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Lions Roar : January 2014
are hard to talk about because they are... you can’t get the con- cepts across... and, uh,”—a long pause—“stories sort of knock on the door of spirit.” His biggest teaching came through his stroke, years after the talks in this book, but even then he knew that suffering is grace: “We begin to notice that our suffering awakens us more than our pleasure. ‘Ah, cancer’—as a being in a body, the temple of my soul for this incarnation, I will do my best to heal it, but I will work with the cancer whether I am healed or not, as a vehicle for awakening. A conscious being uses everything.” I first met Ram Dass at a course taught by S.N. Goenka in 1970, the first meditation course he taught for Westerners. It was a seedpod for Buddhist teachers, including Sharon Salz- berg, Joseph Goldstein, Wes Nisker, and others. Goenka told us the story of the Buddha saying to Ananda that spiritual friendship is not just half of life but in fact the whole of life. Noble, admirable friends help us on the path of lib- eration. Ram Dass became that friend to many, and to me. When I ran a business with my former hus- band in Cambridge in the seventies, Ram Dass would come and speak to the staff about right livelihood and karma yoga: “Perform the daily actions of your life so as to come to a clearer state of consciousness or deeper peace or greater enlightenment or whatever metaphor you want to use. You start where you are, not where you wish you were, with certain trainings and skills and responsibilities, and the game is to find the path within all that and use it to work on yourself.” Not every employee thought they were working at Illuminations to become enlightened, but they all loved Ram Dass. When Owen turned sixteen and was eligible to drive, I was sure he’d die on the streets of Cambridge and Boston, hit by one of the world’s worst drivers. Ram Dass, his godfather, my friend, and generous without limit, gave him his indestructible Volvo. Owen survived. When I visited Ram Dass a few weeks after his stroke at the Kaiser Rehab Hospital in Vallejo, California, he was lying in a bed, paralyzed on one side, pale, looking at a picture of our guru, Neemkaroli Baba, Maharaji, and a batik wall hanging of Hanu- man, the son of the Hindu Wind God, the spirit of breath. After a long silence together, he looked at me, trying hard to speak, moving his hand as if he were about to, pointing to his paralyzed side, then trying to express something that he wanted me to hear. It felt very familiar, even in that sterile room through my tears. We had always shared what we had learned. Then he moved his fingers down his arm; like in the Yellow Pages ads, they were walking. This is the path, the journey. “Learning,” he said. Long silence. “Learning... patience. Patience.” Then he closed his eyes. Suffering is grace. And learning is the journey. Be patient. Some years later, when he had recovered more of his voice after much hard work, Ram Dass asked me a serious question: “Mira, where are we now?” I actually thought that he might be getting Alzheimer’s, and I didn’t know whether to say, “In your kitchen, in Maui” or joke, as I did: “I don’t know.” But later he asked again, and I realized that he meant, Are we doing the right thing? Is this what Maharaji meant? He said he just wanted to be as unconditionally loving as possible for the rest of his time. I said that seemed right. And he’s been doing that ever since. “Ram Dass is your guru,” Neem Karoli Baba, who was actu- ally my guru, once said to me. What did that mean? That he would teach me more than anyone else about what really mat- ters? That’s been true. And what really matters is love, Ram Dass’s favorite subject. “The path of love doesn’t go anywhere,” he said once. “It just brings you more here, into the present moment, into the reality of who you already are. It takes you out of your mind and into your heart.” With guru-brother Ramesh- war Das’s help, Ram Dass published Be Love Now last year, filled with stories about love, including one about Maharaji telling him to love everyone and tell the truth. I can’t, Ram Dass said. I don’t love everyone, so if I say I do, I’m not telling the truth. Maharaji just looked at him tenderly and said, “Love everyone and tell the truth.” Ram Dass’s house is a temple, filled with statues of the Bud- dha and Hanuman, Ganesh and Krishna, and photos of the great saints Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna and of course Maha- raji. There are books and gifts everywhere from friends and stu- dents, and two purring cats named for Ram and Sita’s twin sons. One day, we are sitting at breakfast, eating papayas and bananas from the garden and drinking tea sweetened with agave because Ram Dass can’t have sugar. The intrepid Dassi Ma, who cares for every detail of Ram Dass’s life, is with us. We talk about the sad death of our friend Jonathan Brilliant just a few days before. He was twenty-six and died of cancer. Ram Dass was his godfa- ther, and we both loved him. We knew him from the time he was born. No one understands why Jon got cancer, even his doctors. He was packed with potential, one of the beings you most want on the planet. He had already lived in both Paris and Shanghai, mastering the languages, the thinking, and the affectations of PHOTOBYJOANHALIFAX 72 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2014