Alpert, Richard (1931-)

views updated

Alpert, Richard (1931-)

With Dr. Timothy Leary, Alpert became a controversial figure in the psychedelic revolution of the l960s. Born April 6, 1931, in Boston, he received his Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford University in 1957, then taught at Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard University. Leary and Alpert were both dismissed from Harvard for their experiments with psilocybin. They subsequently obtained financing to conduct experiments and to publicize the use of such drugs as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in producing altered states of consciousness, thus launching the psychedelic revolution.

In propagating the belief that mystical experience could be obtained from a drug, Leary and Alpert were expanding upon suggestions made earlier in Aldous Huxley 's book The Doors of Perception (1954), which cited the sacramental use of peyote by certain North American Indians. However, the motivations and cultural values of those closely knit groups were left behind in what became a popular movement. The psychedelic revolution contributed to the popularization of mystical experiences in an otherwise materialistic society but at the same time led many into meaningless despair and helped legitimize the widespread use of addictive narcotics drugs, now widely recognized as a major social problem.

In 1967, in a state of spiritual despair, Alpert went to India in search of meaning through mysticism. He studied for a few months under Neem Karoli Baba in the Himalayas, then returned to the United States as "Baba Ram Dass," or "God's servant." Having abandoned psychedelic drugs, he emerged as a disciple of Hindu spirituality and commenced a career of lecturing and writing. In 1969 Ram Dass gave a course on raja yoga (meditation ) at Esalen Institute, near San Francisco, California, launching his new role as a transpersonal psychologist speaking on spiritual issues. His first book as Baba Ram Dass, Be Here Now, made him a popular figure in what was to become the New Age movement. He followed it with a series of books, including Seed (1972), The Only Dance There Is (1974), and Grist for the Mill (1977).

Ram Dass has lectured widely on his present spiritual position and on personality problems of Western life. Royalties from his book The Only Dance There Is supported the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and his activities are conducted under the auspices of the Hanuman Foundation, which distributes his books and lecture tapes. The foundation may be reached at PO Box 478, Sante Fe, NM 87504. On land near Taos, New Mexico, Baba Ram Dass built the Neem Karoli Baba Hanuman Temple in memory of his guru.

In 1997 Ram Das had a stroke which left him largely incapacitated but in the past three years he has been improving greatly through rehabilitation. He has returned to a limited number of talks and public appearances.


Ram Dass, Baba [Richard Alpert]. Be Here Now. Christobal, N.Mex.: Lama Foundation, 1972.

. Grist for the Mill. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Unity Press, 1977.

. Journey to Awakening. New York: Bantam Books, 1976.

. The Only Dance There Is. New York: Aronson, 1976.