Baba Ram Dass: The Westport Connection

Westport’s history is filled with writers who — while not as closely associated with our town as, say, Peter De Vries or Max Shulman — spent time here at the heights of their careers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald. J.D. Salinger. Shirley Jackson.

Add Baba Ram Dass to the list.

His “Be Here Now” — described by the New York Times as “an exuberant exponent of finding salvation through helping others” — sold 2 million copies, and has had more then 3 dozen printings.

But he’s perhaps better known for his advocacy — with fellow Harvard professor Timothy Leary — of LSD, and the spiritual inspiration he found in India.

Ram Dass — born Richard Alpert — returned from India as a “bushy-bearded, barefoot, white-robed guru,” the Times says. He became “a peripatetic lecturer on New age possibilities and a popular author of more than a dozen inspirational books.”

Baba Ram Dass

He also started a foundation to combat blindness in India and Nepal, supported reforestation in Latin America, and developed health education programs for American Indians, the Times reports.

According to alert “06880” reader — and endless fount of historical knowledge — Mary Gai, Ram Dass came to Westport around 1979.

He was here, Mary says, thanks to the kindness of a follower. Independently wealthy, the woman lived in a compound — with a big van, tents and campfires — on the Saugatuck River.

I’m not sure how long he stayed in the woods here. But last year Ram Dass began an essay on aging this way: “One evening I was taking a train back from Westport to New York city….”

Baba Ram Dass died on Sunday, in Hawaii. He was 88.

If you have any memories of his time in Westport — or simply how he influenced you — click “Comments” below.

(Click here for the full New York Times obituary of Baba Ram Dass.)

7 responses to “Baba Ram Dass: The Westport Connection

  1. Before he was Baba Ram Dass, Dick Alpert was a psychology professor at the Harvard Gradate School of Education, where I earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching Degree in 1963. At that time, he was beginning his journey into an alternative life, and one day he talked to our class about what he saw as the benefits of using hallucinogens to expand our consciousness. (Most of us were too conventional to take him up on the idea!)

  2. He had one more indirect link to Westport–his father, George Alpert, was the president of the New Haven Railroad during it’s 1962 bankruptcy, at which point it went into receivership. Alpert made pleas for the railroad to discontinue its passenger service, which fortunately fell on deaf ears, though a little bit more than a decade later and after the Penn Central takeover, the state and federal governments did take it over. The Penn Central divirted all freight service through Springfield so virtually no freight trains go through Westport any more.

  3. I will miss this far-out crazy man very much… he taught me to “Be Here Now” – although as the years went by I was better able to live out my own version, a sequel I titled “Be Someplace Else Later.” The NY Times obit featured a photo of him talking at the Alternative Media Conference held at my alma mater, a just-barely-educational institution called Goddard College – somewhat the antithesis of Harvard – but we made Ram Dass feel at home. Most of all, I appreciated his delicious sense of irony and humor, welcome relief from the self-important holy men who trolled around seeking followers. We called him “Baba Rum Raisin” and he loved it… Happy trails.

  4. I read the NYT Magazine piece on the guy few months ago and the obit, which is mostly the same, but mentioned the “Me Too” offense re: Timothy Leary’s son. Simpler times, when you could be a Privileged White Man, and an abuser, but the media still wrote kind words about you.

  5. I have been following the teachings and inspirational sayings of Baba Ram Das for several years on Instagram. He has been very sick but living day to day with the help of many supporters who he has educated and provided light to on their journey to self understanding. He had an eclectic life and has left a wonderful legacy of humble selflessness and service to others. May he be now at peace.

  6. Richard Alpert’s father George had a large farm in New Hampshire as a country house. After returning from India as Baba Ram Dass, he set up an ashram on the farm. I was in high school in Wellesley MA at that time, heard about this as our fathers were good friends (both had a good old conservative chuckle over the whole guru thing), and drove up one day with a classmate to check it out.

    There were people living in tents all over the dusty “back forty”, and the deal was nobody could speak–all communication was by small chalk boards hanging around everyone’s neck. Ram Dass gave a fascinating lecture on the levels of consciousness that day. I remember one of the higher levels was the ability to control the autonomous nervous system–breathing, heart rate, among other things–with the highest essentially out-of-body existence. I was level 1 at best, maybe up to level 2 or 3 by now through the wisdom of old age with a touch of compassion and empathy.

  7. “What you see in another being is the projection of your own level of evolution.”