Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert; April 6, 1931 – December 22, 2019), also known as Baba Ram Dass, was an American spiritual teacher, guru of modern yoga, psychologist, and writer. His best-selling 1971 book Be Here Now, which has been described by multiple reviewers as "seminal", helped popularize Eastern spirituality and yoga in the West. He authored or co-authored twelve more books on spirituality over the next four decades, including Grist for the Mill (1977), How Can I Help? (1985), and Polishing the Mirror (2013).
April 6, 1931
|Died||December 22, 2019 (aged 88)|
|Occupation(s)||Spiritual teacher in the lineage of Neem Karoli Baba, writer|
|Thesis||Anxiety in Academic Achievement Situations: Its Measurement and Relation to Aptitude (1957)|
Ram Dass was personally and professionally associated with Timothy Leary at Harvard University in the early 1960s. Then known as Richard Alpert, he conducted research with Leary on the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs. In addition, Alpert assisted Harvard Divinity School graduate student Walter Pahnke in his 1962 "Good Friday Experiment" with theology students, the first controlled, double-blind study of drugs and the mystical experience. While not illegal at the time, their research was controversial and led to Leary's and Alpert's dismissal from Harvard in 1963.
In 1967, Alpert traveled to India and became a disciple of Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him the name Ram Dass, meaning "Servant of Ram," but usually rendered simply as "Servant of God" for Western audiences. In the following years, he co-founded the charitable organizations Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation. From the 1970s to the 1990s, he traveled extensively, giving talks and retreats and holding fundraisers for charitable causes. In 1997, he had a stroke, which left him with paralysis and expressive aphasia. He eventually grew to interpret this event as an act of grace, learning to speak again and continuing to teach and write books. After becoming seriously ill during a trip to India in 2004, he gave up traveling and moved to Maui, Hawaii, where he hosted annual retreats with other spiritual teachers until his death in 2019.
Early life edit
Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert in 1931. His parents were Gertrude (Levin) and George Alpert, a lawyer in Boston. He considered himself an atheist during his early life. Speaking at Berkeley Community Theater in 1973 he said, "My Jewish trip was primarily political Judaism, I mean I was never Bar Mitzvahed, confirmed, and so on." In a 2006 article in Tufts Magazine he was quoted by Sara Davidson, describing himself as "inured to religion. I didn't have one whiff of God until I took psychedelics." He was also interviewed by Arthur J. Magida at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, who published the interview in 2008, quoting Ram Dass as saying "What I mostly remember about my bar mitzvah was that it was an empty ritual. It was flat. Absolutely flat. There was a disappointing hollowness to the moment. There was nothing, nothing, nothing in it for my heart."
Alpert attended the Williston Northampton School, graduating cum laude in 1948. He achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Tufts University in 1952. His father had wanted him to go to medical school, but while at Tufts he decided to study psychology instead. After earning his master's degree in Psychology from Wesleyan University in 1954, his mentor at Wesleyan, David McClelland, recommended Alpert to Stanford University. Alpert wrote his doctoral thesis on "achievement anxiety", receiving his PhD in Psychology from Stanford in 1957. Alpert then taught at Stanford for one year, and began psychoanalysis.
Harvard professorship edit
McClelland moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to teach at Harvard University, and helped Alpert accept a tenure-track position there in 1958 as an assistant clinical psychology professor. Alpert worked with the Social Relations Department, the Psychology Department, the Graduate School of Education, and the Health Service, where he was a therapist. He specialized in human motivation and personality development, and published his first book Identification and Child Rearing.
McClelland did work with his close friend and associate Timothy Leary, a lecturer in clinical psychology at the university. Alpert and Leary had met through McClelland, who headed the Center for Research in Personality where Alpert and Leary both did research. Alpert was McClelland's deputy in the lab.
Harvard projects edit
After returning from a visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1961, Alpert devoted himself to joining Leary in experimentation with and intensive research into the potentially therapeutic effects of hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin, LSD-25, and other psychedelic chemicals, through their Harvard Psilocybin Project. Alpert and Leary co-founded the non-profit International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) in 1962 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in order to carry out studies in the religious use of psychedelic drugs, and were both on the board of directors.
Alpert assisted Harvard Divinity School graduate student Walter Pahnke in his 1962 "Good Friday Experiment" with theology students, the first controlled, double-blind study of drugs and the mystical experience.
Dismissal from Harvard edit
Leary and Alpert were formally dismissed from Harvard in 1963. According to Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey, Leary was dismissed for leaving Cambridge and his classes without permission or notice, and Alpert for allegedly giving psilocybin to an undergraduate.
Millbrook and psychedelic counterculture (1963–1967) edit
In 1963 Alpert, Leary, and their followers moved to the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, New York, after IFIF's New York City branch director and Mellon fortune heiress Peggy Hitchcock arranged for her brother Billy to rent the estate to IFIF. Alpert and Leary immediately set up a communal group with former Harvard Psilocybin Project members at the estate (commonly known as "Millbrook"), and the IFIF was subsequently disbanded and renamed the Castalia Foundation (after the intellectual colony in Hermann Hesse's novel The Glass Bead Game).
The core group at Millbrook, whose journal was the Psychedelic Review, sought to cultivate the divinity within each person. At Millbrook, they experimented with psychedelics and often participated in group LSD sessions, looking for a permanent route to higher consciousness. The Castalia Foundation hosted weekend retreats on the estate where people paid to undergo the psychedelic experience without drugs, through meditation, yoga, and group therapy sessions.
Alpert and Leary co-authored The Psychedelic Experience with Ralph Metzner, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, published in 1964. Alpert co-authored LSD with Sidney Cohen and Lawrence Schiller in 1966.
Spiritual search and name change edit
Richard Alpert was guide of David Padwa's psychedelic sessions, he was a 35 year old millionaire retired businessman, whom after the selling of the company Basic Systems to Xerox in 1964 decided to become Buddhist. In 1967 David invited Richard to go to the east and look for holy men. Richard brought with him a bottle of LSD in a special version for traveling called "white lightning" which has 305ug (3 times higher than the average dose), his intention was to find a person that could tell him what it was or how to attain a "high" state without returning to his normal state. They traveled to Tehran, where David had his Land Rover imported, from there they traveled through Afghanistan where they consumed hashish.
Neem Karoli Baba edit
During the first months Richard Alpert and David visited the Dalai Lama, Benares and other holy places, in the third month of they had a one week seminar and in their of time they where consuming and sharing psychedelic substances, while they were in the restaurant Blue Tibetan, Richard Alpert was giving LSD to pundits and Buddhist Lamas but nobody gave them any clue of the answer he was looking for and he was getting depressed, they were ready to continue their trip to Japan.
Bhagavan Das heard about the Americans that were giving doses of LSD and he sat down beside Richard and got a dose, and he stayed with them for five days at the Sewati hotel. During this time Richard Alpert saw in his eyes that he has a knowledge that seemed to be what he was looking for, and since traveling to Japan was the first steps to go back to United States, he understood that he should follow Bhagavan Das instead of traveling to Japan with David Padwa.
Bhagavan Das guided Richard Alpert throughout India for three months in an ascetic life style, barefoot, sleeping in the outdoors in the floor and tables, his back, hips and shoes was hurting and he developed dysentery, Bhagavan Das recommend him to fast for a few days to get better. Bhagavan Das was getting tired of Richard Alpert attitude and decided that he should meet his guru Neem Karoli Baba, they went to meet him at a Kainchi ashram. they get the Land Rover borrowed for the trip and Richard Alpert meet Neem Karoli Baba.
The following day of their meeting, he asked about his question and asked him to give him the "medicine", Richard gave him one dose of "white lightning", but he asked for 2 more tabs (915 µg or 9 times the average dose), after trying them, the LSD seemed to not make any effect on Neem Karoli Baba, but instead told him that the same state could be achieved through meditation and that he could live in that state, after this Neem Karoli Baba became his guru, and gave him the name "Ram Dass", which means "servant of God", referring to the incarnation of God as Ram or Lord Rama. Richard Alpert called his new guru "Maharaj-ji", and learned with him the following four years
Return to America edit
In 1971 Richard Alpert traveled back to the United States to share his knowledge and left the LSD bottle to Bhagavan Das with 53 more pills, his psychedelic phase ended there and his spiritual phase was initiated. Ram Dass also corresponded with Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba and mentioned Baba in several of his books.
After Alpert returned to America as Ram Dass, he stayed at the Lama Foundation in Taos, New Mexico, as a guest. Ram Dass had helped Steve Durkee (Nooruddeen Durkee) and Barbara Durkee (Asha Greer or Asha von Briesen) co-found the countercultural, spiritual community in 1967, and it had an ashram dedicated to Ram Dass's guru.
Be Here Now edit
Ram Dass presented a manuscript he had written, entitled From Bindu to Ojas during the visit to his ashram. The title makes reference to the word Bindu, which in Sanskrit means "point", "drop" or "dot", and it is considered the point at which creation begins and may become unity, or "the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its unmanifested state". Bindu is often merged with [seed] (or sperm) and ova. In Ayurveda the term Ojas refers to the ultimate energy reserve of the body, and are derivated from Kapha (water), where Kapha is one of the three types of dosha (substances "that which can cause problems") that are believed to be present in a person's body and mind.
While he visited the ashram community, the residents edited, illustrated, and laid out the text, which ultimately became a best-selling book when published under the name Be Here Now in 1971.
It was completed and published in 1971 with the name Be Here Now. The 416-page manual for conscious being was published by the Lama Foundation, as Ram Dass's benefit for the community. Be Here Now . It consist in four sections:
Section 1: Ram Dass's account of his spiritual journey, as well as recommended spiritual techniques and quotes, Neem Karoli Baba pictures. It also described Bhagavan Das role in Ram Dass' spiritual journeys in India.
Section 2: From Bindu to Ojas, it was the initial core of the book, this version is illustrated by the ashram residents.
Section 3: Cookbook for a Sacred Life: A Manual for Conscious Being.
Section 4: Painted Cakes (Do Not Satisfy Hunger): Books.
The book became a popular guide to New Age spirituality, selling two million copies. The proceeds helped sustain the Lama Foundation for several years, after which they donated the book's copyright and half its proceeds to the Hanuman Foundation in Taos. Be Here Now is one of the first guides for those not born Hindu to becoming a yogi. For its influence on the hippie movement and subsequent spiritual movements it has been described as a "countercultural bible" and "seminal" to the era.
In addition to introducing its title phrase into common use, Be Here Now has influenced numerous other writers and yoga practitioners, including the industrialist Steve Jobs, the self-help writer Wayne Dyer, and the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The first section of the book inspired the lyrics to George Harrison's song "Be Here Now", written in 1971 and released on his 1973 album Living in the Material World.
Foundations and Living/Dying Project edit
During the 1970s, Ram Dass taught, wrote, and worked with foundations. He founded the Hanuman Foundation, a nonprofit educational and service organization that initiated the Prison-Ashram Project (now known as the Human Kindness Foundation), in 1974. The Hanuman Foundation strives to improve the spiritual well-being of society through education, media and community service programs. He co-founded the Seva Foundation by joining with health-care workers to treat the blind in India, Nepal, and developing countries. Co-founded in 1978 with public health leader Larry Brilliant and humanitarian activist Wavy Gravy, it has become an international health organization.
In the early 1970s, Ram Dass taught workshops on conscious aging and dying around the United States. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was one of his students. Ram Dass helped create the Dying Project with its Executive Director Dale Borglum, whom he had met in India. At the time, Borglum was also executive director of the Hanuman Foundation. The Living/Dying Project, based in Marin, California, starting in 1986, was initially named the Dying Center and located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Dying Center was the first residential facility in the U.S. where people came to die "consciously".
The Love Serve Remember Foundation was organized to preserve and continue the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba and Ram Dass. Ram Dass also served on the faculty of the Metta Institute where he provided training on mindful and compassionate care of the dying.
Over the course of his life since the inception of his Hanuman Foundation, Ram Dass gave all of his book royalties and profits from teaching to his foundation and other charitable causes. The estimated amount of earnings he gave away annually ranges from $100,000 to $800,000.
Later life edit
His guru Neem Karoli Baba died on 11 September 1973. Leary and Ram Dass, who had grown apart after Ram Dass denounced Leary in a 1974 news conference, reconciled in 1983 at Harvard (at a reunion for the 20th anniversary of their controversial firing from the Harvard faculty), and reunited before Leary's death in May 1996.
Ram Dass explored Judaism seriously for the first time when he was 60 years old, he stated: "My belief is that I wasn't born into Judaism by accident, and so I needed to find ways to honor that", he says. "From a Hindu perspective, you are born as what you need to deal with, and if you just try and push it away, whatever it is, it's got you."
In February 1997, Ram Dass had a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia, which he interpreted as an act of grace. He stated, "The stroke was giving me lessons, and I realized that was grace—fierce grace ... Death is the biggest change we'll face, so we need to practice change."
In 2003, Wayne Dyer published a plea for donations for Ram Dass's support due to his declining health following the stroke,
Now it is our turn ... Ram Dass's body can no longer endure the rigors of travel. He has come to Maui, where I live and write. I speak with him frequently and I am often humbled by the tears in his beautiful 73-year-old eyes as he apologizes for not having prepared for his own elderly health care—for what he now perceives as burdensome to others. He still intends to write and teach; however without the travel—we can now come to him. Maui is healing—Maui is where Ram Dass wishes to stay for now! He is currently living in a home on Maui, which he doesn't own and is currently in jeopardy of losing. I am asking all of you to help purchase this home and to set up a financial foundation to take care of this man who has raised so much money to ensure the futures of so many others. To live out what Ram Dass has practiced with his actions. Please be generous and prompt—no one is more deserving of our love and financial support.
After he almost died from a second stroke during a trip to India in 2004, Ram Das moved to Maui. In 2013, Ram Dass released a memoir and summary of his teaching, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart. In an interview about the book, at age 82, he said that his earlier reflections about facing old age and death now seem naive to him. He said, in part: "Now, I'm in my 80s ... Now, I am aging. I am approaching death. I'm getting closer to the end. ... Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me."
Ram Dass did not leave the Hawaiian Islands until July 2019, when he attended the consecration of a new Hanuman Mandir in Taos, New Mexico, on July 13, 2019, after which he returned to Hawaii and continued to make public appearances and to give talks at small venues; held retreats in Maui; and continued to teach through live webcasts. When asked if he could sum up his life's message, he replied, "I help people as a way to work on myself, and I work on myself to help people ... to me, that's what the emerging game is all about." Ram Dass was awarded the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award in August 1991.
Personal life edit
In the 1990s, Ram Dass discussed his bisexuality. He stated, "I've started to talk more about being bisexual, being involved with men as well as women," and added his opinion that for him, his sexuality "isn't gay, and it's not not-gay, and it's not anything—it's just awareness."
At 78, Ram Dass learned that he had fathered a son as a 24-year-old at Stanford, during a brief relationship with history major Karen Saum, and that he was now a grandfather. The fact came to light when his son, Peter Reichard, a 53-year-old banker in North Carolina, took a DNA test after learning about his mother's doubt concerning his parentage.
- Identification and Child Rearing (with R. Sears and L. Rau) (1962) Stanford University Press
- The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner) (1964) ISBN 0-8065-1652-6
- LSD (with Sidney Cohen) (1966) ISBN 0-453-00120-3
- Be Here Now or Remember, Be Here Now (1971) ISBN 0-517-54305-2
- Doing Your Own Being (1973)
- The Only Dance There Is (1974) ISBN 0-385-08413-7
- Grist for the Mill (with Stephen Levine) (1977) ISBN 0-89087-499-9
- Journey of Awakening: A Meditator's Guidebook (1978) ISBN 0-553-28572-6
- Miracle of Love: Stories about Neem Karoli Baba (1978) ISBN 0-525-47611-3
- How Can I Help? Stories and Reflections on Service (with Paul Gorman) (1985) ISBN 0-394-72947-1
- Emmanuel's Book: A Manual for Living Comfortably in the Cosmos (Book introduction) (1985) ISBN 0-553-34387-4
- Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service (with Mirabai Bush) (1991) ISBN 0-517-57635-X
- Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying (2000) ISBN 1-57322-871-0
- Paths to God: Living The Bhagavad Gita (2004) ISBN 1-4000-5403-6
- Be Love Now (with Rameshwar Das) (2010) ISBN 1-84604-291-7
- Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart (with Rameshwar Das) (2013) ISBN 1-60407-967-3
- Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying (with Mirabai Bush) (2018) ISBN 1-68364-200-7
- Being Ram Dass (with Rameshwar Das) (2021) ISBN 9781683646280
- The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (with Timothy Leary & Ralph Metzner) (1966) (reissued on CD in 2003 by Folkways)
- Here We All Are, a 3-LP set recorded live in Vancouver, BC in the summer of 1969.
- Love Serve Remember (1973), a six-album set of teachings, data, and spiritual songs (ZBS Foundation) (released in MP3 format, 2008)
- The Evolution of Consciousness (1973), a 3-LP set recorded live in NYC, March 1969 (Noumedia Co - Harbinger Records Ltd.)
- Cosmix (2008), a video enhanced CD of Ram Dass messages mixed with work by Australian DJ and performer Kriece, released on Waveform Records.
- RAM DASS (2019) collaborative album with musician East Forest featuring the final recorded teachings of Ram Dass.
- A Change of Heart, a 1994 one-hour documentary directed by Eric Taylor and hosted by Ram Dass and shown on many PBS stations. It examined taking social action as a meditative act.
- Ecstatic States, a 1996 interview on VHS, by Wiseone Edutainment Pty.
- Ram Dass, Fierce Grace, a 2001 biographical documentary directed by Micky Lemle.
- Ram Dass – Love Serve Remember, a 2010 short film directed by V. Owen Bush, included in the Be Here Now Enhanced Edition eBook.
- Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary, a 2014 documentary dual portrait.
- Ram Dass, Going Home, a 2017 documentary portrait of Ram Dass in his later years, directed by Derek Peck.
- Ram Dass, Becoming Nobody, a 2019 documentary portrait of Richard Alpert becoming Ram Dass and Ram Dass becoming nobody. The slogan of the film is: You have to be somebody to become nobody. Directed by Jamie Catto.
See also edit
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- Be here now, Chapter 1, Environmental Changes
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- "Waveform | Ram Dass & Kriece (Cosmix)". waveformrecords.com.
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- 2017 Woodstock Film Festival
- Los Angeles Times review