Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Soul Man

Ram Dass has spoken four words to me so far, and the cosmic humor has already begun to flow. Some initial audio trouble has just been resolved, and the famed spiritual teacher’s voice has materialized from my laptop, kicking off our Skype session with an unforgettable opening line: “Can you hear now?”
Intentionally or not, the last two words of Ram Dass’ question come off as a reference to his best-known printed work, 1971’s Be Here Now. That well-loved volume illuminated various principles of Eastern mysticism in a funny, informal style, resonating so deeply with America’s counterculture that at one point, the only metaphysical book outselling it was the Bible. Hearing its core sentiment echoed in the present moment, I feel as though the writer has just handed me his calling card. 
“Yes,” I laughingly assure him. “I can here now.”
The 82-year-old yogi beaming at me through my computer screen was once a rich, prestigious psychology professor known as Richard Alpert. After he and his comrade Timothy Leary were fired from the Harvard faculty for their controversial research on the effects of the psychoactive compound psilocybin, Alpert played a crucial part in launching the psychedelic revolution of the ’60s. Eventually tiring of his least favorite effect of psychedelic drugs—namely, their tendency to wear off after several hours—he journeyed to India in search of consciousness expansion methods that might yield more lasting results. While there, he underwent a series of extraordinary experiences that transformed him into an adherent of bhakti (devotional) yoga. Under the name of Ram Dass, he has become one of the world’s most beloved spiritual figures.

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