Book Note: Be Here Now

Enough Timothy Leary–it’s time to talk about Ram Dass as a possible leader of liberal religion. Dass was Leary’s friend and they display many of the same hallmarks of liberal religious sentiment: Dass too feels that religion can and should change, he is far from literal in interpreting texts and religious teachings, he is even more affirmative that there are many legitimate viewpoints on religion and that many religions carry value, and he constantly invites individuals to make up their own minds and follow their own spiritual paths. Although somewhat prone to restlessness and depression in his personality, his opinion of human nature is basically optimistic and he not only believes that it can be perfected, but that he has encountered living examples in the world today of such perfected persons.

Be Here Now is his most famous book. It is actually a compilation of several separate works by Ram Dass from the early 1970s. The first, “Journey, the Transformation: Dr. Richard Alpert, Ph.D. into Baba Ram Dass,” is a fairly straightforward autobiography of Alpert/Dass’s years with Timothy Leary, travels in India, and especially his meeting with his guru and initiation into Hindu mysticism. The first part covers much of the same ground as Leary’s books, though in less detail, and the focus is on Alpert/Dass’s pervasive sense of hidden unhappiness. He frames his younger years and academic career as periods of personal dissatisfaction, indicating that his exploration of LSD was an only partially successful attempt to deal with these feelings. He describes his religious upbringing as “political Judaism,” something that wasn’t spiritually nourishing. By setting up a tale of privileged American melancholy, he is able to draw a stronger contrast with the joy and serenity derived from his conversion to Hinduism.

In India, the soon-to-be-Ram Dass encounters various holy men, finally settling on a particular guru named Meher Baba. His conversion is framed in miraculous terms, with telepathy and prognostication figuring prominently in his development of faith in the guru. In fact, Dass seems to have spent very little actual time with Meher Baba and to have received relatively few direct teachings or instructions–his relationship is one of distant lover idolizing the beloved, which is of course a perfectly acceptable situation in Hinduism’s bhakti-oriented path. This fits Dass’s character well—throughout his adventures with Leary and others, there is a persistent note of servility, as if he is most happy and comfortable playing trusted right-hand man to a superior or more popular leader. When he returns to the USA, he draws large crowds to his lectures, yet consistently defers the attention he receives, speaking of himself as an emissary of his guru or even as a conduit of Universal Consciousness. He simply isn’t comfortable putting his own self out front and center before the public.

The second section of Be Here Now is the most unusual–“From Bindu to Ojas” was created in a New Mexican ashram by a group of Dass’s hippie acolytes: they would meditate all day, then hand-stamp the letters of Dass’s manuscript onto large cardboard sheets, which were then illustrated by artists, photo-reduced, and shipped to Japan to be printed on rice paper and hand-stitched into limited edition books. Not the most efficient method of publishing, but the results are striking. Where “Journey” was a linear narrative, “From Bindu to Ojas” is a rambling, prophetic prose poem designed more as an experience than a book. Dass’s intention is to stimulate a quasi-mystical experience in the reader, demonstrating the necessity and ecstasy of turning on to his vision of expanded consciousness. One prominent feature is the use of quotes, terms, and images from virtually every conceivable religion. Like Leary and other New Age proponents, Dass feels that all religions point to similar truths/experiences and that he is free to rummage through them and use whatever he wishes. Thus we get quotes like “It’s all the same trip, it’s all the same, any trip you want to take leads to the same place,” and “It’s Buddha consciousness, it’s Christ consciousness.”

“Cookbook for a Sacred Life” is the third section of the book, which again shows a distinctive character. This section lays out a wealth of fairly orthodox Hindu (as well as a generous helping of Buddhist) teachings and methods of practice, inviting the reader to repeat Dass’s conversion in the first section and obtain the same mystical experience simulated in the second section. Unlike Leary, Dass actively promotes a wide range of explicitly religious beliefs, reporting them as more or less factual. For instance, he talks about how the attitude of the cook affects the eater through vibrations transmitted to the food, about how advanced spiritual practitioners can survive by photosynthesis, and the precise nature and manipulation of various internal charkas (energy centers). Like Leary he provides a prescription for building ideal spiritual communities, lays out intellectual/spiritual lineages, and insists that individual mental cultivation is the urgently required cure for the world’s current social, political, and personal crises.

The final section, “Painted Cakes Do Not Satisfy Hunger,” is an extended bibliography for students to do further research. It draws on thinkers and texts from dozens of religions and philosophies, categorizing them according to Dass’s assessment of their degree of spiritual realization. This is another attempt by Dass to synthesize a religious lineage (not unlike Leary’s inclusion of mini-biographies of many famous psychedelic pioneers)—both pointing to additional resources for the student and legitimizing his viewpoint as perennial throughout history. The degree to which Dass lays out a comprehensive and coherent spirituality can be debated, but Be Here Now certainly offers more clues and resources for religious adventurers than most books twice this size.

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29 Comments

Filed under Book Notes, Defining Liberal Religion, Liberal Religious History

29 responses to “Book Note: Be Here Now

  1. I’m not sure if I read “Be Here Now” or not (which either says something about the book or says something about me, I’m not sure which); but I have read his 1980s classic “How Can I Help?” while not sold as a religious book – I think it would help Ram Dass qualify…..

  2. Anne Dacey-Lucas

    I have a new, unused copy of From Bindu to Ojas. that I acquired at the ashram in Arroyo Hondo, NM in 1970 or 1971. The whole thing is in its original box (a big mailer) but I am wondering if this is the original edition and genuine as it includes a LP record. Nonetheless, in all these years I have had it I had never opened the box, but after your description of the effort involved in the production of the edition you mentioned I took did take a look. The set of booklets inside is truly unusual. This is not a subject in which I have any particular interest so I’m not going to read them, but I am appreciative of the work that was done to create them. It took a lot of faith.

    • tom lysaght

      Dear Anne,

      Since you clearly state you have no interest in your Ram Dass book, might I purchase it from you? I once had an early edition like yours and no longer do. I would greatly appreciate it.
      Thank you.

      Sincerely,
      Tom

    • Michael

      Dear Anne:

      Do you still have this?

      Thanks!

      Michael

    • Crista Lawson

      I am also interested in purchasing this book. Perhaps too late? If you are interested please contact me. thank you. namaste.

    • LINDA S PARUOLO

      IF ANONE HAS THE ORIGINAL BOX SET of From Bindu to Ojas .I WILL MAKE A OFFER YOU CANT REFUSE.
      “BE HERE NOW” PEACE , LINDA SUSAN

  3. Rick G

    Do you still have the package FOTB? with LP? I would also love to make an offer? Please advise. Thanks

  4. Jayson Larson

    Though not as impressive sounding as Anne’s edition, I too have an original copy of “From Bindu to Ojas”. The one hand-stamped on brown cardboard(brown paper), 3 hole-punched along the top and tied together with twine, just as described above. 108 pgs in all. 12″x 12″. Very impressive. No missing pages and in great condition. May be willing to sell…….

  5. Teri Barnett

    I am also interested in purchasing this “From Bindu to Ojas” if the set is available. Please email with details.

  6. Jane Lurie

    I also have the original packet, which I ordered after seeing a series of 3 talks by “Baba Ram Dass” at Hunter College, when he had just returned from India. It includes From Bindu to Ojas bound with rope, Our-Story My-Story Your-Story His-Story, Cook Book For A Sacred Life, A drawing of a Mandala, Painted Cakes Do Not Satisfy Hunger, sheets of papers with pictures of Masters, and an LP record. I am going to read through the writings and then I would like to sell the packet. I am in The SF bay area (Oakland) and would prefer not to have to mail it all but I can do that.

  7. robyn sandberg

    I have a copy of the boxed set From Bindu to Ojas and I would like to sell it. It is not in good but not pristine condition. It may not be fully complete. It includes the following:
    1. The bound book, “From Bindu to Ojas”
    2. Cook book for a Sacred Life
    3. Printed Cakes do not Satisfy Hunger
    4. (3) Large sheets with images of saints and other holy items
    5. A small book of wise sayings

  8. linda susan

    GREETINGS….JUST NOTICED YOUR REPLY…HOW ABOUT $350

    • robyn sandberg

      Hi Linda,
      To answer your questions. I have the original shipping box the materials came in. The Bindu to Ojas book has the original glued on cover. I am interested in your offer.
      Robyn

  9. he

    2 quick comments:

    1. I’m almost sure it was neem caroli baba, not meher baba. meher baba is only quoted in the book once or twice.

    2. a fresh copy will cost you much less and reads just the same as the original copy. getting overly concerned with the edition (and making outlandish high offers) misses the point of the material, I think.

    peace :>

  10. Mary Segal

    I have an original copy including the shipping box, of the book” From Bindu to Ojas (with mandala) and eight additional items :
    “Cookbook for a sacred life”
    “Painted cakes do not satisfy hunger”
    “Our-story,my- story, your- story, his- story”
    A pamphlet of quotations with with cutting lines
    Three posters of images of holy people
    One poster “the Lord’s bountiful delivery service.

  11. Hi I would be interested in making a purchase of the original if anyone still has a copy left! You can contact me at caramelloham@gmail.com. I love how this post had turned into a marketplace 😀 BTW to the OP, I really enjoyed this post, and am curious how you knew about who drew the illustrations? I’ve been wondering that myself for so long now! Also, the guru you mentioned (Meher Baba) should be rewritten as ‘Neem Karoli Baba’, as that was the guru that Ram Dass followed. You also forgot to mention a very significant portion of Ram Dass’ story in the first part of the book: when he meets Bhagavan Das, that 20 year old white kid, in India and decides to follow him – that is how he was initiated into Hinduism, and began his spiritual pilgrimage.

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