He went to India in 1967, where he met Neem Karoli Baba, who became his guru at Kainchi ashram. Alpert called him Maharaj-ji, who renamed Alpert as Baba Ram Dass, which means “servant of God.” He gave talks, and I attended two in 1970, one in the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara. In the early 1970s, Ram Dass taught workshops on conscious aging and dying, though when he got old himself, he said that his earlier reflections about facing old age and death now seemed naive to him. He wrote a dozen books, the best known being Be Here Now.
When I landed at Rowe Camp and started Rowe Conference Center in 1974, Ram Dass was one of the first people I invited to speak. He wrote back and said, “Your letter was so light/full. There is a very good chance I will be there. On the other hand I could end up in England or Africa or New Zealand come May. Couldn’t you list me tentatively for May and then, if it be in the Spirit of things, it will certainly happen.” I did this and he came to us with about a hundred people and it “put us on the map,” helping Rowe Conference Center become a real institution. He returned twice more over the next dozen years and I loved listening to him.
In 1997, he had a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia, which he interpreted as an act of grace—fierce grace. “The stroke was giving me lessons, and I realized that was grace … Death is the biggest change we’ll face, so we need to practice change. Now, I am aging. I am approaching death. I’m getting closer … Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me.” When asked if he could sum up his life’s message, he replied, “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.”
Bon voyage, Ram Dass.
REV. DOUGLAS WILSON
was the founding Director of the Rowe Conference Center and served as Executive Director of UU Rowe Camp and Conference Center from 1974-2012.