Commusings: Separateness and Totality by Ram Dass

Jun 08, 2024

Dear Commune Community,

There was once a prominent Harvard psychologist named Richard Alpert. 

One day in 1961, Richard introduced a few chemicals into his brain and … his body was still there, but he was no longer Richard. His identity was no longer anchored to a locus of attention somewhere behind the eyes. He was enveloped by an intense sense of unity with the universe.

Inspired by his experiences with psychedelics (and fired from Harvard for his research), Richard traveled to India in 1967 where he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, who renamed him Ram Dass, meaning “Servant of God.”

As Richard-cum-Ram-Dass peered deeper into the nature of his being, he saw more clearly through the illusion of separateness and oneness, self and other, subject and object. From this place came many decades of inspirational teachings on the nature of consciousness, reality, love, and service to the world. 

Ram Dass moved outside the fluctuations of time, space, location, and form in 2019, yet we are blessed to have him with us in today’s Commusings and in a new Commune course, Explorations in Consciousness. This series of 10 audio-visual journeys combines the wisdom of Ram Dass with the transcendent visuals of Louie Schwartzberg (of Fantastic Fungi fame) and the sweeping soundscapes of Mickey Hart (of the Grateful Dead). You can experience the first 5 journeys for free here.

 In love, include me,

Separateness and Totality
By Ram Dass

Transcribed and edited by the Love Serve Remember Foundation

Here’s the way I look at the predicament we are facing: We are shared awareness, and for one reason or another, you and I incarnated on this trip. We came into these forms, or, awareness entered form, again.

Once you were in the form, the form interacted with other forms, and you became a form. Usually, the way I say it is you went into Somebody Training. You came in awareness; then slowly you were taught, “I'm Richard.”

I was the template on which my parents printed my identity because I was who they thought I was. Their consciousness defined my reality — plus my genetics, my karma, and a few other little variables.

So, I went into Somebody Training, and I became a somebody. Once I was a somebody, I was no longer everything. Once I was no longer everything, I felt a little separate and hungry and cold and frightened because I was very little, and the forces in the universe were very big, starting with my mother… Let alone cyclones, tornadoes, and other natural phenomena.

Because I felt so little, the world of power became real to me. How do I keep enough power to survive as a separate entity? I developed very strong needs and desires as a separate entity. “I need this. I want this.” I grew up being somebody.

Then in 1961, when I took mushrooms from the kind hand of Timothy Leary, I recognized that who I thought I was was a hype. I'd been had. That what I was was much more interesting. I was, in fact, everybody in drag, being somebody. The minute I tasted that, my whole agenda in life changed. It changed so dramatically that I got thrown out of Harvard.

My agenda changed because I saw so clearly that I, busy being somebody in my actions, kept perpetuating the separation between people because I was attached to it myself. My somebody-ness was reinforcing everybody else's somebody-ness. So, because of Eastern philosophy and its methods and paths, I became a renunciate for a while. A horny one, but a renunciate. A renunciate that in effect said, “The world of stuff is so seductive that I just have to get away from it for a while.” I've got to stop reading the newspaper. I've got to just pull back for a moment in order to hear the voices within, which are being dimmed by the trumpets of the culture in which I'm living.

So, I pulled back, and the way you pull back is you begin to think that this plane of reality is somehow “less” — you get caught in that. Then after a while, I saw that acting and teaching from that place was likely going to create suffering even if I was attempting to do good. Because you give somebody some food, but where you give people food from depends on whether you feed their stomachs or feed their freedom. I saw that I was feeding stomachs, but not freedom.

It wasn't an either-or, it was a both-and. I hadn't got my act together because I was still somebody doing something.

So, I got into the strategy: We can't do good until we are good. Then we be good, and then good happens. Got that one? We can't do good until we be good. When we be good, then good happens. You don't do it, but it happens anyway. It's the Tao. “One does nothing, and nothing is left undone.”

What I'm basically talking about is learning to live simultaneously on two planes of awareness so that your actions are not coming just in reaction to the forms around you but is coming out of emptiness — is coming also out of another plane behind that where there isn't form. But it's so hard because of the seductiveness of the suffering and the wanting to do something about it. You get caught in doing, and you don't cultivate the being because you're a good person, and you can't wait.

So, we bifurcated in the late ‘60s, and there were the people that said, “Look, you can't wait to do good. Go do good. The hell with being good!” And the others that said, “We better get on with our being, or else we're not going to do much good.” We all did our part. That was all the movements and all the stuff that went on then. By the mid-70s we realized that we were all trapped in our practices. The doers, burning out. The be-ers, feeling they were cut off from the life force of the universe because they were pushing away the world.

I realized that if Buddha is right, that attraction or aversion of mind is the cause of suffering, and if I am averse to my own passions or my own pain or the world's pain or anything, it's got me. It's got me. You can't be phony holy, you can't push it away. You can't go to La La Land. So at that point, I flipped around and said, “Okay, my yoga of getting free now will be through being in the world.” That's what I was told to do anyway. I might as well do it.

Because when I said to my guru, “How will I get enlightened?” His answer was, “Feed people.” I figured it got lost in the translation, so I tried again. I said, “How do I know God?” And he said, “Serve people.” Slowly, it turned out that he was right. That was my way, because I'm named Hanuman, which is Ram Dass, servant of God.

The art form is looking through the veils and meeting another being in a space that allows whatever could be to be, rather than coming in with a program that defines reality so rigidly. This is the game.

The deepest part of this teaching is in the statement, “Out of emptiness, arises compassion.” That when I am empty of my separateness for a moment, I experience the totality. I am the totality. Out of that intuitive gestalt comes a response. The response doesn't ignore that suffering, or that joy, or that reality, or that possibility; it's all part of that which you can't analytically understand anyway.

The thing is, you can't wait until you're enlightened to help people. So, you're caught in the dilemma. Because your heart hurts. You can't say, “I'm sorry, you just starve now because I'm working on myself. I'll give you food later.” So, you do what you can to relieve the pain of our heart, but you do it as an exercise on yourself to become free of somebody doing anything. You do it in order to become an environment for other people where every interaction you have with them is a space in which they can become as free as they choose to be, and there's nothing in your mind that keeps trapping them into being somebody.

So, what I experience is that you and I are in a training program. We are undergoing a curriculum. It's called your life. And it's a set of experiences through which you can transcend the space between experiencer and experience. You can keep opening into it and opening into it and opening into it until you have embraced the universe into yourself. Then out of you comes your next act. It's the wisdom of the Tao.

It's not what I think I should do, it's what is being done.

What it seems to me happened that was interesting, was that years back, like in the 17th century, there was an awakening sense of individuality. Yet because of survival necessity, and because of geography and so on, it was enmeshed in social systems. When I go to India, I'm always blown away by how basic the people's identification is with their roles rather than with their personalities. I come back, and I realize what a personality cult we are. How addicted we are to a certain set of metaphors or myths to describe who we think we are and what we think our life is about. We think that's freedom — and a step up.

But the predicament is that personality is a cloak to be worn lightly. It is a lousy master and it's a great servant. Your intellect, your analytic mind, your conceptual model of who you are and how it all is — that should one of your computer programs you can call up when you need it. But to live stuck in a program … how uninteresting! How finite for an infinite problem.

Because get so busy being real – afraid of death, achieving, accomplishing, needing, solving the world's problems, doing something about something – and because we are in such a reactive mode all the time, we tune out the wisdom that we as humans have accessible to us as part of our lineage, because we're so busy trying to know the answers.

I live much more with the mystery. People say, “What are you going to do in the future?” I don't know. “Who are you, Ram Dass?” I don't know.

Am I in anachronism from the ‘60s or am I about to happen? Or are both of those myths kind of trashy? Any myth seems awfully finite.

Aren't you an infinite set of beings? I am.

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