Walking the Path of Service with Ram Dass

Walking the Path of Service with Ram Dass:

Inner and Outer Social Action with an Open, Compassionate Heart 

Service and social action are topics near and dear to Ram Dass. At the behest of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass spent much of his life in the service of others, whether working with the dying and the homeless, helping cure preventable blindness through the Seva Foundation, or simply providing guidance to all of us on our journeys of going from egos to souls. 

Here is a collection of some of his best lectures, articles, and podcasts to help everyone on the path of service and social action. It is not an easy path to take, but as Ram Dass discovered, it is a path that often leads to expansive spiritual growth. 

Service Starts on the Inside

How do we balance inner service with outer service?

Ram Dass talks about creating the balance of working on yourself while taking action in the world to benefit humanity, along with not getting lost in the darkness and suffering that is all around us… 


Listen to: Ep. 137 – The Importance of Inner Social Action 


What is the importance of inner social action?

As we find ourselves in a deeply polarized country, it seems we have a fine line to walk: In the material world, we have to attend to our actions as individuals and as citizens, yet it is equally important to attend to our inner being. “Inner social action” is necessary in order to make our outer actions productive… 

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“You find the light within us. You don’t find it within politics, but you find it in us. The soul is composed of love, compassion, wisdom, peace, and joy. Those are all in us. We have our attention all on the outside things, but we haven’t looked inside. When we look inside and reflect our soul, we radiate love, we radiate compassion, we radiate the things that the world needs at this point. All we have to do is be our being, and convince others to look inside. Then we have a group that will counteract the darkness.”  

– Ram Dass 


The Curriculum of Service 

How did Ram Dass find the path of service? 

Ram Dass shares the story of how his guru turned him toward a path of service, plus he talks about the monkey god Hanuman, who is the ultimate form representing the yoga of service.  

What does the curriculum of service tell us about ourselves? 

Service is an endless series of questions, puzzling and insistent. It not only raises questions, it helps to answer them. Service is a curriculum...

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Listen to: Feed And Serve, Hanuman, Karma Yoga



“Slowly over the years I’ve noticed that when I’m working with the dying or working on a political action or something, I feel absolutely harmonious with my being - like this is just what I should be doing. And it began to dawn on me: feed people, serve people, be like Gandhi.”  

– Ram Dass 


The Nature of Service 


Listen to: The Nature Of Service


Is service a reflection of our spiritual state of being? 

Ram Dass plays with the issues surrounding the nature of service and karma yoga…  

How can the act of service help us grow spiritually? 

Ram Dass shares some of his experiences with service and talks about why he’s never more in harmony with the universe than when he’s serving… 


“Service exists in the nature of the interaction, so that that interaction between two human beings moves both people towards freedom.” 

– Ram Dass 


Service and Karma Yoga 

What is Karma Yoga? 

In the simplest sense, you could say that Karma Yoga is using your daily interactions as a way of coming into ‘yog’, or union with God, by using the “stuff” of your life. Using it as the way in which you do work in the world, as a vehicle for spiritual awakening. As Ram Dass would say, it's "all grist for the mill."

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How are dharma and Karma Yoga connected? 

Ram Dass explores how Karma Yoga is connected to the concepts of dharma, identity, and attachments…  


Listen to: Karma Yoga


How do we make every act an offering of service?

We were always asking, “Am I getting enough?” Now we start asking, “How can I get rid of all my stuff, so I can become part of everything?” That flips around the meaning of every act…  


“To the extent I identify with being the speaker, I make you into the spoken to, and I keep cutting myself off from the universe, from god, from the spirit.”

– Ram Dass 


Service, Separateness, and Suffering 

What is the path of service? 

Ram Dass explores the dualistic nature of service and the path of goodness versus the path of liberation… 


Listen to: Service


  "When you do it out of any emotion like pity or any of those things, you are still feeding dualism. This is not a path of non-dualism, it's goodness. You've got to struggle with that issue, that's why I'm presenting this as a fierce thing."

- Ram Dass

How do the rhythms of suffering influence how we serve?

Ram Dass talks about how suffering is inherent in life, but we can be part of a collective healing force in this world… 


Listen to: The Rhythms Of Suffering


How do the rhythms of suffering influence how we serve?

If I am living outside of the illusion of separateness, if I have worked on myself enough to have extricated myself from the illusion of a separate entity, so I am feeling like I am one with you, then there is a transfer of energy between us, in food or money or skills or whatever, it is the transfer of energy within an organism, rather than between organisms. So rather than the act separating, the act brings together… 

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“I’m trying to understand what real karma yoga is all about, what real Seva is about. That is, the kind of service which is rooted in devotional yoga. Which is the kind of service where you are the breath of god. Where you are serving out of the collective compassionate heart. Where it isn’t me doing it for you, it is that I have surrendered into that force in the universe which heals, and I’m just part of the healing thing.”

– Ram Dass 


Service and Social Action 

How can the act of service help us come to a place of oneness?  

Ram Dass talks about how the dance of service and social action is plagued by the concepts of separateness and identification… 


Listen to: Service and Social Action 


“The only conclusion is I will use my actions to work on myself as an offering back into the system. I work on myself as an offering to you, I serve you as a way of working on myself. That double process means that the more you serve, the emptier of identification you get.”

– Ram Dass 

How was Ram Dass involved with the Seva Foundation?

Ram Dass tells the story of how the Seva Foundation came together, and the struggles they encountered in the face of enormous suffering… 


Listen to: Seva Foundation 


“When you’re in a long-term project, you have to understand that how you serve has a lot to do with what level of suffering you will relieve. You find out it’s not just that you give someone food, it’s how you give them food.”

– Ram Dass 

How can we use social action to increase our consciousness? 

Ram Dass talks more about his time with the Seva Foundation and how even the smallest actions can change the game… 


Listen to: Social Action 



“I can only use all of my social action as a vehicle to work on myself, to offer my being for the relief of suffering.”

– Ram Dass 


Service and Burnout

When it comes to service, who is serving who?

Ram Dass explores how the act of service can help us see everyone as the beloved, but cautions that you can easily burnout if you don’t know your limits.

How do we deal with burnout in acts of service?

We all play our part…and act…and burn out…and are helped or help ourselves to stand up again… 

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Listen to: Contemplative Service 



Quick Tips to Combat Service Burnout! 

Take time for yourself It’s very easy to lose your center to service, and to forget that compassion for ourselves is the source of compassion for all others. It’s essential to take time each day to quiet down and process the “data” of your life using techniques such as meditation, reading sacred texts, or working with mantras and malas.  

Stop identifying with your motives As Ram Dass says, “If you think you’re somebody doing something, it’s gonna burn out. Simple as that.”

Know your limits With the immense amount of suffering in the world, it sometimes feels like you can never give enough of yourself to service. The key is to only serve for as long as you can stay conscious in the service.



“If you’re not doing service in such a way that at the end of the service you feel freer, higher, clearer, lighter, and more energized, you’ve got work to do.” 

– Ram Dass


Selflessness and Service 

How can service help us embrace the mysteries of life?

In this 1993 talk from the Omega Institute, Ram Dass explores methods of embracing the mystery of life through selflessness and service... 


Listen to: Here and Now Ep. 125 



“I invite you, when you are caught in your stuff and your heart is closed, to reach out to find someone else who is suffering – to be there with them for a moment. What I find when my heart is closed is that the purity of their heart pulls me out of myself very quickly. For those of you who have gotten caught in individualism and separation – the act of serving another human being is a doorway back into your connection to the universe. Their real need pulls you out of yourself.” 

– Ram Dass  


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