I was saddened to read that Ram Dass today has died. I never was a New Age man and I bought some of his books but never read them. But I met him, and that’s a whole different ballgame than reading from him.
It was decades ago in the then most progressive Orthodox Synagogue of Jerusalem, the foothold of Reb Shlomo Carlebach, Yakar. It had organized an evening where he would speak in the prayer space. It was packed, also because of the presence of people that I’m not sure, ever had visited a synagogue. Hippies. Friendly, colorfully dressed people, the best of dreamers, it seemed.
But the organizing rabbis of Yakar, Micky Rosen and David Zeller (who both passed away so tragically early already), had done more than invite him to speak. Before the lecture, they took him on a tour of Jerusalem and of Jewish life (Shabbat). He had never seen anything like that and he was much impressed.
I remember how this professor psychology, who was kicked out of the field to flourish as no one else, defined what being a therapist was all about if you took away the ego of the healer. It was the challenge and the privilege of being ‘an environment in which healing can take place.’
I never forgot this. It seemed also the attitude of my fondly remembered great counseling teacher Harvey Jackins. He insisted that great counseling is simply assisting the client but the hero of the therapy, who does almost all the work, is the client.
Ram Dass had still another way to indicate how he worked. He called it ‘Us.’ To create togetherness. It was so simple that it was brilliant.
He told us with some hesitation about his disembodied friend he would talk with. He said: ‘I probably will never return here and not see any of you again so why should I be scared what you’d think about me having such a friend.’ He once asked him what life was for. The answer he got was: ‘Now you’re in the school, why don’t you take the curriculum.’
Afterward, many people, especially women, lined up to hug him. I noticed that Ram Dass did not change at all through the hugs. He did not get enamored a bit by all the intimate embraces.
He’s a total saint, I said to one of the rabbis. His reaction surprised me. ‘Yes, that could be but we were just hoping he would not bring up his homosexuality during his presentation.’ Ah, still a normal human being then? All his fans seem to be in on this but he could still not mention this in a Jerusalem prayer hall. A subject that they were so uncomfortable about then. Is it now any better? How sad and inappropriate of these women, so eagerly embracing him, indicating: we need to be close to men who don’t see us first as sexual beings, to use a gay man for this.
As with all humble people, you had to pay close attention to see his humility. Because, of course, he didn’t parade his meekness. The greatness of the truly humble.