Harvard psychologist and pioneer of psychedelic research Dr. Richard Alpert first travelled to India in 1967, where he met Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharajji. It was a meeting that would serve as the catalyst for deep spiritual transformation, not just on a personal level but in the broader social context of Western culture.
Alpert returned to America as Ram Dass, writing numerous generation-defining books including the best-selling Be Here Now. He has spent his life guiding others towards spiritual liberation—the state of pure, loving awareness, unbound by religious dogma and available to everyone, everywhere.
Now, decades later, Ram Dass’ profound wisdom is still permeating the world. Parallel to the religious and spiritual disillusionment felt by many young Westerners today is a growing desire to reconnect with our true nature—to know ourselves wholly and spiritually, whatever that means to us.
But how can we marry a spiritual life with the unavoidable trappings of modern materialism? What’s the most important thing the next generation need to remember in order to fan the flame of awakening?
Ram Dass recently took the time to answer these questions in a podcast on the Be Here Now Network. The episode is hosted by the executive director of Ram Dass’ Love Serve Remember Foundation, Raghu Markus, who met Ram Dass in the late ‘60s and spent several years with him and Neem Karoli Baba in India.
In 1967, Ram Dass returned to the United States infused with the immense unconditional love of his guru, Maharajji. Western culture sometimes struggles with the idea of guru devotion, mainly due to misconceptions about the role the guru plays in our spiritual journey.
In reality, the guru helps you peel away layers of ignorance, acting as a mirror to reveal your true nature—which is always that of pure love. Ultimately, you return to the living truth. The Indian Saint Ramana Maharshi put it simply: “God, Guru and Self are One.”
Ram Dass’ profound connection with Maharajji naturally led him back to home soil where he wanted to share this love with others.
He said: “Sharing is an interesting word. Sharing your spirit, sharing your joy… I wanted to share with people. I wanted to share the joy of this. We had only politicians, actors or business people as our role models. And here was Maharaji. Now we could take a new step.”
This kind of generosity is not one that arises from our sense of ‘self’, or ego, neither is it motivated by a desire to ‘do’ or ‘act’ in a particular way. Rather, it is spontaneous, unattached—our natural state of compassion.
Ram Dass added: “Generosity—(be) generous with love; generous with compassion, generous with wisdom.”
And what was the root of the guru’s teaching, the wisdom that has filtered down to our current generation?
“Love. Unconditional love. We are like Maharajji, we are free to expand. We need a guru—it takes the pressure off because it means I’m not the captain of the ship, he is. It’s about trusting a father/mother figure. That controlling business is fear. You can give up fear more easily once you have a guru.” he said.
Raghu Markus said: “We took the idea that we can expand beyond our limitations, or limited mind. The idea that there is a guide, a guru, that is absolutely connected to every individual is very important. However that manifests in any one lifetime is strictly due to someone’s karma. Once there is that established connection with the universal mother/father, then you develop a trust that allows you to stop thinking you are controlling, and wanting to control, everything in your life.”
Raghu continued: “It was that display of caring that he had for us and everything that walked in front of him. Caring is the core of the idea of satsang. I think that’s a big part of what has come back to the West that is being now transferred to the next generation—a real caring and a wanting to be together in a community of like-minded people.”
More than ever, there is the potential for spiritual materialism once someone sets out on the path of awakening—new ‘spiritual’ terms, groups, practices, the idea that some people are ‘more’ or ‘less’ spiritually enlightened than others. Modern spiritual ‘practice’ can easily become just another way to reinforce separation, fear and an over-inflated sense of self.
Ram Dass gives his prescription for avoiding this common trap:
“Live as if the oneness is real. All of us, all of these things, are one. And live not in words, go behind words and thoughts. Be the witness… be the loving witness. Like yoga, these words have a life of their own—words are spiritual materialism. That’s spiritual materialism (points to mala beads). It’s leading you some place.
“We focus on the means or the path, and the path usually has materialism to it. The practice is a tool that leads to freedom, but eventually that tool also has to be dropped or else that becomes spiritual materialism.”
Living from a heart-centred place, rather than constantly being caught up in our minds, is key to opening up to the spiritual journey and completely shifts an individual’s view of themselves and the world. Ram Dass explained how his self concept transformed from ego-based thoughts—‘I am angry’, ‘I am jealous’ – to the state of simply being a loving person through the practice of loving awareness. That is the place we must work from, and return to.
He said: “I perceive myself and the universe differently. My perception is changed with love. I am careful not to love with my ego, otherwise there is the give and take that occurs when I’m doing it from my mind perspective. It’s about non-attached giving that comes from the grace of the guru, through my spiritual heart. It is unconditional.”
A perfect example of this is the experience described by visionary doctor and fellow devotee of Maharajji, Larry Brilliant, who said: “When I sit before Maharajji I know he is a Saint who loves people, but at that time I look around and I love people.”
This is the true purpose of the guru, no matter how they may appear in our lives. Ram Dass and Raghu Markus’ extraordinary, direct experiences remind us time and again that a life lived in pure loving awareness is not an idealistic dream—it is the innate potential within each of us.
Ram Dass’ closing comment embodies this message with beautiful simplicity:
“Ram Ram. I love you all.”
Watch the full live podcast here:
Watch the film ‘Cultivating Loving Awareness’, featuring Ram Dass Krishna Das, Sharon Salzberg and Mirabai Bush here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xxj0jWQo6ao&feature=youtu.be
‘Love Everyone: The Transcendent Wisdom of Neem Karoli Baba Told Through the Stories of the Westerners Lives He Transformed’ is available on Amazon. Check out ramdass.org for further information.Browse Front PageShare Your Idea
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