Perhaps the biggest turning point in my life took place in July 2005. But it happened at least in part because of a bookstore gift card from Christmas 2004.
I was new to Toronto, working as a temp, and rarely spent money on new books. The gift card brought me into a bookstore where I found a book entitled “Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita”, by Ram Dass (the teacher and writer better known for his book “Be Here Now”).
“Paths to God” is based on a series of lectures Ram Dass gave at Naropa University on the Bhagavad Gita (literally, the “Song of God”), a sacred Hindu text containing the teachings of the god Krishna as given to a devotee on a battlefield. In the text, Krishna explains how to live life with the awareness of something much greater than the individual will. Ram Dass riffs on the concepts in the Gita, relating his understanding of karma, reincarnation, surrender and release of the ego in a contemporary, approachable and humorous Western voice.
As I read through stories of enlightened beings, including Ram Dass’s guru Neem Karoli Baba, and of learning to see beyond the machinations of the individual ego, it was as though switches turned on in parts of my mind that had been dark for a long time. There were so many “whoa” moments in reading the book that I described it at the time as feeling as though my head was actually blowing open, unable to contain the power and expansiveness of these spiritual concepts. The book showed me that it is possible even for Westerners to encounter enlightened masters, and to be transformed utterly by their guidance.
After reading the book several times, I went on to pick up a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and read that regularly. I got back into yoga after a few years off. And seven months later, in July of 2005, I met an enlightened master, Amma, who is my Satguru. It was at least partly through “Paths to God” that I was able to understand the grace of that meeting.
To address a potential elephant in the living room, I will note that Ram Dass makes reference to the use of psychedelic drugs in “Paths to God”. Not having used psychedelics, I don’t judge that choice in his life, nor do I endorse it. In any case, the references are not at all central to the book’s message. In fact, Ram Dass points out that his own guru found psychedelics to be quite meaningless.
I credit “Paths to God” for a series of “a-ha” moments that helped me re-awaken on the spiritual path. That said, I haven’t opened the book in years. Just as we cannot return to “a-ha” moments in the past but must integrate their lessons and move forward, I feel the book has already served its major purpose in my life and I don’t need to try to re-create the sense of expansion I felt when I first read it. However, I still consider it of value to those who have not yet met an enlightened master and feel the need for some inspiration on the path.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects.