In 1967, I met my guru, Neem Karoli Baba. (I refer to him as Maharajji, a common name of honor given to an elder or spiritual being in India.) Within an hour of our first meeting, he had taken me beyond my mind and opened my heart. It was clear that I had found the guide I was looking for.
The truth was that I didn’t really like any of the people around me, for one righteous reason or another.
There was a period of several weeks in 1972 when Maharajji would summon me many times a day. Each time I would hasten to him, sit down in front of him, and wait. Then he would either say, “Ram Dass, always tell the truth,” or “Ram Dass, love everyone!” I’d usually answer something lame, such as, “I’ll try,” and then he would send me away. Day after day this went on, and I was getting more and more agitated because, the truth was, I didn’t love everybody. Which should I do? Make believe I love everyone or tell the truth? I acknowledged that in the past I was more likely to make believe that I loved everybody than I was to tell the truth. So, for a change, why not tell the truth? For the next week I lived out the truth. And the truth was that I didn’t really like any of the people around me, for one righteous reason or another.
At that time, as an experiment, I was not carrying money. So when I went on the bus, one of my friends would serve as my “bagman” and pay for me. But once I was mad at everybody, there went my bagman. When everybody else got on the bus to go the eight miles to the temple to be with Maharajji, I walked. It took hours to get there by a mountain path. When I finally arrived, everyone was eating lunch, and they obviously had had much time with Maharajji. This made me all the more angry. When one of the people, whom I particularly despised, offered me a plate of food, I threw the food in his face.
The next thing I heard was Maharajji calling, “Ram Dass!” I realized that he had seen my act, and I went to him feeling really miserable. When I was settled before him, he asked, “Something troubling you?” It was all I needed. I broke into sobs. Maharajji patted me on the head and pulled my beard, and he was crying too. He sent for milk and fed it to me. When I was finally able to speak, I blurted out, “I hate all those people,” pointing at the Westerners across the yard, “and I hate myself, too.”
“I thought I told you to love everyone.”
“You told me to tell the truth. The truth is, I don’t love everyone.”
Then Maharajji drew close, nose-to-nose, looked very coolly at me, and said, “Love everyone and tell the truth.”
At that moment I saw before me a coffin in which lay the person I thought I was. I heard Maharajji as if he was telling me exactly who I would be when I finished being who I thought I was. Whether he was goading me, giving me a boon, or creating a new reality, whatever he was doing, it worked. Now, nearly twenty years later, I hardly recognize myself, because my truth is coming to be that I love everyone. Well, not quite everyone. But I am working on it.
I heard Maharajji as if he was telling me exactly who I would be when I finished being who I thought I was.
There was a time when my aggravation with the system focused on Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense. I’m sure he was no worse than many others, but there was something about his cold arrogance and apparent lack of wisdom that infuriated me. So I got a picture of Caspar and placed it on my puja (prayer) table with all my spiritual heroes. Then, each morning when I lit my incense and honored the beings represented on the puja table, I’d feel waves of love and appreciation toward my guru, Buddha, Christ, Anandamayi Ma, Ramana Maharshi, and Hanuman. I’d wish them each good morning with such tenderness. Then I’d come to Caspar’s picture, and I’d feel my heart constrict, and I’d hear the coldness in my voice as I said, “Good morning, Caspar.” Each morning I’d see what a long way I still had to go.
But wasn’t Caspar just another face of God? Couldn’t I oppose his actions and still keep my heart open to him? Wouldn’t it be harder for him to become free from the role he was obviously trapped in if I, with my mind, just kept reinforcing the traps by identifying him with his acts? I could see my guru rushing about in the wardrobe room at Central Casting, putting on one mask after another, shouting at me, “Bet you can’t find me behind this one! Bet this one will really fool you!” Not the Caspar mask, Maharajji, no! Oh, no!
The Indian poet Kabir said, and Maharajji often repeated, “Do what you do to another person, but never put them out of your heart.” It’s a tall order. But what else is there to do? Sometimes there is really nothing to do. We can only work on ourselves to keep another person in our heart: to be there, open, waiting, loving, spacious, nonjudging, appreciating,…and listening….
Now, I am freed by being in love with people. There is no possessiveness in it. It isn’t really romantic. It’s as though we are sharing one space, we have merged in love. It’s the space that more and more I share with Maharajji, as the years go by. Even to be away from it in forgetfulness for a moment is very painful.
When I am searching for the ways to stay in love, I hear Maharajji saying, “Feed people, serve people, love everybody, tell the truth.” So I serve more…and I find myself more in love. What is wonderful is that the love lies not outside as a reward, like a gold star for being a good helper, but within the act itself. For when you offer yourself in service, it opens your own heart so that you may once again taste the sweetness of your own heart’s innate compassion.
When I am searching for the ways to stay in love, I hear Maharajji saying, “Feed people, serve people, love everybody, tell the truth.”
Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet, said, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty (dharma). I acted, and behold, duty was joy!” And Gandhi said, “When you surrender completely to God, as the only Truth worth having, you find yourself in the service of all that exists. It becomes your joy and recreation. You never tire of serving others.”
We are all part of a huge family. Within the family our acts of caring, insignificant as they may seem, are nevertheless an integral part of a vast network of compassionate acts that are occurring throughout the universe at each moment. Just as billions of tiny acts of ignorance, greed, violence, and exploitation have created most of the suffering and breakdown that now exist, so the billions of tiny actions of compassion—which include wisdom and skillful means and joy—preserve and heal the situation.