Ram Dass

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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 Dass
What'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." ...

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The Harvard Psychedelic Club

The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America (2010)
Don Lattin

Being relatively new to the psychedelic scene, the swirl of new names was initially a bit confusing. Speakers would refer to 'Leary' or 'McKenna' as if we all knew - of course! - who is being talked about. Meanwhile, I'm googling to see which version of 'McKenna' gets the most hits so I can figure out the guy's first name and why people are talking about him. After a few years of this (and just when I think I've got a handle on this who's who), another few names pop up on the radar - Houston Smith and Andrew Weil.
“They came together at a time of upheaval and experimentation, and they set the stage for the social, spiritual, sexual, and psychological revolution of the 1960s. Smith would be The Teacher, educating three generations to adopt a more tolerant, inclusive attitude toward other people's religions. Alpert would be The Seeker, inspiring a restless army of spiritual pilgrims. Weil would be The Healer, devoting his life to the holistic reformation of the American health-care system. And Leary would play The Trickster, advising a generation to "turn on, tune in, and drop out." --from the introduction to 'The Harvard Psychedelic Club'
Actually, I did recognize Weil's face from his work with integrative healthcare models but was unaware of his role in the psychedelic sixties. But thanks to Lattin's book, the way in which all four men - Weil, Dass, Leary and Huston - deeply influenced the cultural revolution of the 1960s has been more fully revealed. To be clear, these aren't the usual stories of acid trip bus rides or commune living adventures but tales of academic in-fighting, political upheaval and personal relationships amid genius-level intelligence. Lattin's writing style is quick and dispassionate, letting the color of the events and characters shine through. And in a nice surprise, Lattin devotes the eighth chapter to (brief) revisits with each man, giving the reader some sense of how these experiences continued to unfold in their lives. The final chapter, 'Conclusion', also offers keen insights about the lessons time has continued recover from these events. Overall, an excellent read for anyone interested in the psychedelic culture.

The Psychedelic Experience

The Psychedelic Experience (1964)
Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Richard Alpert

Since my awakening came by way of psychedelic mushrooms, reading up on the topic has become my new favorite past-time. It used to be gaming ... I miss gaming.
"You must be ready to accept the possibility that there is a limitless range of awareness for which we now have no words; that awareness can expand beyond range of your ego, your self, your familiar identity, beyond everything you have learned, beyond your notions of space and time, beyond the differences which usually separate people from each other and from the world around them. You must remember … millions have made this voyage." --The Psychedelic Experience
By now I've listened to at least a few dozen people recount their psilocybin experiences; the descriptions that have so far resonated with me most are found on the pages of this book. No surprise, perhaps, considering the group of experienced psychonauts who are the authors. They've combined their experiences to both describe the psychedelic experience and help prepare those getting ready for their own explorations. The book is only about 100 pages, which was fortunate as I was immediately hooked by the clear, practical and yet compassionate writing and couldn't stop until the end. As I read, I could feel the echoes of my own journey burbling up in the background; I'd say these three nailed something essential about the psychedelic encounter. And the way the authors set their descriptions against backdrop of the Tibetan Book of the Dead provides a nice peek into a details of that tradition. (I'm sure I encountered the essence of the Tibetan's Bodhisattva Chenrazee during my first frantic journey back to Source.) I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to prepare for their own spirit quest with a few possible spoilers on board. I will definitely be reading this book again. Free pdf version

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