Stories & practices that empower real change

Ram Dass Part 2 – Karma Yoga: The Path of Action [Transcript]

 in dialogue with Walter Link

 

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:00:11]      Social action is heart to heart to heart to heart. It’s not by numbers like nation states and things like that. It’s Maharaji’s heart, my heart, then my heart to peoples’ hearts…. That’s the transmission. The transmission is love. It’s like unconditional love. It’s unconditional love. It’s awareness.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:01:14]      Welcome to GlobalLeadership.TV. My name is Walter Link. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of how we move from our many challenges into our full potential as individuals, organizations, and whole societies. In this television series, I inquire with some of the most innovative leaders from around the world about how they manage to move from inspiration to real change. Please join us in this exploration because we all make a difference and we all can get better at it. Therefore, on our website, we not only show other dialogues and publications, but also the kind of practices that these leaders and their organizations use to move from inspiration to real change.

 

Introduction to Ram Dass

 

[00:02:10]      For parts I and II of my interview with Ram Dass, one of America’s most beloved and influential spiritual teachers, I traveled to his home on the Hawaiian island of Maui. After teaching psychology at Harvard University, Ram Dass changed America’s spiritual evolution by inspiring millions forced to experiment with consciousness altering substances and later to open Eastern wisdom.

 

His 1971 bestseller, Be Here Now, became a bible for many who looked for life changing alternatives to traditional religion and secular materialism. Be Here Now and most of his 14 other books, his countless speeches and workshops are inspired by Maharaji, one of India’s most respected gurus. Maharaji’s followers see in him an incarnation of the Hindu god Hanuman, who represents Karma Yoga, which can be translated as service as a path to personal transformation.

 

It can be hard for Westerner’s to understand the profundity and intimacy of the relationship between guru and his followers; but, meeting Ram Dass cured me of misjudging this relationship as disempowering because it became so obvious that his brilliance and his transformational power were grounded in Maharaji’s inspiration. It also shines through many other of America’s most important spiritual teachers, as well as innovation leaders, such as Apple founder, Steve Jobs.

 

In our dialogue, which started almost 30 years ago, Ram Dass and I explore how we can use action in the world to wake up spiritually and how the resulting personal transformation can inspire and empower our action to serve humanity. When Ram Dass and I became friends he was one of the most eloquent and nuanced public speakers I knew. Then, in 1997 he was, as he calls it, stroked by God.

 

The stroke now limits his speech, but not the depths of his being, nor that of Maharaji’s transmission that we receive in his presence. When we listen with our hearts, not only into his words, but the silence that unites them, we may find ourselves touched and inspired as millions have before us. Please join Ram Dass and I, as we explore together Karma Yoga, the timeless path of action.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:05:09]      I’d like to talk to you about Hanuman because Hanuman is a symbol of Karma Yoga, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga together, and he’s in the world. He’s strong. He’s extremely strong and does things nobody can do, but he does it. He loves Ram, and he does it for Ram.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:06:25]      Right, and Ram is an incarnation of God who, in the story, interestingly, loses consciousness of the fact that he is God.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:06:37]      Yeah. Yeah. Ram says to Hanuman, “Who are you, monkey?” and Hanuman says, “When I don’t know who I am, I serve you and, when I know who I am, I am you.”

 

Walter Link

 

[00:07:03]      That’s my favorite line. That’s actually one of the questions that I have. Exactly that, so it’s wonderful that you bring it up.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:07:12]      Because that relationship of Hanuman to Ram is realized in day-by-day – you are Ram, you are Ram, you are Ram, you are Ram. You are serving Ram. In my life, Maharaj-ji is intermediary so I can talk to Maharaj-ji. Maharaj-ji…if somebody comes up to me and has no idea that they are a spiritual soul, a spiritual being, and I see them as that, and I have Maharaj-ji over my shoulder, in India they say, “Don’t look for a guru. The guru looks for you,” and Maharaj-ji says to me, “That one is interesting,” and I do his work because I love him. That person is grist for the mill of this relationship, but not really because I have to mirror his soul or her soul until they see their own souls.

 

[00:10:11]      The transaction between us and transaction amount that is all very…but is like Hanuman, I only do what Ram wants me to do. That’s me, but your clients can love everybody and mirror everybody’s soul. Everybody in their purview will be spiritually upgraded by knowing them.

 

Integrating Spirituality & Action

 

Walter Link

 

[00:11:09]      Yeah, and I think they do something else that’s really important, which is to manifest, to struggle and try and fail and try again, to manifest the potential of reality in this very challenging world. There is a deep movement in the people I work with, and in myself, to not go away from the imperfection of the world, but to find ways of how the deep qualities of reality can actually manifest concretely so that, for example, we can develop an economy that is socially and environmentally sustainable and where we overcome the many paradoxes that, at the moment, seem so real.

 

I think, in the depths of reality, these paradoxes are all integrated. We need to learn, and I think that’s part of evolution, really, to manifest this integration – this oneness, this harmonious interaction – into our day-to-day world. That’s what these people are deeply drawn to do and that’s what I support them with. That is also our path of development because this deep love of creating a different world forces us to work on ourselves, on our relationships, on larger systems in the world.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:13:15]      But, that doesn’t mean spiritual.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:13:22]      Yes, absolutely.

 

Ram Dass

[00:13:23]      No, it doesn’t.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:13:24]      It does because it is the manifestation of the depths of spirituality in form, and that’s what Hanuman stand for, right – for an action that is fully in tune with the depths of reality?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:13:49]      Take that Prime Minister, she’s working to…her goals are successfully do her job.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:14:16]      I would say that’s a tool. Her goal is to what? She is Christian, so her goal is to, as deeply as possible, know Christ and to be his instrument. That’s her real goal. It’s true. She wanted to become a nun, and she wanted to dedicate herself to a path of contemplation and prayer as a nun. She ended up as first corporate leader and then the leader of the Workers’ Party in her area, her province, and now is the Prime Minister.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:15:08]      Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t buy it.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:15:12]      Well, it’s like every human being. There is a limitation to the fullness of her living that, but that’s true for you and me and anybody. We are dedicating ourselves to do that. We are practicing to being sufficiently surrendered to be that, but her path is a path through the world.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:15:49]      Through the world…

 

Walter Link

 

[00:15:52]      Isn’t that was Karma Yoga stands for – using your interaction with the world to purify?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:15:58]      Yeah, it is. It is. It is…using your interactions with the world to purify. Using your interactions with the world to purify…yeah, that’s right.

 

Be Like Gandhi

 

Walter Link

 

[00:17:34]      You told me once that, when you met Maharaji, he told you in a way as a path, be like Gandhi. He was a deep spiritual practitioner and a very impactful political leader. How do you understand the integration of the inner work and the work in the world in him?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:18:08]      He did the outer work with the Gita on his…

 

Walter Link

 

[00:18:31]      The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most holy texts in Hinduism and the kind of the instruction manual for Karma Yoga.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:18:40]      Yeah. Yeah. That’s what he did. He never forgot that he was on the spiritual path, but he did all that world changing within that context. I think that’s it. He had a context, a spiritual context.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:19:23]      It’s very interesting to me that the world leaders that are most respected, even by secular Westerners, tend to be people who had such a deep inner path – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, even people like Mandela, who were not maybe as explicit in talking about spirituality, of course – had this deep integration. I’m thinking of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, Marina Silva in Brazil, so it’s interesting to me that, even in a world that is not oriented consciously to God, we are impacted so deeply by these leaders who integrate working in the world with this deep desire to know reality.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:20:35]      That’s exactly right, exactly right.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:20:41]      Well, it’s a process, as we know. You can start out quite identified and, with time, the mill grinds the grist and there’s a little bit less identification. But, somehow I think the power of Hanuman or life is such that it makes us useful even though we have these many limitations. Hanuman doesn’t need perfect instruments.

 

I’m Afraid I’ll Lose My Way

 

Walter Link

 

[00:22:08]      In the beginning of the ‘90s, you and I were both on the Board of the Social Venture Network, which was attempting to reinvent business to integrate more social and environmental responsibility. And you and I both also tried to introduce more deeper, meaningful inner work into that community.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:22:35]      We did.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:22:36]      While some people were quite open to that, overall, we didn’t succeed, and I’ve wondered then and now about what got in the way. My feeling was that one of the things that got in the way was that we were introducing inner work in a very traditional way of eastern practices – offering mindfulness meditation, offering spiritual teaching from the traditions – and that for some people that was a way in and for others they just didn’t feel the personal relevance and certainly not the relevance for their organization.

 

That’s quite different from what I’m experiencing now where I look at introducing the work very much trying to respect the integrity of the essence, but offering it in ways that make more sense to people. I present it in a language and a form that picks them up where they are and where, of course, the challenge is to be very respectful of the integrity of the essence. I wondered what your understanding about that past experience and other ways of doing it?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:24:22]      That, the social justice – they participated in SVN. As you say, their businesses wanted to have environmental and a lot of things –

 

Walter Link

 

[00:25:02]      Social responsibility.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:25:03]      Social responsibility. We want social responsibility. I didn’t see our efforts as social responsibility. You do see it.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:25:29]      No, I just see it, you know, we wanted, of course, much more than social responsibility.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:25:36]     Yes, I know it.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:25:37]     Social responsibility would be an outcome of spiritual responsiveness. I think some people were really not ready, but I think also we were not so skillful in finding the right way to present it. I think there is this fundamental divide between the inner work community and the action community, and it’s a split in our society. It’s important to at least listen to each other with respect and interest, and I think also we can learn a lot from each other.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:26:35]      And I’m reticent to learn from them, but those others…those others I would get sucked in by their values because my trip is delicate, it’s so delicate in the world. I’m afraid I’ll lose my way – that’s what it is, I don’t want to lose my way – because their motivations are out front in the world. It’s a tricky thing.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:27:58]      Yes. I appreciate that you bring it up because it is so complex and so subtle, and it is easy to lose that subtlety with some sound bytes where everything seems to fit together more smoothly. As you’re speaking, I’m reminded of I did a lot of work with Thich Nhat Hahn, and he was also a very subtle teacher, a very deep meditation teacher and beautiful soul. He said also, if it isn’t engaged, it’s not Buddhism, so engaged Buddhism is kind of the Karma Yoga of Buddhism.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:28:55]      Yeah. That’s the sound byte.

 

What is Karma Yoga?

 

Walter Link

 

[00:29:41]      We’ve been talking about Karma Yoga, and I wonder, in your own experience, what is the essence of Karma Yoga?

 

Ram Dass

[00:29:52]      Taking what comes in front of you and using it as a steppingstone to God. Karma Yoga is yoga. Yoga means going somewhere in a spiritual thing. This is an interview for both of us. This is a path to God.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:30:30]      You mean doing the interview is part of this path?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:30:32]      Yes, yes.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:30:36]      What does that concretely mean in this moment for you?

Ram Dass

 

[00:30:41]      That’s a good question. It’s not anything about the content…the witness, I guess, and checking in with Maharaji in this interaction.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:31:16]      As you check in at this moment with Maharaji, what’s the experience of that checking in?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:31:28]      I’m not off course. I’m on course, spiritually.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:31:41]      So it’s like a compass?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:31:43]      Yeah.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:31:49]      Part of your practice, I understand, is to stay in this place of keep checking in and keep listening to that compass, from moment-to-moment, trying to be precise in the perception and then acting on that.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:32:11]      And acting on that…well, I’ll witness my feelings, my thoughts. I feel that I’m going too far. I’m too involved. I’m wanting to stay back, stay back. I want the love to be available. At this moment, those flowers, that light, the two of you, and the wasp, I’m seeing God manifesting. It’s really the spiritual component that keeps active. I’m spiritual. I’m a soul going to God. That’s what I have to do.

 

 

Mouthpieces for Maharaji’s Teachings

 

 

Walter Link

 

[00:35:18]      I’m present to various phenomenon – I see you, I see all the forms around. I also remember that I have a certain role – I’m asking you questions and engaging you – but predominantly I feel very spacious, very empty, and I feel love and a particular kind of connection like you became a hook for me. Maharaji hooked me.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:36:21]      I know, I’m the lure. I’m the lure.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:36:31]      Once the luring had completed itself, our relationship changed.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:36:40]     Yeah.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:36:42]      I remember teaching with you in Germany. I’m German, so I can translate, but it’s not what I normally do, but you asked me to translate for you, so we were teaching this 10-day retreat and, every time I’d try to translate, I totally lost it. When I just spoke what I felt needed to be said in that moment, simultaneously while you were speaking, it just flew effortlessly.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:37:27]      That’s beautiful. It didn’t use the filter of the mind and words, yeah. When we were at one, you could say it or I could say it.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:37:50]      We were just mouthpieces for Maharaji’s teaching, for Hanuman’s teaching.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:37:59]      He’s somewhere…my life, my incarnation is pushing me to God. Karma Yoga is involvement with that I’m part of this and witnessing both things. That’s what you would say.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:38:52]      Many years ago I read a teaching in the Bhagavad Gita, and it’s been with me ever since, this apparently contradictory invitation to be fully engaged and committed, but not attached to the outcome. That is hard to hear for Western action ears.

 

Fierce Grace

Ram Dass

 

[00:39:28]      Once I asked Maharaji: Is Karma and grace the same thing? We’re all sitting here. It’s not karma. It’s grace. It’s grace. When I see grace, I acknowledge it. That’s part of Karma Yoga.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:40:08]      Part of the practice is the acknowledgement?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:40:11]      Yeah.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:40:12]      You also called your stroke “fierce grace,” which speaks to this wildness that I’m mentioning. Say something more about your understanding of this fierceness because often people don’t put it together with grace.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:40:37]      Ramesh, my partner, his daughter died, and Ramesh and I said, “I thought Maharaji was taking care of us all.” Maharaji is taking care of us all, but in his way. She had other work to do. She came down and gave darshan. Her death affected everybody that knew her and increased love and the marriage between Ramesh and his wife cemented because of that.

 

Maharaji isn’t afraid of messing up a scene for love or something like that. The minute you get on the spiritual path, you see that – well, you can see it in nature. Nature is very fierce and calm and all sorts of things.

 

The Power of Transmission

 

Walter Link

 

[00:44:01]      I want to ask you a question about a topic that I think is also very important, but difficult to understand for Westerners, and that’s the fact of transmission and the importance of transmission on our path. The relationship between Hanuman, Maharaji, you, me, others is very imbued with transmission. How do we understand that from a Western perspective?

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:44:46]      Social action is heart to heart to heart to heart. It’s not by numbers like nation states and things like that. It’s Maharaji’s heart, my heart, then my heart to peoples’ hearts…. That’s the transmission. The transmission is love. It’s like unconditional love. It’s unconditional love. It’s awareness. It’s soul to soul to soul to soul to soul. Maharaji gives no teachings. He is a teaching. I’m aspiring to be Maharaji, to just be – to just be.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:46:28]      You used to be such an incredibly eloquent speaker and storyteller. And the transmission always, I felt, flew very perceptively, but it was easy to think that the main act was storytelling. Now, that has fallen away.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:46:58]      It has fallen away.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:47:00]      So now your more acquired taste of just being with you, of just listening to a more subtle transmission that is not packaged in these interesting words.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:47:16]      I disappointed you in my knowledge about Karma Yoga. You came to me as a Karma Yogi and I can’t – my words…

 

Walter Link

 

[00:47:49]      I’m not disappointed.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:47:50]      Okay.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:48:00]      On the contrary, I am so glad about the quality of our contact and the realness of our meeting.

 

Ram Dass

 

00:48:10]       This has been very quality.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:48:12]      This is so beautiful. This is definitely grace.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:48:18]      Yeah, Maharaji is here. People say, “What, are you kidding?” but I know he’s…I know because, for my path, I have to learn about Karma Yoga and you helped me.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:48:50]      Well, we help each other.

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:48:53]      You helped me.

 

Walter Link

 

[00:48:56]      I think it is one of the most difficult paths to understand because it’s so easy to get caught in the drama and the outcomes and it’s –

 

Ram Dass

 

[00:49:13]      And that’s what grace is, is be part of it.

 

 

Conclusion

 

[00:49:39]      On our website, GlobalLeadership.TV, you will find additional footage, other dialogues with innovation leaders from around the world, and also the hands-on practices that help them and their organizations to move from inspiration to real change.