I have to read the Bhagavad Gita for some work I am doing so I decided to imbibe Ram Dass’s classic Be Here Now first. It’s very trippy, in every sense. He begins with his successful persona as Dr. Richard Alpert, ivy league professor, therapist, sought-after speaker and, in his own mind, complete phony. A few years of experimenting with hallucinogenics and the worldly success has morphed into a fired academic and jaded and confused seeker with little to show for all his experimentation. Then he takes a trip to India–why not? Nothing else going on for him–and he eventually encounters an enigmatic holy man who bcomes his guru.
Alpert’s story is a real break-down/breathrough. He loses his entire Western identity. All his training and career achievements mean little in the spare hermitage he embraces. He can’t fathom how people know what they know and he doesn’t seem to know anything himself. Yet he emerges as someone sure of who he is and what he must do to live an authentic life. He becomes Ram Dass, a teacher who embodies selfless service and speaks out for economic integrity, environmental stewardship, compassionate hospice care and living with awareness.
Be Here Now is the hippe-trippy introduction to yoga and the profundities of Hindu spiritual philosophy and it is very accessible and fun to read–even if the book’s design does mark it as an artifact of its times. Nothing wrong with artifacts. This one has wonky type, sideways page layouts, psychedelic art, colored lettering and line drawing, a center insert of paper-bag-brown pages and no concessions to conservative sensibilities.
The first section is Alpert’s journey to discover himself and become Ram Dass. Part two, the brown center pages, is a compendium of Hindu philosophy that is very extensive–lots of the yoga principles succinctly summarized, many quotes to reflect on, a smorgasbord of spiritual teachings from a number of religions–I suspect it seemed pretty far out when first published but much of it is familiar now. A “cookbook” follows this section with recipes for how to achieve your own journey to enlightenment, or at least a high degree of understanding. Ram Dass describes the practices to follow and elucidates concepts from the sanskrit that may be confusing to the uninitiated. He winds up with a fourth section, a long list of books that are useful, rated according to value–very helpful.
Be Here Now (actually, the proper name seems to be Remember, Be Here Now but I’ve always known it minus the Remember…hmmm) gives you the flavor of the 70s and the timeless wisdom of the East in one fat paperback. It is a bridge to more direct teachings and original sources that are tougher to access. This is not your trendy post-modern yoga studio with its abs-flattening fitness routines. It’s the raw, real deal from the ancient sages. I enjoyed being reminded of how a certain type of book looked back in the days when you had to haunt alternative bookstores to find such unconventional reading material. And this one is still as plainspeaking and true as it was when written. You can’t be in the past, so might as well let that go as it is already gone. You can’t live in the future unless you are some weird hologram–and who is to say your vision of the future will ever exist anyway? What you’ve got is now, right now, this moment. Just. Now. Right here. Be cool with that and you could figure out the rest of it, too.
Remember, Be Here Now Ram Dass | Crown Publishing 1994