When Ram Dass visited the Hare Krishna temple
When Ram Dass visited the Hare Krishna temple.
Ram Dass, left his body on December 22, 2019. He was also known as Baba Ram Dass, an American spiritual teacher, psychologist, and author. His best-known book, Be Here Now (1971) helped popularize Eastern spirituality and yoga with the baby boomer generation in the West.
Narottamananda das ACBSP: 1969, a beautiful spring day: almost 2 years after the summer of love. Many of the students at the University of Buffalo were gathered outside enjoying the sun and good weather, some throwing, some chasing Frisbees, others chatting and lounging on the grass. Perhaps only 50 or 100 students out of 20,000 came to the hall to hear the speaker, Richard Alpert, Baba Ram Dass, who had worked with Timothy Leary at Harvard and who was known for his experimentation with psychedelics.
Recently returned from India with robes and mantra chanting of Rama, Rama, Rama he impressed. I was instantly drawn to him and left the 2 friends I had been sitting with about 6 rows back and re-situated myself alone, front row center.
Ram Dass spoke of his life’s journey, his drug experiments and what he had learned along the way. He then spoke of his India adventure and his passing out of LSD to sadhus (holy men) until he met one who wasn’t affected. He spoke of psychology, spirituality, LSD, seeking of truth and universal love, and giving up of ego.
I sat transfixed for 3 hours. Nearing the conclusion of his presentation he returned to mantra chanting, “Rama, Rama, Rama”. The sound vibration filled the room with soothing energy.
As a young boy who had once laid restlessly in bed contemplating where I had been before I was born, he succeeded in capturing my attention.
The previous year I had chanted the Hare Krishna mantra with Allen Ginsberg while attending one of his poetry readings and now I was enrolled in a university class where we studied the Bhagavad Gita as well as chanted. Before that, as with many others of the day, I had substantially experimented with psychedelics and was intrigued with consciousness development while seeking some type of universal purpose, meaning, and truth. I had read many from the typical collection of seekers books, such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, various titles by Edgar Cayce, etc.
As Ram Dass’s chanting gradually ended, I found myself in front of him inquiring if he would like to accompany me to the small Hare Krishna center which was a few blocks away. There were programs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. He immediately agreed and I waited patiently for others to connect with him before we walked together to his car. As I settled into the passenger seat I noticed many pictures of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, displayed.
We drove the few blocks to the Krishna temple. To more kirtan. To a Bhagavad Gita discourse. To Prasad. To personal discussion and then goodbyes until months later that summer when I hitchhiked to Franklin, New Hampshire with my Zen Buddhist friend to reconnect and to spend some time at his informal ashram.
The trip to and from Franklin proved to be quite a magical mystery tour and it carried me further down the road in my quest for self.
Ram Dass was always questioning and seeking deep understanding, sharing his learning and journey with others. He was a teacher, a student, a leader, a follower, an inspiration and an amalgamator of inner treasure. He mined for love and ultimately found his treasure which he shared with all who would listen. He was a noticeable part of popular culture, but took an unexpected turn to the mystical less understood and less traveled world of the east, to sadhus and saints, to dusty books of truth and philosophy as well as his own world experience, balancing it all in ways that he and others could move forward guided by the old, but still relevant for a modern life both meaningful and present.
Through his first book, Be Here Now, he quietly shouted to the world. Many listened. His voice and inspiration continued through the coming decades. His service and contemplation striving to reach beyond labels and ego pointed the way for himself and others. Many considered him a master, but within he felt as another on the path, each day offering possibilities of new growth and challenges.
As George Harrison was committed to his spiritual journey Ram Dass was committed to his. As George was an inspiration, being one of the most important figures in popular culture, likewise was Ram Dass. Many have acknowledged his inspiration and guidance with more than a few having begun their inward journey through Be Here Now.
He was among those that tangibly introduced me to life beyond the superficial showing glimpses of new realms within and without beginning with psychedelic explorations then graduating to thoughtful spiritual awareness. After adding my own experiences and personal realizations, I moved closer to who would ultimately become my essential teacher and guide, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who in 1965 had carried the sweet essence of bhakti-yoga and the devotional artistry of Krishna worship to the west.
Hearing the news of Ram Dass’s departure I offer my respects and acknowledge his importance to myself and enumerable others as we continue our journey seeking eternal love and ultimate spiritual satisfaction.
Being a slow learner, I wave to each of you as you pass me by…