Teachings from the autobiography ‘Being Ram Dass’

The teachings of Ram Dass are the teachings he was given by his Indian guru Maharaj-ji. Ram Dass’ teachings are a confluence of Hinduism, Buddhism and aspects of his own American culture including from Christianity. The central aspects were to cultivate emptiness, cultivate compassion and honour his guru.

Ram Dass writes in his autobiography Being Ram Dass that you can’t achieve your way to God. You can only surrender.

‘You make the efforts to purify and clear your mind, and then you have to let it all go: desires, attachments, ego, mind, conceptual thoughts. It was the polar opposite of achievement motivation, this cultivation of desirelessness. Maharaj-ji used to quote a line from the poet Kabir that went, “I walk through the market, and I am neither a buyer nor a seller”.’

What’s interesting is that the spiritual and the psychological are so deeply interwoven so as Ram Dass deepens his spiritual practices so he changes his priorities and personality. One example is that Maharaj-ji kept giving him experiences with power until Ram Dass saw that it was love not power, that matters. This often came to the fore when Ram Dass was teaching others: ‘The teacher role fanned my ego, except that Maharaj-ji kept undercutting it. … I was connecting with monstrous egos, and not just my own.’

Ram Dass learnt that the eternal present was ever present for his guru. For Maharaj-ji it was as if people long dead were present for him.  ‘It’s as if Maharaj-ji’s eternal present intersects our timeline at a perpendicular from another dimension’… he sees:

‘time from outside our reality. When he spoke of Christ, tears rolled down his face. It was as if he was witnessing the crucifixion. Later he told us to meditate the way Christ meditated. When asked how Christ meditated, he said, “he lost himself in love”’.

Ram Dass internalises his guru so after Maharaj-ji’s death although the body has gone the soul is still present to guide his devotees. Indeed, on one occasion Ram Dass has a vision – planning

Ram Dass with Maharaj-ji

to return to India he wakes to find someone sitting on the end of the bed. ‘It was Maharaj-ji. The apparition said in perfectly good English, “You don’t need to go to India. Your next teachings will be right here.”’ And so Ram Dass stays in the US and receives more teachings via others but directed by Maharaj-ji.

 

 

 

Synchronicity 4

In his correspondence Jung offers further comments about synchronicity – meaningful coincidences – and the probability that ‘the collective unconscious coincides in a strange and utterly inconceivable way with objective events’. Here Jung means that an archetypal situation will reflect itself also in physical processes. He quotes a 2nd century dream book from a Greek soothsayer Artemidorus who writes of a man dreaming that his father perished in a fire, and a few days later the dreamer himself dying of a high fever – Jung adds that he himself has observed such things.

The difficulty in looking at synchronistic events from a scientific perspective or through experimental means is that as Jung writes, ‘when we observe statistically we eliminate the synchronistic phenomenon, and conversely, when we establish synchronicity we must abandon the statistical method.’ Jung is in part drawing on medieval thought to understand contingencies beyond mere probability.

He is also looking at his idea that in the archetypal there is no time – it is eternal – in other words outside time, and is everywhere. In the archetype there is no limit to space and place.

‘In our ordinary mind we are in the worlds of time and space and within the separate individual psyche. In the state of the archetype we are in the collective psyche, in a world-system whose space-time categories are relatively or absolutely abolished.’

Synchronistic events are outside the usual and acknowledged limits of ordinary time and space – they link to the deep unconscious and the archetypal: ‘When an archetype prevails, we can expect synchronistic phenomena’.

In a letter written in 1954 Jung sees synchronicity as comparable to the idea of ‘pre-established harmony’. This leads him into discussions of astrology and predetermination – in other words has everything already taken place? This is the same as with ESP (extra sensory perception such as telepathy and precognition etc) which all have the same underlying principle which is ‘the identity of a subjective and an objective arrangement coinciding in time’. The subject takes Jung to what he writes of as ‘the frontier of transcendence, beyond which human statements can only be mythological.’

Synchronicity 3

There is anecdotal evidence of clocks stopping during highly emotional times – when someone is ill, or there is a death or an accident. This happened to the first analyst I worked with – the grandfather clock that her elderly mother had wound once a week for many years and to which she was deeply attached, stopped at the exact moment of her death – time had run out.

Another person writes:

‘I was away visiting a friend when one morning I found my watch had stopped. It was not long after that I received the shocking news of my father’s passing. The timing seemed to correlate with the stopping of my watch.

I returned home, soon after, to find all the clocks in my house had stopped, though at different times. Nothing could explain it and I am left wondering about these unexplained coincidences. Was my father trying to send me a message?’

Similarly, there are many accounts of meaningful coincidences in happy emotional situations such as finding future partners, or where a number of people who are deeply loved all share the same birthday. Various research studies suggest that people with high rates of sensitivity and intuition, and those who practice mindfulness are more open to such experiences, which are inevitably dismissed by those who defend against such happenings.

This is a famous light hearted example:

‘French writer Emile Deschamps claims in his memoirs that, in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fontgibu. Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a dinner and once again ordered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fontgibu was missing to make the setting complete—and in the same instant, the now senile de Fontgibu entered the room, having got the wrong address.’

Jung wrote after describing some examples: “When coincidences pile up in this way, one cannot help being impressed by them – for the greater the number of terms in such a series, or the more unusual its character, the more improbable it becomes.” Jung’s thinking is very much aligned with his work on the collective unconscious and the deep connections between people through an invisible network. If a number of coincidences occur then there is a possibility that the deep unconscious is drawing one’s attention to something or someone. There is a form of signalling taking place. Jung saw the collective unconscious ‘more like an atmosphere in which we live than something that is found in us. It is simply the unknown quantity in the world’.

He continues:

‘it does not by any means behave merely psychologically; in the cases of so-called synchronicity, it proves to be a universal substrate present in the environment rather than a psychological premise. Wherever we come into contact with an archetype we enter into relationship with transconscious, metaphysic factors which underlie the spiritualistic hypothesis as well as that of magical actions.’

Synchronicity 2

In the last post Jung’s clinical example with the scarab beetle was used in the explanation of synchronicity. The additional meaning is that the scarab is a symbol of rebirth and Jung pointed out that that was what one would expect to accompany any process of psychic transformation such as the events that began with the female patient’s dream.  From this particular individual experience Jung realised that the implication was that synchronicity came from an archetypal foundation. As the patient described the scarab beetle in her dream so the actual rose chafer arrived at the window and together this allowed a numinous experience – mysterious and awe-inspiring.

Jung wrote:

‘Synchronicity therefore consists of two factors. (a) An unconscious image comes into consciousness either directly (i.e., literally) or indirectly (symbolised or suggested) in the form of a dream, idea or premonition. (b) An objective situation coincides with this content.’

Jung then describes his work with a depressed man whom he had helped recover, but who had then married a woman who seemed to scoff at the therapeutic work. This placed a burden on the patient who again became depressed, but did not contact Jung. One night after giving a lecture Jung lay awake for a long time:

‘At about two o’clock – I must have just fallen asleep – I awoke with a start, and had the feeling that someone had come into the room; I even had the impression that the door had been hastily opened. I instantly turned on the light, but there was nothing. … it was still as death. “Odd,” I thought, “someone did come into the room!” Then I tried to recall exactly what had happened, and it occurred to me that I had been awakened by a feeling of dull pain, as though something had struck my forehead and then the back of my skull. The following day I received a telegram saying that my patient had committed suicide. He had shot himself. Later, I learned that the bullet had come to rest in the back wall of the skull.’

Jung continues:

‘This experience was a genuine synchronistic phenomenon such as is quite often observed in connection with an archetypal situation – in this case, death. By means of a relativisation of time and space in the unconscious it could well be that I had perceived something which in reality was taking place elsewhere. The collective unconscious is common to all; it is the foundation of what the ancients called the “sympathy of all things.” In this case the unconscious had knowledge of my patient’s condition. All that evening, in fact, I had felt curiously restive and nervous, very much in contrast to my usual mood.’

 

 

Synchronicity

What did Carl Jung mean by his theory of synchronicity? Anthony Stevens explains that Jung was writing about a connecting principle that creates meaningful relationships between events occurring at the same time.  This principle goes back to ancient Chinese thinking about reality which you can find in the I Ching or Book of Changes. Since all life is pattern it follows that time also functions as an aspect of that pattern. In other words, everything that happens is related to everything else that happens through the time at which the happening occurs.

Jung was sympathetic to this view because it corresponds to the way in which we experience meaningful coincidences and also how we experience time. We may be taught that time is an abstract measure but it doesn’t feel like that. Rather, it is felt to have a character of its own which colours all events as they occur. The whole ‘nostalgia industry’ is based on this and it is as true of physical events as of mental events that may as a consequence appear to be causally related – such as when a door slams at the same time as one is reading of a door slamming in a novel. Our Western minds dismiss such things as meaningless, but life reaches beyond that. As Stevens writes:

We are not prisoners on a mechanistic treadmill driven by abstract time. Through awareness of acausal relationships between the phenomena of life we enter a wider reality capable of liberating us from the intellectual chain-gang whose warders are Cause and Effect.

There is a great example of synchronicity from Jung’s clinical work with a female patient described as rationalistic and argumentative. She had been to other analysts without resolving her difficulties and one day she told a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While recounting the dream there was a tapping on the window, and Jung let in, catching in his hand a rose chafer which is a time of scarab beetle not usually found at the latitude where he was working. He describes what happened:

‘I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, “Here is your scarab”. This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance.’

The Original Vision 2

One of the loveliest of the accounts of an original vision collected by Edward Robinson is this: The description is of a child – a girl between the ages of 4 and 5 walking with her mother on an area called ‘the moors’ in Berkshire where the very tallest of the harebells appeared about the mist:

‘Suddenly I seemed to see the mist as a shimmering gossamer tissue and the harebells appearing here and there, seemed to shine with a brilliant fire. Somehow, I understood that this was the living tissue of life itself, in which that which we call consciousness was embedded, appearing here and there as a shining focus of energy in the more diffused whole. In that moment I knew that I had my own special place, as had all other things, animate and so-called inanimate, and that we were all part of this universal tissue which was both fragile yet immensely strong and utterly good and beneficent. … The vision has never left me.’

She was left with what she describes as the foundation for her life and a reservoir of strength fed from an unseen force. She writes that she wouldn’t have used the same words to describe the experience then as she now does as an adult, but did know that at the age of five she had experientially understood the total meaning of what she saw – at 5 years old.

A boy now writing as a 63-year-old man had his first spiritual experience also at the age of 5:

‘The dew on the grass seemed to sparkle like iridescent jewels in the sunlight, and the shadow of the houses and trees seemed friendly and protective. In the heart of the child that I was there seemed to well up a deep and overwhelming sense of gratitude, se sense of unending peace and security which seemed to be part of the beauty of the morning, the love and protective and living presence which included all that I had ever loved and yet was something much more.’

Being present in nature – awake and alert as children are offers what Eckhart Tolle calls a portal into Presence. Into the ‘more than ourselves’ – but the impact lasted throughout life helping each to become the person he or she had it in them to become. Another contributor later reflects how he clearly didn’t have the language to formulate the experience but it did give him a truth and a fact – the existence of the Divine and that it was good – not to do with morals but rather to do with beauty and the sacred.

William Wordsworth both understood such original visions and also the loss of them:

We will grieve not;

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass,

Of glory in the flower,

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind,

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be.

 

The original vision goes but leaves behind an assurance ‘a guarantee of the truth of the numinous’.

 

 

The Original Vision

The original vision of childhood is not ‘an imaginative fancy but a form of knowledge that is essential to the development of any mature understanding’. This quote is from Alister Hardy’s foreword to a book by Edward Robinson of his study of religious experiences. This is not to do with theological orthodoxies or conventional ideas of what religion is but rather people’s early experiences of the ‘divine flame burning throughout one’s life’. When people were invited to send their experiences of a power beyond themselves to the religious experience research unit (then at Oxford and now based at Lampeter University- where you can do a research MA) it was found that 15% of the then 4,000 started by going back to something that happened to them in their earliest years. ‘All my life I have been able to look back and remember …’

Here’s an example from a woman aged 55 who at the age of five is sitting in the garden watching a colony of ants and realising that she was large to them – invisible to them except perhaps as a shadow over their lives – but she had the power to destroy them although outside the sphere of their knowledge.

‘Turning away from them to my surroundings, I saw there was a tree not far away, and the sun was shining. There were clouds and blue sky that went on for ever and ever. And suddenly I was tiny – so little and weak and insignificant that it didn’t really matter at all whether I existed or not. And yet, insignificant as I was, my mind was capable of understanding that the limitless world I could see was beyond my comprehension…’

She sees that any watcher of her would be vaster than the world and space and yet ‘I was aware of him, in spite of my limitations. At the same time, he was, and he was not, beyond my understanding.’ The realisation was also that the whole could not be complete without her own particular contribution and yet she was so insignificant as to be almost non-existent. ‘Every single person was a part of a Body, the purpose of which was as much beyond my comprehension now as I was beyond the comprehension of the ants. I was enchanted…’

‘It was a lovely thing to have happened. All my life, in times of great pain or distress or failure, I have been able to look back and remember, quite sure that the present agony was not the whole picture and that my understanding of it was limited as were the ants in their comprehension of their part in the world I knew.’

 

Spiritual pioneers on the edge – Simone Weil

 

Simone Weil, philosopher, political activist and religious mystic, was born in Paris in 1909 and, after graduating in philosophy in 1931, she taught in secondary schools while pursuing an active career as a trade union organiser. She wanted to learn from the inside about the oppression of factory work and so took a year’s leave in 1934 and was employed on the factory floor for the production of Renault cars. She became physically ill from the strain and this pattern was repeated when in 1936 she spent a brief period with the Socialist forces in Spain, but had to be invalided home. Her mission to be amongst those whom she saw as oppressed took her to the South of France where she worked as a farm labourer. In 1942 she escaped from France with the intention of collaborating with the Free French in London. Simone Weil’s desire was to be sent back behind German lines in occupied France but failing to achieve that goal, she confined herself to the miserly food rations allowed the occupied French. Once more her health gave way and she died in a sanatorium at Ashford in Kent on 29th August, 1943. Simone came from an agnostic background but was deeply involved in mysticism – she has been called a Platonic Christian mystic – as she saw her life as impelled by mystic impulses that lovingly advanced her toward the utterly unknowable. Her journey she saw as involving ‘an expenditure of self in the form of a powerful love that seizes this subject – an expenditure that comes at the price of subjectivity’. Her desire was for love to take her ‘across the threshold of experience’. Fr Perrin a Dominican priest in Marseille, who she first met in 1941, encouraged her deepening relationship with God and much of her religious writing is based on their conversations.

Her experience of God is one of absence, ‘the void is God, the void is primordial’. She believed that the soul has to go on loving in the emptiness, ‘or at least to go on wanting to love, though it may only be with an infinitesimal part of itself. Then, one day, God will come to show himself to this soul and to reveal the beauty of the world to it, as in the case of Job.’

It is through love, as Simone discovered, that we pass from death to life. Love for her fellow human beings was the mainspring of Simone’s existence, and the chief reason she gave for refusing baptism and staying outside of the Church but close to God – she wanted to identify with ‘the least’ in society without gaining any special privilege. Speaking of the materialism of the world and its need for love she explained in a letter to Fr. Perrin:

‘I have the essential need, and I think I can say the vocation, to move among men of every class and complexion, mixing with them and sharing their life and outlook, so far that is to say as conscience allows, merging into the crowd and disappearing among them, so that they show themselves as they are, putting off all disguises with me. It is because I long to know them, so as to love them just as they are.’

She believed in the need to train the will and submit to discipline. But ultimately it is not we who seek God, but God who reaches out to us or, as she expressed it: ‘We cannot take a step towards the heavens. God crosses the universe and comes to us.’

Spiritual pioneer – Thomas Merton

Merton has played a central part in my spiritual awakening and there’s so much material to choose from to show his role as a spiritual pioneer. Currently I am re-reading volume 6 Learning to Love and so these extracts and reflections are taken from the first part of this journal. Here Merton the theologian of experience is very present and his pioneering spirituality opens up the connections within his inner world and what is happening to him in the outer. It is authentic and painfully honest. After all what other theologian or spiritual leader do you know who so openly reflects on the passion and the desolation of human love?

What strikes me is that Merton is one of those spiritual guides who can clearly speak to one’s inner condition. He writes as a human being connecting with the reader – as if speaking directly to one’s concerns; this has been called his compassionate transparency – there’s space here for the reader to connect and reflect on themselves in the light of what Merton writes. This journal includes much material on the solitude Merton experiences in the hermitage: he feels that he is really getting grounded in solitude. On retreat in the hermitage in late January 1966 Merton reviews his life and his involvement in war and peace studies, racism, literature in general and monasticism. He considers his health, demands to alter the liturgy, and, correspondence on poetry. He concludes the review with one central option:

‘to let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in “my” ways. What matters is to love, to be in one place in silence, if necessary in suffering, sickness, tribulation, and not try to be anybody outwardly. Not try to have a public identity.’

In March 1966 Merton has a back operation, meets M. a student nurse and begins a loving relationship with her. After the operation Merton returns to the hermitage commenting on how after the hospital experience, he notes that he is becoming more and more himself, deeper and deeper: ‘It is shocking to realize that you sometimes have to fight to get yourself back when some great trauma has broken in on you.’ He plans future work in order to give to others and fearful in case another operation might be needed he comments: ‘I have got to be faithful, detached, obedient, concerned not only for my own life as I want to live it, but for God’s will that remains to be realised in and through me. That is all.’

Becoming very involved with M. Merton comments that in times when he is groping for support and strength where else would he turn except to God’s word: from 1 John 4: ‘Little children you belong to God … for He who is within you is greater than he who is in the world …’ (TM’s italics) So confused and immersed in the relationship with M. Merton decides to pray for her ‘as earnestly and honestly as possible and leave the rest to God.’ He sees that his life tries to be in God and tries to dwell at the point ‘where life and grace well up out of the unknown.’

Spiritual pioneer on the edge – Alan Watts

The next spiritual pioneer I’ve chosen is Alan Watts, born in January 1915 in Chislehurst in Kent. There are mixed responses to his life and work – partly because of his careless and unconventional personal life, and, also because although writing brilliantly about the search for God and truth he tended not to ‘live it’. Interested in psychoanalysis and Jungian psychology he said that psychotherapy bored him, while he felt too much meditation ‘is apt to turn one into a stone Buddha’.

Watts by the age of 20 had published The Spirit of Zen; in it he introduces the ideas of Zen to the western reader. Later after moving to the US, he briefly trained and worked as an ordained Episcopalian priest and then immersed himself in Zen Buddhism, Taoism and a deep and life long preoccupation with the question of identity, and the search for the true self. He wrote extensively, gave endless talks and was a regular on TV and the radio. He wrote more than 25 books – and also had some interesting things to say about Christianity. He called himself a ‘genuine fake’, a ‘spiritual entertainer’ and was seen as a ‘counter-cultural mystic’. He turned on many in the west to meditation and Zen Buddhism. His books helped thousands of people and his you tube videos are apparently watched still by millions. Watts famously said that Zen does not confuse spirituality with peeling potatoes and thinking of God, but spirituality is the act of peeling the potatoes: the potato ‘is it’. Awareness of being present in the ordinary here and now is enlightenment.

Steeped from his youth in the Church of England Watts was way ahead of his time about where Christianity might be heading. Commenting on ‘the death of God’ movement in the 1960s he suggested that it was not God who was dying, but a particular way of thinking and talking about God that had died ‘by becoming implausible’. He suggested a return to the God of the theological mysteries, a God not limited by our concepts, or our pitiful need for security.

‘The highest image of God is the unseen behind the eyes – the blank space, the unknown, the intangible and the invisible. That is God! We have no image of this. We do not know what that is, but we have to trust it. There’s no alternative … That trust in a God whom one cannot conceive in any way is a far higher form of faith than fervent clinging to a God of whom you have a definite conception.’

The main trouble with Church religion is that people are taught to carry out spiritual exercises on a sort of imitative basis – because the saints did it – we do the same, but this means that leaves a terrible vacuum at the heart of piety.

Some other good quotes from Watts:

‘No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle.’

‘The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.’

‘Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.’