NILS MONTAN: Can you describe some of the experiences you had in the 1960’s and later with Meher Baba, Ram Dass, Neem Karoli Baba, and Baba Muktananda?
RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: Well, unfortunately, not really. Or – perhaps I should say – not adequately. In William James’s classic outline of the four primary characteristics of mystical experience, one of the characteristics was “Ineffability.” It’s that frustrating predicament in which you can’t adequately describe – in words – what has happened to you at the Soul level. But if you encounter someone who has had the same experience, no explanation is necessary. You can just kind of nod at each other and smile. When I recently spent time on Maui with Ram Dass, we were reflecting on some of the experiences we have both had. We just kept falling into that knowing nod and smile. I would start to describe a state of consciousness I had experienced, and he would just say, “Yup . . .Yup . . . Yup . . . ” And that was that. I never had to finish a sentence. I didn’t have to explain or describe. He just knew.
I will say this; The Bardo Thodol – known more commonly as The Tibetan Book of the Dead – contains the most vivid descriptions of what I experienced – specifically in the sections where “The Void” and “Clear Light” are described. What really amazed me – as it had amazed Ram Dass, and Tim Leary, and Aldous Huxley, and Huston Smith, and probably tens of thousands of others – was that The Bardo Thodol was written about 2500 years ago. It is a Tibetan Buddhist document that had nothing to do with psychedelics. And yet it portrays, in vivid detail, the experiences that we were having with psychedelics in the 1960’s.
I think it is essential to point out that although many of us had these experiences while using psychedelics, the experiences – themselves – were not an “effect” of the drugs. The drugs merely paved the way for us to experience something that is always inside us . . . inside ALL of us . . . inside everyone and everything. Psychedelics were just a means of overriding our habitual thought patterns and psychological identities. They paved the way for us to see “The Divine Light,” or “Brahman,” or “Nirvana,” or “Christ Consciousness,” or whatever you want to call the Ultimate Reality. They paved the way for us to see that the Source and substance of everything in the Universe exists eternally within each of us.
But drugs really aren’t a complete, or particularly safe path. As Meher Baba pointed out, they can cause a lot more damage than whatever good they might do. I know a comparatively small handful of rare beings – like Ram Dass – who have had profound and positive spiritual transformations from psychedelics. I know a lot more who had their consciousness essentially shattered by psychedelics, and who have struggled psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally because of them. Some are now dead as a result – either directly or indirectly – of their use of psychedelics. Not that the drugs themselves were toxic, but the drugs sometimes caused both short and long-term psychoses that made people essentially non-functional. They also can unleash latent bipolar and schizophrenic tendencies. And they have a tendency to inspire mind states of vast, sweeping, delusional spiritual grandiosity. I still see that fairly frequently in younger people who have been using psychedelics.
On the other hand, the Presence and Grace of the Master – or the Guru – is a much different phenomenon. A true Guru is living in a state of total – perpetual – immersion in the highest states of consciousness. Light and Love just radiate from them. They are totally connected with The Source, with The One. Just being in their presence is a great spiritual blessing. And since they are connected with everyone and everything . . . eternally . . . you don’t have to even be in their physical presence – and they don’t even have to be in a physical body – in order for you to feel it. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. And sometimes they “visit” you spontaneously. But the Grace that flows from such a Being is just incredible. And while they may turn your world upside-down, they’re not usually going to cause you to be psychotic . . . for very long, at any rate! (laughs)