To Become One

THE I am loving awareness practice from the first chapter is a mantra, or what we in the West might call a prayer or an affirmation. Mantras work in different ways. One kind engages your conceptual mind to take you into a new space, in this case dissolving your mind into your heart by constantly reminding you to view everything with love. The Tibetan mantra OM MANE PADME HUM is similar. If you stay with it, the mind just sinks into the heart. Using a mantra is one practice in which more is better. Repetition furthers.

Other mantras are more purely vibrational, using seed syllables, like OM, that reverberate on many levels of consciousness. R m is one of the Hindu names of God that combines both the vibrational and conceptual spheres. You can channel your yearning for God through the practice of R m Nam, reciting or chanting R m’s name over and over until it brings you into the soul, opening into the unified state. You create a vibrational field that starts in your

 

heart and eventually becomes the universe, taking you into the One. You open a door so that grace can enter in. R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m.

When I’m out in the marketplace, I finger my beads silently, repeating R m R m R m. As I look around me everything is R m, all is one. I R m-ize whatever situation I’m in; I bring it into R m’s vibrational field. There are two planes of consciousness operating here. I’m fingering my beads in the grocery store, and the beings around me are in their roles as customers or clerks, but I see them as souls. Because I’m in my soul, I can see their souls. If you can be a soul, identify with your soul, then you can see other beings as souls. Maharaj-ji was introducing us to our souls. He rests in his soul and that creates a sympathetic vibration with other souls. That’s how you really serve God, by bringing others into their souls.

The R m mantra works on vibrational and conceptual planes at the same time. Repetition of the mantra brings you into the vibrational field of the

 

divine Name. Devotion to R m opens you to the heart space of R m’s being. For Hindus the many layers of stories and symbolism about R m from the Ramayana enrich their devotion. The Ramayana is the Bible of North India.

For example, in the Ramayana, Hanuman, the monkey god, epitomizes service and devotion by carrying R m’s ring (representing God’s love) to Sita, R m’s wife (the soul), who has been kidnapped by Ravana, a ten-headed demon who represents the power of ego running amok in the world of the senses. She’s been singing the separation blues in Sri Lanka, and is she ever glad to get a hit of God’s love from Hanuman during her dark night of the soul! All those thoughts and emotions are part of R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m R m.

The name that Maharaj-ji gave me, Ram Dass, means “servant of Ram,” which is another name for Hanuman. So I’m named after Hanuman. It’s just a constant reminder to me of how Maharaj-ji keeps on saying, “Love everyone and serve everyone!” It reminds me to keep looking to see how I can serve.

More complex prayers like the forty verses in Hindi

 

of the Hanuman Chalisa (chalis means “forty” in Hindi) combine the conceptual and the vibrational in an intricate tapestry. The long prayer describing Hanuman’s exploits brings up the story with its emotional content and the vibration, bringing me into the presence of Hanuman. It’s also a prayer for Hanuman to stay with me, to help and protect me.

We sang to Maharaj-ji in India, and those verses evoke a memory that brings me to him again. Whether or not you understand the Hindi words, chanting with a yearning for God will bring you into the moment and open that vibrational door. That’s what a mantra does.

When I first heard the Hanuman Chalisa in India, I

couldn’t imagine people practicing it in the West. Now, thousands in the West have learned to recite it. I marvel at how so many have committed it to memory. The Chalisa opens you to Hanuman, who opens the door to R m, to God.

Music has a unique ability to convey emotion, and when it combines with the vibrational quality of a mantra, there is nothing like it to bypass the mind and open a direct route to the heart. In the Ramayana it says that chanting R m’s name is

 

more powerful than R m himself, because it has the ability to take you to R m—not R m, the character in the Ramayana, but R m, the state of being, God.

Kirtan, singing the Hindu names of God, R m and Krishna, and the mother goddess, Durga, was one of the only things we could do for Maharaj-ji. He loved even the musically inept renditions that we performed for him. For us it was a way to express our yearning and love for God, opening a sweetness that continues to be there whenever we gather to sing the Name.

You don’t have to sing in a group. You don’t even have to be able to carry a tune. The words are simple, the same Name over and over again; you just sit down and sing to God. It’s nice to give kirtan its own special time, but you can chant while you’re doing the laundry or driving the car, and it will remind you of your other life in the heart, as a soul. This simple practice will open your soul horizon.

Krishna Das, whom Maharaj-ji sent to sing with the

kirtan wallahs at Kainchi, says:

The words of these chants are called the divine

 

names, and they come from a place in our hearts that’s deeper than our thoughts, deeper than the mind. And so as we sing them they turn us toward ourselves, into ourselves. They bring us in, and as we offer ourselves into the experience, the experience changes us. These chants have no meaning other than the experience we have by doing them. They come from the Hindu tradition, but it’s not about being a Hindu or having to believe anything in advance. It’s just about doing it, and experiencing. Nothing to join, you just sit down and sing.1

 

From the Indian spiritual perspective this time on earth is called the Kali Yuga, or Iron Age, about which the Tulsi Das Ramayana says:

 

In the age of Kali neither yoga (concentration of mind) nor the performance of sacrifices nor spiritual wisdom is of any avail; one’s only hope lies in hymning Sri R m’s praises  The power

of the Name is thus manifest in the age of Kali.2

 

Matter-nity

At one point Maharaj-ji said, “See everything as the Mother and you will know God.” What was he talking about, seeing your mother in everything?

We Westerners have our share of relationship complexities with our mothers, with interpretations galore courtesy of Dr. Freud. The view of the mother in India is different. The country is called Mother India. A Western devotee once told Maharaj-ji he hated his mother, and nobody understood what he was saying. The concept didn’t make it across the cultural barrier. In India the mother is so deeply respected and revered, there was no way that statement could be understood. There is an Indian saying that there may be bad children, but there are no bad mothers.

The Divine Mother, the Goddess, has many dimensions. In the broadest sense consciousness and energy, eternal spirit and matter are male and female (matter-nity). Out of the One in the first glimmer of duality comes purusha, the formless spirit, and prakriti, the cosmic energy that coalesces into form. As God and Goddess they are Shiva, who

 

personifies pure absolute consciousness and the seed of procreation, and Shakti, who manifests infinite forms.

Why does the God-lover find such pleasure in addressing the Deity as Mother? Because the child is more free with its mother, and consequently she is dearer to the child than anyone else.

—Ramakrishna3

 

Seeing the world as the Mother, seeing everything as her manifestation, involves a shift in perception. The way you go about your daily life may be the same, eating, sleeping, defecating, reproducing, socializing, gratifying your senses, earning your livelihood, solving problems, contributing to society, relieving suffering. But you see it all as a child sheltered in the loving arms of your Mother, who is all creation. The blue sky is her mind, the green leaves pulse with her blood, the wind is her breath, the rain, her water of life. She is Gaia, the Earth Mother, but also subtler than that.

 

Close your eyes and imagine that all around you is a luminous mist, a substance finer even than the tiniest quantum of energy theorized by physicists. It permeates all forms—in fact all forms are patterns of this mist. That is the living spirit made manifest, the substance of the Mother creating our sensible world. Just think of it as another way of seeing.

The intense love between mother and child can apply to everyday experience as a way to bring you closer to the Beloved. Your attachments, desires, and impurities are also a manifestation of the Mother, and that makes it easier to deal with them. In your daily life as you work with all the ways you hold on to your own suffering, to your desires, you are reminded that the play of phenomena is all her play, including Maharaj-ji.

 

O Mother, make me mad with Thy love! What need have I of knowledge or reason? Make me drunk with Thy love’s Wine;

O Thou who stealest Thy bhaktas’ hearts, Drown me deep in the Sea of Thy love! Here in this world, this madhouse of Thine,

Some laugh, some weep, some dance for joy:

 

Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga,

All are drunk with the Wine of Thy love. O Mother, when shall I be blessed

By joining their blissful company?

—Ramakrishna4

By telling us to see everything as the Mother, I think Maharaj-ji meant us to use every detail of life as grist for the mill of our spiritual development. Every experience is a mirror reflecting where we are in our consciousness and our work of the moment. In the compassionate embrace of the Mother the layers of old habits, preconceptions, and residues of past experience can dissolve in the ocean of maternal affection.

 

Love’s Company

One way of remembering to stay in the heart is to hang out with other people who are on the same journey. Satsang is a community of seekers after truth. Sat means “truth,” and sangha is a “meeting of the ways,” a spiritual community. Satsang is the

 

company or family of fellow travelers on this path of the heart. Each devotee feeds and inspires the others; “like a soaked cloth dampens a dry one, satsang drenches one heart and then another.”5

At the most basic level, associating or surrounding yourself with friends who are working on themselves, who are on the path, creates a supportive atmosphere for your own sadhana, or spiritual work. Similarly, hanging out with people who are drinking beer and watching TV all the time is probably a distraction.

Being in a satsang doesn’t mean you’ve gone to heaven or are full of love and light. If a satsang seems too pure, it probably is. If the people in your satsang aren’t too busy pretending to be pure or spiritual and are truthful about where they are on the path, they’ll help you to keep your perspective. If you sing and do service together, you will create a real heart space.

Satsang is a lot like family, albeit a spiritual one. There’s always a crazy relative, and relationships have their ups and downs. Maharaj-ji’s satsang is about as diverse as you could imagine. Without Maharaj-ji as our focus many of us would probably

 

never have known each other. It’s been said that Maharaj-ji took on the difficult and nearly hopeless cases. I used to call it the mark of madness.

At times Maharaj-ji seemed like a doctor in the back ward of a mental hospital. Many in the Western satsang are rascals—loving, but crazy. It’s so intimate, because we’ve all known each other so long, and he’s brought out all our stuff. We love each other, but we don’t always like each other. Now I see us all as souls, and I love all of us.

“Nainital High” group photo at Evelyn Hotel, Nainital.

Photo courtesyof Rameshwar Das.

 

Despite our differences, those of us who’ve stayed connected over the years have developed an inextricably deep bond of love through Maharaj-ji. We’re a real family, in many ways closer than a blood family, one that crosses oceans and spans continents, cultures, and decades, with spats, jealousies, and forgiveness. Satsang provides a welcome embrace no matter how far apart we live or how infrequently we see each other and is by no means limited to those who were with Maharaj-ji when he was embodied. When we meet, we embrace not just each other, but him too.

 

Let Me Count the Ways

Love is the emotion of merging, of becoming one in the heart. In everyday life it is mixed in the natural riot of relationships, the biochemistry, emotions, desires, fantasies, and romantic illusions. Bhakti yoga cultivates the spiritual heart by turning those natural impulses into creepers that twine around the Beloved, converting them into a conduit to carry us toward ultimate merging. Every form of love, every

 

loving relationship, can become that conduit: parent and child, lover and beloved, student and teacher, aspirant and religious guide, friend and friend, owner and pet too. Each has within it a seed of love that can grow into unconditional love. Any of them can become the road to the spiritual heart.

The bhakti traditions describe how these different ways of relating can develop and open into the relationship to the Beloved. The bhavas, the attitudes, moods, and emotional states you cultivate i n bhakti yoga, use the analogy of our human relationships, like mother and infant, parent and child, lover and beloved, master and devoted servant, and true friends to create that space for divine love. Remember, this is really a relationship with your own deeper self, so see what works for you.

 

Hark . . . A flute? . . . Nay, I am dreaming! No earthly flute could contain such celestial music! . . . Could a flute carry so far? Ah, my heart will burst with joy! Truly I am dead, and in Indra’s Heaven.

 

Heart of a Gopi6

 

In India you might worship baby Krishna, Gopal, delighting in his divine pranks and cosmically childish ways. As he grows up and becomes Govinda, the sky blue cowherd, he plays his supremely seductive flute for his favorite, Radha, and the other cowherd girls, and you become one of them, a gopi, enthralled and pining for a Beloved who manifests ten thousand forms at once to satisfy every one of his myriad lovers.

The divine romance with Krishna, the lila, is sensual beyond the senses, and the very thought of him drives the love-intoxicated gopis into ecstasy. It’s “like an upsurging ocean of nectar.”7 You fall in love, and you just keep falling until everything has fallen away.

 

Your glance, my love, intoxicates,

and all your form and face, is moonbeam-tender, and when you walk, and move, beloved,

you move the hearts of all that is created, they long for you.

 

You are so perfectly formed, beloved,

that all of love, and passion, swirls around you making of you that perfection: an adept at love’s

game.

O my beloved, everything about you draws the eyes,

even your eyebrows are lines drawn to perfection. Though you walk upon this earth formed,

O formless, you are the home and refuge of all.

—Jayadeva8

Then there is the Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna’s loyal friend, charioteer, and guru, who raises him from battlefield despair to consider the infinite wisdom of the spirit in confronting his inner adversaries. This is a deeper kind of heart wisdom that engages the mind as well as the soul. The Gita is one of the great treasure troves of cosmic revelation and instruction on how to follow a spiritual path and yet live in the world. The subtle concept of working without attachment to the result through karma yoga is a revolutionary idea.

Karma yoga ties directly to another form of bhakti, seva, or selfless service. Hanuman, the monkey god

 

who serves R m and Sita in the great epic the Ramayana, incarnates selfless service and devotion. He dedicates his whole being to his Lord and master, R m, and to the Mother, Sita. My guru, Maharaj-ji, is my model and inspiration for that Hanuman bhava. Hanuman combines the instinctive animal qualities of a monkey with the supernatural power and devotion of a great yogi and divine sage.

In the Tulsi Das Ramayana, R m says to the wife of a sage, who has waited ages to see him:

 

“Listen, O good lady, to My words. I recognize no other kinship except that of Devotion. Despite caste, kinship, lineage, piety, reputation, wealth, physical strength, numerical strength of his family, accomplishments and ability, a man lacking in Devotion is of no more worth than a cloud without water. NowI tell you the nine forms of Devotion; please listen attentively and cherish them in your mind.

“The first in order is fellowship with the saints, and the second is marked by a fondness for My stories. Humble service of the lotus feet of one’s preceptor is the third form of Devotion, while the fourth type of Devotion consists in singing My praises with a guileless purpose. Muttering My Name with unwavering faith constitutes the fifth form of adoration revealed in the Vedas. The sixth variety consists in the practice of self- control and virtue, desisting from manifold activities and ever pursuing the course of conduct prescribed for saints. He who practices

 

the seventh type sees the world full of Me without distinction and reckons the saints as even greater than Myself. He who cultivates the eighth type of Devotion remains contented with whatever he gets and never thinks of detecting others’ faults. The ninth form of Devotion demands that one should be guileless and straight in one’s dealings with everybody, and should in his heart cherish implicit faith in Me without either exultation or depression.

“Whoever possesses any one of these nine forms of Devotion, be he man or woman or any other creature—sentient or insentient—is most dear to Me, O good lady. As for yourself, you are blessed with unflinching devotion of all these types. The prize which is hardly won by the Yogis is within your easy reach today. The most incomparable fruit of seeing Me is that the soul attains its natural state.”. . .

She gazed on the Lord’s countenance and imprinted the image of His lotus feet on her heart; and casting her body in the fire of Yoga she entered Sri Hari’s state wherefrom there is no

 

return. “O men, abandon your varied activities, sins and diverse creeds, which all give birth to sorrow, and with genuine faith,” says Tulsidasa, “be devoted to the feet of Sri Rama.” 9

 

Each one of these bhavas, or moods, is a way to approach unconditional love, to open yourself to divine love. In any of them you can use the ways of bhakti yoga—prayer, chanting, puja (ritual worship), repeating a mantra, or meditation—to create the mood of love. Ultimately there’s no thinking about it; there’s only doing it, becoming it, being in love.

Practice makes perfect. I can write and you can read, but if we really want that love, eventually we all have to actually tread on the path and do the practice.

There are complex traditions and lineages in India, gurus, teachers, and sects that teach and practice the bhakti marg, or path to love. Although the poetry and literature of bhakti traditions are inspiring even in translation, it can be difficult to transplant the actual practices from their cultural context. Centuries ago progenitors of those

 

traditions in India, like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, created vast revivals and spiritual movements that still attract adherents and pilgrims throughout India.

On a practical level, just as bhakti uses human relationships as an analogy for divine love, you can bring your own relationships with family and friends into your devotional practice. Try seeing your child, lover, spouse, or mentor as a divine manifestation.

 

Ocean of Devotion

Once you have drunk from the water of unconditional love, no other well can satisfy your thirst. The pangs of separation may become so intense that seeking the affection of the Beloved becomes an obsession. When we were with Maharaj-ji, we were intoxicated with his form, the colors of his blanket, the buttery softness of his skin, his tapering, almost simian fingers, the long eyelashes that so often hid his eyes, the red toenail on his big toe. As with any lover we, too, became fascinated and enamored of every detail, although these cues triggered spiritual bliss instead of physical desire.

 

Maharaj-ji with women touching his foot. Photo by Balaram Das.

 

In their way intoxication and addiction are analogies for devotion. Once you experience unconditional love, you really get hooked. The attraction is to that intimacy between the lover and the Beloved.

You are so drawn into the songs, stories, images, and constant remembrance of the Beloved that you may hold on to the form and not want to go on to the next stage. You are always thinking about it and tuning your being to stay in that intimate loving relationship with this person you love.

Devotion to God is an addiction

 

that lasts all the time.

—Maharaj-ji

 

But the Beloved is not a person in the usual sense, and the form is just a costume for the play, the lila. Ultimately, this form is the one that takes you beyond form. What the Beloved, your guru, reveals to you is your own soul. Even so you may choose, like Hanuman, to remain in a kind of duality to serve and remain immersed in the ocean of devotion.

The devotional path isn’t necessarily a straight line to enlightenment. There’s a lot of back and forth, negotiation if you will, between the ego and the soul. You look around at all the aspects of suffering, and you watch your heart close in judgment. Then you practice opening it again and loving this too, as a manifestation of the Beloved, another way the Beloved is taking form. Again your love grows vast. In bhakti, as you contemplate, emulate, and take on the qualities of the Beloved, your heart keeps expanding until you see the whole universe as the Beloved, even the suffering.

As I have explored my own and others’ journeys toward love, I’ve encountered different kinds of

 

happiness. There’s pleasure, there’s happiness, and then there’s joy. Addiction, even in the broad sense of just always wanting more of something, gives only pleasure. Pleasure is very earthbound when you’re getting it from sensual interaction, and it always has its opposite; also, the need for satisfaction is never ending. Happiness is emotional, and emotions come and go. It may play into the complex of other emotional stuff that we all carry. But there is also spiritual happiness, which gets very close to joy.

As it becomes less personal, spiritual happiness becomes joy. Joy is being part of the One. It’s spiritual, the joy-full universe, like trees are joyful. It’s bliss, or ananda. It’s all those things. The difference is that it comes from the soul.

 

Surrender

When I was first with Maharaj-ji, I experienced such bliss and love that all I wanted to do was just be around him and rub his feet. As time went on that love kept growing, but it became different, until I started to feel just as fulfilled being at a distance

 

from him. I began to realize his love was not directed just at me.

It kept growing deeper and deeper until I really didn’t care whether I was with his form. I stopped relating to him as “that man in India” and began to relate to the essence of guru. The dynamic kept changing as I understood more, as my heart continued opening and my surrender increased. He started to enter into me; his presence was with me wherever I was, until I realized there was nowhere I could go that he wasn’t.

I still loved his form and I wanted to be with him, but I realized the form was just the doorway and I had to look through, I had to go beyond it. In a way, when he died that was the message, that we had to go beyond the form. Fortunately, I had that realization before he died, so the feeling of presence was the same.

In the West surrender implies giving up power. But surrendering to a guru or the Beloved doesn’t mean giving power to another human being—it’s letting go of the stuff that keeps you separate. Each time you surrender, it leads you further in, deeper into yourself. You surrender to that place in yourself that

 

takes you beyond form.

Ram Dass and Maharaj-ji. Photo by Rameshwar Das.

 

Renouncing the attachments and desires that are holding you back can be really difficult when you are trying to do it in an achievement-oriented, driven sort of way. On the other hand, giving things up is incredibly easy in the presence of love. They just dissolve. Those of you who have had a really powerful love relationship will recognize what it is like to care more about your beloved than yourself. Your favorite food is on the table, and your main

 

concern is that your lover should have enough of it. You are fulfilled when your lover eats.

That’s what you experience when you have a child. People say, “Aren’t you self-effacing, aren’t you sacrificing for your child?” But it isn’t sacrifice—it’s joy. Austerities done with a dry heart are heavy, but when they’re done with love you’re saying, “Let me give this up for my beloved. It will bring us closer!” When you really want to get close to your beloved, you can’t give things up fast enough. Love lubricates the whole process. You just get more joyful.

Falling in love is a desire to merge with, to be completely immersed in love for, and be loved by the beloved. You want to know your beloved more and more intimately. That yearning has motivated human beings to give up everything, to renounce all forms of gratification, even life itself. Throughout history, people have undergone the greatest sacrifices to consummate their love. To love God or the guru is to let go of everything that separates you from the Beloved. This is the essence of devotional surrender and renunciation.

When they’re misunderstood, the external acts that

 

characterize surrender and renunciation can be motivated by a desire to imitate, by guilt, feelings of unworthiness, self-righteousness, a desire    for security in structure, or masochism. But anyone who truly loves knows that to give up one’s own happiness for the beloved is none of those things. It is the purest, most opening and flowing total ecstasy. True, sometimes you have to prime the pump before your heart is open enough to love that deeply. You begin a process of purification based on how you think it could be. It’s like diving into deep water— first you have to walk to the end of the diving board. You undergo purifications to get into a position to fall in love with God. You become disciplined not out of guilt, shame, or moral responsibility, but out of an incredible yearning to be pure enough to be with God. The actual moment of diving in is the inevitable

culmination of your training and preparation.

There is no time off in this game, not because anybody’s keeping score, but because you can’t stand moving away from the light. The longing and despair of separation wake you up.

 

From Form to Formless Form

Maharaj-ji’s methods were completely flexible, open to the fluidity of the moment. You couldn’t point to something and say it was a teaching; it was just a momentary situation. It might touch your heart profoundly in that moment, or you might realize its import only years later.

“It is difficult to empty the mind,” Maharaj-ji said, “but it is not necessary to go to the forest. You can do it anywhere.

“Worldly people go outward, but you must go inward like a tortoise, withdrawing the senses within your shell.”

 

Was it a teaching? Or was it just life? Was it a miracle? Or had life itself taken on a miraculous tinge? Things happened so quickly on so many levels that it was breathtaking, and yet Maharaj-ji evinced a childlike simplicity that we all felt immersed in as well. From time to time he would say things like, “Is it? Isn’t it? What to do?” The form of the teachings just flowed out of that loving quality of

 

his being.

The transmission is just that flow of love. Maharaj- ji’s love touches love in me, and I become that love. The forms that express that love are part of the existential situation. But the transmission is not the form; it’s the love.

In this loving moment you begin to appreciate a new way of being. When you stop for a moment, when you dive into the presence of this moment, the drama goes on, but it’s all just love. You just climb into the moment. It might just be a second. Being in the moment moves you out of time. It’s the timeless moment. In the moment is eternity. In the moment is God. In this timeless moment is where Maharaj-ji’s boundless love connects with my love. Then we can begin to look beyond the forms, into the formless, timeless being from which they emanate.

In this loving awareness of each moment there is also surrender, surrender to the guru, to the moment, to your soul. As Meher Baba said, “Being is dying by loving.”

Then when you look at another being, you are looking at love. Sooner or later you are going to be in love with the whole universe. You’ll be sitting in a

 

place where it’s all just one love. You are love, you are with love. You are in the state of love with all beings.

We learn how to love the universe just the way it is. We learn how to see the universe as the beauty of God’s law made manifest. We learn how to take joy in the moment. We learn how to accept the responsibility that we are all one consciousness in many bodies. We are One Family.

 

Be love Now by Ram dass

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