By Sheri Cohen Darbonne
Ram Dass, a former Harvard University psychology professor who gained
notoriety in the 1960's for experimenting with psychedelic chemicals including LSD and psylocibin, says now he
has reached a true connection with consciousness in his current commitment
to human service. One of the more
recent outgrowths of this commitment
is working with victims of AIDS, and
the volunteers and "buddies" who provide services to them, Dass reported
Sunday, Feb. 22.
Dass, who along with Timothy Leary
was one of the first professors to be fired
by Harvard in the 20th century, is scheduled to lecture at the University of
Houston, University Park student center at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 1. The
lecture, sponsored by and held for the
benefit of the Seva Foundation, will
focus on the topic "Cultivating the heart
Dass said his involvement with AIDS
grew partly out of his previous work
with people who are dying and partly
out of more personal experiences,
including the loss of friends. His
approach to dealing with the disease's
progression is different than the attitude encountered by AIDS victims in a
hospital or hospice environment
because of how the person is perceived,
"It's really a contextual matter ofthe
way one sees another person," Dass
explained. "In a hospital or medical
environment, what is seen is the body,
whereas in a hospice, the focus in on the
personality. The attitude there is 'It's
too bad you're dying.' What I am more
interested in is the spiritual," he said.
Through involvement with the spirit,
a person can reach an acceptance of
dying and consciously approach the
situation, Dass suggested. He said his
program encourages spiritual advancement through meditative practices.
Meditation can be learned by anyone
with a desire to do so, Dass asserted,
noting that the practice takes many
forms in application to different lifestyles. Hatha Yoga and even jogging
can be considered meditative experiences, he said.
60s Drug Guru
Ram Dass, now involved in AIDS
Dass' living-dying project developed
from awareness of a philosophy found
in many religions that one cannot be
born without first dying, and the fact
that man's deepest fear is that of physical death.
"I wanted to create a space for people
who are dying, and for other people who
want to be around", he said.
Firm Buys City
Healthcare Associates Inc., a firm
which previously did marketing and
public relations for local health care
professionals, has purchased an entire
city block in Montrose, where it plans to
operate a residential rehabilitation center for adolescents and young adults.
"Live Oaks Treatment Center," for
young people with drug, alcohol or emotional problems, will be the company's
first treatment facility, according to
Stan Riley, the center's chief executive
The company entered into a limited
partnership with 40 private investors,
mostly health care professionals, to purchase the property.
The block, bounded by Yoakum, Mt.
Vernon, Bissonnet and Berthea Streets,
was purchased from Psychiatric Associates of Houston Inc. for $1,000,007,
Five buildings on the site previously
housed professional offices, many of
which will remain at the same location;
an art gallery and a vacant apartment
Riley said $700,000 in renovations to
the existing buildings is planned before
the facility's scheduled opening in July.
The Berthea Gardens Apartments
will be converted into the patient residence, he said.
No new construction is planned.
Live Oaks will probably employ 20-30
full-time staff persons or the equivalent
in full and part-time positions, Riley
The project began with a telephone
line. The "dying centers" were established in Santa Fe, N.M., and Marin
County, Calif. Dass began working
with AIDS patients and volunteers last
year, and says he hopes to open a house
for AIDS patients next year.
Dass, who is bisexual, said his own
experience heightened his interest in
the disease. Awareness of AIDS has
changed his sexual practices and has
made him more sympathetic to the pain
of others, he said.
The loss of people involved in his project draws mixed feelings, Dass said.
"My human heart hurts like hell," he
admitted. But another, intuitive part of
him understands the balance in the
workings of the universe, he added.
And, although Dass claims he has not
used drugs intravenously and that his
sexual practices were not those considered to have the highest risk, he is
"open to the possibility" he could be
stricken with AIDS himself.
"It's hard, hypothetically, to know
how you would react," Dass responded
when asked how he would accept the
news. However, he said, "I feel prepared."
Facing death would be "another challenge," he added.
Born Richard Alpert in 1931, Dass
received an M.A. from Wesleyan University and a Ph.D from Stanford, and
served on the psychology faculties at
Stanford and the University of California. From 1958-1963 he taught and
researched in the department of social
relations and graduate school of education at Stanford.
FEBRUARY 27, 1987 / MONTROSE VOICE 5
Dass describes the sequence that led
him from psychology through chemical
experiments in the company of Leary,
Aldous Huxley and others to study of
Indian spiritual practices and, eventually, to his work with the Seva Founda
tion and other service projects as a quest
for an "attachment of mind."
"I was teaching from the outside in,"
he said of his earlier work in the universities. "I felt I wasn't being touched
inside, and kept wondering, why can't I
find happiness, and peace?"
Dass said his first experience of being
connected with his own mind was when
he tried the drug psylocibin during his
research at Harvard.
"When you experience something like
that, you have a tendency to keep trying," he explained. After trying to stabilize the experience for over five years,
Dass said he realized the chemicals
alone would not do that.
Testimony in books of similar experiences led him to India, where he met his
"guru" (spiritual teacher), Neem Karoli
Baba, under whom he studied Ashtanga Yoga, meditation and a variety of
eastern spiritual practices. During this
time he received his name, which means
"servant of God."
Dass said he interprets his "servant
to master" devotion to deity through
service to mankind. In 1974, Dass
created the Hanurnan Foundation,
which developed the living-dying project and the "Prison-Ash ram Project,"
designed to help prison inmates grow
spiritually and consciously during their
Dass is presently chairman of the
Seva Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides health and ecological services in developing countries.
Seva's primary current activity is support of the Nepal Blindness Program
and Avarind Eye Hospital in Madurai.
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