Ram Dass (nee Richard Alpert) is a Jewish Hindu, an ex-member (if transitory) of the faculties of Stanford and Harvard. The name, Ram Dass, was given to Dass by his guru and means “servant of God”. Dass spent many years in India, studying Hinduism with various gurus and has lectured extensively. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, throughout most of his life, he has been an open devotee of hallucinatory drugs (“psychedelics”), which he maintains have increased his religious experiences, divine interventions, epiphanies and the like. This does not become clear until the reader is well into the book.
One gets the impression that Dass’s followers are hippy-type scions of adequate means, if not considerable wealth, who can afford to follow their fancies and fantasies to India and sit at the foot of their guru, Ram Dass. Indeed, the book itself, was largely assembled by his students from his notes, and the book contains numerous photos of Dass and his pupils, all of whom look like escapees from a 1960’s free-love commune, Charles Manson look-alikes. Still, Dass is credited with 12 other books (including one captioned “LSD”, to which he confesses considerable devotion throughout PTG), some of which are said to “best sellers” (on some unidentified lists), but, based upon the prose and presentation of PTG, such claims strain credulity. Most damning, the introduction of psychedelics, as a tool to accomplish anything constructive, defies common sense and diminishes the reader’s confidence in any of Dass’ observations, data or conclusions.
Proceeding unabated and ever optimistic, while using Emerson’s admonition to learn something from everyone, this reader searched assiduously for redeeming empirical or a priori data, regarding The Gita or some other facet of Hinduism or metaphysics. Sadly, virtually none could be found. Except for a two-page “Reference List”, even the citations to sources, historical events, etc., lack dates or tangibles that might lead to probative verifications or more expansive study. The book reaches its nadir when Dass lectures his minions on a session that he once enjoyed with his most beloved guru, during which Dass shared LSD with the guru, who became non compos mentis, demonstrating that the blind can lead the blind in India as well as anywhere else. To sub-title this book, “Living the Bhagavad Gita” is misleading and an insult to The Gita (the song of love), which is among the Hindus most beloved scriptures. The Gita offer us a great deal, if we listen to Emerson, Thoreau, Schoppenhauer and many others, but, whatever it offers, the reader won’t find it in this altogether silly book.