It's Here Now (Are You?) A Spiritual Memoir by Bhagavan Dass
review by Alan Steinfeld
In the tradition of Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi and Gurjiefff's Meeting With Remarkable Men, Bhagavan Dass has written about his journey for spiritual knowledge that is bound to become a classic. What makes this book so fascinating is upclose and personal descriptions of the many holy men and women of the East and West. He relates how these encounters sparked a deep inner experience which he describeds with passion and clarity.
Born Michael Riggs and later named Bhagavan Das (BD) by his guru Neem Karoli Baba, BD is one of the central figures in the spiritual movement that has swept into this country since the 1960 s and he is partially responsible for it too. He was the person who told, the LSD dropping Harvard neurotic Richard Alper to "be here now." He was also Alper's first spiritual teacher and the person who introduced him to his Guru, Neem Koroli Baba, who gave him the name Ram Dass.
BD begins his story with the incarnation of himself as a typical example of the disillusioned youth of the post Eisenhower America where living in the suburbs of Southern California. He realized the ridiculous of he material American dream way before that became fashionable.
"Once, when I was sixteen, I came home drunk at 3 o'clock in the morning. I pulled into the wrong garage, closed the wrong garage door, walked into the wrong house, and opened the door to my room-, which I found was the wrong room.... I knew I have to find a place where people lived differently. I began wandering in my mind because I felt so stifled by my predictable life and the future. I was looking for roots and didn't see ant I j America. I felt that the was mouthing here for me."
It was in the great mysteries of the East that young Michael Riggs (BD) would find what he was seeking and his ongoing love affair with wharf he realizes to be the divine Mother.
The Divine Mother is the love behind life's energy that pulsated inside and outside us. And it is has always been the case since time immemorial that those who seek find. When BD arrives in India, in 1963 (and where he will stay for seven years ) he says: "it was walking into a concert that had been playing for five thousand years and had seven hundred million people in the band." What BD finds on his search for his spiritual roots are all the greatest saints of the 20th century. He has encounters with everyone from Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, Muktananda, Sai Baba, Anada Mai Ma (who Yogananda also met earlier and relates a similar experience of this great Being.
For BD these are not just casual encounters, but intense passionate experiences that blast him to a deeper state of bliss. Throughout the skill of the writing that bliss is somehow felt by hew reader. It is an act of transmission that BD is the great bring for divine revelation to the west even thought to this day as he continues to struggle with his own self-determined ego. But his experiences add up to a great mountain of treasure. Perhaps that is why the poet Gary Snider called him “a National Park.”
With every holy person he describes beautiful awakened experiences. But it is only in the intense encounter with his "sat" guru that he finds his true love Neem Karoli Baba. His disciples knew him, as Maharaja. It was this master that transformed BD, the seeker, into one who has found. He says of Neem Karoli: ” I was so happy to be near his body. He had the most beautiful fragrance you've ever smelled. It was like the top of a new born baby's head, it took me out t of my senses"
The love that comes through when a BD talk about his guru just expands in the chest of the reader. According to BD in an interview with this writer, he said that “it was this love that has lasted to this day. Spanning death and time and distance."
Masharishi's love was not always so sweet and BD had to endure those hard lessons of tough love. Sending him away at times and at other times BD running away from the intensity of dissolving ego. In these cases he would seek out other spiritual seekers and teachers meeting such great masters as the Tibetean Lama Kalu and the last Karmapa. He devotion to the Tibetan Buddhist lineage creates the inner turmoil of betrayal in BD over his Hindu guru. His resolution here is a burning through his ego.
BD comes out of it all ----not quite enlightened, but more as a way shower to those willing to confront their Western self image and take the plunge into a life connected to that essence beyond the body: The Spirit of the essential Self, the Atman.