‘What is happening to you is nothing less than death and rebirth. What is dying is the entire way in which you understood “who you are” and “how it all is.” What is being reborn is the child of the Spirit for whom things all are new.’
Be Here Now (Lama Foundation, 1971)
Ram Dass
In Summary

An autobiographical account of how Richard Alpert, a disgraced Harvard professor, became Ram Dass, one of the most celebrated spiritual teachers of our time, and a distillation of his lifetime of lessons.


‘You were out under the stars last night. You were thinking about your mother.’ The words struck Richard Alpert with remarkable force. He had achieved every success one could ever ask for: Harvard professor, massive acclaim from his peers, a high-paying salary and endless access to the many hedonistic temptations of the era. Yet despite all this, it was not enough. Something was missing.  


Luckily, the answer found him. Heading deep into India to meet a friend’s guru, Alpert encountered the man he would come to call Maharaji, meaning ‘great king.’ As they stood together that fateful night, the guru accurately told Alpert not only his thoughts from the previous evening but also the manner of his mother’s demise – facts he had not shared with anyone.  

His worldview shattered, that was the moment Richard Alpert’s old identity began to die, and in his place was born Ram Dass. Dass would proceed to write a series of books cataloguing his experiences and the lessons he gleaned from his spiritual guru. The most famous remains Be Here Now (alternatively titled Remember, Be Here Now) which has sold more than two million copies and counting.  


Be Here Now is three books in one. The first section, entitled ‘Journey: The Transformation’, weaves the narrative of Dass’s life. Outwardly, Dr Richard Alpert was an icon of academic success, inwardly he struggled with feelings that something vital was missing in his life. Therapy proved no help, for, as a psychologist himself, he simply knew all the ‘right’ answers to give to his therapist.  

Drugs soon entered his life through his acquaintance with Timothy Leary. They were the beginning of his breakthrough but would also prove to be his downfall. While psychedelics showed him that enlightenment may indeed be possible, they could not help him achieve it because every high is followed by a low. Moreover, the controversial nature of his research led to his dismissal from Harvard.

This marked the start of his spiritual journey, as he explored the world in hopes of finding the answer to his deepest questions. The turning point came through a chance encounter with Bhagwan Dass. Bhagwan was much younger than Alpert, yet his eyes glistened with the knowledge of someone who had answers. Bhagwan would later introduce Alpert to his guru, Maharaji, and, in a short time, Alpert would surrender his former life to pursue enlightenment by following the path of this famed Indian sage.  

The second and third sections of the book guide the reader along the same journey of discovery. Section two, deemed the ‘Core Book,’ consists of various free-verse poetic reflections and artwork. Each page is a distinct insight interwoven with an artistic illustration, providing a truly unique medium of communication.  

The third section is presented as a ‘cookbook’ for the spiritual life and offers a more detailed outline of Dass’s fundamental teachings. The primary goal is renunciation: the ‘falling away’ of desires. As you slowly learn that your identity is not caught up with any physical thing, your true ‘Self’ begins to emerge. You feel unified with the universe and with the divine love that binds all life and bridges all divides.  

Reaching this destination can take time and patience (though in truth, Dass believes you have already arrived), and the book offers a litany of exercises and motivational tips for the aspiring student. Every conceivable question is covered, including proper diet, sleep, study, yoga, chakras, community and more. As if this was not enough, Dass ends the book with an extended list of spiritual works ranked by their importance to the sacred path.  


Many turn to biographies as a source of motivation in their own development, finding that exposure to the struggles and perseverance of others can offer hope and guidance amid their own uncertainties and trials. Others regard poetry and artwork to be sources of inspiration. Still others simply want detailed information on what actually works and what does not. Be Here Now attempts to satisfy all three audiences.  

Its unique mix of genres is likely the source of its continued relevance over half a century after its first printing. In other words, both left-brained analytical types and right-brained artists may find something worthwhile within its pages. Indeed, the work has been an inspiration for countless others, including Steve Jobs, Wayne Dyer and George Harrison, who wrote a song by the same name. For those looking for a work that rightly belongs in a category of its own, Ram Dass’s seminal title may be the book for you.  

Further Reading By This Author

Dass has written over a dozen works, including the sequels Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying and Be Love Now: The Path of the Heart.

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