In this talk from 1989, Ram Dass leads an exploration into what it takes to be present with our hearts, present with the moment, and what the emptiness of compassion means.
Symptoms of a Greater Sickness
Ram Dass begins with a reflection on his time in Manhattan working to help relieve the suffering of the homeless population there. He looks at how greed and division in New York City’s culture became the source of so much suffering not just for the homeless individuals there but for the entire city. How can the practice of compassion and the cultivation of equanimity help us navigate and heal this level of suffering?
“It is far out to end up in a political way when you are going to feed the poor. Then you look and see that why they are poor is just a symptom and the sickness is polarization in the culture – the fact that the rich get more and the poor get less. There is no more middle class, it keeps getting stretched, and everybody wants to climb aboard the bandwagon that is going up.” – Ram Dass
The Emptiness of Compassion (19:50)
What role does faith play in how we approach suffering? Ram Dass talks about the quality of faith that keeps us present with what is, without fear-based reactivity or attachment to the outcome.
“What I have noticed is that when my faith isn’t strong, I am afraid of the world. I don’t mean faith like in belief, like something I hold to, it means something I am. When my faith isn’t strong, I am afraid of the bomb or getting seduced to attachment to how it comes out. I am trying to hold onto my spiritual edge, but you can see how that is a trap. That is a whole stance arising out of fear, I recognize that in myself. Then there are moments that I feel my heart open and start to break again and again – just in the presence of what is.” – Ram Dass
Meeting Each Other Beyond Roles (32:55)
Ram Dass looks at the interplay between the mind, which keeps our ego alive, and the heart, which is connected to something much bigger than ourselves. How do roles that are propped up by the ego keep us separated from one another and from a bigger sense of self?
The Emptiness of Compassion (43:55)
Will the act trying too to do good open us the emptiness of enlightenment or can it just lead us back into our ego? Ram Dass looks at how facing suffering with a heart of compassion can open us to the spaciousness womb of emptiness .
“When you look at things that you can’t bear, whatever couldn’t bear them dies. There they still are and there you are. What is born in that moment is something that is beyond words. It is not strong or soft, it is just so present. You are then what they call the saints in India – the living dead.” – Ram Dass
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