The Only Dance There Is by Ram Dass

Excerpted from The Only Dance There Is by Ram Dass. Copyright © 1973 by Ram Dass. Excerpted by permission of Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright © by

Last evening, here in Topeka, as one of the journeyers on a path, a very, very old path, the path of consciousness, I, in a sense, met with the Explorers Club to tell about the geography I had been mapping. The people who gather to hear somebody called Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert, have somewhere, at some level, in some remote corner, some involvement in this journey. All that I can see that we can do with one another is share notes of our exploration. I can say, "Watch out, because around that bend the road falls off sharply to the left ... stay far over on the right when you do that."

The motivation for doing this is most interesting – it's only to work on myself. It’s very easy to break attachments to worldly games when you're sitting in a cave in the Himalayas. It's quite a different take you do of sex, power, money, fame, and sensual gratification in the middle of New York City in the United States with television and loving people around and great cooks and advertising and total support for all of the attachments. But there is the story of a monk who got very holy up on the mountain until he had. some thousands of followers. After many years he went down into a city and he was in the town and somebody jostled him. He turned around angrily and that anger was a mark of how little work he had really done on himself. For all the work he had done he still hadn't clipped the seed of anger, he still got uptight when somebody pushed him around.

So that what I see as my own sadhana (my work on my own consciousness – it could also be called my spiritual journey) is that it is very much cyclic. There are periods of going out and there are periods of turning back in, periods of going out and periods of going back in. Just as living here in the market place is forcing things into the forefront, so sitting in a room by myself for 30 or 40 days in a mountain is forcing other things to be confronted. Each hides from the other, each environment hides from the other sets of stimulus conditions. For example, in the commune we've been designing up in the mountains of New Mexico, where I ran an ashram for awhile this winter, the design has four components to it which are roughly related to the solstices.

The Four Component Design of Ashram

For one period, a person would be in the hermitage on the top of the hill where he would be going deep – diving deep within. He would be totally alone in solitude in a hermitage. The food is left outside the door. In the one I ran this winter, the people would go in for up to nineteen days. The first time they went in I let them take books and pictures and weaving and all of their things (their pet kind of cream cheese or whatever it was they needed). 

For the second round we changed the game a little and all they took in was their sleeping bag. They walked into a room, closed the door, and for the next ten days, fire and wood and food were left outside and there was a jug of water. They were all protected, all taken care of. There were no phones to answer, no mail. We were protecting them and giving them that chance to get free of all the stimuli that keep capturing consciousness all the time so that one keeps saying, "If it weren't for.. ." Well, we did that. We created that place.

A second part of the four-point cycle is that a person lives in a commune, an ashramite lives in the commune ... that is, he takes care of the gardens, the babies, the goats, cooks the food, chops the wood, does Karma Yoga. That is, Karma Yoga among what's called satsang or sangha, that is, a community of other beings who consciously know they are working on their own consciousness. 

In Buddhism there is a traditional thing you do which is to take the three refuges. There is a chant, which means, first, "I take refuge in the Buddha," I take refuge in the fact that a being can become enlightened, that is, a being can get free of any particular state of consciousness (attachment). Second, "I take refuge in the Dharma," I take refuge in the law, in the organization of the universe, the laws of the universe, you can also call it karma. And third, "I take refuge in the Sangha," in the community of other people, of monks on the path, the community of other people who are seeking. 

Thus, when you define yourself as a seeker after sensual gratification then you surround yourself with other people who are seekers after sensual gratification. When you define yourself as an intellectual you often surround yourself with intellectuals. When you define yourself as a seeker after consciousness, you start to surround yourself with other seekers after consciousness, because in that phase being around such people really gives you a kind of environmental support.

What I mean by the word consecration is bringing into consciousness the nature of the act in a cosmic plan. For example, in the old days people would say grace. Grace was a thing you waited for before you ate the turkey. 

Norman Rockwell characterizes the kid reaching while everybody's head's bowed. It's that time, "Let's say grace." "Grace." Now, when I bless food, the statement I say, when I say grace, is an old Sanskrit one. It means "This offering of this little ritual I'm performing, this is part of it all, part of Brahma, part of that which is eternally all. He who is making the offering means, that which is being offered is part of it all. The hunger to which you are feeding . . . the fire which you are feeding, that's all part of it all. Whoever you are offering it to is part of it all, too. He who realizes that all of it is interrelated, all of it is one, becomes one with it all."

There is a very lovely short story by J. D. Salinger called Teddy, in which Teddy is like an old lama who has taken a reincarnation in a kind of middle class western family by some quirk of cosmic design. He is about ten years old and on a ship with his sister and his mother and father. 

He's out on deck and he is meeting this man who has begun to see that this little boy isn't quite like a little boy, and he says to him, "When did you first realize that you ... how it was?" And Teddy says, "Well, I was 6 years old. I was in the kitchen and I was watching my little sister in her high-chair drink milk. I suddenly saw, that it was sort of like God pouring God into God, if you know what I mean." Well, that's exactly the same thing as that Sanskrit mantra.

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