Ram Dass and “Jesus as Guru”

Christian Pastor and Spiritual Director Carl Gregg offers our first post in our Blogger Roundtable on this month’s featured book selection, Be Love Now, by Ram Dass.

The first time I remember hearing Ram Dass’ famous mantra “Be Here Now” was at a David Wilcox concert in Asheville, North Carolina at a club named Be Here Now. At that time, I did not know that the phrase was popularized in Ram Dass’ book of the same title. Now almost four decades after the publication of his bestselling Remember, Be Here Now – the Harvard psychology professor who traveled to India and became a world-renown spiritual teacher  – has published a new book Be Love Now. This latest work completes a trilogy of sorts that includes a middle volume titled Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying, written in the wake of a stroke Ram Dass suffered in 1997.

In our age that so frequently worships perpetual adolescence, Ram Dass’ work is a welcome contrast. His book’s principle strength is that it reflects his long life of regular spiritual practice. As an almost-octogenarian, Ram Dass’ most-recent reflections have a gravitas that wasn’t possible when he was forty years younger. Today he writes with the experience of experimenting with what it is actually like to “Remember, Be Here Now” as days turn into weeks and years and decades. “Be Here Now” is easy advice to practice at a concert of one of your favorite bands or when you are on a spiritual high as Dr. Richard Alpert was when his named was first changed to Ram Dass and he published his first book. But the hard-won wisdom of Be Love Now details how he has lived into practicing his own advice to “Be Here Now” when faced with the unexpected struggles of life.

Accordingly, one of the most important reminders I took from the book — beyond the obvious of “Remember, Be Here Now” — is that achieving great spiritual insight or experience does not mean that you are then guaranteed a “perfect life,” whatever that would even mean. The most visceral example, of course, is Ram Dass’ stroke, which is detailed in his latest book as well as in the 2001 documentary Ram Dass: Fierce Grace filmed a few years after his stroke.  Another example is that Ram Dass recently discovered that he has an adult son of which was previously unaware. With each wave that has come his way, Ram Dass reflects on the fruit of his practice of attempting to experience the fullness of each emerging present moment. Ram Dass’ experience challenges readers to explore in the crucible of their own daily lives if “Be Here Now” and other such wisdom merely sounds like good advice or if putting this advice into practice actually bears spiritual fruit. Ram Dass’ memoir is his testament to the life-giving result that he has experienced through remembering to “Be Here Now.”

I was invited to review this book from a Christian perspective, and from the point of view of a Christian pastor, I was struck by the many references to Christianity from historical figures like John of the Cross, the Quakers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to

Christian concepts like “Christ” and “grace,” to even quoting passages from the apostle Paul. There is also much resonance between Ram Dass’ central themes of “Be Love Now” (especially feeling beloved by his guru) and Christian contemplative experiences of opening ourselves to how we are beloved by God (as explored in books such as Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World). At the same time, his many experiences in the Indian spiritual tradition reminded me of how much I have to learn about Hinduism.

As I was reading, I also had in the back of my mind the perspective of a book that was required reading in my seminary World Religions class, Thomas Thangaraj’s The Crucified Guru: An Experiment in Cross-Cultural Christology. Thangaraj commends seeing Jesus through the lens of how Hindus view their gurus. And as I read Ram Dass experience of his guru both while his guru was alive and after his guru’s death, there were many striking parallels to the Christian disciples’ experiences with the historical Jesus (unexplainable insights and miracles) and the Resurrected Christ (a strong continuing presence even after physical death). My question for Ram Dass would be if he could elaborate further about any parallels he sees between his guru and Jesus — and any potential implications for Christian-Hindu dialogue.

Carl Gregg is Pastor at Broadview Church in Calvert County, Maryland.  A graduate of the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction program at San Francisco Theological Seminary, he is currently working on the dissertation for his Doctor of Ministry.  Visit his blog here.

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