Ram Dass

(1933– )
   American psychologist and teacher of Hinduism
   Ram Dass was an important figure in the Ameri-can counterculture of the 1970s. He drew wide public attention to yoga and Hindu spirituality and has continued his teachings since.
   Richard Alpert was born in Boston, Massachu-setts, on April 6, 1933, the son of a prominent corporate attorney who also served as president of the New York–New Haven Railroad and was a K 356 Ram Das
   founder of Brandeis University. Richard grew up on the New Hampshire estate of his father.
   A student of psychology, Alpert received a B.A. degree in 1952 from Tufts University, an M.A. from Wesleyan University in 1954, and a Ph.D. in 1957 from Stanford University. From 1958 to 1963, Alpert taught and conducted research at the Department of Social Relations and the Graduate School of Education at Har-vard University. In 1961, he first took psilocy-bin with his Harvard colleague Timothy Leary (1920–96) and became an integral part in the Harvard Psilocybin Project. With Leary and Ralph Metzner, he wrote The Psychedelic Experi-ence, a recapitulation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead intended to be a manual for establishing an appropriate setting for experiencing psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, mescaline, and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). While at Harvard, Alpert began research into human consciousness and, with Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg, and others, conducted research into LSD and other psyche-delics. Because of the controversial nature of this research, Alpert and Leary were dismissed from their teaching positions at Harvard in 1963.
   Alpert continued his collaboration with Leary on psychedelics. He became involved with attempts to realize a utopia as presented in Island by Aldous Huxley, and the Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. He participated in utopian orga-nizations, including the Zihuatanejo Project and the International Foundation for Internal Free-dom. During the mid-1960s he lived for a while at the Millbrook estate in New York, a center for psychedelic religion, together with Leary and Swami Abhayananda (Bill Haines).
   In 1967, he traveled to India, where he met Baba HARI DASS (b. 1923) and NEEM KAROLI BABA (d. 1973), both noted gurus who provided dis-ciplined study on a spiritual path. They became role models for him and he replaced his attraction for drugs with a higher spiritual calling induced through MEDITATION and yoga. Neem Karoli Baba, also called Maharaji, gave Alpert his spiritual name Ram Dass (servant of God) and taught him raja yoga, a form of yoga that utilizes meditation as the primary means of moving from mundane reality to the invisible supersensible world of higher consciousness (SAMADHI). Ram Dass says that Neem Karoli allowed him for the first time to see his life in spiritual terms. Overall, he spent nearly two years with Neem Karoli before Neem Karoli’s death in 1973. His Miracle of Love is a collection of stories about Neem Karoli, from the homely to the miraculous. Not a devotee of any one particular philosophy or method, Neem Baba Ram Dass (b. 1933), popular American guru and founder of Hanuman Foundation Karoli tried to inculcate in others the path of love and service.
   Upon returning to the United States, Ram Dass wrote his most famous book, Be Here Now (1971), which suggested that one can live only in the present moment. The past has vanished into his-tory and the future is not yet here. In order to be fully present in one’s life, Ram Dass advocated the simple proposition of residing in and being aware of the present moment and position in the world. Ram Dass believes that all people are on a spiritual path to enlightenment. Each has individual needs, including GURUS (teachers) of different kinds; some gurus may not be in the physical body, but meditation allows one access to the invisible world and communication with those gurus who no longer have a physical body. His book offered an alternative to psychedelics in his emphasis on gurus and spiritual pathways to guide one out of immersion in the drug culture. Be Here Now pro-pelled Ram Dass into a role as a major teacher of the New Age counterculture and remains in print to the present time.
   In the 1970s, Ram Dass took on a vigorous schedule of speaking, teaching, and traveling from his base in New Hampshire. Various orga-nizations emerged around his many interests. For example, he and Bo Lozoff developed the Prison Ashram Library, which distributed literature to prison populations. It particularly taught lessons in meditation for inmates who wanted to live a life of service while incarcerated. This service has grown to include halfway houses and mental health programs.
   In the mid-1970s, Ram Dass had become involved with several female gurus—Hilda Charl-ton (d. 1988) and Joya Santana (now known as Ma JAYA SAT I BHAGAVATI of the Kashi Ashram). His interaction with them led to a spiritual crisis that he discussed in a famous Yoga Journal article, “Egg on My Beard.” He assumed a low profile for a brief period but soon reemerged as a major writer and speaker. Before the decade was out, he had produced three important books: The Only Dance There Is (1976), Grist for the Mill (1977), and Jour-ney of Awakening (1978).
   Ram Dass instituted the Hanuman Temple in Taos, New Mexico, to implement worship of HANUMAN, the god of service, and to honor his guru, Neem Karoli Baba.
   In pursuit of the goals of KARMA YOGA, Ram Dass initiated several organizations devoted to service and community development. In 1974, he organized the HANUMAN FOUNDATION inspired by the devoted servant of the Hindu god RAM in the RAMAYANA, which is the organizing vehicle for Ram Dass’s lectures and workshops and admin-isters many social projects, including the Prison Ashram Project, designed to help inmates grow spiritually during incarceration, and the Liv-ing Dying Project, designed to foster conscious dying.
   He is cofounder, with Larry Brilliant (b. 1946), and board member of the Seva Foundation, an international organization dedicated to relieving suffering in the world (seva means “service” in SANSKRIT). Seva sponsors diverse activities, includ-ing programs in India and Nepal to erase curable blindness, Guatemalan programs to restore the agricultural life of impoverished villagers, and programs in the United States to call attention to the issues of homelessness and environmental degradation.
   On February 19, 1997, Ram Dass suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhagic stroke in his left brain. The stroke left him with extensive right side paralysis, expressive aphasia, and a number of recurring and threatening health problems. Since this event he has returned to a limited schedule of appearances and talks. He lives in San Anselmo, California, and Hawaii.
   Mickey Lemle’s documentary Ram Dass: Fierce Grace documents the biography of Ram Dass through friends’ and family members’ reminis-cences and archival footage of his days of commu-nal living. It shows the physical and psychological effects of the stroke and the spiritual lessons he has learned from his disability.
   Further reading: Richard Alpert, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzner, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based upon the Tibetan Book of the Dead (New York: University Books, 1964); Ram Dass, Be Here Now (Albu-querque, N. Mex.: Lama Foundation, 1971); ———, Miracle of Love: Stories about Neem Karoli Baba (New York: Dutton, 1979); ———, The Only Dance There Is (New York: J. Aronson, 1976); ———, Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying (New York: Riv-erhead, 2000); Ram Dass with Mirabai Bush, Compas-sion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service (New York: Bell Tower, 1992); Ram Dass with Paul Gorman, How Can I Help: Stories and Reflections on Service (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985); Ram Dass with Steven Levine, Grist for the Mill (London: Wildwood House, 1977).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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