– An excerpt from an interview with Ramananda John E. Welshons
NILS MONTAN: Can you tell us a bit about the most important influences on your thinking, and how your spiritual path has evolved?
RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: Wow! That’s a BIG question!
I would have to say that the first big spiritual event in my life was being miraculously healed from Polio in 1953 when I was three years old. That was – and continues to be – a profound influence. The doctors had said that my case was “hopeless” – that there was a 99 percent chance I would die. But my father was a student of metaphysical Christianity – teachers like Emmett Fox, Norman Vincent Peale, and Mary Baker Eddy – and he wasn’t going to take that lying down. So my parents asked all of their family and friends and business associates to pray. Within a few days hundreds of people were praying in Protestant Churches, Catholic Churches, and Jewish Synagogues. One night, just after praying with our minister, my father had a vision of Jesus standing next to my bed in the hospital. Twenty minutes later, at 2:30 in the morning, the hospital called and said, “there has been a miracle!”
It took a few years, but when I was finally old enough to begin to understand the implications of that experience, I started to realize several significant things: First of all, I realized the power of prayer – of group consciousness. But I also realized that children can die. Since my life had been spared, I began to sense that I had better do something meaningful with it. I have often felt that I only get to stay on this planet as long as I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
The next great influence began when I was eleven years old, and I watched my happy family dissolve into madness as my parents both suddenly descended into a very sick pattern of alcoholic behavior. Though they were affluent and had everything – materially – our culture says we need to be happy, they were miserable. That made a profound impression on me. Through their suffering, I began to see the essential spiritual emptiness of much of what our culture values and believes in.
As soon as that chapter of my life began, I felt totally depressed and lost. One Sunday morning I was sitting in church, and I started to gaze at a beautiful painting of Jesus. The minister was droning on and on, and I wasn’t really listening. I was just looking at Jesus. And a voice inside me said, “Why can’t He be here now?” And the answer that arose inside me was, “He Is.” At that moment, I transcended into another realm of consciousness – overtaken by waves of the most delicious bliss I had ever experienced. No sermon, and no Bible reading had ever taken me to that place. But the simple inner reflection on Christ’s eternal, omnipresent Being did. I felt His hands sweetly caressing my shoulders and my head, and tears of joy flowed down my cheeks. I think that was the first time I consciously experienced “darshan” – or, the Presence of the Master.
Around that same time I first heard Martin Luther King speak. Again, I was moved to tears. I had goose bumps and waves of energy running up my spine. I had never heard a speaker who moved me the way Martin did. I just sat there crying and smiling. He spoke with such strength and clarity. The minute I heard Martin speak, I got it. I got the simple truth that we are all God’s children – there is no one higher or lower, no one better or worse. All are loved equally by God. Later, I became aware of Dr. King’s hero, Mahatma Gandhi, and Gandhi became a huge influence on me.
When I was eighteen, I encountered the teachings of Meher Baba, who lived from 1894 to 1969 and was one of the greatest saints in India’s history. Shortly after that I came into contact with Ram Dass, first through hearing a tape of a lecture he had given, and later through his classic book, Be Here Now. Through Ram Dass, I connected with Neem Karoli Baba, another great Indian saint. A few years later Ram Dass introduced me to Stephen and Ondrea Levine. Stephen is the author of some magnificent books, including A Gradual Awakening, Who Dies, Meetings at the Edge, and A Year to Live. It was Stephen who really helped me get grounded in Buddhist thought and meditation practice.
– Nils Montan is a writer and social commentator who lives in Santa Fe, Mexico and Southern Brazil