any less opportunity to come to God in serial monogamy than in monogamy? Depends on your spiritual practice. If your practice is relationship and you want to use your marriage—wow, one marriage can take you a long way. You can dig a mighty deep well. So it’s not a good-and-evil issue. And you say, “Well, is it good for the children?” Well, you know, I have a number of friends who got divorced, and they remarried, and all four of the family are really good friends. Everybody just married for the wrong reasons the first time. And they’re all doing very well, and the kids end up having two households and four parents. And I’ve thought about that and I’ve experienced jealousy in myself. I was stuck with the complete neuroses of two people. You know? I couldn’t play anybody off against anybody. And they were neurotic just the same way. That’s why they got married. So the fun of having four—see, I mean, I’m just shifting consciousness a little bit to say: let’s just stay open to what’s happening and find whether we can be peaceful in the process of change rather than in always resisting the change. Is this too weird? No. You say, “No,” see? Thank you. You reassure me that I can go on, because every now and then I look at somebody’s face that’s going like this and I think, “Oh geez, I’ve gone too far out.” But I don’t care! See, in the advanced course I don’t care.


It’s interesting to be kind of up on a stage with a microphone and then watch somebody go to sleep about the third row, you know? And you’re talking on and on and on, but that consciousness has gone somewhere else. It’s not…. But that’s my problem. I mean, you’re just doing what you do. What business is it of me? If you want to sleep, how do I know that the greatest spiritual awakening won’t happen in the sleep in this space that’s so sacred to us all at this moment? Maybe that’s what you need: a sleep in a spiritual place!


Okay, how about the myth “be fruitful and multiply?” Seems to have gotten us in a little difficulty, I’d say. I think that’s open for revision by demand—popular demand.


We have a wonderful one called “equal opportunity for all.” That’s tasty, isn’t it? You think that’s coming into vogue or going out of vogue? See, that depends on whether you are hopeful or hopeless. Trungpa Rinpoche said a wise thing to me. He said, “Stand right in between them.” Because if you cling to hope, there’s fear you won’t get what you expect. If you cling to hopelessness, you kind of close down the whole possibility. It’s the same thing in working with people that are dealing with cancer or with AIDS, or with any illness that is potentially going to kill them. It’s living with the presence of death, and yet living life fully. It’s always that balance; incredible balance. It’s having people work to keep their temple healthy and alive without being attached to whether it stays that way. And if, indeed, the whole process is one of leaving their bodies, “Ah… so.” And if it’s one of regenerating their bodies and having a healthy body to go on in life, “Ah… so.” And the attachment to which it is is just your attachment to which it is. That’s all it is. How do you know? How do you really know? You may have a set of beliefs, and that’s stuff you’re holding on to. But that’s just stuff you’re holding onto because you’re afraid of jumping with no concepts.


“-isms” are certainly suspect as our myths change. Commun-ism, capital-ism, national-ism… all the -isms look like big egos that are crumbling before our very eye like the Berlin Wall. We’re very suspicious of -isms because we saw how business without government is piracy—we saw that in our country—and in Russia we saw how government without business is tyranny.


Changing myths from the separation of the mind and the body to holistic or the consciousness that our minds and our bodies and our spirits are all of a piece, and that all of our healing processes have got to reflect that wisdom, because that’s now an accepted—a being forced to be accepted wisdom. And you don’t have to say “it’s the body, not the mind,” or “the body’s the most important”—forget most important anymore. These are just interactive processes. And you get at them different ways.


So I say we’ve gone from individualism to a beginning sense of the common good, of the recognition we are part of systems. It’s been in the scientific and philosophical literature—I mean, it’s Bateson, it’s all these people. But that we could collectively—I mean, if you think of the German collective consciousness that dealt through much denial what was being done to the Jews and others—is that different from our collective denial that allowed us to idolize and place on our altars people like Donald Trump, when we knew that a permanent underclass was being created because we could see it around us but we were busy denying what we were seeing? We had Dynasty and we had Dallas, and then we had an increasing number of people who are the ocean that spreads out into the world over that Mexican border and elsewhere of those who haven’t. And how much denial, how much closing of your compassionate heart must it take to continue to play the game of “King of the Mountain,” “What’s in it for me?” And each of us gets the most we can for ourself. Trickling down, of course, is the assumption that—once we have enough for ourselves—we will then create ways to share it with everybody out of our beneficence or out of our obligation, perhaps. That’s another level of consciousness. And it’s why Chuck’s involvement with Social Venture Network, his creation of it, is an absolutely exquisite moment of shifting mythology. That Ben & Jerry, and Anita Roddick, Wayne Silby from Calvert Fund, and all these wonderful people who are playing with the edge of saying business has a social responsibility for the common good. Wait until television gets that kind of group going.


We’re shifting myths from thinking that we were educated for facts to the recognition that we are educated regarding process, not knowledge. Where to find it—like computers. You don’t have to know it anymore, you just have to know where to find it. But also, we are beginning to recognize the value of how our mind our works, of studying how our mind works—which is meditation. Because it’s sneaking into the culture through stress-reduction, basically. And stress is a product of the fear that exists in an unstable situation in which everybody in the situation is caught in their own separateness and has lost the balance that they are part of systems.


We had a myth that you chose your career when you were twelve, fourteen, sixteen, and then you saw it through. It is now true that the present person in our society should expect to have five career changes in a lifetime. So retraining is no longer something for losers, it’s something for winners. It’s how quickly you get retrained for your next round because you realize you’re in an economy that’s like a floating crap game and you’ve just got to stay very loose as to how you’re going to play it.


I think we’re in an interesting transition period because of the bomb. From the myth that war is a political solution to recognizing that it is not. That diplomacy is the only strategy. And that, unless you have a win-win situation, nobody wins. We’re seeing how, when somebody wins, somebody loses. And when somebody loses, there they are: the Corats, the Serbs, and the Bosnians. Everybody feels they lost, and now they’re going to win. But really, in history there can be no winners or losers because we’re all in it together. But notice how little compassion there is across those borders. Between the Muslims and the Christians, the Jews and the Arabs; Palestinians. The inner city and the suburbs.


We had an interesting myth that I had in my history books about 1492 and the great benefit of Columbus discovering America. I think we have matured with our mythic structures. I now feel that we are looking for a way to make an apology for the fact that we built our system on genocide. And we are as culpable as Hitler ever was for what we have done as a people. And to feel how deep the justifications were in the culture—John Wayne.


This is an older one, but we had the myth that we were a moral force in the world. And then we had the Vietnam War and we realized how fallible our systems were. That our fallible—meaning that we were caught in acts that were not harmonious with our deepest wisdom. That’s the pain of it. The pain for each of you is to be living your life in a way that is not harmonious with your deepest wisdom. And I would say that’s my pain. And that ever since 1961—when I took mushrooms—ever since that moment I have recognized that I have a deep, deep wisdom, a connection to the universe that is at home and true and at one. And that my separateness is just my separateness. And that the systems I am part of are fallible systems. And they are dissonant from the way my heart says. My heart says there is justice. My heart says there is compassion. Because that is what my heart is, it’s a just and compassionate entity. And so is yours. And we armor them with rationalization to deal with the fact that we are acting in ways that are not just and that are not compassionate. And I figure my whole life has been an attempt to work with the dissonance and the attempt to integrate my inner truth with the way I live. And it’s very, very fascinating as a journey. Fascinating as a journey.


Myths. Just a few more; I won’t bore you with the whole list. I’m going to write a book about it because it’s so good. Well, we’re still in the one about rich and famous, of who gets in People magazine. But fame is becoming more trivial as time goes on, because you see how its bought, used, and how brief it is, and how irrelevant it is to the pain of the person bearing it.


We’ve gone through myths of the shift of birth coming out of the closet—that was my generation. Now there’s death coming out of the closet and being recognized as part of the life process and not as some terrible, faulty error that has occurred. I love that one. God! Outrageous!


We have the myth that religious institutions provide the ethical base. Hmm, well… depends on what you call a religious institution. And there are new religions occurring all the time, like the appreciation and honoring of Mother Earth is an emerging religious institution that has a very strong moral code that leads you to collect your bottles, and papers, and et cetera. That’s also motivated by your fear and your rationalization that you’re doing good. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not much. In terms of your lifestyle—I mean, my lifestyle. I am not living in harmony with what I know. And there’s a way in which that’s a drag. It’s not a big drag. You know, it’s not a drag I may ever rectify, but it is a drag. I’m aware of that dissonance.


So we are living in interesting times. Remember the Chinese curse? “May you live in an interesting time.” The question is whether it’s a curse or a blessing. See, it’s a curse if you’re afraid of change. It’s a blessing if you can use change to free yourself from your identification with that which changes. See, I really see it as a blessing. I look at this body, which is now decaying at a deliciously interesting rate—I mean, you can almost notice it from day to day. And there’s all these big veins, and wrinkles, and little marks and spots. I mean, this is beauty if I look at it as a beautiful old hand. If I impose upon that all of my social structures, my conceptual things—but that’s my hand! That means I am wrinkles and the blood vessels. And look at how much I value the absence of wrinkles and blood vessels. Am I ready for this? Is there going to be anxiety now? Is it less beautiful? Mmh.


I have this just delicious story that’s such fun to tell. It’s a little irreverent, but what the hell. I was invited to give a lecture in Beverly Hills at Saks Fifth Avenue for La Prairie Cosmetics. Now, La Prairie Cosmetics is an old firm which has a sanatorium for health rejuvenation in Switzerland, and now has a lot of products that come out that are anti-aging creams and such. And they were marketing a new anti-aging cream. And I, the previous year, had been a keynote speaker at a conference in New York on aging. So whether it came out of a hat or whatever, they invited me to speak—to add a little tone to the event—so it wouldn’t just be money. So they invited me to speak for fifteen minutes about the wisdom of aging.


So, I probably would have passed it up, except they were offering $12,000. It was actually $12,000 for two gigs, fifteen minutes each. One was at I. Magnin’s and one was at Saks. But I. Magnin’s didn’t have it. So I was just left—but they had made the contract, so I got the $12,000 for fifteen minutes. So, in my more righteous image of myself I thought to myself, “That’s a lot of eyeballs that could be cured through Seva. $12,000. And can I make a moral statement in which I’m supporting La Prairie so that all those people could see again?” I mean, that’s an interesting ethical dilemma. So then I thought, “Look, what does it matter where you teach? You teach where the situation presents itself. My teachings are my teachings. I’m not tailoring the teachings for who I’m teaching, I’m going to teach my truth.” So why not teach? I mean, they’re as deprived as if I go to Guatemala to the, you know…? Aren’t people at Saks Fifth Avenue deprived? Depends on what, you know… what values you have.


So I agreed to do it, and I got a suit and a tie, and I did my thing, and I went there. I don’t care what costume; what the hell difference does it make? Costume up for the ball, right? So I was put at a little—there were little tables of maybe ten or twelve people, and there was a person from La Prairie at each one to help each person with individual consultation about how to keep their skin young. And then I was at the table with the people that were going to be presenters. There were three of us. There was the vice president of La Prairie, and then there was a nutritional skin expert. So she was telling us what she was going to do in her demonstration. Because what she does is: she stands up and says, “You can all do your own test. You just take your skin and pinch it and hold it for five seconds. And then you let it go and you see how fast it goes back.” See? Okay? So I did mine. We all put our hands in the middle of the table. I did mine, and the five seconds were over, and mine didn’t go back! In fact, it’s still there. I mean, it would be there unless I go like this. And that’s what wrinkles are! They’re, you know… they’re youth that didn’t go back.


So it came my turn to speak. And I stood up and I looked out at my audience. They were serving salad—it was a luncheon. So what I saw were a number of people with mouths full of lettuce looking up at me with a certain kind of opaque look. And what it reminded me of was, when you go out in a field and there’s a group of cows, and you sort of disturb them at their business. They look up and they’re…. See, I told you—that’s a little irreverent because they’re us, too, you know? I mean, I could be in the audience too in that situation by some bizarre karmic twist.


So the question is: is change beautiful? Is what changes part of the beauty of nature, and are you part of the beauty of nature, and can you allow the changes and delight in them, and look for the wisdom inherent in each change rather than resisting it? Can you work to preserve your body and at the same be ready to let it go? Rilke says the most remarkable thing is to be able to hold death and continue to live. To be able to be at peace with the way of things by cultivating the part of yourself that isn’t you anymore, but is—which has nothing to do with time and space, birth and death, coming and going, loss and gain, fame and shame, pleasure and pain. Which ones are you ready for? That would be in the advanced course.


The Third Patriarch will be in the advanced course, but as a process of deeper study. The one that starts “The great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.” I mean, you want the advanced course or do you want the beginner course? Maybe they’re… no, I’m just telling you what I would teach if I were teaching the advanced course. You’re not ready, I know that.


What I said was: aging and death are part of the natural way of things. And that, if you are buying cosmetics out of fear, then it is not going to give you happiness. If you are buying them out of celebration—aaaah!


Did they pay for it?


Did they pay for it? I guess so. I don’t know. I’m not at the business end.


Did they invite you again?



No, they never invited me back. No. I think the $12,000 for fifteen minutes stuck in somebody’s craw.

It’s interesting for me to just reflect as to where one teaches and what one does with one’s energy, just like you have to decide. Same thing. Or not decide. Or listen to hear how it comes out. I mean, it might be that one person in that group is Anandamayi Ma, just waiting. Living in Los Angeles.


I don’t really know that it matters. It’s all in the metaphor. I mean, if the truth is in all of us, if you can resonate that truth, everybody has the potential of hearing. That’s why I think that, when Maharaj-ji wanted to punish me, he’d say, “Ram Dass is very clever.” When he wanted to reward me he’d say, “He’s so simple.” I realized how clever I am. That’s those prefrontal lobe siddhis, those powers. But I don’t know whether I said it to all of you or I said it to some of you what Maharaj-ji said about powers. Very concisely. Sigghis are these powers, these powers you develop on the spiritual path. Powers of clarity, of knowing, of being able to do something about something. He said, “Siddhis are pig shit.” Maharaj-ji was known at some time in his life as latrine baba. That’s the lineage you’re learning from, so….


Speaking of that, somebody gave me this xerox that says, “If you aren’t happy.”

Once upon a time there was a non-conforming sparrow who decided not to fly south for the winter. However, soon the weather turned so cold that he reluctantly started to fly south. In a short time, ice began to form on his wings, and he fell to earth in a barnyard, almost frozen. A cow passed by and crapped on the little sparrow. The sparrow thought it was the end, but the manure warmed him and defrosted his wings. Warm and happy, able to breathe, he started to sing. Just then, a large cat came by and, hearing the chirping, investigated the sounds. The cat cleared away the manure, found the chirping bird, and promptly ate him.

The moral of this story: one—it’s got three morals—everyone who shits on you is not necessarily your enemy. Number two: everyone who gets you out of the shit is not necessarily your friend. And number three: if you’re warm and happy in a pile of shit, keep your mouth shut!


So partly, this decaying body, and all of this, and the ecological stuff, and the trees, and the this and the that, and the violence and all—it’s a pile of shit. Now, are you warm and happy? It’s interesting as to whether you can be happy and then act, or you can only act in order to sometime be happy, to finally be happy. Like, I can’t be happy unless all the loggers starve to death. I put it in terms you won’t like, of course. We all understand what that debate is about. I won’t be happy until the social systems of which I’m a part are just. Now, the question is: is my lack of happiness in the process a help to the realization of the goal? In other words, if I would like to live in a happy world, maybe what I could contribute is happiness. But if I set the condition I can only be happy if I get a happy world… I mean, I go to peace rallies—I hope there will be truth rallies someday, but there aren’t now—there are now peace rallies, and there are such angry people at them. I can’t believe it! “Gotta have peace! Now!” Uh-huh. Yeah! I don’t wanna know you! I’m putting up my walls. I’m getting my AK; my uzi.


I’m of the school that if this pile of shit isn’t good enough, I’m in trouble. I’m in deep shit. And can it be good enough, and can I also work like hell to turn it into what I see is possible: a just and compassionate world? Are those incompatible? If you saw it as perfect, would you then not do anything? What would the perfection include? Would it include the truth of your heart? The truth of your heart is that, when somebody hurts, you hurt. Because we’re all us. It’s interesting how you deal with suffering and the way in which you distinguish between your own suffering and somebody else’s suffering.


See, you may get to the point in your spiritual work while, where you don’t invite suffering, when it comes along you work with it. Because the only reason you are suffering is because your mind has attractions and aversions. Otherwise, it’s just change. The value imposition has to do with the attachments of mind. But if somebody says, “I want to be free of suffering,” then I’ve got to help them be free of what they experience as their suffering. Even though I know that when they get free of that suffering, they’re going to have another suffering. And what I would love to be doing is getting free of the source of the issue of suffering itself. The basic ignorance, which is what the dharma is about. The dharma is designed to get rid of the basic ignorance from which suffering arises, like a seed from which a plant comes up. And it’s the ignorance, basically, of separateness. Not that separateness isn’t part of the dance, but our identification with our separateness. That’s where the source of the suffering is. Sorry! Next lifetime you’ll understand it.


To me, the issue is one of balance. The one of balance where the sense of separateness and the basic identity with all that is are perfectly equally balanced in yourself. That you’re clinging to neither of them, but you are celebrating both of them. It’s what they talk about as saṃsāra and nirvāṇa are one. Form and formless are one. You are formless and you are form. We seem to be relating to each other as forms. But basically, this isn’t relational at all. There’s only one of it. It’s just you’re so attracted to the fascination of the separateness you lose the balance with the way in which it isn’t separate. And you don’t even hear it. It becomes noise in the system. The cause of suffering is the clinging of mind. End the clinging, end the suffering. That’s what you do for yourself.


What you do for somebody else is you help them get rid of the suffering. But how you help them get rid of the suffering can get rid of the suffering just at the plane of like food for a hungry belly, or the way it is given, or the way it is shared, or who you are as you offer the food can be also getting rid of the basic ignorance, along with the food. But you must be free of the basic ignorance to be able to transmit that message. And that’s why, ultimately, you work on yourself so that every human relationship you’re in—whether it’s child, or wife, or competitor, or enemy, or everything—is not a violent one. Because basically, it is one that is rooted in the oneness that embraces both beings. The art is to be one and dance as two. The art is to delight in the dance. So you are the participant and I am the lecturer. And you are the lecturer and I am the participant. And we are both lecturer and participant. And we’re all learning this together. That’s what the advanced course would be.


I mean, the whole trip of me as somebody who knows and you as somebody who doesn’t is a very, very violent cop-out. And it’s your problem, not mine. Because I don’t have that image of me in relation to you. If you want to have it, enjoy it. It’s beautiful, and it’s fine, and I will bless you. But it’s not a very interesting path. It’s a path based on mea culpa. It’s a path based on the fact that you aren’t enough. And what’s fun is to meet mensches in life, beings who say “I am.” I am. Of affirmation of their own existence. And that can be done from as wise a level as you are. Every relationship, every single one, same thing. Every relationship either does violence, it misses the mark, it sins—meaning missing the mark. It misses the mark because it reinforces separateness. The whole game that we wrote about in How Can I Help and Compassion in Action is how getting caught in the helping professions, in doing good, the prison of being a helper reinforces the separateness of the helper and the helped. And it isolates the very person you are trying to reassure because you’re so busy being nurse, doctor, healer… parent, something.


I think the game is to bear the unbearable with a giggle. With your heart breaking. And then do what you do. I think you should trust your inner wisdom. That out of you would come actions not out of “ought” or “should,” but out of the essence of what is. If you distrust the compassion of your heart, then you have to get caught in the oughts and shoulds. If you don’t distrust it, you just have to surrender into it and it will take care of what needs to be taken care of. The statement in the Tao, “one does nothing and nothing is left undone,” meaning you’re getting very tired being somebody doing something. And there’s a whole other way of being in which you are the thing itself, and whatever happens, happens. It’s the compassion that arises out of emptiness. It’s the discriminating wisdom. That you see when you stop trying so hard to be good, to be right, to be just, to be compassionate. I mean, more violence is being done in the name of being compassionate. Basically, everybody thinks they’re good in one way or another. Very few people would think they’re evil.


To live with the uncertainty, to live with not knowing. With knowing you are living at the edge of the mystery all the time. You and I don’t really know about death. Somebody handed me another—I’m going to live on people’s handouts—faith. Faith is when you have come to the edge of all the light you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown. Faith is knowing one of two things will happen. There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly. Under that is a fortune cookie cartoon that says—in which the fellow’s asking the waiter, “May I have another fortune cookie? I’d like a second opinion.”


See, I live with the mystery and with incredible faith. Because I have been in the presence of people like Maharaj-ji, and I have come to trust the way in which they are in the universe. I would even say “are the universe,” but I’ll say “are in” the universe. It’s like knowing that somebody is a little further up on the mountain that can see further than you can see, and saying, “Hey what do you see up there?” And what they see out there—this is scary—what they see out there is perfection. Not perfection to be achieved, but perfection in what is. Maharaj-ji kept saying to me, “Ram Dass, don’t you see? It’s all perfect.” And yet, Maharaj-ji spent all of his life—that form of his life, that embodiment—being there for people, constantly feeding people, taking care of people, advising people, making do for people. And I saw the coming together of social action and emptiness. The space from which you see the perfection. It’s the clear discriminating awareness from which perfection just spreads before you. All the universe of forms, from the original particles as they merge together to your own mind, to the violence and the death and the pain. All of it.


And that balance that Rilke talks about—the courage to go on living—is the balance of seeing the absolute perfection and also sharing the human incarnation. That’s what Christ’s trip was about. That two levels. He shared a human incarnation, which has in it all the fears, and all the desires, and all the reproduction of the species, and all the forces going on in it. The only question is where you are in relation to it. And when you are both human and divine, you can’t stand anywhere. That’s the predicament. You’re not divine but not human, and you’re not human but not divine. If you try to be divine you’re not compassionate. You go around saying—somebody comes up to you and says, “Hey, I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten yet,” and you say, “It’s all perfect. Work with the suffering, my lad.” And the other end, if you get stuck at, you burn out. You sizzle. Because there’s more suffering than you can do anything about.


The information age has presented us with the ocean of suffering in which we are living. The rich suffer, the poor suffer, the have-nots suffer, the haves suffer, the old suffer, the young suffer. Everybody seems to be suffering. You think it’s new? Hell, when Buddha looked for the root of all of that suffering he saw, he saw that the basic root was the way the mind worked. The way we got enamored of that siddhi I was talking about, and got trapped in it. And we lost our connection to the wisdom that is non-conceptual, which is the root of our being from which actions [spring].


It’s such an interesting dance. It’s such an interesting journey of life, because at one level you really think your life is real—with your children, with your jobs, with your body, with your coming and your going, and your bills, and the car, and the environmental issues, and the politics, and world governments, and forces, and death, and violence, and suffering. I mean, which one gets you? And there’s another level in which you’re just… ah, so! You’re the sky in which the phenomena are rising. And at the same moment, the phenomena include the pain in your heart, empathically, about the suffering, which leads—since both of these are part of the same thing—for that which can offer to give to that which needs. And it’s just an internal matter. It’s not America giving to the Bosnians, it’s not “me” doing something for “you,” it is a process in which we are a part; in which who’s doing and who isn’t doing is just one dimension of reality, and behind it here I is.


And it’s interesting when you value enough being part of a system rather than being separate from it. Because your basic power of intellect, which is separateness—you don’t understand that you can have it as a vehicle without being trapped in it as a master. The intellect is a lousy master and it’s a great servant. But it’s a servant of the part of you that has no identity with separateness. Then your intellect’s available to play with. Before that, it’s a tyrannical master. Because it sold you a bill of goods on your own separateness, and all the personality stuff and all the victimization stuff and all that—great to work on, but it’s all diggin’ your hole from a spiritual point of view, unless you work on it from the place that sees it as the bubble, the phantom, the dream. And yet, you work within the bubble, within the phantom, within the dream, on the dream itself. Then it liberates.


It’s why, when people say, “Should I have therapy?” you say, “Great!” Ideally, it would be wonderful if you have the Buddha as your therapist. If you can’t have the Buddha or Anandamayi Ma as your therapist, then use them as a process. And don’t expect them to resonate with all the truths of your being. But when you’re screwed up psychologically, you can go to a body and fender repair service. Because of personality. But you aren’t the car. Or, you aren’t exclusively the car. Because the car will go and you’ll still be. Who will you be? That’s interesting. That’s what Catherine teaches. Who am I?


I’m sorry to go on like this. I will stop. No, no, I understand. That’s a cute line that gets you to say, “Oh, no, no!” In the advanced course I’d have… But this is fun, and this is all what I would teach if I had an advanced course. But since we don’t, we can’t teach any of that stuff. So… have a good day!

Ram Dass

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