Ram Dass

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Ram Dass
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi & Ram Dass
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (left) with Ram Dass (right) in February 2008
Born Richard Alpert
(1931-04-06) April 6, 1931 (age 86)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Spiritual teacher, author

Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert; April 6, 1931) is an American spiritual teacher and the author of the seminal[2][3] 1971 book Be Here Now. He is known for his personal and professional associations with Timothy Leary at Harvard University in the early 1960s, for his travels to India and his relationship with the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, and for founding the charitable organizations Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation. He continues to teach via his website.


Youth and education[edit]

Richard Alpert was born to a Jewish family in Newton, Massachusetts. His father, George Alpert, was a lawyer in Boston, president of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, one of the founders of Brandeis University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, as well as a major fundraiser for Jewish causes.[4] While Richard did have a bar mitzvah, he was "disappointed by its essential hollowness".[5] He considered himself an atheist[6] and did not profess any religion during his early life, describing himself as "inured to religion. I didn’t have one whiff of God until I took psychedelics."[4]

Alpert attended the Williston Northampton School, graduating in 1948 as a part of the Cum Laude Association.[7] He then went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University, a master's degree from Wesleyan University, and a doctorate (all in psychology) from Stanford University.[4]

Harvard professorship and the Leary-Alpert research[edit]

After returning from a visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, Alpert accepted a tenure-track position at Harvard University as a psychology professor.[4] He worked with the Social Relations Department, the Psychology Department, the Graduate School of Education, and the Health Service, where he was a therapist. Perhaps most notable was the work he did with his close friend and associate Timothy Leary, a lecturer in clinical psychology at the university.[4] Both Alpert and Leary experimented with and devoted intensive research to the potentially therapeutic effects of hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin, LSD-25, and other psychedelic chemicals, through their Harvard Psilocybin Project.[8] In addition, Alpert assisted Harvard Divinity School graduate student Walter Pahnke in his 1962 "Good Friday Experiment" with theology students, the first controlled, double-blind study of drugs and the mystical experience.[4][8]

Alpert and Leary co-founded the non-profit International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) in 1962 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in order to carry out studies in the religious use of psychedelic drugs, and were both on the board of directors.[9][10] Leary and Alpert were formally dismissed from Harvard in 1963.[8] According to Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey, Leary was dismissed for leaving Cambridge and his classes without permission or notice, and Alpert for allegedly giving psilocybin to an undergraduate.[11]

In 1963 Alpert, Leary, and their followers moved to the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, New York, after IFIF's New York City branch director and Mellon fortune heiress Peggy Hitchcock arranged for her brother Billy to rent the estate to IFIF.[4][12] Alpert and Leary immediately set up a communal group with former Psilocybin Project members at the estate (commonly known as "Millbrook"), and the IFIF was subsequently disbanded and renamed the Castalia Foundation (after the intellectual colony in Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game).[13][14][15] The core group at Millbrook, whose journal was the Psychedelic Review, sought to cultivate the divinity within each person.[14] At Millbrook, they experimented with psychedelics and often participated in group LSD sessions, looking for a permanent route to higher consciousness.[4][14] The Castalia Foundation hosted weekend retreats on the estate where people paid to undergo the psychedelic experience without drugs, through meditation, yoga, and group therapy sessions.[15]

Alpert and Leary continued on to co-author a book entitled The Psychedelic Experience with Ralph Metzner, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and it was published in 1964.[16] In 1967 Alpert gave talks at the League for Spiritual Discovery's center in Greenwich Village.[17]

Spiritual search and name change[edit]

In 1967 Alpert traveled to India where he met and travelled with the American spiritual seeker Kermit Michael Riggs, who called himself "Bhagavan Das", and ultimately met the man who would become his guru, Neem Karoli Baba at Kainchi ashram, whom Alpert called "Maharaj-ji".[4][18] It was Maharaj-ji who gave Alpert the name "Ram Dass", which means "servant of God",[19][20] referring to the incarnation of God as Ram or Lord Rama. Alpert also corresponded with the Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba and mentioned Baba in several of his books.[21]

Alpert published his best-selling book Be Here Now, a manual for conscious being, in 1971.[20]

Later life[edit]

At 60 years of age, Ram Dass began exploring Judaism seriously for the first time. "My belief is that I wasn't born into Judaism by accident, and so I needed to find ways to honor that", he says. "From a Hindu perspective, you are born as what you need to deal with, and if you just try and push it away, whatever it is, it's got you."[1]

In February 1997, Ram Dass had a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia, which he interprets as an act of grace. He has continued to make public appearances and talks at small venues; as of 2011, he continues to teach through live webcasts[22] and at retreats in Hawaii.[23] When asked if he could sum up his life's message, he replied, "I help people as a way to work on myself, and I work on myself to help people ... to me, that's what the emerging game is all about." Ram Dass was awarded the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award in August 1991.[24]

In 2013, Ram Dass released a memoir and summary of his teaching, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart. In an interview about the book, at age 82, he said that his earlier reflections about facing old age and death now seem naive to him. He said, in part: "Now, I’m in my 80s ... Now, I am aging. I am approaching death. I’m getting closer to the end. ... Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me."[25]

Personal life[edit]

In the 1990s, Ram Dass came out about his bisexuality[26] while avoiding labels and asserting that bisexuality "isn't gay, and it's not not-gay, and it's not anything—it's just awareness."[27] At 78, Ram Dass learned that he had fathered a son as a 24-year-old, at Stanford during a brief affair with a history major named Karen Saum, and that he was now a grandfather. The fact came to light when his son Peter Reichard, a 53-year-old banker in North Carolina, took a DNA test after learning about his mother's doubt concerning Peter's heritage.[28][29]


The Love Serve Remember Foundation was organized to preserve and continue the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba and Ram Dass. The Hanuman Foundation is a nonprofit educational and service organization founded by Ram Dass in 1974, focused on the spiritual well-being of society through education, media and community service programs. The Seva Foundation is an international health organization founded by Ram Dass in 1978 along with public health leader Larry Brilliant and humanitarian activist Wavy Gravy. Ram Dass also serves on the faculty of the Metta Institute where he provides training on mindful and compassionate care of the dying.

Over the course of his life since the inception of his foundation in 1974, Ram Dass has given all of his book royalties and profits from teaching to his foundation and other charitable causes. The estimated amount of earnings he has given away annually ranges from $100,000 to $800,000.[30] In 2003, Wayne Dyer published a plea for donations for Ram Dass' support due to his declining health following a stroke in 1997, "Now it is our turn…Ram Dass’ body can no longer endure the rigors of travel. He has come to Maui, where I live and write. I speak with him frequently and I am often humbled by the tears in his beautiful 73-year-old eyes as he apologizes for not having prepared for his own elderly health care—for what he now perceives as burdensome to others. He still intends to write and teach; however without the travel—we can now come to him. Maui is healing—Maui is where Ram Dass wishes to stay for now! He is currently living in a home on Maui, which he doesn’t own and is currently in jeopardy of losing. I am asking all of you to help purchase this home and to set up a financial foundation to take care of this man who has raised so much money to ensure the futures of so many others. To live out what Ram Dass has practiced with his actions. Please be generous and prompt—no one is more deserving of our love and financial support." [31]





  • A Change of Heart, a 1991 one-hour documentary hosted by Ram Dass and shown on many PBS stations. It examined taking social action as a meditative act. Directed by Eric Taylor.
  • Ecstatic States, an interview filmed in 1996 on VHS, by Wiseone Edutainment Pty - Run Time: 80 minutes.
  • Ram Dass, Fierce Grace, a 2001 biographical documentary about Ram Dass directed by Micky Lemle.
  • Ram Dass - Love Serve Remember, a 2010 short film directed by V. Owen Bush, included in the Be Here Now Enhanced Edition eBook.
  • Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary, a 2014 documentary dual portrait of Ram Dass and Timothy Leary.[33]
  • Ram Dass, Going Home, a 2017 documentary portrait of Ram Dass in his later years, directed by Derek Peck.


  1. ^ a b Rifkin, Ira (27 March 1992). "Ram Dass Exploring Judaism". SunSentinel.com. Retrieved November 23, 2011. 
  2. ^ Harvey, Andrew; Erickson, Karuna (2010). Heart Yoga: The Sacred Marriage of Yoga and Mysticism. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-58394-291-8. 
  3. ^ Tempo staff (19 July 2010). "'Be Here Now' turns 40". The Taos News. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Davidson, Sara (Fall 2006). "The Ultimate Trip". Tufts Magazine. Retrieved November 23, 2011. 
  5. ^ Starr, Bernard (19 July 2007). "Rite of passage: Turn-on or turn-off?". Religion and Spirituality.com. Retrieved November 23, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Baba Ram Dass". Ramparts. 11: 38. He was, at this time, an atheist, and had difficulty even pronouncing 'spiritual'. 
  7. ^ Private school equivalent of the National Honor Society
  8. ^ a b c Hiatt, Nathaniel J. (23 May 2016). "A Trip Down Memory Lane: LSD at Harvard". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved September 24, 2017. 
  9. ^ "International Federation For Internal Freedom – Statement of Purpose". timothylearyarchives.org. 21 March 2009. Retrieved 2017-09-24. 
  10. ^ Lee, Martin A.; Shlain, Bruce (1992). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD : The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. Grove Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0802130624. 
  11. ^ Russin, Joseph M.; Weil, Andrew T. (28 May 1963). "The Crimson takes Leary, Alpert to Task: 'Roles' & 'Games' In William James". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  12. ^ Lee, Martin A.; Shlain, Bruce (1992). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD : The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. Grove Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0802130624. 
  13. ^ Chevallier, Jim (3 March 2003). "Tim Leary and Ovum - A Visit to Castalia with Ovum". Chez Jim/Ovum. 
  14. ^ a b c Lee, Martin A.; Shlain, Bruce (1992). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD : The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. Grove Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0802130624. 
  15. ^ a b Lander, Devin (30 January 2012). "League for Spiritual Discovery". World Religions and Spiritualities Project. 
  16. ^ Leary, Timothy; Alpert, Richard; Metzner, Ralph (2008). The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0141189630. 
  17. ^ Graboi, Nina (May 1991). One Foot in the Future: A Woman's Spiritual Journey. Aerial Press. pp. 222–224. ISBN 978-0942344103. 
  18. ^ Graboi, Nina (May 1991). One Foot in the Future: A Woman's Spiritual Journey. Aerial Press. pp. 267–270. ISBN 978-0942344103. 
  19. ^ "Biography: Richard Alpert/Ram Dass". Ramdass.org. Ram Dass / Love Remember Serve Foundation. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  20. ^ a b Almereyda, Michael (24 February 2002). "Film; A Sober Documentary About an Intoxicating Life". New York Times. Retrieved September 24, 2017. 
  21. ^ Kalchuri, Bhau (2005). Lord Meher. Volume 8 (Second (India) ed.). Meher Mownavani Publications. p. 6412ff. 
  22. ^ Ram Dass. "Ram Dass Love Serve Remember". RamDass.org. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Retreats". RamDass.org. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Courage of Conscience Award Recipients". PeaceAbbey.org. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  25. ^ David Crumm. "Ram Dass Interview on 'Polishing the Mirror'". ReadTheSpirit.com. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  26. ^ Davidson, Alan (April 2001). "Holy Man Sighted at Gay Porn House: Ram Dass talks about his life as the leading teacher of Eastern thought in America ... who nobody knew was gay". OutSmart.  Summarized with cover image in Maines, Donalevan (1 April 2010). "PastOut: 9 Years ago in 'OutSmart'". OutSmart. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  27. ^ Thompson, Mark (2 September 1997). "Ram Dass: A Life Beyond Labels". Gay Today. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  28. ^ Sidon, Rob; Grossman, Carrie (November 2010). "Common Ground Interviews Ram Dass". Common Ground: 46–51. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  29. ^ Davidson, Sara (6 November 2010). "Ram Dass Has a Son!". Alternet. 
  30. ^ Strategy, Platform. "Bold Giver Story: Ram Dass". Bolder Giving. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  31. ^ "Be Here For Him, Now". Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  32. ^ http://www.waveformrecords.com/cosmix.html
  33. ^ "Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary". IMDb. Retrieved 9 August 2016. 

External links[edit]