Ram Dass on Accepting the Paradox of Our Humanity [With Video]

In this lecture, recorded in Minnesota in May of 1982, Ram Dass advocates that we be mindful about our identification with being the actor and our attachments to the fruit of our actions.

Ram Dass: Every experience is a vehicle for awakening or a vehicle for going to sleep.

This is the bizarre thing that you're dealing with. The paradox, [outlined in] the Bhagavad Gita, which is a very good Hindu text, cautions about two things that keep catching you: One is the identification with being the actor, with being the doer, and the other is the identification with the fruits or the attachment to the fruits of the action.

Like at this moment there is talking going on, and if I identify with being the speaker that forces you into being the listener.

People say to me, “Should I get psychotherapy?”

And I say, “As long as the therapist doesn't think they are only a therapist, because if they think they're a therapist, then you've got to be the patient.”

I mean, I remember when I was a therapist, when my patients got better, I used to punish them because I needed them [so I could] be a therapist. I needed them for me to be a therapist.

I'll be the therapist, you be the patient, you'll be a therapist, whichever doesn't matter. We'll play whatever parts we have to play, but we won't get lost in the drama of the action. We won't get lost in the actor.

Like, if I go outside and just walk down the street ahead of you all and then hide in the bushes and listen to what you say, what you think you heard me say, I'll absolutely climb the walls because I'll hear people saying that I said exactly the opposite things of what I thought I said, because each person is receiving what I'm saying through a set of filters based on their own needs and desires and perceptions.

This is an old story of psychology, that motivation affects perception. Like if three of us are driving through a town and you are hungry, but you don't want to admit it because none of us wants to eat. At the other end of town, if I say, “What was in that town, what was it? What do you remember about that town?”

You say, “Well, there was a McDonald's and there was a health food store I saw down the street.” And now I'm an old car buff, you see, and so I'm driving my car and I'm listening for the squeaks and I'm figuring where it's going to have to be towed to next. So, if you ask me what was in the town, I'll say, “Well, it was a Shell station and there was a foreign car service.”

And if the third member is horny, what they will remember is who was standing under the clock. That's what they'll remember of the town. Each of us went through a different town. Now you've got to really let go of the fruits of the actions. You do what you do…

I talk to doctors, and I say the reason you burn out as doctors is because you're attached to whether your patients live and die, but the problem is all the patients die sooner or later. You're attached to the fact that spring should always be, and there should never be a winter. How bizarre. You see that when somebody dies, it's a failure on your part. Stop being identified with the actor. You do what you do because you're a doctor, and a doctor works to heal people whether they get healed or not. That's in God's hands. It's not in your hands. Don't be so presumptuous.

The minute you can let go… So you learn swimming because somebody suggested swimming and you can't swim and ah, that's interesting. And then you open yourself to swimming and swimming happens. You might learn it, you might not learn it, but you orient that way. It doesn't matter.

See, the answer again and again is it doesn't matter, which is very scary to most people. They say, “Should I get married?” I say, “It doesn't matter.” Because if you're at a point where there's a choice, if you do it, the part of you that didn't want to do it is going to be bugged. And if you don't do it, the part of you that wanted to do it is going to be bugged. So you're caught anyway and you'll use it all to grow.

From a spiritual point of view, it doesn't matter, from a worldly point of view, it makes all the difference in the world, see? And that's where the expression, “It makes all the difference in the world” comes from. [laughter]

But let me not take humanness lightly. Like this winter, each winter I do a thing. I take some months off to clean up my act. And sometimes I go sit in Thailand in a meditation monastery. I do different things each year, and this winter I just needed to get involved in relationship and all that kind of stuff because I'm like a post-pubescent. And I found myself at one point sitting in a bathtub in San Francisco crying with jealousy.

Can you imagine? Me? Crying with jealousy? I mean, how bizarre. You know, that's absolutely off the wall. But there I was, crying with jealous rage, you know, And I thought, “That's bizarre.” But it didn't stop the crying or the jealous rage. So I thought, well, I'll breathe in and out. So I breathe in and I breathe out. And I still have the jealous rage. And I was still crying and my heart still was closed. And I still felt that feeling you feel.

And I used every method that Ram Dass teaches and none of them worked.

I really did an interesting thing at that point… several years ago. I have a friend named Dan Goleman, who's an editor of Psychology Today, and he's a guru brother of mine from India, and he's written books on meditation and stuff like that, and one day, his marriage was coming unglued and he was in heavy shape, bad shape.

And I met him and I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I've gone into psychotherapy.” I said, “You've what?” I mean, I thought that went out with a stone age, you know, I mean, we spiritual people meditate. We don't go to psychotherapy, you know. He said, “Well, I'm in therapy anyway,” defiantly. So I thought, “Well, he's been reading his magazine too much,” you know.

But a year later I met him and he was radiant. And I said, “What are you so radiant for?” “Because I've been in therapy.” And I said, “Do you think I should go into therapy?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Couldn't you have reflected about it for a moment at least?” So then I thought, “Well, what does he know?”

Now this winter, as I'm sitting in the bathtub crying with jealous rage, I think this must be the time for therapy. So I thought, I'll go into therapy. I'll be able to help the therapist [laughter]. But fortunately, the therapist was good enough to catch me at what’s called ‘the cosmic uplevel’ where you keep pushing it away. I found it extremely productive, it's like body and fender repair work, but you got to really do it.

And I really found that the deeper my faith, the deeper my involvement in life and the deeper my opening to my humanity, the deeper I open to all of the fact of what my human incarnation is about: My sexual desires, my fears, my loneliness, my self-pity, all of that stuff, and all that's there, and at the same moment, it isn't there.

Like when I first started working with dying people, because I have a dying center and I work with dying people, when I first started working with dying people, because I had touched this part of my being that is neither was born nor dies and was just awareness, I said, “I have no fear of death.” But I knew that something was off balance there, because I was pushing away my humanity. And as a human being, I do have a fear of death. And as a divine being, I don't have a fear of death.

And that paradox is in each of us.

And what I offer to a person when I'm working with them, when they're dying, is just truth as well as we can have it. And just being with somebody open and true say, “Sure, there is fear and sure there is not fear, and let's be together through all of it.”

And I feel that when I go into a room with somebody that's dying, what I can offer is my truth, which is all of it. All of it, not just any one side of it, not ‘look how holy I am’ and not ‘look how unholy I am.’ So I'm actually going back into Dick Alpert-ness a lot now these days.

-Ram Dass


Continue watching the full lecture here

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