Being There Now with Be Here Now

I ran across Eckhardt Tolle’s bestseller, The Power of Now the other day. It’s an interesting book and highly recommended, but that’s not what this post is about. As soon as I saw the title, I went on a trip back in time, to when Ram Dass’s Be Here Now was the Now book of the moment. That’s what this post is about.

I met Ram Dass back in about 1969 or 70, after his guru, Neem Karoli Baba told me to go see him in Nainital, a beautiful city in the foothills of the Himalayas. I didn’t hesitate to go, but it wasn’t for the obvious reason – that Ram Dass was famous. In his incarnation as Richard Alpert, he was famous as the infamous (in conservative circles) Harvard professor who, along with Timothy Leary, helped popularize LSD. When he  traveled to India seeking enlightenment, he was introduced to Neem Karoli Baba and subsequently became Ram Dass. It’s a long story and one he tells best himself. If you want to read his story, check out his website.

The reason I did as directed was simply because Neem Karoli Baba told me to. I had only gone to see Maharaji out of curiosity, because he happened to be in Vrindaban at the same time I was, but after just one brief visit, I was already under his spell, if that’s the way to put it. There was just something about him. He shattered my preconceptions about what a guru should be like, but remained compelling to me in spite of my firmly held yoga purist’s convictions and prejudices.

I went to see Ram Dass as told and found him to be a really nice guy – warm and friendly and unpretentious. I also met some other devotees of Neem Karoli Baba. They came in all sorts of personality packages, but I found them refreshing. At the time, the world of Western Hinduism as I knew it was the world of yogic discipline. My summer job at the time was teaching hatha yoga and meditation at a retreat in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Maharaji’s followers didn’t seem “spiritual” at all. They just liked to hang out with Maharaji. No, they lived to hang out with him. I could relate to that, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why.

This will be a very long blog post if I don’t get to the point. The original title of this post going to be, “A Journey into Darkness.” It was going to be about how I let myself be driven by fear for a good portion of last week and the terrible realization that this and other negative emotions – everything from despair to greed, anger and pride – seem to be the driving force behind so many people’s entire lives. I’ve been aware of this intellectually for years, but the other day it hit me like a sledgehammer.

There were remnants of fear in my consciousness this morning when I sat down to work. I was going to bang out a quick blog post and then get back to work. Because I had been reminded of Be Here Now, I thought I’d google Ram Dass and see what he was up to. Then I randomly clicked this link and my eyes fell on these words from Neem Karoli Baba:

“The real contentment comes only when there is no desire, no hankering in your mind for anything. How can you say that you have got everything and do not want anything more when you are holding an empty vessel in your hand? You might be saying this with your mouth, but there would always be the worry in your mind about how the pot could be filled, always looking from side to side with the expectation that somebody will come and fill it up. Well, how can you call this contentment? When one sees that when the pot before him is full to the brim, it is emptied, and when it is empty, it is refilled of its own – that is contentment. If anyone wanted to give him anything, he would show that the pot was full already. What would he do with anything more? Even if he wanted to share it with others, where would he put it? This is the real contentment and it comes only through the grace of God. When you have full faith in Him, full reliance on Him, when you can surrender everything to Him, then that grace comes to you by itself – you do not have to ask for it or make any effort. Such is the value of faith in God.”

Neem Karoli BabaNeem Karoli Baba doesn’t look much like your stereotypical guru. He didn’t act like one, either. The only words of spiritual advice he ever gave me were, “love everybody and eat jalabis” and, when I asked him if he was my guru, he gave me an emphatic “No!” Jalabis are delicious Indian sweets, by the way, not a mysterious psychedelic drug. Make of his words what you will, they have been with me ever since that day.

I want to go on writing forever about the year I spent in India. To say it was magical would be an understatement. It’s time to close now, though. Thanks for visiting.

notes: I originally posted this about 2 years ago. I’m the guy with his hand on his hip at the top of the photo. It should be obvious who NKB is.

Welcome to a Cookbook of Consciousness

What is consciousness? According to the ancient Hindu Upanishads, ‘human consciousness began as a wave on the ocean of consciousness. Then it forgot that it was part of the ocean.’ William James, often called the father of modern psychology, put it a little differently: ‘there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness,’ he said, ‘against which our individuality builds but accidental fences and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother sea or reservoir.’

If a great religious text and a great psychologist approach consciousness from different perspectives and arrive at the same conclusion, their ideas should be worth exploring, as should the thoughts of other great consciousness surfers.

What was that first wave the Upanishads refers to? It was a thought. It said to itself, ‘I think, therefore I am’ or something like that and got so lost in its illusion of autonomy that it crystalized into an individual surfer. He looked around himself and instead of feeling the joy and freedom of surfing on the great Ocean of Cosmic Consciousness, all he could see were multitudes of other surfers fighting for their own little waves.

Every now and then in a quiet moment between waves a surfer remembers that first thought: ‘I think, therefore I am’ (or whatever it was). And then he asks himself something like this: ‘But who am I, anyway?’ For a fleeting instant he remembers that he is made up of the same stuff as the sea; that at his core he is one with the Ocean of Consciousness. The revelation passes but the memory remains and from that moment on nothing is the same. He loses interest in fighting for waves and begins to look for ways to help himself and his brother and sister surfers remember where they came from and who they really are. He goes from being a competitive surfer to a Soul Surfer.

A Cookbook of Consciousness is actually two websites in one. The Cookbook is a random collection of blogs, musings, links to interesting sites and videos and whatever else the Chef feels like throwing into the pot. Sea of Joy is a Soul Surfer’s guide to consciouness exploration. We begin our search with the brain because the brain is where most of us believe consciousness resides, though no one has actually found it there. Some very skilled surfers have, however, found where in the brain some fascinating states of consciousness reside and these are worth exploring themselves. But as we look more closely at the brain, we’ll discover what William Blake was talking about when he wrote, ‘to see a universe in a grain of sand and infinity in an hour.’ And then our search will be over. Or maybe it will have just begun.

We hope you enjoy A Cookbook of Consciousness and Sea of Joy.