The Harvard professor turned Yogi who influenced Steve Jobs
“Jobs found himself deeply influenced by a variety of books on spirituality & enlightenment, most notably Be Here Now, a guide to meditation & the wonders of psychedelic drugs by Baba Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert. “It was profound,” Jobs said. “It transformed me and many of my friends.”
Excerpt from Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Born in 1931 in Boston, Richard Alpert (later became Ram Dass), had the typical American privileged upbringing as the son of an illustrious lawyer. He embarked into the field of psychology. In 1961 he was at the apogee of his academic career. He was a professor in Clinical Psychology at Harvard. In the eyes of the world, he had “made” it. He owned a Mercedes Benz sedan, a Triumph 500 CC motorcycle, a Cessna 172 airplane, an MG sports car & a sailboat. He vacationed in the Caribbean, living the “American Dream”.
However, he was not satisfied with what was happening around him. In his words,
“I felt something was wrong in my world. I felt that the theories that I was teaching in Psychology didn’t make it, that the psychologists didn’t really have a grasp of the human condition and the theories that I was teaching, theories of achievement, anxiety, defense mechanisms, and so on, weren’t getting to the crux of the matter.”
Around this time, he met Timothy Leary, another clinical psychologist at Harvard, who had experimented with psychedelics with a Shaman in the mountains of Mexico. Tim said, “I learned more in the six or seven hours of this experience than I had learned in all my years as a psychologist.” Richard’s curiosity was titillated. As he started exploring his consciousness with these chemicals, he started feeling more disassociated from psychology.
“It (the experience) presented me with a bit of a problem because I couldn’t find anywhere in the psychology teachings anything about what had happened (during the experience).”
He started providing these substances to his students at Harvard, to start exploring these states of consciousness scientifically. Naturally, Harvard chucked him & Tim out.
Around this time, many seekers from the west were visiting the east. Richard got a chance, and he also took the plunge. He traveled to Tehran, Nepal, Tibet, Kashmir & Banaras. But nothing was happening. He visited holy men and he got the same range of responses as he did in America.
He was in Blue Tibetan, a restaurant in Kathmandu when a tall white guy in holy clothes came to his table and sat down. His name was Bhagwan Dass, a 23-year-old westerner from California, who had journeyed through Europe, North Africa & the Middle East, eventually landing up in India. Something in Bhagwan’s persona piqued Richard’s interest.
“I met this guy and there was no doubt in my mind. It was just like meeting a rock. It was just solid, all the way through. Everywhere I pressed, there he was.”
Richard started traveling with Bhagwan. One night as both of them were camping in a Chinese Buddhist Monastery in Sarnath, Richard went out under the stars. The previous year, his mother had died of spleen illness.
“I spent days in the hospital just meditating. I felt no loss when she died. Instead, there was a tremendous continuing contact with her.”
He hadn’t thought about her for a year. That night under the stars, he suddenly experienced the presence of his mother.
The next day Bhagwan Dass said,” We have got to go to the mountains in Himachal Pradesh. I’ve got a Visa problem and I need to see my Guru.” The guru was a little man in his 60s or 70s sitting with a blanket around him. He was Neem Karoli Baba (who was called Maharaj-ji. Steve Jobs had come to India to meet Maharaj-ji).
Maharaj-ji said, “Come here. Sit.”
“You were under the stars last night.”
“You were thinking of your mother”
“Yes.” (“Wow. I never mentioned that to anybody!”
“She died last year.”’
“She got very big in the stomach before she died.”
Maharaj-ji leaned back, closed his eyes & said, “Spleen. She died of Spleen.”
Richard was taken aback.
“What happened to me that moment can’t be put into words. Maharaj-ji looked at me in a certain way and things happened-
The first was paranoia.
“Who is he?”
“Is he running an organization like CIA?”
“The next moment, I felt this tremendous wrenching feeling in my chest & I started to cry. I cried and I cried, and I cried. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sad. It was not that kind of crying. The only thing I could say was it felt like I was home. Like the journey was over. Like I had finished.”
That night as Richard was lying in his bed, he remembered.
“Wow, I have finally met a guy who knows. Tomorrow I will ask him about the psychedelic experience.
The next day Maharaj-ji asked,” Where’s the medicine?”
“Medicine? Does he mean the psychedelics?”
Richard brought them from his bag. Maharaj-ji extended his hand. Richard put one pill in his hand. Maharaj-ji looked expectantly. Richard gave him a second pill, then a third. Maharaj-ji took them in one go.
“That was a sizeable dose for anyone.
Well, this is going to be interesting. No doubt this old man is going to freak out!”
The whole day passed but nothing happened to Maharaj-ji. That was Maharaj-ji’s answer to Richard. Richard Alpert became Ram Dass. Be Here Now is his meditation on the human experience.
He died on 22 ndDecember 2019.
In this world of five-minutes wisdom, you might be expecting a short summary here. But I won’t do that since it’s not possible. But just to create that itch in you about this book, I am posting a few pictures of the book.