This is one of those older pieces I mentioned earlier. In fact, it's the first Rama story I ever wrote. He announced that he was collecting stories for a book that was tentatively titled Samadhi Is Loose In America, to be written not by him but by his students. I wrote this story (which many might consider disrespectful - I was a heretic even then) and several others, and sent them in. Strangely enough, this is the one that Rama liked the most. He told me, after the book came out, that he had planned to include it, but had to discard it because of its length. It is unedited here, except for a couple of minor wordtweaks and a 'global replace' to change the spiritual name he had at the time to the name he later adopted, Rama.
I first saw Freddie in late September of 1981 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It is a building much more suited to large displays of the newest in computers, automobiles, and like state-of-the-art gadgetry than guru lectures. One feels naked there without a tag with your name and company on it. And to tell the truth, since I approached the building from the wrong direction and spent several helpless minutes wandering around in an immense room full of printing presses in an attempt to find the lecture halls, I was attacked by at least 20 smiling salesmen who were more than eager to correct my unclothed condition with one of their name tags.
I managed to escape, however, and finally found my way to the meeting room on the second floor where Freddie's lecture was supposed to be held. I found a line of people waiting to get into the room. Mainly young and informally dressed, a few older couples, some grinning people behind the ticket table who I assumed were Freddie's students, and me. Standing there feeling out of place, still wearing my standard-issue computer programmer's business suit.
Now at this point
I realize that I should explain that Freddie is, in fact, the subject
of most of these stories, Dr. Frederick Lenz/Rama. Although I know
that referring to Rama as Freddie is probably considered in some
circles only one step below heresy, I beg your indulgence. I know
he prefers the name Rama, and although I defer to his wishes in
public and private meetings with
I was there at the Convention Center because I had promised my friend Colleen I would go. I was not shopping for a guru. In fact, I would have sworn that I was more in the market for one of the house-sized printing presses downstairs than another spiritual teacher. But Colleen had told me about this guy she was hanging out with, and asked me to take in a lecture, and I went along with it mainly because she was my friend. Besides, she had suggested, almost in passing, that Freddie performed siddhis in public, and that if I was lucky I could actually see some of this levitation and invisibility stuff I'd been hearing about for ages.
Now, I'll have to admit, this piqued my interest a bit over the L.A. norm. You have to realize, you who do not reside in the sprawl of Lost Angeles, that after awhile one gets a little blasé living here. This is a city where, in order to stand out in a crowd, a person needs to wear red satin hot pants, black net stockings, six-inch high heels, and a see-though blouse with 'MOTHER' stenciled on the back. The women must go to even further extremes. But miracles are still not everyday fare in downtown L.A.
You must also consider the frame of mind in which I entered the lecture hall. I walked into the Convention Center that evening having recently come through what we literati in L.A. call a 'heavy trip.' Over the past year or so I had been going through a great deal of intensive soul-searching, and having failed to find one, had turned my back on and walked away from a spiritual organization which had more or less been my life, livelihood, community, and reason for being for the previous fourteen years. I can laugh at it and make light of it now, but at the time I can assure you the experience was no less trying than the torment of a Roman Catholic priest deciding whether or not to leave the Church.
I was a teacher
and practitioner of another technique of meditation. But I quit.
I have no problems with the technique of meditation which I practiced
and taught. I still think
Ahhh, but there was a catch - not only were the epiphanies fleeting, you had to go away for months at a time and live in residence high in the mountains of Switzerland or Lake Tahoe or India to get at 'em. And then, upon leaving, there seemed to be some immutable Law of Nature that required checking your experiences at the door of the hotel as you left the course.
You would get back to the old U.S. of A. and remember the epiphanies fondly while wandering around being almost helplessly spaced out of your gourd. Fortunately, in the spiritual community in which I pretended to function, no one placed a high value on such qualities as being able to hold a real-world job, show up on time (or at all) for lectures you were supposed to give, pay your debts, or find your mouth with a fork. Due primarily to this lack of discrimination on the part of my colleagues, I rose to some semblance of honchodom in the organization. In one of my bureaucratic incarnations, I was nominally responsible for overseeing the activities of hundreds of fellow teachers. A veritable example to look up to.
Ah, therein lay the rub! I didn't feel much like an example. There is no question that when I first began meditating and hanging out with my teacher at long in-residence courses, I did feel a sense of progress. But I felt that after a few years I had plateaued out, and had to live on memories of 'good experiences' to sustain me. I didn't feel that I could be an adequate example for others in the quest for enlightenment. I felt as if I was making no progress, and compared to my teacher, what could I possibly have to offer as an example?
I was this flaky
kid from California who liked movies and cars and having fun. And
fun was definitely not a part of the program, at least as I interpreted
it. There was a great deal of pressure from both teacher and fellow
students to be very, very, very pure in your daily life. This is
a great idea, but how it worked out in real life was to be exactly
like all the other students, forget any personal goals or dreams,
never read books about other spiritual
Not only had the experiences and sense of progress left me, but it seemed that the only way offered by my teacher to make them come back was to change myself into a spiritual clone. And it wasn't even a cloned image I liked! So every time I tried to subjectively compare myself to my teacher, or to the students he seemed to think were highly evolved, I could not help but fall hopelessly short of the illusive goal of enlightenment.
In short, the Big E seemed further away than ever, and I figured it was costing me too much to stick around if the momentum was no longer there. On some fundamentally intuitive level, I could not escape the feeling that the way to self realization was not achieved by denying most of the things you conceived of as your self.
So I split. And in my eyes, turning away from the one teacher I had met who seemed to embody enlightenment pretty much meant turning away from the quest for enlightenment. I just looked at my teacher and all the students he thought were pretty high and decided I'd never make it. So I gave up.
Yet here I was in the L.A. Convention Center, standing in line with yet another group of smiling blissninnies, waiting to see this guy named Rama. I felt like a spiritual divorcee, coerced against my will back into the dating routine. To tell the truth, about 90% of me was hoping I would experience absolutely nothing, and thus justify my suspicions that my friend Colleen was sweet, but not to be trusted with spiritual perceptions and sharp objects.
So I bought my ticket (two bucks) and went inside. I said the obligatory hellos to Colleen and then found a seat on the aisle. Half of me was toying with the idea of slipping out the back door without her noticing and checking out a movie. But the other half was busy jockeying the chair around to give myself a clear view of this Rama character, just in case he could do what Colleen said. That half won - I stuck around.
When he walked in, I must admit that I was more than a little underwhelmed. I mean, here was this tall guy with curly hair, dressed in slacks, shirt and a sweater. Oh great, I thought, a preppie guru. But then I noticed he was a bit thick about the middle and softened to him immediately, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Pooh myself. He took off his shoes and sat cross-legged on top of a table covered with the gaudiest day-glo afghan I've ever seen, hooked a microphone to his lapel, fiddled with some cassette tapes and a tape recorder, and started talking.
I have no memory whatsoever about most of what Freddie talked about that night. All that comes back to me is his great sense of humor, and the ever-increasing suspicion that what I had on my hands here was a very silly and very high gentleman indeed! After fourteen years of having to bite my tongue to keep to the party line of my organization's view of spirituality, it was just a delight to hear someone talk about the same concepts openly and clearly, without once seeming to talk down to anyone in the audience. And with humor! How nice not to have to take it all so seriously. Freddie just laid it on the line, and seemed to speak in a kind of spiritual shorthand that I had absolutely no trouble following. He seemed to assume that the room was full of seekers who had paid their dues in various spiritual pursuits, and had already learned to speak jargon as a second language, so it was Ok to dispense with it.
The message was
the same. It is always the same. And I found myself liking this
guy a lot. But to tell the truth, I was much more impressed with
Freddie the eccentric human being so far than I was with Freddie
the teacher. I could find absolutely nothing to disagree with in
the talk, try as I might, but still nothing was happening on a level
that would draw me to him as a student. Until
Freddie invited us to all meditate with him for a few minutes. He put a tape in the tape recorder and explained that he sometimes plays music to meditate to because of its soothing influence. Sounded good - I'd never tried that before. Then he suggested, almost in passing, that we try keeping our eyes open during the meditation, just to see if we noticed anything. Aha! I said, this must be the good part. I was up for seeing some siddhis performed in downtown Los Angeles.
Well, I didn't really see any. Sure, I saw some pretty lights and auras in the room, and a couple of times Freddie and everything in it flip-flopped, like a photo going from positive to negative. But that wasn't what finally reached out and grabbed me. No, what got to me was the realization that here in the smog of downtown Los Angeles, in the capital of maya, I was having one of the best meditations of my life!
I was deeper into the infinite stillness of Being than I had ever been before, even after months and months of meditation in Switzerland or other such high and holy places. My eyes closed of their own volition and I felt my body dissolve, leaving only consciousness, fully expanded, beyond the boundaries of mind or body or lecture hall. Classic samadhi. I hadn't even had time to think my mantra!
For what could have been a long or a short time - who can tell when there are no boundaries with which to measure, and no self to care to - all sense of identity or I-ness faded. The closest approximation of that state I can come to in words is Am-ness. A sense of Being. Awareness without the limitations of being aware of anything in particular. Even the music was gone.
The music was the first thing that brought me back to my sense of being in a body in the Convention Center. And I remembered that we were supposed to have our eyes open. So I opened them and looked at Freddie. Now, in retrospect, I know that what I saw at that time was a great wash of golden light surging through this man sitting in front of me and cascading over all of us in the room. At the time, however, it didn't register. What did is the purpose behind writing all this.
I had three very clear, very distinct thoughts, one after another, that totally and completely changed my life. The first was, "Well, this guy has made it! There is almost no doubt in my mind that I am sitting in a room with an enlightened being." The taste of infinite awareness that I experienced that night was something I had previously only touched upon briefly, after long and arduous months of meditation, but I recognized it again when I found it. And given my experience with my previous teacher, there was not much doubt left that this infinite awareness was living and breathing and grinning right in front of me, sitting on a day-glo afghan.
Immediately following this thought came another. It was more simple, and I was amazed that I had managed to forget it completely for these past few years. It was simply, "I am a seeker." It was a remembrance of that innermost quality of myself that compels me, lifetime after lifetime, to search for light. It was what drew me to meditation. It was what made me teach meditation. It was what kept me hanging on long after hope had died, just in the hope of one more fleeting glimpse of that infinite awareness in my teacher and in myself. This may not seem like much to you, but it was quite an epiphany for me, the realization of the nature of my most primal desire - that this state of infinite oneness become permanent. The Big E. Enlightenment.
So I just sat there, looking up at this silly, curly-haired guy in front of me, and through him to the light of the infinite which was so obviously an all-time reality for him. And I thought to myself, "You know, if this bozo can do it, so can I!"
This may sound silly, irreverent, shallow, flippant, or all of the above. To me, it was one of the most profound realizations of my life. In fourteen years of being pretty much a full-time spiritual seeker, I had never been able to have that simple thought. Not once. In all that time - meditating every day, reading spiritual books, trying to be pure and humble, making personal sacrifices to continue teaching meditation or attend courses, even meditating for months at a time - not once had it ever really seeped through to me that I could actually attain that which I was seeking. On the level of actually believing it, that is. And now, sitting in the Los Angeles Convention Center, that belief hit me like a ton of prayer beads.
Part of what did it was Freddie's accessibility. He wasn't some charismatic Indian gentleman wearing flowing white robes and unattainable serenity. He was an American, like me. He was silly, like me. He still went to see movies. He talked about the mundane mixed in with the spiritual because, after all, they are mixed. Even if you're enlightened, you still have to pay attention to bus schedules and traffic and taxes. Even though I could see within him (or more exactly, through him) that golden light of infinity, and love and respect it, there was not the slightest urge or need to put him on some kind of pedestal for his achievement.
I think that was the moment I first started thinking of Rama as Freddie. The kind of person you'd kinda like to get to know, go out to movies with, that sort of thing. This Freddie fellow was just a nice guy, a lot like me, who had been fortunate enough to become enlightened. That's all. No big thing. And he was sitting there, just being completely himself, not needing to fit anyone's mold or conception of what a teacher should or should not be. And I think I realized that night that not only could I become enlightened and still be me, but that it was the only way I could ever do it!
Now I know there's a lot more to it than that, and that I've got a way to go yet, but that is the essence of the moment. And why I choose to remind myself of it by calling my spiritual teacher Freddie. I mean, it takes some effort! Since that night, having become his student and started again as a beginner on the spiritual path, my subtle vision has undergone quite a change. So much so that occasionally when Freddie walks in, I can see the entire room turn golden and see him only as this blinding bundle of light. Laughing. It's a little hard at those times to think of him as a 'Freddie.' Then he becomes Rama to me.
But most of the time he's still Freddie, because I never wish to lose the tenderness of that one moment in the Convention Center. The realization that I can really do it. It just depends on me, and how dedicated I am. Freddie never lets me forget for a moment that I am responsible for my own evolution. But he helps.
In my small and
narrow view of what life is, that seems to me to be the greatest
of gifts. Not just to have the ability to give someone a glimpse
of the infinite reality of life, and the knowledge that they can
attain it, but also to offer help along the way.
I accepted his offer, with gratitude.