Internal vs. External Responsibility


Question: In a rapidly deteriorating situation, like in this country and the world today, why are the most aware people that I know of, and others, really feeling the need to get into heavy political action? What is our responsibility?

And this seems to take on two manifestations: one, it divides people even worse, and the other is, on the survival level, it seems like about the only thing to do. I’m just wondering, how do you feel about political action?

The Issue of Social Responsibility

Ram Dass: The issue, it seems to me, is the issue of social responsibility. It seems to me to be the responsibility to the well-being of one’s fellow man. And if you watch the way it often works, people can get locked in a struggle. And then some other model can come which frees both of them from an untenable predicament that they’re stuck in, right? In other words, somebody comes in with a new way of looking at it. Like with two children fighting. You often can come in and get their minds somewhere else. So that the whole fight changes its nature and what they’re fighting about doesn’t seem to be the essence of the matter.

Einstein said an interesting thing, he said,

“The world that we have made. As a result of the level of thinking, we have done thus far creates problems. That we cannot solve at the same level as the level we created them at.”


That is, the only way we can solve them is by creating a new way of conscious… A new level of thinking about them. In other words, we’ve got to break the set. When there is any kind of confrontation the confrontation usually increases the amount of hurt and anger and polarization, ultimately. No matter what the short term gain is, there is a long term loss in terms of increasing paranoia.

In high energy centers in the country the polarization and paranoia seems to precipitate out much faster. If I identify with any side of any position, then that attachment to that side makes me see the opposite side in terms of an object, as “them.” Seeing another being as “them” is what the problem is, that’s what it boils down to.

Whether it’s nationalism or racial tension or generations or theories of research or whatever it is.

To the extent that you see somebody in the universe as “them” you create increasing paranoia because you’re stuck in your world of “them,” which puts “them” in the world of  “them” which increases the “them-ness” or psychic distance between people. So as I said earlier, I see that the only law or rule of all human relations, be they mother and child or therapist and patient or lecturer and audience or army and pacifist or North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese or whatever it is, the only rule of the game is to put your own consciousness in a place where you are no longer attached to a polarized position even though you may, by the nature of the game contracts you’re involved in, be forced to play out a polarized role.

For example, I recently met with this police chief who has been going around to colleges getting college students to become policemen for New York City. I complimented him on what he’s doing. On trying to create another kind of psychic space in the police department, and so on.

At the same point, I said “The program will be as successful as you are ‘conscious’ because as long as you are stuck in the polarity you’re just going to enroll more people into the polarity. If you aren’t stuck in the polarity you may be able to free people by the model that new policemen will have about what it is that they think they’re doing every day when they go out and be policemen.”

When I was in India in the temple

I was sitting there. And there was a river flowing by and there were birds chirping and it was gentle and i was meditating. And I felt this great feeling of well-being and calmness and I thought.

“What am I doing here? Why aren’t I back on the front lines? Why aren’t I back fighting? Why aren’t I back doing what I believe for what I believe; you know, protesting against injustice and so on? Am I copping out? Is this like a real battle rest station? What kind of scene am I in? Is this a cop out?”

Then I began to see that staying alone in that room at that moment was confronting me with an internal battle which was much fiercer than any external battle I had ever fought before.

And until I had found some way through that internal battle, all I could do was get sucked into the external manifestations of it in such a way as to perpetuate them. Right? I began to see that it was absolutely imperative in terms of socially responsible.

Effective behavior that I work on myself sufficiently. So that I could look at any human being and see that place in them behind whatever their melodrama is. Be it Nixon. Or a hippie or Mao or Hitler or Schweitzer or Mahatma Gandhi. Or whatever the person’s trip is. To be able to see behind that.

Until I was centered enough, til I was in that place in myself, I couldn’t really know that place in other beings. I saw that, finally, my responsibility was to work on myself.

~ Ram Dass, 1970