MEDITATING WITH RAM DASS – TEACHING A SIX-YEAR-OLD TO “SEE”
That image of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (see Jan. 1 posting) got me thinking of how I started... in 1968, a resident at the MacDowell Artists’ Colony, Peterborough, N.H., I learned that Ram Dass, AKA Professor Richard Alpert*, had just returned from India and was living at his father’s estate not far from Peterborough. So one afternoon--Ram Dass having agreed to see me—I set out on an adventure that continues to this day...
That was my first experience with meditation—
I returned to MacDowell and spent an afternoon with my daughter who was living nearby. I sought to impart something of what I felt I’d gotten from the experience of meditating with Ram Dass. I knew doing so would have value for her, a “gift” that would serve her for the rest of her life. That if I provided nothing else, at least there was this.
Thirty years later, a graduate of Berkeley, top of her class, an environmental scientist, she shared with me her description of the experience. She did so as she was preparing the way for me to meet one of her colleagues, Arjuna Ardagh, author and founder of the Living Essence Foundation.
“By way of introduction, when I was around 5 or 6 my Dad came home from some kind of event or class about meditation. He asked me if I’d ever stopped all my thoughts. We discussed it a bit since even at my age it was pretty obvious that just about everything required some form of thought. Dad had an innocent curiosity that still moves me. It was clear he thought my youth and awareness might provide a perspective that could otherwise be inaccessible to him. Joan Baez was on the stereo and we sat on the couch in front of the fireplace looking out the window. We agreed to try it. We sat there, me on his right, our eyes closed. Trying not to think. It didn’t work but it was my first formal introduction to meditation. Dad had an attentive, childlike, almost fixated quality when he asked how it was for me. He was on fire – passionate, desperate really, seemed willing to put anything on the line to really look, to really see. Until that moment I had believed I was the only one who had the sense to care, to really see.
“So that’s a bit of dad.”
*From Dr. Richard Alpert to Baba Ram Dass
In 1967 Alpert travelled to India, where he met the American spiritual seeker Bhagavan Das. As he guided him barefoot from temple to temple, Bhagavan Das began teaching Alpert basic mantras and asanas, as well as how to work with beads. After a few months Bhagavan Das led Alpert to his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, or as he is better known in the West, Maharaj-ji. Maharaj-ji soon became Alpert's guru and gave him the name "Ram Dass", which means "servant of God". Under the guidance of Maharaj-ji, Ram Dass was instructed to receive teaching from Hari Dass Baba, who taught in silence using only a chalkboard. While in India, Ram Dass also corresponded with Meher Baba; however, he remained primarily focused on the teaching of Hari Dass Baba. Among other things, Hari Dass Baba trained Ram Dass in raja yoga and ahimsa. It was these life-changing experiences in India that inspired Ram Dass to write the contemporary spiritual classic, Be Here Now, in which he teaches the harmony of all people and religions.