But when Maharaj-ji immersed me in his unconditional love, it altered the course of my life. My view of myself completely changed. That meeting opened my heart. In that moment I opened up to the guru -- not just to the old man in the blanket sitting in front of me, but to a place within him that reflected my true Self. That spiritual Self is the source of unconditional love.

When I returned to the States after that first time in India, I felt as though I was carrying a precious jewel in my heart and I wanted to share it. I could talk about my heart opening and the new awareness it had brought. But the guru -- I didn't really talk much about the guru, because the idea seemed so inappropriate for the West.

For one thing, there is always a mixed reaction to the notion of surrendering to another person. Surrendering in our culture is almost always seen as negative. We don't like being told what to do; we like to figure it out for ourselves. Surrendering means giving up our power, and it usually has to do with ego power or sexual dominance.

The term "guru" evokes images of con men and hucksters rather than spiritual masters. Of course, we are right to be cynical when we see so-called gurus get entangled in money, sex, and power. Seductions, tax evasion, expensive cars, high-priced mantras -- even Hollywood had its fun with gurus and cults (e.g., The Love Guru). The image of charismatic corrupters preying on weak-minded followers is hard to avoid.

Most people wouldn't know a real guru if they fell over him or her, and certainly few have ever met one.

At first Maharaj-ji seemed almost like a magical being to me. He had incredible spiritual powers, but slowly I began to appreciate that it was the ocean of his love that had truly hooked me. And that was the real thing. Here was a flesh-and-blood being who was living in a state of unconditional love all the time. That love allowed me to surrender, to accept his guidance on the inner journey to find that love in myself.

Later I encountered other beings, some living and some gone from the body, who helped me see more of the road map for this path of the heart. These beings come in all shapes, sizes, and manifestations, as we all do. They are signposts and guides to help us on the bhakti marg, the road to love, even though we each have to travel it ourselves. Some of the beings who have inspired me are the ones who have also inspired this book. I hope they will help you on your way too.

Unconditional love dissolves any rational hesitation as we become drunk on its sweetness. We are like moths circling a candle flame, immolating ourselves in a fire of living love.

Excerpted from Be Love Now by Ram Dass. Copyright © 2010 by Love Serve Remember Foundation.  Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

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