Throughout his many lectures, Ram Dass often used the terms “impeccable” or “impeccability”.
When I started writing this blog, I felt like I had an understanding of what it means to be impeccable, although I was unable to outright define the word. So, what does it mean?
Merriam-Webster defines impeccable as:
- Not capable of sinning or liable to sin
- Free from fault or blame: FLAWLESS
don Miguel Ruiz explores this concept more deeply in his spiritual classic The Four Agreements:
“Religions talk about sin and sinners, but let’s understand what it really means to sin. A sin is anything that you do which goes against yourself. Everything that you feel or believe or say that goes against yourself is a sin. You go against yourself when you judge or blame yourself for anything.
Being without sin is exactly the opposite. Being impeccable is not going against yourself. When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions , but you do not judge or blame yourself.” (Miguel-Ruiz 1997)
Is this what Ram Dass meant when he said things like “The incarnation is the soul’s work. I listen to hear: what is my work? And how do I do it impeccably?” Let’s dig a little deeper…
How Can We Become Impeccable?
Is there an impeccability pill? Or perhaps a quick outpatient surgery to correct our un-impeccable tendencies? I’m afraid not. It’s something a little more subtle. Ram Dass encouraged us to examine our habits and day-to-day lives.
“How do you deal with your daily life in a way to remember and awaken? …what do you do with your weekends? Evenings? Mornings? …use those little places in your life as reminders.” – Ram Dass, Become Impeccable
The type of media you consume might change from being merely entertainment to something that points you back at your own heart. Maybe instead of going to a bar or club, you fill your evenings with a yoga class or meditation group. In the beginning, you very intentionally set aside time to interject spiritual things into your seemingly unspiritual life. Slowly, these things will become second nature. They become your new habits and old habits start to fall away. It’s like when Ram Dass describes how at first you are doing the mantra, but you get to a point where the mantra is doing you. The lens through which you see the external world starts to get wiped clean. You become more able to see the world for what it is. Eventually, you realize that life is spiritual by nature. All of it. And you can begin to see the Living Spirit at work in every interaction and phenomenon you encounter. You’re flipping the script, turning your own world upside down, shaking up the snow globe of your analytical mind. Your inner state is less influenced by external circumstances. Conversely, your inner tranquility starts to color the way
that you see the outer world. These changes are not motivated by judgment of your old habits. It’s more of an observation that certain things may not be serving you any longer. There is no rush to change your whole life right now. As Ram Dass says:
“When you push away the world prematurely, it gets you.” And, “approaching spiritual practice with too much ‘ought’ and ‘should’ can push you away from that which you seek.”
Many of us have had difficult relationships with the religious traditions that we grew up with and, as a result, may have completely walked away from those traditions. Certain aspects of religion may have felt untrue, or downright tyrannical. Instead of fixing the thing or recognizing the positive aspects of religion, many people (myself included) turned their backs.
Ram Dass asks:
“When we got rid of the rituals because they weren’t feeding us, did we get rid of something we needed? A lot of people who awaken to the spirit through Eastern traditions then start to hear where their uniqueness is and start to realize ‘I was born a Jew or Christian.’ And they want to reinvest their tradition with the living spirit.”
This is a phenomenon that I have experienced directly. Several years ago, my wife and I experienced some pretty heavy challenges. We were facing health issues, legal problems, and career changes all within about three months. In the midst of that storm, a dear friend invited us to attend church with her. She explained how she had grown up attending this particular church. A new head pastor had recently invigorated the church community. I was surprised by my own willingness and enthusiasm to attend. As a young child, I loved attending Sunday school and learning the Bible stories. However, throughout my teens and twenties, I became a stark materialist. Thankfully, about a year before the issues that my wife and I faced, a friend introduced me to the teachings of Ram Dass. I wasn’t consciously looking for a spiritual teacher, but the words of Ram Dass made sense. When the storm hit, I found that I had a whole new lens through which I viewed Christianity. My wife was also eager to reevaluate her connection to the Living Spirit. How does that new lens relate to the idea of living impeccably? The decision to support my wife by attending church with her was not made by my skeptical, analytical mind. It was made by my curious and radiantly loving spirit.
Relationships as a Means for Awakening
“As you get more conscious what you keep doing is re-running old relationships to bring them up to speed, up to the present consciousness. And, some people will come right along with it and others won’t. If they don’t, that’s their business. Your job isn’t to do something violent to somebody else.
You don’t have any moral right to take anybody’s suffering away…
You have a moral responsibility to create an environment where they can let go of their suffering if they wish.”
Some friendships or other relationships will fall away. That’s okay. Also, you might realize that people that you’ve known for years aren’t as unevolved as you may have presumed.
They might be right there with you. Some relationships will really challenge you and force you to examine yourself more deeply. This has to do with the perfection of dharma and your own personal karma. You go out looking and looking for God half-way around the globe, thinking that there is something out there that will light you up in here. You find out that not only do you already contain that which you seek, but the people and circumstances that you have been given are also perfect catalysts for the uncovering of your own divinity.
The Buddhist concepts of Right Action and Right Livelihood are deeply tied to impeccable living. Dharma teacher Joseph Goldstein tells us that “ We might have some ideal of a life of service as being the highest expression of right livelihood… It’s possible to create some ideal, then feel like we’re not quite living up to it. And consequently, just ignore the cultivation of this step on the path… It’s possible to develop an attitude of service in whatever work we do. Are we simply doing a job to support ourselves? Or, are we watching the attitudes in our minds as we do our work?… It’s not only what we do but how we do it.”
Ram Dass echoed this idea once during a Skype conversation. I explained to him that I wanted to move into the field of physical therapy. After years of construction and manufacturing work, I wanted to do work that could ease the collective suffering of mankind. Ram Dass told me that what I’m doing isn’t as important as how consciously I’m doing it. “See every other human you interact with as another soul. This is compassionate action.” So, if I’m identified with my soul, I can work to decrease suffering in any workplace.
In many of these older lectures, Ram Dass often spoke of cultivating the witness, a non-judging awareness:
“The witness is not judging and not trying to change. It is just noticing… as you witness your life more, as you bring the light of the witness to bear, your life will change. You don’t have to manipulate your life to change. It will change as the witness gets stronger.”
So what does Ram Dass mean when he talks about impeccability? It is a sense of perfection. Not perfection based on individual or societal models, but dharmic perfection. A way of being that is not at war with what is:
“What we are talking about… is how you live in the middle of the fire. And how you live impeccably across planes of consciousness so that you are God with God, you are soul with soul… you push nothing away, you grab at nothing. You don’t get high and you don’t get low, there are highs and lows.”
In his more recent teachings, Ram Dass often used the mantra “I Am Loving Awareness”. Loving Awareness is spiritual impeccability. Rather than striving for a “flawless; faultless” state, we witness our flaws and develop an awareness of our faults. Then, we love those parts of ourselves.
– Patrick M. Davis