The legacy of Ram Dass
For many British Hindus, they would have no recollection of Ram Dass – a white man with a very traditional Indian name. Only those who are curious and learn about this amazing individual will realise how much he helped progressed the Hindu cause in the west, and especially the USA.
A spiritual explorer, Ram Dass was a pioneer of the American psychedelic movement. He was born Richard Alpert in a wealthy Jewish family in Boston, Massachusetts, his father was a president of a railroad company.
Ram Dass graduated in psychology from Tuft’s College in 1952 and a doctorate from Stanford University in 1957. He then went to teach and research at Harvard University in 1958 where he made his name on his work on LSD.
During that time, as he would later describe, he lived in an apartment full of antiques, drove a Mercedes-Benz, owned a Cessna plane and vacationed in the Caribbean.
"I was living the way a successful bachelor professor is supposed to live in the American world of 'he who makes it'," Ram Dass wrote.
In the 1960s, looking for alternative stimulations than psychedelic drugs, Ram Dass went to find enlightenment in India under the auspices of Maharaj-ji Neem Karoli Baba
In his book ‘Be Here Now’ which sold over two million copies, Ram Dass described his experience with his guruji. He gave the guru a high dose of LSD, but he showed no reaction, which led Ram Dass to believe that the higher state of consciousness Maharaj-ji had achieved could not be changed by drugs.
Maharaj-ji gave Ram Dass his name - which means servant of God in Hindi - and taught him Hindu principles, meditation and yoga.
Be Here Now, published in 1971, was his first book and became a popular guide to New Age spirituality. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was among those who praised the book as transformative. He went to author and co-author 12 more books.
Ram Dass came back to the USA and began lecturing on spirituality incorporating humour and principles from Hinduism, Buddhism and Sufism into his teachings.
In 1997, he suffered a stroke that left him paralysed on the right side of his body and limited his ability to speak. In 2004, he had a life-threatening infection and cut back on travelling.
One of his closest friends, singer Krishna Dass who spent time with him in India wrote: ‘He has been my friend and teacher and fellow traveller on the Spiritual Path since 1968. I spent the last few days with him and had an incredible merging of mind and heart. He was deeply immersed in Maharaj-ji’s presence and during the many years since his stroke, his courage and patience and inner strength was a shining example of how to live in this world, with an ever opening heart, despite much physical pain and hardship’.
‘His mantra was “I am Loving Awareness, I am Loving Awareness.” Now, that is where he is to be found…in the loving presence that lives within us’.
Ram Dass has left a profound legacy for Hindus in the west. The name of Neem Karoli Baba resonates in many western circles as far as Hollywood and Capitol Hill.
Rest in Peace: Ram Dass (1931 – 2019)
Spiritual Teacher, Author and Academic.