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-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 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: 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

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