Raghu arrives at his first ashram in India, disappointed because he didn’t find the answers he was looking for. Meanwhile, Ram Dass ventures out of his comfort zone and follows Bhagavan Das on a transformative journey through India, leading to a very special meeting at the Kainchi ashram.
Raghu: Hi I’m Raghu Markus. So now what? Ram Dass is off at a meditation course and I’m in limbo in India. Well not really cause I’m with my girlfriend’s Indian family. They decide I need to go on a road trip to see rural south India and in the process meet some holy people.
Off we go and our first stop is the famous miracle saint, Sari Baba. Unfortunately, though, I decided I wanted to drive and suddenly I’m being bombarded by one close miss after another; cows and bullet carts, pigs running from feral dogs and people, people stacked everywhere and I’m driving on the wrong side of the road at least for me. Finally after eight harrowing hours, we arrive at my first ashram. There was huge beautifully painted live elephant that greeted us….spectacular creature. We were told to line up for meeting the saint. As soon as I saw him, I thought, “Wow”, Jimi Hendrix. He had an amazing Afro. He walked down the road, people occasionally stopping to hand out gifts of sacred ash which he magically produced with the wave of his hand and I understood later sometimes he produced various items like pendants and charms. Pretty trippy but at the same time I did not feel a thing. Nothing; no vibe; disappointment.
But, after another day of traveling through intense choked towns, reeking of a combination of toxic waste and the perfume of flowers and incense, we arrived in Pondechari, a French colony seaside town from the 18th century; very exotic and very enchanting and the home of another saint Tiro Bindo and his side-kick, simply called, Mother. And so it was here that my spiritual story really began.
Ram Dass: So when it came time for us to leave for Japan, I didn’t really want to go because this was the first guy that was the spark of the light that I was looking for but it seemed absurd that I that I would come, what, 6,000 miles or something like that and on this journey to find a 23 year- old guy from Laguna Beach. I mean it just, you know, it was very high just from, a, ah, it altered ones expectations.
And so I got to this choice point of going on with David first class the rest of the, our survey of the rest of the Eastern Oriental line survey or going off with this tall fellow who was going to go on a religious pilgrimage in India, back in India. Well, I chose to go with him. Well that was quite a drastic experience for me.
I‘ve always had kind of a soft life and I suddenly found myself walking out of Calcutta, barefoot. He’d given away all of my stuff. He’d taken over all my money. Most of it he’d given away already. I had a shoulder bag and little Tibetan drum and my feet were all blistered. Previously, I had been in the Land Rover where we had a big suit case full of Vitrofiaform and oriomiacin and all of these nice things and now my shoulder bag had a tube of Johnson First Aid Cream and two band aids; that was my whole equipment and previously we were drinking this and going to American-style restaurants and now I was eating from street vendors and so the dysentery was quite extraordinary. In which case, he would say to me, “Well, a fast would be good”, right. I mean, he was compassionate but there was no pity. He wasn’t climbing into the Western, “Oh you poor, hog, here, lie down”. “Ah, well, we’ll just walk slower”. It’s quite a thing for him to walk cause the streets, you see, because cows are sacred; the cows leave their dung and before they’re picked up and made into fuel they’re hangin around and then all these people are chewing pon in India and spitting the pon juice and I had come out of, you know, excessively good toilet training and to walk I was so exhausted from the other day that having to see where I was walking and his big feet were just padding along like a camel, you know, and he was looking every other way and he was always stepping around all this stuff and I could never figure it out.
Now, um, as we got out of the big cities; in the big cities, you know, people look at you like what kind of a nut are you?; barefoot and the cloth, we know you’re a Westerner, you know, like, who are you kidding? But as you get out into the villages, it’s much purer in India and they still respect the spiritual endeavor and the people would call, “Hey Babaji” which is a; Baba means grandfather. It also means holy man. It’s usually given to Veshuvite, Veshnuvites which is the white cloths. And, uh, Babaji is sort of the affectionate title. In Yiddish it would be Babala; that same thing. And so they’d call “Babaji” and I would always be embarrassed, you know, because I wasn’t a holy man. I was just wearing a white cloth. I was a Western intellectual, old, over-aged, hippie, you know, looking to see what was going on in India. That’s who I was in my head; you know, in my fixed model of myself.
We got to these caves in Baneshwar. We had gone to the Ramakrishna mission which had not been a very spiritual experience, unfortunately, although the gunga was very beautiful; quite fun. We had gone to the Sun Temple at Kandarack which was the use of sexual tantra; very high temple; extraordinary, beautiful temple. So we got to these caves in Baneshwar, these Buddhist caves in the rock, beautifully cut in the rock, almost by hand; very soft inside; little caves, maybe thirty or forty of them; and it was empty now and we thought well, you know, we’d come walking this long way, we would meditate in these caves for maybe an hour or so and so I found a little cave way up on a ledge and I went inside there and I sat down and it was a warm afternoon and I closed my eyes and I sort of went off into a reverie, I guess you’d call it. I felt very calm; my eyes closed and I opened my eyes about twenty minutes later and I noticed there was only the light from the door that there was a pile right over by the door and I assumed this pile was a pile of stones that when, since I came in from the bright light, I was not dark-adapted and I had stepped over and not seen but I looked forward and they were piles of coins. See, religious pilgrims had passed and they had seen this sadhu meditating and because it is the responsibility of the grusto or the householder in India to support the holy men, they had left this money for me and that really shook me up; so I talked to Bhagwan Dass about it, the fellow I was with and we decided to give it away to a beggar; but I kept one pisa because it was the first time that I found it paid to be a holy man and then with that much profaness in me that I thought that, you appreciate that, at the same time, because it was too embarrassing to seriously consider myself a holy man because my Western mind wouldn’t give in that much, I mean, I know what kind of a hype religion is, you know, you’re not going to catch me coming on like one of those guys, see, that was my feeling. Bhagwan Dass said, “Look”, he said, “When people reverence you because of the role you’re in, they are doing it and it’s helping their spiritual work to do this and the way you can handle it”. He says, “The way I handle it is; I reverence them back”, and because you’re a holy man you don’t bow and like, they come out and touch your feet; people run out from shops and touch your feet as you walk by and you don’t do that to them because you are in your role but in your heart you touch their feet; you reverence them and he said, “Then you’re offering them the blessing that they have come to receive and it’s one, you know, that which is pure and you are offering to them. Okay, that was fair enough and I was going to do that.
Now, all along this journey, this fellow, this strange Westerner, is slowly taking me over, my training, and my feeling during this period is as if I am a new-born baby; that’s all I can describe it as. He’s buying the food. He arranges for our sleeping things. He tells me when to get up. He tells me where we’re gonna go. He tells me where to sit; when to stand; how to go to the bathroom. He teaches me how to go to the bathroom like a Hindi. He tells me how to eat with my hand, you know; left hand for that and right hand for that and don’t mix them up or you’ll lose a hand in the, you put it in the communal pot; wrong hand and most interesting and he’s teaching me about my body and I’m losing weight and I’ve got, racked with dysentery and my bones and all that; sleeping on wooden tables everywhere because he’s a religious; he’s a holy man so he doesn’t go to hotels. He doesn’t go into restaurants so you sleep where; you sleep on the ground or you sleep on a wooden, you know; so all my hip bones are black and blue and, you know, it’s really painful; very, very painful but besides the body thing that’s happening , he’s working with my thought process so I’ll say to him something like um, “How long do you think we’re gonna be on the road?” and he’ll say, “Don’t worry about the future. Just live now”; so we’d be silent for a while sitting on our boards and I’d look at him and I’d say to him, “Gee, this sure is strange in relation to the past; you know when I used to…..” He’d say, “Don’t think about the past. Just be here now”. Oh man, my whole game, as you can see, I’m telling you about the past now. I mean, my whole lecturing routine, my social identity is either connected with the future or the past, you know, I’m just passing through the present. Time is the thing, I ah, very important, where we gonna go with psychedelics in the future and all the interesting experiences I had in the past and he didn’t wanna hear any of the interesting experiences , I mean, I was one of the most interesting people alive and he didn’t wanna know it and then I’d say to him, “Gee, I feel lousy”, and he’d say, he’d say, “Think of feelings like waves in the ocean and watch them recede into the distance”, so I’d take that lousy feeling and I’d make it into a wave and I’d push it off into the distance and I’d say, “Boy, that makes me feel better”, and he’d say, “Feelings are like waves. Take new feeling and make it into a wave and let it recede into the distance”; see the positive ones had to go too and then I had nothin to talk about so I was silent so there we were just sitting together, you know, and uh. He taught me how to work with a mala; do mantra. He taught me to sing Budgen. He said, “Fill your mind with good things, you know, praises of God”, which I thought was a big joke but okay, if that’s the trip, I’ll do it; adaptive fella. Alright, we have a variety of more experiences that I won’t be laboring to fill you full of since they’re more of the same pretty much.
And then, um, every place we’d go, there’s somebody groovey to receive us because he has many friends everywhere and they all love him; that’s pretty clear and he’s also, because he’s an initiate of many sects everybody knows him from somethin or other and they’re all, like, it’s some spiritual link with everybody we’re meeting; so the situation arrives that I have my visa to extend which I’m gonna do for a couple of more months and then go on to Japan; so I go to Dehli with him to do this and I get back into my horned-rimmed glasses and my pants and jacket cause I can function with the bureaucracy , you know, as Dr. Alpert, collector of musical instruments for the University of New Mexico, the Museum of New Mexico and I had credentials and stuff like that, while I couldn’t really cut it as a holy man going to ask for a visa extension; and I got that and he had an annual to take care of and his papers were in a city, oh, some way from Dehli and we went there by bus and it turned out that he was going to have some difficulty which is not unusual for those of you who have dealt with the structure, the government structure in India; it’s very, very loving. The Indians are beautiful, beautiful, wonderful people; it’s just that they don’t live in time the way we do. Hmmm, see, clues everywhere. Everywhere there are clues but who sees them. These poor unfortunate Indians; they haven’t yet learned how to live in time. We’ll teach them. Don’t worry.
So, Bhagwan Das says to me, “Well”, he says, “I’m having trouble. I’ve gotta go see my guru”. Now this is the first time that he’s mentioned that he even has a guru to me and I can’t, I figure since we’ve been thinking about Buddhism and all and the whole Hindu trip seems so like all those pictures of the Pantheon they had, the colors were kind of gaudy and the whole thing was a little too emotional for me, you know, the whole Hindu trip was too emotional and the Buddhist thing was nice and pure and clean and so I figured it must be a Buddhist lama or something. I don’t know. He didn’t say and he says we better go borrow the Land Rover which was still in India which the sculptor had to go up into the mountains since it’s about a hundred miles and we are going to have to do it fast and I didn’t want to borrow that Land Rover because it’s like the most expensive vehicle in India and it’s ah, it puts you inside a big Western box, you know, and I was just enjoying getting out into India. I had just gotten over my panic of the pon juice and the droppings and, you know, the whole eating from the vendors and I didn’t want to go into that big box again. It was like, um, felt bad; so I was a little up-tight about that but he said we’d do it anyway.
The night before we left the city, we were staying at this very palatial place of somebody who was following him around trying to get his blessing. I had to go to the bathroom during the night and I went outside. The stars were all out and I looked up at the stars and I was thinking about my mother. Now, the previous January, my mother had died. This was now, October and she had died of a blood condition at the Cedar Ben Brigham Hospital in Boston. The blood condition was in her at the hospital. She had died of spleen and I was sitting, standing out there not thinking about how she died but I was just thinking of her. I felt very close to her at that moment and it was like you get out in the Universe and you feel close to things that you are spiritually linked to and I thought about Mother now, in time, and, you know, and so on; because I had taken LSD to go to her funeral , see, so I had not gotten hung up in the fact that we were burying Mother and so I felt just as close to Mother as I had ever felt to her and so therefore it was not unnatural that I would think of her and I went back to bed and the next day we went and we got the Land Rover and we went off to the mountains and we came to this little temple by the side of the road and people surrounded the car as they do everywhere in India. It’s what’s called, “instant crowd”, every time you stop. You can stop in the desolate wastelands and within ten seconds, there’s two-hundred people. You don’t know where; it’s just unbelievable how many people there are; all smiling and loving and warm and looking and curious and no paranoia. I mean, they’re really there. They’re really, you know. We aren’t, but they are. They’re infringing on our privacy. That concept doesn’t exist in India.
So we got out of the car at the temple and Bhagwan Dass asked, ”Where’s the guru?” and they said the guru is up on the hills, up on that hill over there, around the hill and Bhagwan Dass goes off at a lope but all the way up the hill, tears are streaming down his cheeks and I know we are getting close to something very powerful but I don’t know what it is and I’m very bugged about the car and I’m sulking in the corner and you know, I’ve been smoking too much hashish so I had stopped a few days before but I was having the down effect one has after having smoked for a long time. We rush up the hill. I’m rushing behind him trying to keep with him and I’m being ignored by everybody and I’m just in terrible shape, really. I’m stumbling up this path and we come out into this field; beautiful sunny day; over-looking a valley and there’s an old man sitting there with a blanket wrapped around him. Around him are about, oh, eight, or probably eight or ten Hindu people sitting there and we rush over and Bhagwan Dass does dunda pranam, full pranam, out flat on his stomach before this man and he’s crying and the man is patting him on the head and it’s some kind of joyous reunion and I’m standing by. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to touch this guy’s feet or you know, I don’t know what to do. I’ve never seen a guru before. Thus far, all I had met in India were pundants. I met many wise men; many men who knew the Upanishads and who quoted Ramakrishna and told me about Ramanamaharshi but I didn’t meet Ramanamaharshi and I didn’t meet Ramakrishna or their spirits and I didn’t meet anyone like them so I had never met one of these real ones and I assumed if he was crying this much, it must be somebody but I was too angry to even care, to tell you the truth. And after a few minutes this man looked up and he looked at me and he smiled and he said in Hindi, to Bhagwan Dass, “Have you a picture of me?” Bhagwan Das says, “Yes”. He says “Give it to him”. Bhagwan Dass says, “All right; I will”. Then he looked at me and he says, “You came in a big automobile? You’ll give it to me?” That really blew my mind, I mean, you know; I wish I could, you know, but I said, “Well, It’s not mine; it’s not mine to give”. “You get me one like it?” So I thought, My God, I just got here and he’s hustling me. I mean, what kind of thing is this, you know, what have I done to deserve this? Am I that bad of person that I gotta t be subjected to, you know, boy was I self-pitying and paranoid. All the time he’s laughing, see, laughing; he’s putting me on but I don’t know that. “Costs a lot of money”, he says, “You make a lot of money in United States?” I said, “I used to”. “You get me a car like that; it rides nice huh?” He’s just comin on to me something fierce, right. Okay; and I’m really angry but I’m suppressing it and answering pleasantly and everybody’s smiling at me and I’m smiling at everybody.
Then he says, “Take them for food”. They take us to a room and they give us a big feast. These beautiful sadhus bring us food; the food that the women bring to the guru each day as an offering and we eat and a few minutes later Bhagwan Das and I are together all the time and he’s the only one I’ve come with and this way up in the remote mountains. There’s no electricity up here; nothing going and you know, very remote.
Call back to the guru. We go back to him and he says to me; he looks directly at me, right in my eyes and he said, “You were under the stars last night”. “Acha” “You were thinking about your mother”. “Acha” He leaned back and then he said, “She died last year”. “Acha” He said, um, “She got very big in the stomach before she died”. He said, ah, “She died of spleen?” He didn’t ask. He said, “She died of spleen”. Well, the only way I can describe what experience I had at that moment and he looked at me with a twinkle at that point. Now, the only way I can describe what happened to me at that moment to compare my rational mind to a computer that has been fed an insoluble problem; that the computer runs through all the alternative resolutions of this problem that are in the storage units and it runs off each of them in sequence, you know, and I thought well, does he have a telephone?; was Bhagwan Dass away from me for a moment? Bhagwan Dass doesn’t even know my mother’s dead. How was he gonna, cause he wasn’t even interested in my past. He doesn’t know that. I never said, you know, does, was he reading my mind? Was I thinking about it this moment? What would that mean? You know, and I went through, but I wasn’t even thinking about it. I had even forgotten what she died of. I mean, the spleen; I hadn’t even remembered the term or the organ. So the computer went and went and went and then as computers do and it finishes its analysis through the storage unit, a little red light goes on, a bell rings and it stops and that is literally what happened to my rational mind at that point. I realized I’d just been overwhelmed. I mean, I, Ego, Richard Alpert, had just been beaten. You know, there was nowhere to hide. This was; I wasn’t high so I couldn’t say this was a drug hallucination. There was a guy doin this thing right to me, right then, right through my gross senses, right, and at that moment, when that computer stopped, it was like a very severe pain in my heart. It was like a really wrenching feeling and I started to cry. I wasn’t crying because I was sad and I wasn’t crying cause I was happy. The closest way I could describe it maybe, was that I was crying because I was home; I mean, because, Yeah, Right, Whew, Wow!; that kind of feeling; like I didn’t have to do it anymore. It was all okay but I kept crying and crying and they carted me off to another temple to rest for the night.
Now, I had no trouble at all touching his feet, you know, whoever he was. Well, that night in the temple, I was very confused and I would cry a lot and I just was confused. My state was confusion but I really felt like I had arrived somewhere. I mean, I felt this feeling that this man was, was, he, he knew what was inside of me completely. I just understood that he was part of me. I felt too, completely safe and then the LSD went across my mind and I thought, Gee you know, it’s interesting, I’ve been going around India giving LSD to all these people asking them what they think and they all have egos. Here’s a guy, you know, he’s clearly, I don’t feel any ego in this guy and he feels absolutely pure. I’ll ask him about LSD. He’ll know. My Western mind doing it’s, you know, I’m a scientist, I’m doing my thing.
Next morning a message arrives, we’re to go to the guru right away. We’re taken to the Guru. I go to see him. He looks at me and he says, “Have you a question?” That’s like you walk up in front of the sun completely luxuriating in the warmth of these rays, you’re completely fulfilled, you’re so satisfied; there’s nothing that you want in life but just to stay at that moment if you can call it a desire even cause you’re even beyond that. You’re just feeling that good and he says, “You want, is there something you want?” Well, there’s nothin I want. I said, “No, I got nothing to ask you”, you know,” I’m happy”. “It’s alright”. “I just want to be near you”. He says, “Where’s the medicine?” So I said, “Uh, what medicine?” So, he said, “Don’t you have medicine that gives siddhis?”: meaning powers. Well, when it was translated for me, I didn’t know the word, siddhis, at that time was translated as powers and I thought he was an old man who was getting weak and he wanted vitamins. I said, “No, I don’t have anything. I don’t have any vitamins. I wish I did but I don’t”; so somebody said, “No, he means the LSD”. I said, “LSD”. “Ah, chi, chi chi”. “Acha” “Tika, tika, tika”. So I went to the car and brought the bottle of LSD back. He held out his hand and I poured. No, I held out my hand and I poured all this stuff into my hand and I had in there LSD and a little STP and few tranquilizers and a couple of sleeping pills and a little of this and a little of that, you know, my, as I was prone to do in those days and I told him what each thing was and then I put it all back in the bottle and he held out his hand so I poured out one LSD pill. These are what are called in the underground world, White Lightening. They are 300 micrograms of quite pure LSD. He looked at it, and “Come on, come on, come on” so I poured a second one so that’s now 600 micrograms. “Come on, come on, come on”. The third one, that’s 900 micrograms. Well, 900 micrograms is, for a man in his seventies is, you know, is ah, it’s nothing I would have been a party to. I’ll tell you that much but he looked at it, smiled, threw it in his mouth and I saw it go down. I saw him swallow it. So, the scientist in me thought, well this is going to be interesting, and I smiled and he smiled and everybody smiled and I, you know, I didn’t understand. I was still confused. I stayed around all that day and of course you know the conclusion of the story that nothing what so ever happened to him.
As I later understood, what he was doing was mirroring my desire about the drugs just as he was mirroring my anger and up-tightness about the car the day before. He’s just a perfect mirror. He isn’t anybody at all. He’s nobody at all. The week before, an old sadhu would come by who takes arsenic in little doses. Arsenic is a ah, a ah, an aide to budgeon, to doing spiritual devotional bhakti yoga and many of the traveling sadhus use arsenic and he had about a year’s supply which would be like, a lethal dose for about ten men and the Guru apparently had said; It was the week before so I did not see this but he said, you know, give the arsenic and he took it and he ate the whole thing and everybody cried and wailed and don’t leave us because, see, it doesn’t matter to him, you know; I mean, he’s not caught in his body but everybody else is and so all his devotees were all up-tight that he was going to leave them; and of course nothing happened.
Transcribed by Jessie Senibaldi