Quaker Universalist Conversations

“Be Here Now”: Fortieth Anniversary

When Rhoda Gilman, co-editor of this blog, met Ram Dass at the Lama Foundation, she told him she was looking for some spiritual direction. He asked her about her religious background.  When she said “Quaker,” his response was:  “Well, why are you looking?”  When she made it clear she needed help,  he went on to suggest that she try Vipassana meditation — which she did. She still practices this technique.What Rhoda didn’t know is that Ram Dass had studied with a Quaker professor named David McClelland and had close ties with Quakers. More will be said about this in a subsequent post. See http://www.jcpd.net/MTL/MWMCCbio.html.

Rhoda wrote the following piece honoring the work of Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher who played a significant role in the lives of many people, including Friends. —Anthony Manousos


The year 2010 marked an important anniversary in the spiritual blending of East and West that points toward a new universalism.  It was in 1970 that Be Here Now, the signature book of a generation, was created by folks at the Lama Foundation, directed by Ram Dass (also known as Richard Alpert).  Lama, still flourishing on a mountainside north of Taos, NM, has as its mission:  “to serve as a sustainable community and educational center dedicated to the awakening of consciousness, respect for spiritual practice in all traditions, service, and stewardship of the land.”

Celebration of the anniversary in nearby Taos was overseen by Mirabai Starr, whose spiritually uprooted parents took her from New York to Lama as a young teenager.  In Lama Alive (Winter 2010-2011) she recalls that “It was Ram Dass — another Jewish/Buddhist/Sufi/Hindu like me — who first introduced me to the Christian mystics many years ago.”

In preparing for the commemoration, Starr spent two days with her long-time friend and mentor “just hanging out” on the island of Maui, where he now lives.  She writes:

“I found that I had little to ask and even less to say.  It’s hard to be somebody around a person who has become nobody.  Ram Dass radiates unconditional love, yet it is a love that is almost entirely impersonal.  He loves me, yes — he has known me most of my life and has helped me navigate tragedy and triumph with steady kindness — but he loves everyone and everything with equal spaciousness.  The man who managed to harness three thousand years of Vedanta and translate it into the modern American idiom in the form of Be Here Now has BECOME LOVE NOW.  He does not talk about it.  He IS it.”



I agree totally. Ram Dass is an exquisite example of how to lead a God centered life.
I came to the Quakers after delving into vedanta, non-dualism, sufism, buddhism, Christian mysticism, and theosophy. All are still valid/valuable in their own right and mixed. In Quakerism I find a place for practical application of all I bring from those traditions. Mysticism is, for me, one string that connects them all. It is that state of being, open to and uniting to that ultimate reality which goes by the names dear to our personal temperament or experience (God, Higher Self, Ultimate Consciousness, Atman, intuitive wisdom, etc).
More on Richard Alpert's "source" for his "enlightenment" can be found in the excellent book Stripping the Gurus, which you can download as an ebook here. (The site used to offer the full book for download in PDF version as well.
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