It's Here Now (Are You?)by Bhagavan Das, Bagavan, Bagavan Das
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In his classic book Be Here Now, Ram Dass introduced the world to a young guru named Bhagavan Das. Continuing his own story in It's Here Now (Are You?), Bhagavan Das shares the profound and surreal moments of his spiritual awakening in the East, his fall from grace in the West, and his peaceful reconciliation with the sacred center.
For many years in the early '70s Bhagavan Das moved through India and Nepal, embracing the austere life of a holy man, exploring Hinduism, Buddhism, transcendental meditation, tantra, worshipping the divine mother, and living under the loving blanket of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Only twenty-five years old when he returned home to the States as a celebrity, he found himself traveling on the "guru circuit" with Ram Dass, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia, and Timothy Leary--living more like a rock star than the saint he was proclaimed to be.
In compelling detail, Bhagavan Das explores the tortuous journey that led him from his quest for the sacred to his spiritual death and eventual rebirth. A vivid memoir like no other, It's Here Now (Are You?) is an odyssey that will inspire seekers of any age on their own road to fulfillment.
Das first entered publishing history as one of the subjects of a book called Be Here Now (1971), by his fellow American traveler in Eastern life and thought, Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert). The two met in India, where Alpert found Das to be a spiritual guide of great value. (His Hindu name, meaning "Servant of God," was conferred on him by his guru, Neem Karoli Baba.) Among the several paths to enlightenment in the wide world of Hinduism, Das chose the devotional way (called bhakti), which cultivates, through prayer, meditation, and chant, intense communion with one of the Hindu deities. The deity of choice here is the goddess Kali, a personification of the Cosmic Mother. Kali is a stern task-mistress and, according to Das, punishes him harshly over the wastrel ways and promiscuous sex he falls into on his return to America. Happily, in the end he recovers his balance, offering a peaceful synthesis of beliefs incorporating the Hindu-Buddhist East and Christian West. Along the way, the author describes, in breezy conversational style, encounters with such eminent spiritual seekers as Allen Ginsberg, whose poem on Das opens the book, and many out-of-body experiences and drug-facilitated ecstasies. More memorably, the first part of his narrative, set in India, offers a colorful, insider's view of devotional Hinduism in its native land. But even Kali must grimace when, back in America (in the book's second part), Das excuses his careless relations with women on the grounds that the goddess is his one true love.
Das fleshes out the teachings of devotional Hinduism with his own vivid experiences, but sometimes forgets that in narrative art, as in spiritual life, self-justification blocks the light.
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Read an Excerpt
I woke up one morning with my girls and my cows and found a Danish hippie standing over us. He said, "There's this guy in town giving everyone LSD. Everybody gets eight hits. His name is Richard Alpert."
I knew what LSD was because I'd heard of Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. News about these two renegade college professors with a mysterious new mind-altering drug had made it all the way here, to the seventh century. I was excited because I'd always wanted to try LSD. I knew I had to meet this guy.
I got dressed and headed into town. There was a restaurant called the Blue Tibetan where foreigners often hung out. People would go in, roll hashish cigarettes, and connect with each other. I sat at a table against the wall and ordered some tea. I'd been in there for about ten minutes when this big, gangly, bald-headed American walked in the door. Another Westerner and a short Indian man followed. All three had on brand-new, freshly pressed, clean clothing. They stood out like color characters in a black-and-white movie.
They looked at me as they walked by and then sat down at the back. Richard Alpert had his back to me and a tape recorder on the table next to him. Beside him sat Harish Johari, the Indian man, and across from both was David Padwa, the other American. They kept staring at me, so I got up and walked over.
I sat down next to Richard, who was fiddling with his tape recorder--checking the batteries, popping them in and out, pushing the buttons--and never acknowledging me. He seemed so nervous. I thought, "This is truly one of the most uptight persons I've ever met."
Harish, who looked like Hanuman, the monkey god, said that he'd heard about me. Folks in that area called me Dharma Sara, my Buddhist name. I mentioned the LSD, and they invited me back to their room for a hit. They were staying at the five-star hotel in Kathmandu called the Soalti, built by one of the king's sons. Fifteen stories tall, it was the largest building in Kathmandu, and it overlooked the entire valley.
My hosts offered me room service. I could have anything I wanted, so I ordered a peach Melba.
And so we began the "forum": a male power head trip. Talk about male bonding. It was this incredible ongoing philosophical talk that went on all day and night. It was so intense! Harish would roll hash cigarettes to keep things flowing. We discussed what was going on in America, kundalini and sexual energy, God, and the Divine Mother. It seemed as though we talked about everything. Richard and David were two intense Jewish intellectuals. It was an unbelievably diverse dialogue among the four of us about the mysteries of the universe, including Hinduism and Buddhism. We talked about The Tibetan Book of the Dead and about different states of consciousness. Then there was the book Serpent Power, which dealt with kundalini yoga. What did it all mean? We were all over the place in our conversation.
But the crown on the queen was LSD. Richard was convinced that LSD was the spiritual soma, the nectar of immortality, the spiritual substance that comes through alchemy. In that alchemical state, the drug produces an incredible vision, a heightened awareness, a sense of timelessness, and an opening into another dimension. Richard had come to India to find out about this soma and what came after it.
The next day, Richard offered me hits of LSD and STP, another psychedelic drug. I took them both and was launched on a forty-eight-hour trip.
Right away I started getting paranoid. I felt that I had to get out of the building. I couldn't deal with the sheetrock walls and the thick carpet. I was too far from the earth. My soles needed to touch the soil. Richard and I took the elevator downstairs to the bar area near a swimming pool. I sat down at the end of the pool and watched the sunlight reflect on the water. The water turned into the Ganges, and I started feeling happy.
Suddenly, all my energy flew into the sky. My legs locked into the lotus position, my back straightened, and the sun worship I'd been doing kicked in.
I stared into the sun, both eyes wide open, from ten that morning until the sun set in the early evening. I traveled with the sun all the way across the sky. I heard this extremely powerful "Ommmmmmmmmmm!" coming out of the sun, and I plunged deeper into the sound. I slipped through the sun into a huge black hole and realized suddenly and completely that God lives behind the sun. The sun is his door.
Then I was in another dimension. It was black, peaceful, and absolutely immense. I was totally free. I had the choice at this point to drop my body. I knew I was free, liberated. I wasn't afraid. I had the choice to stay in that state or to come back.
The sun was starting to go down.
It was time for me to get back to my guru's feet, and I was going to take Richard with me. I wanted him to see where I came from, that the qualities he believed he was drawn to were really coming from Neem Karoli Baba. He needed to see the source of the energy he was attracted to.
I was having a hard time dealing with Richard and my homophobia. Only Neem Karoli Baba, Hanuman himself, could deal with this character.
I got in the car. Richard, as usual, was extremely tense. "Where are you taking me?" he asked.
"Get in the car and close the door. We're going now." He was half-crazed because I didn't tell him where we were going. He was really getting on my nerves. I rolled him a joint to calm him down. We drove up to Naini Tal. I spotted some people who knew me and asked where Maharaji was. They told me he was outside of Bhumyadhar, down the mountain a bit.
I drove to Bhumyadhar and saw a huge crowd of people heading toward the local temple. We were in the right place. I parked and ran up the hill, so eager to see my guru. I felt like the prodigal son coming home. In my mind I was calling, "Maharaji, you've got to accept me back! Please help me out! This man has attached himself to me and I don't know what to do with him."
Maharaji was sitting on top of the hill on a blanket someone had laid down, surrounded by devotees. Everyone was laughing and chatting. I was weeping. Tears were soaking my dhoti.
I was so happy to be with Maharaji.
I was so happy to be passing Richard on to Maharaji.
I would be free again!
I considered the Land Rover keys in my hand. I gave Maharaji the keys and said, "Maharaji, this car is yours."
Richard became angry and flustered. His face turned red. "You can't do that! It's David's car!"
I said, "Maharaji, it's yours. Everything is yours." And Richard's yours, too, I was thinking. I wanted to just walk away and go back to my empty room and sit quietly by the river again. I wanted all these entanglements to go away.
Maharaji looked at me and then looked over at Richard. After a moment he pointed to Richard and said to me in Hindi, "He loves you very much."
I sputtered, "Yes Maharaji, I know!"
Maharaji laughed and laughed and laughed.
Maharaji instructed, "Give him a picture of me." One of the other devotees ran up with a photograph and handed it to Richard.
Richard didn't understand the significance of this and thought Maharaji was being arrogant.
Then Maharaji turned back to me and said, "You take care of him. He loves you."
I didn't want the responsibility, but if Maharaji wanted to give him back to me now, that was okay, because whether Richard knew it or not, he'd just received the blessings of one of the greatest saints on the planet. Richard was just sitting there angry, watching the scene. He couldn't fathom any of it.
Meet the Author
Bhagavan Das was born in Laguna Beach, California. He is a frequent speaker and performer at gatherings around the country. He lives at Harbin Hot Springs in Northern California.
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Good read. I wonder where he is now?