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Ram Dass (aka Richard Alpert) is a (former) Harvard professor, spiritual teacher and author who initially became known for his role in shaping the counter-culture movement of the 1960's - first as Professor Alpert, who helped stage both the Harvard Psilocybin Project and Good Friday Experiment (and got fired from Harvard for his troubles) and later as Ram Dass (re-named by Hindu guru Maharaj-ji), who went on to create numerous foundations and projects devoted to serving the spiritual growth of others. His 1971 book Be Here Now is still considered by many a 'must read' for the spiritual explorer and the 1964 book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (with co-authors Tim Leary and Ralph Metzner) is still an important reference manual for psychedelic psychonauts. Today, 87 years old and still dealing with challenges related to an earlier stroke, Ram Dass continues to teach from his home in Maui, often sharing his thoughts and preparations for dying and death; his new book with co-author Mirabai Bush, Walking Each Other Home, explores this topic with conversations and meditation.
“You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success – none of that matters. No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here.” --Ram DassWhat's been helpful: I heard a lot about Ram Dass before I heard anything directly from the man himself; case in point my post on The Harvard Psychedelic Club (which I'd highly recommend), a book devoted to discussing the cultural importance of four men during the 1950's and 60's - Ram Dass, Tim Leary, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil. Come to think of it, I'd be hard pressed to think of a teacher who hasn't referred to Ram Dass at some point - either his teachings or this counter-culture role. Of course all these references got me curious, which is why I recently took time to watch the 2013 documentary, Fierce Grace, and learned a bit more about why Ram has been such an influence on so many who are in turn influencing me. Ram Dass' devotion to and interest in the lives of others shines through in this film; there are several glimpses of how powerfully his presence has affected and helped others, along stories of how perfectly placed he was to be center stage during the heyday of the psychedelic 60's. But more interesting to me personally were the moments throughout the film where Ram shares the details - both hard and humorous - about living with the physical and mental challenges resulting from a massive stroke in 1997. Ram Dass has long taught on the subjects of aging and dying and this interest has been brought into sharp focus by the recent years of his life. I look forward to reading and listening to his open-hearted and experienced teachings on this topic as I prepare for my own (physical) death in the coming years.
... "We're all just walking each other home." ...