Ram Dass
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi & Ram Dass
Ram Dass in February 2008
Born
Richard Alpert

(1931-04-06)April 6, 1931
DiedDecember 22, 2019(2019-12-22) (aged 88)
Maui, Hawaii, U.S.
Alma mater
Occupation(s)Spiritual teacher in the lineage of Neem Karoli Baba, writer
Children1
Academic background
ThesisAnxiety in Academic Achievement Situations: Its Measurement and Relation to Aptitude (1957)

Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert; April 6, 1931 – December 22, 2019),[1] also known as Baba Ram Dass, was an American spiritual teacher, guru of modern yoga,[2] psychologist, and writer. His best-selling[3] 1971 book Be Here Now, which has been described by multiple reviewers as "seminal",[4][5][6] helped popularize Eastern spirituality and yoga in the West.[7] 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).

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.[8][9] 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

Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert in 1931. His parents were Gertrude (Levin) and George Alpert, a lawyer in Boston.[10] He considered himself an atheist[11] 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."[12] 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."[8] 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."[13]

Education

Alpert attended the Williston Northampton School, graduating cum laude in 1948.[14] He earned 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.[8] After earning a master's degree in psychology from Wesleyan University in 1954, he was recommended to Stanford University by his mentor at Wesleyan, David McClelland.[8] Alpert wrote his doctoral thesis on "achievement anxiety", receiving his Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford in 1957. Alpert then taught at Stanford for one year, and began psychoanalysis.[8][15]

Harvard professorship

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.[8][16][17] 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.[17]

McClelland did work with his close friend and associate Timothy Leary, a lecturer in clinical psychology at the university.[8] Alpert and Leary had met through McClelland, who headed the Center for Research in Personality where Alpert and Leary both did research.[16] Alpert was McClelland's deputy in the lab.[8]

Harvard projects

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.[8][17][9] 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.[18][19]

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.[8][9]

Dismissal from Harvard

Leary and Alpert were formally dismissed from Harvard in 1963.[9] 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.[9][20]

Millbrook and psychedelic counterculture (1963–1967)

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.[8][21] 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).[22][23][24]

The core group at Millbrook, whose journal was the Psychedelic Review, sought to cultivate the divinity within each person.[23] At Millbrook, they experimented with psychedelics and often participated in group LSD sessions, looking for a permanent route to higher consciousness.[8][23] 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.[24]

Alpert and Leary co-authored The Psychedelic Experience with Ralph Metzner, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, published in 1964.[25] Alpert co-authored LSD with Sidney Cohen and Lawrence Schiller in 1966.[17][26]

In 1967 Alpert gave talks at the League for Spiritual Discovery's center in Greenwich Village.[27]

Spiritual search and name change

In 1967, Alpert traveled to India where he met American spiritual seeker Bhagavan Das, and later met Neem Karoli Baba.

Neem Karoli Baba

Main article: Neem Karoli Baba

In 1967, Bhagavan Das guided Alpert throughout India, eventually introducing him to Neem Karoli Baba, whom Alpert called "Maharaj-ji",[8][17][28] who became his guru at Kainchi ashram. Neem Karoli Baba gave Alpert the name "Ram Dass", which means "servant of God",[29][3] referring to the incarnation of God as Ram or Lord Rama. Alpert also corresponded with Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba and mentioned Baba in several of his books.[30]

The day after their first meeting, Neem Karoli Baba asked Alpert to give him the "medicine". Alpert 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 have no psychotropic 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 Richard Alpert's guru, and gave him the name "Ram Dass", which means "servant of God",[31][3] referring to the incarnation of God as Ram or Lord Rama. Ram Dass called his new guru "Maharaj-ji", and studied with him the following four years.[8][17][28]

Be Here Now

Main article: Be Here Now (book)

After Alpert returned to America as Ram Dass, he stayed as a guest at the Lama Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. 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. During Ram Dass's visit, he presented a manuscript he had written, entitled From Bindu to Ojas. The community's 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.[4][3][32][33][34][35] The 416-page manual for conscious being was published by the Lama Foundation, as Ram Dass's benefit for the community.[4] Be Here Now contained Ram Dass's account of his spiritual journey, as well as recommended spiritual techniques and quotes.[17] It became a popular guide to New Age spirituality,[36] selling two million copies.[37] 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.[4]

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,[38] it has been described as a "countercultural bible" and "seminal" to the era.[4][39][7] In addition to introducing its title phrase into common use, Be Here Now has influenced numerous other writers and yoga practitioners, including the Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs,[40] the self-help writer Wayne Dyer,[41] and the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.[42]

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.[43]

Foundations and Living/Dying Project

During the 1970s, Ram Dass taught, wrote, and worked with foundations.[8] 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.[17][35] The Hanuman Foundation strives to improve the spiritual well-being of society through education, media and community service programs.

In 1978, Ram Dass co-founded the Seva Foundation with public health leader Larry Brilliant and humanitarian activist Wavy Gravy. The foundation joined with health-care workers to treat the blind in India, Nepal, and developing countries.[8][17][35] It has become an international health organization.

In the early 1970s, Ram Dass taught workshops on conscious aging and dying around the United States.[35] Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was one of his students.[44] Ram Dass helped create the Dying Project with its Executive Director Dale Borglum, whom he had met in India.[44] At the time, Borglum was also executive director of the Hanuman Foundation.[44] The Living/Dying Project, based in Marin, California, starting in 1986, was initially named the Dying Center and located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.[17][44] The Dying Center was the first residential facility in the U.S. where people came to die "consciously".[44]

Ram Dass also served on the faculty of the Metta Institute where he provided training on mindful and compassionate care of the dying.

The Love Serve Remember Foundation was organized to preserve and continue the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba and Ram Dass.

Over the course of his life, since the inception of the Hanuman Foundation, Ram Dass donated his book royalties and profits from teaching to his foundation and other charitable causes. The annual estimate of the earnings he donated ranges from $100,000 to $800,000.[45]

Later life

His guru, Neem Karoli Baba, died on 11 September 1973.

Timothy 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.[46][47][48]

Ram Dass explored Judaism seriously for the first time when he was 60 years old. He wrote, "My belief is that I wasn't born into Judaism by accident, and so I needed to find ways to honor that", and "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."[49]

In February 1997, Ram Dass had a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia, which he interpreted as an act of grace.[44] 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."[8]

After he almost died from a second stroke during a trip to India in 2004, Ram Dass 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."[50]

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,[51] 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.[44][52][53]

Ram Dass died in Maui, on December 22, 2019, at the age of 88.[8][35][44][54]

Personal life

In the 1990s, Ram Dass discussed his bisexuality.[55][56][57] 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."[57]

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.[58][59]

Works

Books

Recordings

Films

See also

References

  1. ^ Oliver, Joan Duncan (December 23, 2019). "Ram Dass, Beloved Spiritual Teacher, Has Died". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.
  2. ^ Charet, F. X. (2013). "Ram Dass: The Vicissitudes of Devotion and Ferocity of Grace". In Gleig, Ann; Williamson, Lola (eds.). Homegrown Gurus: from Hinduism in America to American Hinduism. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. pp. 15–40. ISBN 978-1-4384-4792-6. OCLC 862746284.
  3. ^ a b c d Almereyda, Michael (February 24, 2002). "Film; A Sober Documentary About an Intoxicating Life". The New York Times. Retrieved September 24, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Romancito, Rick (July 19, 2010). "'Be Here Now' turns 40". Taos News. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  5. ^ Wallace, Amy (December 20, 2012). ""I Have a Great Idea, Maybe Like the Best Idea I've Ever Had"". GQ. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  6. ^ Pickering, Lucy (Winter 2018). "Time-rich: 1960s counterculture and time as affluence in a dropout community in Hawai'i". Journal of Ethnographic Theory. University of Chicago. 8 (3): 625–639. doi:10.1086/701025. S2CID 149534872. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  7. ^ a b Harvey, Andrew; Erickson, Karuna (2010). Heart Yoga: The Sacred Marriage of Yoga and Mysticism. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-58394-291-8.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Davidson, Sara (Fall 2006). "The Ultimate Trip". Tufts Magazine. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d e Hiatt, Nathaniel J. (May 23, 2016). "A Trip Down Memory Lane: LSD at Harvard". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved September 24, 2017.
  10. ^ Martin, Douglas (December 23, 2019). "Baba Ram Dass, Proponent of LSD Turned New Age Guru, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  11. ^ "Baba Ram Dass". Ramparts. 11: 38. He was, at this time, an atheist, and had difficulty even pronouncing 'spiritual'.
  12. ^ Ram Dass (March 7, 1973). "Ram Dass on Judaism". Berkeley Comm. Theater – via RamDass.org.
  13. ^ Magida, Arthur J. (2008). Opening the Doors of Wonder: Reflections on Religious Rites of Passage. University of California Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0520256255.
  14. ^ Adolph, Jonathan (July 2, 2020). "Be Here Then". Williston Northampton School. Retrieved December 5, 2021.
  15. ^ Barnes, Bart (December 23, 2019). "Ram Dass, Spiritual Seeker who Brought Eastern Mysticism to the Masses, dies at 88". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Leary Lectures at Harvard for First Time in 20 Years". The New York Times. April 25, 1983. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mattei, Matt (October 2014). "Mindful Man of the Month: Ram Dass". Meet Mindful. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  18. ^ "International Federation For Internal Freedom – Statement of Purpose". timothylearyarchives.org. March 21, 2009. Archived from the original on August 23, 2017. Retrieved September 24, 2017.
  19. ^ Lee, Martin A.; Shlain, Bruce (1992). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD : The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. Grove Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0802130624.
  20. ^ Russin, Joseph M.; Weil, Andrew T. (May 28, 1963). "The Crimson takes Leary, Alpert to Task: 'Roles' & 'Games' In William James". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  21. ^ Lee, Martin A.; Shlain, Bruce (1992). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD : The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. Grove Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0802130624.
  22. ^ Chevallier, Jim (March 3, 2003). "Tim Leary and Ovum – A Visit to Castalia with Ovum". Chez Jim/Ovum.
  23. ^ a b c Lee, Martin A.; Shlain, Bruce (1992). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD : The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. Grove Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0802130624.
  24. ^ a b Lander, Devin (January 30, 2012). "League for Spiritual Discovery". World Religions and Spiritualities Project.
  25. ^ Leary, Timothy; Alpert, Richard; Metzner, Ralph (2008). The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0141189635.
  26. ^ Alpert, Richard; Cohen, Sidney (1966). LSD. New American Library. ISBN 0453001351.
  27. ^ Graboi, Nina (May 1991). One Foot in the Future: A Woman's Spiritual Journey. Aerial Press. pp. 222–224. ISBN 978-0942344103.
  28. ^ a b Graboi, Nina (May 1991). One Foot in the Future: A Woman's Spiritual Journey. Aerial Press. pp. 267–270. ISBN 978-0942344103.
  29. ^ "Biography: Richard Alpert/Ram Dass". Ramdass.org. Ram Dass / Love Remember Serve Foundation. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  30. ^ Kalchuri, Bhau (2005). Lord Meher. Vol. 8 (Second (India) ed.). Meher Mownavani Publications. p. 6412ff.
  31. ^ "Biography: Richard Alpert/Ram Dass". Ramdass.org. Ram Dass / Love Remember Serve Foundation. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  32. ^ "Lama Foundation Oral History Project". Social Networks and Archival Context Cooperative. Retrieved October 29, 2017.
  33. ^ Romancito, Rick (June 22, 2017). "Lama at 50". The Taos News.
  34. ^ Boyle, Molly (May 12, 2017). "A time to every purpose: Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest". Santa Fe New Mexican.
  35. ^ a b c d e Tomasko, Felicia M. (December 8, 2010). "Sitting Down With: Ram Dass". Layoga. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  36. ^ "US psychedelic pioneer and guru Ram Dass dies aged 88". BBC News. December 23, 2019. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  37. ^ "Ram Dass, spiritual seeker who brought Eastern mysticism to the masses, dies at 88". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  38. ^ Davidson, Sara (May 21, 2000). "The Dass Effect". The New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  39. ^ Garner, Dwight (January 8, 2010). "Tune In, Turn On, Turn Page". The New York Times.
  40. ^ Burke, Daniel (November 2, 2011). "Steve Jobs' private spirituality now an open book". USA Today News.
  41. ^ Dyer, Wayne. "BE HERE for him, NOW: Wayne Dyer talks about spiritual teacher and friend Ram Dass". DrWayneDyer.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  42. ^ Solomon, Deborah (November 6, 2005). "The Beat Goes On". The New York Times.
  43. ^ Harrison, George (2002). I Me Mine. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p. 252.
  44. ^ a b c d e f g h Matsushita, Liz (September 15, 2012). "What is Spiritual Healing? – An Interview with Dale Borglum". Seven Ponds. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  45. ^ Strategy, Platform. "Bold Giver Story: Ram Dass". Bolder Giving. Retrieved October 3, 2015.
  46. ^ Fosburgh, Lacey (September 10, 1974). "Leary Scored as 'Cop Informant' By His Son and 2 Close Friends". The New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  47. ^ Horowitz, Michael. "Psychedelia: Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) Harvard Reunion". Timothy Leary Archives. Retrieved February 17, 2018.
  48. ^ Turan, Kenneth (June 16, 2016). "'Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary' documents two men and their trip of a lifetime". Los Angeles Times.
  49. ^ Rifkin, Ira (March 27, 1992). "Ram Dass Exploring Judaism". SunSentinel.com. Archived from the original on July 19, 2013. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  50. ^ David Crumm (July 14, 2013). "Ram Dass Interview on 'Polishing the Mirror'". ReadTheSpirit.com. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  51. ^ "Sri Neem Karoli Baba Hanuman Mandir and Ashram". Retrieved November 11, 2022.
  52. ^ Ram Dass. "Ram Dass Love Serve Remember". RamDass.org. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  53. ^ "Retreats". RamDass.org. Archived from the original on August 16, 2011. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  54. ^ Scottie Andrew (December 22, 2019). "Baba Ram Dass, psychedelic pioneer and New Age guru, is dead at 88". CNN.com. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  55. ^ Davidson, Alan (April 2001). "Holy Man Sighted at Gay Porn House: Ram Dass talks about his life as the leading teacher of Eastern thought in America ... who nobody knew was gay". OutSmart.
  56. ^ Maines, Donalevan (April 1, 2010). "PastOut: 9 Years ago in 'OutSmart'". OutSmart. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  57. ^ a b Thompson, Mark (September 2, 1997). "Ram Dass: A Life Beyond Labels". Gay Today. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  58. ^ Sidon, Rob; Grossman, Carrie (November 2010). "Common Ground Interviews Ram Dass". Common Ground: 46–51. Archived from the original on June 18, 2011. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  59. ^ Davidson, Sara (November 3, 2010). "Ram Dass Has a Son! But Has This Revelation Changed His Conception of Love?". Huffington Post. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
  60. ^ "Waveform | Ram Dass & Kriece (Cosmix)". waveformrecords.com.
  61. ^ GREENBLATT, LILLY (January 20, 2020). "Ram Dass lives on in collaborative album with East Forest". Lion's Roar. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  62. ^ PBS
  63. ^ 2017 Woodstock Film Festival
  64. ^ Los Angeles Times review