Just after the full moon in November the Ananda community gathered to bid farewell to our great-souled friend Ramdas, who had the day before passed from this earth life. His was a life given in loving service and divine friendship to everyone he met, and more deeply, to God and Guru. He loved God, and he loved God as He expressed Himself through people. When he saw the divine light hiding beneath someone’s outer form he reached out to that light with a smile of joyous recognition.
To be on the receiving end of Ramdas’s smile was to be inundated with spiritual joy. It was impossible to be downhearted. When Yoganandaji wrote of Gandhi’s “captivating, cavernous, almost toothless smiles” he could have been describing Ramdas, a true “smile millionaire”—pouring out his inner wealth of divine love and joy to heal others of sadness and gloom, to awaken their spirits to the divine comedy of life.
His compassionate heart had all his life reached out to help others. Scattered over northern California and southern Oregon were old people he had met in his travels, befriended and adopted. Unannounced he would arrive at their doorsteps, always when the need was greatest, set about serving that need—cutting and stacking firewood, stocking shelves with groceries, propping up a sagging roof—then quietly disappear until the next time.
When we would come together to pray for others—for all the hurt and sorrow to which mankind is heir—Ramdas would expand to become larger than that suffering, then lovingly demand God’s help for each one. His big workingman’s hands, twisted and gnarled, raised aloft, his AUMMM would continue long after others had grown silent. Sometimes his hands would form a megaphone shape at the spiritual eye, as though to amplify the power of that prayer.
His last years saw his mind breaking down in dementia, and that hard-used body steadily losing function. Depression would sometimes overwhelm him, but never for long. One midnight I awoke abruptly to a flashlight shining in my face. Not for the first time Ramdas had walked into my cabin: “I’m in trouble,” he said in his blunt way. “I don’t know what’s going on. What do I do?” My answer: “Just love God.” He was weeping now: “But how do I love God?” My answer: “When everything is taken away, what is still there is God. Talk to Him, say what you said to me, ‘I’m in trouble. Lord God, help me!’ Then be quiet inside and feel Him there, in your heart.” Ramdas stood up straight again, laughed his wonderful belly laugh, smiled his magical smile, and threw off his cloak of depression: “I can do that!”
And he did do that, right to the end. Scattered among his few possessions were odd scraps of paper; the only words legible were “I love You” and “God is love”—and by these truths did he live. Particular chants would awaken his devotion: “I am Thine; be Thou mine” perhaps most of all. Quiet at first, he would find his voice and pour his whole heart into his chanting—chanting to God, and with the passionate longing of a child for his Mother Divine.
Standing before the minister officiating at Swamiji’s Purification Ceremony, Ramdas on one occasion burst out “I love God!” When the minister tried to guide him through the responses of the outward ceremony (what you say is, “I seek purification by the grace of God”) Ramdas simply repeated his heart’s truth: “I love God!” That’s all he knew, and all he needed to know.
As his physical and mental condition deteriorated, his purity of soul, and self-giving love for God, grew only brighter and stronger. Sometimes he would stop suddenly and become very still. Looking intently ahead, he would reach out, as to a beloved friend there before him. Then his hands would come together in a pronam, his body leaning forward yearningly. Sometimes too he would see the divine light in a friend—perhaps someone acting as a blesser at Sunday service. Seeing that light, he would rush toward it, smiling joyfully, hands outstretched in pronam—with the same loving reverence one feels in the photograph of Swamiji as the young Donald Walter giving his gift to Yogananda.
On his birthday, December 19, 2017, as we were driving to meditate in Swamiji’s apartment, he suddenly sat up straight and began sweeping his hands toward his forehead, as though drawing blessings during an arati. “There’s a light!” He spoke with an ineffable tenderness and love. “I can’t describe it. It’s not any color. It’s coming right at me. It’s from God!” And he relapsed into a happy silence.
A few days before his soul broke free from that battered body, his eyes came to be a deep blue, perfectly clear, endlessly deep, locked half open and half closed, focused inward and upward at the spiritual eye. During that same time, three friends felt his spirit with them as they rejoiced in the simultaneous flight of snow geese so numerous that they filled the sky—his spirit soaring free with the birds that all his life he had felt as special friends, guides and protectors, inspirations to his own quest for freedom.
Many years earlier, perched high above a canyon, doing his work felling a great tree, he became aware of a bird insistently, frantically hopping about, trying to warn him away from the tree just before it came down and hurled his body into space, to fall sixty feet into the canyon below. His back broken, unable to move, he again became aware of a bird fluttering about his head, this time bringing a feeling of divine love, of healing energy flowing in—and he knew that Babaji was there. With that knowing, he found that he could again move his body, and crawl out of the canyon.
His last days saw that same indomitable spirit: ”Move, all you mountains that stand in my way: Nothing can stop my progress!” Again and again he would try to head out. Again and again he would fall. Never a complaint, only the determination to keep trying to push forward, as though to use the physical body as a launching pad into free flight. Whether hurled through space into a canyon below or crashing to the floor after a few steps, his spirit would not admit defeat. Only when he had asked of that body every ounce of effort, when physical movement was no longer possible, only then did he go completely within, to put his full energy at the true doorway to freedom, the spiritual eye, and through that doorway, to sail out with his friends of the bird kingdom, and beyond—into the realm where surely Swamiji and Master, whom he loved with all his heart, have welcomed this dear one home.
In divine friendship,
For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing