“Ram Dass and the Fire of Devotion on the Spiritual path”
By: Forrest Rivers
Recently, I had the joyous opportunity to read Ram Dass’s inspiring memoir Being Ram Dass. One theme that quickly emerged throughout this beautiful, humorous, and detailed account of the late sage’s life was his boundless devotion to the spiritual path. From his ego driven days as a Harvard Psychology professor, to his personal experimentation and cutting-edge research with psychedelics at the dawn of the 1960s revolution in consciousness, to his first trip to India and the fated meeting of his beloved guru Neem Karoli Baba, to his pioneering work with the dying, to his lead role in helping launch influential global service foundations—- his life was a testament to the power of devotion on the path. Even following a near-fatal stroke in 1997, Ram Dass used the profound mental and physical suffering that he experienced to deepen his own faith in his guru and further practice inner surrender. In short, his life is a shining example of how far devotion to truth and the pursuit of enlightenment can take us if we simply learn to keep our hearts open, practice compassion, and learn to listen to the infinite wisdom of the Universe.
As I read Ram Dass’s uplifting memoir, I was continually struck by his seemingly miraculous transitions from one stage of life to another. The pages of his life unfolded like the passage of the seasons and with such cosmic precision that his biography reads like a character out of some epic spiritual adventure novel. For example, when his days as a Harvard professor were finally numbered due to the hoopla surrounding his and Timothy Leary’s remarkable psychedelic research, along came Millbrook (an experimental psychedelic commune in upstate New York that he and Leary founded) and a widely popular lecture tour to hippie youth on the topic of psychedelics and consciousness expansion. Then, when psychedelics as a pathway to greater wisdom and peace ran its course for him, Ram Dass found himself literally at the feet of an Indian holy man who would become his lifelong guru. And, when Ram Dass returned home from India for the second time in 1972 and felt his worldly desires begin to return he gracefully transitioned into a life of service through his work with the dying, prisoners, Native Americans, and even the blind.
In essence, each monumental transition in his life (including the most pivotal transition of all at his moment of death in 2019) was a journey through the various layers or levels of consciousness. It is no coincidence that Ram Dass’s seminal spiritual classic Be Here Now was originally titled From Bindu to Ojas. In Sanskrit, Bindu to Ojas roughly translates to the movement of spiritual energy from lower levels of consciousness to higher levels. Ram Dass was a testament to the fact that one’s complete journey from identification with their ego to their soul can be done. Though, admittedly, this journey to the pinnacle of self-realization is a difficult one because it requires both patience and persistence. This is where Ram Dass’s boundless devotion and the transcendent lessons that it provides for us all comes into play.
At first glance, it might appear that the amazing synchronicities and good fortune in Ram Dass’s life was just simply the result of his karma and destiny (and to a large extent I am sure it was). However, a fire of devotion to the cause of loving awareness also burned bright within him. And after meeting his guru, this fire transformed into a devotional flame of eternal faith and inner knowing. It is this devotional flame that is at the root of all sincere spiritual seeking. Religion without devotion to the living spirit isn’t religion but simply a set of mechanical and hollow rituals. Yoga without devotion to the living spirit is simply a form of glorified stretching and attention grabbing. And love without devotion to the spirit of the source of one’s affection really isn’t love but its opposite quality of indifference. Even in Ram Dass’s final days when his body had decayed to the point that he was confined to his wheel chair most of the time, he remained devoted as ever to the living spirit of his guru. Like the Hindu God Hanuman’s devotion to his god incarnate master Ram, Ram Dass’s lifelong devotion to the presence of Neem Karoli Baba in his own heart was the single most important lesson that I took away from reading this powerful and moving memoir. Through his glorious example, Ram Dass has shown me that enlightenment is indeed possible but only if one first cultivates a deep and unwavering devotion to the path of spirit through many years of faithful seeking. Our shared experience in these forms represents a precious opportunity to deepen our devotion.
Forrest Rivers is a writer and teacher who lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His new book, COVID-19 and Humanity’s Spiritual Awakening is now available on Amazon Here