American Siddhartha
Tripping through the stars with the horniest guru

California surfer dude turned guru Bhagavan Das (a.k.a. Michael Riggs) returned from India thirty years ago riding high on the shoulders of the love generation's giants, dropping acid with the likes of Ginsberg and sharing the stage with the Grateful Dead. Along the way, he developed such a hard-earned reputation as a pussy hound he was nicknamed "Bhagavan Dick." Two years ago, this golden boy of the Far Eastern American spiritual movement authored the kiss-and-tell autobiography "It's Here Now (Are You?)" and began cultivating a new generation of spiritual devotees -- including pop stars, mad directors and Beastie Boys.

See also...
... by Robert Phoenix
... in the Dirt section
... from August 26, 1999

On this, the first of the last two blue moons of the twentieth century, I find myself sitting next to Das in his shag carpeted van, among the steep hills of Lake County, California, ascending to Kailash, his holy, horny hermitage in the sky. Das turns to me, wiping the foam of a Red Tail Ale away from his beard. "Did you read the book? What did you think?" I tell him that it's a modern American classic, part how-to, part how-not-to spiritual confessional.

"It is a classic, isn't it?" he enthuses. "Oliver Stone has it. He's into it and wants to make a movie about it. Willem Dafoe is into it too. We've become great friends -- he's an amazing guy. But he tells me that Stone is really out of it, in a bad way you know, pissing and shitting all over himself. Is it true?" I just shrug.

At this point, Das starts dropping names like bombs over Baghdad. Mike D, Krist Novoselic, Madonna, Sting and Trudy Styler all come up. "I didn't know the punks were so spiritual," he says in true amazement. "There's a buzz on me now, that's why I'm going back to New take advantage of it. I'm leaving March 1st. I'm gonna really get into the art thing -- that's where it's at. The world needs me and a new art now. That's where the new spiritual trip is."

We spent the night at Kailash, where in the front yard a skull on a sword gives the place a Colonel Kurtz feel. Inside, images of the divine mother abound. From the naked Barbie placed on his shrine to Kali Ma (a manifestation of the Divine Mother) to the cherubic visages of Ammachi (a Kali Ma incarnation with a worldwide following) Das has completely immersed himself in the world of the anima. He's positively glowing about his re-emergence into the public eye.

Nearing the age of 56, the avuncular guru desires a place in the modern pantheon as wise elder and spiritual buddy to the stars. The following is a free-associative reflection of other spiritual celebrities who have flamed across the path of the American Siddhartha and the last guru standing:


I've only met her once. I love Madonna. I love her because of her chutzpah and how she's created and re-created herself. She's integrated in herself. She's completely male. She doesn't need a male. She's very powerful, but unassuming. I was amazed at how little charisma she has. I mean, I have more charisma than Madonna. She's not a sparkler. I was shocked. I asked her if she was going to chant with us and she said, "No, I'm a voyeur." But then she got into it. I think she's sincere in her spiritual search. She's turning people onto yoga, being opened by her daughter, and is learning to be a human. She is really becoming the divine mother.

Tim Leary

I was at a party with Tim right after he got out of prison. I was with Allen Ginsberg. We had a lot of fun laughing. Very funny man, very charming. And later I think he just got more and more weird living in his own world. Tim lost it, I think. There were the people who tripped that would say, "Wow, I'm really on a drug trip." Then there were other people like Owsley, who knew that was the real reality. This was the trip. Tim was confused about that and was caught between worlds.

Allen Ginsberg

Allen was one of the greatest souls I've ever met in my life. An absolute, amazing human being -- a true human being -- a true mensch. A man who was extremely famous and very humble. Whoever was in front of him was it. He was completely there. We were coming out of a restaurant on the Lower East Side and Allen bumped into this drunk guy and knocked his change all over the place. Allen was on all fours picking it up and putting it back in his pockets. He taught me how to seize the moment -- first thought, best thought. If it feels good, don't mess with it.

Alan Watts

Amazing. I've never met anyone that could drink that much. Alan and I hung out a lot. He was always inebriated, constantly in a state of almost passing out and yet he was absolutely lucid. He had the most amazing mind. But he was a disembodied soul. Another super head-tripper that couldn't bring his idealism to his reality. He knew what it was, he knew it was non-dual wisdom, but he ended up lushed out, walking around in his Zen medieval robes with different girlfriends, putting on great shows, being a great spiritual entertainer.

Idealism killed him.

Ram Dass

Ram Dass. Um...he...uh...Ram Dass is a mystery to me. We had a very close relationship in India and when I got back to America we had nothing. He basically just left me -- high and dry. I thought he was going to take care of me, because I took care of him in India. And when I got back here it was like you're on your own buddy. I think he was very paranoid being with Tim (Leary) because here I was, another charming Irishman, and the Jewish mother in him didn't want to clean up the mess. I was out of control and wild. Ram Dass is a mystery. I think it's been hard for him to bring his idealism into reality. He's a very loving soul. But this do-goodism and karma yoga trip is for the birds.

Chogyam Trungpa

The first real spiritual teacher to come to the West to do something different. He came out of a deep medieval background. He sat on the couch for six months watching TV in New Mexico. I would hang out with him every day. So he was checking us out. He was trying to ascertain what was going on here. He was the first person from Eastern spirituality that came at us from a deep psychological perspective. He was very powerful in the beginning. But he drank himself to death like Alan Watts. He went deep into the dungeon, like a dragon. He became an old dragon. He didn't deal with his psychological problems of being fucked in the monastery, seeing his mother raped in the monastery, being locked in there at the age of seven by these old men. He just wanted to be a kid. He was really mad about it. He never got to be human. It was a crazy scene, but he got me to join the world. He got me to cut my hair and get a suit. Trungpa gave me a lot. We did a lot of acid together. I got to fuck all his girlfriends -- be his pimp -- bring him the girls. But then he could never really do it because he was so drunk -- he always had limp dick. I would meet him around two in the morning just outside his door and finish the job. I had been celibate in India for a number of years so I was like a kid in a candy shop.

Robert Phoenix also writes for MONDO 2000 when he's not busy working towards gum control.