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15 1 Ram Dass The Vicissitudes of Devotion and Ferocity of Grace F. X. Charet The following focuses on one example of the influence of contemporary Indian gurus in the West by exploring the personal backgrounds and contexts of American‑born Ram Dass and his Indian guru Neem Karoli Baba, as well as the transformation of ideas, beliefs, and practices that have occurred in the process of this particular transmission of Hinduism to America.1 Ram Dass has been instrumental in bringing Indian spiritu‑ ality and practices to America in what could be termed the second great awakening of Eastern spirituality in the 1960s and 1970s, the first being initiated by the presence of Vivekananda and others at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The story of how Dr. Richard Alpert became Ram Dass, one of the foundational figures of the so‑called New Age and a popular spokesperson for a range of Indian‑inspired beliefs and practices, is a fascinating and largely unexamined one.2 It also pro‑ vides an example of how ideas and beliefs can be intimately connected with an individual’s personal history and psychology and illustrates the considerable change that ideas undergo as they are transplanted from one cultural context into another.3 This chapter examines the encounter between Neem Karoli Baba and Ram Dass, the background out of which this encounter arose, and the results it had on the loosely knit satsang (spiritual community) of Western devotees and fellow travelers. The chapter demonstrates how the bhakti (devotional) Hinduism that Neem Karoli Baba practiced, advo‑ cated, and embodied, with its sources in the emerging Hanuman tradi‑ tion in India, its mix of sectarian Vaishnava and Shaiva belief, practice, 16 / F. X. CHARET and iconography, has considerably morphed and transformed under Ram Dass’s tutelage as it found its way into the West. The satsang under Ram Dass’s direction, following the publication of Be Here Now (1971), produced its foundational literature in the subsequent gospel text, Mir‑ acle of Love: Stories about Neem Karoli Baba (1979), while also establishing several organizations and programs such as the Hanuman and Seva foundations and the prison and hospice projects. This first generation, still in existence and clearly influential, is now beginning to give way to a subsequent generation whose ties to its putative leader and inspiration, Neem Karoli Baba, are largely created through media, including a number of publications, stories, films, and photographs.4 The new generation is also, in part, anchored in the one full‑fledged center in the West, the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, New Mexico.5 This, in turn, is supported by the distant living presence of Neem Karoli’s much‑beloved successor and keeper of his memory, Figure 1.1. Ram Dass playing the tamboura (Photo courtesy of Love Serve Remember Foundation) RAM DASS / 17 the aged Siddhi Ma of Kainchi Ashram, Uttarakhand, where the first generation of the Western satsang encountered Neem Karoli Baba. This chapter’s main focus, though, will be on the journey of Richard Alp‑ ert—from his early experiments with psychoactives and his troubling sexuality, to his encounter with the living spirituality of contemporary Hinduism, to the unmaking of his potential status as guru and the mak‑ ing of his identity as Ram Dass, the devotee and, finally, the remaking of him into an American guru. Richard Alpert: Sex, Drugs, and Spirituality Ram Dass has briefly sketched his own background and what led him to his fateful encounter with Neem Karoli Baba in Be Here Now and repeated it numerous times in his many presentations. In these accounts he offers little detail about his early life, but does say he was inordinately attached to his mother, somewhat removed from his distant and success‑ ful father, and stemmed from an affluent New England “Jewish anxi‑ ety‑ridden high‑achieving tradition.”6 His undergraduate and graduate schooling at Tufts and Wesleyan was conventional and his athletic and academic accomplishments were undistinguished. Nevertheless, follow‑ ing his doctoral studies at Stanford, more due to his skills as a lecturer and connections than research and scholarship, his rise in the world of academic psychology was swift and successful. He served in various roles at Stanford and finally at Harvard, where he secured a position that would lead to tenure. Outwardly, he was in an enviable position and a paragon of success. Inwardly, he was neurotic, sexually troubled, and deeply unhappy.7 The early 1960s witnessed the beginning of experimentation with...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781438447933
Related ISBN
9781438447919
MARC Record
OCLC
862746284
Pages
246
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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