Baba Ram Dass, the 1960s counterculture spiritual leader who experimented with LSD and travelled to India to find enlightenment, returning to share it with Americans, has passed over to the other side. He was 88.
Born Richard Alpert, Ram Dass was known as a devotee of Eastern religion and for his spiritual teachings that drew from a variety of traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and Jewish mystical studies.
He had suffered a severe stroke in 1997 that left him paralyzed on the right side and, for a time, unable to speak. More recently, he underwent hip surgery after he was injured in a fall in November 2008, according to his website.
“I had really thought about checking out, but your love and your prayers convinced me not to do it. … It’s just beautiful,” he told followers in a videotaped message at the time from his hospital bed in Hawaii.
He was best known for the 1971 book “Be Here Now,” written after his trip to India. The spiritual primer found its way into thousands of backpacks around the world.
“I want to share with you the parts of the internal journey that never get written up in the mass media,” he wrote. “I’m not interested in what you read in the Saturday Evening Post about LSD. This is the story of what goes on inside a human being who is undergoing all these experiences.”
Among his other books were “How Can I Help?” and “Compassion in Action” and “Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying.”
“In the ’60s, I was an uncle for a movement,” he told The Associated Press in 1998. “I was always showing people where they could go. I went east, and then there was a big movement east.”
He also released a film called Becoming Nobody which is about the life and teachings of Ram Dass presented by the Google Empathy Lab. The film takes a look at Dass’s time on planet earth from his beginnings as Harvard Professor Richard Alpert to his life in India and spiritual teachings from the Maharaji. Throughout the film, we’re spoiled with powerful and thought-provoking reflections from Ram Dass himself and below, you’ll find a sampling of these quotes.
1. “Everybody is playing with their stories; who they think they are. It’s more fun to just witness it all. To be in the environment in which it’s all happening.”
2. “When you take off your mask, it’s easier for everyone else to do it. Our culture is so mask-driven. Imagine an office with no mask.”
3. “Your entire life is a curriculum. Everything you’ve got on your plate is where the stuff for your enlightenment is. It’s breathtaking when you see the beauty of this design.”
4. “In our culture we’ve been trained to make individual differences to stand out. You look at each person and think, ‘Brighter, dumber, older, younger, richer, poorer’ and we make all these dimensional distinctions, put them in categories and treat people that way. And we only see others as separate from ourselves. One of the dramatic characteristics of the psychedelic experience is being with another person and suddenly seeing the ways in which they are like you – not different from you.”
5. “You walk down the street and you’re somebody; you dress like somebody; your face looks like somebody. Everybody is reinforcing their structure of the universe over and over again and you meet [each other] like two huge things meeting. We enter into these conspiracies. You say, I’ll make believe you are who you think you are if you make believe I am who I think I am.”
6. “The spiritual trip in this moment is not necessarily a cave in the Himalayas, but it’s in relation to the technology that’s existing, it’s in relation to where we’re at, it’s relation to issues like pollution, political interest and activism. It’s all part of one package now.”
7. “How do we know who we are? We might be one breath away from enlightenment or death or who knows? The uncertainty is great. It keeps it wide open.”
8. “The soul comes to the incarnation to learn something. You learn best to involve yourself in the game; loving watching yourself with humor and love.”
9. “Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.”
10. “You have to have a lot of compassion for the stages people are in. Souls are neither nor evil. Actions are good or evil. Motivation is good or evil. Personalities can be good or evil. But the essence of being is neither good or evil it just is. And it sometimes it has heavy stuff to work out and other times good stuff to work out.”
11. “Your ‘downs’ turn out to be more interesting than your highs after a while because it’s showing you where you’re aren’t.”
12. “Give up the anger. Working it through is making it something. Just give it up.”
13. “Anytime you push something away it’s still there.”
14. “When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
15. “When you begin to realize that suffering is grace, you can’t believe it, you think you’re cheating. See, it doesn’t mean not having any preferences. It means not being attached to your preferences.”
16. “When I was born I donned a spacesuit for living on this plane, it was this body, my space suit, and it had a steering mechanism which is my pre-frontal lobe and all the brain that helps with coordinating and stuff. Just like those others who go to the moon and learn to use their space suit…how to grab things and lift things so I learned how to do that. And then you get rewarded with little stars, kisses and all kinds of things when you learn how to use your space suit. You get so good at it that you can’t differentiate yourself from your spacesuit.”
17. “When the suffering comes down pike you don’t turn away from it because you know that the only reason you’re suffering is to show you the clinging of your own mind. It’s being offered to you as a gift.”
18. “A rule of the spiritual practice game is learning to trust one’s own intuitive heart; learning to trust another way of knowing outside of the rational, analytical process. That you start to respond to something in you that knows even though who you think you are doesn’t know it knows. It turns out intuition is perhaps where salvation lies and where thinking is where our destruction lies. We thought our way into this peculiar situation where we’re alienated from the Earth and from each other. And caught in greed which is a product of the mind.
19. “Death doesn’t need to be treated as an enemy to delight in life…I encourage to make peace with death. To see it as a culminating adventure of this adventure of life. It is not an error, it is not a failure. It is taking off a tight shoe that you’ve worn well.”
20. “The game is to be where you are. Be it honestly and as consciously as you know how.”
21. “Life on this plane is like being in the 4th grade. You took birth here because you have certain work to do that involves the suffering you do, the kinds of situations you find yourself in. This is your curriculum. It’s not an error. Where you are now with all your neurosis and your problems; you’re sitting in just the right place. Imagine that.”
Google Empathy Lab | Ram Dass