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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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