Counterculture Icon and Spiritual Guru Ram Dass Dies at 88

His famed book 'Be Here Now' inspired the likes of George Harrison and Steve Jobs

BY Brock ThiessenPublished Dec 23, 2019

Baba Ram Dass — an early proponent of psychedelic drugs and a spiritual leader who notably influenced the Beatles' George Harrison and Apple's Steve Jobs — has died. Ram Dass passed away on Sunday (December 22) in his home in Maui. He was 88.

"With tender hearts we share that Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert) died peacefully at home in Maui on December 22, 2019 surrounded by loved ones," reads a post on his Instagram account. "He was a guide for thousands seeking to discover or reclaim their spiritual identity beyond or within institutional religion."

Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert and trained as a psychologist, teaching at Harvard University in the '60s. He soon met and joined forces with fellow counterculture icon Timothy Leary, with the pair immersing themselves in the world of psychedelics.

After first experimenting with the the properties of marijuana in the '50s, Ram Dass and Leary would eventually move on to studying more hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD.

Following a trip to India that found Alpert being reborn as Ram Dass — meaning "Servant of God" — he began his own career as a guru, lecturing around the U.S. and releasing his hugely popular book Be Here Now in 1971 describing his spiritual transformation.

As explained in the book, Ram Dass tried to avoid the disappointment of "coming down" from drugs by locking himself in at an estate, where he and five others took LSD every hour hours for three weeks.

"What happened in those three weeks in that house no one would ever believe, including us," he wrote in Be Here Now, going on to explain they were still not able to avoid the inevitable come down to reality.

After his trip from India, drugs would no longer serve as a key part of his life.

The book went on to inspire George Harrison, who wrote the song "Be Here Now" for his 1973 album Living in the Material World. The late musician also revealed in a 2000 interview with Billboard that he also got the phrase "All Things Must Pass" — the title of his celebrated 1970 album — from Dass.

Be Here Now also served as the title for the 1997 album by Oasis.

Steve Jobs — who used LSD in his younger years — once said Be Here Now "transformed me and many of my friends." The book would go on to help map out the New Age movement of spirituality.

"I was a sort of spiritual uncle to a movement — to a consciousness movement bringing the East and West together," Ram Dass told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004.

In 1997, Ram Dass suffered a stroke that left him partly paralyzed and unable to speak. Over time, though, he regained the ability to speak and once again began lecturing. In 2007, he moved to Hawaii and delivered lectures online.

His later years found focusing on aging and dying without fear. In 2018, he published his final book Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying alongside co-author Mirabai Bush.

In September of this year, Ram Dass spoke to the New York Times, who asked him about his views on death.

"Soul doesn't have fear of dying," Ram Dass said. "Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite."

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