The following is an excerpt from the “Being Here Now” on-line course.
Be Here Now was a groundbreaking, consciousness-expanding book that brought to the West a meaningful and transcendent way of being in the world. It offered new insights and perspectives from which to view our lives. It opened inner pathways to being fully present with ourselves and other beings, how to focus on what was truly important and in doing so become more conscious and loving. It was a guide towards that precious sense of inner peace and spiritual union. Be Here Now, spiritual folk bible of the 60’s is as pertinent today as it was when it was written forty years ago.
In writing Be Here Now, Ram Dass helped introduce the wisdom of the East into Western culture, translating it into terms that were more applicable to our understanding and lifestyles. Ram Dass means “Servant of God,” a name given to him in India by his guru, NeemKaroli Baba, affectionately referred to as Maharajji. Ram Dass has devoted his life since then to exploring consciousness and spirituality, sharing the wisdom that he has become, guiding us along the path. Ram Dass continues to be a respected, much-loved spiritual teacher with a large following in many parts of the world. He is a consummate storyteller with a style that is charismatic and lighthearted, simultaneously dealing with the most significant issues of life. He became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since.
The spiritual path, at its best, offers us a chance to come back to the innate compassionate quality of our heart and our intuitive wisdom. Each of us has our own path to follow, our own karma. It is important to honor your own unique path. Listen to your heart to hear what you need, you can’t imitate someone else’s trip.
The Road Home
It was 1961, and at the age of thirty, I was at the height of my academic career. Having earned a Ph.D. from Stanford University, I was now Professor of Social Relations at Harvard. I had arrived at the place in life I thought I wanted to be, professionally, socially and economically. But there remained an emptiness inside — a feeling that, with all I had, something was missing. Here I was at Harvard, the intellectual Mecca, but when I looked into the eyes of my peers wondering “do you know?” their eyes indicated that what I was looking for was nowhere to be found.
In a social or family setting, people looked up to me and hung on my every word because I was a Harvard Professor, and of course, I “knew”. But the nature of life remained a mystery to me. I was knowledgeable but not wise. In my state of discontent I filled my life with all the things that were not going to give me the answers I longed for, though culturally they were supposed to be fulfilling. I ate and drank too much, collected material possessions and status symbols and was sexually active. And still, deep inside, there was no real sense of satisfaction or contentment.
Another psychologist, Timothy Leary, moved into the office down the hall from me. Little did I know that meeting Tim was to be a major turning point in my life. We became drinking buddies. I soon discovered that he had a brilliant mind, brilliant in a way that was different – more open to looking at the world in new ways.
Timothy returned from the Mexican mountains where he had taken psychedelic mushrooms called Tionanactyl, “Flesh of the Gods”. He told me that he had learned more from that experience than from all his training in psychology. I was intrigued. In March of 1961, after ingesting Psilocyben, the synthetic version of the magic mushrooms, everything changed for me. I felt that Psilocybin introduced me to my Soul, which was independent of body and social identity. That experience expanded my consciousness and view of reality.
Our explorations in psychedelics and subsequent dismissal from Harvard received a lot of notoriety in local and national news. At that point there was a part of me that really didn’t care because the worlds I was exploring were far more interesting. Psychedelics allowed me to cut through my traditional upbringing and tap into realms of mind and spirit that would not have been available by other means. Getting high felt like I knew myself to be – at peace, in love, free.
For five or six years I continued using psychedelics trying to stay in that place of enlightenment. In that place of being Love. I would get high and come down, get high and come down, touching that state of being love but unable to stay there. I wanted to be free, not high. The realization that this method was not working for me led to despair.
In retrospect, LSD and the stronger psychedelics aren’t really critical to the process. What they can do is show you a possibility. But once you know the possibility, to keep revisiting the possibility again and again isn’t necessarily the transformative process. The process is finally to live in the world and keep transforming within the world.
So, in 1966, I went to India in search of someone who knew about these spiritual planes of consciousness.
A friend invited me to join him. He had a Land Rover shipped to Teheran and we travelled for three months through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal amidst a haze of hashish. But it was just another trip — more of the same — more of my own reality, leading to more despair.
One day in Katmandu, Nepal at a hippie restaurant, The Blue Tibetan, a strikingly tall 6’7″ Westerner with long blonde hair and beard wearing Indian clothes walked into the restaurant. He came over to our table and joined us. It turned out that Bhagawan Das, a 23 year-old surfer from Laguna Beach had been living in India for several years. Within a short period of time of hanging out with him, I knew that he knew about India. I decided to travel with him to see what I could learn.
During our travels through Nepal and India when I would attempt to tell my usual charming stories or ask questions about where we were going, Bhagwan Das would say, “Don’t think about the past, just be here now” or “Don’t think about the future, just be here now”. Although he was compassionate, he didn’t involve himself in dealing with emotions. There was nothing much to discuss. Many blisters on my feet, a couple of bouts of dysentery, lessons in Hatha Yoga, and several months later, Bhagawan Das took me with him to see his guru, NeemKaroli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji.
The night before I met Maharajji, I went outside to go to the toilet. Under the star-filled Indian skies, I thought about my mother who died the previous year of cancer of the spleen. As I was thinking about her, I experienced the powerful feeling of her presence. Telling no one, I kept this meaningful experience to myself.
I kept hoping to get esoteric teachings from Maharajji. But when I asked, “How can I become enlightened? The advice I was given was “Love everybody, serve everybody, remember God ” and “Feed people”. When I asked, “How can I know God?” Maharajji told me that the best form in which to worship God was all forms. These teachings, to Love, Serve, Remember, became the guideposts for my life.
Maharajji didn’t read people’s thoughts, he knew their hearts. That blew my mind. What opened my heart was that knowing everything there was to know about me, even my most shameful faults, Maharajji loved me unconditionally. What I wanted more than anything else is to become that for other people.
I had not planned to write the book that became Be Here Now until I was told that Maharajji sent his ashirbad – his blessings – for my book. I replied, “What is ashirbad and what book? Be Here Nowwas his book.
More Being Here Now
Although knowing that I would have liked to stay with him forever, in early Spring of 1967 Maharajji told me it was time for me to return to America. He told me not to tell anyone about him. I didn’t feel ready and told Maharajji I didn’t feel pure enough. He had me turn around and around as he looked me up and down intently. Looking into my eyes, he said, “I don’t see any impurities”.
As I sat in the airport waiting to leave India, a group of American soldiers who were also waiting in the terminal kept staring at me. I had long hair, a full beard and was wearing a long Indian robe that looked like a dress. One of the soldiers approached me and said, “What are you, some kind of Yogurt?” When I returned to Boston, Dad picked me up at the airport. He took one look at me and said, “Quick, get in the car before someone sees you”. I knew this was going to be an interesting trip…
Forty years later and after the experience of having had a stroke, I believe the relevance of Being Here Now is even more significant for me. Being in the moment, at ease with whatever comes one’s way, becomes contentment. My current practice of “Loving Awareness” allows me to be present to love and serve others and to express unconditional love in the world.
In India when people meet and part they say Namaste, which means:
I honor the place in you
Where the entire universe resides.
I honor the place in you
Of love, of light, of truth, of peace.
I honor the place in you
Where if you are in that place in you and
I am in that place in me,
There is only one of us.
A. SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
Spiritual Practices are designed to bring you back into the nature of your true self. Some people don’t need Spiritual Practices because they are naturally close to God.
There is great delight in tuning to the Spirit through a variety of different methods. Look to each method to move you in its own unique way, and also to keep opening you. At the beginning be generous in trying different methods. If you bring to them a pure heart and a yearning to be free, they will serve you in that way.
I do my spiritual practices because I do my spiritual practices. Whether I will be free and enlightened now or in ten thousand births is of no concern to me. What else do I have to do? I cannot stop anyway, so it does not make any difference to me.
But watch that you do not get trapped in your expectations of a practice. Spiritual practices can become obstacles to freedom if you become too attached to them. The idea is to use them as consciously as you can, knowing that eventually they will self-destruct.
1. Create a sacred space
Create a quiet corner in your home…an Om Home…a launching pad to the infinite…a meditation seat…a shrine.
A puja table is a sacred space for meditation, worship, prayer, reading holy books, reflection, centering, doing mantra or chanting. It is a place for remembering and a source of spiritual comfort. It can be a space for devotional rituals, offering with love, a flower, food, or just gratitude.
Bring to this space that which is simple and pure: a mat, a candle, perhaps some incense, a picture of a realized being you feel connected to — Buddha or Christ, or Ram, Krishna, or your Guru. Create a seat where you can sit comfortably, with your back straight. Zen Buddhists use a zafu and zabutan, a meditation cushion and pad. Use whatever helps you sit comfortably. Use a chair, if necessary. This is your sacred space.
Make your puja table a beautiful offering, one that reflects what is spiritually meaningful to you. It can be as simple a place as a corner of a room, a small closet, or if you have the space, the entire room. You may wish to cover the table with a cloth. Keeping a fresh flower on your puja table, an offering to your Beloved, would add to the sweetness of this space. Feel free to also place small holy statues, photos of loved ones you might wish to bless and written prayers for family or friends who are suffering or sick. If you are having problems with someone, try putting their picture on your puja table so that after meditating you can bring them into the Light. This is also a good place to keep holy books so they will be handy for daily use.
You can always deepen your spiritual practices. If you already have an established puja table, know that you can never have too many sacred spaces. . Let spirit permeate your life. Surround yourself with images of the Divine…reminders of what is really important in life — and in the process help quiet your mind, open your heart and bring inner peace. Possibilities include creating small altars or shrines at your desk, computer space, on a counter top, at the entryway of your home, or near where you stand in the kitchen, or on the door of the refrigerator. Create a sanctuary in the garden, at your doorstep, on the patio or deck. Spiritualize your life from the outside, but know the real work on yourself is inner work.
2. Suggestions for morning practice
Just as water wears away stone, so daily sadhana (spiritual practice) will thin the veil of illusion.
For starters, consider getting up a half hour earlier to allow time for your spiritual practices.
When you approach your puja table remove your shoes. Invest this space with a spirit of love, reverence, devotion and gratitude. You may light a stick of incense. Connect with the images on your table and “settle in” — Be Here Now! Let go of everything other than being present in this sacred space.
A good way to start your day in a conscious manner is to pick up a holy book and read a passage. Occasionally throughout the day bring that to mind. You might want to play peaceful music or kirtan.
3. Start a journal
One purpose of keeping a journal is to have a reflection of your thoughts. It will give you a place to process and record the teachings of this course and feelings or insights that occur on this journey.
I’ve kept a diary of the ways during the day that I have “lost it,” that I got caught into the drama of it all and started to take it as real. I’d just make a list and then look at the patterns of those lists over days. They showed me the nature of my desire systems. They showed me what it was that I made real.
You might also want to record your own reflections on Words of Wisdom and the section of Potent Quotes, applying them to your own life.
As you go through your day, become aware of how often you are truly present in the moment.
B. REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
1. Words of Wisdom
“I will work on myself, since the work that I do on myself is going to be the highest thing I can do. As we “up-level” or raise our own consciousness, we see more creative solutions to the problems that we confront.”
“If you are in the present moment, when the future is now you will have the optimum awareness and energy to do the appropriate thing.”
“The way you come to fully appreciate the infusion of the Spirit is to more and more come fully into the moment, where this moment is enough.”
“Experiencing the fullness of each moment is the best way to begin to understand the concept of Being Here Now.”
“Sadhana (spiritual practice) is EVERYTHING you do.”
2. POTENT QUOTES
Bhagawan Das told Richard Alpert on his first trip to India, “Don’t think about the past, just be here now. Don’t think about the future, just be here now.”
by Ram Dass