When you begin to realize the relationship of life and death, the old model of who you are starts to expand. As your old model dies something new happens. You begin to experience directly the living truth of dying and being reborn again in each moment. When you live in the moment, then death is just another moment, just another moment. Death as an event is a ritual, a rite of passage like puberty or marriage or any of the big things that are dramatic new moments in life.
People ask me, “What was the critical event that turned around your perspective?” When I think about it though, there was no critical event. People ask, “Wasn’t it when you met your guru?” Well, a lot of people met Maharaj-ji. Some people met him and nothing happened at all. Maybe they just thought he was a nice man. When I look back, it’s a long chain. There was really a series of moments that prepared me to meet Maharaj-ji. Acid prepared me to meet Maharaj-ji, psychology prepared me for the acid, all my early neuroses prepared me for psychology, and on and on. How do you say, “That’s the one?” It was many moments.
What else can prepare you to die but the way in which you live your life? Living in this moment is what it’s all about – is this the death moment or the birth moment? Is this moment a death of who you thought you were, or the birth of who you’re about to become? Is it both? None of the above? It’s all just here.
We are playing with the idea of setting up a small exploratory center for people to come with terminal illness, who wish to be with others and awaken and have the whole place be like an ashram – an ashram that is ok to open to the processes that are involved in dying – in dropping bodies.* I think if we do it all of us feel that we will all grow incredibly from doing it. Being with dying people keeps me very close to the edge of my own awakening.
– Ram Dass, 1979
* Ram Dass subsequently started The Dying Project in Santa Fe. One of the original spiritual counselors, Dale Borglum (Ram Dev), went on to establish The Living/Dying Project in Marin County, which continues to serve and train people to create spiritual environments for dying.
Q&A with Ram Dass (From March 2013)
Raghu: I had an experience when my father passed away last month. Before he died I was sitting with him one day with another family member in the room. We got into a very deep place. As I started talking about it I could only compare the experience to sitting with Maharaj-ji in Kainchi. There was a complete loss of time and space, and thoughts came so slowly you could see them practically evaporating over your head, like clouds. Everything slowed down.
Years ago you said that being with dying people allowed you to be on the edge of awakening. The space with my father dying, and sitting with Maharaj-ji were the same experience, yet one was in a joyful moment in India and one was in a dying man’s room in America. What is that edge of awakening, and how we can bring that more into our lives without either necessarily being with dying people or with a realized being?
Ram Dass: The relationship with a dying person is one that exists in truth and truth is the One. It is truth because dropping the body is a moment of truth, and you have to be living in truth, in your spiritual heart, to fully be with someone at their bedside when they’re dying. When you have truth in your relationships you’ll find that these moments will force you into the truth of the One. And when you identify with your soul you see the reality of the infinite at such moments, because the soul is infinite. That view of the infinite gives you a look at time and space from a completely different perspective. And because we are time and space addicts, these moments that are timeless are our opportunity to break away from fear and attachment. When we were with Maharaj-ji, in his vibrational space we also got an inkling of the infinite, because that’s where his consciousness was every moment.
So when you are with a dying person you get a taste of the infinite. You also get to rest, at least for some time, in a place of unconditional love. And from that loving perspective you can love your negative thoughts and emotions, you can “love yourself to death”, which is a dramatic way of saying that you begin to see that the negative karma gets released by love.
Another way of saying it is that if we accept our negative stuff with love and without judgment, that darkness gets released. It’s the same acceptance we got from Maharaj-ji- he knew our inner hearts so he knew all of the karmas, positive and negative, and he just accepted us without judgment. He saw our souls – we may have presented our egos, but he was only interested in our souls.