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Archive for May, 2012

-An excerpt from an interview with Ramananda John E. Welshons

NILS MONTAN: Speaking of The Beach Boys, wasn’t there a period when you were spending a lot of time with them, and with some other famous musicians?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: Well, actually, yes. I was working on my first book, which was titled The Mystics of Rock and Jazz. It was an in-depth look at many of the musicians of the 1960’s and 1970’s who had gurus, or were influenced by meditation and Eastern thought. The Beach Boys had spent time with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi just after the Beatles met him. So I was interviewing them – especially Mike Love and Al Jardine – who had both become teachers of TM. I was also spending time with Carlos Santana and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, who were both with Sri Chinmoy. I was communicating with Pete Townshend of the Who about his connection with Meher Baba. He was kind enough to put me in touch with George Harrison, who had been influenced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Swami Prabhupada of the Hare Krishna movement. I spent time with Charles Lloyd, a wonderful man and a wonderful jazz artist, and was planning to interview Turiya Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane’s widow, Pharoah Sanders, and Carole King, who was with Swami Satchidananda. I worked on that book for about three years, from 1974 to 1977, but it was never published.

Nils Montan is a writer and a social commentator who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Southern Brazil.

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-An excerpt from an interview with Ramananda John E. Welshons

NILS MONTAN: What forms of meditation have you practiced?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: Well, I practice and teach a Theravadan Buddhist form called Vipassana – or “Mindfulness” – Meditation, because it is so accessible, so practical, and requires no form of dogma or belief system. My practice was greatly enhanced with guidance from Ram Dass, and the many years I spent working with Stephen Levine. I also spent much time absorbing the teaching of Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and S.N. Goenka. In addition to Vipassana, I have also practiced the Tibetan form known as shamatha-vipashyana, and I worked for several years in the early 1970’s with the Tibetan “Great Mantra” – “Aum Mane Padme Hum.”

I have also practiced Transcendental Meditation, which I was initiated into back in the 1970’s. I actually received the beginning instruction from Mike Love of The Beach Boys in 1974. TM is a wonderful form of meditation, too. But I don’t teach it because I never took the teachers’ course, and they ask you to agree that you won’t teach it unless you have. The TM organization got a little cult-like and nutty, and the cost for receiving the teaching increased to a level that seemed just ridiculous. But if you strip away all of the institutional craziness, TM is still a beautiful meditation practice. Vipassana feels a bit more pragmatic and practical to me. It gives you specific tools and insights that allow for the translation of inner bliss into outer action. For me the two practices form a nicely balanced combination. I generally work with the mantra practice for about thirty minutes in the early morning, and then do Vipassana practice for ten to twenty minutes. Later in the day I do another period of Vipassana for twenty to thirty minutes. I also carry a mala (Indian prayer beads) with me all the time, so I can do japa meditation (repetition of the names of God) whenever I have a few moments – like standing in line at the grocery store, or the bank, or out on a walk, or even when I’m lecturing or counseling people. It’s nice to try to keep the state of meditation flowing all day long.

 Nils Montan is a writer and a social commentator who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Southern Brazil.

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-An exerpt from an interview with Ramananda John E. Welshons

NILS MONTAN: What was your undergraduate education in Religious Studies like?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: While I was at the University of South Florida, I studied with a wonderful professor named Dr. Daniel E. Bassuk. Dan had a very colorful history: He was born a Hasidic Jew, and later become a Zen priest, and then a Quaker. He had quite a rich and diverse background. He had spent time with Alan Watts and was very fond of Huston Smith. Dan’s classes in the early Seventies were like a satsang – a spiritual community. We met two or three evenings a week in a classroom on the campus of U.S.F., and explored everything from Watts’ teaching, to Ram Dass, Huston Smith, Suzuki Roshi, Lao Tzu, Yogananda, Ramakrishna, Roy Eugene Davis . . . William James’ work, and Rudolf Otto’s work. We read things like Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We chanted and did kirtan with a group from the local Hare Krishna temple. We took hatha yoga instruction from an Indian woman who was a professor at USF. It was a very eclectic approach, and a very unique form of teaching. Amazingly enough, we got college credit for those classes! Dan’s classes were legendary at U.S.F. He would allow anyone who could fit into the classroom to sit in, so there were always rows and rows of people sitting on the floor and propped against the wall. Dan was a truly remarkable teacher. He was like a great roshi masquerading – in jacket and tie – as a college professor. He died a few years ago. We stayed in close touch over the years, and I had the opportunity to spend some very precious time with him and his family as he was dying.

My other favorite professor was Dr. James F. Strange – who is one of the foremost Biblical archaeologists in the world, a prominent Biblical scholar, and a general all-around genius. He has one of the most encyclopedic minds I’ve ever encountered. One moment he’d be talking in great depth about the Talmud, and the next moment he could give an incredible dissertation on John Coltrane’s saxophone solos. I did a fascinating research project under his guidance in which I compared St. Francis of Assisi and Ramakrishna. I still keep in touch with Jim. I think he is the only professor now on the faculty at USF who was there when I was a student. He is a wonderful, wonderful man.

It was during those years that I first encountered the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – three primary texts from the Hindu tradition, that have continued to guide me ever since. I re-read them all, year after year. Whenever I am asked what my favorite book is, I can say – without hesitation – The Bhagavad Gita. It is just SO beautiful!  So clear, so concise, and so comprehensive. It is such an amazing book! You can read in two hours, and then spend fifty lifetimes endeavoring to digest it!

NILS MONTAN: Is there a particular translation of The Bhagavad Gita you prefer?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: I really like the one by Juan Mascaro. It’s very simple, straightforward, and clear. That’s the one that Ram Dass used for his famous Bhagavad Gita course at Naropa Institute in Colorado in 1974. The translation by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood is also a beauty. Some of the other translations are a little dry. And there are some that get a bit ponderous. Many contain a lot of unnecessary commentary – or they just don’t seem to resonate with the spirit of the Gita. They are obviously written by people who are either approaching the text from an intellectual, academic perspective, or have a big ax to grind – some specific path they are endeavoring to persuade the reader to adopt. But the Gita doesn’t require any of that. Just the pure teaching is enough – just the simple, clear Light of Krishna’s Love that pours through every page. It’s just so sweet. And so profound.

-Nils Montan is a writer and social commentator who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Southern Brazil

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-An excerpt from an interview with Ramananda John E. Welsons

NILS MONTAN: India is an amazing place. There is nothing quite like it. What would you say was the most profound realization you had there?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: That you don’t have to go there – or anywhere else – to find God. God is everywhere . . . and the place we find God is right here in our own Heart. Still . . . India is an extraordinary place for spiritual awakening – though the experience may not be what you expect. Before I went, I had envisioned India to be a place where everyone was in deep states of samadhi (spiritual ecstasy) – floating in bliss, and levitating when they sat down for tea. Instead, I found the culture – at least in the cities – to be absolutely chaotic, frenetic, noisy and crowded. The drivers drive like absolute lunatics, and the air pollution is almost unimaginable. You have to look beyond the surface to find the peaceful, spiritual places – but when you do, they are quite remarkable, and you eventually realize that they are tuning you to the highest place in yourself. I generally say to people who are considering going to India, “If you have any doubt, don’t go. Go to India when your longing for God is inescapable and undeniable. Go when that yearning becomes a desperation in the deepest levels of your being. Go when your hunger for God is like an unquenchable thirst . . . when you feel like you will die if you don’t immerse yourself in God. The irony is, when you immerse yourself in God, you will die . . . but generally only at the ego level . . . and there comes a time when the ego is ready to die, even though it usually doesn’t want to admit that.

Nils Montan is a writer and a social commentator who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Southern Brazil

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An excerpt from an interview with Ramananda John E. Welshons

NILS MONTAN: When did you actually meet Ram Dass?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: In May of 1973 while I was an undergraduate at The University of South Florida in Tampa. I was asked by the Director of the University Program Office to help set up a series of lectures for Ram Dass on the campus at USF.

Our first meeting was just sublime. We met at the Holiday Inn on Fowler Avenue. Krishna Das was with him. After visiting on the lawn at the Holiday Inn for a while, a group of six of us piled into my 1968 Volkswagen Van and drove to “The Natural Kitchen,” a local vegetarian restaurant I frequented. We sat across the table from one another at lunch. In one moment, Ram Dass and I spontaneously locked eyes, and the entire physical universe just melted away. There we were – Ram Dass and I – just gazing into each other’s eyes . . . floating together in The Eternal Light of God . . . while sitting at the local vegetarian restaurant with our forks stuck in our tofu and brown rice! In that moment, we embarked on a delicious adventure that has lasted nearly forty years. As a result of my connection with Ram Dass, I began to feel a deepening inner connection with Meher Baba, and eventually – also – with Neem Karoli Baba. Ram Dass really helped me to integrate the path known as Guru Kripa, or the path of devotion to the Guru. Now – nearly forty years later – Ram Dass is my spiritual brother and dear, dear friend, Stephen and Ondrea are also like a brother and sister, and Meher Baba and Neem Karoli Baba are like my father and my favorite uncle.

I was also very influenced by Dr. Allan Y. Cohen. Allan is a wonderful psychologist who had been a student of Ram Dass and Tim Leary at Harvard, and later became a devotee of Meher Baba. He is a dear friend and an amazing human being. I went to see him in Berkeley, California in the summer of 1973, and gave him a long tale of woe about how I felt my life was meaningless. He chuckled, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, “John, there is a simple prescription for that.” I said, “Really? What is it?” I was desperate. And he said, “Whenever your life feels meaningless, start doing more things for other people.”

A few months later – at the end of 1973 – I went to India and spent many weeks with the close disciples of Meher Baba. That was an amazing, amazing experience. Ten years later – in 1983 – I went again with Ram Dass, and spent time at Neem Karoli Baba’s ashram in Vrindaban. Both of those journeys were life-changing and consciousness expanding. The India stories are far too involved to get into right now. We’ll have to do another interview someday for that. Suffice it to say that India – in those days – was like being on another planet. Very few of our Western comforts and conveniences were available. Much of the time we lived in the same manner that people in rural India had lived for thousands of years – no electricity, no plumbing, no telephone . . . you know? We were thrust into a culture that was so deeply immersed in its very extraordinary – and ancient – spiritual traditions. I mean – like in Delhi, one of the taxi drivers Ram Dass and I rode with kept a small puja (altar) on his dashboard with a photo of Ram and Sita and Hanuman. Every time he picked up passengers he would stop for a moment and say a prayer to Lord Ram – praying that he would get his passengers to their destination safely. I’ve never had a taxi driver like that in New York City!

At the same time, India threw me into a full-scale confrontation with all of my greatest fears and insecurities because there was so little access to modern conveniences, and such a profound awareness of mortality. You know, after landing at Mumbai Airport in 1973, my friends and I got into a taxi to go to Victoria Train Station. I had only been in the taxi for about five minutes when I saw a big truck – like a garbage truck – that went around picking up dead bodies every morning – the bodies of people who lived on the streets and sidewalks who had died overnight. That really set the tone for the first trip. If I had to sum it up on one sentence, it would be “there are so many, many ways to die in India!”

– Nils Montan is a writer and social commentator who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Southern Brazil

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An excerpt from an interview with Ramananda John E. Welshons

NILS MONTAN: What was it that captivated you about Ram Dass?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS:  Well, for several years prior to hearing that first recorded lecture, I had been struggling to understand some profound mystical and spiritual experiences that began happening to me in April of 1969, when I was just eighteen. They started the night I first heard Meher Baba’s name. That was all it took. Just hearing his name triggered a series of life-changing, transcendent experiences. Those experiences turned everything I knew and everything I understood about life upside down and inside out. And I had no idea who Meher Baba was! From that moment on, my life has been focused on returning again and again to the extraordinary experience of Divine Love and inner Bliss I tasted that night.

The next morning I sat down and spontaneously began to meditate. I didn’t need any instruction. I just did it. It was like I “remembered” how to meditate. I’m sure the “remembering” came from previous lifetimes. And I have continued to meditate pretty much every day for more than forty years. Meditation has been the central focus of my practice. I later discovered that the style of meditation I spontaneously began to practice when I was eighteen was the Tibetan form of Vipassana. About a year later I began to practice hatha yoga as well.

As I mentioned, I had experienced some deep depression during my teenage years which coincided with my parents’ drinking. For about six months prior to the onset of the spiritual experiences, I had been in Freudian psychoanalysis with a very gifted psychiatrist. I had also been experimenting with psychedelics since 1967. When the spiritual experiences began in 1969, I became convinced that there was a link between spirituality, psychology, and psychedelics. About a year and a half later – when I heard that recording of Ram Dass – he became the link. He had been a Freudian, he had been very influenced by Meher Baba’s teachings, and he had a lot of experience with psychedelics. So Ram Dass spoke in the language of all three of my primary influences, and he – essentially – wove the disparate threads of my fledgling consciousness into a beautiful plaid blanket!

NILS MONTAN: Did you continue to use psychedelics after that?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: Not for very long. Meher Baba had urged those of us who were touched by his teachings to give up the use of psychedelics. Neem Karoli Baba, who became Ram Dass’s guru, also said that psychedelic experience was not a true Samadhi – or a true experience of enlightenment. So I completely gave up psychedelics in 1971, largely because – after hearing what Meher Baba and Neem Karoli Baba had to say – psychedelics just didn’t seem to bring the ecstasy that they once had. Instead of getting me “high,” they started bringing me “down.” I gave them up and I have never missed them.

Nils Montan is a writer and social commentator who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Southern Brazil

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 – An excerpt from an Interview with Ramananda John E. Welshons

NILS MONTAN: When and how did you first encounter Ram Dass?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: I had known about Ram Dass’s work at Harvard with Tim Leary back in the early Sixties when he was known as Dr. Richard Alpert. Then, in 1970, while I was living in Boston, I saw a poster stapled to a telephone pole in Cambridge that had Ram Dass’s picture on it. It was advertising a lecture he was giving at Boston University. I didn’t go because I didn’t know who “Baba Ram Dass” was. Then in August of 1971, I was visiting another high school friend in Washington, DC. He had a recording of a three and a half hour lecture Ram Dass had given in 1968. It was on an old reel-to-reel tape deck. When I heard that lecture, I was just blown away! I would have to say – unequivocally – that from that moment on, Ram Dass has been the biggest single influence in my life.

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Nils Montan is a writer and social commentator who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Southern Brazil

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