When Richard Alpert met his guru

– You know, I listened to a radio show where they talked about an old hippie who used LSD. He met a guru in India who asked to try it. The guru took a fairly high dose, but it had no effect on him. The hippie stopped using drugs and became his disciple instead. So you see, Daniel, psychedelics are just a shortcut. You shouldn’t use stuff like that.

Harvard professors Timothy Leary, left, and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1961. Photo courtesy
Harvard professors Timothy Leary, left, and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1961. Photo courtesy “Birth of a Psychedelic Culture”, 2011, Synergetic Press, Santa Fe

– You’re talking about Richard Alpert who was by no means any old hippie. Alpert was a professor at Harvard along with Timothy Leary and was a prominent figure who helped popularize LSD in the early 60’s. He was dismissed from Harvard at the same time as Timothy Leary, on the grounds that he had given his students psilocybin (magic mushrooms). Among many other things he was co-author of The Psychedelic Experience, which is a manual on the use of LSD in combination with The Tibetan Book of the Dead – that is, it’s a guide on how to use psychedelics to face your own death.

– The story of Alpert giving his guru LSD for the first time is well known, but the story of when he gives his guru LSD for the second time is less known, yet more entertaining and sheds more light on the matter. The doses (900-1200 micrograms) are extremely high and an average person would not be able to walk or even talk on such a dose. A high dose for therapeutic tripping could be as much as 600 micrograms, so this is still considerably more.

– The question is of course why the guru remains unaffected.

– Well, this isn’t just any side walk guru. Maharaj-ji was regarded as a saint. I once received the message from the spirit world that “psychedelics are not to be considered drugs. They are tools that allow you to speak with the gods.” And that’s exactly what the guru says in the second clip. Richard Alpert asks the guru if there is a use for these chemicals. The guru replies that there can be and that the use of psychedelics belongs to old forgotten wisdom that previously existed in yoga. He then says that it gives the opportunity to be in the presence of Christ, but that you can only stay there for a few hours. It is better to become Christ yourself, but two hours with a spiritual master strengthens faith, he continues.

– Maharaj-ji is of course unaffected because he is the Christ, or whatever name you want to use. He is constantly in what could be regarded as a psychedelic state and therefore the LSD makes no difference. For someone who is not there, it may, as the guru puts it, strengthen faith. I have met many people that thank psychedelics for waking them up to a divine reality and starting their spiritual journey, just as it was for both Richard Alpert and me.

– It is my understanding that the time that we spend feeling confused by the substance is not the spiritual journey. While on psychedelics we have contact with the highest divine and are overwhelmed by impressions and insights, but the real journey is to bring it all out into the real life and put it into practice. Then we begin a spiritual journey, in contrast to seeking spiritual thrills. To hang out with Christ is not the point, no matter if you do it with LSD, in a church or on your yoga mat. The point is to take what you’ve learned in that presence and use it in your everyday life.

– Richard Alpert stopped working with psychedelics, was given the name Ram Dass by his guru and chose a different path. Perhaps he would simply call it the next path, or even just the continuation of the same path? He has continued to speak highly of psychedelics and sees them as crucial to his own spiritual awakening, which you can see in the last clip with an older, stroke damaged Ram Dass.

– So what can we learn from this story? Is it that we should stay away from psychedelics? That they do not add anything that we can’t get by other means? That is not the lesson that I hear and it does not seem to be the lesson that Ram Dass is trying to convey. What I hear is that psychedelics are part of an ancient knowledge that can put us in touch with the highest divine. They are powerful tools to awaken the longing and desire within. If you work with psychedelics you might someday decide to leave the psychedelics behind, to continue the walk without them, but that does not mean that psychedelics were of no use. On the contrary, the psychedelics were the extremely powerful tool that brought you to that point.

Happy birthday, Ram Dass! (Yesterday that is)

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