The Only Dance There Is (1974)

ram dassThe Only Dance There Is is a compiled transcription of two lectures Ram Dass gave to a room of psychotherapists in the early 1970s; the first lecture at the Menninger Foundation in 1970, and the second at the Spring Grove Hospital in 1972. Seeing as Ram Dass was a trained Harvard professor and psychiatrist before he transformed into a yogi, he was in the fortunate position of having two perceptual vantage points to overlook the whole thing. His clear insight into the Western approach to solving man’s spiritual problems through psychology, and his new understanding into the Eastern approach through yoga and meditation allowed him the opportunity to act as a solid concrete bridge between the worlds of East and West. Prior to Ram Dass bridges existed, but they were of the old and fragile, made of rope variety, which were rarely crossed out of fear of the bridge collapsing and you falling into the abyss below. Because of this the game at that point was very polarised – us vs them, hippies vs police, East vs West, and so on.

In these lectures Ram Dass attempted to share the Indian’s non-dualistic outlook on life, called Advaita Vedanta, to an audience very much attached to the separation of all living things. Ram Dass eloquently shared what he had learnt in India, and what he had given up in Harvard, by comparing the comparatively new Western psychology to the 10,000 year old Eastern method of Yoga. For example, he discusses in detail the Hindu chakra system and how it closely resembles psychological systems for understanding human motivation – an area that Ram Dass happened to specialise in when he was a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Richard Alpert. The 1970 Menninger lecture occurred at the same time that ‘Be Here Now‘ was being written and a year before its release to the public, the lecture displays Ram Dass in the flush of discovery of a method infinitely times more fulfilling than anything he had encountered or studied in the West, including psychology and psychedelics. And here he was, delivering this news from a far away land to his old colleagues and suit wearing brothers of psychotherapy – the result is this book, a bottomless pot of honey. Continue reading

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It’s Here Now (Are You?) (1998)

its here nowToo often we underestimate the power of thought. Thoughts manifest. Your life is what you think it is. That’s why meditating and disengaging from the thought process helps free the self’ – It’s Here Now p. 63.

It’s Here Now (Are You?) is one of the best books I have ever read. It was surprisingly very well written and kept me engaged from start to finish. Even though the book is not a work of fiction it is definitely out of this world:  `I didn’t know it that night, but we would become close friends for the next six years… our conversation would become telepathic, thought to thought. It was easy to connect with him that way’.

I found out about this book through reading Be Here Now, which told the story of how Dr Richard Alpert (Harvard psychologist turned LSD guru) had a chance encounter with a 20 year old white kid in India who spoke fluent Hindi and was accepted by all of the Buddhist monks, lamas and travelling yogis, much to Richard’s surprise. Richard ended up following this kid throughout India, and it is through him that he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. This resulted in his being sucked into a spiritual transformation and spat out a completely new being, freed from the chains of his ego. The young white kid’s ‘name’ was Bhagavan Das and he ended up writing a very honest account of his experiences in India, which is this autobiography that I am reviewing, now. Bhagavan Das never goes out of his way to make himself look good and actually writes into existence a lot of scenarios that put him in bad light, which is admirable considering all the spiritual figures out there who seem to want people to think they shit gold. Bhagavan Das (Michael Riggs) also shares all of his spiritual insights and divine experiences and doesn’t seem to mind if you believe them or not. Obviously this book is soaking with Indian spirituality, but even if you’re not into that sort of thing it’s still interesting to read the story of how some white kid from California escapes to India and becomes a saint pretty much over night… and to top it off there’s a lot of drug use and sex on the side.

Bhagavan Das does it all, and you can’t help but think of him as a spiritual materialist, snatching from every religion and ritual to find the sweet nectar of enlightenment. But it is this character flaw that makes for interesting reading as it allows you a peek at how spirituality is treated in India through all of its diverse religious practices. Throughout his journey Bhagavan tastes from every fruit of every tree – even forbidden fruits as he happens upon witches and demon worshipers and becomes fascinated with their `dark energy’. At one point he witnesses an Indian man meditating in a pit of fire, without so much as a scratch on his body. More impressive than that is how he also shows that at the end of the day he is still just a human primate: `Major Rikki also had a big stack of Playboy magazines, which I eventually gave into reading. I couldn’t resist the temptation. As soon as I was given the opportunity, I gave in to all of it. I was masturbating to pornographic magazines, smoking State Express No. 555, and listening to Major Rikki boast about his Military career’.

It’s Here Now (Are You) is a great companion piece to Ram Dass’ Be Here Now, and is also an excellent book on its own merit. Above everything else it is a story about a single person’s journey, and this is something we can all relate to. If you are into Hinduism, meditation, travel books or just need a good escape then this book might just be what you’re searching for!

* * * * * 5 stars 

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Be Here Now (1971)

Be Here Now Ram Dass

“Embrace the 10,000 Beautiful Visions”

Be Here Now (1971) is a classic text on Hindu spirituality that bloomed open like a lotus flower in the wake of the hippie movement. The seed for this book was planted in the mind of Harvard psychiatrist turned Indian mystic, Ram Dass, and was written – with the blessings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba – for a Western audience who were, for the most part, materially rich but spiritually poor

Be Here Now offered it’s readers and followers a drug free alternative for attaining higher states of consciousness, while its simple message to live in the present encouraged the pursuit and cultivation of inner peace. Since it’s original publication the book has sold more than 2 million copies and has had an enormous influence on the Western world’s adoption of Eastern philosophy and spirituality. I can’t speak for everybody, but my copy of Be Here Now is one of my most treasured possessions, it opened the door of spiritual discovery and casually pointed towards the way. To this day, Be Here Now’s teachings shine like the sun and penetrate even the darkest spaces. I recommend it with all my heart to those with an open mind, and a thirst for self discovery.

be here now

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Siddhartha (1922)

It’s now been almost two years since I first read Siddhartha (1922), and I can still confidently say it is one of my favourite books and will be for quite some time. Herman Hesse was known for writing semi autobiographical novels, and this one is no exception, the character Siddhartha is even recognised for his writing ability at one stage of the novel. Siddhartha is heavily influenced by Hesse’s close relationship with the great Swisse psychologist Carl Jung, and it is a treat to experience the archetypal imagery that Hesse brings to life with sheer mastery. The novel reads like an old mythic tale, told with simple descriptive prose, and playful dialogue: the characters even refer to themselves in the third person!

The book is divided into three parts that symbolically follow Siddhartha’s birth, death, and rebirth. The Siddhartha in the novel is not related to the Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), but he exists in the same time as him, and the two cross paths in the book. Even though they are unrelated, and the story hasn’t much to do with the Buddha, the novel implies that the Buddha exists everywhere and in everyone and is merely a representation of the enlightenment available to anyone, at any moment. Whether it be at the moment of physical death, sickness, wealth, sadness, or simply holding and looking at a rock, one is capable of ‘waking up’ and seeing the inter connectedness of everything.

I won’t elaborate further on the book as I would hate to subtract any of your enjoyment out of reading it yourself, and if you haven’t yet, I urge you to, after all it’s only 80 pages. One important thing to consider before reading it however, is the translation. The original was written in German, so the translation of the book can make or break it. Some translations are really poor, while others capture the essence of the novel gracefully. Below is an extract of the book, spanning all (or at least most) of the English translations available to you, to help you choose the right version for you. I’ve ordered them in order of best to worst, though you might have a different opinion to me.
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The Alchemist (1988)

The Alchemist (1988) is one of those hard to put down books that leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling after it’s finished. The book was given to me as a gift, and unlike most gift-books I have received I actually read this one, and I am so glad I did. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is the literary equivalent to an oasis situated at the very heart of a burning desert. The story, written in the spirit of a fable, details the spiritual journey and transformation of a young shepard named Santiago, which begins after he meets a mysterious old sage in a street bazaar. I will write the prologue to the book here, it is short and sweet and always reminds me of the essence of the novel:

`The alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages, he found a story about Narcissus. The alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth who knelt daily beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. At the spot where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the narcissus. But this was not how the author of the book ended the story. He said that when Narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears. “Why do you weep?” the goddesses asked. “I weep for Narcissus,” the lake replied. “Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus” they said, “for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate the beauty close at hand.” “But… was Narcissus beautiful?” the lake asked. “Who better than you to know that?” the goddesses said in wonder. “After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!”. The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said: “I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.” “What a lovely story”, the alchemist thought.

★★★★★ 5 stars