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an interview with


Ram Dass



author of

Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying

Ram Dass was interviewed by Douglas Gillies at the State of the World Forum, hosted by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and produced by the Gorbachev Foundation/USA in San Francisco.

Ram Dass

Three film crews collaborated to document Mikhail Gorbachev's State of the World Forum in San Francisco at the Fairmont Hotel in 1995. Nick Hart Williams flew in from London, Douglas Gillies and Ron Dexter drove up from Santa Barbara, and Ram Dass came from, well, somewhere in the future. Together they recorded 108 interviews in five days. Ram Dass and Douglas worked in adjoining rooms, and chatted between interviews while they waited for the next interviewees to arrive. During an unusually long wait, Douglas said to Ram Dass, "Why don't I do you?" Alas, Ram Dass' next interviewee showed up before he could complete his prediction for the 21st century.

Douglas Gillies: Ram Dass, where is this State of the World event taking us in the course of our evolution?

Ram Dass: There are several ways this event is interesting. It's bringing people from further out on the continuum of political, scientific, business, intellectual on the one hand and spiritual inner reflection and social prescription on the other. And these two are in the same gathering together under Mikhail Gorbachev. How fantastic. So part of it is a realization that the situation in the world demands a cooperative approach and we have strange bed fellows. Part of it is a message to the community that a non-governmental process is underway to bring about social change, it's a public one, and people like Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, and Mikhail Gorbachev are throwing their weight behind it. In a world where there's a lot of cynicism and despair, this has a candle-lighting effect. The third way is the incredible networking that goes on. I was with a fellow last night from Uganda and by the time I finished listening to his life story, my life story had changed. Just being with him in a hotel room, hanging out for an hour.

Douglas Gillies: So what makes this meeting different is all of the diversity of who's here?

Ram Dass: I think the diversity has a great richness to it. I think it can go further. I think it should also include people who are have-nots. It should certainly include many more people of color and it certainly should include many more women. But it's a good start...a good start.

Douglas Gillies: How is a meeting like this different than, say, a UN Conference on the Future?

Ram Dass: At a UN Conference on the Future, everybody comes with a different kind of an agenda. They come as a professional who has to know the answer. What you have at a forum like this is just beginning to understand the question. Everybody doesn't have to know. There's a quality of don't know here that's a little refreshing. At a UN conference, everybody has a fiefdom to protect of some sort or other, and that isn't the case here.

Douglas Gillies: So here we have beginner's mind?

Ram Dass: Hopefully we have beginner's mind at this conference. When humans come together with a true spirit of dealing with the mystery collaboratively, it's incredibly beautiful. It's like we've been doing it for thousands of years. The Fairmont becomes the cave we're sitting in by the fire reflecting what the hell are we doing here, are we going to screw up, how can we do it better, how can we be happy, how can we feel safe, how can we stay in tune with what is?

Douglas Gillies: We have a world that's shrinking and it's wrestling with how to deal with all the different inputs, all of the diversity. What does this tell us about how the world may work in the 21st Century?

Ram Dass: Well, it is possible that in the 21st Century the Earth will not be inhabited by humans. One of the great mystics of India, a very simple man up in the mountains, somebody once asked him about the future. He said there will come a time when you'll walk five miles and you may see a light and you'll be so happy to know another being exists. And I just allowed that into me as a real possibility. I've talked to the people here. Some of them are incredible optimists and some of them are incredible pessimists or very despairing or discouraged. A Tibetan Lama said to me, "The best place to stand, Ram Dass, is halfway between hope and hopelessness." So I can write a scenario for the 21st century in either direction. One is that it all goes to hell and that it's truly the dark age. We keep going deeper and deeper into greed and fear. As the systems break down and the chaos, the anarchy, and the destabilization increase, the people with IRAs get frightened. When they get frightened they contract, and when they contract they get more prejudiced and bigoted, ultimately violence. As the haves and have-nots split further and further apart, destabilization ultimately leads to revolution, not evolution. If we're playing the evolution vs. revolution game, we are closer to revolution than we are to evolution in my concept. However, they're both possible because when it looks really scary, when everything's so traumatic—the family breakdown, the inner urban chaos, when that happens all at once, there's a way in which the fear—

(Interruption—the next interviewees arrive)

It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Douglas Gillies: One more question. When we accept and delve into the dark side, what's the payoff?

Ram Dass: The pay off that we are alive, we're not defended. We are living with the truth that embraces the suffering and letting the fear into ourselves, and as we allow it we say, "Ya, here we are." My work as a human being is to quiet my mind, open my heart and do what I can to relieve the suffering with as much wisdom, skill, whatever I got. I'm going to do that whether or not we have the dark scenario or the light scenario in the 21st century. Because if it's the light scenario that's the best thing I can do to help it happen. And if it's the dark scenario that's the best thing I can do to prepare for my moment of death.

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Interview with Ram Dass © Concensus Designs, Inc. For permission to reprint portions of this interview, please contact East Beach® Productions.

© 2016 Douglas Gillies. | All Rights Reserved