Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert in Boston in 1931. His father, George, a prominent Boston lawyer, helped found Brandeis University and was president of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.
Richard Alpert has been studying the nature of consciousness for more than 50 years, and began his studies with psychology, specializing in human motivation and personality development. He received an M.A. from Wesleyan and a Ph.D. from Stanford and served on the psychology faculties at Stanford and the University of California. From 1958 to 1963, he taught and did research in the Department of Social Relations and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and co-authored the book Identification and Child Rearing.
While at Harvard in 1961, Alpert’s explorations of human consciousness led him to collaborate with Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg and others in pursuing intensive research with psilocybin, LSD-25 and other psychedelic chemicals. This research produced two books: The Psychedelic Experience (based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead) co-authored with Leary and Metzner; and LSD with Sidney Cohen and Lawrence Schiller. Because of the controversial nature of this research, Harvard dismissed Alpert and Leary in 1963.
Alpert continued his research under the auspices of a private foundation until 1967, when he traveled to India. In India, he met his guru, or spiritual teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharaji. Maharaji gave Ram Dass his name, which means “servant of God.” Since 1968, Ram Dass has pursued a variety of spiritual methods and practices from various ancient wisdom traditions, including devotional yoga focused on the Hindu spiritual figure Hanuman; meditation in the Theravadin, Mahayana Tibetan and Zen Buddhist schools; karma yoga; and Sufi and Jewish studies. He also practices service to others as a spiritual path.
In 1974, Ram Dass created the Hanuman Foundation, which developed the Prison Ashram Project, designed to help prison inmates grow spiritually during their incarceration, and the Dying Project, conceived as a spiritual support structure for conscious and dying. These projects are now directed under independent auspices. The Ram Dass Tape Library Foundation serves as the organizing vehicle for Ram Dass’ teachings, and for the distribution of his books and tapes.
Ram Dass’ interests include the support of psychedelic research, international development, environmental awareness and political action. He has written a number of spiritual books including Be Here Now, published in 1971 (over one million copies sold, 37th printing, Crown Publishers); The Only Dance There Is (Anchor/ Doubleday); Grist for the Mill (with Stephen Levine, Celestial Arts); Journey of Awakening (Bantam Books); Miracle of Love: Stories of Neem Karoli Baba (Hanuman Foundation); How Can I Help? (with Paul Gorman, Knopf); Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service (with Mirabai Bush, Bell Tower Press) and Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying (Riverhead Books). His latest book, One-Liners: A Mini-Manual for a Spiritual Life was published by Bell Tower Press in September, 2002. In September, 2004, Harmony will be publishing Ram Dass’ next book, entitled Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita.
In 1996, Ram Dass began to develop plans for a talk radio program called “Here and Now with Ram Dass.” Seven pilot programs were aired in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, and Ram Dass planned to launch the show on a nationwide basis the following year. But in February 1997, he experienced a stroke which left him with expressive aphasia and partial paralysis. The after effects of the stroke have made it necessary for him to postpone plans for his radio program, but he has been able to resume his other teaching commitments and is using the experience to explore the spiritual dimensions of suffering and the nature of the aging process.
Ram Dass is a co-founder and advisory board member of the Seva Foundation, an international service organization. He works with the Social Venture Network, an organization of businesses seeking to bring social consciousness to business practices. He continues to teach about the nature of consciousness, and about service as a spiritual path.
Here are a selection of some of my favorite Ram Dass quotes:
“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.”
“Each of us finds his unique vehicle for sharing with others his bit of wisdom.”
“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.”
“We come into relationships often very much identified with our needs. I need this, I need security, I need refuge, I need friendship. And all of relationships are symbiotic in that sense. We come together because we fulfill each others’ needs at some level or other.”
“The thinking mind is what is busy. You have to stay in your heart. You have to be in your heart. Be in your heart. The rest is up here in your head where you are doing, doing, doing.”
“My belief is that I wasn’t born into Judaism by accident, and so I needed to find ways to honor that.”