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20th Anniversary Rendezvous - Ram Dass

My intention is to take on the places where everybody is caught in a conspiracy of consciousness. To enter places that exacerbate suffering. To go in and allow myself to drown in it, to overcome not by pushing it away, but by going in. I work with homelessness and AIDS, areas where there are very few consciousness survivors. Most people working with the legislators get so frustrated and so angry and so polarized that I try to remember Gandhi's line, "I want the British to leave, but I want them to leave as friends." That's the quality of what I'm going after.

Social action should come out of clarity of mind. It should not be based on the emotional blackmail of fear, or selective emotional reporting. It's demeaning to motivate people's social action out of that. It's like using fear and urgency to get rid of nuclear bombs. The obvious absurdity of nuclear bombs is a much more powerful device for social action.

I work with kids and teenagers a lot. I speak at schools and work at summer camp. Psychological and social issues like AIDS and homelessness are a little too emotionally deep for them to get into right away. I've found that ecological concerns are the most suitable vehicle for awakening teenagers into social consciousness. Our habits, lifestyles and models of abundance are so strong that it's hard for us to let go of them. But kids come along with a receptivity to the corruption of the oceans. Corrupting the environment is a reality for them, even while we're busy denying it, assuming it'll all go away. They're growing up in a very different kind of ecospace than we did.

The thing I tell kids about drugs is that, first of all, you've got to recognize that there are different agendas for different stages of life, and that you've got to become somebody before you try experimenting with becoming nobody. I say if they start to become nobody too soon, they're left confused for a lot of life. That it would be better for them to develop their somebodyness first. And they seem to have no problem being preoccupied with their somebodyness. Then I encourage them to get educated about the whole nature of drugs, so that they can be sophisticated to the differences among chemicals, so they can see that the psychedelics and the mushrooms are very different from coke and crack and stuff like that. I feel that when they get into "say no to drugs" in a Nancy Reagan kind of fundamentalist axis, that they are vulnerable because they are in a belief system that's very brittle. It's not sensitive to the truth of their own inner being. Tim Leary has a great bumpersticker I love that says, "Just Say Know."

I try to show how addictive our society is. These kids are living in the middle of addictions, not just to drugs, but to power and to money and to sex. I still meditate only because it's addicting, because it makes me feel high all the time. But I don't think highness and freedom are the same thing. I usedto equate them much more intimately. But now I see them as very independent of one another. I'm much less romantic about the spiritual journey. It's like Trungpa Rinpoche said, "Enlightenment is the ego's ultimate disappointment." The ego trip of spirituality is what's falling away from me. What's left is what's real, which is quite empty. All the stuff I protected my heart from before, my heart seems to be open to now. It's being ripped all the time and at the same moment there's this emptiness. Which is kind of interesting. It's as if a lot of internal processing is going on that I can barely understand. It doesn't have the pizzazz we had 10 years ago, where we all got together arid sang and got high and assumed that's what it was about.

There is an international social consciousness coming in. The global information overload is good in that it forces us to separate the difference between wisdom and information. It has value in that it also creates networking, which creates horizontal versus vertical social structures, which is also good. The downside of this technology is that it externalizes pleasure seeking. The same way with the Bomb. Technologically, it's terrible in the sense of nuclear waste and Chernobyl and so on. The up side is that it's got everybody learning how to live with death on their left shoulder. That's pretty profound. If I were god, as in dualism, and wanted to shift culture consciousness, I think that the Bomb and television and travel would be wonderful ways of doing it.

Political office is not necessarily the optimum vehicle for social change. Because of opinion polls, lobbyists, the give and take of legislative power structures, politicians are really locked in to a very few degrees of freedom. Yet because of the networking of communications, the collective consciousness of the society can almost immediately trickle down into the consciousness of the politician. It's like trickling down from the fourth chakra to the third. Neither Gandhi nor Martin Luther King held public office. Just like in television, you don't get handed worldly power unless they are absolutely sure that you are one of them. That's the way it's played. On the other hand that Eastern statement is so true: give it all up and you get it all.