A Saint’s Heart Melts Like Butter

BE LOVE NOW:  The Path of the Heart
(Harper One: 2010)
A review by Jim Burklo

“A saint’s heart melts like butter.  No, it melts even more than butter.  Butter only melts when you put it near the fire, but a saint’s heart melts when anyone else’s heart comes near the fire.” -  Neem Karoli Baba

The heart of Richard Alpert, a Harvard psychologist, melted upon meeting Neem Karoli Baba, his Maharaj-ji, in India in the 1960’s.  Alpert had discovered bhakti yoga, the Hindu discipline of devotion.  It was a spiritual path that led him farther than the short but stunning trips he’d taken on LSD back at Harvard.  Richard Alpert became Baba Ram Dass, servant of Ram, the name of God that his Maharaj-ji repeated as a constant mantra.

BE LOVE NOW makes saints out of its readers.  My heart flowed like melted butter while reading Ram Dass’ stories of the bliss he felt in the presence of his guru.   The book is a window into the hearts of Neem Karoli Baba, the hearts of other great saints of India, and the hearts of their devotees.  Ram Dass includes gentle cautions about abuses that happen in the guru-disciple relationship, but they are couched in his ultimate trust that bhakti will deliver the soul into union with the divine.

The book revisits much of the material Ram Dass recounted in his book, MIRACLE OF LOVE (1995), and many of his pearls from BE HERE NOW (1971), which did so much to open young Americans (I was one of them) to the spiritual wisdom of the East.  The heat from Neem Karoli Baba’s fire radiates still, as the new book attests.

The foreword by Rameshwar Das, his long-time friend and fellow American adopter of Hindu spirituality, is touching.  It recounts the influence Ram Das had on a generation of spiritual seekers.  Rameshwar Das helped substantially in the writing of this book, given Ram Dass’ ongoing challenges as a result of the devastating stroke he suffered in 1997.

“Jesus used the metaphor of the fisherman.  When you first feel that depth of joy, you are caught in the net of pure love by the divine fisherman; you’re hooked on that love,” writes Ram Dass (p 5).  It is hard not to take the bait that he offers in this book; a life awash in the warmth of divine love.

JIM BURKLO is Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California and is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor.  He is the author of Open Christianity and Birdlike and Barnless: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians.  He blogs at Musings.