In 1963, Richard Alpert ended one life and launched a new one: Ousted from Harvard University’s faculty with co-merrymaker Timothy Leary for giving hallucinogenic drugs to students, he became a point man for the psychedelic movement of the ’60s.
Many drug-fueled highs later, Alpert’s second, and most lasting, transformation occurred. He went on sojourn in India and in 1968 returned as Ram Dass, a name that became synonymous with another of that era’s social and psychological explosions.
As Ram Dass, Alpert spread the word that turning inward was far more powerful than just turning on. A nimble communicator who was articulate, funny and self-effacing, he became a central figure in the movement to make Eastern mysticism understandable to Western minds.
Ram Dass, 88, who died Sunday at his home in Maui, according to a post on his Instagram account, described his metamorphoses in “Be Here Now” (1971), a counterculture classic still in print almost four decades and millions of copies later.
As popular in its time as Dr. Spock’s baby manual, it became the hippie bible, offering a personal parable of enlightenment as well as practical guidance on yoga and meditation decades before such practices became mainstream.
“He was the voice for applied spirituality — his life was the model,” bestselling self-help author Wayne Dyer once said.
Ram Dass in some ways reinvented himself again in 1997 after a debilitating stroke left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. He learned to depend on others and appreciate the silences that remained after he recovered some of his speech. The trailblazer of the 1960s and ‘70s entered the new millennium with hard-won wisdom about “conscious aging,” which he detailed in the book “Still Here” (2000).