Be Love Now- A Conversation With Rameshwar Das

November 4, 2011 by Chris Grosso

LOVE (Everyone) SERVE (Everyone) REMEMBER (God)” – Maharaj-ji 

The following is humbly presented as an offering to those already familiar with, or just learning about the life and teachings of Ram Dass via his Guru Maharaj-ji as told  through a first hand account by long time friend, Rameshwar Das.

Om Shanti.

Ram Dass w/Rameshwar Das

The Rameshwar Das Interview

TIS: Good Morning Rameshwar. Glad we’re able to finally connect and make this interview happen.

RD: Me too. I should note that I’m not a teacher in the way Ram Dass is so feel free to pry whatever it is you need out of me.

TIS: Ok, will do. This will probably be formatted as more of a conversation than an interview anyway so we’ll just see where it goes.

RD: Sounds good.

TIS: Ok, to start I’d like to know how you became involved with the book Be Love Now?

RD: I guess that goes back to my original connection to Ram Dass which occurred around the corner from you at Wesleyan in Middletown (CT) back in 1967. He came to do a talk there, which was the first talk that he gave when he came back from India. I was expecting a chemical exploration of consciousness and instead I got a dose of the guru, this old guy in a blanket from India which was a big surprise and had a rather intense impact. After that, I went to visit Ram Dass up in New Hampshire and started learning yoga, meditation and other things that he had picked up in India. Ram Dass very graciously tried to pass along what he’d learned.

TIS: And that was at his father’s residence in NH correct?

RD: Yeah, his family had a place in Franklin, NH on a lake. It was sort of an old farm but they turned it into a summer family home. After that, in 1968 & 69 there was a kind of invasion of young people who wanted to hear from Ram Dass. A bunch of us camped out there for two summers. His dad was very tolerant.

TIS: Some of that’s seen in the Fierce Grace documentary right?

RD: It is, yeah.

TIS: Wow, it seemed rather amazing.

RD: It was a very magical time. My brother and sister went to Woodstock and I went to Ram Dass yoga camp.

Ram Dass

TIS: Haha, so going back a bit, you mentioned the first time you met Ram Dass at Wesleyan it had an intense impact on you. Could you elaborate more on that?

RD: Sure. I got a little better picture of it when I went to India myself, but he had been up in this little temple in the foothills of the Himalayans for about six months and most of the time he’d been silent. He was learning a lot of yoga, pranayama, intense meditation and really becoming a yogi, renunciate kind of yogi. By the time he came back, he carried a tremendous energy with him.

So the talk he gave at Wesleyan was in one of the student lounges. It started around 7 or 7:30 pm and people were just sitting around in chairs listening and at some point someone turned out the lights and there was just Ram Dass’ voice coming through in the darkness. He was talking about Maharaj-ji and India and what had happened to him, his view of that state of consciousness he’d both absorbed and encountered with Maharaj-ji. For me it was like, well the best way I can describe it is a kind of figure-ground flip. Like when you’re looking at the foreground of something and then suddenly you’re seeing the background and the space around it, that’s what I felt like. Like I saw the foreground which was my ego and suddenly there was all this space, this expanded consciousness surrounding me.

Maharaj-ji

Up to that point, I hadn’t realized it existed. And it wasn’t just consciousness, it was a really deep feeling of love and acceptance. Ram Dass was really transmitting a sense of that state of consciousness, but at the same time, whatever was going on was completely ok. I had been studying Eastern philosophy before that and had some sense of it myself. I had had a few experiences which had been triggered from intense suffering or trying to find myself and not being able to locate it. It was kind of a great moment of awakening and a great release too, knowing it was really there. The attraction was like a magnet. It was like bees coming back to the honey. It was the motherload.

TIS: And so was it after New Hampshire that you made a pilgrimage over to India to meet Maharaj-ji?

RD: Well it was actually a couple of years. First of all, Ram Dass wasn’t telling anyone who or where Maharaji-ji was. In fact, he’ been told not to tell anyone about Maharaj-ji at all. Maharaj-ji was really fierce with people who publicized him. There were people who wrote newspaper articles about him in India and he gave them a lot of trouble about it.

TIS: No kidding?

RD: There were all these other well known saints in India who had big scenes with thousands and thousands of devotees and Maharaj-ji’s scene was very small. He kept it quiet. Sometime’s he’d get up in the middle of the night, grab his driver and say get in the car, we’re leaving. Then in the morning, he’d be gone and nobody would know where he’d went. So it was a bit of a magical mystery tour. Ram Dass finally allowed Krishna Das, Danny Goleman and myself to write to one of the devotees in India and we ended up traveling over there together in 1970.

Krishna Das

TIS: So were you guys the first people to go over to India via Ram Dass to meet Maharaj-ji?

RD: No, there were a few people who managed to find their way there before us. Ram Dass didn’t come over until later on after we’d arrived. On the way to India we met Swami Muktananda, the Siddha Yoga founder. A woman in New York had told us about him, and he was on his way west and we were on our way to India and heard that he was going to be in London so we went to see him there. It was just an amazing scene. It was at somebody’s flat and some people were sitting there while others were bouncing around the room, there was just so much shakti. It seemed like quite an introduction to India. So Muktananda went on to America and we went on to India. Ram Dass met Muktananda in New York and was also quite impressed. He got a message at the time, which, he thought had come from Maharaj-ji though he ended up questioning it later on.

TIS: Right, he talks about that in the book.

RD: Yes. So he ended up accompanying Muktananda for the rest of his world tour and he was sort of the set up man for Muktananda’s talks.

TIS: Sounds like it was quite an experience for him according to his account in the book.

RD: Yeah, it was a real journey along the way.

TIS: So you actually met Maharaj-ji then before Ram Dass was with you?

RD: Yes.

TIS: Ok, so can you tell me about the experience of meeting him in person? I mean you talk about the presence you felt from Ram Dass so I can only imagine the presence of Maharaj-ji. What was it like?

RD: Well the first thing was that I felt the same thing I’d felt when I met Ram Dass in Middletown two or three years prior to that. I realized at that point it was Maharaj-ji coming through Ram Dass which has been Ram Dass’ role for so many people, to be a transmitter. I had all these expectations of what a Guru was going to be about and Maharaj-ji shattered most of them rather quickly.

TIS: Can you give me a couple examples of said shattering?

RD: Well I was so excited when I first met him that I was half out of my body, it was such a rush. The first thing he did was he sent us to go eat and there was just a huge quantity of food they kept shoveling onto this leaf plate and I kept eating and eating which helped me to get grounded. I think he knew that would help and what was going on. He would only let us come every few days. Later on people ended up staying at the ashram or found cow sheds or rooms to stay at in the valley around the temple which was rather isolated.

Maharaj-ji sent us back to town which was ten miles away and said come back on Thursday. So to kill time Krishna Das, Danny and I would go boating on the lake or walking around the town bazaar or visiting the little temples etc. There was a photo store that had pictures of saints and Maharaj-ji. One day we decided to go in and look around. The next morning we went out to Kainchi and when we sat down in front of him he said, “You were out on the lake last night?” and we said yes and then he said “You were looking at pictures? Pictures of me?” and he used to play these little games with us. It was so clear that there was absolutely nowhere to hide.

TIS: So how mind blowing is that?

RD: Well yeah, it’s a totally mind blowing thing that was almost like a cataclysmic breakdown but with me and I think with KD (Krishna Das) it was so gentle. It was playful and just so sweet and loving but also there was that same place of just, there’s nothing hidden. And that does take you through a lot of guilt about all of your unspeakable thoughts. On the other hand, there was also this total loving acceptance of everything we were and I think that allowed me to let go of some stuff. I’ve still got plenty to unload but…

TIS: So can you tell me how you experience Maharaj-ji now Vs when you would actually be with him in person? For example, I’ve often heard Ram Dass speak about how he’s always in Maharaj-ji’s presence no matter what the circumstances. Is that something you identify with, or is it different for you?

RD: I think with Ram Dass it’s as if he’s become somewhat absorbed by Maharaj-ji whereas I need to sort of stop, slow down and look inside and that’s just the many layers of my mind that are waiting to be unraveled. I find it’s a very deep and reassuring presence when I can stop and listen for him. He is that place of total love and to feel a glimmer of that in your life is a great thing. It’s such a blessing.

TIS: Nice. So going back to Be Love Now, you were telling me a bit about your first meeting with Ram Dass…

RD: Right. So this book started in the 70’s. We were going to do a photographic book, a survey of the spiritual landscape in the 70’s in the West, and the East for that matter. It was very ambitious. I have a friend who’s a wonderful photographer and has taught me a lot of photographic craft over the years, Peter Simon lives up on Martha’s Vineyard.

So Peter and I were working with Ram Dass and we were going to do this big photographic book when all of the sudden a woman in Brooklyn named Joya came on the scene, this is after Maharaj-ji had left the body, and she claimed to have him sitting in her basement. So we all went to see her and that actually seemed to be the case. There was a lot of involvement with her and I don’t want to describe it unkindly but there was a lot of melodrama. Ram Dass departed a little before I did while the book project at that point consisted of 400 pages of manuscript and a big pile of photos. And they were some really wonderful photos too. Peter truly is an excellent photographer, but we ended up putting it on the shelf.

There was all this shifting around. Ram Dass had left and I was still involved in the crazy scene in Brooklyn so we just put it aside and it basically sat on the shelf for years. So in 2004 I went to India.,  This is after Ram Dass had a nearly fatal stroke in 1997. He still managed to get to India that year. He came in a wheelchair with about a dozen people. They drove up in a minivan to the temple in the Himalaya’s and had just a beautiful time there.

When Ram Dass left India he had a 36 hour trip back to California through Singapore and a bunch of layovers etc. Then he was home for a day in California only to turn around and fly to Hawaii to do a workshop in Maui. At the end of the workshop he ended up in the hospital with a 103 degree fever and a urinary tract infection, which was probably dormant while he was in India and due to the stress and travel it flared up. It got into his kidneys and bloodstream and developed into septicemia. It was nasty and one of those bugs that was antibiotic resistant. He came close to checking out.

We were still in India while he was in the hospital in Maui and it was very worrisome. He was hospitalized for about a month and when he got out, he really couldn’t travel so he stayed in Hawaii. I went to see him after we’d gotten back and a number of us were helping him to get settled out there. We set up a new foundation and website to get his teachings out because he couldn’t travel anymore.

In that whole interval from Harvard up to the time he stopped traveling in 2004, he had traveled and lectured almost all of it and the majority of the money went elsewhere. He would do benefits and raise money for the Seva Foundation and another foundation he started. They started a prison ashram project and a project for helping people die in the spirit. Maharaj-ji told Ram Dass not to hold onto money.  He didn’t, so when he landed in Hawaii he was pretty broke.

TIS: Right, I knew he’d donated the majority of his money but it wasn’t until a few years ago when I was listening to an Audio Book by Wayne Dyer in which he talked about Ram Dass’ circumstances and the severity of the situation.
 
RD: Wayne was a big help at that point. He helped raise money for Ram Dass to get settled.

Wayne Dyer w/Ram Dass

TIS: So now Ram Dass is in a place where he’s financially more stable?

RD: Yes, for the most part. People can contribute through the website. A lot of Ram Dass’ talks are available there and a lot of people have been appreciative with support and have helped the foundation. We also run a couple of retreats in Maui that people come out to. We usually do one in the winter where Krishna Das comes out and last year Sharon Salzberg was there. They’ve been really beautiful and some of the money helps keep him going too.

TIS: Great, and all of this information is available on his website which is www.ramdass.org correct?

RD:  Yes.

TIS: Ok. So he’s in Maui and…

RD: So we go out there and we’re sitting around talking about different projects to support him. We were thinking in terms of film projects or recordings etc when I remembered I had a pile of manuscripts in my basement. So we got them scanned and took a look at them to see if there was any kind of a book there. Just getting it scanned and turning it into a word processing manuscript took a couple of months but we got it going and were very fortunate to find a great editor and publisher. Actually, the connection came through the guy who had originally published the Be Here Now book who also lives in CT. He’s an interesting character named Bruce Harris, but I don’t want to get too far off track.

TIS: Ok, so does he do publishing himself?

RD: Bruce Harris worked in sales for Crown publishing.  He told me a story about a year and a half ago when he came out to visit Ram Dass in Maui, whom he hadn’t seen in about 35 or 40 years. We were reminiscing about how Be Here Now came into being and Bruce told me this story of how he had been to see Ram Dass with the artist Peter Max.

Peter Max had taken him to a couple of other new age things but he hadn’t really gotten a hit from anyone. He then saw Ram Dass and it really grabbed him. He approached Ram Dass afterwards and said he’d really like to do something but Ram Dass said he wasn’t really interested at that point and he was off to California. Then the original version of Be Here Now was done as a box at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico.  Actually that’s a more detailed story, some of which is in the book, but when they ran out of boxes Ram Dass called Bruce and said well maybe we can do this as a book.

Bruce flew down to Albuquerque and saw the original artwork for the Be Here Now box and took it back to the head of Crown who was kind of his mentor.  He told him about the project and that he thought they really should publish it. The publisher said to show it to the chief editor and see what happens from there. So the editor looks at it and tells the publisher, “Well there’s all this drug stuff in here and it’s way out of our mainstream market, I don’t think we should touch this.” Bruce was kind of crushed. The owner of Crown was really his mentor and model in the publishing business. So he came back to the publisher a couple of days later and said look, there’s two ways we can do this, we could distribute it and not be the publisher or I could quit. He totally put his job on the line and said he really believed they needed to do it, that it really needed to get out there and they should be the ones to do it. So they distributed it and over the years, through however many printings, Be Here Now has sold something over a million copies and has become a kind of counterculture Bible for a lot of people.

TIS: And it all comes full circle with Be Love Now.

RD: Yes, it feels that way.

TIS: Wow, so can you take me through the process of Be Love Now and Bruce’s involvement?

RD: Well I called Bruce to discuss some copyright things and told him we were working on this project. He said we should get together so he could take a look at it with me. So I met him at a restaurant at Grand Central Station in New York and he took a look at the first chapter and the outline and gave me some good suggestions, including writing a new first chapter, which was a good thing. We sent it to a publisher who’d published something recently by Krishna Das.

I hadn’t had too much to do with that side of publishing in a long time but Bruce said there was a woman who used to work for him who was now with a division of Harper Collins out on the West Coast, and I should call her to see if there was any interest. I went off to India at that point and my cohort from satsang, Raghu, who’s now running ramdass.org and the Love Serve Remember Foundation, started talking to the publishers and they ended up in a little auction of sorts. So he was calling me on the cell phone in India…

TIS: Now is this Raghu Markus?

RD: Yes, Raghu.

TIS: Great. I’ve spoken with him before. He’s wonderful.

RD: Yes, he’s a sweetheart, a very old friend. So we’re doing this negotiation on the other side of the world and it finally comes down to the last round and the folks in California won. We were really happy about that because the editor had a really good reputation. His name is Gideon Weil and he’s a great editor. This division of Harper Collins publishes good spiritual and religious books and they’ve been great to work with. The publishing side of things can be rocky these days.

TIS: Sure, so at this point with the book being out a while, how’s it doing?

RD: It’s doing well. For about 10 minutes we were in the Amazon top 100 sales and that’s sort of the equivalent of a best seller list I think. We had 10 minutes out of our 15 minutes of fame (laughter).

TIS: Well that’s better than no minutes.

RD: That’s right. So it’s in its second printing and it just came out in the UK. I think it will have good legs. It feels like a nice book and people have gotten something from it. Ram Dass brought Maharaj-ji and a lot about yoga into our culture which started with Be Here Now. Stuff is still showing up, like an ad for the new Microsoft cell phone which says “Be Here Now”.

TIS: Haha, that’s too funny.

RD: My wife brought home a New Age/Self Help/Spiritual magazine from Long Island and the headline on it was “Love Serve Remember”. That’s the headline and that was Maharaj-ji’s instruction to us. Love (everyone) Serve (everyone) and Remember (God).

TIS: Absolutely. So you’ve been involved with Ram Dass since Be Here Now in the 60’s and here we are in 2011 with the release of Be Love Now. I was wondering from your perspective and experience if you could talk about some of the more significant things you’ve seen changing for better or worse through those years?

RD: Hmm. That reminds me of an interview I was doing on a show in Oakland just after the book had come out. We were shooting at a remote location and somehow show was running out of time, so the interviewer said, “OK, in thirty seconds can you tell me the meaning of life?”

TIS: Well ok, you can have more than thirty seconds. But seriously, you’ve been involved in this for many years now and I believe it’d be interesting to have your perspective.

RD: We try to see these things in terms of cultural evolution and external changes but it’s really all interior, internal changes in individual consciousness. One of the Buddhist teachers I had really put it best, he described spiritual progress as subtle, incremental change over long periods of time.  When you look back over a few decades at this transfer from East to West, there’s certainly a current of  teachings that have come to us with amazing blessings through people like the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa and great yogis like Yogananda, Muktananda and people like that. Of course as Westerners we’ve also appropriated it all and turned it into Madison Avenue schmaltz and now yoga is a huge business. Krishna Das can tour doing Kirtan and people are learning the 40 verses of the Hanuman Chalisa in Hindi which is amazing. At the same time, India is becoming a cell phone culture and is way more Westernized than before.

I don’t know what to make of it all. It’s an interesting turn over. There’s a section in Be Love Now about some of these really amazing Indian Guru’s and saints from the last century or so, beings that are so extraordinary, and so deeply into this complete integration of consciousness and reality. It makes all of our intellectual approaches and writings about things, seem like a passing show. We wanted to bring some of those beings to people’s attention to experience directly for themselves.

TIS: Is that the section of the book where you included Ramana Maharshi?

RD: That’s right, and Anandamayi Ma and Nityanyanda.

Anandamayi Ma

TIS: Yes, I really appreciated that chapter. It was also a great introduction for those not familiar with them. 

RD: Well one of the things I’m noticing is that our Western culture appropriates everything. We take the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and turn it into something that’s more about ego gratification.

TIS: Very true.

RD: These saints have this complete absorption into total unity. They didn’t see the personality and desire realms we get caught up in or all the stimulation and confusion we’re constantly generating. It’s a very simple place and very much in the heart also. We were trying to describe that a little.

Ramana Maharshi

TIS: Right. So with Be Love Now, and I know you can’t answer for Ram Dass, but what do you hope people are able to take away from it?

RD: I think just the existence of unconditional love, even if we can feel it only for a moment in our own being. It resonates deep within all of us and we all long for that  kind of complete love and acceptance. Love without somebody wanting something from you. Love without somebody judging you.  That’s where the soul, or the Self really starts to flower.

TIS: Beautiful.

RD: Everyone has their own path and just to know that we’re treading on it is a good thing.

TIS: Absolutely. So is there anything I haven’t covered regarding the book etc that you’d like to include?

RD: Well it feels very much like it’s Maharaj-ji’s book to me. I’m sure that I got in the way to some extent and Ram Dass did as well, but I hope that we stayed close to what we got from him. It’s just kind of passing the buck. Passing it like a bucket brigade. There’s a great quote from Meher Baba, which I think is in the book, where he said, “Love is like an infectious disease. The people that don’t have it get it from the ones who do.” So I think we’re just trying to spread it around.

TIS: Sounds good to me. I cannot thank you enough for your time. It’s been a real pleasure.

RD: For me too.

VISIT RAM DASS ONLINE HERE!

VISIT THE SEVA FOUNDATION HERE!

IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU MAY LIKE THESE:

THE INDIE SPIRITUALIST INTERVIEWS LAMA SURYA DAS

THE INDIE SPIRITUALIST INTERVIEWS DR. ROBERT THURMAN

THE INDIE SPIRITUALIST INTERVIEWS FATHER THOMAS KEATING

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Chris Grosso is a writer, public speaker, mental health youth group facilitator, and author with Simon & Schuster. He also writes for Revolver Magazine, Fangoria, and has spoken at a bunch of fancy-schmancy festivals and conferences (as well as even more events that were significantly less than fancy-schmancy). Chris's podcast, The Indie Spiritualist, is hosted on Ram Dass's Be Here Now Network.
  1. Joby Bishop says:

    Amazing! Many thanks Mirabai! राम राम

  2. Hanuman Tirtha says:

    Thx Remesh for sharing this with me/us, My Memories of you still bring me much joy.Love HT

  3. Terry Heinzmann says:

    Ramesh! That was a wonderful interview. So great to hear you talk about your experiences with Maharaj-ji and to see the fabulous photographs. Can’t wait to get the book.
    Hope all is well. Love to you, Kate and the kids,
    Terry

  4. […] TIS Interviews Rameshwar Das (Co-author of Ram Dass’ Be Love Now) […]

  5. […] on the Be Here Now Network. Be sure to check out this insightful conversation with Raghu Markus and Rameshwar Das and a great talk with Jack […]