Ram Dass

The teachings of Ram Dass

Who was Ram Dass?

Ram Dass – sometimes known as Baba Ram Dass – was an American-born exponent of Eastern spirituality and yoga in the West. He was also a qualified psychoanalyst and author. He was perhaps best-known as a spiritual teacher who did a great deal to bring many aspects of Hinduism to a wider audience in the post-war generation of Americans. Ram Dass travelled to India in the late 1960s where he became a disciple of Neem Karoli Baba, a Hindu guru. It was him who gave Ram Dass his new name which translates into English as 'Servant of God'. Following a stroke in the 1990s, the spiritual teacher was left with some paralysis, but he learned to speak again and took up travelling once more until he became ill again after a trip to India in 2004. He died in Hawaii in December 2019.

 What was the real name of Ram Dass?

Born in April 1931, Ram Dass was originally called Richard Alpert. He was raised in Newton, Massachusetts into Judaism by his Jewish parents, Gertrude and George. During his bar mitzvah, aged 13, he was reportedly left feeling hollow by his religious upbringing and decided to become an atheist. During the 1950s, Alpert conducted an academic career, eventually gaining a PhD in psychology and going on to teach at Stanford University. Along with his friend, Timothy Leary, Alpert would become interested in the therapeutic possibilities of the psychoactive drug, LSD. It was this, he claimed, that subsequently opened his mind to God and spirituality.

What does Ram Dass teach about spirituality?

After co-authoring a book on LSD and giving lectures at the League for Spiritual Discovery in New York in the 1960s, Alpert took his aforementioned trip to India which saw him return to the US as Ram Dass. He subsequently wrote 'Be Here Now' which was a reflection on all of his spiritual and psychological ideas. Published in 1971, it became a bestseller. Part autobiography and part spiritual handbook, it contains many spiritual aphorisms and illustrations. The book also offers insights into using yoga as a means of getting into spirituality. It was one of the first books to teach people about how to become a yogi that was written for non-Hindus.

Was Ram Dass Jewish?

Given his upbringing, many people have asked whether he considered himself to be Jewish or a Hindu. The answer depends on which period of his life you are looking at. Certainly, he said himself that in his 60s that he became more interested in Judaism. According to him, this was entirely consistent with his Hindu beliefs which state that how one is born is no mere accident but a reflection on past lives.

Which foundations was Ram Dass involved with?

Ram Dass founded the Hanuman Foundation, a not-for-profit educational organisation devoted to spiritual teaching. Much of his proceeds as a writer went to it. He was also heavily involved with the Seva Foundation which aimed to help blind people in Nepal and India.

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