Alpert, Richard (1931– )
With Dr. Timothy Leary, Alpert became a controversial figure
in the psychedelic revolution of the l960s. Born April 6,
1931, in Boston, he received his Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford
University in 1957, then taught at Stanford, University of
California at Berkeley, and Harvard University. Leary and Alpert
were both dismissed from Harvard for their experiments
with psilocybin. They subsequently obtained financing to conduct
experiments and to publicize the use of such drugs as LSD
(lysergic acid diethylamide) in producing altered states of consciousness,
thus launching the psychedelic revolution.
In propagating the belief that mystical experience could be
obtained from a drug, Leary and Alpert were expanding upon
suggestions made earlier in Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors
of Perception (1954), which cited the sacramental use of peyote
by certain North American Indians. However, the motivations
and cultural values of those closely knit groups were left behind
in what became a popular movement. The psychedelic revolution
contributed to the popularization of mystical experiences
in an otherwise materialistic society but at the same time led
many into meaningless despair and helped legitimize the widespread
use of addictive narcotics drugs, now widely recognized
as a major social problem.
In 1967, in a state of spiritual despair, Alpert went to India
in search of meaning through mysticism. He studied for a few
months under Neem Karoli Baba in the Himalayas, then returned
to the United States as ‘‘Baba Ram Dass,’’ or ‘‘God’s servant.’’
Having abandoned psychedelic drugs, he emerged as a
disciple of Hindu spirituality and commenced a career of lecturing
and writing. In 1969 Ram Dass gave a course on raja
yoga (meditation) at Esalen Institute, near San Francisco, California,
launching his new role as a transpersonal psychologist
speaking on spiritual issues. His first book as Baba Ram Dass,
Be Here Now, made him a popular figure in what was to become
the New Age movement. He followed it with a series of books,
including Seed (1972), The Only Dance There Is (1974), and Grist
for the Mill (1977).
Ram Dass has lectured widely on his present spiritual position
and on personality problems of Western life. Royalties
from his book The Only Dance There Is supported the Journal of
Transpersonal Psychology, and his activities are conducted under
the auspices of the Hanuman Foundation, which distributes his
books and lecture tapes. The foundation may be reached at PO
Box 478, Sante Fe, NM 87504. On land near Taos, New Mexico,
Baba Ram Dass built the Neem Karoli Baba Hanuman
Temple in memory of his guru.
In 1997 Ram Das had a stroke which left him largely incapacitated
but in the past three years he has been improving
greatly through rehabilitation. He has returned to a limited
number of talks and public appearances.
Sources
Ram Dass, Baba [Richard Alpert]. Be Here Now. Christobal,
N.Mex. Lama Foundation, 1972.
———. Grist for the Mill. Santa Cruz, Calif. Unity Press,
1977.
———. Journey to Awakening. New York Bantam Books,
1976.
———. The Only Dance There Is. New York Aronson, 1976.