ram dass on thought and perspective


Now, when you get into this place where your thought has given up, you are then in a strange state which for us is very very scary.

Because you’re not thinking anything. I remember the first time this happened when I went for a period of time not thinking anything and I suddenly got panicked. I thought “oh, I’ve taken too many drugs, look, I’ve blown my mind! I’m not thinking anything!”

Because thought was money, thought was power, thought was the game. I’d drive across the country usually with a tape recorder and a pad of paper attached to my thigh and as I’d go I’d have ideas, I’d research ideas and I’d write them down. I’d create designs and proposals and theories and think it all up and dictate letters and suddenly I’m empty. Nothing at all. And then I started to find out this very far out thing: that the emptier my mind was, the more optimal my response was to every situation.

I don’t have any plan for what I’m going to say to you. What I wrote down were the things that said in the catalog about what I was supposed to talk about.  But I had no idea about what to say, but what I say I say. What I say is the result of this situation. If you were a group of Catholic priests sitting here, out would come something entirely different. But what I had to develop was a trust in the fact that when I was not thinking, it was still possible to act, and the Buddha says “as long as you think there is a doer you are still attached”. You only get to the point where you begin to watch from this place where you calm your mind down, this center you get into, what I call “the witness.” You develop a place from which you watch your entire drama go by. Including your own thoughts. It’s like you’re standing on a bridge watching your life go under the water.

Keeping a Mantra is a Way to Calm Thought

Now you’ve noticed that much of the time this morning I’ve been working with these beads.  This is called a ‘mala’ and this looks like ‘well, he’s into a religious mushy trip’, that kind of thing. This is a very exquisite heuristic device for cognitive centering, if it’s not too profane to put it that way. What, in effect, I am doing is I am keeping a mantra going inside which part of the morning has been “ram ram ram ram” and part of it has been a Tibetan mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, keeping all of this going all of the time I’ve been talking to you. In other words, most of the time you’ve been in this room you’ve been busy listening and identifying with yourself as a listener. At no time that I have been in this room have I been identifying myself as a speaker. It’s a hard one. That is there is a place inside where I am sitting where I am watching him speak, just as I am watching him listen. And this is all happening, I don’t think “who I am is what’s speaking.” Speaking IS. It’s going on at the same level you all do, when you drive cars, most of you, when you do it on automatic, you can drive a car and sit and talk to somebody else and make these fantastically complex responses, make all kinds of judgments and you never think about it at all. And your mind is somewhere else, now where is your mind? It’s usually on something else. And that something else can become secondary and you’d be on something else. You can be scratching yourself and driving and talking. Then you can be scratching and smoking and driving and talking and you can get to where you’re doing a dozen things, none of which are conscious.

Well the idea is that you find a place, you start to localize in on a place inside you where the flame never flickers. A candle place inside where the flame never flickers and you sit in that place, absolute calm, content and centered- from which your drama goes by. There’s that thought, there’s that fear. Personality becomes like clothing- body becomes like clothing. And behind it all here I am, and I can make the statement to you that if you were centered in that inner place in you and I in me, the far out thing is that we would be one because there’s only one inner place. And sometimes in a room you can experience a psychic space that we’re all sharing independent of a little drama that we’re playing and talking. I can look into someone’s eyes and continue to talk to them while looking into their eyes and in effect say “here we are, we have this contact, and then there is this contact of talking, you’re listening, I’m speaking and we’re both watching that.” It’s like when Englishmen play tennis, and they’re right at the set point and it’s add in or add out, it’s at a very critical point and it’s a fierce tennis match and just as the serve is about to start they look at each other and they are so conscious that at that point they say “wow, isn’t this great.” That here we are fighting fiercely under this beautiful sun playing this exquisite game. In other words, they are simultaneously living the two levels, a level which is meta to the game role which they’re involved in. Well, finally you live in a place that is meta to all the roles you live in. You live meta to your body, meta to your desires, meta to your feelings, and you start to center in a place. And once you live in that more and more and more, attachments keep falling away. That doesn’t mean actions fall away, but attachments to actions fall away.

Changing Perspective

This has been an adventure for me to share these experiences because when I came back from India I was told I had to come back because I still had attachments back in the West, and I had to come back and live out my karma until I was ready to come back to India. When I asked what I was to do in America, they said “do your spiritual work” and I asked “what does that include?” and they said “everything you do.” I was told that I just would “do” and everything would take care of itself. So when I am asked, I speak, when I’m not I sit in the cabin. When people come, I teach. And what is awesome to me is that as I come back there are literally, as I go around the country, hundreds of thousands of people who are ready to hear just exactly the thing that I’m involved in. Not because it’s me, but because there is a simultaneity of opening in thousands of people in Vancouver, San Francisco, Chicago, New Mexico, New York. And the thing that is further awesome to me is that all my categories of who we are and who they are break down. Miles of generation gaps and good guys and bad guys, it all turns out to be crap because behind it all here we are.

Carl Jung said in his eulogy of Richard Wilhelm who translated the I Ching, he said “it takes somebody who is willing to give up the Western predisposing perceptual framework sufficiently to experience another orientation toward the universe to be able to know what needs to be known outside of one’s own system.” You have to give it up first. And what I felt is that there has been a surrender of my Western model of who I am and how it all works, and at the moment I don’t have the desire yet to bring it back into science or to know I know. I am a student, I am a beginning student in this whole process. And as I understand it, finally, one teaches by one’s being- it isn’t what you say or what you understand, it’s the state of your own existence and what gets communicated to another being. In other words it’s not what you say, but what you are.

~ Ram Dass