Bhagavan Das is a performer of traditional and non-traditional Indian bhajans and kirtans, a counter-cultural icon, and a yogi who lived for many years as a wandering ascetic in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. He was a devotee of the Indian guru Neem Karoli Baba, and he is the author of It's Here Now (Are You?): A Spiritual Memoir.
In May 2005, the day after attending a ten-day meditation retreat, Bhagavan Das shared with me his views on impermanence, ānāpāna sati, wanting to be the Big Love, being the Sixties, karma, having $2000 cash in his pocket at all times, the tripless trip, guru-worship, and sex, drugs, and “real” happiness.
Bhagavan Das: America is--you never have enough, you never get enough, there’s always more to get, and no-one’s satisfied, everyone’s out on the hunt, out on this amazing hedonistic pleasure trip, like, if I just had a little more money, and if I just had a little bit more. It’s like everyone is on this endless search for this craving, for sensation of phenomena, the white Rolls Royce with white leather, I’m going to get the Rolex watch, I’m going to get the beautiful house in the country, the cool apartment in Manhattan, I’m going to make the movie, I’m going to get the girl, I’m going to get the guy, I’m going to, I’m going to--and then you drop dead
That’s what I see happening in America, and now we’re like the thugs of the world, the bad-ass of the whole world, and we’re going to beat everyone into Wal-Mart submission, and everyone’s going to shop till they drop, and love shopping, and love porno movies, they’re going to dress up their little ten-year-old girls like little whores, like all our little girls are. It’s like the Roman empire, and we’re sitting here in Rome right now, New York City, which is Rome, and the gladiator wars are going on in Baghdad, the gladiators are all buffed out, like Michelin men, with camouflage, and four guns, and grenades, it’s like the Hell’s Angels on our Harleys, and we’ve got chains in our hands, and we’re out there and we’re going to kick ass, man. Here’s these naked kids in alleys shooting at us with rocket grenades; this is the enemy, these skinny little naked Muslim kids.
Lee Bob Black: We never went to war against that enemy. They only came after Saddam Hussein was ousted. The people we’re fighting now, the insurgents, they weren’t even our enemy when the US led the Iraq invasion in 2003.
Photo: Bhagavan Das.
BD: We are the enemy. And the enemy is our own mind.
BD: I just finished a ten-day meditation retreat, in silence. It was twelve-hours of meditation a day with fifty people in a room, basically being in the space of my own mind.
LBB: So how is the mind the enemy?
BD: The mind is the enemy because we keep reacting to the mind. We keep jumping into the sensation, and the sensations keep feeding us. So we want to avoid those not-good feelings, like when I’m coming off the caffeine, or when I’m not feeling good, or when I start thinking about things in the past that make me really upset, and I want to get out of it, I want to make a phone call, get on the internet, watch porno. Sensation.
If I get really depressed, I can eat a hamburger, and think about being ten-years-old. Craziness. I feel like a prisoner of my mind.
What I discovered in this meditation retreat is: do I want to rearrange the furniture in my prison cell and get a nicer bed and nicer lamps? Or do I want to get out of prison? And I discovered that I really, really want to get out of prison.
LBB: So what’s the way out of prison?
BD: The way is to get to the root of the problem. The problem is this swing from hope and fear. Like, I hope it will get better, oh, I’m afraid it won’t, I don’t know what to do, I feel this floating anxiety all the time, I don’t want to think about it but I know I’m going to die, I don’t know when, I don’t know where. And so, can I get enough to not have these feelings? This existential angst of just feeling like this void? What is it? Why am I here? Where am I going? What does it mean?
LBB: You’ve claimed to have recited millions of mantras--how does that relate to what you learned during this meditation retreat?
BD: I’ve probably been doing mantras for forty-two years. I’ve been bowing. I’ve been in a very deep devotional space. I’ve gone into states of absorption with my mind where I’ve been able to stay and fixate on one object, like a candle flame, or a photograph or my guru, for five hours, and not take my mind off of it. I’ve been able to fixate my mind and completely drop out of the thought process. ’Cause I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve been able to master that level of Samadhi.
LBB: And what does that achieve? What, in terms of actions and results, does that change in the world?
BD: It gives me an amazing sense of sensation, of bliss, of feeling like I’m in this fountain of ecstasy, I’m in this full-body orgasm. But I come down from it. So it really is like a drug-high--the mantra trip. ’Cause what I’m doing is bringing the mind into a sound vibration of the sacred syllables that have been chanted for thousands of years. So, as an example, when I chant, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” I go into six million Tibetans who chanted this for fifteen hundred years. And every rock that has “Om Mani Padme Hum” written on it, and every Tibetan who is “Om Mani Padme Hum-ing,” and the Dalai Lama who is the big “Om Mani Padme Hum” symbol of the Tibetan world. I basically tune in to this astral realm of sound. It calms my mind, and brings me peace from this crazy oscillating energy of being bombarded by the senses.
LBB: But if you have all this vibration against you, you can’t connect with dharma, the natural way of things, the law of nature. So if you’re always focusing on numbers, your breath, a word, mantras, a picture, visualizations, or verbalizations, then you can’t sometimes get into the law of nature--talk about that.
BD: Exactly. That’s what I discovered in this [meditation] retreat. I discovered the naked reality of the way things are without me adding anything to it. In other words, I felt like I was dissolving, I felt like I was turning into sand on the beach. And every breath was like another wave of ocean, and it was washing up on the beach, and I was getting ground down into this sand. It was terrifying. Because it was like, wait a minute, what about me? I would go, there’s Bhagavan Das, and then Bhagavan Das would fade away, and then Bhagavan Das would come up again, and then Bhagavan Das would fade away. It was like, who is this Bhagavan Das?
LBB: Arising, passing away.
BD: It was arising and then passing away. I really experienced it. Before I intellectually knew that everything was really impermanent, and that everything really does change, and that you can depend on anything but change. You can depend on things breaking, on losing things. Everything’s going to change.
LBB: You academically, intellectually knew that. So how did this meditation retreat open you up?
BD: It broadened the experience of it. It brought an actual, physical experience of it in my gut, in my actual body. I’ve never really experienced being so totally in the suffering of my body. I realized that every position I moved into was painful, and that I couldn’t hold any position for very long, that I had to move. I was very uncomfortable in my body. I wanted to crawl out of it. I wanted to take drugs and drink a bottle of wine.
LBB: In our culture, sometimes the most radical thing you can do is sit still. Because we always want to move onto the next high, the next diversion.
BD: Right. Where are we going? Everyone’s running to the grave--like I’ve got to get there quick enough.
I just turned sixty years old. I’m at the top of this mountain of my life, and it’s like spring’s gone, the summer’s gone, the fall has begun. Winter has not come yet, but I can feel the wind, I can feel a little bit of coolness in the air, it’s a little crispy out. Where am I going? What do I want to do with my life? I really got in this retreat how precious my life was. I don’t want to waste my life in things that don’t really mean anything, like shopping.
I’m a shopoholic. I don’t know how much I spent today; maybe $80. I’ve got to have this $20 thing, this $10 thing, that $40 thing.
LBB: What other vices do you want to give up?
BD: Ignorance. The main vice I want to give up is being stupid and doing stupid things. And I want to give up wasting my time in distractions that aren’t going to take me out of the prison of my mind. I want to get out of here, in this birth, I want to use this birth as a golden opportunity to launch into the Big Love. I want to be the Big Love. I know the Big Love. My guru, Neem Karoli Baba, was the Big Love, I sat with the Big Love, I drank tea with the Big Love, I touched the Big Love, I smelled the Big Love. I know what that energy is like--there’s nothing on earth like it. And he’s a human being, so if he could be it, why can’t I be it? How much good can I do? How many people could I really make happy and really help to make happy? I need a technique, something to give to people. And I felt that this Vipassana technique that I received these past ten days, from this amazing guru in India named [S.N.] Goenka, who would never claim himself a guru, who I experience as a guru.
I want to go there, but I’ve got to get out of this trap of name and fame.
LBB: The defilements.
BD: Yeah, the defilements that I experience in myself. The impurities of my mind are so powerful; I had no idea. I could not believe how crazy I am. I did not know that on the experiential level--it was actually shocking to me. I thought I was a much cooler guy. I went, “Wow, I’m like everybody else.” We’re all in the same boat, baby.
Having to sit in my own shit [during the meditation retreat] was really stinky. It’s like sitting in a sleeping bag farting. It’s all inside of us. And all this blaming of other people. But it’s nobody’s fault but mine. I am responsible for my consciousness.
So I saw that, and now I got to go on duty and watch and be aware of my faults so that I can change my faults into virtues, that I can do the alchemical trip, and turn ignorance into wisdom. And the way to do that is to really back off from it, and to really just get into the naked observation of reality, and go, what is as it is, without any added flavor or attraction, just bare bones reality, just being with my breath, without forcing my breath, without watching my breath, just feeling the sensation of my breath on the nostrils of my nose. It was so profound for me, just feeling that, just the ānāpāna sati of the Vipassana technique.
LBB: Explain that.
BD: Ānāpāna sati is being aware of the contact sensation of your breath on the tip of the nostrils. Breath is coming in, breath is going out, breath is short, breath is long, breath is deep, breath is shallow, breath is coming through left nostril, breath is coming through right nostril, breath is flowing through both nostrils, touching tip of nose, just touching upper lip, feeling the sensation, and being in that breath, ignoring the thoughts, watching the thoughts come to take me away from the breath. Sharpen the mind so that I’m actually able to use it as a tool.
LBB: Instead of being a slave to the mind.
BD: Exactly. I experienced anicca. I experienced impermanence. I watched these amazing pains in my body change, and go from my hips to my back to my buttock to my crotch to my neck. And then the thoughts--I could not believe the torrent, the waterfall rushing, gushing thoughts that bombarded me. It was the absolute madness of my mind.
LBB: The monkey mind.
BD: It was such a monkey. A mad, drunk monkey.
LBB: The difference between a sane person and a madman is that the madman jumps thoughts just a little bit more, the mind of an insane person is “jumpier”--that’s one crude definition of insanity.
BD: One of my Tibetan gurus, who was also Allen Ginsberg’s guru, was Chögyam Trungpa. His definition of enlightenment was basic sanity. To have a clear mind. To remember. To actually show up for this experience called life. I feel like I’ve missed so much of my life. I don’t want to cry about it.
Photo: Bhagavan Das. Photo credit: cactusbones/Flickr.
LBB: Maybe you’ve been avoiding life, or maybe wanting life to be something else. With all the drugs and alcohol, it’s like you’ve been distorting it, rather just being with it as it is and as it isn’t.
BD: Exactly. I’ve been using alcohol and drugs and getting high and partying and having wonderful romantic relationships with lots of different women, for years. And it’s all one giant distraction.
LBB: How is that meaningless? How is that a distraction? Why can’t that be just you? Why do you want to go beyond that?
BD: I want to find some peace in my life. And that doesn’t bring me any peace, because the girls leave, and I end up fighting with them, and I end up spending all my money on them. I end up being in this spin of energy cranking up these imaginary picture scenarios that never happen.
LBB: Very transient. If you’re attached to something that’s impermanent, then sooner or later you’ll experience pain. But is it that simple? Is that why you want to go beyond it?
BD: I want to be the Big Love. I want to be a gift to humanity. I want to serve the world and help the children. I want to really be the most that I can be in this lifetime, and be the greatest inspiration that I can be. I feel that I have something from the Sixties, I am the Sixties, I am in a sense the hippy guru of the Sixties, I am [Ram Dass’] Be Here Now guru. While everyone was doing LSD, and dancing to the Grateful Dead, and doing the whole Haight-Ashbury trip, living the Sixties party trip, I was in India, sitting in caves. And I was torturing my body, I was living the Sixties spiritual ideal of getting enlightened--I didn’t even know what it meant.
So I feel that I have an obligation to my people, to my tribe, to bring back this golden wisdom, this experience--how can I share this with them? Because right now I feel like the last living spiritual icon of the Sixties. Everyone is dead that I know. Allen Ginsberg. Ken Kesey. Dennis Leary. Bill Burroughs. The beatniks. Ram Dass is in a wheelchair, he’s down. Jerry Garcia is dead.
I’ve known about Vipassana for forty-two years; and this is the first time I’ve gone to a retreat. I wasn’t ready, the time hadn’t come. I felt desperate, in a sense, and needing to sit at the feet of a master.
A lot of people sit at my feet, and I feel the weight of their devotion to me. They’re like, “Tell me what to do, Bhagavan Das. Help me. Give me a mantra. Bless me, Bhagavan Das. Show me something. How should I live my life?” And a certain part of me doesn’t know--because I don’t know how to live my life. I’m just coming out of being an alcoholic and a drug addict. And here I am, five months clean from all intoxication.
LBB: Well done. You said to me yesterday that you’ve been more productive in the last six months than you have in the last six years.
BD: I’ve gotten very productive since I stopped partying and drinking. Being in that intoxication is not serving me, and I don’t think it serves anyone. I don’t see any point to it. It’s time to sober up on all levels, and get out of the addiction to sensation; the hedonistic model is not a workable model. In a way, that’s what America is--America is all about pleasure. Younger women, faster horses, stronger whiskey. Gotta get the Ferrari. Gotta get the super-duper-high-powered truck with the biggest V8 motor that was ever made.
LBB: We know all of that--
BD: We don’t really know it.
LBB: We know it intellectually.
BD: I knew things intellectually and emotionally, but I didn’t know them until I experienced the sensation of them. I knew everything was impermanent, emotionally. I knew everything changes. I’ve been throwing the I Ching for forty years. I know what the I Ching is about intellectually. But I experienced the I Ching, I experienced the hexagrams moving.
LBB: Can you explain more about the feeling of impermanence and change in the body?
BD: So here we are, human beings, living in a temple called a human body. In India, in the yogic tradition, it’s called the temple. Being a temple, what is the deity reigning in the temple of the human body? It’s the life-force.
Allen Ginsberg said, “The life-force is holy, holy, holy, holy, life is holy, the life is holy.” He said that in 1947, on the Lower East Side [of Manhattan]. And I read that poem when I was about fifteen-years-old, and I went, “Yes!”
The “Sunflower Sutra” of Jack Kerouac, I read this, I knew--intellectually--that that was the truth.
LBB: So, when you meditate, and you pay attention to the sensations, how does intellectual knowledge go to the experiential level?
BD: It goes to the experiential level through the path of bare attention on sensation, on actually going in back-of the feeling. So here’s the thought, and here’s the feeling behind the thought, and behind the feeling is the sensation. And this sensation is directly connected to the mind, and they’re almost inseparable. So you’ve got to be very subtle in your observation of this.
Meditation, leading to liberation, is uprooting the negativities and impurities of the mind.
We are a living mass of bubbles, of karmic bubbles from millions of times we’ve done things, we have made an imprint, like every time we lie. Say I’ve lied, like, a hundred million times, so there’s a hundred million imprints of lying. So now I tell a lie, I don’t even know I’m lying, because I’m imprinted to lie.
Now I’m aware of that, so if I’m aware of my shadow--impurity--that gives me an edge in response to it. So instead of automatically jumping on the response, I’ve now got a few seconds of gap, and in that gap, I experience basic purity, I experience pure nothing, clear mirror, empty mirror, with nothing reflected in that mirror, just a pause of peace.
Until the next craving or aversion comes, or the next falling asleep comes, ignoring, of not wanting to see what’s really going on, or not wanting to deal with the reality of suffering. Trying to cover over the suffering with, I need a couple of aspirin, I need more caffeine, I need a beautiful girl, I need someone to touch, I need someone’s body to touch me, I want to drink wine, I want to get on the telephone, the email, I want to surf the net, I want to watch pornos, I want to feel sensations, I want to see images, pleasure.
LBB: Intellectually we know that pleasure is linked with attachment, and we know that attachment is unhealthy because it leads to misery, but it can takes years for us to experientially know that.
BD: It’s taken me forty-two years. I’ve been on a dedicated spiritual path for forty-two years. I’ve been putting in time, consciously, worshipping, praying, reciting mantras, bowing down, meditating, reading spiritual books, reading sutras, setting up altars. Forty-two years, and I’ve just been covering it up. So I’m in shock at my process.
I really feel that I’ve stumbled on to this amazing opportunity to really change my mind. But I’m still running in the same pattern. It takes a lot of devotion and real humility to change your mind. You got to really get off of it. So I realized, hey, I’ve got all these people sitting at my feet, I need to sit at someone’s feet. And I spent ten days sitting at the feet of an eighty-one year old man [S. N. Goenka].
LBB: My friend, who has seen people at your feet, told me that it was beautiful to see you at someone’s feet.
BD: I was sitting at the teacher’s feet, and I worshipped the teacher. Because it is not the teacher, it is the teaching. It is the dharma. The Buddha is our awakened mind. We have to take refuge. I’ve been taking refuge in twenty-year-old girls, drugs, alcohol, shopping, sensation, ego. I’ve taken refuge in name, fame, power, my golden Mercedes Benz, my $5000 sound system with sixteen speakers in the car. I’ve taken refuge in having $2000 in cash in my pocket, at all times. I love to feel that wad in my pocket. You follow? And it’s led me to total despair, total unhappiness.
LBB: You commented on how you’re not worshipping the teacher, you’re worshipping the teachings, and then you talked about Buddha.
BD: You don’t worship the person. You worship the enlightened mind of the Buddha. We want the qualities of that compassion, the qualities of his generosity.
LBB: It’s easier to identify with Buddhists, compared to, say, Christians who seem to worship Christ the person more than his qualities. Gautama Buddha--you don’t worship him at all.
BD: Right. He is the awakened one. Buddha got out of prison of his mind when he was thirty-five years old under the bodi tree. Now that he’s out of jail, he can show other people how to get out of jail.
That’s the dharma, this is the law of nature, of karma, it’s the law of imprinting your mind. Keep lying a hundred million times, you don’t even know you’re lying. Keep stealing, you don’t even know you’re stealing. You pocket it, you pad up the business deal, add a few thousand dollars on that, just fluff it up, they’ll never notice. So everyone’s fluffing, and everyone’s packing, and everyone’s padding--and everyone’s paying karmic-ly, because that’s an imprint.
So the dharma is the way, and the way it is, is the way it is in this body. This is the reality we live in, we live in this body of flesh. To me, the purpose of life is to be a human being. Becoming really human is enlightenment. Having humanity. Being a real caring, loving being, going beyond this judging of the mind.
LBB: How can we be compassionate?
BD: We can only be compassionate to others when we are compassionate to ourselves. We have to start out with coming back inside, going inside, and experiencing our body, and finding out how the sensation and the mind move together. How crazy our mind is. How impermanent it is. How every feeling of the body is suffering, we’re never comfortable, we’re moving, we’re fiddling, we’re jiggling, itching, twitching, scratching. Existence is uncomfortable. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to keep putting band-aids on it? Watch TV because we’re bored?
LBB: Deny, deny, deny.
Deny that I’m not this. I’m not an alcoholic, I just drink two bottles
of wine a night because I like wine. I make some story up: I’m a wine
connoisseur, so what? I’m not a wine connoisseur, I’m a wino.
In other words, tell the truth about yourself. This is the beginning of the path of dharma. It’s living and being in this body, and using this precious human birth for all it’s worth, and for really becoming whole--that’s holy. Not being fragmented, not being a half-way person, and doing everything half-ass, not putting full sincerity into every moment, letting every encounter be profound, and real. Knowing that everyone is the Buddha, every woman is the Divine Goddess and the Mother--that’s the way I choose to live.
But that’s also a trip, so I’m looking at a tripless trip. How can I be in a tripless trip? How can I give the children a tripless trip? I first got to get established in myself.
LBB: In terms this before-and-after moment that you experienced over these ten days, you’ve previously said that you’ve been the sugar daddy, the LSD guy, the go-to guy, the get-off guy. So you want to both acknowledge that that’s who you were, and you want to promote this new self?
BD: I want to promote a new self, a new beingness for myself. I want to give myself the present of my reality. I’m tired of just bouncing off of people, meeting people’s projections, being a people pleaser, saying yes to everybody, being the life of the party.
LBB: How can you serve people? Goenka talks about serving people.
BD: He gives people a technique that they can use to actually take them out of their suffering, which is the dharma. And the practice of the dharma is meditation, but it has to be right meditation, it can’t be meditation that simply creates another astral drama, such as a breathing technique, such as hatha yoga. You do hatha yoga every day for two hours, for a year or two, you’re going to get really high, and it’s going to work for you. And if you don’t do it, for one or two days, you’ll feel horrible. I’ve done it. It’s like heroine.
The original teaching of the Buddha was bare attention--before it got all glamorized into different sects and everyone got their hand on it and basically customized the Buddha, it’s like the bare model wasn’t good enough, we got to customize it, let’s put some flames on the side, let’s put some wrathful deities here.
LBB: We have four wisdoms, you can do two of them, but don’t worry about the other two. Customization.
BD: Exactly. I felt that I was going back in time, in this meditation, with Goenka, to this bare Buddhism, and it was so simple, and I love the simplicity of it, everything was threes, there’s three of this and three of that. Buddha, dharma, sangha. The precepts. The Samadhi of the mind. The wisdom aspect. What happened to Buddhism was that it went into the northern schools, into Mahayana Buddhism, and then it got into the fours, and the eights. It just got more and more. It’s like going back to, basically, the philosophy of more is better, the American philosophy. A bigger house is better. More square feet. More cars. And I don’t think more is better. I think I’m coming back to less is more in my life. This is really a revelation for me. I can share this with the children, but I really have to get established in myself, it’s a whole new wave.
LBB: How practically do you want to give to the kids, bring wisdom to the kids?
BD: I want to leave the kids with the dharma, I want to leave them with how can you really live the truth, what is the truth, what is reality, what will take away your suffering, what will bring real peace and happiness to your heart and your mind. I want to bring them a spiritual practice that can actually change their life. Something that the kids can actually do that would not be just a trip.
LBB: That’s not just a high, an orgasm.
BD: Yeah. It’s very difficult because I don’t want to lay a trip on them. Because no one ever does what you tell them to. No one ever takes advice, even if it’s the best advice in the world.
LBB: What you’re speaking of reminds me of one of my criticisms of the meditation retreat--how the teacher frequently referred to real happiness, almost as if billions of people on this planet are experiencing fake happiness. How can one say, “Real happiness is if you do this technique”?
BD: I think it’s a journey. The journey begins by taking one step in front of the other step. It takes real determination to make the journey, but we’re on the journey of life any way, and we’re all here, in a very impermanent situation called existence, and we’re all going to die. So what are we doing here? Is it not more than shopping? Is it not more than sex? Is it not more than making money? To impress people with our power? With our intellectual knowledge?
LBB: Looking good. Avoiding looking bad.
BD: We’re not happy. People are very, very miserable. That’s a huge amount of denial. I think there’s over 100 million people in America addicted to some kind of substance abuse. Why? Because they’re unhappy. And these things give you a false happiness. Give me my tranquilizer, honey. Give me my mood swing pill. Put the TV on. Put my feet up. They’re happy, but they’re not happy. Because they just put the mind into a bombardment of stimuli.
It’s like the sex act. Sex is the most sensational thing you can do, it’s the most powerful sensation. That’s why it’s used to sell things, to manipulate people, to program people, to everything. Sex is the big thing, that’s the thing that really gets us out of our head. Works every time. That’s why I’ve been so into sex, I’ve been so pro-sex. I’d much rather have sex with a girl than talk with her for hours. I’d rather feel her and smell her and taste her, and breathe her breath, and love and adore her. For me, it’s much more of an experience, and yet the karmic spin of sex is very, very powerful. Because it sets a whole process of imprinting in the mind.
I think it brings you into your birth trauma, that’s my feeling about it. It’s your birth trauma. You’re totally being born, because you’re inside of someone, you’re in their body, you’re juicy, you’re in the energy, juice is flowing, and blood, your heart is beating, your breath is fast.
LBB: No mind. Or, less mind.
BD: And you’re all in this sensation. You’re in your porno movies. You’re flipping in your mind. And it ends in what? Orgasm? Splat? Splurt? Squirt? Over? Bliss? Intense bliss? Or extend the orgasm, extend the bliss for hours, but, still, what is it?
LBB: Not very meaningful.
BD: I think we’ve way over-rated sex. We’ve lost the subtlety of it. Because, really, all sensation, in a certain sense, is a sexual act. Everything is sex. Walking down the street of New York City, to me, I’m having sex with everything. I’m having sex with every girl I see, every man, every dog, the air, the beautiful clouds, the buildings, the traffic, I’m just bombarded by this amazing sexual experience. It doesn’t have to be a genital experience for me. This is another level. This is really what tantra is. I’ve been practicing tantra for forty-two years, but tantra hasn’t brought me real transformation of my character. And I’m looking at a deeper level of transformation.
LBB: But hasn’t that become your character?
BD: It really hasn’t satisfied me. I want more.
LBB: Is that just more craving though?
BD: I’m sure it is more craving. But at least I feel that it’s a craving that can end craving. I need to put it in a place that will really transform for me, on a deeper level. I experienced a deep transformation in this meditation retreat.
LBB: You became a person. You were personalized, you were de-Goded [sic], de-gurufied [sic].
BD: De-deified [sic]. I was no guru. I was no super-duper-special Bhagavan Das with all my entourage and followers. I was another suffering human being at the effect of a really crazy, mad mind. And I found that in humbling myself to the teacher, sitting at the instructor’s feet, and listening to his words, I received tremendous help.
LBB: During the first few days of the retreat, I opened my eyes a few times, and I saw you at the instructor’s feet, and you looked timid.
BD: I was like, “Please help me. I’m lost, sir.”
LBB: You know a lot about guru-worship. How is it helpful, and how is it harmful?
BD: It’s helpful in giving you devotion, someone to look up to, to aspire to their qualities.
Allen Ginsberg was a guru to me. I lived with Allen. We were very warm and dear and close friends. His persona, his presence, was so much bigger than his human beingness. It was Allen’s love, it was Allen’s humanity. He loved people like Goenka loves people. And you felt the love, that father-love energy was so strong. I feel that that’s my lineage.
Whoever was in front of Allen was the most important person in Allen’s life. Here’s this very famous person, who was completely generous and giving to everybody. He was really interested in connecting with everyone.
In a sense, there was a guru-worship with Allen. And Allen was worshipping me because I was the blonde bombshell. Allen’s like a gay queen, he wanted to have sex with me, he was flipped out over me, I was a twenty-five year old golden boy, with a tight butt, golden matted hair down to my waist. I was a trip. I was the hot guru of New York City. I reigned, man, in New York City in 1971. I owned the city, dude. When I went out on the sidewalk, I had fifty people around me if I stopped walking. People don’t stop to look at people in New York City--but I had a crowd around me anywhere I went. I had so much light coming off my body, I had so much energy for all my spiritual practices in India, and it was a really tough trip, man, being in it, being in that energy, and not knowing what to do with it. I bowed out of the game.
LBB: About when?
BD: When I was twenty-seven. I bowed out by having three children. I was like, I just want to play with my babies, I just want to hang out with my kids, I don’t want people touching my feet, I don’t want to sit on a thrown, giving people names, you know, stick my thumb in people’s third eyes, give them experiences.
I question the guru trip. Is this guru trip really going to work for Western people? And does it really work for Indians? I think there’s a real danger in it. Basically what happens is that the guru worship turns into hero worship.
LBB: It becomes the point, the object.
BD: It becomes the cult of personality. Then it becomes worshiping the movie stars--that’s another characteristic of Americans. We love famous people.
LBB: More so than the rest of the world. What is it with Americans?
BD: I watched myself just walking here to your house. I watched two women walk by, and one goes to the other woman, “He’s somebody. He’s a famous person.” You follow? Because I’m very charismatic. I stand out. I have a lot of energy in my body. I’m more alive, I’m intensely alive, I’m involved in being alive. I love people. I love life. I love wherever I am. That’s just who I am, my nature. It’s dangerous this path of guru worship.
LBB: Talk more about the downfalls.
BD: It’s very destructive to the guru. It’s very difficult for my spiritual trip, because everyone’s puffing up my ego, telling me how great I am, what an amazing being I am, kissing my ass, brownnosing me, touching my feet, giving me money, wanting to suck my cock, rub my back, buy me things. It’s dangerous because this false sense of our ego is not real, which is what I experienced in this meditation retreat. I experienced that I couldn’t find who I was.
LBB: No I, no me, no my.
BD: And it was terrifying. I’d have these amazing ego-loss feelings, like the bottom would drop out of me, I’d just fall into space, and I really became like a grain of sand, like a bubble that would pop, burst, pop, burst, appear, disappear, rising, falling, breathing in, breathing out. I became the breath, I became a wave of light, a pulsating bubble of energy, and nothing more. And so I saw the magic of the mind, the projection of it.
The guru people are projecting the guru trip onto the guru, like, “You are so enlightened being, you are very special man.” And then the guru feels, “Oh, I’m a very special man.” Then the guru gives back that kind of energy to the people. But that’s like black magic.
LBB: What about people who have photos of the Dalai Lama?
BD: They’re giving the Dalai Lama all the energy. He’s absolutely a saint, clearly. The Pope was a saint. It’s like saint worship. We want the qualities of the saint. What are the qualities of the Dalai Lama? The Dalai Lama isn’t angry at the Chinese, he feels sorry for the Chinese, “Oh what bad karma they’re doing. They will suffer. All this hard karma.” He’s not like, “Go get them.” The Dalai Lama is showing great compassion. And he’s an impeccable being, he speaks impeccably, his presence is impeccable. This is something to emulate, there’s an example here. He’s a really mature man, a real father figure, a real dad. That’s part of the guru trip.
LBB: What are your thoughts on the two billion people who watched Pope John Paul II’s funeral on TV?
BD: I think that’s an absolute phenomena. What it showed me was the absolute hunger that people have for spiritual experience. Two billion people prayed and tuned in together for a spiritual experience over the Pope’s dead body. Wow. How profound.
Interviewee: Bhagavan Das, www.BhagavanDas.com
Interviewer: Lee Bob Black, www.LeeBobBlack.com
Interview location: Manhattan, New York City
Interview date: May 18th, 2005.
P.S. The following photos were taken during the interview:
After the interview, I stood on an old fire-notification thingy, and took the photo below of Bhagavan Das on the corner of Washington Street and Charles Street, West Village, NYC: