"How good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony."
That was the huge banner hanging on the back wall of the church.
My wife and I had come to be with Krishna Das, who has been singing Hindu holy music since he went to India 40 years ago. As a bonus, Krishna Das would be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of Be Here Now with a short film and a beamed-in visit with its author, Ram Dass.
Who in the spiritual set doesn't love Krishna Das? And as for Ram Dass -- how many people were inspired to start on the path by their reading of his landmark book? So the mood in the church was powerfully... well, harmonious. Picture it: more than a thousand friendly people, eager for a group experience of divine love.
I wasn't feeling it.
This very day, every Republican in the Senate pledged to block all legislation until the president endorsed a continuation of tax cuts for the rich. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- here to stay. A crucial arms control treaty -- won't be signed. A continuation of benefits for the chronically unemployed --- not happening.
I was livid.
When will the poor, the gays in the military, the children who don't want missiles landing on their homes stop being so goddamn cheap and start buying politicians like the special interests do?
Oh. Right. They can't afford K Street lobbyists.
Okay, I tell myself, we must start where we are. And where I am, as soon as Krishna Das starts his harmonium going, is in a very good place. I have flunked out of Judaism, failed to master meditation, read Buddhist texts instead of doing the practice. But Hinduism 101 -- an evening of kirtan, a Hindu prayer service that takes the form of a singalong -- just might be possible for me.
Little problem, however. Here is Ram Dass, talking about meeting his guru, and passing on Maharaj-ji's core message. And what he is saying is: "Love everybody." More or less like this:
I understand. But really -- love John Boehner? Rush? Glenn Beck? Sarah Palin?
And I could go on.
But there's no wiggle room in Maharaj-ji's message. And Krishna Das and Ram Dass, in passing it on, don't insert any qualifiers. "Love everybody." That's it.
In the protected space of this church, for a lot of other people, it seems to work. (By "people," I mean mostly women. For whatever reason -- and I can suggest a few -- fewer men respond to this vibration.) Many are not beautiful in any conventional sense, and yet, as I scan the room, I hear The Beatles' line: "How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?" Off to the side, I spot a woman dancing. There's no more concise way to say this: To see her dance is to know how she makes love -- she's that free. There was a time when I'd look at a women dancing like that and think, "Yeah, I could hit that." Tonight, what I think is: "How am I ever going to get there?"
Make no mistake: If Krishna Das wanted everyone here to be dancing with abandon, he could make that happen. As a performer, he's completely natural. But that ease is deceptive -- he's a great showman, with a keen sense of pacing. And if you're obsessed with the Big Picture, the show he's putting on is, quite literally, The Greatest Show on Earth. It's to his credit that he doesn't incite mass ecstasy.
I don't want to make this evening sound like some granola party. Just the opposite -- "Love Everyone" kicked me hard and brought up a ton of shit. Which I got to look at, close up. Not a bad thing. Just a very hard thing, this moving away from the mind and into the heart.
"A book doesn't give a living transmission," Ram Dass has said. Yes, but I'm addicted to reading. So of course I went back and re-read Be Here Now. Maybe I'm skittish about looking back at the folly that was my own life in 1970, but I wasn't as captivated by the book as I'd been Back Then.
The new book by Ram Dass, Be Love Now: The Path of the Heart, was much more bracing. How could it not be? Maharaji died in 1973, but by then, Ram Dass knew him very well -- and as he'd be the first to say, he's come to know his guru a great deal better since his death. The first part of the book is about Maharaji's teachings; it's mercifully brief, because, after all, Maharaji's message is so very simple. After that, the book is mostly stories -- what it was like to be around an enlightened master.
If you think The Miraculous is just sleight-of-hand --- Siegfried & Roy, performed by a guy in a diaper --- this is not the book for you. Maharaji stops trains. Reads minds. Appears in several places at once. Consider the bus story:
"Miracles only happen for those who believe in them," C.S. Lewis wrote. Well, I want to believe. But not just for me. I want to believe that John Boehner will suddenly have a vision of an unemployed father wondering how he's going to buy just one present for his kids at Christmas. I want to believe that Rush will have a vision of the size of the mountain of lies he has told for so many years. I want to believe Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin will have a vision of the ways words morph into weapons. I want to believe, with the words on the last frame of one of the Ram Dass videos, that we can "Love People, Feed People, Serve People, Remember God."
First -- unfortunately -- I've got to make some peace with myself. And in this effort, I do believe that Ram Dass and Krishna Das can be good allies.
Cross-posted from HeadButler.com