Dear Ram Dass . . . Thank you for all you’ve done to help open the eyes of so many to the infinite vistas of our existence. You never gathered your followers or admirers to yourself, but directed each of us to choose our own way. This was a humble and wise stance for you to take, for you prepared a garden of spiritual freedom. For over a half-century we’ve seeded our individual garden patches where we’ve nurtured hopeful shoots, watching them flourish or wither.
On December 22, Ram Dass, Richard Alpert, former Harvard Professor, psychedelic pioneer, and servant of God, crossed the threshold to the greater worlds beyond.
Life is a tough row to hoe, so much of it being fraught with the smelly fertilizer of illusion and disappointment. But a key test to any path we choose, or pack of seeds we bought–to maintain this metaphor, was your admonition to “Remember to be here now.”
I first learned about Ram Dass early in my search for truth just after Thyme and I were married. This was a little over a year and a half after Woodstock. The above photo was taken during one of his talks a couple years later. The story goes like this.
Stephen the Wind, another of our spiritual mentors, bummed a ride with us back to Syracuse, New York. On the way, we made one stop for the night in Burlington, Vermont. Stephen invited us to stay over at a friend’s house. He’d promised a special surprise.
It was a beautiful, starlit night when we arrived. “Follow me,” said Stephen. So we piled out of our cars and followed him across a baseball diamond where the five of us sat cross-legged around home plate. It was a sacred moment.
We delighted in how high the weekend was, even without psychedelic enhancements. We rapped about God, Gibran, Carlos Castaneda, Herman Hesse, Alan Watts, and Timothy Leary.
“During the Summer of Love,” Stephen began, “Richard Alpert split for India and found his guru. So, he sat there at the feet of the guru. The guru said to him, “You have sidis?” Alpert didn’t know what he meant at first. So the old guy opened his mouth, pretending to put something into it. “Sidis,” he said. “Powers.”
“At last, Alpert figured it out. “Are you talking about LSD?” he asked.
The guru nodded and beckoned Alpert to give him some. The guru popped it into his mouth, then motioned for Alpert to give him some more. “Are you sure?” he asked. So Alpert gave him another hit. Then the guru said to give him another. Alpert could not believe it, but did comply. “And that was powerful stuff,” Alpert laughed.
“Then the guru chomped down on all three hits, opening his mouth wide for Alpert to see.” Stephen paused for effect.
“Then what happened?” yelled Waldo.
“Nothing, man!” Stephen exclaimed. “He already had such a natural high, the acid didn’t even touch him. It impressed Alpert, to say the least.”
“I would be,” I said. Everyone else nodded in agreement.
“So Alpert stayed in India studying with this guru for a few years and achieved enlightenment. His guru gave him the name Ram Dass. It means servant of God.
Stephen stood up and said, “And now for the surprise. Let’s go back to the house.” We complied, noticing we were starting to get moist with dew.
“Ram Dass is back in the US now, giving lectures at the Esalen Institute,” Stephen continued as we entered the living room. “Everybody take your shoes off and lie flat on your back.” He tossed each of us a throw pillow to put under our head. As we settled in he said, “Here’s the surprise. They’ve been taping his lectures. A friend of mine got a copy and made me one, too. It is incredible, man. People are doing this all over the country—a spiritual revolution.”
Stephen threaded the end of a reel of audiotape into a reel-to-reel tape deck saying, “Okay, just close your eyes and listen. You’re in for the coolest spiritual journey since Paramahansa Yogananda.”*
We did. It was. In fact, it was a pivotal moment in each of our lives. Ram Dass has captured the essence of his talks in print in the book, Be Here Now.
“Be here now.” That’s been one of the most enlightened calls to action of that century . . . or any other century, for that matter. The Moody Blues once responded in song to a rumor that Timothy Leary, Ram Dass’s former cohort, was dead. The response? “On, no no no, he’s outside looking in.” Leary did cross is 1996. No doubt he greeted his ol’ pal, and right here, right now, they’re both in that quantum”outside” looking in. God bless us every one!