Ram Dass talks about the mental and physical trials he experienced before traveling to India after he was fired from Harvard, and about embarking on his journey to the East to find his Guru.
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Raghu Markus: Hi, I’m Raghu Markus. After meeting Ram Dass and spending time with him at his father’s farm in New Hampshire, he told me he’d be going back to India to see his guru. Of course I saw that as my opportunity to tag along but he gave me a ‘No’ on that one and said let’s exchange addresses and write when I got to India, so off I went at 25 years old to the land of the Himalayas and a five thousand year old civilisation. You might say I was a little anxious. Now while meeting with Ram Dass at the radio station in Montreal I was introduced to a woman from India that came from a family of devotees of a famous saint. She offered to take me to India and host me and I thought ‘great idea!’ I was supposed to meet her there and go on a pilgrimage.
I arrived in Bombay or Mumbai as it’s now called and I noticed that the airlines were on strike so I went to the train station which had about 3 million people jostling in some chaotic freaky dance with cows and monkeys meandering in and out. I had no idea that this was a daily event, but it freaked me so much that I decided to hire a car to take me on a three day drive to Bangalore. Nobody did this back then.
The freak continued when the driver and car showed up with two other local guys who were not paying customers. I thought to myself: I came all the way to India only to be kidnapped? But in reality it was his cousin and cousin’s uncle or some such thing and they took care of me like family and delivered me safely and I got an incredible tour through rural India. It could not have been more well planned. So I arrived in Bangalore and a letter was waiting for me from Ram Dass saying he could not find his guru and he other friends and students were in Bodh Gaya, the city of Buddha’s enlightenment, doing a meditation course. So I was to play the waiting game.
Ram Dass: Well now, what happened from then on…um, the external story is not particularly interesting and that’s been covered well by the Saturday Evening Post. The internal story is what I want to talk to you about. Because, from that point on, I changed the whole course of my actions.
First I tried to find ways within the system, within the establishment, within the scientific community to work with these things. To work with the concepts or the variables that I was arriving at. We started to work with game theory and the game model and tried to conceive of that non-game point which is not a point of action from which you observe or you are aware of the roles, rules, rituals, language and strategy and so on that are involved in games. And Tim was applying this in the prisons and I was applying it in the school systems and I was teaching in junior high school, a hip counselling course for the Newton 8th grade kids in the Newton school system, based on game theory. Or ‘How to Change your own behaviour’ through an analysis of your own social games. Do it yourself kit for behaviour change. And then because I realized there was something quite non verbal about it, into the Lexington school system I had introduced karate. Not as karate, I mean the parents wouldn’t go for that, but the kids subtly knew it was. And we called it on the paper ‘Methods of Eastern Exercise’. And I was teaching the kids, or I had the karate instructors teaching the kids, how to focus on a point and clear their mind in order to be able to aware of all the stimuli around them. All of which was helping them become free of their entrapment in moment to moment stimuli from the outside.
Well, as you all know, it was all too hot to handle and I got thrown out of Harvard and we continued our work in a variety of communities in Mexico, the Caribbean, Millbrook, Newton…. I went on to California.
Now, in the course of the next six years, to be quite brief about it, I ingested LSD or mescaline, or peyote, or Ololiuqui or DMT or DET or STP or whatever else I can recall at the moment. Whatever was offered to me, I took. Something in excess of 300 times. And … I still came down. No matter how many times I went up, I always came down.
It was as if I would go to the doorway, I would look in and maybe, for a brief moment, I would be able to experience this other kind of consciousness. And I’d always think ‘Well now I’ve got it forever. Oh I’ll never have to go back to that place’.
I remember vividly er, one experience in the meditation room in Newton, where I had um taken a very sizeable dose of LSD. And I had … I was alone, and I had meditated for many hours, fasted and so on, and I went into a state of Samadhi for a timeless period. I think it was probably about two hours but I don’t know because I didn’t have much … Time is not a variable in that state.
And then I remember starting to come out of it. And what I saw was, coming down the room a huge blood red wave rolling towards me. Like an ocean wave and in it were all the components of my identity. I saw myself on a tricycle as a little boy, I remember vividly. I saw all of these different images of different takes. Getting out of the bath tub or, you know, any moment when I’d ever been conscious in my life. It was like an Hieronymus Bosch painting that’s the feeling it had. And I remember -holding my arms up to ward if off and saying ’No, I don’t want to go back into that’ And it was as if I realized at that moment that I didn’t have the key. I didn’t have the leverage to be able to avoid going back into that thing. I didn’t seem to be able … I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to recite to keep this demon from, you know, taking me over again and I felt it rolling over me … and then I was back as… back in my social identity.
Now I tried everything.
I got together with four other people and we locked our selves in a house for three weeks. And we took LSD, four hundred micrograms of LSD every four hours for three weeks. That’s like 2200 micrograms a day and it was a ball, we had a wonderful time for three weeks I tell you. We did all kinds of sculpture, ad metal welding, and painting and we had many internal mind trips together and at the end of the three weeks when we came out of the house we all came down. Right?
Now it isn’t that I wasn’t changing at this time, a lot was going on. Each of these … see, I did a lot of programmed trips. That is, I would work with a chemical to design a plan for an experience in order to confront me with certain stimuli to get me to change my habits of thought about that particular thing. Because I knew that that was what was involved. It was changing one’s whole cognitive map if you will.
But there was a very subtle quality, a problem involved in here, and it had been pointed out to me, by none other than an eastern mystic by the name of Meher Baba. Who, er, during a period of time, I had become very devoted to. And the story of Meher Baba, I can briefly tell, my part of it is this that …
I was living with Steve Durkey and his wife and child and Jane Burton and her baby and we were in a community in California in a big house in Los Altos. Steve was a mystic artist. Steve and Barbara were from the USCO group here in the East with Gerd Stern and they all were followers of Meher Baba .and we were all living in Los Altos taking LSD together. And Meher Baba sent a message through a boy that went to visit him. He held up, he was silent, and he held up his hand and he went… uutthh uutthh Neh’. Meaning stop smoking that horrible stuff.
So the message came back ‘Meher Baba said to stop smoking that horrible stuff’.
Well, I interpreted that as he’s telling this young hippy, who ever he is, that it’s not good for him. It has nothing to do with me.
And then the next thing I heard was that Meher Baba had sent somebody back to the United States, in fact this fellow, to tell all of the Baba lovers to stop taking LSD and to stop having anything to do with anybody who took LSD.
Well now this raised a peculiar problem for us in our home because Steve and Barbara were followers of Meher Baba and I was one of the LSD people, as we were called, and we were going to have to break up the community in order to adhere to his er… directions. So I wrote Meher Baba a letter. It’s a strange thing to write a letter to somebody who says ‘I am God, I am the avatar’ but I, you know, I took courage in hand and I wrote and I said: ‘Meher Baba, here is my problem. Which you undoubtedly already know but I’ll tell it to you on paper anyway… Um. I read your books and they all speak to me from way inside myself, I know they’re all true. It all feels absolutely right. The only reason I know that is because of these drugs. Therefore, how can I with any integrity put them down, since they brought me to you? Would you please tell me how to do this’. So he wrote back and he said in effect
‘For a few serious students like your self, these chemicals may be slightly helpful. You may take them three more times and then you should stop.’
I thought that was very funny. But the other thing he said was, he said ‘There is a …the problem is, that one gets addicted to the experience.’ Not addicted to the drug, addicted to the experience. What I now would call ‘you get trapped in your upaya’. You get trapped in your method. And the person who says ‘Well I’ll just take it once more to go back to that place maybe this time I can stay,’ already knows he’s not going to be able to stay this time. And he knows, just like I knew, that somewhere inside of himself is a little voice saying ‘Which is the drug and which is me?’ although he’s putting down anybody that’s saying, ‘Man, it’s all hallucination … and you ought to settle down and live in reality’. Because he already knows .. that it… see, the drugs did the major thing for me – they broke through my limited reality that I had considered absolute reality, that this is the way the world is. And it introduced me to relative reality so I could get outside a particular perspective and see that there were other realities as well.
I got into relative values, relative perspective, relative reality. The next step is, I’m gonna tell you about in a moment, takes you the next step which goes behind the relative realities to again to an absolute reality. To a capital ‘T’ Truth which science of course says there isn’t.
And it was true that I was addicted to the experience.
Because when I would come back into this consciousness, it was as if I just didn’t have the effectiveness, the free energy, the powers of consciousness, the understanding of the universe that I had when I was under these chemicals. And therefore I used these chemicals anytime I would be required to perform at a high level of consciousness. Which made it very difficult to go out on lecture tours, and keep from getting busted. Whoever hears this. Ok.
1966/7: Two things happen.
One is a mounting degree of despair in me.
It’s not what you would call drug depression, by any means. I realized that these drugs are just what we always thought they were. They are the powerful vehicle that show the possibility. But I realized that we don’t know enough to figure out how to use them. And nobody else seems to either. I mean everybody you talked to…I, we were talking to the people who supposedly knew. And none of them had a model which would allow us to really stay in these situations.
The other thing that happened to me: was that I had been invited as one of the initial people before it was released into the market, to experiment with this chemical called STP. And the dosage I was given turned out to be, er, about twice as large as is …feasible to work with …. And, um …. It had put me into a strange, timeless, glass encased booth for about three days. During which I had to deliver a lecture. At a university, since I had not expected that the chemical was gonna last that long. And I was delivered to this university and on to the lectern. Not to the platform. And I took the microphone in hand and this voice spoke through me and I proceeded to give a lecture.
And at the end of the lecture there was a very curious reaction on the part of the audience because when the lecture was all over nobody moved.
And I said ‘Well, that’s all everybody.’
Nothing happened. Nobody moved. And then people came up and they stood around and nobody said anything. They just stood there. I stood there. And they stood there. I’m giving you a behaviourist description of it now.
And a friend of mine that was there said that the people that had just come out of curiosity who couldn’t appreciate or accept the feelings that I was projecting, had become so up tight and angry, that she said it was the first time she ever feared for my physical safety. At a lecture. That these people would have physically hurt me if they could have. Because I got to something in them so … deep.
Well, I sensed at that point that whatever else these chemicals were they had opened something in me that I wasn’t the least bit ready to be responsible for, since I didn’t think I was a responsible enough being to be in this position of whatever, er, was being called out here. It was like I, you were, handing a jet controls to a child, I mean it was insane to give me those kind of powers when I was so power hungry as my previous life had demonstrated.
And so I cancelled all my lectures at that point. Deciding I couldn’t really afford to speak anymore since I didn’t know what was going on.
Now the final thread, bringing you to the third part of the story.
Is that in the early ‘60’s when we first started to work on this with people like Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard and many advisors and wise friends; they had bought to our attention many eastern books as being relevant. And the Tibetan Book of the Dead which was a manual used in Tibet to prepare people; read by monks, to a person as he was dying to prepare him to die and go through the 49 days before reincarnation – through the bardos. That when we looked over that book, that book was almost, at times, frighteningly parallel to the psychedelic experience. And therefore Tim conceived of and, pretty much, did on his own, the translation of that, of Evans-Wentz translation of the Tibetan book – into a manual for working with the psychedelics. We tried to conceive of the psychedelic experience as psychological death/rebirth experience since my own first experience was such a death experience, as I pointed out to you.
And following that we read a number of books which had led us to believe that the information that we needed to know to socialise these chemicals, for … to be able to work with these higher states of consciousness, was known in the east. By somebody at some time or other. And so various of us went to India. To look. Find these guys. You know, go find one of ‘em. And everybody came back with the same report, ‘Well, I guess there aren’t any around. They’re all gone.’
And it got frighteningly clear that there might be a possibility that we knew as much as anybody knew that was alive, and we didn’t know! And that was a very unpleasant feeling to have. Because that made it all a little too irresponsible of whoever was planning it.
Well, in early, beginning of ‘67 I had used up all of my alternatives. I had seen that the LSD, the way I understood it wasn’t going to take me to where I wanted to go. There was no sense in continuing just to turn on, because I knew I would go to this wonderful place. And that was a groove but that wasn’t enough. And I didn’t know what to do next. I read all these books from the east, but they didn’t do it for me. The words were, you know, all that foreigner stuff. I was in the ethno-centric predicament.
Well, I finally er, decided that I would go to India and look for myself. Maybe they’d all overlooked a holy man hanging out somewhere. And I had a friend David Peduar who was a very, an intellectual extraordinary fellow and who has retired at 35 after being very successful in his undertakings. And so he arranged for a Landrover to be delivered to Tehran and we started our journey from Tehran, Iran in search of the Sufis which were the mystics of Islam.
And we looked, we searched out Sufis and all we found was one Sufi about 92, who was blind and was very sweet and gentle and surrounded by very lovely people, but nothing happened. I mean you, the way you get to know is somewhere in here, there’s nothing they’re gonna can say to you. There’s nothing they’re going to… they don’t have a badge or a credential or anything. It’s just, you’re going to feel if something happens.
And then we went on through Afghanistan – which is an extraordinarily beautiful country. And, um, in a haze of extraordinarily fine charis hashish went on through India. Went to see the Dalai Llama. Dharamsala, had his audience, darshan, Got horses and went up to Amarnath cave up in Kashmir, a religious pilgrimage of many days. With some beautiful girls we’d met. Meeting these holy men along the way who we’d exchange a pipe with. You know, we’d enjoy a pipe together. All smiling at one another, but I didn’t know, it was a big cave and it was lovely. It was a nice horse ride. But nothing happened inside me. And then we went to Benares the holy city where the burning ghats are. And that scared me very much because there were all these old people waiting to die. And I took LSD and walked out on the streets and was afraid to look any of them in the face because they were all so much there and I couldn’t, I still had travellers cheques. I was holding back. I was playing my game.
Well on we went for three months or so and my despair was increasing.
And we got to Kathmandu, Nepal. And we had had a delightful journey. I mean it was really delightful as journeys go, you know? We had our guide, our friend and companion was Harish Yohari, who was a very, very fine Indian sculptor. The son of a yogi, a very gentle, beautiful person who understands Indian music from the most delicate point of view, and he was just a fine person to be with.
Well, there we were in Kathmandu, Nepal and we were then going on to Japan. At the time we were going to join Alan Watts in Kyoto.
And I was really depressed. It might have been all the hashish I had smoked but I don’t think it was just that. What it was in addition, was, the feeling that I had looked and nothing had happened. I didn’t find anything.
We were staying at a very fancy hotel owned by the prince of Nepaland one day David and I walked into the square and we were sitting in a restaurant called The Blue Tibetan, which is a hippy hangout, sitting with some beautiful French, young French hippies.
Now I had been going around India giving LSD to holy men. You see I was hoping to find out what LSD was or maybe get some clues as to what to do with it, by finding say an old Theravadan monk, or a kudjipa lama or a shaivite sadhu and I would say, would you … I’d explain, you know, through a translator or whatever vehicle we had and they would, could they try it … yeah here it is. Some of them you know there were some of these holy people ‘Oh wow, isn’t this a ball. This is just great.’ And others said it gave me a headache and others said it wasn’t as good as meditation and others … and it gave as much variability as any western subject sample would do.
And the problem was that all, with each of them there was ego. In other words I didn’t get the feeling from any of them that they were themselves a realized being. They were all on the journey, they were all looking. They all had their little hand out for the pills so fast that I knew they were still looking, if you know what I mean.
So we were sitting in the Blue Tibetan…. and in walks this very unusual looking fellow. He’s a Westerner. He’s from the United States, young fella. Perhaps he’s so unusual because he’s very tall, he’s 6’ 7”. Long beard, long hair, blonde hair. Looks a little like Christ. White cloth, bare foot, walked in and very commanding type person, young, walked right over to our table and sat down.
And we all continued to talk and he said a few things. And David and I sensed almost immediately that this fellow was very, you know, he was a Westerner yes, and all the hippies were dressed in holy robes of one sort or another, so that wasn’t unusual. But there was something about this guy that was different from all the others, there was something that felt different. So we sort of collared him and brought him back to our hotel. Sort of, as a – something to, you know .. we’d examine him. And it’s tough sneaking those people through the lobby of these fancy hotels.
But we got up into our suite and we then had about 5 days of a seminar made up of charis and peach melbas and hot baths and Alexander David Neale books and Avalon, Arthur Avalon books … and … um LSD.
And the deeper we all got, into, there were the four of us – this Indian sculptor, David, who’s really a Buddhist at heart or in mind or in mindlessness, although still very much caught in the world of, the external world, but sees what the possibility is, intellectually. Extraordinary intellect, he went to college when he was 14 and he got his international law degree when he was 20, and you know, that kind of person.
And er, this tall fellow and me…
and as the days went on it became apparent that while all the rest of us were still looking at one level or another, this tall guy knew. There was a different feeling. Inside there was somebody in there. There was something very certain. You didn’t feel that he was reaching so hard. You still felt his personality but it was a different quality about it. Something different.
And he knew an awful lot about a lot of things, he had left the United States when he was seventeen years old, he just finished high school, and he … an extraordinary guitarist. He thumbed his way across the United States, went on a freighter to Rotterdam and then playing his guitar all the way across Africa, and Egypt and Israel and all. And came to India and knew he was home. He’d been initiated into a number of different sects and he’d been in India about four years then. And he knew a great deal…. He knew a great deal.
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Transcribed by Sue Friston