"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ram Dass, the Bhagavad Gita and Conscious Evolution

Humankind is unique in that we are not only conscious beings - all sentient being are conscious - but in that we are self-conscious, and moreover (since bonobos, chimps and perhaps some non-primates also appear to be self-conscious), we are both aware of our self-consciousness and are able to reflect upon it.

As spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen once observed, even his little dog has Buddha-nature, but it is kind of irrelevant because he isn't aware that he has Buddha-nature. It is thus, I would put out there, our apparently unique ability to observe and manipulate our consciousness that distinguishes us from other species, and which holds our greatest potential for further evolution - if we don't make the planet uninhabitable in the meantime.

Conscious evolution therefore seems to be the name of the game in terms of spiritual growth. Yet most of the time the vast majority of people - spiritual seekers and the spiritually obtuse alike - are lost in a kind of reverie in which they operate wholly on a type of self-conscious autopilot. Lost in thought, someone cuts us off in traffic and we react with the horn or finger; a person appears to criticize us and we immediately become defensive; a fetching member of the opposite sex looks at us and stirrings of arousal are felt, someone else looks at our spouse and we are filled with anger and jealousy; we think about money and are filled with fear, envy or greed. On and on we go, and there is really no train of consecutive and rational thought, rather there is just a stream of largely unconscious perceptions and the reflexive feelings and conceptions they provoke.

In "Paths to God," an excellent book about the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, Harvard psychologist turned iconic spiritual teacher, Ram Dass describes the implications and possibilities that arise as we begin to become aware of how this process of consciousness arises within us.
"Gradually," he writes, "it begins to dawn on us that we are merely part of a process. Think about that: You and I are nothing more than process. I am a process of  continuing mind-moments, each one separate from the others. There is no permanent "me" being incarnated and reincarnated - there's merely the law of cause-and-effect, cause-and-effect, cause-and-effect, running on and on and on. It's all just the passing parade of the laws of prakriti, of the laws of nature, of the laws of an unfolding illusion of manifestation."

"The more you open to that kind of perspective," Dass observes, "the more dispassoinate you become in watching your own incarnation unfold. You see that every melodrama, even the wonderful melodrama of "I'm trying to get enlightened," just creates more karma - and you can't afford that anymore. Finally, there is no stance you can hold on to and still go through the door - so you let go of everything."
Who, however, is really ready to let go of their inner reverie? Who really accepts that he or she is not in control of their thoughts and inner landscape, even when confronted with the reailities of the nature of ego-consciousness? Who is actually ready to let life unfold as it will and to be totally and wholly acceptive and O.K. with how it turns out?  Yet, it is in doing so, that we find true liberation and spiritual freedom.

The Gita, Ram Dass asserts, "turns our perspective (on life) upside down," and subtly (or not so subtly, perhaps) it begins to change the focus of our consciousness.
"Instead of always preoccupying ourselves with trying to get what we think we want or need," he observes, "we'll start to quiet, we'll start to listen. We'll wait for that inner prompting. We'll try to hear, rather than decide, what it is we should do next. And as we listen, we'll hear our dharma more and more clearly, and so we'll begin tuning more and more of our acts to the place of deeper wisdom."

"As that happens," he points out, "all our fascination with our roles and our plans and our desires and our melodramas will begin to fall away. More and more, we will open ourselves to just being the instruments of the dharma. And then we'll discover that we've lost our lives - and found them."
[Ram Dass, "Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita," pp. 53-54.]
All great teachings - and perhaps most explicitly the Gita - show that by letting go of our ego-consciousness, by losing the self-conscious life that we take to be "normal," we awaken to another mode of living which is operative at a far deeper and higher level of consciousness. Indeed, most self-realized individuals would probably call this "God-consciousness," or some variant thereof. Thus, in Saint Francis of Assisi's famous prayer we read: "It is by forgetting self that we find. It is by dying (to the ego-consciousness) that we awaken to Eternal Life."

This path is not for everyone, however. Indeed, very few at any time will actually follow this path - or any other - to the inevitability of ego-death. As Krishna, himself, says in the Bhagavad Gita: "Among thousands of men perhaps one strives for perfection; and among thousands of those who strive, perhaps one knows me in truth." Yet, even if the odds are one-in-several-millions why not give it a shot? Each time we recur to the quiet within and listen, we take something away from the collective ego and add more spiritual life to the collective consciousness. And that is inevitably good karma!


  1. Really enjoyed this post, and enjoy reading your blog in general too. Thanks a lot! Look forward to spending more time here...

  2. Good read. It's like no matter what religion you are into still one God is what we believe into and how humility can take us to spirituality enlightenment.
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