The Deadhead Stories Board allocates 100% of the net proceeds of its endeavors to worthy charities. One charity we have been making monthly contributions to is The SEVA Foundation, an organization whose vision is a world free of blindness. When Ram Dass, one of SEVA’s founding members, passed away, we received this message from SEVA, which I share with our community here.
Love and Light,
It is with great sadness that I share with you that Ram Dass, Seva co-founder and one of the great minds and spirits of our time, left this world yesterday, Sunday, December 22. He was 88 years old. As a spiritual teacher, academic, clinical psychologist, writer, humanitarian, and mystic, Ram Dass touched more lives than we can count. Those of us who he has left behind will miss him dearly, and count ourselves blessed that he was part of our world.
Born Richard Alpert in 1931, the future Ram Dass studied to be a psychologist, earning a BA from Tufts, a Masters from Wesleyan, and a Ph.D from Stanford. He taught clinical psychology at Harvard in the 50’s and 60’s. In 1967, he traveled to India, where he met Neem Karoli Baba, who would become his guru. Alpert underwent a profound spiritual awakening, adopting the name his guru gave him, Ram Dass, which means “servant of God.” After returning to the U.S., he played a major role in the translation of spiritual traditions of the East to the West. He codified his philosophy in his 1971 best-seller, Be Here Now.
In 1978, along with public health advocate Dr. Larry Brilliant and world peace activist Wavy Gravy, Ram Dass co-founded Seva. With his help and spiritual guidance, Seva has helped over 40 million people in over 20 countries receive sight-saving vision care.
During his decades of service with Seva, Ram Dass was an active Board member, serving as Chair. He worked to ensure Seva’s attentiveness to compassion and impact – impact on the lives of the people being served, on those who provide the care, and on those who provide funding. He promoted Seva’s core approach of active listening, collaborative program development, and partnership with the communities with which Seva works in some of the world’s most resource-poor regions, including in the U.S. Ram Dass brought his skills as a social scientist to the planning and review of programs. He delighted in visiting communities with which Seva works, where he formed deep and enduring friendships. Over the years Ram Dass gave benefit lectures coast to coast, talking about Seva and his spiritual journey. These loving events drew in people whose contributions as Seva volunteers, thought partners, and donors are still felt today. Seva honored Ram Dass with a 2017 concert near his Maui home, featuring Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, and Krishna Das, with Seva co-founder Wavy Gravy as MC.
Ram Dass suffered a stroke in 1997, which impaired his ability to speak. In recent years he has focused on contemplation, writing and giving retreats near his home on Maui. He did not bemoan his fate, however, choosing to interpret the stroke as an act of grace. He interpreted it as an opportunity, sent by the universe, to get more deeply in touch with his soul.
“The stroke was giving me lessons, and I realized that was grace—fierce grace,” he said. “Death is the biggest change we’ll face, so we need to practice change.” This past September, New York Times Magazine asked Ram Dass when he knew he was ready to die. He answered, “When I arrived at my soul. Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite.” In a 2013 interview, he said, “Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me.”
Mirabai Bush, his “guru-sister” and co-author of his last book, Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying, summarized his spiritual journey in her introduction: “Ram Dass’s journey has been a search for love and for finding a way to stay in the space of love once he experienced it.” She later adds, “Ram Dass was always loving, but now he is love.”
His friend Steve Rhodes, a profound theologian and author, reflects, “For my part, I will always appreciate the way he has helped me not to take myself quite so seriously. He helped me to start my own meditation practice. He opened my heart to other religions and spiritual paths. And he helped me learn that I did not have to look only for God outside myself, but deep within.”
Ram Dass lived his life with generosity, beauty, and love, setting a high standard for Seva as we strive to end avoidable blindness through partnerships worldwide. His close friend and fellow spiritual traveler, Krishna Das, reflects, “His courage and patience and inner strength was a shining example of how to live in this world, with an ever-opening heart.”
His friend and Seva co-founder Wavy Gravy put it best in haiku form:
“A short poem for Ram Dass:
This servant of God
Whose light burned bright on Maui
Now illuminates eternity“
“Seva is working towards ending avoidable blindness,” say fellow co-founders Larry and Girija Brilliant. “Usually that means prevention and cure of physical blindness. But as we remember Ram Dass today, let us pledge to work to end both physical blindness, and the blindness of the spirit that causes division and despair. Let us think, each of us, how we can add our own little bit of good towards reducing both kinds of blindness.”
Ram Dass’ legacy lives on in the millions of people who have had their sight restored, and the millions more who will. He was the true vision behind Seva, and we celebrate his life today and every day.
P.S.: If you have a special memory of Ram Dass or his work, and would like to share it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.