Ram Dass

American contemporary spiritual teacher and the author of the 1971 book Be Here Now

Ram Dass (6 April 193122 December 2019), born Richard Alpert, was an American spiritual teacher and author.

As far as I'm concerned we are all God
That's the difference
If you really think another guy is God he doesn't lock you up

Funny about that.


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.
It would be best not to impose a model too soon, because the model that exists in the west for these states is pathological, and the model that exists in the primitive cultures is mystical and religious.
Just be here now.
  • Only when I know who I am will I know what is possible.
  • There are three stages in this journey that I have been on. The first. the social science stage; the second, the psychedelic stage; and the third, the yogi stage.
  • Before March 6th, which was the day I took Psylocybin, one of the psychedelics, I felt something was wrong in my world, but I couldn't label it in any way so as to get hold of it. I felt that the theories I was teaching in psychology didn't make it, that the psychologists didn't really have a grasp of the human condition, and that the theories I was teaching, which were theories of achievement and anxiety and defense mechanisms and so on, weren't getting to the crux of the matter.
    My colleagues and I were 9 to 5 psychologists: we came to work every day and we did our psychology, just like you would do insurance or auto mechanics, and then at 5 we went home and were just as neurotic as we were before we went to work. Somehow, it seemed to me, if all of this theory were right, it should play more intimately into my own life. I understood the requirement of being "objective" for a scientist, but this is a most naive concept in social sciences as we are finding out. ...
    Something was wrong. And the something wrong was that I just didn't know, though I kept feeling all along the way that somebody else must know even though I didn't. The nature of life was a mystery to me. All the stuff I was teaching was just like little molecular bits of stuff but they didn't add up to a feeling anything like wisdom. I was just getting more and more knowledgeable.
  • Here I was, sitting with the boys of the first team in cognitive psychology, personality psychology, developmental psychology [at Stanford and Harvard], and in the midst of this I felt here were men and women who, themselves were not highly evolved beings. Their own lives were not fulfilled.
  • Every time I went to a family gathering, I was the boy who made it. I was a Professor at Harvard and everybody stood around in awe and listened to my every word, and all I felt was that horror that I knew inside that I didn't know. Of course, it was all such beautiful, gentle horror, because there was so much reward involved.
  • I learned more in the six or seven hours of this experience than I had learned in all my years as a psychologist.
    • (quoting Timothy Leary's description of the Psilocybin experience).
  • I realized that although everything by which I knew myself, even my body and this life itself, was gone, still I was fully aware! Not only that, but this aware "I" was watching the entire drama, including the panic, with calm compassion.
    Instantly, with this recognition, I felt a new kind of calmness — one of a profundity never experienced before. I had just found that "I", that scanning device — that point — that essence — that place beyond. A place where "I" existed independent of social and physical identity. That which was I was beyond Life and Death. And something else — that "I" Knew — it really Knew. It was wise, rather than just knowledgeable. It was a voice inside that spoke truth. I recognized it, was one with it, and felt as if my entire life of looking to the outside world for reassurance — David Reisman's other-directed being, was over.
  • I thought at that moment, "Wow, I've got it made. I'm just a new beautiful being — I'm just an inner self — all I'll ever need to do is look inside and I'll know what to do and I can always trust it, and here I'll be forever."
    But two or three days later I was talking about the whole thing in the past tense. I was talking about how I "experienced" this thing, because I was back being that anxiety-neurotic, in a slightly milder form, but still, my old personality was sneaking back up on me.
  • I'd get to a point with my colleagues when I couldn't explain any further, because it came down to "To him who has had the experience no explanation is necessary, to him who has not, none is possible.".
  • We were exploring this inner realm of consciousness that we had been theorizing about all these years and suddenly we were traveling in and through and around it.
  • It would be best not to impose a model too soon, because the model that exists in the west for these states is pathological, and the model that exists in the primitive cultures is mystical and religious.
    • (quoting Timothy Leary's description of the Psilocybin experience).
  • It was as if the whole western mind-training of individual differences had been made background instead of figure, so that you'd look at another human being and say, "Here we are." You'd see differences more as clothing, rather than as core stuff.
  • We had a Negro psychiatrist, Madison Presnell, working with us, and I had been trained to be a very liberal person about Negroes, which meant that you didn't have feelings. It was a phony kind of liberal thing. I went out of my way to be liberal. You know, that very self-conscious kind of equality. And Madison and I turned on together and I looked at Madison, and there we were, the same human beings. It was just that he was wearing that skin and I was wearing this skin. And it was no more or less than that. It was that shirt and this shirt and it had no more relevance than that. And I looked at that, and suddenly there we were, whereas before I had been so busy with my super-liberal reaction to color of skin, that I couldn't relax enough to share this unitive place.
  • Whenever anybody that I trusted brought along some new chemical, I would open my mouth and off I'd go.
  • I recall starting to "come down" and this huge red wave rolled in across the room. … It was all my identities, all rolling in over me. I remember holding up my hand and saying, "NO, NO, I don't want to go back." It was like this heavy burden I was going to take on myself. And I realized I didn't have the key — I didn't know the magic words, like "Abracadabra" or "Hocus Pocus" or whatever it was going to be that would stop that wave.
  • We had gotten over the feeling that one experience was going to make you enlightened forever. We saw that it wasn't going to be that simple.
    And for five years I dealt with the matter of "coming down." The coming down matter is what led me to the next chapter of this drama. Because after six years, I realized that no matter how ingenious my experimental designs were, and how high I got, I came down.
    At one point I took five people and we locked ourselves in a building for three weeks and we took 400 micrograms of LSD every four hours. That is 2400 micrograms of LSD a day, which sounds fancy, but after your fist dose, you build a tolerance; there's a refractory period. We finally were just drinking out of the bottle, because it didn't seem to matter anymore. We'd just stay at a plateau. We were very high. What happened in those three weeks in that house, no one would ever believe, including us. And at the end of the three weeks, we walked out of the house and within a few days, we came down!
    And it was a terribly frustrating experience, as if you came into the kingdom of heaven and you saw how it all was and you felt these new states of awareness, and then you got cast out again.
  • I thought inside "I must really be crazy, now — because craziness is where everybody agrees about something — except you!" And yet I felt saner than I had ever felt, so I knew this was a new kind of craziness or perhaps a new kind of saneness.
  • If you see yourself as God and then you come back from this state and somebody says, "Hey, Sam, empty the garbage!" it catches you back into the model of "I'm Sam who empties the garbage." You can't maintain these new kinds of structures. It takes a while to realize that God can empty garbage.
  • I had plenty of LSD, but why take it. I knew what it was going to do, what it was going to tell me. It was going to show me that garden again and then I was going to be cast out and that was it.
  • I had gone through game, after game, after game, first being a professor at Harvard, then being a psychedelic spokesman, and still people were constantly looking into my eyes, like "Do you know?" Just that subtle little look, and I was constantly looking into their eyes "Do you know?"
  • During these travels he's starting to train me in a most interesting way. We'd be sitting somewhere and I'd say,
    "Did I ever tell you about the time that Tim and I ..."
    And he'd say, "Don't think about the past. Just be here now."
    And I'd say, "How long do you think we're going to be on this trip?"
    And he'd say, "Don't think about the future. Just be here now."
    I'd say, "You know, I really feel crumby, my hips are hurting ..."
    "Emotions are like waves. Watch them disappear in the distance on the vast calm ocean."
  • He [Bhagwan Dass] wasn't the least bit interested in all of the extraordinary dramas that I had collected … He was the first person I couldn't seduce into being interested in all this. He just didn't care.
    And yet, I never felt so profound an intimacy with another being. It was as if he were inside of my heart. And what started to blow my mind was that everywhere we went, he was at home.
  • His [Bhagwan Dass'] teaching seemed to be no teaching because he always taught from within … that is, his lessons aroused in me just affirmation … as if I knew it all already.
  • 'I have a relative who is in a mental hospital. He thinks he is Christ. Well, that's groovy. I am Christ also. But he doesn't think I am Christ. He thinks he is Christ. Because it happened to him and he took his ego with him. So he says: I'm special. And when I say to him: Sure man you're Christ. And I'm Christ too. He says: you don't understand. And when he's out he steals cars and things like that because he needs them because he's Christ and that's all right. So they lock him up. He says: I don't know ... me ... I'm a responsible member of society. I go to church. Me they put in a mental hospital. You're free. You've got a beard. You wear a dress ... you ...
    Sure. Because
    as far as I'm concerned we are all God.
    That's the difference.
    If you really think another guy is God he doesn't lock you up…

    Funny about that.

    • Contrasting the attitude of those who believe that they are especially "divine" and thus believe other people "owe" them deference — and those who assert all are divine, and thus are respectful of others proper rights and dignity as both human and divine beings.

Quotes about Ram Das

  • Negative stereotypes about Jewish women permeated the Left and counterculture, making it even harder for radical women to identify as Jews. Naomi Weisstein recalled an incident when, while a doctoral student in Harvard's graduate psychology program, gurus Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert handed out magic mushrooms. Many students became delusional; Weisstein had a paranoid nightmare and hallucinated for a month. "We knew you would," Leary commented. "You're an uptight Jewish female who can't let herself go." Weisstein called them "sleazeballs."
    • Joyce Antler Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement (2020)
  • Born Richard Alpert, Dass was a trained psychologist who taught at Harvard University in the Sixties, which is how he linked up with psychologist and writer Timothy Leary and became immersed in the world of psychedelics. Later in the decade, he would venture to India and study under the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, who would give Alpert his new name, Ram Dass, meaning “Servant of God.” When Dass returned to the United States, he became a guru in his own right, lecturing around the country and, most notably, releasing a wildly popular book, Be Here Now, in 1971, which would sell more than two million copies. As The New York Times reports, Richard Alpert was... a child of great privilege whose father worked as a lawyer and was president of the New Haven Railroad... Alpert majored in psychology at Tufts University, studied for his master’s in the subject at Wesleyan University and, despite failing his oral exams there, became a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University. He taught at Stanford for a short while before being appointed a professor of psychology and education at Harvard, which is where he met Leary.
  • I never knew Richard Alpert. I met him as Ram Dass at the first talk he gave when he returned from India in 1968. I was in my junior year at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where Richard Alpert had earned his master’s degree around 14 years prior. I expected to hear about the annals of LSD from one of the members of the intrepid advance team of Timothy Leary and Alpert. Instead of the former Harvard professor, in walks a guy with a long beard in a white dress, barefoot in the frozen mud of New England in March. Forty or fifty people were sprawled around a lounge at the College of Letters. At 7:00 p.m., Ram Dass started speaking about his transformation in India. He had just spent six months learning yoga and meditation in the Himalaya foothills, keeping celibate, mostly in silence. Through those practices, he had built up a lot of spiritual energy. Ram Dass’s words and thoughts flowed like a spring freshet after snow melts and the ice breaks. The concepts he wove were exhilarating, like shooting rapids in a canoe.
    • Is Ram Dass Still Here Now?, Rameshwar Das, Tricycle (12 Jan 2021)
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