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In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

Above: Ram Dass, late 60s, from “Birth of a Psychedelic Culture”

Forever Remembering Ram Dass

Psychedelic pioneer, countercultural icon, spiritual teacher, and Synergetic Press author Ram Dass passed away last month. He peacefully departed from his body on 22 December 2019, at the ripe age of 88 surrounded by friends and loved ones at his home in Maui. 

Without a doubt, Ram Dass was one of the most symbolically representative figures of the countercultural consciousness revolution that took place in the 1960s and 70s. From formidable Harvard professor, LSD researcher, and right-hand man to Timothy Leary, he helped to initiate the psychedelic era to later becoming the spiritual teacher known world over as Ram Dass. 

Born Richard Alpert in April 1931, he graduated from Tufts University in Boston, earning a doctorate in psychology at Stanford, and becoming a high-flying professor of psychology at Harvard University. In the early 1960s, Alpert worked together with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner at Harvard University, emerging as a figurehead in the countercultural scene. 

Higher Consciousness at Harvard

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary & Ralph Metzner

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzner

It was under Timothy Leary’s influence that Richard Alpert came to have his first psychedelic experience. Leary had experienced psilocybin mushrooms in Mexico, holding that the experience revealed more about human psychology than he’d spent his career learning. Alpert found himself intrigued by Leary’s description of the mushroom, and soon enough an experiment had been arranged. Alpert describes his first experience with psychedelics as extremely powerful, bringing about an ego-death, dissolving the image of himself that he’d spent his career working towards. Reflecting on his dissolving identity, he said:

“‘Well, I guess I don’t really need that anymore’ and I sat back and relaxed. And the minute I said, ‘I don’t need that anymore,’ the figure changed and it was somebody else. I sat forward and there I was again, except now I was the young cosmopolite. My ‘cosmopoliteness’ was sitting over there; alright, well I guess I can do without that. Sat back. And in a sequence, all of my social roles went by— ‘loverness,’ ‘wise man,’ ‘kind person—all of my roles. With each one, I said: ‘Okay, well too bad about that one, there it goes.’”

In 1960, Timothy Leary ordered psilocybin from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, with the aim of investigating how different manners of administration could generate different experiences. Richard Alpert, alongside Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner (who passed away last year), collaborated with figures like Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg in order to carry out research into human consciousness, which later became known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. 

Soon the Harvard professors began to include LSD in their experiments. Although psilocybin and LSD were both legal at the time, their research was considered to be highly controversial and its legitimacy was questioned by the faculty at Harvard, leading to Alpert and Leary being jointly dismissed in 1963. 

Learn more about LSD, it’s history, and how it was first synthesized.

Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

Unperturbed, the unorthodox Harvard trio relocated to an estate in Millbrook, New York, offered to them by heirs of the Mellon fortune, in order to continue their research. Alpert and Leary went from being academic to legendary counterculture icons, forever changing a generation of Americans with their explorations into the usness. 

An illuminating conversation between Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner is presented in our publication, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations about Leary, Harvard, Millbrook, and the Sixties, in which they shine light on these radical experiments, and provide an understanding of the history of the sixties.

CLICK HERE to read Ram Dass’s and Ralph Metzner’s reflections in this last chapter of their memoir on a decade of experimentation with psychedelics and pioneering the science of consciousness research with their colleague Timothy Leary.

The Trap of Getting High 

Psychedelics were undoubtedly the catalysts that led Richard Alpert to India, seeking a more permanent form of enlightenment. The awakenings induced by psychedelic substances never lasted for long, and Alpert longed for a way to maintain and integrate expanded states of consciousness. Disillusioned with the experiments at Millbrook, Alpert traveled to India in 1967 in search of a more enduring experience of enlightenment. In India, he became the devoted disciple of the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, tenderly known as Maharajji. It was Maharajji who renamed Alpert as ‘Ram Dass’, meaning “Servant of God”.

During his time in India, Ram Dass gave his guru a hefty dose of LSD, curious to see how Maharajji would react. However, it had no impact, and the holy man was unaffected by the drug, telling Ram Dass that one could take a drug and “stay in the room with Christ for only a few hours instead of living with the Lord.” It was this notion that led Ram Dass to make his life about spiritual practice, his relationship with psychedelics taking a backseat. 

We Wouldn’t Be Here Now without Ram Dass

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

Ram Dass’s ‘Be Here Now’

Ram Dass was a major harbinger of the New Age movement, and after returning to America, long-haired and bearded, Ram Dass devoted himself to the path of selfless service, making Maharajji’s teachings his work, eventually becoming considered a guru himself.

“A guru only exists to serve his devotees, that’s the only reason for his existence. And seeing him in the physical form is only another part of the dance and another part of the illusion.”

Upon returning from India in 1971, Ram Dass distilled his spiritually enlightening experiences, publishing his seminal book Be Here Now in which he imparts the teachings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji. Be Here Now was perhaps Ram Dass’s most influential work, and it continues to be exceptionally resonant for generations of spiritual seekers, having sold over two million copies since it was first published. In a sense, the book made novel Eastern spiritual and philosophical ideas palatable to the Western mind, propelling the New Age discourse on mindful awareness, positivity, and higher consciousness. 

No Stranger to Death

An experienced psychonaut, Ram Dass knew the terrain of ego-death intimately, having co-authored The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner to guide people through experiences of ego-death encountered in the psychedelic experience. 

Beyond this, in 1997, Ram Dass suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side, unable to find the words which before had flowed so fluidly. Going from being fully independent to being dependent on others, and having to learn how to speak again, he described the stroke as “ego-shattering”. Emphasizing the importance of “being here now”, Ram Dass viewed death as a reminder to live more fully, encouraging us to be in the moment and remember that our souls transcend space, time and the transient existence of the physical body. 

In the past, he had spoken of his acceptance of death. Last year, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine he was asked how he’d come to this acceptance. In response, he shared: 

“When I arrived at my soul. Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite.”

A Word from Michael Gosney, Synergetic Press, Associate Publisher

“It was an honor to have known all three of the main characters in the Harvard Psychedelic Club. The first was Timothy Leary, who I befriended in the early 90s during his final Chaos and Cyberculture phase when he appeared at several of our Digital Be-In events in San Francisco, and we held parties at his house in Bel Air during the Digital Hollywood conferences. I met Ram Dass at Tim’s 75th birthday where he made a theatric entrance with a gigantic bouquet of roses, symbolizing his love for Tim and the end of their estrangement at the time.

Ralph Metzner and I met in the late 90s with his participation in the Digital Be-In, and in 2003 I organized the after-party in San Francisco for his groundbreaking conference on Ayahuasca. The following year Ram Dass finally made our spirited cyberculture event when we held a Ram Dass discussion circle moderated by Wavy Gravy at Digital Be-In 13 (May 29, 2004, Memorial Day with themed “The Transparent Network”).

I have long been fascinated by the respective roles these three iconic figures played on the world stage. Timothy took the celebrity visionary path and continued to hack mainstream culture in various ways. Ralph never stopped working as a serious consciousness researcher and became the guide of guides, leading the neo-shamanic movement and helping to set in motion today’s psychedelic research renaissance. Richard Alpert in becoming Baba Ram Dass took the path of spirit, and starting with his classic transmission Be Here Now, translated age-old principles for a new generation of seekers looking for deeper insights into life than the prevailing materialist paradigm offered. His many books, seminars, and organizations (such as Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation) were all products of his commitment to compassion. Before his passing, he initiated the Be Here Now Network an ongoing resource from his core circle of teachers.

Although I never had the opportunity to know Ram Dass as I did the other two, events and people seemed to keep us connected, including friends who managed his tours before the stroke constrained his travel, friends who made the beautiful documentary Dying to Know, and my work over the years with Synergetic Press, which in effect began with a launch party for Birth of a Psychedelic Culture edited by Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner at the legendary Anon Salon venue in San Francisco.

The last time I saw Ram Dass was in 2016 when he wheeled up to the table at the wedding of mutual friends in Maui. Although his energy was limited that day, he took the time to come and join in the celebration and bless the event. All in attendance felt that signature loving vibration.

Thank you, dear brother, for all you contributed to our shared journey through these remarkable times. Onward into the subtle realms…”

 

Summer of Love Sale: LSD & 1960s Counterculture

Summer of Love Sale: LSD & 1960s Counterculture

Albert HofmannSummer Love Sale and The 50th Anniversary of Woodstock

This year commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the legendary music festival Woodstock. Woodstock began in 1969, taking place in Bethel, New York. It was one of the world’s most iconic music festivals with an enormous attendance of over 400,00 people, bringing people together in times of great social turmoil. Formally known as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music,” it served as a testimony of music’s power to unite people, giving hope of a better future. 

In order to celebrate Woodstock and the revolutionary culture surrounding it, we are offering a ‘Summer Love Sale’ on Mystic Chemist which tells the story of the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann and his discovery of LSD. The role of LSD and other mind-manifesting substances should not be overlooked in the 1960s countercultural revolution. 

Get Mystic Chemist half price with the coupon code: summerlove

San Francisco’s Human Be-In: The Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

Poster advertising the ‘Human Be-In’ designed by Stanley Mouse, and Michael Bowen using the photograph of artist Casey Sonnabend (via Wikicommons).

Woodstock alongside the revolutionary youth culture that it celebrated emanated from the rapid movement that developed in 1967, leading up to ‘the Summer of Love.’ 

San Francisco’s legendary Human Be-In took place in Golden Gate Park, January 1967, serving as a prelude to the Summer of Love. An estimated 20,000 people attended what was planned to be a small “gathering of the tribes” in order to protest the new California law banning the use of the psychoactive drug LSD. 

The Be-In represented the birth of ‘hippie’ culture with a generation of young adults finding themselves disillusioned by authority figures due to the Vietnam war, the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the continued struggle for civil rights. The gathering cemented the foundational ideas of 1960s counterculture including: radical liberalism, the rejection of materialism, socio-political decentralization, communal living, and the idea that we could evolve consciousness by using psychoactive substances such as LSD.

The Be-In was attended by counterculture figureheads such as the beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg who unconsciously embodied the generational shift between the beatnik bohemians and the hippie generation. Timothy Leary (see below), famed LSD guru and ex-Harvard psychologist stood up amongst the crowds and encouraged young Americans to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

 

The Summer of Love

As it turned out, the youth heeded Leary’s enticing call and by the summer of 1967 as many as 100,000 people had made their way down to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, inspired by the possibility of creating a new way of life. 

Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, San Francisco and the Bay Area had attracted individuals searching for alternative lifestyles. Beatnik figures such as Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs lived in the city’s North Beach neighborhood. Their works helped to germinate the hippie movement, expressing contempt to 1950s America, rejecting materialism and encouraging spiritual, sexual and cognitive exploration. Thus, Haight-Ashbury which was already the home of several alternative communities became the epicenter for hippie culture.

The Be-In was an underground experiment which unwittingly inspired a spontaneous uprising of radical youth culture, the likes of which had never been seen before. Haight-Ashbury was no longer a quiet down-town neighborhood, its culture became infectious and mushroomed into the mainstream – The Summer of Love had begun. 

The Discovery of LSD 

Albert Hofmann first synthesized Lsysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) in 1938 whilst working for Sandoz laboratories researching compounds that would act as respiratory and circulatory stimulants. The psychoactive properties of LSD were not discovered until April 1943 when Hofmann decided to intentionally ingest the substance in a self-experiment to ascertain its effects. Read more about Hofmann, and the world’s first LSD trip.

LSD presented itself as a significant discovery in the fields of psychiatry and psychology as it was believed to have possible clinical applications. Initially it was thought of as a ‘psychotomimetic’ and believed to be capable of producing a model for psychosis. It was also researched for its potential to treat addiction and conversely encourage creative thinking. Reflecting upon the importance of LSD, Hofmann stated that:

“I knew immediately that this drug would have importance for psychiatry but, at that time, I would never have believed that this substance could be used in the drug scene, just for pleasure. For me, it was a deep and mystical experience and not just an everyday pleasurable one. I never had the idea that it could be used as a pleasure drug.”

Timothy Leary and the Rise of LSD 

Hofmann could never have anticipated how LSD was to escape the bounds of the laboratory, making its way into mainstream culture. For this reason he refered to LSD as his “problem child.”

LSD was largely popularised by the ex-Harvard psychologist, Timothy Leary who believed it to be an important tool in the exploration of consciousness, and a shortcut to spiritual enlightenment.

Timothy Leary

Leary, like most of the avatars of the early psychedelic movement, saw the value of psychedelics as deconditioning and deprogramming agents. Psychedelics allow users to “unhook the ambitions and symbolic drives and the mental connections which keep you addicted and tied to the immediate tribal game.” They break the trance of consensus culture. ─Daniel Pinchbeck, Breaking Open the Head

Leary was fired his position as an instructor on the Psychology Faculty at Harvard due to the controversy surrounding his research. No longer a lecturer, he began a campaign advocating the use of psychoactive drugs for personal development, often inviting friends and the occasional graduate student to participate in psychedelic sessions with him and his colleague Richard Alpert (Ram Dass).

Later, President Nixon deemed him as “the most dangerous man in America.” Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ demonized psychoactive substances, ruling out their possible medical value and making them illegal, causing research into LSD to come to a grinding halt.

To learn more about LSD, its history, and pivotal role in creating the 1960s counterculture, check out Mystic Chemist which we are offering  half-price!


Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSDMystic Chemist

By Dieter Hagenbach & Lucius Werthmüller

Mystic Chemist is the authoritative biography on arguably the most famous chemist of the 20th century. Authors Hagenbach and Werthmüller, close friends of Hofmann, take us on a journey through the 20th century from his mystical childhood experiences with nature; to his chemistry studies with Nobel Prize winner Paul Karrer in Zurich through his discoveries of both LSD and psilocybin at Sandoz; to his adventurous expeditions and his many years of retirement devoted to philosophy of nature and a rich social life. The authors also reveal a thorough and eventful history of the impact that LSD had on culture and the ensuing struggles between its advocates and opponents, many of which persist today.

Get Mystic Chemist paperback for only $20 with the coupon code: summerlove

Buy Mystic Chemist Here

 
Featured artwork from Brian Blommerth’s Bicycle Day 

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