Bhakti Yoga & Ram Dass

Stories of Ram Dass in my life

I read Be Here Now in 1972 and carried it around like my “bible.” I would open it up and it was as if God was talking to me. In 1973 or early 1974, a friend Richard gave me Ram Dass’s address in California and I wrote a letter of connection and shared an experience I had had with love and paranoia when I was tripping.

I shared with him a few more letters over the years. This was a response from RD as I struggled with my Christian background.

  • My first time to meet Ram Dass in person.

In late 1974, I heard Ram Dass was staying at his father’s place in West Franklin, NH about 2 hours from me in Ashby, Mass.  After exchanging 3 letters with Ram Dass, I bravely called directory assistance for Franklin, and asked for the number. Taking a few mindful moments, I then called the number. Ram Dass answered. We had a nice Heart to Heart, and he invited me to a Satsang gathering at his family place, when he returned from doing a silent retreat in a hotel in NYC. Boy oh boy!

The anticipation was delightful. The arrival with a couple friends, at his house was full of not knowing and nervous wonder. One story from that day… during his Dharma talk, he said “we must open our hearts to the suffering in the world.” As I was beginning a new hospital job, this touched and perked my interest. But at that moment, he moved to another subject, so a question stuck in my mind.

Later Ram Dass called for an “ask Dr. Dass” session Q and A. So even though I could feel my heart pace quickening, I raised my hand and when called on asked Ram Dass: “How do we open our hearts to the suffering of the world?” He closed his eyes, my heart was really pounding now. After a pause of meditation which by the way became very familiar in his later years, he spoke and like a lightning bolt it came: “Your heart is already open…” I hardly remember what else he said, but because this special person and inspiration, Ram Dass was saying to me, my heart was already open, meant I was OK the way I was. I was already good enough. A very powerful deep healing message that has helped guide my nursing career and life. Ram Dass over all the years encouraged each of us to listen and trust our Heart. 

  • Meditation at Rowe Church 1975

Of all my meditations with Ram Dass the deepest with a group, was at the Rowe Unitarian Church at his Memorial weekend retreat program at Rowe Conference Center. Ram Dass lead us in a meditation, began with doing a pranayama exercise the Mahadevananda Breath. Guided alternative nostril breathing with chakra visualization. He continued to 7 chakras above the head. Then he called forth everyone’s Guru to come here and give them a blessing. It was so real. Here is a Peter Simon photo of Ram Dass as he left that church after this meditation. 

  • You are my guru.

At this 1975 Rowe retreat my connection with Ram Dass became really anchored. We were in silence most of the time, but after one dharma talk, I went up to Ram Dass to speak with him. I said, “You are my guru,” he questioned me, “I am your guru, eh?” Well, I said, “as close as you are going to get I a physical body.” He asked if I wanted to have a private meeting with him at his office on Riverside Drive in NYC. I think I started levitating, he said, “relax.” I felt I became like a mountain. This private meeting turned into a 3 hour session with Ram Dass with sharing, questions, meditations, visualizations, energy work.

The beginning was so incredible… let me tell you. Understand, I had a couple months to think and not think about this meeting. When the day came I hitchhiked to NYC, from central Massachusetts carrying a pizza prasad for Ram Dass from a friend made in New Hampshire. Ram Dass’ assistant told me to place it in kitchen and showed me the room to go into. I did not wait long and Ram Dass comes in.  He sits down, cross legged in front of me and seriously looks at me and says, “If there is anything you are afraid to tell me, anything you don’t want to tell me, if there anything you are ashamed to tell me… tell me now.” Then he is quietly, fully present, looking at me.

Gulp, so I start sharing going on for a few minutes and he says, “You can do better than that.” Then I really start digging, closing my eyes and sharing about everything I could think of, yuck. After a while I opened up my eyes again, and in my shock I see Ram Dass looking at me in love, forgiveness, healing, and compassion. Such a tremendous feeling of relief came into my being. At the end of this meeting Ram Dass invited me to join a monthly class that was happening there in NYC. When i let him know about the pizza, he was so excited. As i was getting ready to leave he was getting his assistant so they could have Arty’s specially made Pizza Barn pizza.

After 3 months continued the NYC class and began a new class in Cambridge so Ram Dass could spend time with his elderly dad and many of the participants wouldn’t have to travel so far for the class.  

  • Cambridge, Massachusetts Classes

To have these monthly meetings with Ram Dass were incredible, we were sworn to secrecy because they were free, and RD was wanting to keep the group small for an intimate teaching style. News did spread and we were slowly growing in size. Ram Dass announced he was changing the rules. If anyone else asked him, if they could be in the class, he would ask who told him or her about it, and they would be in and you would be out. Ram Dass’ classes themselves were the full experience. There was continuity during the month Ram Dass gave us daily homework to do, different yogic practices, journal keeping, meditations, limiting sleep, having times of silence. He would ask us to share our journals at times and looked at them.

This picture appeared on the internet a few days after Ram Dass passed in 2019 and i was so surprised to see I was raising my hand and Ram Dass was calling on me! In this picture are Kathy PanagiotesBhavani BrownPerry GarfinkelElliot Kronstein, Richard Brown, Lonny Brown. Deb Cake, Steve Smith, Durga Joan Glaser Goldberg, Mark Epstein, Arty Panangiotes and others. 

Ram Dass with Mirabai Bush and Cambridge Class. I am in upper left with beard, looking at camera.
  • Should I go back to nursing school?

After one of the classes, I stayed and spoke with RD. I was a nursing assistant and the local licensed practical nursing (LPN) school had spoken with me. There were to be two men in this years class, but one dropped out. Now at this last moment, the other one didn’t want to be the only guy, and would I be interested joining the class? I didn’t really want to go back to school but I decided to ask Ram Dass. To my surprise he said yes I should go back to school. I argued, I liked doing what I was today with basic nursing care, helping people get better. He again said I should go back to school, I asked him “Why?” He said, “You will make more money.” Not the answer i was expecting from this great spiritual leader. Later he gave me the same answer, when i asked if I should go back to become an RN. He was right, but much more significant than the money, with these positive encouragements from Ram Dass; a few years later, I was able to create a job at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC doing stress management consultations, one on one patient interviews, Healing Touch sessions, and teaching mantra meditation to over 40,000 hospitalized patients and families. 

As I was being certified in Healing Touch, Ram Dass wrote a mentorship letter referencing the Cambridge Class for my certification packet.
  • Still a Ram Dass groupie!

Reading Be Here Now in January, 1972 changed my life. In this first part of the book where Maharaj-ji talks with Ram Dass about his mother’s passing, my viewpoints of life, death, meaning and purpose, began a spiritual transformation. Meanwhile for Ram Dass, early 1974, with his new age best seller and prior LSD notoriety, it is safe to say, Ram Dass was a rock star in the spiritual world. So even though I was like “Jon Ram Dass” while hitchhiking, where after getting into a car and soon I would happily pull out from my backpack, the cool colored, odd shaped copy of Be Here Now. As I discussed with my friends about the inner conflicts about my pull towards Ram Dass and not wanting to just be a “Ram Dass groupie,”  I decided not to go to Naropa for Ram Dass’ course; but since I respected Ram Dass in my heart so sincerely and because he recommended this new Buddhist School in Boulder, Colorado, I attended the second summer session so I could study with Trunpa who Ram Dass powerfully endorsed. Well I found out I wasn’t a Tibetan Buddhist, but I did meet and befriend, Bill Hamilton, a Satsang Brother who founded the original Ram Dass tape library, gathering everything Ram Dass recorded he could. And when I left the course, hitching back to Massachusetts I had the first box of cassettes Ram Dass six week course on the Yogas of the Bhagavad Gitas!

What a treasure. I listened and absorbed them over the next few years.

  • Hitchhiking Yoga.

During this time period with a lot of hitchhiking it gave me the perfect opportunity to try out Ram Dass teaching to love everyone. I was very attached to getting a ride. I found myself, not feeling good sometimes when it was cold, raining, a long wait, I was really wanting to get a ride, and holding disappointment feelings about the drivers not picking me up. Then one day I realized Ram Dass teaching and began to spiritually bless each car, and driver whether they picked me up or not. Loved doing it that way. It didn’t matter, I got my ride when I did. 

  • Ram Dass introduced me to Insight Meditation.

One afternoon my room-mate Richard Klepper in Leominster, Massachusetts answered a call, and heard Ram Dass’ voice ask for me. It blew his mind. When I returned that evening, he excitedly relayed the message. I called and Ram Dass was wondering if I could gather a few friends and meet him at the Insight Meditation Society nearby in Barre, Mass to help empty a truck of items he was moving from his Dad’s home in New Hampshire into storage? I let him know that it would be easy.

At the scheduled time our monkey crew arrived, emptied the truck, and later Ram Dass gave me a tour around the meditation center. He showed me the meditation hall, walking meditation room, dining hall etc. He encouraged me to practice meditation at this beautiful Center. I said I would love to, but I was finishing up nursing school, and had just gotten a new job which began soon afterwards. He smiled and said, “It is good to work.” He kind of left it like that. We finished the tour and I headed back home.

The next day I sat to meditate. Ram Dass had given us a practice where at the end of our meditations, we could open a holy book and read whatever page would fall open. My reading that day was from “Thus Spake Sri Ramakrishna” a teacher that Ram Dass highly recommended. My eyes fell on the words, “A man must work. Only then can he see God. One cannot develop love of God, or obtain His vision without work. Work means meditation, japa, and the like…”

Ram Dass’ words sprang back to mind as I read, “Work means meditation.” “It is good to work!” I had an epiphany. Let me get out the calendar and look at this schedule again! Well, Insight Meditation Society had a ten-day course with Ruth Denison beginning the day after my nursing school ended. As I looked, I saw Ruth’s course ended the day before my new job started. I immediately signed up and did my first silent meditation retreat there in 1976. Ram Dass happened to be in retreat there himself, writing Grist for the Mill. By the time I moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina in 1982, I also did a three-month retreat and quite a few other retreats at IMS studying with Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg. This study and training came in very handy later as an award-winning stress and pain management nurse specialist for hospitalized patients at Duke Hospital for 30 years.

  • Take it to the world.

At Ram Dass workshops and special gatherings over the years, he would have mala ceremonies, with Maharaji’s Grace, I have been able to attend quite a few of them. 

As Ram Dass entered his later 80’s and became more physically vulnerable, the amount of physical contact and amount of time in front of him decreased during the mala ceremonies. Ram Dass wanting always to take time, give individual contact, hug. Now no touching, keeping a distance marked with a line on the floor see picture above. I realize now this is something we are too familiar with today!  Dassima would always impress on me to tell everyone to be quick, don’t hug etc. 

In 2016, there was a wonderful beautiful mala ceremony with almost 400 people. After the long wait in line chanting Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram with Krishna Das and everybody, it was my turn to receive a mala, I was very sensitive on the need to be quick which was so hard! With Dassima standing on one side of Ram Dass and Raghu Markus the leader of the retreat nearby I knew to be quick. So I pranamed, shut my eyes, held for a few of those juicy Ram Dass seconds, opening my eyes and was about to get up and move on to Maharaj-ji picture Darshan. Then I noticed Ram Dass signaling me with his finger to come closer. I paused being in a cognitive dissonance state, trying to be good and get going but then in the moment he did it again. So it must be okay, what can I do, thinking “sorry Dassima,” I got closer and leaned in, Ram Dass whispered to me, “Take it to the world.” Twice, a kundalini moment, I bowed again with tears in my eyes and my heart wide open. Moved to Maharaj-ji and back to the room of spiritually glowing Satsang.

Ram Dass: “Take it to the world.”
  • Finally a real understanding of ego.

Being a mind-body nurse specialist, informal counselor, and being brought up in a challenging home environment I was always very interested in psychology. For the life of me though I could never figure out what the ego was, or how to articulate succinctly what the ego was to others, so I finally gave up on the ego’s pursuit of ego. 

Later when Ram Dass was doing a series of monthly live web broadcasts. I would take notes and meditate on things he spoke of. For example, I really loved and appreciated his speaking about “contentment.” For myself in this world seeking “world peace,” or “peace,” really seems impossible. But as Ram Dass described contentment… being able to be with what is with equanimity, seemed really doable. Then at the New Year’s talk, he made a comment that the “Ego is rarely content..!”   Big flash, in a practical real world manner, I know what contentment is, so when I am not content, there is ego!

  •  Ram Dass “night nurse,” in Kainchi 2004. 

In summer of 2004, I was invited by Kathleen Murphy who Ram Dass later gave the name Dassima, to go to India on a pilgrimage with Ram Dass to Kainchi Ashram to see Sri Siddhi Ma again. The plan was to meet up in Delhi with a Satsang crew and take a bus trip together. Of course this idea reminded us of the original “bus trip” story.

Sri Mata-ji gave Dassima and I permission to take photos and videos of our time in Kainchi Ashram, as long as we don’t photograph the Mothers. Dassima has been such a blessing in my life since we first met and photos from my time in Massachusetts, Maui and Taos with Ram Dass she has taken for me.

While in Kainchi, after a week or so, I became Ram Dass’ “night nurse,” sleeping in the same room to assist with the handicap challenges of the ashram room at the time. He had been having a terrible time with sleep only a few hours a night. So after getting his chaotic pill containers in good shape with Dr. Rick, I began to think of how i could help him with sleep.

In nursing, I had learned about sleep hygiene as a way to help promote longer and more sustained rest. So I instituted a “nursing care plan” where some components were: When we were lying down, I would only speak if spoken to. He knew not to get up on his own, so I let him know please if you need anything at all, just ask. I slept on or should I say, mostly laid awake on the floor on a mat, with no problems. It was exciting to report to Sri Siddhi Ma and Dr. Rick the many hours Ram Dass began to sleep each night. And even more wonderful to see Ram Dass energy perk up.

  • An autopsy story.

In 1976, because of my interest in hospice, death. the impermanence and fragility of life, when I was asked by the Director of Nursing to take an on-call job for come in about once a month to assist a Pathologist with doing a post mortem autopsy. After about 6 months and getting some experience, one Sunday morning I got a call to assist and it was for a 10 year old boy who had a burst appendix, terrible tradgedy, was sent home from the E.R. As we prayerfully did our job, I knew that a little later that day I was going to hitchhike to Cambridge for my monthly class with Ram Dass so I decided to bring the Soul of the boy with me to the group. Through the class, I was sending lovingkindness Ram Dass compassion energy to all the people hurting back home. I didn’t speak about it out loud, but the perfect words came from Ram Dass about the Soul’s journey. When I left to hitch back to Ashby, it felt like the Soul of the boy was good and had continued on. And intuitively I felt the metta practice, helped everyone. 

  • You’re a Deaner!

Being a nurse and caring for people has been very “normal” to me. So service and Ram Dass’ karma yoga teachings have been a foundation of my hospital work, service in the community and the love of my country. I have been very politically active every 2-4 years in my life. My country has been going through incredible escalating suffering over the last few years and i have been thinking alot about service and political action. Tonight thinking of a few political discussions i have had with Ram Dass over the years, so i have big confidence that i know who he is supporting in the 2020!

In 2004, Ram Dass and i were in disagreement of who we wanted to be the presidential candidate of our party. He was strongly in favor of Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and i was a big Gov. Howard Dean fan. I was curious as to why he didn’t like Dr. Dean. In Vermont the legislature voted to make marijuana legal and as Governor Howard Dean had vetoed the legalization. Kucinich was in favor of making a Department of Peace as well as legal cannabis. So for Ram Dass it was a no brainer. Later that night at a friends house an old fashioned pot party started to unfold. A plate, pot and papers appeared. RD like a good host, asked who could roll a joint? Well i had learned to roll pretty good one back in the day, so i volunteered. He said, “You can’t roll a joint you ‘re a Deaner, you’re a Deaner.” All i could do was laugh. i hope i proved him wrong. But later on it struck me, I used to have a job in the hospital as a “diener!” Pronounced the same as RD called me. i was a diener for 3 years and about once a month (to deepen my awareness of life, death and impermanence) i assisted a Pathologist in doing autopsies.

  • Report from a friend’s Heart to Heart.

I spoke with a nursing satsang friend Anjani right after she had a Heart to Heart videochat with Ram Dass in the last year of his life, said he told her, “His body complains all the time but that his soul was perfect.”   For Ram Dass who was so precise with his words after succeeding so greatly in his battle with aphasia, for him to say his soul was prefect touched me very deeply as to who Ram Dass really was. 

  • Ram Dass, wasn’t a nobody, he was the ultimate wingman

My girlfriend was moving from North Carolina to join me in Ojai. I picked her up at the Ventura Shuttle, and as we were entering Ojai, Dassima called me from Ram Dass’ house very appreciative of some auction items I had mailed her for the upcoming December retreat. I let her know she was on Bluetooth speaker and Mimi was just arriving with me in California. She was very excited for me and us. She asked if we would like to speak with Ram Dass, so in a few seconds Ram Dass says hello, I said Jai Sri Ram, and he said, Jai Jai Jai Jai! I introduced him to Mimi and he said to her, “You have found yourself an interesting and wonderful man!” 

  • 2005 was the beginning of the Ram Dass Monday beach trips! Ram Dass, Maui Mike with Dassima taking the picture. Buoy oh boy! I didn’t know how to swim, but like Ram Dass i wore a life jacket and felt so safe, deep out in the water.
  •  Vasu the spiritual name Ram Dass gave me.

This  picture of the letter Ram Dass sent me when he gave me the spiritual name Vasu. When he mentions “his being is the true wealth.” I have come to understand, that it is having the ability to give that is important and learning to listen intuitively to when to offer service. 

Ram Dass wrote a letter in support of Duke University Hospital’s nomination of myself, for the Norman Cousins Mind-Body Medicine Award in 1996.

  •  Poster from the first talk I organized for Ram Dass in North Carolina.
  •  Rhode Island Retreat 1976.
Roger Williams College 5 day retreat June 15-19th, 1976.
A fire ritual with drumming and chanting, I am standing tall in middle with beard and glasses. Vasudah Liisa O’Malley organized the retreat with Ram Dass and is pictured by the fire. Ram Dass’ co-teacher Soma Krishna is holding space on the right.
  •  2010 Married by Ram Dass at his house on my birthday, Summer Solstice, June 21st.
Blessings from RD and everyone present. In retrospect, storm clouds are foretelling our future we only stayed married six years.

June 23, 2021. I would like to continue to add stories about Ram Dass.

In early 1997, Ram Dass invited me to dinner in Marin County soon before the stroke, as we waited for the waiter to take our order he showed me his sports car outside the nice restaurant. He was telling me about a national Sunday morning radio show he was going to start soon. And then he says he wanted to tell me about his “new friend Lawrence,” I said “OK”, thinking it was a new boyfriend or something. Lawrence… Rockefeller wanted Ram Dass’ help in setting up a holistic nurse program in Ohio. So i was happy to be a consultant in this. At the end of our visit, I remembered that Ram Dass had told me when i was younger not to go to India unless i could stay for at least 3 months. So i got the chance to tell him I could arrange now to get a month off my hospital job, and he blessed me going to India and introduced me to JR Ransom and his wife Radha, who became my guides and dear Satsang friends during that trip.

Scrabble and Maharaj-ji LSD story

When i was young i did acid many times, maybe 30. But i stopped because i had to get my life more together. A few years later, around age 30, a couple years after reading Miracle of Love, recognizing Neem Karoli Baba as my Guru, my career path set, i was sitting at my mom’s home at Christmas time playing Scrabble with her and my brother. On the radio, came Elton John’s version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and i immediately started having this strong desire, thoughts/feelings to do the lsd again. I loved it, it was fun etc. etc. Then i remembered, i had to figure out how many tiles to pick out of the bag. I saw i had 5 letters, I needed to get two tiles out of the bag. But then, i looked at the letters!!! L S D NO . Less than a minute ago i heard the music, my mind starting racing with desire to do lsd> then i looked down and saw the message. I attribute this to my Baba to protect me and/or protect the people who i might come in contact with.

Oct. 23, 2021 Namaste, Ram Dass told me he lived outside time. But he surrounded himself with people who lived in time, so he would make it to the doctor’s appointments. Smart judgement call! He told me another time he was interviewed by the LA Times newspaper and they asked him who didn’t like him, so they could speak to them. He gave them the name of a friend of mine in North Carolina and his judgement about that guy’s attitude was totally correct. I remember the big scandal with Joya, in the 1970’s. He at first told people she was Divine Mother, then later, in magazine interviews he reported what a big phony she turned out to be. Ram Dass was quite the interesting fellow not afraid to align himself with truth which can involve judgements. And when his judgements turned out to be wrong had the courage to admit it!

  • I was asked to make a list of important Ram Dass Teachings…

I was asked me an interesting question. And I wanted to share my response with you all: … Wondering what you would say are the 10 most important Ram Dass teachings? 

In no particular order. 1. Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God. 2. The only work we have to do is on ourselves. 3. (When he said to me…) “Your heart is already open.” 4.(When he said to me…) When you are working with someone, focus on the place between the eyes… to draw out what is needed in the moment. 5. (When he said to me…) In a room in India, we were with about 8 people, and he said… We have been together many lifetimes. 6. We are Souls not our roles in life. 7. (When he said to me…) When you die you go to Maharaj-ji’s blanket. Signaling head to heart with his hand. Go from your head to your heart. 8. Ram Dass’ teachings on mantra meditation. 9. Saying these words gave me an instant understanding of the ego.  “The ego is rarely content.” 10. At a mala ceremony in Maui, Dassi had told me to not get close and keep it quick, we couldn’t get close because of Ram Dass’ aging and so many people present. I pranamed to him and was going to quickly move along, but Ram Dass called me close to him. I was a little startled, i am a rule follower.  He signaled again for me to get closer, this time I did and he twice said: “Take it to the world.” I will add a funny #11. Continue your education and become an RN because you will make more money. Vasu

Singing Hanuman Chalisa in Kainchi

Singing Hanuman Chalisa in Kainchi in front of Neem Karoli’s Murti with Prema, Nina Rao, Shyama Chapin, Ambika Elizabeth, Kevin Light, Sydney and others!
  • Neem Karoli Baba Murti in Kainchi Ashram 2004.
When the Guru leaves the body, the Temple becomes the Guru. It was October and cold, they put a hat on the statue.
  • Interview with Ram Dass, by Dassima & Vasu
You hear the sounds of the Durga Festival in the background of this 2004 video interview we did in Kainchi Dham. This was a few years after Ram Dass’ stroke. While we were visiting, the Ashram, Sri Mata-ji allowed Dassima and I to do some recording. Recently the color was corrected and subtitles put in to help with the background sounds..
Threads from this piece of Maharaj-ji’s blanket were placed on each mala given out by Ram Dass in ceremonies.

More info about Ram Dass

  • Hanuman Maui is the living continuation of Ram Dass’s presence on Maui. We seek to uphold his teachings of love, service and devotion.
  • The Love Serve Remember Foundation is dedicated to preserving and continuing the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba and Ram Dass. The foundation facilitates the continuation of these teachings through online courses, blog content, films, podcasts, social network channels and collaborative projects with conscious artists and musicians.