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An excerpt from an interview with Ramananda John E. Welshons

NILS MONTAN: What was your experience in graduate school like?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: I had an absolutely wonderful time in the Religion Department at Florida State University. One of the things that attracted me there was that I was offered a graduate assistantship with the opportunity to teach “Death and Dying.” I also worked as assistant to a professor who asked me to help him teach a course called, “Religion in America.” Those were great years. Dr. Walter L. Moore – an absolutely wonderful man – was the Chairman of the graduate program. There were some magnificent faculty members: Dr. Lawrence F. Cunningham, Dr. Richard Rubenstein, Dr. Leo Sandon, Dr. David Levenson. I also had the honor of working with David as his research assistant. He was incredibly brilliant – a terrific chef –and a great friend. I also had an amazing graduate seminar in Buddhism with Dr. C. Robert Linne. One of the course requirements was that we do Vipassana meditation every day and keep a journal about it. He said (as had The Buddha) that the essence of Buddhism was not belief or faith, but direct personal experience, and if you were going to understand Buddhism, you had to have the experience. It was fascinating to watch some of my fellow students – who were much more inclined toward an academic understanding of Judeo-Christian theology – find their way into a daily practice of Buddhist meditation.  It was all just delicious.

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

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

NILS MONTAN: Didn’t you also meet Swami Muktananda?

RAMANANDA JOHN WELSHONS: Yes. And he was another significant influence. I first encountered him when I was in graduate school at FSU in 1977. I went to the local Siddha Yoga center in Tallahassee and saw a video tape of him. That night, immediately after seeing that video, the quality and character of my meditation experience changed dramatically. I went home and experienced extraordinary waves of kundalini energy – and shakti – that I had never previously experienced. And I thought, “WOW! If he can transmit that kind of shakti through a video, he must be a pretty amazing teacher!”

A few years later – in 1980 – I met Baba Muktananda at his ashram in South Fallsburg, New York, and went back to visit him on several occasions after that. As soon as I met him, I didn’t want to leave the ashram. I wound up staying for four days, when I had originally thought I was just dropping by. I just went up to the front desk and said, “Can I have a room. I don’t want to leave.” I just wanted to keep floating in his aura. His influence on me was profound, but primarily energetic. He specialized in transmitting shaktipat. He could awaken amazing outpourings of spiritual energy – or kundalini – just through his glance, or his touch, or his Presence. He could intuitively remove blockages in your chakra system. Being with him was like getting your atman (soul) steam-cleaned and revitalized. He was like a transmitting station for all the spiritual energy in the Universe. It was truly mind-boggling. I would have to say that he was the most powerful teacher I have ever met in physical form – and I have met some amazing teachers! Being in Muktananda’s aura was just awesome. The atmosphere at his ashram was palpable. It was like walking into a warm, thick ocean of shakti, and bathing in it for as long as you stayed.

But Baba Muktananda’s influence on me was just in one specific area – like a medical specialist you go to for a specific treatment. Meher Baba and Neem Karoli Baba are much more like “general practitioners,” and I feel them much more deeply in my heart. They are not just teachers of Love . . . they are Love. Muktananda – for me – was more like a skilled surgeon who could unlock specific energies and clean out certain channels.

-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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– 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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