Pilgrimage of the Heart
In 1967, Richard Alpert finds his way across the Middle East to India and, by apparent chance, to a holy man named Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji. Psychedelics had by now opened the young Harvard psychologist’s mind to new planes of reality, but the scientist in him was still skeptical of the paranormal, let alone the Divine. Then, the two finally meet:
People are sitting around an old man who is seated under a tree, wrapped in a plaid blanket. There are about twenty people, many in white. It looks like some kind of cult. Or a picnic at a mental hospital. I’m not going near it….
At first glimpse, Maharaj-ji looked ordinary. But at his feet, I had an experience more powerful than any psychedelic. His view of me as a soul—his love for me outside of place and time—stirred me to my core.
I stayed in India for six months, training as a yogi, before Maharaj-ji sent me back to America with a new name: Ram Dass.
When I returned, I found that I was a pioneer of an entirely different sort. In the chaos of the late 1960s and early ’70s—the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Vietnam, Watergate, Kent State—many Americans were searching for answers. I was carrying what felt like a jewel that I’d been given in India. I found myself pointing the way to a spiritual path. Many of my listeners discovered that this was what they’d been searching for too. —from Being Ram Dass