Ram Dass and the beloved Roshi Joan Halifax have a conversation in Ram Dass's living room in 2016.
Roshi Joan Halifax: I think my path is in the world. It’s, “How do I live in the question of actualizing The Way, the path, in everyday life?” And everyday life is service… Like that.
Ram Dass: Uh huh. I differentiate material life and spiritual life. You don’t do that?
Roshi Joan Halifax: No. Everything is holy. Every moment, no matter how difficult or complicated the person is provides this opportunity to go through a Dharma door, a Truth door.
Ram Dass: It’s like, moment to moment?
Roshi Joan Halifax: Moment to moment.
Ram Dass: So what I do in my Sadhana is disregard the thoughts of the past and the future. And we get into the present.
Roshi Joan Halifax: So, my own approach, which reflects that but it’s also to recognize the past and the future are in the present moment as well.
Ram Dass: And I’m talking about past and future as totally immersed…
Roshi Joan Halifax: Good!
Ram Dass: I see that when you get identified with a thought about the past, you are going that way.
Roshi Joan Halifax: You’re kind of hooked…
Ram Dass: Yeah. A woman we know, a very loving woman, had a very loving relationship with her husband. I said to her, “The past is the past.” And now, you know, because her husband died, I said it’d be very seductive to keep going with the love, stay in the present. And she called me two weeks later, and she said, “He’s contacting me from where he is, am I to deal with that in the present or should I deal with that as the past?” Even though it may be seductive into the past, deal with it as the present.
Roshi Joan Halifax: Wonderful. Yeah I think grief is humanizing.
Ram Dass: Yes.
Roshi Joan Halifax: And it can also be dehumanizing and debilitating if we just stay in the past.
Ram Dass: Yeah.
Roshi Joan Halifax: But you know, I think all the ancestors are here. Maharaji is here, Jesus is here, Buddha is here, your mother is here. So, you know, the present is full. It’s like this increcible richness. And so the feeling once we go through the experience of loss and loneliness, then it’s to appreciate, feel grateful, for this enrichment of the present, by the presence of those who have gone.
Ram Dass: In Hawai’i, they are so deep into ancestor worship and bringing all the ancestors to the present moment. That’s just beautiful.
Roshi Joan Halifax: I think our experience of grief in the West is because we somehow disallow the evolution of the spirit into the ancestral state.
Ram Dass: Yeah, yeah.
Roshi Joan Halifax: So that’s a kind of impoverishment, because we go to pragmatics and in a funny way we deny the presence of the past in the present.
Ram Dass: In my spiritual world, [we’re] incarnated again and again and again, and the spiritual self is going on and on and on and on. So I find that they are souls wherever they are. The grief is really grief for yourself, because there is no grief for the dying person because it’s a ball where they’re going! It’s love and they’re finished with time and space and they are so free, they are so free that you can’t grieve for them. Grief is for the living. Do you find that?
Roshi Joan Halifax: That’s a really fantastic question… I don’t know. And I kind of just live with not knowing.