I don't know how many of you have seen "Fierce Grace", the "documentary
drama" about Ram Dass' life before and after his '97 stroke. We saw
the DVD last night. I found it riveting, just a drama of a spiritual life unfolding ala
God's Whim, in one of the most unlikely places, modern America. And a
life that is in many ways archetypal.
Sure, "God in a Pill" was dictated by Baba in response to letters from
Richard Alpert (who later became Ram Dass). Baba also said to him
personally, however, "for a few sincere seekers like yourself"... that
psychedelics might serve as an initial "taste" of something beyond the
one-dimensional everyday world.
Ram Dass in the film does not so much "renounce" drugs as tell about
how, when he went to India, he realized there are means of getting
"beyond" that are not dependant on such props.
The scenes from the '60s are outrageous and colorful. Maybe some of you
were there, on the Alpert family farm in New Hampshire.
I found Ram Dass' efforts to come to terms with the effects of his
stroke extremely moving. He, one of the more "verbally handy" people,
IMO, to ever use the English language, would, as he said, find the
"clothes closet" to dress his concepts in words, closed. You can see him
flailing for the ghost of a word and his frustration at the difficulty,
sometimes, in finding it.
Yet, two of the most (incredibly) moving scenes have to do with his
counseling deeply bereaved people. In the first, a couple whose 11
year-old daughter was murdered reads a stunningly expressive, healing
letter Ram Dass wrote them. That was some years before his stroke.
In the second, a post-stroke scene, the camera shows him counseling a
young woman whose lover has been murdered recently in Colombia. You can
see that though he may not have quite the verbal "facility" of the
earlier letter, his heart enables the same essence and healing to come
One person in the film, Mark Matousek, shown editing Ram Dass' most
recent book with him, was a Meher Baba-lover, last I knew.
Ram Dass remarks that he feels he's been a kind of "advance guard" for
the baby boomer generation, and that in "being stroked" he is dealing
with the kinds of things many of us will be dealing with "sooner than we
I felt that the spiritual teachings about using physical or emotional
trauma as vehicles for awakeningand why that is so hardreally get to
the meat of life as a spiritual effort. That is something I rarely see
dramatized or articulated this clearly. It's something like my own
breath, that is so close I never even think about it. Yet without it,
I'm dead. Here, finally, is a "mirror" in which this aspect of life
In one of His messages to the film worldone which I couldn't find
just now in a LORD MEHER searchBaba said that films, to be
spiritual vehicles, need not explicitly depict the lives of Saints
or other "spiritual figures", but need only dramatize values like
courage, faith, and love in the lives of ordinary people.
Well, the video we saw last night does that, I felt, in spades. It's
called "Shower" ("Xizao" in Chinese), and it's about an old man and
his retarded son who run a little bathhouse in modern Bejing. It's a
story with many wonderful themes. It dramatizes the conflicts
between tradition and modernization in China, and it dramatizes a
family in conflict too, as the older, modern, "successful" son
returns for a visit.
My wife e-mailed me some wonderful reviews and user comments, which
I may forward if she says it's ok. One of the things they said is
that the actors playing the father and two sons are, respectively,
the most famous Chinese actors of their three generations.
"Shower" is a wonderfully warm film that lets us into this family
and the nearby communitymen who use the steambath daily and by
extension their families. There are hilarious scenes, but these do
not, in my opinion, destroy the fabric of the story being told. The
movie brings both laughter and tears.
The actor who plays Er Ming, the grown, retarded son, should be
given some kind of exponential Oscar for his great performance. He
skillfully plays almost all the keys of human emotion in the
audience. One review told how Zhang Yang, the director, intended to
cast a "mentally challenged" person in the role, till the actor
Jiang Wu, who gained forty pounds for the role, begged to play it.
I never like giving away movie plots, so I'll leave you to
rent "Shower" if you're so inclined. Two more little comments,
though: 1) This is a movie about contemporary Bejing without ANY
explicitly political content. I mean, there are no Secret Police
hanging around, and none of the people seem to be living in
political fear. They seem to be leading natural lives, with all the
eccentricities those can have. The neighborhood institutions,
hobbieslike cricket fighting :-)and so on, are a little
different than those in the West, but the emotions are all utterly
recognizable. The guys in the steambath are not that different from
the men I used to see hanging at the JCCA in St. Louis when I would
go there on visits to work out
And 2): Barbara and I decided we wanted to see this movie on the
basis of a zany trailer for it, which showed an Asian man going into
a "pay toilet" styled shower, taking off his clothes, and being
buffed by little brushy things, exactly as in a miniature car wash.
Though that scene opens the film and is in fact very very funny, it
has nothing at all to do with the spirit of "Shower". It's quite
misleading. I'm glad we decided to get the video, though.
What I'll do is give a few links here:
This one tells something about Chinese cinema:
This one tells about "To Live," an epic movie, also by Zhang Yang,
which DOES focus on the terrible political upheavals of the Chinese
Revolution and the "cultural revolution" some twenty years later:
Here's a link to Baba's Message to the Film World, which I certainly
find it helpful to re-read every so often:
I find few ways to tap into the stream of Universal Life in my spare
time, and expand my awareness of both the variety and universality
of God's World, better than seeing films, especially ones from the
wider world beyond Hollywood.