Spiritual guru Ram Dass dies

Haiku resident, author of ‘Be Here Now,’ was 88 years old

Ram Dass, (center) swims at Kamaole Beach Park I in 2017 with friend Mike Crall (left) and Dass’ personal assistant, Dassima Murphy. PERRY JULIEN photo

Like clockwork, fans and followers of spiritual leader Ram Dass would show up at Kamaole Beach Park I to greet the counterculture icon during his Monday morning swims.

“That was his most favorite thing to do each week. He lived for going to the beach, getting into that water,” said friend and student Mike Crall of Makawao.

It was soon after Dass and Crall began swimming at the beach regularly in March 2005 that Dass “started having a following.” His fans and students would “set their clock to it,” Crall said.

People would talk story with him one-on-one, tell him how his work changed their lives and offer thanks. Some even asked for advice, said Crall, who is the retreats and public events organizer for Dass’ Love Serve Remember Foundation.

The last time he got into the water off Kamaole I was July.

Mike Crall accompanied spiritual guru Ram Dass for swims at the beach. Haiku resident Dass died Sunday. This photo was taken a couple of years ago. Photo courtesy Mike Crall

Dass died Sunday at his Haiku home, said Crall. He was 88. No cause of death was given.

The foundation is planning a worldwide “Be Here Now” movement in celebration of Dass’ life. Details will be forthcoming.

“Be Here Now” is the title of Dass’ 1971 book on spirituality, yoga and meditation. It was known as the “hippies’ bible” and has sold more than 2 million copies, the foundation said.

“I want to share with you the parts of the internal journey that never get written up in the mass media,” Dass wrote in the book. “I’m not interested in what you read in the Saturday Evening Post about LSD. This is the story of what goes on inside a human being who is undergoing all these experiences.”

Among his other books were “How Can I Help?” “Compassion in Action” and “Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying.”

In this photo taken in 2017, Ram Dass swims at Napili Bay, although his normal weekly swims were at Kamaole Beach Park I. Followers and fans knew his routine and often gathered to meet him, said friend Mike Crall. Photo courtesy of Mike Crall

“In the ’60s, I was an uncle for a movement,” he told The Associated Press in 1998. “I was always showing people where they could go. I went east, and then there was a big movement east.”

Now, he said, “the baby boomers are getting old — and I’m learning how to get old for them. That’s my role.”

Dass, born Richard Alpert in Boston, conducted LSD experiments as a young psychology professor at Harvard University with colleague Timothy Leary in the 1960s. They were both kicked out of Harvard for their activities.

Still, Alpert and Leary were able to influence a generation to “turn on, tune in and drop out,” with psychedelics providing “inner fuel” during a turbulent era of social change, sexual liberation and political unrest, the foundation said.

A 1967 trip to India introduced Alpert to yoga, meditation and spiritualism. He received the name Ram Dass from a guru; it means “Servant of God.”

He then crisscrossed America, lecturing and bringing the teachings to the West.

In 1997, he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that left him with paralysis and expressive aphasia. He recovered his speech and continued teaching online and later at retreats on Maui.

Crall said it was when Dass landed in Maui Memorial Medical Center that the two became friends.

The medical emergency, which occurred in 2004 and put Dass in the hospital for a month, made it impossible for him to fly after that, Rick Chatenever reported in The Maui News in February 2017.

Dass never left Maui again, Crall said.

Crall described Dass’ passing at home as peaceful.

“The house was filled with love,” Crall said. “He was probably ready to let go.”

“He left his body, but not his spirit. We are sad, but we are celebrating. We are very sad, but we’re celebrating (as) we are all going to go,” said friend and local spiritual leader, musician and educator Lei’ohu Ryder.

In his later years, Dass spoke about dignity regarding death and dying. He described death as “simply walking each other home,” Ryder recalls.

Dass and Ryder collaborated on many events during the spiritual leader’s years on Maui. “We were so blessed to know him,” she said.

Ryder said Dass touched so many and was the inspiration for many spiritual leaders, including Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle.

“This great soul lived humbly here on Maui and brought a refreshing wonderment of unconditional love and acceptance of all,” Ryder said.

Dass was involved in the Doorway Into Light organization in Haiku. The group engages in advocacy and education programs on death and dying.

The Rev. Bodhi Be, executive director of the group, said he will miss Dass, who was a member of the nonprofit’s board.

“He was certainly one of my spiritual advisers,” Be said Monday afternoon about an hour after paying a visit to Dass’ home, where he prepared Dass’ body for viewing.

Last week when Be visited, Dass was “in good spirits” but not speaking, at least during his visit, he said.

When Be met Dass for the first time, he was in his 20s and Dass was in his 40s, yet the master was “the only old person that seemed to make sense.” Be said he got acquainted with him when Dass moved to Maui.

Recalling that March 2005 day, Crall said it was the first time Dass had been in the ocean since his stroke. Crall and Dass had visited Kamaole I together when Dass first moved to the island. They chose the beach for Dass’ return to the ocean because of the wheelchair access.

When they swam out to the buoy as they had in the past, Dass exclaimed “oh boy, oh boy, oh boy” in joy of the feat despite his disabilities, Crall said.

“When it got crowded” with followers, “we thought of changing the day, time or the beach. We (then) had our own (beach wheel) chair,” he said.

But Dass said no.

“I want to keep it the same time and day. That’s where the people are and where I need to be,” Dass said.

Those who want to share their reflections on Dass may email remember@ramdass.org or post to social media using #lovingramdass.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.


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