In his famous Stanford speech Steve Jobs said that you can only connect the dots looking back. You cannot connect them looking forward.
There are many people who had a powerful influence on me. Some changed the trajectory of my life, but I did not know this till much later.
One of them was Ram Dass. In a sense he gave my own culture back to me.
When I began my Ph.D. at Columbia Business School I was dismissive of Indian philosophy and the traditions which had been a part of my life. That the world is an illusion seemed patently absurd and the pithy sayings of the Upanishads were meaningless.
At the time Ram Dass was staying in an apartment on Riverside Drive and I hung out with him for a while. One of my treasured possessions is a copy of Be Here Now that he inscribed to me. That book is in the life-changing books section of the syllabus for my course Creativity and Personal Mastery.
Ram Dass had his own inimitable style of showing that the epigrammatic sayings I had found incomprehensible had profound meaning. Moreover, they were not just philosophical musings. They were an immensely useful and practical guide to living a full life in today’s world.
It took me a long time to synthesize what I learnt from him and others into a body of work that became one of the highest rated and most popular courses at many of the world’s top business schools.
And now the lessons enshrined in the course pop up everywhere in my life.
Recently I met Rameshwar Das who collaborated with and wrote the last three books by Ram Dass. He was born James Lytton but, like Richard Alpert who morphed into Ram Dass, his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, gave him an Indian name.
I asked Rameshwar what was the principal lesson he learnt or change he underwent as a result of his contact with Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba. He thought for a minute and said, “I went from being the center of the universe to being a grain of sand on the beach.”
He told me of a time when he was sitting with Ram Dass and some others in a hall. They were sitting way back and Neem Karoli Baba was at the front and seemingly paying no attention to them. And, all of a sudden, he was engulfed by an overwhelming feeling of love. He was not in love or experiencing love.
He was love.
And that brings me to a passage from his book Polishing the Mirror:
Awareness is not a thing. We can label it, but it is not the words. You are loving awareness. So is Christ. So is Krishna. So is Buddha. So is Maharaj-ji. They are loving awareness, and so are you. Loving awareness is one – one loving awareness.
Each of us is a finger of the hand of universal awareness. Loving awareness is in everybody. Everybody is in loving awareness. Wars and disagreements, separate nations, those are the games we play. Yet we are loving awareness. We are individuals, but we are not. We are all God. You are an individual and you are also part of the whole. You are loving awareness, and when you finally get to be loving awareness, just be loving awareness.
Think about it till it makes sense to you!