Ram Dass

Ram Dass, Santa Fe. 1972 – photo by Allen Ginsberg – courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Ram Dass‘s birthday today – (he passed away in December of 2019). He would have been 91. Here’s his contribution to Bill Morgan’s Best Minds tribute written for the occasion of Allen’s 60th birthday:

Big Brother Ah Baby

With the passing of the seventies, there came a change in Allen. I felt despair giving way to faith…and the faith sometimes reflected in true joy. I think he had finally started to take his spiritual practices seriously. It took a poet and tantric like Trungpa to suck him in. I felt that Allen, finally, in his gut, felt the possibility of escape from samsara. Now he spoke of long-term retreats and a hundred thousand prostrations and meditation. We spoke of thangkas and mantras and mudras. And for the first time I heard in Allen that these were not just metaphor but method as well.

Here was great courage. For a man whose identity and gift had been so tied to the intellect and the world to court a discipline in which one follows the breath into silence …for a poet whose suffering was a source of inspiration to let go of that suffering…is to risk giving up one’s power in order to be free. Such a course is rooted in deep commitment to truth  and depends upon great faith in the ultimate power of love.

Now there was a new lightness in Allen. We met more often in spiritual timelessness where our differences in age and history and style were no longer divisive but a source of delight to us. Of course it wasn’t all like that. Such transformations occur unevenly and slowly. And when Allen turned to his voluminous yellowing folders to “inform” me about the perfidy, greed, misuse of power, violence, injustice, inhumanity, and irrationality of our fellow humans, he would once again seem to be enshrouded in a dark cloak of conscience and that sense of impotence reflected in the urgency to “do something”. And I would pull back.

It was obvious to me that this perception of Allen as caught, which put me off so, was in part due to my own misunderstanding  of renunciation and my own fear of drowning in social involvement. So Allen sat on the tracks in Rocky Flats and got arrested. I waited and watched.

Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky & fellow protesters at Rocky Flats, Colorado, 1978 – photo by Joe Daniel

Then Allen called me. I was to speak in Boulder on the same day as a major demonstration was to take place at Rocky Flats. He asked me to join a group of meditators who would be sitting at the demonstration. For me it felt like a perfect coming together.And it was. I felt the grace that allowed me to be among the thousands of folks who were truly joyful I their shared statement arising out of deep compassion for the earth and all the beings upon it. On that day I finally felt the schism between social action and spirit was healed within me. After that it seemed second nature to speak at anti-nuclear demonstrations and to do benefits for the hungry, impoverished and persecuted peoples throughout the world. Finally I could sit with Allen and his facts of horror and not feel frightened for my heart. He was showing me that one did not need to avert one’s gaze from the human condition in order to remain in the spirit.

Ram Dass, Santa Fe. 1972 – photo by Allen Ginsberg – courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

There were so many other subtle ways in which Allen’s life served as a model to gently guide my own. A delightful day we spent at Lama in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of New Mexico with his father Louis helped me make friends with my own father. Watching Allen on a major television interview show and seeing how rooted to truth his being was in comparison to others on the show, encouraged me in bringing the vulnerability of my own bungling journey to the public eye. Allen’s peripatetic cross-pollinating love and ideas from one culture to another showed me how national and ideological borders dissolve in the face of the power of the human family. Allen’s way of using money as energy to relieve suffering individually as well as collectively helped me to gain release from my deeply inculcated family money paranoia.

In all this, Allen has not been a teacher, but a teaching, As I look back on these thirty years  I which Allen has been a good part of my world, I see that just the way he has lived his life has guided, helped, and influenced me on the path of becoming a mensch . Isn’t that what friends are all about?

I have never slept with Allen and yet I feel that we are lovers. Lovers in the sense that we merge in our delight in the dharma, in our zeal to cull the true heart message from the intellect’s imitation of the heart, in our desire to escape from what Allen calls “the claustrophobia of being somebody” in order that we might fulfill our unique parts in the dance of life. We are lovers of service and of innocence, and of family in all its concentric circles. We are lovers in the OM-AH-HUM of it all.

Dear Allen. You are a delightful travelling companion
Thank you. Happy Birthday.
May All Beings Be Happy!

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