After being a legend to the disenchanted youths of the 1960s, Baba Ram Dass moved to Maui in 2004. Although an unfortunate stroke paralyzed one side of his body, he was spiritually driven to use the other side to swim and learn to speak.
His real name was Richard Albert. He was a student of Timothy Leary, the famous or notorious psychologist from Harvard. Leary encouraged his students to use LSD to obtain an instantaneous mystical experience, bypassing years of torturous meditation in the caves of the Himalayas. The young enthusiastic Alpert was all ears to partake in this instant high by following his mentor.
When I read his popular book “Be Here and Now,” I wanted to meet this fabulous man whose writings and charisma had inspired so many people globally. My wife, Linda, and I were fortunate to interview him in the paradise of Hawaii. This meeting was arranged by a friend from the East West Center, who was a neighbor of the famous Baba in Maui.
The interview, which was supposed to be 20 minutes long, lasted for a couple of hours. The questions and exchange of ideas between us were memorable. I would like to share its highlights with all of you who loved the legendry Baba Ram Dass and his contributions to mindfulness meditation.
After trying LSD 40 or more times with his Western guru Leary, Alpert realized that these induced altered states of consciousness were lacking the potency of a transformative experience. They were incapable of offering him what he was seeking. Accidentally, while on a trip to India, a close friend of his introduced him to Neem Karoli Baba. During their encounter, the Baba asked Alpert to hand him three LSD pills, which he swallowed without showing any change. Knowing the potency of each pill, Alpert was amazed at this man ingesting them like popcorn. This meeting with the Indian Baba turned out to be the transforming experience, providing Alpert his life’s mission.
Alpert accepted Neem Karoli Baba as his guru, and accepted the new name “Hanuman,” meaning the “servant of God Rama or Ram Dass.” To live up to the name “Hanuman,” his Indian guru assigned to Ram Dass his new task of getting off drugs and serving humanity through the performance of Seva.
Seva is any compassionate act done to help others without asking anything in return for oneself. Through these selfless acts of feeding, educating and healing others, one would feel the presence of divinity in all those who are served. Since each act of Seva is “meditation in action,” a life spent in performing them would lead to “Santosh” or contentment, the goal of one’s life.
To fulfill the mission assigned to him, Baba Ram Dass established the Seva Foundation and other organizations to help those who needed it the most. These organizations performed cataract surgery for the poorest of poor in remote villages of India. They also initiated a dairy-goat donation project in Guatemala. He also wrote books to inspire seekers to perform selfless action to achieve contentment.
Through the use of LSD, his Western guru offered him altered states of consciousness. Though it freed Alpert from socially restrictive values, he realized that it achieved a purely selfish goal. In contrast, his Indian guru taught him Seva to transcend selfishness to get connected to the human family. The message was clear; “As you heal others through selfless service, you also heal yourself.”
Thus, mindfulness meditation helped Baba Ram Dass to find himself by losing himself in the service of others.
Caution: The exercise described below is a suggestion only. If done on a regular basis, it may benefit you.
Sit in an easy posture on a mat or in a chair. Keep you back, neck and head straight up. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out for two minutes. Observe the flow of breathing. It will feel good. Now when you breathe in, think about love. When you breathe out, think about compassion. If other ideas come through your mind, recognize them and then go back to breathing in love and breathing out compassion. Do this exercise for five minutes and then stop. Enjoy the relaxed feeling. This exercise can also be done in bed before you fall asleep or when you get up in the morning.
Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra has been a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He is Emeritus SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor and founder of the Yoga and Meditation Society at SUNY Oneonta. His 20 videos on yoga are available on YouTube. His books are available through www.amazon.com and Kindle. Malhotra donates all royalties from books to the Ninash Foundation (www.ninash.org), a local charity that builds schools for underprivileged female and minority children of India.