I was prompted to purchase Be Here Now by Ram Dass after reading it had inspired David Williams. As a result of enjoying David’s book, I felt compelled to purchase a copy and read it myself. You can read my review of David Williams memoir by following this link: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/05/28/my-search-for-yoga-by-david-williams-book-review/
Dr Richard Alpert aka Baba Ram Dass
I was aware of Ram Dass and that he had been part of the 1960’s counter culture and that he was linked to LSD. However, I did not know a great deal about him.
The book is set out in 4 parts. Journey, from bindu to Ojas, cookbook for a sacred life and painted cakes.
The first part is about Dr Richard Alpert PhD and his transformation into Baba Ram Dass. Dr Alpert was at the height of his career and was living the idealised American dream. He had sports cars, his own aeroplane and was a prominent Harvard psychologist. Around this time he mentions he was drinking which masked his desire to find a deeper meaning in his life. It is clear that he felt that there was more to life than the material success he had achieved.
Whilst at Harvard, in 1961, he began to explore different states of human consciousness. Initially this was through the use of various psychedelic mind altering drugs. As a result of his experimentation with drugs he was sacked from Harvard University in 1963. The exploration of different levels of consciousness through the use of drugs continued. Ultimately this led him to Eastern philosophy and he made a life changing trip to India in 1968.
My own experience
The first part of this book resonated with me. Before becoming a full time Yoga teacher I worked in middle management in the civil service. I had a job that paid me well, we had a nice 3 bedroom semi detached house in West Kirby. However, the job that I was working in made me feel empty and unsatisfied. At some times it made me feel even worse than that, as if I was slowly dying inside. A period of work related anxiety was a mental catalyst to start thinking about changing my life.
I realised that I either needed to find ways to cope with the situation and the job I had or that I needed to make some changes. As a result I decided to make a change. The thing that was tying me to my job was the financial commitment of a mortgage. I received a letter from our mortgage company telling me that I would be 68 years old when we paid off our mortgage. This was a moment of awakening for me! The thought of working in the same job till I was 68 was not something I was prepared to contemplate. There had to be more to life than this. Working in a job that provided me with zero satisfaction or nourishment felt wrong.
What helped me cope became my vocation
I had been using Yoga for many years to help me cope mentally and physically with my job. So I felt compelled to become a yoga teacher to help others. Deciding to leave my job and career was still a difficult decision to make. It was interesting to observe the peer pressure from others that I worked with. Some colleagues could not comprehend that I wanted to leave, telling me “you are walking away from a good career.” Whereas other colleagues were envious and wished they could leave too!
In a nutshell, we downsized to a small flat that was more affordable and I applied for redundancy from work. This felt like such a massive relief. I vividly recall walking around the Marine Lake in West Kirby smiling and feeling quite elated and free.
Part 2 – From Bindu to Ojas
Part two of the book is a haphazard whistle-stop tour through spiritual themes from across the smorgasbord. It is interspersed with pictures and drawings. Because the book is laid out in the form of pictures and artistically placed text, the reader needs to really concentrate to actually read it. As a result you read it slightly more slowly and search out where the sentence flows. This causes the reader to savour the quotes and to pause.
This part of the book is a really rich source of some fantastic inspirational quotes and passages. Some of the ones that really jumped out and spoke to me were the following;
“When you have quieted your mind enough and transcended your ego enough you can hear how it reall is. So: when you are with a candleflame you are the candleflame and when you are with another being’s mind you are the other being’s mind. When there is a task to do you are the task. The mindless quality of total involvement that comes only when the ego is quiet and there is no attachment.”
“My thinking mind is a perfect servant and a lousy master”
“Just the process of calming, centering, centering, calming extricating myself from the drama.”
The third part of the book is a guide to how you can realise spiritual changes for your self. It covers a wide range of things from yoga postures to how much sleep you need.
The final part of the book is a rather vast list of books to find out more! This is a great resource. It provides a lifetimes worth of books to dive into.
This is a great book. I really enjoyed reading it. It is inspiring and wacky. The front cover which is a geometric mandala type picture, encapsulates the idea of interconnectedness. This is what this book is really about, connection. Connection to the true self.
The message is Be Here Now. Be here free from ego, from from thought, free from ideas about your self, free of your emotions. Mindfulness. Baba Ram Dass details how you can start to make changes to achieve this.
Be Here Now by Ram Dass is an authoritative Western explanation of Eastern philosophy. As a result it acts as a guide and manual for those wishing to find deeper meaning to their life. The eternal and simple message of Be Here Now perfectly sums up the crux of the practice.
You can purchase a copy of Be Here Now by Ram Dass from Blackwell’s which is a more ethical choice than Amazon;
Check out our other book reviews here;
Here is a trailer for a short film on Netflix about Ram Dass towards the end of his life;