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'Uncle for a Movement' Is Dead at 88

Baba Ram Dass, spiritual guru and LSD pioneer, has died
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 23, 2019 10:05 AM CST
'Uncle for a Movement' Is Dead at 88
In this Oct. 21, 1998, file photo, Ram Dass, best known for 1971's "Be Here Now," is seen during an interview at his San Anselmo, Calif., home.   (AP Photo/Susan Ragan, File)

(Newser) – Baba Ram Dass, the 1960s counterculture spiritual leader who experimented with LSD and traveled to India to find enlightenment, returning to share it with Americans, has died. He was 88. Dass' foundation, Love Serve Remember, announced late Sunday that the author and spiritual leader died peacefully at his home earlier in the day. No cause of death was given. He had suffered a severe stroke in 1997 that left him paralyzed on the right side and, for a time, unable to speak. More recently, he underwent hip surgery after he was injured in a fall in November 2008, according to his website. "I had really thought about checking out, but your love and your prayers convinced me not to do it. ... It's just beautiful," he told followers in a videotaped message at the time from his hospital bed in Hawaii. Highlights from the AP's obit:

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  • Ram Dass—born Richard Alpert—earned his doctorate from Stanford and entered the public sphere in the early 1960s as a young Harvard psychology professor until his experiments with Timothy Leary involving hallucinogenic mushrooms and LSD got the two kicked out in 1963. He and Leary retreated to an upstate New York mansion that drew Beat Generation figures Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.
  • But Alpert eventually sought a way to reach a state of enlightenment without drugs. Following Ginsberg's advice, he headed to India in 1967, where he met the man who became his guru, Neem Karoli Baba.
  • There, his guru introduced him to yoga, meditation, Buddhism, and Sufism, and gave him the name Ram Dass, Hindi for "servant of God." (He's often called Baba Ram Dass; "baba" is an honorary title.)
  • Ram Dass is best known for 1971's Be Here Now, written when he returned to the US from India. Around the same time, he told the New York Times that he'd turned away from drugs, saying: "I don't want to break the law, since that leads to fear and paranoia."
  • The spiritual primer found its way into thousands of backpacks around the world. "In the '60s, I was an uncle for a movement," he told the AP in 1998. "I was always showing people where they could go. I went east, and then there was a big movement east."
  • Now, he said, "the baby boomers are getting old—and I'm learning how to get old for them. That's my role."
  • In 1974, Ram Dass founded the Hanuman Foundation, which set up programs such as the Prison-Ashram Project to introduce inmates to spirituality. He also helped create the Seva Foundation, which works to prevent blindness and helps community groups in developing countries. His Love Serve Remember Foundation is dedicated to preserving his teachings and those of Neem Karoli Baba.
(Read more obituary stories.)

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