April 6, 1931 – December 22, 2019
by Daniel Giamario
Ram Dass (a.k.a Richard Alpert), certainly one of the greatest spiritual teachers and guides of the modern era, passed peacefully in Maui on December 22, 2019 at his third Saturn Return.
Ram Dass was my first and greatest spiritual teacher and his influence and contribution to my life continues to this day, well into the winter season of my life. I have studied with a number of “spiritual teachers” during my adult life, ranging from Indian gurus to Native American teachers and even Peruvian shamans. Overall, the results have been mixed. All too often there have been major shadow elements involved (and I’m not alluding, here, to my own).
For me, Ram Dass has endured as the purest and most trusted influence throughout my life. Here are a few personal experiences describing his influence as a potent shaper of my life.
This began in the spring of 1970 when I was a senior at the University of Kansas. What a wildly exciting and often confusing time that was! At that time many of us were heavily involved with what was known as “The Movement”, impelling us in ways that would radically alter the course of America and world history.
At the time I was politically active alongside my peers while also part of a revolutionary intentional-living group known as “The Community”.
Surrounding us was rising swell of interest in consciousness- raising through meditation and yoga. As an Eastern Philosophy major thoroughly dedicated to the revolution, I was often quite confused and uncertain about what to do.
During the first week of May that year, a crossroads occurred splitting our community apart, with some going in the direction of extreme political activism and joining the “Weather Underground” group.
I was on the brink of joining that group, but a smaller faction was going in the direction of meditation and inner change. What to do?
I found my feet in both worlds. That week, Baba Ram Dass was giving a talk at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka Kansas and I decided to skip a community meeting so I could attend. It was a decision that changed my life forever.
I arrived early on the evening of May 5 and seated myself in the front row. Ram Dass spoke for some six or seven hours, answering every question raised. I personally asked several questions and the answers given, along with the penetrating experience of his full eye contact with me (for what seemed like an eternity) profoundly impacted me.
My main question was this:
In a rapidly deteriorating situation, like in this country and the world today, why are the most aware people that I know of, and others, really feeling the need to get into heavy political action? And this seems to take on two manifestations: one, it divides people even worse, and the other is, on the survival level, it seems like about the only thing to do. I’m just wondering what … how … what you feel about political action. (from transcript on page 123)
The gist of his answer was that there are issues of social responsibility, but it’s useless to act with anger. You cannot bring peace to a situation if you do not have a peaceful heart. Your personal responsibility is to raise your vibration, so as not to be trapped in the polarity of “them and us.” He capped his answer with a suggestion that I start a meditation practice immediately.
The Beatles, particularly John Lennon – always ahead of most of us in those days – were meditating in India in 1968, when they wrote the lyrics to the iconic song “Revolution” presaging all that was to follow.
Here are the most noteworthy lyrics:
You say you want a revolution, well you know, We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution, well you know, We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know you can count me out!
But if you want money for minds that hate, all I can tell is brother you have to wait.
You tell me it’s the institution, well you know you better free your mind instead.
You ask me for a contribution, well, you know, we all doing what we can.
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.
Not only did I dive deeply into meditation and yoga, but I also started hosting gatherings all over Lawrence Kansas, sharing a reel-to-reel tape of Ram Dass’ talks. I also became a distributor of the famous early version of his first book BE Here NOW. The actual book version did not appear until 1971, but in 1970 we distributed, by donation, an early version, in a box called From Bindu to Ojom. Those were the days!
Meanwhile, I was doing as many astrology readings as I could, usually for free or as a trade for dinner.
An amazing addendum to this tale, is that four years later, while teaching Transcendental Meditation to G.I.’s at a US air force base in Thailand, I made a short trip to Vientiene, Laos. At the small hotel I stayed in, there was only one other foreigner. Amazingly, this turned out to be another TM teacher named Tom, I had not previously met. We shared stories all through the night.
When I got to the point of sharing my Ram Dass transmissions, his eyes lit up and he pulled out a cassette tape from his small backpack. What he played for me was me, my voice on tape asking the very question to Ram Dass during the evening of May 5, 1970! I could not believe my ears. It was the only cassette tape that he had with him.
An astrological aside here is Tom’s natal profile included a Libra Moon and Capricorn Rising. Synchronictically, I have a Capricorn Moon and Libra Rising! You cannot make this stuff up!
By the way, if you are interested you can find the transcript of that May 1970 talk at the Menninger Foundation here:
Comments on the Natal Chart of Ram Dass
What follows is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the life of Ram Dass, but a few key observations.
- Ram Dass’ natal Saturn was 22 Capricorn 41. When he passed, Saturn was 20 Capricorn 22, and Pluto was 22 Capricorn 06. He was near the end of the nine-month initiatory window of his third Saturn Return.
- The transiting North Node was close to his Jupiter at 11 Cancer 53.
- One of the most remarkable features of his chart is natal Pluto at 18 Cancer 41, only 27 minutes from exact conjunct his Ascendant at 18 Cancer 14. This man certainly knew the underworld dimension!
- His massive stroke occurred on February 19, 1997, just after his Nodal Reversal at age 65 and just before his Saturn-square-Saturn cycle, marking his entrance into the Winter season of his life. Interestingly, his first psychedelic experience (with psilocybin) occurred on March 6, 1961 with Jupiter and Saturn conjunct in late Capricorn, just at the end of his first Saturn Return process.
- His life teachings have had an immense influence on my life. But, strangely I had not looked at his chart in many years. So, I got quite a shock when I noticed his Saturn degree at 22 Capricorn 41. My Moon, currently with Saturn and Pluto conjunct, is at 23 Capricorn 34. It is certainly appropriate that he was my first and greatest teacher!
The last time I was with Ram Dass in person was 2008 – the year my first wife, Debby Joy, died. She and I were at a Satsang with him on the Big Island of Hawaii; she died a few weeks later. I regret that I never saw him again even though I lived on Maui for over a year where he spent his remaining fifteen years.
During his life he wrote twelve books, all worth reading. He had an immeasurable influence on an entire generation and I am so thankful that he existed during these Kali Yuga times. In his later years, when asked to summarize his life, he said, “I help people as a way to work on myself, and I work on myself to help people. To me, that’s what the emerging game is all about.”
There are so many anecdotes I could share, but I will close with this. Ram Dass loved the channeled entity known as Emmanuel. During a session that he had with Emmanuel, he asked if the world was going to end soon. Emmanuel responded: Ram Dass, you are not going to get out of it that easily!
We celebrate Ram Dass and a life well lived.