In the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the young princes studied archery with the famous archery guru, Dronacharya. In ancient India, instruction in a particular art or skill was not limited to the techniques of that art alone but involved discipleship – the student would be trained in self-discipline, surrender, meditation and self-knowledge, as well as archery or whatever skill was being taught. One day Dronacharya told the class: “My lesson for the day is ‘Tell the truth; do not get angry.” Contemplate this and come back when you have mastered it.” The princes wrote the lesson down and went off to consider it. The next day all the princes except Arjuna (the hero of the Mahabharata epic and the famous Bhagavad Gita, which it belongs to) arrived on time for class. Dronacharya asked them: “Can I take it that you have mastered my last lesson, ‘Tell the truth and do not get angry?” The princes agreed that they had. Their lessons continued.
Days passed, but still Arjuna has not returned to class. After a week Drona sent for him. When Arjuna appeared he asked him why he had missed so many sessions. “My revered teacher,” Arjuna said, “you told us to contemplate ‘Tell the truth and don’t get angry.”
“That is correct,” said Drona.
“But,” Arjuna said, “you also said that we were not to return until we had mastered it. So far I have only mastered, ‘Tell the truth…'” Deonacharya smiled: “My son, it is indeed easier to learn to tell the truth than not to get angry, and your fellow princes have not even learned that much.” He turned to the other students: “Learn from Arjuna, this is not a lesson to be mastered in one day. You have not demonstrated your cleverness, only your dishonesty!” The student’s heads turned to Arjuna angrily.
The book I am reviewing – The Only Dance There Is – is a compiled transcription of two lectures Ram Dass gave to a room of psychotherapists in the early 1970s. The first lecture was at the Menninger Foundation in 1970, and the second at the Spring Grove Hospital in 1972. Seeing as Ram Dass was a trained Harvard professor and psychiatrist before he transformed into a yogi, he was in the fortunate position of having two perceptual vantage points to overlook the whole thing. His clear insight into the Western approach to solving man’s spiritual problems through psychology, and his new understanding into the Eastern approach through yoga and meditation allowed him the opportunity to act as a solid concrete bridge between the worlds of East and West. Prior to Ram Dass bridges existed, but they were of the old and fragile, made of rope variety, which were rarely crossed out of fear of the bridge collapsing and you falling into the abyss below. Because of this the game at this point in time was very polarised – us vs them, hippies vs police, East vs West, and so on.
In these lectures Ram Dass attempted to share the Indian’s non-dualistic outlook on life, called Advaita Vedanta, to an audience very much attached to the separation of all living things. Ram Dass eloquently shared what he had learnt in India, and what he had given up in Harvard, by comparing the comparatively new Western psychology to the 10,000 year old Eastern method of yoga and meditation. For example, he discusses in detail the Hindu chakra system, and how it closely resembles psychological systems for understanding human motivation – an area that Ram Dass happened to specialise in when he was a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Richard Alpert.
Once a seeker went to a great master. Bowing reverentially in the traditional manner he said: “O master, I seek enlightenment, please initiate and teach me so that I may attain That!” The master replied in a kindly manner: “Certainly my son, tat tvam asi, you are That, the divine Self lives within you. Meditate on that Self, know that Self, merge in that Self, realise that Self!” The seeker was disappointed. “O master, I know all that already. Why, that very teaching was featured in this month’s Yoga Journal. Please give me the secret teachings, I want the real stuff!” The master said: That is all I know. That is my entire teaching I have no secrets. There is nothing that I have not given you. However, if you are not satisfied, you can go down the road to the next swami’s ashram and see if he has something more suitable for you.”
The seeker approached the other guru and said: “O master, I seek enlightenment, please give me the initiation and your most secret teaching so that I may attain That!” The guru said: “I do not give my teachings so easily. You must earn them. You must do sadhana, spiritual practice. If you are sincere then you can stay here and work for 12 years. Only in this way will you earn my initiation.” The seeker was delighted: “That’s just what I wanted. That is real spiritual life, real sadhana. I’ll begin at once.” The guru assigned him the job of shovelling buffalo dung in the back paddock. The years went by. Each day as he shovelled the dung the seeker dreamt of his future enlightenment. He ticked the passing days and months off his calendar.
Finally 12 years were up; the great day arrived. He approached the guru with hands folded palm to palm. “O my guru, I have served you faithfully for 12 years. I request your teachings and initiation as you have promised. Please bestow your grace upon me.” The guru said: “My son, you have served me well. You truly deserve my teaching. Here it is: “Tat tvam asi. You are That, the divine Self lives within you. Meditate on that Self, know that Self, merge in that Self, realise that Self!” The seeker became enraged. “What! Is that all? The guru up the road gave me that the first time I met him and I didn’t have to shovel buffalo dung for him for 12 years!”
“Well,” said the guru. “The truth hasn’t changed in 12 years.”
The following story – originally told in a Upanishad (collection of philosophical texts which underline the Hindu religion) – is about ten men who went on an arduous pilgrimage to a faraway holy city. At one point on their journey they had to carefully make their way across a roaring river, which was surrounded by jagged rocks. When they finally reached the other side of the river, the leader of the group decided to count everyone to make sure they had all crossed safely, and so he lined each of the pilgrims up and started to count.
When the leader counted the last head, he discovered with horror that only nine men had made it across. He then asked each of the pilgrims to count. Sure enough each one only counted nine. A wise stranger came upon the scene and discreetly asked what had happened to elicit such an outpouring of grief. “We are pilgrims,” said the leader. “There were ten of us when we began our journey, but now one of our brothers has been lost in the river.” The stranger quickly noticed that by his count there were ten pilgrims. He asked: “Sir, would you please count everyone again just to make sure?”
“Yes,” replied the leader who began counting aloud, “one, two, three… eight, and nine! Oh alas, one is gone!”
“But sir,” said the stranger, “you have forgotten to count yourself!” And so, the tenth man was found.
Be Here Now (1971) is a classic text on Hindu spirituality that bloomed open like a lotus flower in the wake of the hippie movement. The seed for this book was planted in the mind of Harvard psychiatrist turned Indian mystic, Ram Dass, and was written – with the blessings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba – for a Western audience who were, for the most part, materially rich but spiritually poor
Be Here Now offered it’s readers and followers a drug free alternative for attaining higher states of consciousness, while its simple message to live in the present encouraged the pursuit and cultivation of inner peace. Since it’s original publication the book has sold more than 2 million copies and has had an enormous influence on the Western world’s adoption of Eastern philosophy and spirituality. I can’t speak for everybody, but my copy of Be Here Now is one of my most treasured possessions, it opened the door of spiritual discovery and casually pointed towards the way. To this day, Be Here Now’s teachings shine like the sun and penetrate even the darkest spaces. I recommend it with all my heart to those with an open mind, and a thirst for self discovery.
Hanuman is the monkey servant who opens up his chest to reveal two little dolls, a boy doll with blue skin and a girl doll with fair skin. The boy doll is the avatar/incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu, called Rama (or Ram), who came to earth thousands of years ago to rescue the planet from the demon king Ravana. The girl doll was Sita, Rama’s wife. When Ravana kidnapped Sita, the pure hearted Prince Rama rushed to rescue her, but he couldn’t do it alone. Continue reading →