339. Being Ram Dass: Remembering A Spiritual Master w/ Rameshwar Das

Rameshwar Das

DISCLAIMER: This podcast is presented for educational and exploratory purposes only. Published content is not intended to be used for diagnosing or treating any illness. Those responsible for this show disclaim responsibility for any possible adverse effects from the use of information presented by Luke or his guests. Please consult with your healthcare provider before using any products referenced. This podcast may contain paid endorsements for products or services.

Rameshwar Das reflects on his friendship with Ram Dass, and how he distilled his profound teachings in the memoir, “Being Ram Dass.”

Rameshwar Das is a writer, photographer, and co-author of several Ram Dass books including “Be Love Now,” Polishing the Mirror,” and the new book, “Being Ram Dass.”

DISCLAIMER: This podcast is presented for educational and exploratory purposes only. Published content is not intended to be used for diagnosing or treating any illness. Those responsible for this show disclaim responsibility for any possible adverse effects from the use of information presented by Luke or his guests. Please consult with your healthcare provider before using any products referenced. This podcast may contain paid endorsements for products or services.

Today's special episode is an incredible study of the life and death of Ram Dass with none other than Rameshwar Das, his long-time friend, confidant, and co-author of the memoir, “Being Ram Dass.”

Ram Dass's teachings have been hugely influential to my journey into spirituality and psychedelics. So I've been glued to Rameshwar's recount of Dass's wild scientific experiments, spiritual awakening with Maharaji, and divine acts of service. 

This is a truly enlightening conversation for those looking to expand consciousness and dive into the inner world of a seminal genius. 

10:28 — Writing “Being Ram Dass”

  • How Ram Dass’s stroke affected the process
  • Ram Dass’s backstory 
  • Ram Dass and Timothy Leary

26:23 —Meeting Maharaji

  • A life-changing trip to India 
  • The mystery around Maharaji’s teachings
  • How Maharaji manifested miracles 
  • Ram Dass’s last days in Hawaii 

41:56 — Experience with Psychedelics 

  • Did Ram Dass try 5-MeO-DMT?
  • Maharaji “on” an insane amount of LSD 
  • Why he stopped taking psychedelics 
  • Meditation and spiritual practices

56:40 — Examining Mortality and Higher-Consciousness 

  • Being with Ram Dass as he left his body
  • Why he didn’t fear death 
  • Creating a conscious death experience
  • Not becoming a victim after stroke
  • True acts of service
  • Considering Ram Dass as an enlightened being

More about this episode.

Watch it on YouTube.

[00:00:00] Luke Storey:  I'm Luke Storey. For the past 22 years, I've been relentlessly committed to my deepest passion, designing the ultimate lifestyle based on the most powerful principles of spirituality, health, psychology. The Life Stylist podcast is a show dedicated to sharing my discoveries and the experts behind them with you. Man, I'm really excited to talk to you today.

[00:00:27]Rameshwar Das:  Well, it's really a pleasure. I'm glad you got your destination so we could do that.

[00:00:33]Luke Storey:  Me too, man. Thank you so much. Yeah. I did record one podcast here since I moved, but this is my first Zoom remote one, so I'm glad it was with you. And for the people that are watching the video, I'm going to hold up this incredible book, Being Ram Dass, which you are a big part of creating. And I've been just like eating this book up. I took it to Mexico on a recent trip and it's taken me a while to get through it, so I'm kind of skipping around a little bit. But it's so juicy and I'm just so happy to have this conversation with you all, about your relationship with Ram Dass, and your experience with Maharaj Ji, and just the whole journey.

[00:01:13]Rameshwar Das:  Well, it's nice to have that book out in the world. I'm sorry. Ram Dass isn't around to enjoy the fanfare and such, but it's been a long-term project. And it's got a life of its own now.

[00:01:34]Luke Storey:  Yeah, it does. And think about all of the younger readers and the next generation of spiritual seekers that might have just become aware of his work or will in the future. And we have such a comprehensive account of his very interesting and unique life, which I think is such a gift, whether he's still around in his body to bask in that or not. For the rest of us that are left here that are such fans of his work, it's incredible.

[00:02:05] So, take me through a little bit of the process of writing the book. From what I understand, it took about 10 years of communication, and hanging out between you two, and you sort of extracting stories out of him to create this narrative and put it together. I'm just curious, from a writing perspective, what was that process like? It sounds a bit unconventional.

[00:02:28]Rameshwar Das:  Well, working with him, especially after the stroke, was pretty unconventional. He was a master storyteller before that. I remember talks where he would keep kind of threads of three stories going at the same time, and then they would all kind of knot up together at the end. And it was like, how did he do that? But after the stroke he had, well, the stroke was in '97 and he had complete aphasia for a while. And he couldn't talk at all. And this is someone who had led his life lecturing, and teaching, and on the road giving talks for decades.

[00:03:17] And suddenly, he's brought to a complete stop, almost a dead stop, because they didn't think he was going to survive the stroke. And then, he managed to keep going for another 20 odd years, which was extraordinary. I mean, it was. And he worked like hell to get what he could back of his speech and stuff, but he went really from being—oh, there's a great line from Wavy Gravy from The Hog Farm, and Seva said the Ram Dass went from being the master of the one-liner to the master of the ocean-liner, because he kind of slowed down. 

[00:04:00]Luke Storey:  Oh, man. That's funny. 

[00:04:01]Rameshwar Das:  So, the process of working together was a little bit like that. And I am not the fastest typist in the world, but I was able mostly to keep pace with him as he spoke. So, we would go back and forth, and I would write stuff down, and I'd read it back to him, and he would think about it, and see if that was the way he wanted to say it, and add more details. And we ended up with a pile of material, only about two-thirds of which is in the book.

[00:04:35]Luke Storey:  Oh, wow. 

[00:04:36]Rameshwar Das:  And there were a lot of details and stories, especially of his early life, which I didn't know. I mean, I met him when he first became Ram Dass, and I didn't know Richard Alpert, his earlier identity at all. 

[00:04:54]Luke Storey:  Yeah. Wow. That's such an interesting way to read a book, especially just considering the impediment to his speech from the stroke. It's like having listened to, I don't know, probably hundreds of hours of his lectures at this point. And then, subsequently, his appearances on Raghu MArkus's podcast, what is the podcast called, the Ram Dass podcast? It does have a name, it doesn't come to me. 

[00:05:22]Rameshwar Das:  Raghu does one called Mindrolling on the Be Here Now Network.

[00:05:26]Luke Storey:  Yeah. But then, Raghu has the Ram Dass podcast where he plays lectures and stuff, right? 

[00:05:31]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. 

[00:05:32]Luke Storey:  And then, he would periodically interview RD, I'll just call him for the sake of giving us breath, but he would interview him for many years post-stroke. And I think you'd have to be someone who is very interested in his work and perspective, and really understand who he was to kind of hang in there and have the patience to take in what he was trying to articulate.

[00:05:59]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. Sometimes, it took him a while. I think you described it best. He was doing the speech therapy after the stroke. He said, the words were like clothes in a closet, and I had to go looking around to see which one I could pull out or to try on.

[00:06:21]Luke Storey:  That's a really great analogy. So, I'm kind of curious, I guess this just is my lack of understanding about the after aftermath of a stroke, but was his cognition also impaired in any way or is it that he was still just as bright as ever, brain-wise, but just had a harder time actually articulating his thoughts and getting the ideas out just because of the speech, or was it a bit of both?

[00:06:49]Rameshwar Das:  No, it was really the latter. His mind was pretty clear. I mean, at times, he was having to take antibiotics for infections and things like that that kind of made him fuzzy. But really, his consciousness was curiously unaffected. And I think whatever that, what do they call it? Neuroplasticity. I think he found some new channels in there. And it also was that real demonstration that consciousness is not just in the brain, because he was very present. 

[00:07:36] But his way of being changed from somebody who was mobile, and on the move, and that constant interchange with people, he became much quieter and much more in his heart. And that evolution, which I think is really what happened at the end of his life, and we started running retreats out in Hawaii, where he was living, because he basically was stranded in Maui, because he got sick again after the stroke in 2004. And that, he got a UTI that got into his bloodstream and almost took him out again. So, after that, he didn't travel much.

[00:08:35]Luke Storey:  Yeah. I'd like to actually just back up for a minute. I started this conversation just assuming anyone and everyone, all the thousands of people that will actually hear this conversation already know who Ram Dass was, but perhaps you could give us just kind of an overview of his biography as a professor at Harvard until he was fired into the psychedelic research going to India. Give us like a little bit of a timeline, and to help, I think, create some significance for people that are as of yet unfamiliar with his body of work and his life.

[00:09:10]Rameshwar Das:  Well, he was a generation ahead of me. He was born in 1931. And his family were, by then, a pretty wealthy Jewish folks in Boston. His father was a lawyer, who was an assistant DA in Boston, and later, became a businessman and ran a railroad. And his wife came from a pretty wealthier family that had a carpet business. And his upbringing, I think, was not the easiest.

[00:09:53] There was a lot expected of him. He had two older brothers, so there was this whole sort of sibling configuration in the family constellation that was not always easy on him. And he chose psychology when he got to college, and I think largely because he was really having a struggle with his own identity. And that identity theme really carried through the rest of his life.

[00:10:28]Luke Storey:  Yeah, very much so.

[00:10:29]Rameshwar Das:  That search for who he was on the inside. And so, he's getting through college in the late '40s, early '50s, and psychology at that point was really still kind of a fledgling science, especially social psychology, which is what he went into. There was basically, otherwise, Freudian and behavioral psychology. And he chose social psychology, which is a new field. And he also got into clinical psychology when he got to Stanford, where he did his Ph.D. And a brief aside, he did his master's degree in psychology at Wesleyan in Connecticut, which is where I went to school, where I met him. 

[00:11:33] So, we'll circle back to that. So, he gets deeply into psychology and he really became quite skilled at it. His fields in psychology were child development and achievement motivation. So, he starts understanding about what drives a human being a lot. And he started doing clinical therapy also at the therapy student agency at Stanford. And then, he continued doing that at Harvard. So, he moves from Stanford to Harvard. And at Harvard, he met a new hire that had come into their department, a guy named Timothy Leary.

[00:12:24]Luke Storey:  What a fortuitous meeting. It's interesting, like the impact that the two of those knuckleheads had on our culture. It's incredible. I mean, there's no way to really quantify it. But what a meeting that was, yeah.

[00:12:38]Rameshwar Das:  No. And at the beginning, there were serious scientific researchers. And this was Harvard. This was pretty staid academia. But quickly, both of them were pushing limits in different ways. And eventually, they got fired from Harvard, but they continued their psychedelic researches at this place in Upstate New York called Millbrook, which was a estate owned by some friends who allowed them to use it for a base. 

[00:13:17] And then, along the way, I mean, things were sort of coming off the rails a little bit at Millbrook. Leary was getting persecuted, I think it's probably the best word for it, by the local law enforcement people. And the feds started getting on this case. And eventually, he went to jail and escaped. Ram Dass, for some odd reason, never ran afoul of the law, and he could have. He was doing some pretty out there things along the way.

[00:13:59]Luke Storey:  Yeah. Like taking groups of people to Mexico to take a bunch of acid.

[00:14:04]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. Well, that was all legal at that time.

[00:14:06]Luke Storey:  Right, because that was in the research phase. Yeah. I think it's funny to think for my generation and younger, it's hard for us to imagine that some of these things were not scheduled. Some of these substances at one point were just kind of under the radar, and then eventually got classified along with all of the hard drugs. Hopefully, we're seeing a reemergence.

[00:14:29]Rameshwar Das:  I think we are very strongly.

[00:14:31]Luke Storey:  Yeah. So, that's good news. But it's hard to imagine someone could have just flown with a big bottle of pure LSD on an airplane. Just some of the stories in the context of our time, you think like, wow, how did they get away with that? So, it is interesting that he never had any scrapes with the law from that perspective. Yeah. 

[00:14:49]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. It's almost as if he was on a trajectory that was not of his own making, because after Millbrook came apart, and he was living in New York, and he took up an offer from a friend to travel to India, and largely because they had gotten some hints through the writer, Aldous Huxley, actually, originally. And Huxley had brought them a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and it became a model for psychedelic journeys. And that was the paradigm they used for The Psychedelic Experience book, which is still circulating in some later printings. And so, there was some feeling that people in the East might know how these planes of consciousness work, that they were groping around with and didn't really know how to navigate, so that was the search.

[00:15:58]Luke Storey:  I want to interject one thing before I forget, and then we'll get on to the India journey. But one of the funniest things in the book to me was the story, and it wasn't a story, just a sentence that was talking about Aldous Huxley and his wife. His wife had been with him at his bedside the moment he died, and he had requested that she administer LSD to him as he was crossing over. 

[00:16:24] And just sort of an afterthought in the book, a sentence or so, and I thought, wow, that's heavy. That's heavy. That guy was hardcore. I mean, you think like, wow, okay, Aldous Huxley. Sure. Interesting character, to say the least. But that particular tidbit, there's so many little nuggets like that. I'm like, wait, did I read that right? And then, I read it again. I'm like, what a time, what a historical account. 

[00:16:46]Rameshwar Das:  Well, these people were all risk takers. And Ram Dass was definitely in that class. And he did some crazy stuff.

[00:16:55]Luke Storey:  Yeah, with his airplanes. 

[00:16:57]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. I mean, flying a two-seater airplane on acid is not really good practice.

[00:17:05]Luke Storey:  There's parallels with, maybe they even crossed paths or knew each other, but Hunter S. Thompson, right? I'm thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Some of the era's covered when it comes to the psychedelics and stuff. It's almost as if it was the Wild West and one could get away with a lot of things that today would seem insane, such as just flying around your own airplane, and crossing US borders with drugs, and all of these kind of things, and just that American cowboy sort of bravado of just kind of doing whatever you feel like doing. But it reminds me kind of the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and just that kind of reckless abandon, even though I know Ramdas and his crew were not so much about partying, but really exploring consciousness. But it really is an interesting time to just reflect on.

[00:18:00]Rameshwar Das:  Well, when he got out to California, he had known Ken Kesey, for instance, from Stanford. And those kind of joint enterprises that occurred out there, and he got very friendly with Grateful Dead, and there was a lot of interchange at that juncture, and some of it got out of hand, clearly. And Leary was, Nixon at one point called him the most dangerous man in America, which was pretty laughable. It was sort of the basis. That was the beginning of the war on drugs, which Reagan and Nancy perpetuated. 

[00:18:50]Luke Storey:  Before I derailed you, you were getting into RD's arrival in India. Take us back there. And this is where, in one way, the story really gets more interesting when he meets his guru. I mean, this is where real magic starts to happen. And the kind of the third iteration of Richard Alpert emerges out of that.

[00:19:11]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. I mean, I kind of think of his life as having three incarnations, act in one. Basically, the psychology lifetime, and the psychedelic explorations, and then the life with sort of guru, and after that. And there were those inflexions. I mean, the first time he took so psilocybin was such an opening for him and he felt like he was—I think his description was, home in my heart. And he felt the same thing with Maharaj Ji in a different respect. And that description, which we went back over a bunch of times, of his first meeting with Maharaj Ji, and this old man in a blanket who knows everything that is going on in his mind.

[00:20:13] And that completely changed his view. And there's an expression in, I don't know if it's Hindi or Sanskrit, but the word is darshana in India, which means, I think the literal translation is view, but it's really about point of view. And when you meet a saint or a higher being, you get that kind of look at things from where they're coming from. And that is like a reflection of your deepest being. And that was what occurred with Maharaj Ji, with the guru, with this apparently rather simple man, who's more like a deity, really. 

[00:21:08]Luke Storey:  I think out of the many things that's interesting about Maharaj Ji in terms of the other mystics, and sages, and gurus of India is, and I could be wrong and I just haven't discovered it, but there doesn't seem as if there was a body of work or teachings that he created or around him, whereas even like someone sort of obscure like Nisargadatta Maharaj, you have transcripts of his talks and things like that where there's a book you can read that explains the non-dualistic teaching, et cetera.

[00:21:44]Rameshwar Das:  And Ramana Maharshi, and Ramakrishna's gospel, and so on.

[00:21:49]Luke Storey:  Right. Yogananda. I mean, they've created organizations, or temples, or teachings, books, et cetera, or even videos in some cases of them teaching. And Maharaj Ji, it's like, I think for many of us, his teachings have been sort of relegated to RD's interpretation and expression of them of just us kind of trusting in his experience of that shakti or that sense of unconditional love and some of the powers or siddhis that he was able to demonstrate. But there's not like a lot to dig your teeth into. 

[00:22:30]Rameshwar Das:  You can't read about it. You can't join it. You can't get initiated into it.

[00:22:37]Luke Storey:  Yeah. And in the book, I think something that was really personally interesting to me are the stories about, in one of RD's trips to India, or I guess it was actually in the US, he got connected to Muktananda. And that was interesting to me, because when I was about eight years old, I was taken by my mom to Muktananda's ashram in Oakland.

[00:23:02]Rameshwar Das:  Oh, really?

[00:23:02]Luke Storey:  Yeah. And I had a really—which I think was a great karmic blessing to be a kid and just be in that energy field despite some Muktananda's kind of interesting things, which we can discuss. But when I hear his name ever, I always perk up like, oh, that was the first master that I probably was in the presence of.

[00:23:24]Rameshwar Das:  Curiously, I was traveling to India in 1970 for my first time going there. And I was with Krishna Das and Danny Goldman, who were friends from Ram Dass scene. And we met Muktananda, who was headed west, in London. And somebody had told us to go see him and that he would be there. And then, Ram Dass met him in New York subsequently. But I mean, for me, it was kind of a revelation also, because we were in a flat in London and there weren't that many people. There was maybe 20 or something. And people were bouncing around the room with shaktipat. And going into mudras and meditations. And he was very kind to us. He gave us mantra and initiation, and told us to go stay at his ashram when we got to India, which we did spend a week there when we landed.

[00:24:30]Luke Storey:  Oh, that's so interesting. 

[00:24:32]Rameshwar Das:  It's very lovely. But he was the first being of that kind of different quality. He was a real yogi. And it was very powerful meeting him. And he was a very powerful being, as you probably sensed when you were around him. There was a real field of energy around him. 

[00:24:59]Luke Storey:  I think that it did have a big impact on me. I mean, my account of it is spotty. There are sort of details I remember about the ashram and the experience, smells, and sights, and things like that. They were subtle, not something that was said. 

[00:25:14]Rameshwar Das:  Pretty exotic for an eight-year-old.

[00:25:16]Luke Storey:  Yeah, very much so. I mean, I loved it. I loved it. And ever since that, I've been really enamored with, I guess, Eastern mysticism and all things India in terms of the spirit, the lineage, and have just benefited so much from so many of the teachers. But my mom said that when she took me out to get my blessing during darshan that he said, he looked at me, he said, ah, you have a very old soul. And I remember, I really got off on that. I was like, yeah, mom, I'm no kid. I've got an old soul. And I reckon he was probably right, all these years later, with the bit.

[00:25:49] But it definitely had an impact on me. But I think something that's interesting in the book is how Ram Dass had already met Maharaj, then got connected to Muktananda, started working with him a bit, and then his perception of Muktananda was that he was partially interested in power, and would use his siddhis or these unique spiritual abilities in ways that were sometimes maybe even less than integris, and that he noted a contrast between the energy field of Maharaj Ji that was just completely outwardly giving and the expression of love, and required nothing in return. There was no agenda. He didn't want anything and that he sensed that Muktananda kind of wanted something. 

[00:26:37] And he was fine for position as top guru and having the thing with Sai Baba and this little competition between them. And I think that's so interesting that someone can be enlightened, I guess would be the way we would describe that, and have access to these energies, and be so high spiritually, yet still succumb to the humanness of feeding on that power. I've always found that interesting. I think if somebody can perform these siddhis, then they're closer to God, and they have a clear connection and access to those energies. And so, therefore they would just automatically be above some of those lower animalistic, ego-driven behaviors, right? I think I'm just spiritually gullible in that way.

[00:27:27]Rameshwar Das:  Well, Westerners, we have no exposure to that level of siddhis, powers, and stuff, but Indian, it's not commonplace, but people are used to those stories, and it's part of their tradition. But I always remember Ramakrishna saying that the siddhis come in the course of spiritual work on yourself, but if you get them, don't use them, because it only leads to trouble. And Maharaj Ji was like, some people thought of him as a miracle baba, who did miracles all the time. But he was, I don't do anything. And I think that was sincere. Stuff came through him, and happened, but he wasn't sitting around plotting about it. 

[00:28:37]Luke Storey:  And he wasn't manifesting the bodhi, and creating trinkets for people, and things like Sathya Sai Baba. 

[00:28:44]Rameshwar Das:  But the hallmark of Maharaj Ji for me was this kind of quality of synchronicity. Stuff would happen that was, if you thought about it, it was unaccountable in a natural situation, and things wouldn't happen that way unless there was something else operating, but you couldn't tell what. And the other thing that was really the hallmark of his being was just this incredible love. And I remember sitting with him, he was rarely quiet, but there was one time we were sitting with him, and we were sitting near the bathrooms in the back of the ashram. And he had built a lot of bathrooms, because he thought, there were a lot of people that started coming after he left his body, they needed them. A

[00:29:47] nd we're sitting out, and suddenly, he gets quiet and he's just like sitting there almost like a rock. And I was kind of meditating, and he rarely gave you space to meditate around him. He was always talking, and throwing fruit, and this, and that, but the space around him, and it was just this incredible feeling of love. And I was feeling more love than I'd ever felt in my life from my parents, or a lover, or anyone. And I opened my eyes and I realized everyone around there was feeling the same thing. And he was just radiating that. 

[00:30:38]Luke Storey:  Wow. I get the sense just from feeling into it that toward the end of Ram Dass's life, as his speech became more limited, that he was starting to radiate the same way.

[00:30:56]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah, that's what he was doing. Yeah. I think when he left his body—in Hawaii, every Monday was beach day. And he used to love to get into the ocean, and we had like a life vest, and they had this wheelchair with balloon wheels, and they'd get him down into the water, and he could float. And all of that, the gravitation of that paralyzed body was gone and he could just float into the ocean. And he just called it the ocean of love. And I think that was what it felt like when he died and went into that space.

[00:31:36]Luke Storey:  Yeah. Wow. I'd like to back up into a little bit of the—we're doing this in a very nonlinear way.

[00:31:45]Rameshwar Das:  Well, the book is kind of nonlinear, so that's fine.

[00:31:48]Luke Storey:  I guess it's just my style, but there are so many things that I have been curious about his journey, having, as I said, listened to so many of his talks, but there's still things that popped up in the book. I was like, what? I never heard that story. I mean, I guess you live that long, you're born in the 30s and you live that long, there's going to be a lot of stories. But he talks a lot about his first experimentation with psilocybin. I'm assuming some of that was synthetic.

[00:32:13] And then, also, he did mushrooms. And then, of course, went into a lot of LSD use. Much of it was terrifying sounding to me. I mean, just reading that book, I'm like, I could probably never do LSD for the rest of my life and be pretty happy about it. I used to go see the dead a lot and take acid in a very unconscious way. I mean, it's fun for a few hours, and then not so fun for the last four. But one thing that was interesting in the book was that he talked about in their early research, pre-NDA and all that, that they were working a lot with LSD. And then, he also mentions in passing using DMT.

[00:32:52] And I didn't really hear him expand on that. I've not heard him explore that particular substance much. And I might have just missed it. So, I'm curious if in the course of writing the book or just knowing him if he had anything more to say about that, because in my own experience and research, I've never done DMT, would have done quite a bit of ayahuasca, and also, 5-MeO-DMT, and benefitted tremendously from those experiences done very consciously. Did he have any experience with 5-MeO, the Bufo toad, or DMT, or ayahuasca? Do you happen to know?

[00:33:31]Rameshwar Das:  I don't know. He did mention the toad slime stuff once. And he said he took such a big hit that he really needed help getting back from it. 

[00:33:47]Luke Storey:  Okay. Yes. That would sound about right. Yeah. Okay.

[00:33:51]Rameshwar Das:  And the DMT, I don't think he did a lot of, but he definitely tried practically anything that came his way. And he describes taking out his little traveling pharmacy when he meets Maharaj Ji, and Maharaj Ji asks him about acid that Maharaj Ji said, you have medicine? And Ram Dass said, well, I've got some, this and that, but nothing that—well, he thought that Maharaj Ji had a headache and needed aspirin. Because Maharaj Ji said, for my head, Maharaj Ji, medicine for my head. And finally, Maharaj ji said, the yogi medicine. And Ram Dass thought of, okay, he must mean the LSD. And he takes out a little pharmacy, he's got a little STP, and this, and that, and for going up and coming down. 

[00:34:54]Luke Storey:  You're getting into, by the way, what is probably my favorite story of all about RD and Maharaj Ji. Would you continue with the LSD and Maharaj Ji's, story because this one is fascinating to me.

[00:35:07]Rameshwar Das:  Well, the first time, so Maharaj Ji, Ram Dass gives him four of Owsley's white lightning, 305 microgram LSD doses. Each of which is enough to put a grown person well over the moon. And Maharaj Ji apparently takes all of them. But Ram Dass is sitting a little bit off to the side, and he sits watching Maharaj Ji. He's worried about him. And nothing happens. And that was sort of the first blow to his premise that psychedelics were a spiritual path. And not that he ever denied that, because it had been the path of his opening. 

[00:36:16] And then, he went back to the States after learning yoga and doing this intense meditation. And he comes back to India about almost two years later, two-and-a-half years later, almost. And at some point, Maharaj Ji says—when he got to the states, he was thinking about Maharaj Ji, and that acid experience, and he wasn't sure that my might not have just palmed the acid, and thrown it over his shoulder. He had this doubt. He just couldn't get rid of it. He was sitting with it. 

[00:36:56]Luke Storey:  I mean, how could any human animal take that much acid and not show signs? 

[00:37:05]Rameshwar Das:  Nobody I know. 

[00:37:06]Luke Storey:  I mean, like 300 micrograms in and of itself for any normal person would be a lot, let alone a few of those.

[00:37:12]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. And Ram Dass had a high tolerance by that time. So, it was pretty strong and very pure acid. And it had been made specially for him by Owsley. So, the second trip, Maharaj Ji says, did you give me medicine last time? And Ram Dass said, yeah. And he said, did I take it? And Ram Dass said, I think so. And that is that moment of doubt. And Maharaj Ji says, got any more? And Ram Dass had five more pills, and one of them was tablet and one was broken, but Maharaj Ji took the other ones, and he said, can I take water with it? Ram Dass said, yeah.

[00:38:05] And he takes them one at a time, carefully puts them on his tongue and acts like he's really enjoying them. And then, he says, will it make me crazy? And he kind of goes under his blanket, puts his blanket over his head. And when he comes back up, he looks like his eyes are rolling and his tongue is hanging out, and he looks completely mad. And then, he stops and he's just completely pulling Ram Dass's leg. And completely, nothing happens again. And he's talking to people and Ram Dass is sitting there watching him like a hawk and worried that he's killed his guru, but nothing.

[00:39:01]Luke Storey:  Such an incredible story, because you unpack that and try to discern what could have transpired that would make that physiologically, biologically possible, right? 

[00:39:15]Rameshwar Das:  Doesn't compute.

[00:39:16]Luke Storey:  Yeah. And a theory on it, because I've pondered this before, because there's always the experience of integration, right? So, one might take a plant medicine journey, or ceremony, or a psychedelic, and have some incredible insights, and merge with all of consciousness and God, and experience unconditional love, and all these things that one could hope for. And then, you come back and you're you again, mostly, right? You know you've been somewhere and you know it exists, but you also know you've got to come back and empty the trash.

[00:39:49]Rameshwar Das:  That was always the problem with psychedelics.

[00:39:50]Luke Storey:  You sweep the floor, right? So, in that story with him seemingly being unaffected by a large dose of LSD twice, I figured that he must have been at such a high state of consciousness that that experience of what we might experience as being "high", to him, was just his standardized modus operandi at that high state of consciousness, as it seems to me that what some of these tools do, and maybe even more so with the illicit kind of street drugs, is they just sort of dampen the lower frequencies so that we are able to perceive what is already present, right?

[00:40:33]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. That's what Michael Pollan talks about in How to Change Your Mind book, and about how it suppresses the parts of the mind that keep you rational, I guess. But most of the people, the Westerners, who saw Maharaj Ji had gotten there through the psychedelics. I certainly did. That was my original expectation when I went to see Ram Dass, was that he knew about that. And so, at some point, we asked Maharaj Ji about it, and he said a number of things relevant to that. One being, he said that yogis in the Himalayas had known about such medicines, but the knowledge had been lost.

[00:41:33]Luke Storey:  Really? 

[00:41:35]Rameshwar Das:  And then, he said, it can take you into the room with Christ, but you can only stay for two hours. And he said it's better to be Christ than just to go visit. 

[00:41:54]Luke Storey:  Oh, wow.

[00:41:57]Rameshwar Das:  And then, Ram Dass, well, sometimes quoted that wonderful Alan Watts line of, when you get the message, hang up the phone.

[00:42:09]Luke Storey:  Oh, that's great. So, after receiving instruction like that, did you, and your crew, and Ram Dass, did you guys phase out of the experimentation with psychedelics quickly after you began going to India or was this something that went on for a period of time after that, and just became integrated into your spiritual pursuits?

[00:42:34]Rameshwar Das:  I can really only speak for myself. I know Ram Dass kept using psychedelics and smoking pot for some years. I think he finally completely stopped when he was living in Maui, because one of the doctors, a Chinese herbalist, an acupuncturist, said, look, I'm working on your brain here, and smoking pot is counteracting what I'm trying to do, so he stopped. And I think he got sort of clearer after that. For myself, I can only say that it sort of just fell away. I remember the last, a couple of acid trips that I took, which were, I think the last one was in India, actually.

[00:43:44] And I spent most of it coming down. It was getting kind of difficult and hard coming back in and less blissful. And I certainly have nothing against it. Obviously, the set and setting thing that Ram Dass and Leary really developed very thoroughly is so important to how you use things like that. If you're doing it for fun and you know you're liable if you're not in situations that are conducive, that setting part, or if your mindset is not very clear about what your intentions are, you can get into trouble.

[00:44:48]Luke Storey:  Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that warning. I give that disclaimer a lot whenever covering those topics, because I've, earlier in life, had many experiences that were quite negative, because they were just not well-planned. And also, my intention was to attempt to check out. But as you and anyone that's taken those type of substances knows, it really checks you in, right? So, whatever is present, you're going to see it. And if you don't want to look inside, that would be a, definitely, wrong direction to head. 

[00:45:20]Rameshwar Das:  Well, I will say for myself that meditation has gotten more interesting than drugs at this point.

[00:45:29]Luke Storey:  What does your meditation practice look like these days?

[00:45:34]Rameshwar Das:  I don't know what it looks like and I don't know what it is, actually. Well, we studied Vipassana meditation a lot in India. That's a really useful practice. I've been leading a little meditation circle, basically, literally just ringing the bell and sitting with people at the local yoga center where I live. And of course, in COVID, that went on to Zoom and I'm staying put. I'm not traveling at all, still. And so, I've been much more regular about it than I had been. And it's good. It's a practice. Really, it's not called practice for nothing.

[00:46:19]Luke Storey:  Yeah.

[00:46:21]Rameshwar Das:  So, one-

[00:46:22]Luke Storey:  Go ahead.

[00:46:23]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. No, it's alright. It's fine. I use mantra and breathing, breath meditation, and some semblance of Vipassana, and I don't know what all.

[00:46:36]Luke Storey:  Cool. Awesome.

[00:46:39]Rameshwar Das:  Whatever works. 

[00:46:39]Luke Storey:  Let's see. I think one thing that's really interesting in this journey is that you were really able to participate in the process of RD transitioning and dying. And I know he did so much work in—I mean, if anyone ever is dealing with death, the first thing I do is send them a bunch of podcasts or talks of him exploring that. I think in our society, it's something that we really don't know how to deal with, we're very afraid of.

[00:47:13] It's just kind of a push behind the curtain and we don't want to look at our mortality, I think, because maybe the Western mindset is more bent on the idea that we are mortal, whereas in countries such as India, where this idea of reincarnation is more prevalent. Death seems to be something that's much more out in the open. And I'm curious what your experience was being with someone as they died who had done so much work around exploring death as part of the human experience.

[00:47:49]Rameshwar Das:  Well, he had done a lot more exploration of that than I had. But first, in the course of working with him, once I was out working with him in Maui, and I'm out walking in the morning, and my phone rings, and I hear sirens in the background, my 14-year-old daughter had been run over on her bicycle. And I got back to the house, when we heard that she hadn't made it out of trauma surgery, I looked at Ram Dass, and I said, she didn't get to finish her life, and it's just wrecked.

[00:48:40] And he looked at me straight in the eye, and said, yes, she did. And just my new shift of perspective to understanding that this isn't incarnation, this is a birth. And we are beings in the flesh, incarnation in the meat. And then, something else happens, and it's a mystery. But the power of that at that moment just at least took me out of it being about me and my grief for a moment, and then I had to get back on a plane, and go home, and take care of, and be with her body, and my wife, and my son, and it's the worst thing that can happen to a parent.

[00:49:43]Luke Storey:  Wow. Unimaginable.

[00:49:47]Rameshwar Das:  And still with me. And then, being with him over the years, that was in 2013, and he died in 2019, so that was six years later, and that's the only time being with him that I've been with somebody as they actually left their body. And it was profound and it was, first, there was this grief at losing someone that I'd known for 50 years who had been my mentor and friend for that time. And then, there was this feeling of kind of joy that he was out of that body, which was getting so difficult. And in the sense that his presence was very strongly there. 

[00:51:00] So, he certainly had less fear of death than anybody else I've known. He had looked at it. He had been with many people when they passed. He really sat with a lot of people, especially during the AIDS crisis in the late '80s. And that had started with his mother's passing back in 1967, early '67. And the degree of denial that he saw around her death really propelled him into re-examining how the culture deals with death. And he had really worked on that and created ways for people to die more consciously and surrounded by a more spiritual environment.

[00:51:57]Luke Storey:  Yeah. Wow. What an interesting experience. I don't think I've ever been around even a deceased person's body before that I recall, maybe one brief open casket funeral a long, long time ago for someone that was just an acquaintance. I thought an interesting part of the story of you being present for his passing there in Hawaii was that his body was kept in the premises for, what, three days on ice?

[00:52:25]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. 

[00:52:26]Luke Storey:  Was that one of his dying requests, I would assume? 

[00:52:32]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. He was very thoughtful about what he wanted to happen at his death. And in fact, there is a guy who a Sufi teacher named Bodhi Be in Maui, who has a death's door and he is an undertaker. 

[00:52:53]Luke Storey:  Wow.

[00:52:54]Rameshwar Das:  They are trying to make death a much more continuous experience. And they were trying to get permission to have an open-air cremation, and finally, the Hawaiian Health Department wouldn't give them a permit to do that. So, Ram Dass was cremated at the local funeral home that had a crematory. 

[00:53:29]Luke Storey:  What logistically went into play in order to keep his body there for those three days? Did that require any-

[00:53:37]Rameshwar Das:  Dry ice.

[00:53:38]Luke Storey:  Oh, wow. You and his other friends just pulled that together and made that happen? I'm so curious how that would even be possible or what it would have been like. It's just incredible.

[00:53:53]Rameshwar Das:  It was okay. And people, if we kept him in his bedroom, his room upstairs, and he was lying out, and the guys that were taking care of him lovingly for years, some of them washed his body, and really prepared the body, and this guy, Bodhi, supervised the whole process. And then, after three days, he took the body and held it until we could get the cremation done in a refrigerator, I guess. And people were coming and meditating with his body for those three days. And it was very powerful, enchanting, and just sitting. And the presence in that room was powerful.

[00:54:57]Luke Storey:  Oh, I can imagine. What a unique experience. It's hard to put myself in that position thinking about a long time friend like that. It must have been really, really incredible for you. That's just such an interesting story.

[00:55:15]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. I don't feel like he's gone anywhere much.

[00:55:22]Luke Storey:  You still feel his presence?

[00:55:24]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. And particularly, the book publication was such that basically, I've spent the year after his death finishing the book. So, I have been kind of inhabiting his life in a secondhand way, but his presence has been very much with me. 

[00:55:49]Luke Storey:  Right. That's interesting. Yeah. Here, I'm interviewing you, right? And we're talking about-

[00:55:54]Rameshwar Das:  He left me holding the bag. 

[00:55:56]Luke Storey:  Yeah. Wow. Torch carrier. That's really cool.

[00:56:00]Rameshwar Das:  Well, I'm just part of the messenger service, I think. 

[00:56:06]Luke Storey:  If we could all be so lucky to have someone like you to carry on our legacy, honestly. There's one thing that I find really interesting about his journey and persona, is that nowhere along the line did I perceive that he adopted a spiritual ego, that he got full of himself or started taking himself too seriously. He seemed to be able to maintain humility. And I think that was just largely demonstrated to me by his continued sense of humor. I find people that are very ego-identified are very serious, and especially about themselves. 

[00:56:49]Rameshwar Das:  And he didn't take himself that seriously. That's true.

[00:56:52]Luke Storey:  And he was so authentic about his continued neuroses in certain ways. Like one of my favorite things is he would talk about how he still bit his fingernails. And I always think that I'm not spiritual, because I haven't been able to completely beat that habit yet, or I have a little relapse on nicotine for a while, and I'm like, oh, we haven't made any progress, Luke. And I go, wait, Ram Dass did it.

[00:57:16]Rameshwar Das:  I think that the neuroses, and habits, and things just became less relevant. None of that stuff goes away, really. You might-

[00:57:35]Luke Storey:  There he is. 

[00:57:35]Rameshwar Das:  Atmospherics passing, tweeting, a whole of them. Yeah, I think that quality of lightness allowed other people to enter into the story with him also. And that is kind of an aspect that came from, well, his sense of humor could be biting at times, too. Let's be real about that. He sometimes was not sarcastic, but sharp. And that was fun. And we laughed a lot in the process of working on the book, and often, just at the absurdity of our situations. And he was able to appreciate that in his own story a lot. 

[00:58:33]Luke Storey:  I think that really, in addition to his continued humility, was just the way that he seemed to be taking his physical limitations and going through that experience of the stroke. I mean, if anyone ever had an excuse to go into victimhood, martyrhood, et cetera, it would be in a situation like that. And I don't know if you knew him intimately, but publicly facing, I never got the sense that he was feeling too sorry for himself about that experience and was able to find unique gifts in having had that happen. And that's one of those even nonverbal teachings, is just observing someone like, huh, they still seem happy, right? And they're still able to carry themselves with some degree of lightness. And I think that's a really powerful demonstration of the teachings and really embodying them.

[00:59:29]Rameshwar Das:  He hung them around for more than 20 years after the stroke. And it was not an easy time. And his body was going downhill through a lot of that time, because the paralysis never really let up from the stroke. And he had a lot of pain and he never complained. I mean, if I kind of asked him about something specific, he would say, yeah, the neuropathy in my feet is keeping me awake. I can't sleep very much. But he managed to co-exist with that. And he talked about how he had come to love that stuff in himself also. And that, to me, is one of the great sort of parables of how to deal with your own stuff, my own stuff, is to try and love it even when it's nasty and painful.

[01:00:49]Luke Storey:  Yeah, absolutely.

[01:00:50]Rameshwar Das:  And that's not an easy one.

[01:00:52]Luke Storey:  Absolutely. Yeah.

[01:00:53]Rameshwar Das:  I haven't managed to pull it off myself. I remember having sciatica and it just hurt.

[01:00:59]Luke Storey:  Same here. I mean, same thing. I mean, nothing to the degree that he's experienced, but all of us have our persistent little aches and pains that we want to fix. The human body is fallible, right? Protoplasm, very vulnerable machine that we're walking around in. And it was really, really powerful to see him actually go through that and just continue on. And you get the sense with some being such as he that, I don't know, on one level, if they really wanted to leave, they could leave.

[01:01:33]Rameshwar Das:  I think I wouldn't have hung around as long as he did. I mean, he did it for other people. 

[01:01:38]Luke Storey:  And it's a real testament to his commitment to service, love, serve, remember. I think that's just one of the hallmarks of his work and life, also, is just how deeply committed he was, working with prisoners, working with the dying. I mean, he didn't just talk about it, he actually did it. And it's a pretty tough act to follow. I think about myself, and I go, whoa, I'm contributing, I have a podcast, but it's like, I'm not going to San Quentin and teach inmates how to meditate or some things that he did sitting in hospice with AIDS patients for years. And I mean, that's real—I guess to him it wasn't a sacrifice, but that level of service is completely different than just being a nice person, and being kind and compassionate on a day-to-day basis. I mean, he really did exemplify that principle in real life, which is just incredible.

[01:02:30]Rameshwar Das:  He paid some dues.

[01:02:32]Luke Storey:  Yeah. The last thing I want to ask you, and I don't know if this is an answerable question, but do you consider Ram Dass to have been an enlightened being, and would he have considered himself as such?

[01:02:47]Rameshwar Das:  Well, there's relatively enlightened compared to where I'm sitting, and yes, I consider him, too. He was definitely further along than I am in my development. Always, what he shared was helpful to anybody on a path. And he would address where you were in your own work. And I think that was one of the things he loved doing the most, actually, was sitting with people one-on-one and helping people along with their work. 

[01:03:34] But in the sense of a being who has completely finished their work, and people like Ramana Maharshi, or Shirid Sai Baba, or Ramakrishna, and Maharaj Ji, for me, and Nityananda, Muktananda's guru, those beings are that quality of being both completely beyond and completely present in this reality at the same time. There wasn't a lot of somebody hanging around wanting anything in any of those beings. And Ram Dass still had stuff going on, and he, as you know, was completely open about it, mostly. And there's probably more of it than some of his followers would like in this book.

[01:04:54]Luke Storey:  No, I love it. Yeah.

[01:04:57]Rameshwar Das:  I think that quality of imminent and transcendent at the same moment is such an interesting place to work with. 

[01:05:07]Luke Storey:  It is. And I think it's a it's a great level to strive to, also. I think a lot of spiritual seekers, including myself, especially in the beginning of the journey, thought that, to really do this thing for real, if you really are pursuing enlightenment at the highest level possible, that you have to become a renunciate, and just give up your earthly possessions, and aspirations, and desires, and really just go do that and be with God. And then, I think as some of us mature in that, you find that perhaps the goal might be closer to what you just described, where you have access to consciousness in that way and the love that is consciousness. But also, here in the household or a position doing podcast, and doing your thing here.

[01:05:55]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah, kids.

[01:05:56]Luke Storey:  Right. Yeah. 

[01:05:57]Rameshwar Das:  Paying income tax.

[01:05:59]Luke Storey:  Exactly. Because I think in the beginning when I was maybe a little less mature, I thought, well, if I don't have siddhis, I'm not enlightened, that I haven't done it right. And maybe some of those beings that you just described that have been so remarkable, and so unique, and impactful, perhaps the creator has set things up so that it's a balanced energy on the planet or universally, where there's only a few of them around at any given time, right? And it seems to keep evolution going on at what seems to be a snail's pace in terms of human consciousness.

[01:06:34] But if there were thousands of beings at that level, who knows, maybe the balance wouldn't be there. I have to arrive at the idea that either everything is perfect as it is or it's not, right? God is everything or God is nothing. And so, if I was meant to be an exalted mystic like that, well, I would be, but the fact that I'm still very human means that I'm on the right path and that perhaps there's no destination to become so enamored with.

[01:07:05]Rameshwar Das:  Well, I think what those beings—I remember being with Ananda Maya Ma a couple of times, and a wonderful woman, saint, whose name translates as bliss permeated mother. And she was kind of born that way. She came in as like a manifestation of the divine mother or something. And they married her off and her husband eventually became her disciple.

[01:07:40]Luke Storey:  Oh, wow. That's crazy. I love that.

[01:07:42]Rameshwar Das:  And she was incredible. It was like just this deep field of like thick peace around her. But I think those beings show us what's possible. And there's also the ways that our minds try and conceptualize what that's about, they also show us that it's not conceptual. 

[01:08:15]Luke Storey:  Right. It ain't figureoutable. 

[01:08:19]Rameshwar Das:  You can't achieve it. You can only kind of surrender into it in some way. I don't know.

[01:08:26]Luke Storey:  Yeah. Isn't that the crazy thing about spiritual pursuit, is that it's like other than setting the intention, I guess it really is a yin process, right? Those of us in the West are like, alright, let me read a book on enlightenment. I'm going to go out there and get her done.

[01:08:43]Rameshwar Das:  I'm going to meditate until I'm done.

[01:08:45]Luke Storey:  Yeah. It's an interesting goal to have, because it's one that is attained through surrender, as you said. And I think that the work that Ram Dass did and the way that you've carried on his legacy with this book is a really great example of that, of the ability to just allow yourself to be human, but also set your sights on the goal of at least moving upward in consciousness, right? 

[01:09:11]Rameshwar Das:  Well, thank you for saying that, but I really feel like his life is sort of a parable of using this stuff that comes to you as the material for your spiritual journey. And he really did that a lot. And that quality of love that he brought to it, I think, is perhaps the most powerful message that comes out of it. I know that he often quoted this Gandhi story about, Gandhi's on a train and he's just leaving this place that he's been visiting. This reporter calls out to him just as the train is getting ready to pull out, and he said, Gandhi Ji, give me a message for your people. And Gandhi scrawls on a piece of paper and handed out the window to him, and it says, my life is my message.

[01:10:15]Luke Storey:  Beautiful. Wow.

[01:10:17]Rameshwar Das:  Don't know. I'm in the great land of I don't know.

[01:10:21]Luke Storey:  That's amazing. That's a mic drop right there, my friend. That's great.

[01:10:26]Rameshwar Das:  That's good.

[01:10:27]Luke Storey:  That's a great way to wrap up a really fascinating and inspiring conversation. I'd like to ask you in closing. I mean, I guess a couple of them might be obvious, but feel free to get creative. I always ask my guests who three teachers or teachings in their life have been most influential that you might share with us.

[01:10:46]Rameshwar Das:  Well, Ram Dass about being in the moment. Maharaj Ji, I think about unconditional love. And Ramana Maharshi, for me, who I never knew, he was dead before I got to India or anything, that self-inquiry, of just following your sense of identity inward, I think has been very helpful kind of process. But there are so many beings who have given me hints, most of which I haven't followed.

[01:11:31]Luke Storey:  Well, you followed a lot of them. We made it here, man.

[01:11:34]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah, we're here.

[01:11:35]Luke Storey:  Thank you. 

[01:11:36]Rameshwar Das:  Where that is, who knows?

[01:11:38]Luke Storey:  Thank you for that take. And in closing, everyone can find the book. I'm going to hold it up for our video viewers again. It's a very substantial book, by the way. I love a nice hardcover book. And this is one I'm going to be sitting with for quite a while. And you can find the book Being Ram Dass wherever books are sold. Do you have any websites or anything you want to send people to other than that?

[01:11:58]Rameshwar Das:  Well, ramdass.org is the one that is kind of making his teachings available. A lot of his talks are—and you can get the book through the storefront there. Otherwise, use your local indie bookstore.

[01:12:14]Luke Storey:  Alright. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. It's really great to get to know you. And thank you.

[01:12:19]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah. Likewise, Luke.

[01:12:20]Luke Storey:  Yeah. Thanks again for this contribution, man. I was so excited to see this come out, and then to get to have a conversation with you. It's been really fun. So, thank you very much.

[01:12:29]Rameshwar Das:  I hope Austin treats you well.

[01:12:31]Luke Storey:  So far, so good, my friend. 70 degrees and sunny today after a bit of an early winter for a guy who was—yeah, feeling very at home, very grounded here. I just moved to a town outside of Austin of 15,000 people after thirty two years in LA with four million people. So, it's much appreciated space, let's put it that way. So, thank you so much for joining me today on The Life Stylist podcast.

[01:12:59]Rameshwar Das:  Yeah, I really enjoyed it.

[01:13:13]Luke Storey:  Likewise.



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