Egg on My Beard
by Ram Dass

This classic from the 70s appeared originally in Yoga Journal. For a long time a rough xeroxed version was all that was available, on the anti-Jaya Sati Bhagavati site at http://www.kashiashram.com/. Someone there has now  done the work of converting these ratty old images into pdf, which can be copied, searched and googled and all the usual text things. The old grainy pictures from that article remain.

I am adding it to my site because though the details are all personal / individual / particular to this case, they point to universal or generic "flaws," both in the guru and in the disciple. Ram Dass has done well to illuminate the unconscious processes by which he became an enabler.

~ Page 1 ~

In his book The Way of Kabbalah, Z’ev
ben Shimon Halevi warns that one of
the hazards of the spiritual path is
that the seeker may mistakenly study
with a false teacher, someone who is
either self-deluded or an imposter.
He also writes that of even greater
danger—

. . .is the man who has reached some
level of realization. His quality is
usually enigmatic, and he often
possesses remarkable powers which
he uses to intrigue and manipulate
people who are not so evolved as
himself...Alas, such men have the
ability to fascinate and imprison
people by their personal charisma,
which is the exact reverse of
Kabbalah, whose object is to free
men from bondage…Such a man can
leave the path and descend to the
ego, where he exercises all the
powers and skills he has acquired
nominally for the sake of spiritual
work, but in actuality for the
glorification of his ego. To such
people the image of themselves is
most important, and with it comes
clothes and mannerisms, all of which
suggest that they know about the
next and upper World... The
phenomenon occurs on the edge of
all Traditions… 

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

Temptation is possible all the way up Jacob's Ladder. Lucifer was among 
the highest of archangels before he fell.
Only God is perfect.

To come in contact with a dark or
fallen Teacher is often part of a
seeker's training. Many dead ends will
present themselves; but all will teach
him something, if only... how to
extract himself from the subtle net
that a false teacher weaves around his
followers so that his ego may feed on
them.

Halevi’s warning fits the latest
chapter in my spiritual journey. I'd
like to share it with you to make my
own position known, and in order
that you might be forewarned of a
more than questionable teaching.
Whatever there is to be learned from
this is, I think, of importance to the
spiritual community as a whole.

Let me bring you up to date. My
guru, Neem Karoli Baba (better
known as “Maharaj-ji”), died in 1973.
Since then I had been with a few
other teachers, but none could begin
to replace him. I was also lecturing
and teaching on a full schedule, but I
found I was getting caught in more 
worldly play, and I felt more and
more depressed and hypocritical. 

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

By the end of the summer of 1974 I
decided to return to India. I didn't
know what I'd find, but I'd go
anyway. I knew I was different than I
had been ten years before but I was
still not cooked.

Driving East, I stopped overnight
in Pennsylvania at a motel where I
was planning to watch the House
Judiciary Committee Hearings on
television, but a storm put out the
electricity. It was too early to go to
sleep so there was nothing left to do
but meditation. After Maharaj-ji came
to me in a vision. He looked just like
he always had looked.

He laughed and spoke to me. It’s
interesting—he had always spoken in
Hindi, and my Hindi was very bad. In
India there was always somebody
translating. But on these other levels,
the transmission is in thought forms,
and then it comes out in whatever
language you think in. So he said to
me, in very good English, “You don't
have to go to India. Your teachings
will be right here.”

It was so valid, and so real that at
that moment I decided not to go lo
India. I decided to go to New
Hampshire, meditate a month or so
in a cabin, clean out my head, and see
what would happen next.


~ Page 2 ~

On the following day passing
through New York City, I called
Hilda Charlton, a spiritual teacher, to
say hello. She told me there was a
woman in Brooklyn who I should
meet. When I resisted because I
wanted to be alone, she told me this
woman said my Guru was sitting in
her basement. Of course I decided to
stay one more night, and the next day
I went with Hilda to see a lady named
Joya. We went down into the
basement of her home and there she
was, sitting in what Hilda said was
samadhi. I checked; I could find no
breath or pulse. She was like a rock,
She was a very unusual looking
woman; she had long false eyelashes,
heavy mascara, and a low cut dress.
Maharaj-ji was an old man in a
blanket, but I'd given up having
models about what packages the next
message was supposed to come in.
Finally she came out of it, looked
at me, and said, “What the fuck do
you want?” Hilda said, “Oh, dear,
this is Ram Dass,” which didn't seem
to make any impression on her at all.
She said, “I don't care who the hell
he is. Does that old man over there
belong to you?” I looked and there
was a blanket with nothing on it. So I
said, “I don’t know.” She said, “He's
buggin’ me; get him the hell out of
here.”

Then her consciousness seemed
to shift just a little bit as she went
into a very light trance, and suddenly
I felt Maharaj-ji was speaking to me
through her. 

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

He was talking about
things that he and I had been
discussing in India when I had seen
him last, little matters about
maintenance of the temples in India
and all kinds of very picayune
stuff that she probably could not
know and I hadn't even remembered.
She came back from that plane but,
as she explained, she was not
conversant across planes so she
didn't know what had just happened.

In the Winter of 1974 I moved to
New York City where, for 15
months, I studied intensively with
Joya. These teachings had a bizarre
intensity that is difficult to convey.
From 5 a.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. each
day, it was like being in a tornado—
or a clothes dryer. One had either to
get out or surrender. The realities one
was forced to accept went against
much of what is common sense, but
each time I railed against the system,
Joya would talk me out of it. For
example she let me know that my
lack of trust in her was killing her.
The women who surrounded her
abetted this emotional blackmail by
making desperate phone calls with
ghastly reports of how badly Joya was
bleeding due to my resistance.

So it was that I surrendered more
and more deeply to those teachings.
As I did so, I reported in interviews
and lectures that Joya was, as she
professed to be, an enlightened
being. Many factors contributed to
my surrender to her reality.

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

1) The intensity of the confrontation
(often twenty hours a day)
forced my subtle ego defenses to the
surface. And Joya, in a Kali-esque
way, pounced on these impurities and
magnified them until I had to let
them go or get out. I let them go as
fast as I could and hung in. This was
just the fire of purification that I,
with my chronic case of
unworthiness, was seeking.

She represented herself not only
as the actual Kali taken form, but as a
number of other cosmic identities as
well, including Athena (played to
Hilda as Artemis); Sri Matabrahma
(the Mother of the Universe, played
to Hilda as Lazuma, the Goddess of
light); and Tara, the Tibetan Goddess
of Tantras (played to an astral Padmasambhava).

As hokey as all this
seems, while I was in the teaching the
intensity and brilliance of the staging
and props created a reality which
made me ready to believe the bizarre
assertion that a Jewish housewife and
mother of three, who was married to
a fine Italian Catholic man in
Brooklyn, was in fact Ms. Big, the
creative force of the Universe. I and
several hundred others were seduced
into this fantasy by her combination
of powerful charisma and chutzpah
and by such things as her seeming to
go into deep trance states (with
cessation of bodily function), and her
claim to have manifested the
stigmata. In our greed for spiritual
materialism we wanted to believe it.


~ Page 3 ~

2) At the outset, Joya spent much
of our time together in trance states
in which she seemed to function as a
medium. Through her came many
seductively rich teachings—
supposedly from Biblical, Hassidic,
Hindu and Buddhist wise men and
women of the past, or from beings
on other planes. Her voice and
language would shift from
unschooled Brooklynese to exquisite
poetry that poured forth for hours at
a time. I was breathless with the
richness of these moments. Because
it was only through total loving
surrender by those around her that
these teachings could come forth, I
was led to surrender to the reality of
the entire scene more and more. She
told me that some of my teachers at
that time were such august spiritual
figures as Jethro (Moses' father-in-
law), Padmasambhava, Lao Tsu, as
well as Ramakrishna, Christ, Mary
Nityananda, an early Kabbalah
teacher, Kali and Durga. This all
impressed me because I had never
been around people in trance states.

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

3) Many people for so long had
reinforced a model in which I was
someone special. Even Maharaj-ji
often said “Ram Dass is a great saint,”
or “Ram Dass— Isha” (Christ), or “I am
not your Guru, Ram Dass is your
Guru.” When most people asserted
my specialness I saw it as their lack of
perspective. When Maharaj-ji said it, I
saw it as his forcing my power trip to
the surface so we could see the
absurdity of it. But now when all these
incredible figures of the past appeared
to speak through Joya just to prepare
me for higher work, it fit in perfectly
with this grandiose model. With my
intellect I knew this model was just
another “trip”, and had said so time
and again, for I felt myself more and
more each day becoming nobody
special. Yet my ego thirst for power,
by no means fully eradicated, made me
vulnerable to this model that I was
somebody special, all the more so in
the face of such strong reinforcement.
For Joya kept reiterating that she had
come to earth only to be an
instrument for my preparation to be
a world spiritual leader and that
ultimately she would sit at my feet. All
of the people who were now around
her, she said, were being prepared to
support me in my later work. I easily
let myself be convinced.

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

Those who are familiar with the life
story of Krishnamurti will recall that
Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater of
the Theosophical Society proclaimed
the youthful Krishnamurti as the new
world leader. He too bought into it for
many years before he announced in
1929 the dissolution of the Order of
the Star, which had at the time more
than 50,000 members. In doing so,
he expressed an anti-spiritual
materialism line to which he has
adhered for the last 45 years:

I do not want followers and I
mean this. The moment you follow
someone, you cease to follow
truth.
…I desire those who seek to
understand me to be free, not to
follow me, not to make out of me
a cage which will become a
religion, a sect. . .You think and
hope that another can, by his
extraordinary powers — a miracle
— transport you to this realm of
eternal freedom which is
happiness . . . You have the idea
that only certain people hold the
key to the Kingdom of
Happiness. No one holds it. No
one has the authority to hold that
Key.

But Joya said she held the key.


~ Page 4 ~

4) There was even a powerful
vision I had had a few years earlier
which further played into Joya's reality.
In the vision, I was being brought into
a large amphitheatre in which many
hundreds of beings in white robes
were gathered. At the far end, on a
dais stood a lone figure, a woman also
clad in a white robe. Although I could
not see the figure who guided me at
my elbow, I felt it was a man who
wished to sponsor me for membership
into this august body. Then the
woman on the dais raised her arm
pointing at me, said, “Take him out.
He’s not yet ready.” In the vision I
seemed to understand and agree
perfectly and left with my sponsor. So
now, sitting at the feet of one who
professed herself to be the Divine
Mother of the Universe, I felt that I
was, in fact, finally being made ready
for membership.

5) In the past five or six years I
have received literally hundreds of
grateful letters from people who
report how I came to them in a vision
or a dream at a time of need and
reassured or guided them. While I
personally have rarely experienced
such astral comings and goings, I must conclude that either there are a lot of hysterical people creating
fantasies about me because I am a
public figure, or that I have a secret
psychic life and am very active in my
subtle or astral body. Joya convinced
me that the latter was true, telling me
that 80% of my teaching was on other
planes.

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

6) Perhaps what had concerned me
most in the period just before I met
Joya was that I was not yet free of my
attachments to sexuality. After a long
and intense bisexual history, I still
found that my perceptions were
colored by my sexual desires. I could
afford to be patient about my own
purification from sexual clinging, but
in view of my public role, I was uneasy
that any sexual preoccupations on my
part would subtly contaminate those
to whom I lectured or with whom
I worked individually and thus
reinforce their own attachments and
suffering. Despite the fact that
Maharaj-ji had said, “I would never let
Ram Dass do anything wrong in
America.” The persistence of these
sexual preoccupations led me to doubt
Maharaj-ji, or at least to yearn to clean
up my sexual act. In view of how
many years I had been trying to get
free of these sexual clingings, including
offering lust into the sacrificial fires of
India, I had given up hope of ever
knowing freedom in this lifetime. The
sexual karma just seemed too heavy.

I had read of the tantrics in certain
Tibetan sects for just this purpose.
The monk would go through a series of
ritual openings working with a dakini,
or God-woman. Mostly these were
young women who had been prepared
from childhood to serve in these
rituals without any personal involvement
or clinging to the sensual aspect
of the ritual. In my fantasies I was
hoping that at some point I too would
be introduced to such teachings, and
through such conscious rituals with a
disciplined guide, I would once and
for all be free.

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

And now I was presented with a
woman teacher who within a few
months after the commencement
of the training, began to focus on
my sexuality. As I opened more and
more, assured by her of her total
perfect non-attachment to any desire
systems, I felt a new hope that
my dream for purification was
finally manifesting through this
teaching. I plunged headlong into the
tornado, casting caution and doubt to
the winds.

7) Maharaj-ji had again and again
said to me, “See the world as the
Mother and you will know God.” He
often was heard to be repeating the
word “Ma” over and over again. He
had several temples built to Durga, an
aspect of the Mother. And all of this
Mother devotion made me feel like an
outsider, for my own feelings about
the Mother were too colored by the
relationship with my mother and by
my training as a Freudian theorist and
therapist. To be in love with a
Universal Mother just wasn't happening
for me. And yet I knew that the
aspect of devotion for the Mother, just
as much as devotion to the Monkey-
God Hanuman for whom I had overwhelming love, was a part of the
lineage of my Guru. Sooner or later I
would have to find a way to appreciate
a devotional relationship with the
Mother. Then I came to New York
City and started to study with Joya and
enter her matriarchal reality. She
professed to be the Divine Mother,
and I felt that at last I would open up
to this form of devotion.


~ Page 5 ~

8) And finally there was the
experience in the Pennsylvania motel
with Maharaj-ji. The fact that Joya
continually spoke about Maharaj-ji
and implied his presence by seeming
to carry on conversations with an
astral Maharaj-ji whom I could not
see, fed into my secret wish that
though Maharaj-ji had left his body,
he would return somehow to guide
my spiritual journey.

There were a few people around
Joya who appeared to have third eye
vision. I knew that though there is
often merit in such higher “seeing”,
the third eye can be as vulnerable a
suggestion as the other two. Nevertheless these reports did strengthen my belief in Joya.

Each of these pieces fed the
reality of the whole system. There 
were of course many disquieting aspects in life with Joya. But I had 
to relinquish my doubts, for with
each doubt Joya would provoke
incredible guilt in me, telling me that
I was causing a severe pain in her
head. This pain originated, so she
said, with an analine dye test on her
brain. This pain plus the fact that she
freaked and went stiff at the sound of
sirens, she attributed to having been
taken in a straight jacket by
ambulance by doctors engaged by her
husband who thought she was going
insane. She said that neurologically
the lobes of her brain had come
together. The doctors failed to
understand the spiritual significance
of this phenomenon, as did I, and
diagnosed her as having a brain
tumor. 

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

We were never allowed to talk
to the doctors and were required to
stand by helplessly and watch the
well-meaning husband and the
medical profession destroy the
greatest saint of our time. 

At another time Joya reported that the doctors had found her body riddled with
malignant cancer which she told us
she had taken on for another person.
In large groups we prayed night and
day to heal her, and she finally
reported a miraculous cure.

Joya seemed to have great
difficulty staying in her body and
would, at the slightest provocation go
stiff as a board. Efforts to keep her in
her body consumed much of our
time together. There was a jewel that
Joya wore around her neck that Hilda
had invested with a mantra to bring
her down. When Hilda touched the
stone Joya usually came down, but
with the pain so she said, of a
thousand razor blades cutting
through her. This was in turn very
painful to all of us. We therefore
went to great lengths to surrender to
Joya's every whim so as not to cause
this painful drama.

Another way in which Joya could
be kept down on earth was with gold
bracelets. Soon both her arms were
covered practically up to the elbows
with these bracelets, gifts of
concerned devotees. She said that
impurities burned her so the gold had
to be of at least 18 karats. In my zeal
to save her, at one point, I purchased
a $1200 bracelet for her. But in the
back of my mind I kept remembering
a time with Maharaj-ji back in 1971.

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

At that time he would call me to him
when I was at the temple. As often as
ten or fifteen times in one day he
would point at me and say in Hindi,
“Women and Gold.” I never fully
understood why he was saying this.

At the time I knew that Ramakrishna
had often cautioned devotees to
beware of women and gold, and I
assumed that this was a way of
warning me about the traps of sex
and money. But now as I found
myself purchasing this costly gold for
this incredible lady, it dawned upon
me that perhaps Maharaj-ji had
meant his warning in a more literal
way than I had appreciated.

Another costly trinket was an
$800 ring which Joya needed for
protection from a group of Tibetans
who were coming from a secret
Shangrila deep in Tibet to kidnap her
and return her to her throne as the
true Tara whom they worshipped.
For the ring we found an old lapis
lazuli scarab. When Joya saw it, she
said that what we thought was just a
pretty scarab was, in fact, a sacred
stone from northern Afghanistan that
had been taken down into Egypt
after having served in ancient rituals
among ancient Aryans who later
migrated to Tibet.

While this story seemed unlikely,
research did corroborate that lapis
lazuli was in fact mined only in
northern Afghanistan in ancient
times, and a scholar of Asian
religious history confirmed that the
Aryans had indeed brought
Buddhism to Tibet from, among
other places, northern Afghanistan. It
was such bits and pieces that kept
together the fragile web of reality that
Joya created.


~ Page 6 ~

Mixed with the melodrama were
hours of the most incredible meditations,
much discipline and practices
pranayama, great outpourings of
devotion in prayer and song, and
lectures in which Joya appeared to
read from an invisible blackboard
and share great truths. While all her
teachings were probably available in
various books that anyone could have
read, the intensity and context of the
presentations gave them the quality
of living original truth. And there was
no rest: I got only two or three hours
sleep a night. The combination of
fatigue and the incredible energy
surrounding Joya kept my emotions
at the very edge. This made the
drama all the more volatile, and the
hysteria more pronounced and the
reality more tenaciously adhered to.

During my time with Joya, a
number of people, many of whom
were devotees of Maharaj-ji, came to
take teachings. After a time, a few
left. My involvement led me to look
upon these few as unfortunate in that
their ability to surrender was
insufficient for them to receive these
precious teachings. But then my own
doubts started to grow faster than I
could consume them. Joya had
changed a great deal in the year. She
came to resent having beings speak
through her and refused to serve as a
medium. Thus while she still had
great shakti (power) and charisma,
her lectures became merely the
reflections of the culture in which she
had grown up, sprinkled with
spiritual homilies. In her new feeling
of power she also cast aside Hilda. As
Joya's compatriot. Hilda, with her
astral carryings-on, had generated the
necessary climate of hysteria to
support Joya's melodrama. Joya had
said time and again, “If you want my
truth, you must also take my
insanity.” Slowly I came to be unwilling to make that bargain.

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

For example, one day Joya and I
were hanging out and the telephone
rang. She picked up the receiver and
in a pained whisper said, “I can't talk
now, I'm too stiff,” and let the
receiver drop. The phone was hung
up and without hesitation she
resumed our conversation as if
nothing had happened. I realized
how many times I had been at the
other end of the phone.

No matter how I rationalized, my
doubts grew. With doubt came
boredom. The tantric exercises no
longer seemed productive. I began to
experience Joya as just another
person with attachments. I
entertained the possibility that these
feelings were cues that I was finished
with this teaching and should leave.
But there was anger in me, and
Maharaj-ji had warned us that no
matter what we did, we should never
put another person out of our heart.
So I waited until my love was strong
and then I tried to bow out
gracefully.

But Joya would have no part of it.
She treated this withdrawal as resistance which had to be overcome for my own good. To this end she
enrolled her entourage to persuade
me through messages, pleas, threats,
badgering and general disruption of
my life. For almost four months, I
had to live as if in a state of siege:
refusing to answer the telephone,
which rang day and night, and often
keeping someone posted at the door.
If a call happened to get through, I
would be told by one of her well- meaning devotees that Joya lay
bleeding and dying because of my
infidelity.

At times ]oya would show up in
person to tell me that I was afraid of
love or unwilling to surrender. I was
told that the astral Maharaj-ji was
crying because I had defected. And
on and on. 

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

The drama got so heavy
that in one early morning episode she
and her followers were sighted
climbing over the roof of an eighteen
story building in an attempt to break
into the apartment where I lived. The
police were summoned by the
management to remove Joya, who by
then was trying to pick the lock and
kick my door in. This foiled her
attempt to bring me to my senses and
to save me from the evil influence of
the people with whom I was
associating, all of whom had left her
teachings.

The reality had crumbled.

I began to see the similarities
between these events and stories
about other movements such as the
so-called Jesus Freaks, Reverend
Moon's group, and the Krishna
Consciousness scene. Once you are
in them, they provide a total reality
which has no escape clause.


My leaving Joya was part of a
large exodus of disillusioned
followers, including some who had
served as servants in her home. And
as the refugees who left the front
lines exchanged stories, the incredible
tapestry of half truths and lies started
to unravel.

By all reports there had been
no doctors nor dyes, no straight
jackets, no cancer riddled body, no
stigmata and no Tibetans, Her
incredible energy came not solely
from spiritual sources, but were
enhanced by energizing pills. Her
closest confidants now confessed
that many times they were ordered to
call me to report a terrible crisis they
knew to be an outright lie. They
complied because she convinced
them that it was for my own good.
Stories of such deceptions came thick
and fast. Finally, I had to admit I had
conned myself.


~ Page 7 ~

What is the lesson from all this? Is
it a study in gullibility, fed by greed
and spiritual materialism? Is it
Maharaj-ji's lila or cosmic joke? Is it a
study of paranoid schizophrenia or
psychopathy? Is it a case of the
misuse of spiritual powers? Perhaps
it's all of these. Or could it just be a
tantric teaching that defies judgment?
I don't know the answer. I can label
this phenomenon a dozen different
ways and build a supportive case for
each reality. But enough realities have
been built—and crumbled—in this
story.

These teachings have a positive
side. Through them and the leaving
of them, many of us have gained
strength, compassion, openness, and
an ability to allow the movement to
be as it is. For all of this I am deeply
grateful. However, while I and others
profited from these teachings, not
everyone did. Some seemed to have
been hurt in that they came away
with more despair cynicism, and
paranoia than they had before. 


. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

If Joya's is not a pure tantric teaching, 
it is heavy karma indeed! Lies used to
enhance one’s personal power do not
liberate.

There is an aura that surrounds
tantric teachings which implies that
the ends justify the means. For a
liberated tantric teacher, such a
morality may be possible. For a
teacher with any attachment, it is not.

Since I now see that things I said
previously about this teaching are just
not true. I come away with egg on
my beard. But of more significance
than my embarrassment is the issue
of truth. Maharaj-ji insisted that I tell
the truth no matter how
embarrassing. For he said, and I
believe, that truth will make you free.
During the period of Indian protest
against the British, Mahatma Gandhi
had initiated a large, protest march in
which many thousands were
involved. After the first day of the
march, Gandhi called his lieutenants
and cancelled the protest. 

. . . cont'd top of next column . . . 

They objected strongly saying that after all this effort he couldn't do this. He
answered, “My commitment is to
truth not to consistency.”

There is one final point to be
made. Is there reason to fear taking
teachings out of concern as to
whether the teacher is pure? Perhaps
not, for all that can ever trip us up is
our own impurities. Which is not to
say that discrimination is to be
abandoned, for indeed it remains an
invaluable protection on the path. I
got caught because of my spiritual
greed and insufficient faith in
Maharaj-ji. You too may get caught
and suffer deep disappointment and
confusion. But I hope that you may
learn something from my example
and save yourself a big detour, if your
longing for God is pure, this is your
strength. Then though you may get
lost for a time, you will in the end
hear clearly in your inner heart what
to do, and all the impurities around
you will just become more grist for
the mill of your awakening.

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