during one of my first kundalini yoga classes, way back in the early days of my yogic journey, i found myself chanting the guru ram das mantra (it probably was snatam kaur's version , although with my spotty memory, it could have been anyone's) guru guru wahe guru guru ram das guru - great is the guru that flows through the one that serves the infinite
not knowing much about the sikh faith, i just figured that they were chanting the name of someone they revered - most likely someone named guru ram das. since i wasn't a big kundalini yoga practitioner, i never bothered to learn who this guru ram das was; it may have been their pet name for yogi bhajan, for all i knew.
fast forward to just a few years ago when i got more involved in kirtans and the bhakti yoga crowd here in LA. the soon-to-be-familiar photos of neem karoli baba were on positions of honor on altars everywhere. and wherever maharajji's devotees were gathered, the name "ram das" was inevitably uttered. hmmmm... could it be that the "ram das" chanted in kundalini mantras and the "ram das" followed by the bhakti yogis were one and the same? i doubted it, but then again, yogis are yogis.
fast forward a bit more to maybe a year ago, when i finally found out who the bhakti "ram das" was -- he's actually ram dass (with that extra "s"), formerly known as richard alpert, a harvard professor who, in the name of research, dropped acid with his fellow professor timothy leary back in the 60's; both of them were subsequently fired by the university after they published their controversial books on the effects of LSD. alpert later made his way to india where he met his guru, neem karoli baba, and took on the name given to him: ram dass, which means "servant of god". he is also the author of the seminal book be here now, the bible of hippies and aspiring yogis everywhere. ram dass eventually returned to the US, where he has become a spiritual leader to many, including many of those i spend time with on a regular basis at kirtans around town. you can find out more about ram dass from his website: Ram Dass Love Serve Remember
so when i heard about the "be love now" celebration last september 16th at the agape center in culver city featuring both reverend michael beckwith and a live feed of ram dass from maui, i made sure i was one of the hundreds who scored a ticket to the event. after listening to music by the agape choir, donna de lory, and jai uttal, then watching a video on ram dass' life, we anxiously waited for the satellite feed to come in. and when it did, i was actually surprised that the ram dass everyone spoke so highly of didn't look like the holy man i'd expected; he actually reminded me of a grandfather living the good life in hawaii. he did have some pearls of wisdom to share, so the evening ended up being somewhat enlightening, and definitely entertaining.
i now knew for sure that ram dass was NOT the same as ram das because there was no way all the white-garbed yogis in kundalini class could have been chanting about him. the him in hawaii, that is.
it didn't help things any when i received a newly-released CD from spirit voyage records: "the alchemist's prayer" by ram dass. luckily, this THIRD ram dass was easy to figure out, thanks to the liner notes; he's ram dass khalsa, a classically-trained musician from berkeley who started out as a roadie for snatam kaur and ended up performing with her as well as krishna das, jai uttal, deva premal, and many more. by the way, i've played one of ram dass khalsa's songs on my yoga chat radio show -- episode 19, dated september 14th . here's his website which features a video about the making of his new album: Ram Dass Khalsa
just this week, while compiling the list of the goings-on for the accidental yogist facebook page , i noticed that all the kundalini yoga studios were celebrating guru ram das's birthday this sunday. i knew that it was about time i found out who THIS ram das was all about... and eventually found the website of the guru ram das ashram here in LA which gave me the information i was looking for Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru of the Sikhs, was Yogi Bhajan's spiritual guide and protector... Known as the Lord of Miracles, the 11 days leading up to his birthday is said to be a powerful time for the fulfillment of prayers and blessings. We celebrate his birthday in the Amrit Vela (3 - 6 a.m.) on October 9th each year, with a special Sadhana (daily spiritual practice) of Japji, yoga, and 2.5 hours of reciting Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru, the shabad praising Guru Ram Das.
and that's exactly what they'll be doing at kundalini gatherings all over town this coming sunday, october 9th. so if you're in need of a miracle or two (and who isn't these days?), you might want to check out one or more of these celebrations guru ram das ashram, west LA
Amrit Vela Program3:00 am - Japji Sahib 3:30 am - 2 1/2 hrs continuous Kirtan of Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur Shabad 6:30 am - Breakfast Langar
Come to Gurudhan's Weekend Workout Class - 10:00-11:30am Proceeds Benefit Y.O.G.A. for Youth Y.O.G.A. for Youth's mission is to provide urban youth with the ancient yogic tools of self-discovery that foster hope, discipline and respect, for oneself and community.
Guru Ram Das Birthday Celebration: A Day Of Miracles! Sadhana- 3:30 am- Japji 3:50 am - Yoga 4:30 - 7:00 am - Chanting Cozy breakfast to follow! Yoga for Miracles with Gurmukh ($20 or keytags for classes) 9:30 am & 5:30 pm
We will celebrate with a special Sadhana (daily spiritual practice) in the Amrit Vela (4– 7 a.m.) for 2.5 hours by chanting Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru. In many communities it is our tradition to have a Gurdwara service on Guru Ram Das’ birthday and bring your “wish-and-a-dish” to share with the community. Yogi Bhajan has described this occasion as a unique time of year to have our prayers and wishes fulfilled. Please join us afterwards for hot oatmeal and yogi tea.
SPECIAL SADHANA FOR GURU RAM DAS'S BIRTHDAY! 4:15-6:30 am - Come celebrate with Jap Ji, a yoga set, and 62 minutes of chanting to Guru Ram Das to live music. Bring a musical instrument if you have one and a vegetarian dish to the post-sadhana potluck. Yogi Bhajan set up this tradition years ago and he called it "Bring a Dish, Make a Wish;" the concept being that if you bring a dish to Guru Ram Das's birthday party, He will grant your wish!