Ram Dass and how we explore and spread consciousness

by DGO Web Administrator

“I think the message is that you don’t need to go to anywhere else to find what you are seeking.”

— Ram Dass, “Be Here Now”

For those of you DGO readers who have been following “Seeing Through the Smoke” closely, you might recognize that this column is, in some respects, little more than a decorated reading list. Books are micro-units of pure consciousness; they take us places in our minds that are as real at the moment as almost any experience we might have in our daily travels. There are books that we can look to in order to remind us of certain elements of our relationship to the rest of humanity, the world around us, and the universe at large. Among these is Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, published in 1971.

When Timothy Leary was at Harvard in the early 1960s, he had a partner in his work to explore and spread consciousness through psychedelics, one Richard Alpert, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and fellow professor and lecturer. Leary, Alpert and their compatriots took a clinical approach to the ingestion of psilocybin, LSD and other chemicals, distributing them and taking them themselves in order to better understand their effects and potential uses.

Among their successes was the Marsh Chapel Experiment. Undertaken under the direct auspices of Harvard graduate student Walter N. Pahnke on Good Friday in 1962 on the campus of Boston University, the double-blind experiment, using vitamin B as a placebo and psilocybin (the psychoactive chemical in “magic” mushrooms) as the test chemical, the experiment sought to discover whether subjects could experience a “religious experience” as a result of ingesting an entheogen. The experiences of the test group were so powerful as to seem comic in contrast to the control group. Follow-up interviews with participants decades later revealed a lasting effect and a described that day as being of “a genuine mystical nature and characterized it as one of the high points of their spiritual life.”

Alpert also reaped the benefits of his use of entheogenic compounds: ego death and its accompanying behavior changes, mystical wonder, camaraderie with his fellow psychonauts and journeys to parts of the mind that he, in his life as Boston-bred neurotic overachiever, never imagined.

But, along with Leary, Alpert was relieved of his professorship at Harvard in 1963 and within a few years, had fallen into a state of malaise, unsatisfied with the now-predictable results of his trips and the extreme discomfort associated with the reintegration to his daily life. It was under these conditions that he chose, in 1967, to undertake a voyage to India, an experience he describes in Be Here Now, his spiritual autobiography that details his trek through the subcontinent which resulted in his name change to Ram Dass, which translates as “servant of God.”

His pilgrimage involved the practice of rigorous yoga asanas, meditation, subservience to others with more experience along the path of consciousness and an ever-evolving recognition of the benefits that this service had not only on those he sought to help, but on him, as well. Since its publication three-and-a-half decades ago, Dass has donated millions of dollars of proceeds to his various foundations.

The path of consciousness that Ram Dass travels is that great interior universe described in the teachings of Jesus as “The Kingdom Within,” as “Ein Sof” in Judaism, as “Fana” in Islam, as “Yoga” in India, as “Nirvana” by Buddhists, as Tao, Dreamtime, the Oversoul, the word, the good, the beautiful. It is the destination of spiritual journeys undertaken by great seekers in nearly all traditions. It is a place inside all of us, that spark of beauty ignited aeons ago, that spark of life, of love, that spark we see when we look deep into another’s eyes and see ourself reflected back, in the way the wind dances through a meadow of knee-high grass, or in the nightsong of peepers in the spring.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]


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