Spiritual leader and pioneer of the US psychedelic movement Baba Ram Dass died in Hawaii on Sunday at the age of 88. Dass was born Richard Alpert in Boston, US in 1931 and along with Timothy Leary started promoting the use of psychedelic drugs in order to achieve enlightenment during the 1960s, which was also the beginning of the psychedelic movement in the country.
Who was Baba Ram Dass?
Dass was born as Richard Alpert and went on to become a prominent psychologist and psychedelic pioneer at Harvard University along with fellow academician Dr. Timothy Leary. During Dass’s trip to India, which he took in 1967, he met his guru Neem Karoli Baba who named him “Ram Dass”, which translates to “servant of God”. It is believed that when Steve Jobs took a trip to India in 1974, he wanted to meet with Karoli baba, but couldn’t since he had died the previous year.
Before this, in 1961, Dass along with Leary, Ralph Metzner, Aldous Huxley and Allen Ginsberg began researching psilocybin, LSD-25 and other psychedelic chemicals. In 1963, Leary and Dass were fired by Harvard after the faculty found out that they were sharing drugs with some of the students. Following this, Leary and Dass took a trip to Mexico where they ate mushrooms and instead of academicians they started on their journey to become “counter-culture icons”. According to Dass’ website, “For Ram Dass psychedelic work turned out to be a prelude to the mystical country of the spirit and the source of consciousness itself. Mind expansion via chemical substances became a catalyst for the spiritual seeking. This naturally led him eastward to the traditional headwater of mystical rivers, India. Once there, a series of seeming coincidences led him to Neem Karoli Baba and the transformation from Richard Alpert to Ram Dass.”
His first book, “Be Here Now” was published in 1971 and is described as a “counter-culture bible”. According to his website, the book’s work has influenced countless seekers of enlightenment on their “spiritual journeys”. The book, “bridges the gap between Eastern spirituality and Western culture.”
The US counterculture movement
Broadly, the counterculture movement in the US started in the 60s, when a section of the youth began rejecting the ideas of the 50s such as the cultural standards of their parents, racial segregation, women’s rights, materialism and the Vietnam war among others.
Among the members of the counterculture movement, there were some who were experimenting with psychedelic drugs and encouraging its usage as a method to increase consciousness. According to Gallup, “The 1960s brought us tie-dye, sit-ins and fears of large-scale drug use. Hippies smoked marijuana, kids in ghettos pushed heroin, and Timothy Leary, a Harvard professor, urged the world to try LSD.”
Furthermore, according to Frontline, in the 50s the US military and the CIA were researching the use of LSD as a “truth drug”, hoping that it would urge prisoners to talk. This was followed by the psychiatric community’s interest in the drug, that was investigating the drug’s use in helping with depression and epilepsy. Then came the recreational users of LSD, these included physicians, research study participants and psychiatrics among others and 61 Leary himself was introduced to LSD.
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