Richard Alpert/Ram Dass
Ram Dass first went to India in 1967. He was still Dr. Richard Alpert, an already eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr.Timothy Leary. He had continued his psychedelic research until that fateful Eastern trip in 1967, when he traveled to India. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji, who gave Ram Dass his name, which means “servant of God.” Everything changed then – his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since. Ram Dass’s spirit has been a guiding light for three generations, carrying along millions on the journey, helping free them from their bonds as he has worked his way through his own.
Since 1968, Ram Dass has pursued a panoramic array of spiritual methods and practices from potent ancient wisdom traditions, including bhakti or devotional yoga focused on the Hindu deity Hanuman; Buddhist meditation in the Theravadin, Mahayana Tibetan and Zen Buddhist schools, and Sufi and Jewish mystical studies. Perhaps most significantly, his practice of karma yoga or spiritual service has opened up millions of other souls to their deep, yet individuated spiritual practice and path. Ram Dass continues to uphold the boddhisatva ideal for others through his compassionate sharing of true knowledge and vision. His unique skill in getting people to cut through and feel divine love without dogma is still a positive influence on many, many people from all over the planet.
In 1961, while at Harvard, explorations of human consciousness led him, in collaboration with Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg, to pursue intensive research with psilocybin, LSD-25, and other psychedelic chemicals. Out of this research came two books: The Psychedelic Experience (co-authored with Leary and Metzner, and based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, published by University Books); and LSD (with Sidney Cohen and Lawrence Schiller, published by New American Library).
Because of the highly controversial nature of their research, Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary became personae non grata and were dismissed from Harvard in 1963. Tim Leary and Alpert then went to Mexico, ate mushrooms, and went from being academics to counter culture icons, legends in their own time, and young at that.
For Ram Dass psychedelic work turned out to be a prelude to the mystical country of the spirit and the source of consciousness itself. Mind expansion via chemical substances became a catalyst for the spiritual seeking. This naturally led him eastward to the traditional headwater of mystical rivers, India. Once there, a series of seeming coincidences led him to Neem Karoli Baba and the transformation from Richard Alpert to Ram Dass.
In 1974, Ram Dass created the Hanuman Foundation, a non-profit meant to embody what he had absorbed from his Guru. Hanuman Foundation developed the Prison Ashram Project, designed to help prison inmates grow spiritually during their incarceration, and the Dying Project helped many cope and transcend, taking the unnecessary sting out of the tail of life and giving people a way to deal with suffering and death.
The prison Ashram project continues under Bo and Sita Lozoff in North Carolina and the Living/Dying Project, conceived with Stephen Levine and now a separate non-profit headed by Dale Borglum in the Bay Area, provides evolved support for conscious dying.
Be Here Now, Ram Dass’s monumentally influential and seminal work, still stands as the highly readable centerpiece of Western articulation of Eastern philosophy, and how to live joyously a hundred per cent of the time in the present, luminous or mundane. Be Here Now continues to be the instruction manual of choice for generations of spiritual seekers. Forty years later, it’s still part of the timeless present. Being here now is still being here now.
Other books include The Only Dance There Is (Anchor/ Doubleday); Grist For The Mill (with Stephen Levine, Celestial Arts); Miracle of Love: Stories of Neem Karoli Baba (Hanuman Foundation); How Can I Help? (with Paul Gorman, Knopf); Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service (with Mirabai Bush, Bell Tower Press), Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying (Riverhead Books); One-Liners: A Mini-Manual for a Spiritual Life (Bell Tower Press); Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita (Harmony Books).
Ram Dass is a co-founder and advisory board member of the Seva Foundation (“seva” means “spiritual service” in Sanskrit), an international service organization. Seva supports programs designed to help wipe out curable blindness in India and Nepal, restore the agricultural life of impoverished villagers in Guatemala, assist in primary health care for American Indians, and to bring attention to the issues of homelessness and environmental degradation in the United States, along with other nations.
In 1996, Ram Dass began a talk radio program called “Here and Now with Ram Dass.” Seven pilot programs were aired in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, and Ram Dass planned to launch the show on a nationwide basis the following year, but it was not to be.
On February 19th 1997, Ram Dass suffered a near-fatal stroke, which left him paralyzed on the right side of his body and expressive aphasia limiting his ability to speak, along with other challenging ailments.
The after effects of the stroke have once again changed his life and vastly altered his day, but he has been able to resume teaching and continues to share and teach. In 2004, following a life threatening infection, Ram Dass was forced to curtail travel and focus on recovering his health.
Ram Dass now resides on Maui, where he shares satsang, kirtan, and where he can amplify the healing process in the air and waters of Hawaii. His work continues to be a path of teaching and inspiration to so many. The Internet is a new vehicle for Ram Dass to share his being.