Richard “Baba Ram Dass” Alpert, son of the first chairman of the Brandeis Board of Trustees George Alpert, died at age 88 on Dec. 22, 2019 at his home in Maui, HI. His death was announced on his official Instagram account the following day.
Baba Ram Dass’ father, George Alpert, was the first chairman of Brandeis’s Board of Trustees, according to Board of Trustees page on the Brandeis website. According to the Brandeis archives, Alpert served as chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1946-1954, however, after leaving his position as chairman, Alpert remained a Board member for the rest of his life. Alpert received the university’s first honorary degree in 1953 at the second commencement, according to the Honorary Degree Recipients page on Brandeis’ website.
In his early life, George Alpert’s son, Baba Ram Dass, worked with Harvard psychology department colleague—Timothy Leary—researching the effects of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) on the mind, according to a New York Times article. Their work caused controversy and criticism ultimately leading to both men getting fired, Baba Ram Dass having given drugs to an undergraduate student.
Baba Ram Dass continued to experiment with LSD after having been fired, causing effects on his mental state as he became depressed. Conflicts resulting from his sexuality led to increased tensions between Baba Ram Dass and his past colleagues including Leary. In 1967, Baba Ram Dass went to India where he underwent a “spiritual upheaval,” as written in The New York Times.
In India, Baba Ram Dass met a man called Maharajji. Baba Ram Dass later went on to recognize this man as his guru—a spiritual teacher in the Hindu culture. It was Maharajji who gave him the name “Ram Dass,” which means “Servant of God,” to replace his birth name, Richard Alpert. Baba was added on to Ram Dass’ name as a sign of respect, according to the aforementioned New York Times article, translating to ‘father.’
Baba Ram Dass then returned to the United States following the instructions of his guru and began giving lectures that attracted over 200 people, who would come to chant with him, according to The New York Times.
In 1971, Baba Ram Dass became a published author, with his most successful book, “Be Here Now,” selling over two million copies, according to The New York Times. Ram Dass continued to publish books and recordings, but eventually sought to detach himself from his role as a “cult figure” and began doing charity work.
Ram Dass also began writing books in order to help prisoners, which made his works accessible at low prices. Before his death, Ram Dass built a foundation to fight blindness in India and Nepal, advocated for reforestation projects in Latin America and even carried out primary health care programs for Native Americans, according to the New York Times article.