Reacting to a 2001 documentary,
Ram Dass (Richard Alpert, born 1931)
I met him once when he gave a commencent talk at Santa Fe Prep School around 1982. Richard Alpert, Ph. D. was re-emerging as Ram Dass after a hiatus from gurudom while living in the Santa Fe area. Prior to that, I saw "Dick" driving around town several times in his small sports car. In those days, I was yet sketching portraits of tourists on the Plaza. Spotting celebrities, famous and infamous, either touring or dining in any of dozens of special, classy eateries was not uncommon around downtown Santa Fe. I have to admit, I had a headache after listening to Ram Dass ramble on casually while seated on the edge of the stage, legs dangling, to a hundred or so eighteen-year-olds and their teachers and parents about his magical life and the possibility of miraculous events, some of which he claimed to witness while in India with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, in the late 1960s.
One story was about money and how "Baba" told someone to look inside the mouth of a crocodile. The man did and found a large amount of cash in the beast's jaws. "Now, how do you suppose that happened?" Dass/Alpert asked non-chalantly. Dass strung his audience along with several outrageous miraculous events that he suggested were real. I gathered he was trying to stretch whatever conventional realities the school taught the students. And it was a stretch, if you know what I mean? Happily, the one-time priest of the psychdelic consciousness revolution withheld endorsing LSD and his favorite mushroom! If I was a parent in that audience, I would have been pissed to witness an expensive prep school exposing my kid to an aging hippy's haywired philosophy about drug induced higher consciousness.
According to most reviewers (see Almereyda's article ending to the right), the documentary is a rather "staid" one that avoids all the edginess of Alpert's radical lifestyle. I saw parts of it many years ago. It is more like an obituary with kind references. You know, like the ones we read about someone that shot themselves, yet the obit states, "He passed away leaving a loving wife and two children, five nieces..." or the obit that lists all the clubs and awards and charities associated with a man's life yet avoids all mention that he had one or two illegitimate children.
Ram Dass the Hospice guru
I worked with carlos, then 19, on a construction project in Santa Fe. He was hired to put a finish coat of stucco on an adobe style house that a landlord was renovating. I had gutted the small ktchen and was replacing everything in it.
Guru Induced Bliss
Ram Dass with his inveterate guru career never considered being a family man raising kids. A 2010 article by Sara Davidson on Huffington Post addressed the surprise in 2009 when Ram Dass learned from a woman that her older half brother was his son, born in 1956. Ram Dass, to his credit, accepted a DNA test offer that confirmed the fact: He had a 53 year old son named Peter. And he would go on to develop a pleasnt, now adult relationship with him. Davidson interviewed Ram Dass, as she expressed interest in writing a book about the guru, and she did ask him about the son. Dass told her that he would "give up [his] Ram-Dass-ness if his son Peter would give up his Peter-ness." Somwhow, this would end the ego game and let the two men be authenirc beings together in the cosmos is my take on it. Then, Dass challenged his interviewer to "give up your Sara-ness:"
<I tell him I don't think I've ever given up Sara-ness.
"I know you haven't," he said with a playful laugh. "That's why I'm in the business I'm in."
"I want to...," I said.
"That's not good enough." He made a beckoning gesture with his finger and said, "Come on."
I know this is hard to convey, but at that moment, something released in me and bliss came rolling in. For the rest of the day, I sat before the windows looking out on the ocean, feeling love for everyone and everything, including the hardest case -- myself.
I hope to write a book about Ram Dass ...> Sara Davidson
"In fact, confronted with accumulating images of Ram Dass enduring sessions of speech therapy, swimming and acupuncture, I found my mind cartwheeling into territory at the outer edges of the filmmaker's apparent concerns. What's the substance of Ram Dass's philosophy, aside from an endorsement of psilocybin as a gateway to religious experience? What are the side effects of 2,400 micrograms of LSD every day for weeks on end? Even (or especially) if you subtract psychedelics, how can purity of thought, purity of action, occupy the center of a person's life within our current consumer culture? Could Mr. Updike's happy, blessed man hold himself together if he were delivering lectures, authoring books, being followed around by a film crew, consciously blessed? How, for that matter, can a filmmaker decant the intoxicating essence of an unconventional life while employing a staid documentary style?"