- Sitaram Dass
This Love has Room for Our Protest
(Originally published in our July/August Wholistic Heartbeat print magazine.)
Without my even noticing it, the conversation evaporated into silence. Ram Dass simply looked at me, and I melted into the chair, filled with love. I looked across the room towards him, and our eyes met. Just a few minutes ago he had told me the story of when Maharajji instructed him to meditate like Christ. Ram Dass asked him how Christ meditated, and Maharajji said, “He was lost in a sea of love.”
I was absolutely head-over-heals in love with the man before me, not because he was Ram Dass, but because his presence pulled me into a depth of Being that could love anything. I realized that this is what it meant, at least in some small way, to meditate like Christ.
Ram Dass often says things like, “I love the wall, and the carpet, and this chair. I love my wheelchair.”
And when he says it, he means it. I saw this, not just in my darshan with him that day, but during the following two years that I lived with him. I would often see him sitting by himself, not reading, or napping, or thinking, or even meditating, but just sitting there, truly present and content. Because of his stroke, he is confined to a wheelchair, and his body is often in pain. Yet, he has a lightness about him that transcends his physical body. There is a joy and a contentment that can be at home with the pain.
Some of my fondest memories are of driving him to his various appointments. I would try to make him laugh, or he would crack me up with his great sense of humor, but most of the time was spent in silence. With Ram Dass, this silence is not an awkward void but a rich delicacy to be savored. Once, while sitting on his back porch, he broke the silence to say, “See this? Don’t you see? Look how beautiful it is …” He waved his hand across the scene in front of us, caressing the scenery with his finger tips and painting each tree, shrub, and cloud with the stroke of his hand, exhaling a long and slow, “Ahhhhhhhh …”
I saw it in the eyes of the guests who came to do private retreats with him. They too knew what it meant to be lost in the ocean of love, and I learned from them just how contagious this is. Ram Dass made a splash in them so large that its ripples could be felt in my own body, and I benefited just from their smiles. I went to almost every talk that Ram Dass gave, and I can’t remember how many times I heard him say, “Bhakti [love] is spread from one soul to another. Those who don’t have it catch it from those who do.”
I have experienced this same thing with Siddhi Ma, an elderly woman saint from India, who, just from sitting in the same room with me, not even looking my way or giving me the slightest acknowledgment, could wash waves of Love over me as if she herself were the gravity of the moon.
Of course Ram Dass and Siddhi Ma both have pointed me, like all of us from our satsang, towards Maharajji, a perfect form of this Love. He is the Sun that lights up the moon. He is the gravity that holds all things in their perfect place, and he is the True Self within every heart.
Maybe twenty minutes or so passed before Ram Dass spoke the next words. They were very slow and deliberate.
“You are Jesus and Maharajji,” he said.
“So are you,” I answered.
At that moment I knew the Truth of what we were saying. I immediately remembered the words from Be Here Now: “This is Buddha meeting Buddha. Over toast and coffee. Over milk and porridge. Over mu tea and brown rice.”
Because Ram Dass rested so deeply in his heart, it pulled me right into mine. He showed me a possibility, and he also left me with a practice- to see everyone as Jesus and Maharajji, to see them as God. “For those with the eyes to see…” It is truly possible to love everyone. That’s what he has taught me and what I keep trying to return to.
Sometimes God will surprise me and remove one of her many disguises, and then it’s as if the lighting softens, revealing the most beautiful person to ever walk the face of the earth … .
Sometimes it is a homeless youth screaming at me, calling me a fucking idiot for minutes on end … or an angry teen I am working with who weighs over 200 pounds and could knock me out with one punch if he wanted to and is telling me he wants to bash my face into the wall … or the grocery clerk for a moment when our eyes meet and the world stops.
Ram Dass keeps a picture of Donald Trump on his altar, and this is not a cop-out. It’s not a spiritual-bypassing or an attempt to normalize a monster. It is the ocean, and it has room for all things, including Donald Trump. It doesn’t mean we don’t protest, of course we do. We fight for Truth and Justice and Peace. We fight for it with all of our being. Christ not only sought forgiveness for those who crucified him, he also threw the money changers out of the temple.
During that meeting Ram Dass told me to study the Bhagavad Gita. Since then I keep returning to its ancient words, and it constantly shows me its timely relevance. The Bhagavad Gita invites us to protest as if our life depended on it as an offering to God, and this includes God in the form of Trump.
The way you offer love to someone who is screaming at you is to remain calm and not react. Expressing love in any other way, even the slightest smile, would not be appropriate or well received. The way you show love to the oppressed is to fight alongside them for justice. The way you offer love to an oppressor is to tirelessly fight their oppression.
But, for it to be a true offering, our hearts must remain open. An open heart can give us the courage to act with strength and the gentleness to act without cruelty. It creatively finds the path of least resistance that will do the most good. Whereas anger burns hot and fizzles fast, Love is a long-lasting fuel that can keep us warm through even our burnout and despair.
The message you communicate
with another human being
has nothing to do with what you say
It has nothing to do with the look
on the musculature of your face
It’s much deeper than that
It’s the vibrations that emanate from you!
-Ram Dass, Be Here Now
I once worked in a group home for young kids who had gone through severe trauma in their lives. My experience was that it was easy for the staff to love the kids. It was so clear to us that the behaviors we saw from them were not their fault. A violent youth was physically beaten by a step-father. A sexually-aggressive child had himself been sexually abused for years.
But the understanding for the kids did not extend to their parents. In fact, sometimes the staff expressed a vitriolic anger towards them. And isn’t it reasonable to feel that way towards someone that could be so brutal to an innocent child? Yet, when looking through the case files, I would often find histories of trauma that went back generations. A father who had abused his son had also been abused when he was a child. A perpetrator of sexual abuse was once also living in a group home just like the one I was working in. It dawned on me that these adults were once children, and that at least some of the kids I was working with would grow up to perpetuate the same behaviors they had gone through. At what point could I say that it is now their fault? At what age does cause and effect become minimized? Not that I would ever condone any atrocity that one person commits against another, but if a kid I had worked with grew up to commit a terrible act, how could I not feel for them and weep?
“Do what you do with another person,
but never put him out of your heart.”
-Neem Karoli Baba
(paraphrasing the poet Kabir, from Miracle of Love)
That’s what Maharajji said. This is a guide post, a statement of what is possible, and also a path to walk. A judge can sentence someone to jail, a police officer can make an arrest, and a protester can protest. We can act in this world, working for justice, peace, and the end of all oppression, and still never keep anyone out of our hearts.
This is not poetry to soothe broken hearts that cannot hold the weight of the world. This is a deeper weight that can tear the last pulsing seams apart. Let the seams rip and the heart shatter. When we can fully drown in the world’s pain, we are ready for its love.
This love has room for our protest. In fact, it demands it.
(Note: because of the nature of the work I do with youth, all identifying information has been changed to keep confidentiality)
Sitaram Dass served his beloved teacher Ram Dass for several years on Maui, where he committed himself to the path of Bhakti Yoga. Now he spends his time singing kirtan, writing, teaching and serving wherever he can. His settings range from homeless shelters, prisons, and hospice centers to yoga studios, retreat centers, and festivals. Find out more at: Sitaramdass.com, and check out his new album,“The Puja Room Recordings,” out now!
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