People are curious, their lives a mystery that no one really knows. The people we think we know because they are in the public domain, often appear larger than life, their journey documented, dissected, and embellished by interested biographers eager for a glimpse beneath the veil of their soul. One such character is Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert) on April 6th, 1931 (died 22 December 2019).
Known as Baba Ram Dass, he was a spiritual teacher and guru of modern yoga, psychologist, and author. Prior to his spiritual awakening Richard Alpert conducted research with Timothy Leary on the therapeutic effects of psychedelics and assisted graduate student Walter Pahnke in his 1962 “Good Friday experiment”- the first controlled double bind study of drugs and the mystical experience. Both Leary and Alpert were dismissed from Harvard university in 1963.
This story runs much deeper though, into mysterious places overshadowed by hidden government experiments and agendas of social control that now makes for the stuff of conspiracy theories. In The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories, James McConnachie says,
It has been alleged that many prominent advocates of LSD including Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), not to mention future “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, were introduced to the drug under the MK Ultra programme. The book Acid Dreams suggests that the drug was allowed to be deliberately spread among the rebellious youth of the 1960’s in order to space them out and melt their minds into submission.
Fact or fantasy? We’ll never know for sure.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Ram Dass had a strong Sun Uranus conjunction at 15 Aries, right beside his north node at 14 Aries- all of this happening in the most public part of his chart, the 10th house… a born radical. His Pluto exactly on his ascendant at 18 Cancer certainly lends an intense and complex persona.
What is undeniable is that Ram Dass took his place in the cultural psyche of the time, influencing a great many people and leaving a few cracking quotes in his legacy. The story of how Richard gave LSD to his guru who in turn was completely unaffected by the drug captured my imagination and added to my reflections on the nature of consciousness and enlightenment.
To him who has had the experience no explanation is necessary, to him who has not, none is possible.
— Ram Dass.
It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.
— Ram Dass.