According to KTLA, Baba Ram Dass, the psychedelic research pioneer, best-selling author and New Age guru who talked about all the virtues of mindfulness and grace, has passed away. He was 88 years old. Born Richard Alpert, the future spiritual teacher met experimental psychologist Timothy Leary while the two taught at Harvard University. They founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project and shared psychedelic drugs with volunteer graduate students to explore their mind-altering effects. The unconventional duo were expelled from Harvard in 1963 after faculty found out Alpert shared the drugs with undergraduates. This solidified their status as “counter-culture icons” in their dismissal.
He didn’t adopt the name Ram Dass until a significant trip to India in 1967. There he met Neem Karoli Baba, his guru, who gave Alpert the name Baba (or “father”) Ram Dass, which means “servant of God,” The spiritual enlightenment he experienced there pushed him in 1971 to write “Be Here Now,” a best-seller his website described as a “Western articulation of Eastern philosophy.” The book became a New Age symbol of mindfulness and positivity. He was introduced to cannabis in 1955 by his first patient while working as a health services counselor at Stanford University. Leary took him farther with psilocybin, the compound that gives certain mushrooms hallucinogenic qualities. In his first psychedelic experience, “the rug crawled and the picture smiled, all of which delighted me,” Ram Dass wrote in “Be Here Now.” The two former professors later moved to a mansion in Millbrook, New York, that was made available to them by heirs to the fortune of industrialist Andrew Mellon. They continued their experimentation there. To avoid the disappointment of “coming down” from a drug experien
ce, Ram Dass said he and five others locked themselves in a building at the estate for three weeks and took LSD every four hours.
According to NBC News, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who used LSD in his younger years, said the book “transformed me and many of my friends” and George Harrison used the title and general philosophy for one of his post-Beatles songs. In 2004, Ram Dass told the San Francisco Chronicle that “I was a sort of spiritual uncle to a movement — to a consciousness movement bringing the East and West together,” He had suffered a severe stroke in 1997 that left him paralyzed on the right side and, for a while, left him unable to speak. Recently, he underwent hip surgery after he was injured in a fall in November 2008. “I had really thought about checking out, but your love and your prayers convinced me not to do it… It’s just beautiful,” he told followers in a videotaped message at the time from his hospital bed in Hawaii. He recovered his speech and went on to continue his teachings online, at retreats in Maui as well as film and music. Dass was later the subject of the 2017 documentary short film “Ram Dass, Going Home,” which was shortlisted for an Academy Award.