Who Is Ram Dass?

Ram DassMost of the clichés about the 1960s originated with Ram Dass. An abbreviated chronology of his life appears below. What it does not adequately convey is that he did what Christ commanded his followers to do. He had everything the world had to offer—wealth, success, reputation, and prestige. He found it empty and gave it all up to seek God. His path was unconventional and in places even comical, but it was sincere. He is a man who gave up his life and got it back again, with abundance.

Ram Dass was born into a wealthy New England family as Richard Alpert. He became a successful psychologist and academic, teaching at Stanford and Harvard universities. At Harvard, he met the infamous Timothy Leary, who was also a Harvard professor at the time. Before it was illegal, the two of them began studying the effects of LSD. A significant number of Harvard faculty participated in their trials. These experiments ultimately resulted in Richard Alpert’s expulsion from the university’s faculty.

Abandoning his academic career, Alpert began a spiritual quest that ultimately led him to India. In 1967 he met Neem Karoli Baba, also called Maharishi, a Hindu saint who became his teacher and guru. Maharishi told Christians who sought his advice to think of Christ as their guru. As Richard Alpert progressed, Maharishi renamed him Ram Dass, which means servant of God. While acknowledging the “wakeup call” of the LSD trials, Ram Dass rejected drugs as a path to God.

Years after his departure, he returned to the United States and wrote Be Here Now, which became a best seller and remains a popular spiritual classic. He has since spent his life in service, lecturing, writing, forming non-profits, and working with the terminally ill. Ram Dass refuses to label himself, and looks both East and West for inspiration. He returns to India frequently and has studied and worshiped with Benedictine monks. No longer a young man, he suffered a stroke several years ago, from which he has made a remarkable recovery and now continues to lecture, write, and work.

—Nick Lewis

Copyright ©2005 explorefaith.org

Portrait of Ram Dass by David Mah.