BAY AREA -- Nearly 40 years after he was kicked off one
campus, Richard Alpert is back among the college crowd, still on a mission
to expand the minds of undergraduates.
Alpert, better known in recent decades as Ram Dass, burst onto the
national scene in May 1963, when the 32-year-old psychology professor was
fired from his post at Harvard University. He and his research assistant,
the late Timothy Leary, had been conducting consciousness-expansion
experiments, dispensing psychedelic drugs to college students.
Ram Dass went on to become one of the leading lights of the '60s and
'70s, traveling to India and returning as Baba Ram Dass, pushing
enlightenment through meditation, rather than hallucination. In the '80s and
'90s, the quick-witted guru devoted much of his time encouraging spiritual
seekers to do charity work and help promote social justice.
Now, at age 69 and still recovering from a stroke he suffered in the
spring of 1997, Ram Dass is back on Bay Area campuses in a program called
"Creating Our Future," a series of meditations and conversations on
spirituality and social change.
In addition, the author of "Be Here Now," a 1971 counterculture classic,
is about to release a new book, "Still Here -- Embracing Aging, Changing and
Dying," to be published this month by Riverhead Books.
Ram Dass and his "Creating Our Future" partner, yoga teacher Sat Santokh,
hope to build on a recent burst of campus activism spurred by the protests
against the World Trade Organization in Seattle and Washington, D.C.
"Young people have tremendous energy to put toward things, but they don't
have the skills," Ram Dass said in a recent interview. "They keep spirit and
social activism separate. A lot of social action groups today have forgotten
Ram Dass spoke from a wheelchair in the study of his Tiburon home,
surrounded by pictures of his Indian guru, Neem Haroli Baba, and a picture
window overlooking Richardson Bay. He remains paralyzed on the right side of
his body and still struggles to express his thoughts in speech.
"This . . . talking . . . thing . . . is . . . fascinating," he says
"It's like you have a room (in your brain) where your concepts are
clothed in words, and suddenly that room is destroyed. You understand the
concepts, but can't get the words. Most people see my stroke as a negative
thing, but from a meditative space, observing that split is fascinating."
Ram Dass and Sat Santokh hold their next college meeting May 15 at the
Ananda Church Auditorium, just south of the Stanford University campus. Two
months ago, they attracted about 120 students to a similar discussion at the
International House on the University of California at Berkeley campus.
"There's been a resurgence of student activism since Seattle," said Sat
Santokh, who in a previous incarnation helped manage the Grateful Dead from
1967 to 1969. "It's given students an idea that they can do something about
Have today's undergraduates even heard of Ram Dass?
"I was surprised how many knew me," he said. "But they see me as an icon,
`the '60s icon.' They see the icon and they forget to say hello. It's like
there's a sheet of glass between you and everyone else."
Ram Dass was asked what two- word label he prefers to '60s icon. He
paused for a long time, then replied, "Consciousness explorer."
"That pretty much covers it all," he said with a smile.
For more information on the May 15 Stanford event, call (510) 895-2813 or