(by Ninja) I want to tell you about a remarkable lecture that Rama gave at Boston University in November 1985 when I was a computer science student there. It was one of the only times I saw Rama in a public forum where none of his regular students were in attendance, save myself and a couple of guys traveling with him.
A few months before this story begins, Rama had traveled to Boston to give a public lecture at the Berkley College of Music. I heard about it and walked over just a few blocks to the main auditorium on Massachusetts Avenue from my studio apartment on Clarendon Street, in Boston’s self-consciously hip “Back Bay” neighborhood.
I hadn’t seen Rama for a long time, maybe about a year. He had kicked me out of his meditation program, as he often did when people got screwed up and confused and started to get weird. That had happened to me about a year prior, but that’s a story for another time… Anyway, I was standing in the auditorium lobby at Berkley, I think it was the intermission, and Rama, in his usual casual way, strolled over and asked me how I was doing as if we had just had lunch together last week.
But then, I guess I never really felt that far from Rama during the year I was kicked out. Just like I don’t feel far from him now, even though he left the body more than 20 years ago. So when I saw him I immediately had this idea that I could help organize a talk for him at Boston University, where I was making an attempt to gain admission to the Computer Science graduate program. My liberal arts undergraduate degree hadn’t impressed the CS department much, so I was taking a lot of undergraduate-level CS courses to try and get my prerequisites completed.
I was a properly enrolled BU student, so I thought it would be possible for me to organize some kind of on-campus event. I knew Rama loved teaching at universities. He often spoke of the many good years he spent studying at various universities on his way to earning a Ph.D. in English Literature, and since the age of 19 had always offered meditation classes wherever he was studying. I think of all the teaching he did, he seemed most relaxed and happy when he was teaching college students.
“Sure,” Rama said, “Just go ahead and set up the talk and then give me a call.” That was it. I read once that a Samurai should never take more than seven seconds to make a decision, no matter how large a decision. Rama didn’t even need the extra five seconds. I stared at him with my mouth hanging open, not knowing what to say now that I had just volunteered for a major task, almost unwittingly. So Rama spoke for me: “When you’ve got some dates, just get in touch with Chris. He’ll know where to find me.” Chris M. was a student of Rama’s who was a physician. Chris helped with a lot of Rama’s administrative stuff at the time, and I knew people who could get me in touch with Chris. So this would work. Rama ambled off to talk with other people, always so completely relaxed that he appeared to be discussing something about as controversial as the local weather report. But I learned later that this was how he did business and made decisions, never losing his composure or, more precisely, never breaking his connection to meditation.
I got busy. Boy did I get busy! For the next month, my life was on fire as I organized all of the details associated with the talk. I remember explicitly one windy, grey, chilly afternoon in late October or early November. People were bundled against the cold, silently cursing the onset of another northeast winter, as they walked with their heads down into the biting wind. I was standing on Commonwealth Avenue, across from the center of campus with a stack of posters in my arms, ready to go and tack up Rama’s lecture announcement on every bulletin board I could find. I couldn’t feel the cold but I did feel like I was about 10 feet tall. The wind felt bracing, and stimulating like I was standing on the bow of a great sailboat facing into the spray and the wind. I felt the joy of a carefree young boy on his way to becoming a man. And I really couldn’t feel my body at all, it was as if my mind and spirit were flowing on that cold, sharp wind, and my body was just going along for the ride, completely at peace. I hardly noticed the ensuing task until it was done.
I had stepped out of my normal sense of time, of pleasure and pain, and of work. Work was meditation, work was effortless, work was pure. At least for about an hour or so! That was a-rockin’ good time. The day of the lecture arrived. Rama had decided to promote the event as a “Workshop in Career Development through Meditation”. This was a common Rama theme, and I guess he found it especially appropriate for college students. Rama often discussed how meditation and career development do not interfere with each other, rather they are mutually beneficial. Perhaps this doesn’t sound too radical today, but it actually contradicts what most religious pundits have maintained for many thousands of years. Even today, it’s common for people to assume that to be a Buddhist monk or any kind of serious religious person, you must be a renunciant, completely divorced from commerce, romance, emotion, and fine dining experiences. Rama was living proof of the demise of this assumption, and he would often help beginners to understand that a career is meditation, when it’s approached from the right level of mind.
The lecture was to be held in the Student Union, right in the center of campus, in an upstairs auditorium. About 100 seats were arranged theater-style, in neat rows facing a center stage that was a simple wood platform about 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep. One of Rama’s friends came early to set up the sound system, and then laid a black cotton cloth over the center part of the platform, and placed one of the steel and plastic university chairs in the center of the stage.
Rama arrived about 15 minutes before the start of the event, and I first caught sight of him as he came up the stairway from the Student Union lobby. He was with two very big guys, who were traveling with him at the time. The first thing I saw was his large aviator-style mirror sunglasses, which made it impossible to know who he was looking at. Rama was six-foot-three and probably weighed close to 200 pounds at the time. The other two guys were almost as tall, tough-looking, and also wearing sunglasses. They made an impressive entrance.
Rama was not your cringe-in-the-pansy-patch spiritual guru. He was a very athletic, very strong, very capable individual both in the physical and non-physical realms. It was quite obvious to people who had never met him, and extremely obvious to those who knew him, that he was not someone to mess with. Rama strolled over to chat with me on his way to the door of the auditorium. He was wearing all black: a flowing black kaftan-style shirt and baggy black slacks. His clothes seemed to move on their own, flowing in counterpoint to his graceful stride.
When he stood in front of me, he was still wearing sunglasses. The mirrors were pointed at me, and he asked me how school was going and what courses I was taking. Again I was flabbergasted by his relaxed demeanor when my nervousness was peaking out. The last thing I expected was a question about my mostly pitiful academic career. I told him that I was trying to get my Master’s in computer science and he said, “That’s a good idea. You’ll be able to get a much better, higher-paying job with your Master’s.”
I reacted immediately and negatively to what he said, feeling that my motives were not so materialistic and that I was somehow involved in the pure pursuit of knowledge. In other words, I had lost my sense of direction, because the reason I had originally enrolled in BU was to get my career back on track. It was painful to get called on this point within 10 seconds of starting a conversation with Rama! Thankfully I kept my mouth shut, which is not my usual response, and there was an awkward silence. At least, I felt awkward. I don’t think Rama was really too worried about it. He graciously thanked me for setting up the talk and then he walked past me and through the open front doors of the auditorium.
Since Rama had arrived early, there were only about twenty people there, mostly lounging in their seats or chatting with friends. Rama climbed onto the stage but did not pay attention to the people in the audience, busying himself with the minutia in his briefcase and with the careful selection of a CD to put on the sound system while people arrived. Once the music started playing, Rama sat back and meditated with his eyes closed, sitting cross-legged on the plastic chair. Gradually people started to notice him and invariably stopped talking as he looked so statuesque and downright beautiful when he meditated. His back was ramrod straight and shoulders perfectly symmetrical, hands either relaxed in his lap or holding a mudra position, eyes closed and his face smooth and perfectly relaxed. Sometimes as he meditated he would smile as if hearing a clever joke had brought him back to the surface for a moment, and then he would plunge back into his meditation.
By the time he opened his eyes, the room was full of people, all waiting silently for the lecture to start. “Oh, hi!” Rama said, in his most affected L.A. sing-song voice, “I didn’t see you come in.” This was the icebreaker. Everyone laughed, and from there on he had everyone’s undivided attention, weaving as he always did, interesting tidbits about his own life into his presentation on career development and meditation. Rama taught the students there all of the basics of meditation, as he did for countless students over his 29-year teaching career. He touched on diverse topics, ranging from how to study more effectively to chakra meditation.
He taught, demonstrated, and then lead the practice of several powerful meditation techniques. The lecture was supposed to finish at 5:00, and with the short days of fall, the sun was already fading as it got close to 5:00. Most of the students appeared overwhelmed with the level of information they had received. I don’t think they were expecting a real meditation teacher, much less an enlightened being who enters blissful and ecstatic states in the middle of his everyday activities. It’s not ever casual when an enlightened teacher shows up in your life, no matter how casual they may appear to be. They only do that to keep you from freaking out completely. I believe that on some deep inner level, everyone who met Rama knew that something very unusual, and perhaps even religious, had just occurred. I saw it on people’s faces. I felt it myself.
Rama then did something which I’ll never forget. I thought he was going to end the event, as he often did, with a short meditation and then some graceful words of parting. But instead, he stood up lithely from the plastic chair, picked it up and carried it off the stage, then swept the fabric off the front of the stage into a black disorderly heap. Everyone was watching him, and he didn’t hurry and didn’t return our gaze. He didn’t walk, but lightly ran to the back of the stage and put on a CD, turning up the volume to “party-time” levels.
Before we could fully take in what was going on, he started spinning across the stage like a cross between a dervish and a modern dancer. Just as suddenly he stopped cleanly in the center of the stage and began performing the ancient mudras, fingers, and hands, and arms moving through and constructing the complex shapes with the grace and power of an Indian dancer trained since early childhood. I had seen Rama dance before, but not for a very long time. I associate Rama dancing to the very peak of his joy, to the times when all things seemed possible, even the possibility of teaching meditation in America.
He would dance with the complete innocence and abandon of a child, and the power of a dynamo. When he danced, the whole world danced inside of your mind. As Rama’s hands traced perfect circles in the space in front of his heart chakra, you felt your heart center tingle and open softly.
As he faced his palms towards you and exhaled forcefully while pitching his hips forward, you felt the power flow right into your navel center and fill your body with energy. As his hands reached straight for the heavens and he gazed upwards, it seemed the whole cosmos rained white light on your head and you experienced something closest to bliss. Then he would bring his hands slowly together, concentrating on the empty space between them, and you felt your mind and life focus, sharpen, and become clean, pure, and crystalline.
I have no idea how he did this. Then he was off again across the stage, leaping and twisting so quickly that it didn’t appear to be a real person, much less a very large real person throwing both legs into the air in a balletic jump-leap-turn that landed ever so softly on his stocking feet, music throbbing, hands always moving through the mudras, eyes closed so that you couldn’t understand how he didn’t fly right off the end of the stage.
Then I felt something else was dancing, not a physical body, but a body of energy. Yes, of course, his physical body was moving and making precise changes that were almost unrecognizable except perhaps to professional dancers. But it was energy, energy that was moving, reshaping, and exhorting its purity to anyone within range. I looked around and everyone was buffeted down in their chairs, staring incredulously like witnesses to a tornado. They didn’t appear to be blinking much.
Now Rama was running across the stage, oblivious to the relative lack of grace of just plain running. And that run became a spin that went faster and moved across the stage with Sufi abandon, suddenly stopping and going into a brief interlude of hip-rolling almost sexual almost rock and roll-style dancing but not dancing, energy, that constantly flowed as he moved, and intensified, like light from a burning hot meteor burning hotter and hotter through the earth’s atmosphere.
And Rama danced to the music, always the music, for him I think there was only the music and he hadn’t really any conscious idea what his body was doing. For us, there was nothing but streams of white-hot energy, until we wanted to stand up and dance in our chairs. If any of us had been a little less self-conscious I’m sure that would have happened.
I was surprised, and mostly extremely proud that Rama had decided to dance at my event. Oh well, it’s hard to defeat pride. Nonetheless, I expected that after a few more minutes of this revelry Rama would tire and pack it in. The dancing was cool, but maybe a little too intense. (“Hey, sorry to disappoint you college-boy, that’s not the way it’s going to go down!”, answered Rama inwardly.) Rama just kept on dancing, and dancing, and dancing. Sweat was pouring off his head, and spraying toward the front row of seats. It was getting dark in the room, and no one dared to stand up and turn on the lights. Rama was not getting tired, he was getting stronger.
Finally, just before the room went into complete darkness, Rama danced to the center of the stage, stopped, and brought his hands together at the center of his chest as if praying. He bowed to us deeply, which embarrassed me. Why was he bowing to us? Then he kneeled smoothly into the Japanese meditation position and bowed towards us again, this time touching his head all the way to the floor. A shiver went up my spine.
Rama very quietly said, “Namaste”, the Hindu blessing, and then “Thank you so much for giving me the chance to meditate with you.” and then “Namaste”, and then he disappeared into the bright darkness behind the stage, and made his way out of the building accompanied by his tall friends, taking post positions on either side of this mad enlightened warrior monk, Rama.