or What a 1960s Guru Can Teach Us About Real Christianity
of Ram Dass by James Starks
is Ram Dass?
Being a Christian is not easy. It is a lot like going through school.
The more progress you make, the more you realize how far you have
to go—and how unbelievably desperate you were before you started.
Only the most immature Christians think they are righteous. Really
being a Christian means that you are striving to do no less than
become one with the Holy. Not
an easy goal to achieve, to say the least.
Despite my numerous shortcomings I am a recipient of God’s
grace, and I am blessedly aware of this grace most of the time.
I try to express my gratitude by attempting to do what Christ has
commanded me to do: Truly love God and seek Him first in everything
that I do, truly love my neighbor no matter how many times they
injure me, truly forgive as I have been forgiven. These things are
very difficult to do…which brings me to Ram Dass.
Ram Dass personifies what
I strive to become as a Christian. He does not just talk the talk,
he truly walks the walk. More than anyone
else I can name (and I have been blessed with many saints in my
life) he has taught me how to be a Christian.
Several years ago my spiritual life was at a crossroads. I was praised
for service to my community and knowledge of the bible; some people
even regarded me as wise. At the same time, my interior life was
drying up. Nonetheless my ego was so enjoying the accolades that
I was blinded to my inner failings. There was no spark, no joy,
no connection to the holy. I compensated by doing
more, earning more praise, and becoming increasingly frantic. I
was talking the talk and appearing to walk the walk, but God knew
I was trapped. I knew all the right answers; I knew all the things
I should be doing, but I did not know how to do them. How can I
put God first? I am worried about me! How do I love my
neighbor as myself? I could barely stand my neighbor. My neighbor
was driving me crazy!
The harder “I” tried, the more I failed. Just before
I completely lost it (or was it after I had lost it?) my wife introduced
me to Ram Dass. We saw a flyer and realized we were going to miss
hearing him speak at Grace Cathedral (a beautiful church in the
heart of San Francisco) by one week. We were vaguely familiar with
this guy—wasn’t he some sort of Sixties guru, some sort
of icon? My wife responded by reading his classic Be Here Now.
Barely into it, she told me I had to read it too. She quoted a few
passages. We both read the book. It changed our lives.
That book led to others. Since that time, I have also listened to
numerous Ram Dass tapes, heard him speak live, and even managed
a personal meeting. From him I have learned how to be a real Christian.
In God’s cosmic sense of humor, I learned from a man who does
not label himself a Christian. Ram Dass refuses to label himself
at all. I once told him that while his language was different from
what I was used to hearing, his message seemed to be very Christian.
I asked him if I was onto something or if I was crazy. He laughed
heartily and said, “You are onto something.”
It is literally impossible to convey in words what must be learned
beyond words. What follows are some hints of something wonderful:
How do I love God with every fiber
of my being? Know Him.
do I know God? Spend
time with Him.
do I spend time with God? Observe the Sabbath.
Not literally but realize that one of the Ten Commandments is
to set aside one seventh of our time to be with God. It is good
to talk to God, to tell Him of my needs, desires, hopes, and needs.
It is even better to listen to Him.
How do I listen to God?
“BE STILL and KNOW that I am God.” Learn to be still
by meditation. As I became more aware of God’s creation,
I began to know the Creator.
How do I deal with the paradox of
seeking God? All I want to do is be with God.
How do I go back into the world? Let go. Let God. Ram Dass helped
me understand what Christ was saying in Mark 8: 34-37 and John
15: 1-17: Surrender all things to God. Give up what you think
your life is (it’s not about the mortgage, paying taxes,
winning a game, getting a promotion, or what your neighbor thinks
of you), and then you shall truly live. You cannot do a thing
apart from Me (CHRIST). Through Me (Christ) you can do all things
so let Me (Christ) help you.
How do I understand what it is all
about? “The way is the way is the way.”
God calls out to us to be one with Him. Christ and God are one.
We can be one with God through Christ. Our very lives are a path
to this end. That is what it is all about. We must be still to
truly understand and experience this divine blessing.
How do I love my neighbor as myself?
Realize (by being still and knowing God) that we are created in
His image. We are egos (fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, teachers,
students, whatever labels we wear at any point in time), but we
are also souls. When we dislike our neighbor, what we’re
really doing is disliking our neighbor’s actions, our neighbor’s
ego. The same is true when we dislike ourselves. What we have
to realize is that we and our neighbor are souls. Our souls are
eternal, just as God’s Kingdom is eternal. When we realize
that the person who is so upsetting us is a soul and we relate
to them on the soul level instead of the ego level, then we discover
compassion, we can love them, we can love ourselves.
How do I truly forgive, especially
when the offense is repeated without remorse? Forgiveness
is a holy act. To do so sincerely means that we have to be connected
to the Holy. By being still, by being alone with God, we begin
to realize we are all children of God. We are all souls. It becomes
much easier to forgive someone when we identify them primarily
as a soul instead of as an ego that has hurt us. We begin to have
compassion for them because we realize that they are prisoners
to their ego. We begin to see them as God sees them. We begin
to see ourselves as God sees us. We begin to be able to forgive
ourselves as well as others.
Dass has shown me how to be a Christian both through the example
of his life and the insights he has shared in his writings and lectures.
Fortunately, he is quite prolific, so there is much rich material.
I would recommend starting with Be Here Now. He lectures frequently
but he is not a young man. If he is speaking near you, go see him.
is Ram Dass?
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
James Starks is an artist living and working in Memphis, Tennessee.