In 1963, in the midst of the psychedelic revolution, a Harvard professor of Psychology was dismissed for allegedly giving psilocybin to one of his students.
The professor, known at the time as Richard Albert, along with another professor, Timothy Leary, established a communal group for exploration of consciousness with psychedelics. Their experiments had a profound impact on the culture of the time.
Albert became fascinated by achieving states of higher consciousness. He was beginning to realise that drugs offered only a possibility to see some aspect of truth, they wouldn’t allow you to become that truth. In 1967 he decided to travel to India, where he would meet his guru Neem Karoli Baba and receive his new name Ram Dass meaning “servant of God.”
Ram Dass since became a lead voice in the movement of Eastern Spirituality to the West. Despite having suffered a severe stroke in 1997, paralysing the right side of his body, Ram Dass has continued to teach. Now in his mid-80’s, his wisdom is a testament to an intense fifty-year devotion to spirituality.
Here are 32 of the greatest Ram Dass quotes on love, life, silence and suffering.
“The heart surrenders everything to the moment. The mind judges and holds back.”
“We’re all just walking each other home.”
“I’m not interested in being a “lover.” I’m interested in only being love.”
“I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion – and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.”
“When we see the Beloved in each person, it’s like walking through a garden, watching flowers bloom all around us.”
“Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.”
“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter, because we are so deeply interconnected with one another.”
“What you meet in another being is the projection of your own level of evolution.”
Ram Dass comes from a traditional called Bhakti Yoga. This path is oriented towards using love as a tool for awakening. That love typically manifests itself in the form of worship, either towards a guru or a deity, however even love towards someone else or an idea can be powerful enough to create long-lasting change. Existential Psychologist Viktor Frankl similarly believed that commitment to something greater than us, in the form of love, was the way to create unbelievable strength in human beings.
In psychology, love is in generally known as an emotion that requires directing towards something else – an object or concept. However, in the form of spirituality that is practised by Ram Dass, love is universal and can be perpetuated for its’ own sake.
As Ram Dass says:
“The most important aspect of love is not in giving or the receiving: it’s in the being. When I need love from others, or need to give love to others, I’m caught in an unstable situation. Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability. Being in love means seeing the Beloved all around me.”
“The spiritual journey is individual, highly personal. It can’t be organized or regulated. It isn’t truth that everyone should follow one path. Listen to your own truth.”
“When you know how to listen everybody is the guru.”
“Every religion is the product of the conceptual mind attempting to describe the mystery.”
“In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.”
“The game is not about becoming somebody, it’s about becoming nobody.”
“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.”
“Learn to watch your drama unfold while at the same time knowing you are more than your drama.”
“As long as you certain desires about how it out to be you can’t see it how it is.”
Ram Dass was one of the first well known Westerners (and academics) to popularise the philosophy of the East. One of his strengths, therefore, was the ability to explain Eastern concepts in a way that was relevant to the way of life of practitioners in the United States. This is clear in his advice, which is simple and concise and continues to be sought out by thousands of people every year from all walks of life.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
“Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story, instead of the actor in it.”
“In mystical traditions, it is one’s own readiness that makes experiences exoteric or esoteric.
The secret isn’t that you’re not being told.
The secret is that you’re not able to hear.”
“If you rest in the silence inside, all those you meet will have their spiritual hearts resuscitated.”
“External silence can be the doorway to inner silence.”
“All spiritual practices are illusions created by illusionists to escape illusion.”
“We’re fascinated by the words- but where we meet is the silence behind them.”
Many of Ram Dass’ teachings often use the experience of silence as a directive. As is common in nondual traditions, silence is used as a pointer to experience deeper peace, presence and equanimity. This is because silence is something we can all relate to, and though we often fear or resent noise in our life, it is typically because we can’t look beyond (or behind) the noise and experience the silence that is simultaneously permeating our moment-to-moment experience.
Ram Dass explains that silence “is something [he’s] been cultivating for 45 years now.” While thoughts and feelings arise and sometimes leave us agitated, if we can focus on the silence in even the most chaotic moments, we will be able to experience a profound peace that becomes a great assistance in our daily life.
“The most exquisite paradox… as soon as you give it all up, you can have it all. As long as you want power, you can’t have it. The minute you don’t want power, you’ll have more than you ever dreamed possible.”
“Suffering is the sandpaper of our incarnation. It does its work of shaping us.”
“Compassion refers to the arising in the heart of the desire to relieve the suffering of all beings.”
“A feeling of aversion or attachment toward something is your clue that there’s work to be done.”
“I would say that the thrust of my life has been initially about getting free, and then realizing that my freedom is not independent of everybody else. Then I am arriving at that circle where one works on oneself as a gift to other people so that one doesn’t create more suffering. I help people as I work on myself and I work on myself to help people.”
“The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering.”
“Suffering is part of our training program from becoming wise.”
Suffering is an inevitable part of human experience. In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions however, our attention allows it to become something that is inevitably transforming. Ram Dass himself experienced a near fatal-stroke that greatly impeded his ability to express himself physically. However, his spiritual training allowed him to use this experience to teach him something about the nature of reality, experience and being a human being. In his book Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying, he says:
“Before the stroke I wrote a great deal about the terrible things that can happen in aging, and how to cope with them. Now I’m happy to say that having gone through what some would view as the worst, it’s not so bad after all.Getting old isn’t easy for a lot of us. Neither is living, neither is dying. We struggle against the inevitable, and we all suffer because of it. We have to find another way to look at the whole process of being born, growing old, changing, and dying, some kind of perspective that might allow us to deal with what we perceive as big obstacles without having to be dragged through the drama. It really helps to understand that we have something — that we are something — which is unchangeable, beautiful, completely aware, and continues no matter what.”
BONUS: 5 Ram Dass Lectures to Drastically Change your Perspective on Life
Ram Dass on Psychedelics and Enlightenment
Ram Dass on Dissolving the Fear and Finding Your Own Beauty
Ram Dass on How We Can Accept Ourselves More
Ram Dass on the Dark Night of the Soul
Ram Dass on Suffering and Karma