Ram Dass’ Obituary (1931-2019)

Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert; April 6, 1931 at Boston, MA) died peacefully at his home on December 22, 2019, on Maui. Memorial services in Maui and Taos, NM, will be announced as soon as details have been finalized.

Ram Dass was a major influence on American spiritual life for more than fifty years. His groundbreaking BE HERE NOW (Crown, 1971)–part graphic novel, part introduction to yoga and inner transformation–is an enduring classic that has sold over two million copies. In the seventies it was the hippies’ bible; today it continues to inspire young people in their search for meaning. Historian of religion Huston Smith said, “One of the virtues of Be Here Now is that it is not tied to any historical religious tradition. It just goes straight for the pay dirt and the essence and the heart that underlies them all.”

Alpert was born in Newton, Massachusetts. His father, George Alpert, was a prominent lawyer in Boston, who served as President of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, and was a founder of Brandeis University. Ram Dass earned degrees from Tufts, Wesleyan, and Stanford, and taught psychology at both Stanford and Harvard.

He met Timothy Leary through David McClelland, who headed the Center for Research in Personality at the Social Relations Department at Harvard, where Alpert and Leary both did research. Together they began the Harvard Psilocybin Project, which included the “Good Friday Experiment”, which assessed the effect of psilocybin on spiritual experience, and later founded the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) to study the religious use of psychedelic drugs.

As a psychologist, Richard Alpert played a pivotal role in the psychedelic movement of the sixties, lecturing on psychedelics at numerous college campuses across the country. A generation “turned on, tuned in, and dropped out” with psychedelics, providing the inner fuel for a turbulent era of social change, sexual liberation, and political unrest. In 1963, as psychedelics began to have a major influence on the culture, Alpert gained the distinction of being the first professor fired from Harvard in the 20th century. His predecessor in the previous century was Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Alpert, Leary, and Ralph Metzner established psychedelic communes in Newton, MA, in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and in Millbrook, New York. The explorations by psychologists, creative artists, musicians, poets, and philosophers, pioneered the “set and setting” guidelines still used for research sessions in the current resurgence of psychedelic research.

In 1967-68, Alpert journeyed to India, where he met the famed Indian saint, Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji, chronicled in BE HERE NOW. After learning yoga and meditating in the Himalayas for six months, he returned to the West as Ram Dass, which means “Servant of God.” For decades, Ram Dass crisscrossed America, lecturing on an eclectic spiritual path. Born Jewish and transformed by a Hindu guru, his lectures and books invoke Zen Buddhism, Sufi mysticism, Christ consciousness, one-pointed meditation, and bhakti (devotional) and karma (action) yoga. He was a pioneer of the then-new American spirituality movement and its introduction to the West of yoga, meditation, and other contemplative practices.

He was a guide for thousands seeking to discover or reclaim their spiritual identity beyond or within institutional religion. He was instrumental in the establishment of adult learning centers for expanding human potential and awakening consciousness, including Esalen Institute, Omega Institute, Lama Foundation, and the Insight Meditation Society. He also co-founded many service organizations, including the Prison-Ashram Project, the Living-Dying Institute, and Seva Foundation, an international public health foundation that has restored sight to five million people, primarily in Asia.

In early 1997, Ram Dass had a hemorrhagic stroke that left him with paralysis and expressive aphasia. He recovered enough of his speech to lead retreats from his wheelchair, lecture remotely at conferences, teach online, and mentor many students. In 2004, he moved to Maui, where he lived a quieter life, led retreats on the island twice a year, wrote books, and continued to teach online.

The ramdass.org website run by Love Serve Remember Foundation is visited by 250,000 people each month and distributes his online teachings and courses for free. His podcast, “Ram Dass Here and Now,” on the Be Here Now Network has over 200,000 downloads per month.

Click here to read LSRF”s statement on Ram Dass’ passing.

The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner (1964, Citadel Press)
BE HERE NOW (1971, Lama Foundation, distributed by Crown Publishers)
The Only Dance There Is (1974, Anchor/Doubleday)
Grist for the Mill, with Stephen Levine (1977, Celestial Arts, 2nd ed. HarperOne)
Journey of Awakening: A Meditator’s Guidebook, with Dwarka Bonner, Daniel Goleman (1978, Bantam)
Miracle of Love (1979, E.P. Dutton)
How Can I Help? with Paul Gorman (1985, Knopf)
Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service, with Mirabai Bush (1992, Bell Tower)
Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying (2000, Riverhead Books)
Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita (2004, Harmony Books)
One-Liners: A Mini-Manual for a Spiritual Life, (2002, Bell Tower)
Be Love Now, with Rameshwar Das (2010, HarperOne)
Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart, with Rameshwar Das (2013, Sounds True)
Walking Each Other Home, with Mirabai Bush (2018, Sounds True)
Being Ram Dass, with Rameshwar Das (2021, Sounds True)

Photo by Perry Julien

7 thoughts on “Ram Dass’ Obituary (1931-2019)”

  1. As a young “seeker” I eagerly attended (early 1970’s) his presentations of his journey from Harvard professor to Teacher and delighted in his anecdotes of Tim Leary. I am saddened by his passing but I am lifted up when I recall his recounting the story of the imminent passing of one of his teachers where a group of the teacher’s devotees, sensing his death, cried in anguish (excuse my phonetic spelling) “Bagwangee, Bagwangee, don’t leave us Bagwangee! Whereupon the teacher responded “don’t be silly… where could I go”. Ram Das continued: “After all, he was just dropping his body… like getting rid of an old Ford but his soul will continue”.

    God bless you Ram Das.

  2. I thought he was still alive and living in Hawaii. How did I miss his passing? I really enjoyed his movie “Fierce Grace,” and his book on aging “Still Here.” He was able to put the transitory nature of life and the experience of aging and loss into a less horrible and sad seeming thing. When I was growing up in the 1960’s, I remember hearing about him and Timothy Leary, but I really didn’t get to know him, until I read “Still Here” and watched his movie “Fierce Grace.” I didn’t read his book “Be Here Now” from his early days, until “Still Here” came out after he had his stroke. It was interesting reading one book right after the other. In the book “Still Here,” he said, winding up in a wheel chair had always seemed like the worst thing that could happen, since he had always been a very active person, – then, out of the blue, it did happen to him and he said it
    wasn’t as bad as he imagined it would be and he called his wheel chair his “Swan Boat,” which I thought was very poetic. He found another way to live. I remember in “Fierce Grace” when he was going through physical therapy in an attempt to get his mobility back, he said in our world, we’re always trying to make things the way they were before and it causes us a lot of grief. I thought that was an interesting observation. So….. fare-well Ram Dass. Good traveling….

  3. the idea of faith this morning, when the teacher Ram Dass referenced said, ‘Don’t be silly, where would I go” I had just finished puja with The Open Path group from Boise, Id. We do the sadhana online since covid and members moving from Idaho. Nolan mentioned Jack Kornfield speaking at Ram Dass’s memorial service, and I was shocked-how did I miss his dying?
    In the 70’s I was a volunteer for an organization that brought Ram Dass to Minnesota. I was assigned to carry the monies collected across the grounds to an office upstairs in the building. I was terrified to carry so much money-it was over $6K in a little pouch hanging on my chest. Why this story? My life received many such blessings of awareness after I met Neem Karoli Baba through Ram Dass. I hadn’t realized how held or supported I have been by Maharaji and Ram Dass until this morning. During the same speaking engagement, I was touched by how Ram Dass’s accent reminded me of my family, and how we would always kiss when we said hello. I had that thought while standing at his book signing table. When I stood in front of him, he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

  4. Ram Dass
    Grateful to him as a guide along the way as I am to all those who helped the journey to the Beloved .

    ‘Should there be ignited in thy heart the burning brand of the love of God ,thou wouldst seek neither rest nor composure ,neither laughter nor repose ,but wouldst hasten to scale the highest summits to the realm of divine nearness,sanctity and beauty ‘
    Baha’u’llah. (Gems of Divine Mysteries ) p 14

    ‘O living flame of heavenly love !
    Thine heart hath been so fired with the love of God that from ten thousand leagues afar it’s warmth and radiance may be felt and seen .The fire lit by mortal hand imparteth light and warmth to but a little space , whereas that sacred flame which the Hand of God hath kindled ,thought burning in the east ,will set aflame the west and give warmth to both the north and the south ; nay it shall rise from this world to glow with the hottest flame in the realms on high ,flooding with light the Kingdom of eternal glory ‘

    Writings of Abdul Baha no 177 pages 214/5

    Have been a Baha’i for 50 years and a pioneer both in Dominica and Macau,China as well as many pioneer moves with my wife Jill and family

    ‘The earth is but one country and mankind it’s citizens’


    Much more could write but

    The independent investigation of truth is one of the fundamental principles of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation
    A question for you
    Why were all the Manifestations of God ,Messengers of God persecuted,reviled ,exiled when They came to this earth ?

    ‘O Son of love !
    Thou art but one step away from the glorious heights above and from the celestial tree of love .Take thou one pace and with the next advance into the immortal realm and enter the pavilion of eternity.Give ear then to that which hath been revealed by the pen of glory ‘

    Baha’u’llah The Hidden Words

  5. Beloved teacher grateful for your love. You continue to give light to the world. I shall carry your love and message and show the world your blessings and teachings.

    Your transcendence teaches all is one. Blessings to all who were close to you. Rejoice baba envelopes us all with his love.

  6. For a hippie in the early 70’s, Be Here Now was life-changing. Through Ram Dass, Maharaji came to sit in many hippie hearts. For some, Maharaji turned and looked out through the heart. Once those eyes look out, one’s life changes for the remainder of one’s days. Ram Dass was the vessel for this opened perspective in our lives. Thank you, Ram Dass, for the course of my life.


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