Ram Dass

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"Richard Alpert" redirects here. For other people named Richard Alpert, see Richard Alpert (disambiguation).
For other people named Ram Dass, see Ram Dass (disambiguation).
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 84)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Nationality American
Ethnicity Jewish[1]
Occupation Spiritual teacher, author
Religion Hindu

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. While Richard did have a bar mitzvah, he was "disappointed by its essential hollowness".[4] He considered himself an atheist[5] 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.”[6]

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 (in psychology) from Stanford University.

Harvard professorship and the Leary-Alpert research[edit]

After returning from a visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, Alpert accepted a permanent position at Harvard, where 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. 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. They continued on to co-author a book entitled The Psychedelic Experience. Leary and Alpert were formally dismissed from the university in 1963. 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.[8]

Spiritual search and name change[edit]

In 1967 Alpert traveled to India with the American spiritual seeker Bhagavan Das, and ultimately met there the man who would become his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, whom Alpert called "Maharaj-ji". It was Maharaj-ji who gave him the name "Ram Dass", which means "servant of God",[9] 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.

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."[10]

In February 1997, Ram Dass had a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia, which he interprets as an act of grace. He no longer travels, but continues to teach through live webcasts[11] and at retreats in Hawaii.[12] 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.[13]

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."[14]

Personal life[edit]

In the 1990s, Ram Dass came out about his bisexuality[15] 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."[16] 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.[17][18]

Ram Dass is a vegetarian.[19]


The Love Serve Remember Foundation was organized to preserve and continue the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba and Ram Dass, and to work with Ram Dass on his writings and other future plans. 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.





  • 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.
  • 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.


  1. Jump up ^ Rifkin, Ira (March 27, 1992). "Ram Dass Exploring Judaism". SunSentinel.com. Retrieved November 23, 2011. 
  2. Jump up ^ Harvey, Andrew; Erickson, Karuna (2010). Heart Yoga: The Sacred Marriage of Yoga and Mysticism. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-58394-291-8. 
  3. Jump up ^ Tempo staff (July 19, 2010). "'Be Here Now' turns 40". The Taos News. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  4. Jump up ^ Starr, Bernard (July 19, 2007). "Rite of passage: Turn-on or turn-off?". Religion and Spirituality.com. Retrieved November 23, 2011. 
  5. Jump up ^ "Baba Ram Dass". Ramparts 11: 38. He was, at this time, an atheist, and had difficulty even pronouncing 'spiritual'. 
  6. Jump up ^ Davidson, Sara (Fall 2006). "The Ultimate Trip". Tufts Magazine. Retrieved November 23, 2011. 
  7. Jump up ^ Private school equivalent of the National Honor Society
  8. Jump up ^ Russin, Joseph M.; Weil, Andrew T. (May 28, 1963). "The Crimson takes Leary, Alpert to Task: 'Roles' & 'Games' In William James". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  9. Jump up ^ "Biography: Richard Alpert/Ram Dass". Ramdass.org. Ram Dass / Love Remember Serve Foundation. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  10. Jump up ^ "Ram Dass Exploring Judaism - Sun Sentinel". Articles.sun-sentinel.com. 1992-03-27. Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  11. Jump up ^ Ram Dass. "Ram Dass Love Serve Remember". RamDass.org. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  12. Jump up ^ "Retreats". RamDass.org. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  13. Jump up ^ "Courage of Conscience Award Recipients". PeaceAbbey.org. The Peace Abbey. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  14. Jump up ^ David Crumm. "Ram Dass Interview on 'Polishing the Mirror'". ReadTheSpirit.com. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  15. Jump up ^ 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 (April 1, 2010). "PastOut: 9 Years ago in ‘OutSmart’". OutSmart. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  16. Jump up ^ Thompson, Mark (September 2, 1997). "Ram Dass: A Life Beyond Labels". Gay Today. Badpuppy.com. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  17. Jump up ^ Sidon, Rob; Grossman, Carrie (November 2010). "Common Ground Interviews Ram Dass". Common Ground: 46–51. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  18. Jump up ^ "Ram Dass Has a Son!". Alternet. November 6, 2010. 
  19. Jump up ^ Rosen, Elliott Jay. "An Interview with Ram Dass". The Vegetarian Travel Guide. VegetarianUSA.com. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  20. Jump up ^ http://www.waveformrecords.com/cosmix.html

External links[edit]