Dear Dirty America


Taking Ram Dass’ Book for A Spin

May 17
19:13 2012
Los Angeles

I took my old, $1 copy of Baba Ram Dass’ “Remember Be Here Now” book out for a spin on the town this morning. I hadn’t meant it to be that way — I simply wished to read its introduction in the cool morning air, while sipping a hot coffee from the local shop. Instead, passersby continuously stopped to tell me how great the book was.

One woman, with a slight New York accent, told me she’d helped publish it back in the 70s. Her small white and brown dog climbed onto my lap as she told me how the book had made her career. “Be Here Now” was a clumsy book — Dass demanded it be a square, instead of the standard hardcover, or trade paperbacks. Publishing the thing was, consequently, tricky and more expensive to run through the presses.

Dass also expressed his wish to sell the book for $3.33. It had to be that way. When published, the book sold 2 million copies.

A hippie a decade or two older than me, with similar long blonde hair, rode his bike past the bench on which I sat, and he said, “Great book, man.” I told him it really is. He smiled big. He had a gap between his front two teeth. He carried a yoga mat on his back.

I’d like to share a few passages from this wonderful book. I’ll break it into multiple posts, but here’s one for now. Dass talks about being taught various Hindi lessons:

When starting to teach me about what it meant to be ‘ahimsa’ or non-violent, and the effect on the environment around you of the vibrations–when he started to teach me about energy and vibrations, his opening statement was “Snakes Know Heart.” “Yogis in jungle need not fear.” Because if you’re pure enough, cool it, don’t worry. But you’ve got to be very pure.”

This idea of ‘ahimsa’ delights me and makes me remember a story told my Jiddu Krishnamurti about a 500-pound she-gorilla sitting on his hotel balcony one evening. I forget which country he was staying in, but it was one where gorillas roam free, apparently. Krishnamurti was alone. He slowly walked through his hotel room and onto the balcony. The gorilla eyed him the entire time. Krishnamurti held out a hand to the creature, and it eventually held out her thick black fingers to him.

They made light contact with their fingers, and then the gorilla left. The man interviewing Krishnamurti asked if he was afraid. One swift move, and the gorilla could have ripped off the very small Indian man’s head. Krishnamurti said no, he wasn’t scared. He had a very pure heart, and the gorilla knew it. Could feel it. Animals respond to energies.

I think that’s what Baba Ram Dass’ teacher meant with “Snakes Know Heart.” One of my instructors, an old poet and politician in Los Angeles, Lewis MacAdams, told a similar story. He was ripped out of his gourd on LSD, and he staggered into a prairie somewhere in Northern California. A doe happened to be there as well. MacAdams and the doe stared down each other, and Lewis got understood in that moment that the deer was judging him.

The deer was repulsed by the heavy reeking smells of gasoline that emanated from MacAdams’ body. Gasoline was the consequence of the lifestyle he’d chosen to live, and to the deer that was repugnant and insane. To hear MacAdams tell the story is far better than reading it here. The deer ran off, and MacAdams was left with an insight.

Are we covered in gasoline? Impurities? Silly anxieties about money and fashions and housing and music with heavy bass lines and plastics and throwaway coffee cups and terrorism. Does that bewilder the animals? Either we’ve gone so far out of our way with this messy runaway industrialism and materialism, or we’re stuck in a deadening zone between what was natural, and what will be a Type 1 civilization far better equipped to live peacefully on this planet.

Either humanity is slowly dying, or in the process of a rebirth. Either way, it’s going to be ugly and painful.

Luckily for MacAdams, the doe is not a violent animal. The snake, however, will snap at what it’s afraid of. The snake will react with force. The snake knows heart. As, I imagine, all animals do.

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