Ram Dass (1931 – ) Richard Alpert, now Ram Dass, was born into a wealthy, educated Jewish American family. After receiving his Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford he grew increasingly dissatisfied with conventional approaches to understanding the psyche. So he became a full-fledged spiritual seeker.
He traveled to India and found a personal guru. His Indian guide eventually renamed him Ram Dass (teacher), which for many he was to become.
Since the 1960’s Ram Dass has lectured across North America and authored several popular books about comparative religion and spirituality. Ideas like synchronicity and the miraculous are all quite real for Ram Dass. He argues that the Western mind is too linear and pragmatic to appreciate these phenomena.
For Ram Dass, spiritual awareness and the phenomena accompanying it are usually viewed by Westerners as “weird.”
Writing in a kind of 1970’s flower-power hippie style, Ram Dass unfortunately contributes to the misguided and judgmental notion that the East is more spiritual than the West. This shortcoming aside, his work is not without merit.
Interestingly, Ram Dass says his brother lived in a psychiatric hospital. His brother, he says, believes that his way of seeing the world is the only way. So the sane differ from the insane, he implies, in that the former can consider other viewpoints while the latter cannot. This definition seems a bit lacking. It would make, for instance, Catholic priests or any firm religious believers insane.
Concerning the idea of reincarnation, he suggests that it
doesn’t have to be linear…it may well be in terms of past, present, and future all being here simultaneously. There are many ways of thinking about the fifth dimension of infinite repetition and changes¹
Noted for his honesty, Ram Dass once wrote in Yoga Journal that loving one’s enemies, as Jesus Christ taught, is easy to fake but not always easy to do.²
After suffering a stroke in the 1990’s, Ram Dass still holds public engagements. He says that his condition has brought him closer to God. In a 2003 Toronto Star article he remarks that while most people his age are still trying to be youthful, he sits by the window and contemplates the Divine.
Today, his influence lives on, as travelerseeker testifies:
Ram Dass is an amazing person. I had the honor of meeting him many years ago at a metaphysical conference where he was signing books. Got the book, his signature and a hug…will never forget it or him!
For me, one of the more amusing stories comes from a tape I heard back in the 1980s. Ram Dass tells the tale of being stopped by a police officer on the freeway. Apparently the officer was momentarily affected by Ram Dass’ blissful state and gave him a free pass, which reminds me of the scene in Star Wars where Obi-Wan Kenobi gets past security guards by using “The Force.”
On a more practical note, I find that giving out good vibes, for their own sake, often does help in sticky situations—unless the other person is just a creep through and through, which also happens sometimes.
¹ Ram Dass, The Only Dance There Is, New York: Anchor Books, 1974, p. 143.
² I saw this in the early 1990s in a bookstore while buying books by Carl Jung for my PhD. Unfortunately, that’s about as precise as I can be on this reference.