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Spiritual explorer and writer Ram Dass, whose 1971 book, Be Here Now, introduced many, many baby boomers to meditation, mindfulness, and Eastern spirituality, was born Richard Alpert in Newton, Massachusetts on this date in 1931. Alpert partnered with Timothy Leary in conducting experiments with LSD at Harvard University, where both were faculty members ; they were both expelled in 1963. In 1967, he traveled to India and met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba at a mountain ashram. The “Maharajii” gave Ram Dass his name (“servant of God”), and Ram Dass communed frequently with him until his death in 1973. In the early 1990s Ram Dass began to study Judaism for the first time since his bar mitsve (he was close friends with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of Jewish Renewal), and also came out as bisexual. In 1997 he suffered an aphasic stroke. Having given away nearly $1 million in royalties from the sales of his fifteen books to non-profit organizations -- especially the Seva Foundation, an international health organization that he co-founded and which has healed some 3.5 million people of cataract blindness -- he now lives in Hawaii, supported by a foundation established by followers and friends. In 2013, he published a memoir and summing up of his spiritual teachings, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart.
“We are all just walking each other home.” --Ram Dass
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.