My interview with Daniela Norris,
author of “Collecting Feathers”
Daniella Norris: Tell us a little about your book and why you’ve written it.
Ram Das Batchelder: “Rising in Love” is a vivid and very funny portrayal of my 27 years with the renowned humanitarian and spiritual Master known around the world as Amma, “the hugging Saint.” Wonderful stories of my direct experiences with Amma flow through the book, and her teachings are sprinkled throughout. This is not the usual scrubbed up ashram book — my journey is conveyed with raw honesty and openness, and all of my human flaws, sexuality and ego games are boldly exposed for all to laugh at!
The book also covers the years before I met Amma, focusing on my marijuana-fuelled spiritual awakening during my college years in New York, which led me into a period of grand delusion and confusion, which is both hysterical and a bit scary. Eventually I was enabled to renounce drugs completely, and only then did I meet Amma and start my spiritual quest in earnest. But the fact that I literally went quite crazy for a couple of years, and was close to suicide for a time, and ended up receiving full healing through the power of spirituality, makes this book a beacon of hope for all who suffer from addiction or mental illness of one kind or another.
“Rising in Love” shines new light on the whole question of spiritual awakenings, and the plight of the many young ones in the West who suddenly break into the discovery of the Divine, and begin having unusual experiences in a culture which has little understanding of such things. I met an angel when I was 21, received a life-changing visitation from Jesus, and began hearing God’s voice teaching me very high knowledge – but I had no wise context into which I could place my experiences. I knew nothing about Saints or Self-Realization; in fact, I didn’t even know the spiritual path existed! In the West, unfortunately, such awakenings are often misunderstood and harshly judged, and these young souls get stuck with some kind of pathological psychiatric label and their nascent awakening gets suppressed with heavy medication, rather than nourished with the spiritually in-tune guidance and compassionate counseling that would help their awakening blossom in a balanced way.
Above all, “Rising in Love” conveys the essence of spirituality in an unusually clear and profound way, as it shares the path I’ve traveled all the way from my early days of confusion and delusion to the samadhi states and visions of Krishna and Christ that have blessed my journey to date. And it reveals the divinity of Amma in a way perhaps more potent and direct than any book to date.
I’m happy to report that “Rising in Love” has been selling so fast that the publisher has had a hard time keeping it in stock on Amazon! It has gotten amazing reviews, including an endorsement from the comedian Russell Brand, who posted a photo of himself reading it on Twitter and Facebook for a combined audience of 11.7 million. After 57 reviews on Amazon, “Rising in Love” has a 4.8 star average. One of my favorites came in just yesterday:
"I haven't read such a transformational, inspiring book since Autobiography of a Yogi. This book is backlit by Amma’s divine light, and as you read, it gradually unravels, illuminates and heals. Ram Das, through his own crazy experiences, somehow brings you back home to self-acceptance, offering a sense of relief that we are OK as we are, and makes everything alright, no matter where we are on the path. Rising in Love does what the title says... it raises you in love, is full of fun and, reading it in bed at night, I often found myself giggling myself to sleep. When you feel bereft after finishing a book, like I do now, you know it was a masterpiece. This book has brought me back to Amma, confirms for me who she is and who I thought she was, and somehow makes everything better."
~ Geni Lawrence, translator
By the way, the book is a charitable project: all royalties from the sale of “Rising in Love” will be donated to Amma’s orphanage in Kerala, India, which houses 600 children. These children consistently win top academic and artistic awards in Kerala, and one-third go on to receive college degrees. Unheard of in any other orphanage in the world, I dare say.
For more about the orphanage, and for reviews of “Rising in Love,” plus sample chapters, info and links to Amazon, see www.rising-inlove.org.
DN: Tell us three interesting things about yourself and your life.
RDB: My wife and I co-lead 5-star tours to the sacred cities of India. We speak both Spanish and English, and know India like the backs of our hands, which increasingly have these funny little age spots on them. These tours are EXCELLENT. I give classes about various aspects of spirituality, so people receive not just a tour, but the spiritual essence of India. Here is our tour page: https://www.facebook.com/risinginlovetours.
Several years back I taught a course on Hinduism at a university in Venezuela, which I boldly presented in my poorly pronounced Español. The students loved it, and it was really a joy to blow their minds.
I recently gave up wheat, sugar, corn, dairy, dancing naked on the roof, and peanuts. However, due to popular outcry, I have taken dancing naked OFF the list, but have changed the timing to 2-3 am. During the day the roof is frequented by elderly ladies, and I was receiving too many proposals.
DN: What do you think is people’s biggest fear when they first embark on spiritual journeys?
RDB: My sense is that people have many fears about embarking on the path, the most prominent being that if they go too far they might lose their grip on reality and go insane. I understand that very well — in fact, I went a little crazy myself in my early 20s, but somehow, by God’s grace, I went sane again. As the book says, “If you want to go crazy, go crazy for God. Go bonkers for anything else and you’re in big trouble. But if you lose your marbles for the Lord, He’ll hold on to them for you, and return them, all polished up, at just the right moment.”
Of course, people also fear losing their identity. They fear discovering that the ego is just an illusion, and that what they have always thought they were doesn’t really exist at all! Hahaha! It doesn’t! But the good news is, what we really are is so incredibly beautiful that once we’ve discovered the Self, losing the ego is a great joy and relief. Spirituality gently and gradually prepares us for that precious discovery.
People also fear that they will be deceived by some false teacher, and end up stuck in a cult which robs them of their freedom and forces them to drink poisoned Koolaid. And who could blame them? There are indeed many false teachers who do great harm to their disciples, and it is each one’s responsibility to very carefully test a potential Guru, and be sure they’re not being led astray by a wolf in sadhu’s clothing. One great thing about Amma is that she is totally accessible: people can receive her embrace again and again, ask her questions, and spend many hours in her presence. They can develop their own relationship with Amma, and make up their own minds about who and what she is.
People also fear that others will judge and reject them due to their spiritual quest. So often people are trapped in a web of family expectations and cultural taboos from which they are afraid to break free, and many remain stuck in that web for their entire lives.
One way I addressed this kind of bondage was that after accepting Amma as my Guru, I made a cassette tape of songs and poetry which included a recorded letter telling everyone all about Amma and the new name she had given me. I then mailed it out to over 100 people, including Grandma and all the old family friends. It was a very effective way of cutting through the web of taboos and expectations, and saying, “Whether you like it or not, this is what I’m doing with my life. And I’ll be happy to tell you all about it.” It was a very empowering step. I received a few kind replies from old friends, and even a nice note from Grandma, God bless her, as well as an overtly nasty letter from the mother of a childhood friend. But was she really upset about Amma, or just mad about that time I kissed her daughter and then didn’t call?
DN: Is there one person who had much influence in your life, perhaps more so than others?
RDB: I have traveled extensively in India and have met many great Gurus. I have seen numerous miracles and received powerful experiences from several Saints, and I’m grateful to all of them. But there is no doubt that the most powerful and inspiring Guru I have ever met is Amma. She has been an incredible guide and inspiration, a beacon of divine Love, compassion and wisdom, literally Divinity in a human form.
For two videos of Amma, and more about her life, teachings and tours, see: http://www.rising-inlove.org/more-about-amma.html
DN: Please recommend three of your favorite spirituality-related reads (books or magazines)
RDB: 1) “Miracle of Love: Stories about Neem Karoli Baba” by Ram Dass
This is not by little ol’ me but the FAMOUS Ram Dass, who inexplicably spells his name with 2 ss’s. This book is a collection of stories about his Guru, a wacky, miracle-working, omniscient kind of fellow who will definitely tap you on the shoulder while you read it, which is all the more remarkable considering that he left his body many years ago.
2) “In Quest of God” by Swami Ramdas
This AGAIN is not by me, but by a Saint who wandered rupee-less and barefoot around India for several years, remembering God constantly through the repetition of a mantra. In due course he attained full Enlightenment. He then wrote his own books in English, and his teachings are sweet nectar.
“I Am That: Conversations with Nisargadatta Maharaj”, edited by Maurice Frydman
Astonishing teachings which reveal our true nature as pure Awareness.
DN: Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
RDB: Amma travels around the world each year giving free programs where each person can receive an embrace from her. (This is how she gives her blessing.) I heartily recommend that everyone come and receive a hug! But do me a favor. If you’re really a nutcase, and are going to wander around naked at the programs (like one lady I invited years ago), then don’t tell them I sent you.
Amma’s yearly 6-week US Tour starts towards the end of May in Seattle, and finishes mid-July in Boston. The tour dates will be posted sometime in April on this site: www.amma.org.
Her European tour begins around Oct. 1st and finishes mid-November. For tour details, see www.amma-europe.org.
For more about Amma’s charities, see www.embracingtheworld.org.
For more about “Rising in Love”, see www.rising-inlove.org.
DN: Thank you, Ram Das!