Today is Thanksgiving, and strangely enough, I find myself giving thanks for LSD, which provided the opening that led me to India in 1971 and brought me to Neem Karoli Baba, known as Maharajji. My journey started in New Hampshire in the summer of 1969, when I was living with a group of hippies on a small farm in the White Mountains. We had a guest for our vegetarian dinner one night, and he brought dessert: a little orange pill for each of us. As the sun set behind the mountains, Owsley’s “sunshine” lit up my life with an experience of Oneness with all that is. As I came down in the early hours of the morning, someone handed me the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which read like a manual for travels in the land of consciousness. I was on my way.
Three weeks and several trips later, I was in Vermont, hanging with my cousin at a party. I naturally gravitated to the guy in the corner playing the guitar. “Wanna go meet a saint?” he asked me. My atheistic leanings, combined with my totally non-religious upbringing, had fled after that first ingestion of LSD, and I was ready for anything connected to spirit. Sure. Why not?
The next day we drove to Franklin, New Hampshire, and there was Ram Dass. I hadn’t smoked or dropped anything, yet I could see him glowing. This was not the same person I had seen a few years before, when my boyfriend and I had spent spring break in New York and on a whim went to see “An Evening with God,” featuring Timothy Leary chanting “Turn on, tune in, and drop out,” and his colleague Richard Alpert, who had also been thrown out of Harvard for their experiments with mind-altering drugs. Alpert had seemed like a stuffy professor back then.
The next year, Alpert had a life-changing experience when he went to India and met Maharajji, who blew his mind more than acid ever had, and opened his heart. After six months living in a remote temple in the foothills of the Himalayas, he returned to the U.S. as Ram Dass–the man who was now standing before me, emitting light. He was living in a small cabin behind his father’s summer house, and there were a dozen or so hippie-types camping out in the surrounding woods. I had met my long-lost tribe.
That evening, we gathered in the barn and Ram Dass talked about taking thousands of acid trips, and still having to come down. But, he said, there was a way to get high and stay high without drugs. Fantastic! The next day, I set up a small tent in the woods and started learning the words and concepts of my new life, like meditation, yoga, karma, and guru.
The tribe dispersed when the summer ended. I went to New York to earn enough money to get to India and find Maharajji. I wanted what Ram Dass had gotten . . . from the source.
The man in the photo
One day, an old college friend invited me to split a tab of acid with her. Well, it all split on my side. I soared above mountain tops and went into a powerful initiatory experience. The next day I was still flying, but in much lower planes. It was starting to get scary, so I did the only thing I could: I sat in front of the little black-and-white photo of Maharajji that Ram Dass had given me, clutching my wooden mala and repeating a heartfelt mantra–“I’m scared, and you have to help me.”
It worked. The photo dissolved in blue light, and there he was. Only for a moment, but long enough for me to know that Maharajji was with me and I could safely go through the rest of the trip. Needless to say, after that I got a much larger picture of Maharajji, and basically lived my life in front of that photo. Occasionally I would see him in there, but whether or not the picture “came alive,” I talked to him all the time. I didn’t tell anyone that, of course. Who talked to pictures?
I finally got to India and in September of 1971 met Maharajji. In my very first darshan (sight of) of Maharajji, he leaned over and said to me, “You used to talk to my picture all the time. You asked many questions.”
Ram Dass, Maharajji, and LSD
By the time I got to India, Ram Dass was already there, having returned after two years in the U.S. And he had once again given Maharajji acid.
(excerpt from Love Everyone)
RAM DASS: Maharajji said, “Did you give me some pills, some medicine last time?”
“Did I take it?”
“I don’t know.” I’d had some doubt.
“You got any more?”
I got my medicine bag and held out three tabs of strong LSD, and he clearly swallowed one pill at a time. I sat at his feet as a psychologist would to watch his behavior. About halfway through he pulls his blanket over his head and then brings the blanket down and makes a face like a madman! He was kidding. He didn’t react at all. He just said, “These medicines, these plants, were well known in ancient times. They let you go into the room with Christ, but you can’t stay. You can’t stay.”
So who was this being who could take such a strong dose of acid and not feel a bit differently? Who could stay in the room, at one with Christ consciousness?
Maharajji is described by the Indians as a “knower of hearts.” Imagine sitting in front of someone who knows absolutely everything about you and still loves you unconditionally. Nowhere to hide, no room for shame or guilt. It’s not an experience any of us had growing up in the West. Our rational, linear minds couldn’t out-think the overwhelming experience of our hearts.
Only mystical poets like Rumi can begin to express that infinite love. “In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”
Maharajji gave no lectures, no formal teachings. There were no requirements for us to adhere to, no demands, no payments. His fundamental teaching seemed simple: love everyone, feed (serve) everyone, and remember God. All within the context of sub ek: it’s all one. Even today, the Westerners who found their way to Maharajji in those early years of the 1970s are still trying to live by those words.
We had been a bunch of skeptical 20-something-year-olds, not Indians who came from generations of devotees and a culture of guru worship. Far from it. Yet Maharajji captured our hearts, as he still does with those who meet him through dreams, meditation, song (as in Krishna Das or Jai Uttal’s kirtans) and story. One of the reasons I wrote Love Everyone was not only to share our stories (based on interviews with over 70 of the Westerners who were in India with Maharajji), but also to share the way the seeds that Maharajji planted have sprouted and grown. Maharajji transformed our lives and, even though he died in September 1973, he continues to open hearts and change lives today.
It’s been many decades since the opening I experienced through LSD, and I haven’t had the need or desire to take it since then. Love is by far the most powerful drug there is–the love that recognizes the spark of the divine within all of us. As Maharajji said, “God, guru, and self are one.” Within that oneness, we are love.