Richard Alpert went to India as a Westerner, an ex-professor from the prestigious Harvard University. Having met a transformative Guru, he came back as Ram Dass, a God smitten yogi. Here’s his account of his journey back:
On the way back from India I had gotten to the Los Angeles airport where I was waiting between planes. I had come from this thing in the temple and then I’d been in Kyoto in Japan in a temple, and from there I’d come directly to Los Angeles where I was waiting for a plane to my cabin. And I was sitting in the lotus position on a bench in the American airlines terminal. And three soldiers came by on their way back from Vietnam and they were talking about whether they wanted to meet some women or get a bottle first. That was their discussion.
One of them took a look at me and said, “What are you some kind of a yogurt?”
It’s hard to imagine the space my head was in in those days. First I had been silent for 7 months, working on a slate board even in Japan. I was used to living in a very quiet space. So this was all very much. Their words were floating around and I could feel all the vibrations and everything the being was, was saying and so on. And I just felt this incredible wave of love and I looked at him and I said, “Well as a matter of fact I am a yogi and I’ve been in the Himalayas studying” and I looked right at him you know, like “Right. You know. Right on.”
Well all I can tell you is that within about probably a minute and a half he was sitting next to me telling me about how he watched his best friend being shot to death in the tent they were living in in Vietnam, and what he felt like facing death and so on. And 30 minutes later when their plane was called they could barely part. It was the shaking hands and “It’s been SUCH a thing to meet you”.
Well that blew my mind, because that had nothing to do with me obviously. I mean clearly that would never have happened with me. But whatever it was that I had picked up in India was like some kind of bug in the digestive system. It was doing something to me so that these people were seeing something or other. I felt very much like a middle man in the whole operation.
What is the sign of spiritual progress? How do you know that you are on the right path? It is possible that you may be making a lot of money and gaining fame, but are you on the right path spiritually? How does one find out? The answer is that as you make spiritual progress, the ego diminishes. Rather than seeing your actions as done by the ego, you now begin to see yourself merely an agent of an Higher power. This is how Ram Dass describes his actions in the account above, and this is a sure sign of spiritual progress. There is love in your every breath and every action is from a deep sense of humility.
Great things may happen when your surrender to the Divine is complete. All Ram Dass wanted to do on his return was to stay alone and meditate in the same manner he had done in India. But a chance encounter with a bunch of hippies changed everything. He soon had a following, and then the following grew and he was giving talks, and the notes on his talks became a book, and the book struck a chord and sold millions of copies, and Ram Dass became world famous. Funny are the ways the Divine works.