Baba Ram Dass died just before Christmas. He was 88 — an old fart.
I’m 84, a child by those standards, and I have been a fellow guru for 40 years.
Ram Dass was a man from Boston who got famous because everybody thought he was smart as hell and a pretty good guy. He talked like there was hope to avoid the miseries of life, a way to avoid the dire consequences for one’s mental health after the subtle invasions of awful reality.
And let me put your mind to rest: a career as guru doesn’t pay all that well. Other gurus did well, however, with big ranches, Rolls-Royce and girlfriend collections. They were an inspiration to us unblessed. I could never own a Rolls-Royce because I couldn’t afford the insurance.
Nobody mistook me for a real guru. Ever. It was heartbreaking. I never had the right stuff — that gentleness and natural generosity toward my fellow man. I tried hard though. I even had my van license plates personalized to read “GOOROO.” Occasionally, a woman dragging her groceries through a parking lot would stop to read it, shake her head in disdain and walk on.
How I got to be a guru was told in my first book, “Telluride According to the Bubba Ram,”a thin tome of stories published in the Telluride Times.
And I had a great audience then. While windsurfing in South Padre Island, a man walked up to me on the beach and discovered that I was that published guru/writer. He smiled hugely, gave me a big hug, and blurted, “Your columns help me live through three years in the federal pen.” Admittedly, this was a unique reception from a drug smuggler even though I knew plenty of them. And they knew me.
Baba Ram Dass’ mind operated on the highest plane. Whereas, I am a low plane guy; the lower the better. It is much easier to explain one’s vaporous philosophy if explained in 4th grade English. I was envious of BRD’s ability to live on a higher and smoother level. I can barely cope with this uneven, bumpy reality, much less advise people on how to find nirvana along this rough road.
He was humble because that was his nature. Conversely, I am humble because I am so good at it. I am the humblest guy you’ll ever meet.
To his credit, he taught happiness and peace. I spent my most productive years teaching folks how to produce more than their fair share of filthy lucre, who would then piss away the money on beautiful women, good booze and fast cars. I envied them and I spent many happy nights helping them waste their talents.
Oh, he had many loyal followers from all over the world. I had a few. Mine called themselves “The Bliss Ninnies.” They suspected that I was a fraud, but they never let on to my face. I can only now reveal a deeply held personal secret: I was a fake all along.
BRD empathized with his friends, advising them, treating each of them like a stable person and sensible. I don’t. Most of my friends are whack jobs. I love them because they bring humor into my life and give me targets to poke fun at.
Sometimes the finger of fate descends from the clouds and touches a person in unusual ways. Back in the 1970s, that fate-filled finger that gave me my guru identity was created by my good friends Buck Lowe and Jim Bedford. They stole his name outright from the real guru and hung me with it for life. I became a town joke.
Four decades later, I customarily sign my name:
Bubba Ram Vass
The Best Guru in the County
“Mediocre Advice at Discount Prices”
A phony guru was a thin joke four decades ago and still is.
Formerly of Telluride