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Be Here Now
by Ram Dass and Richard Alpert

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"Be Here Now," more than just a book, is a psychedelic and spiritual handbook that catapulted Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert, a Harvard professor) to counter-culture fame. Published in 1971, it chronicles his transformation from a skeptical academic to a fervent devotee after encountering his guru, Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaj-ji), in India.

The book defies easy categorization. It's part memoir, part spiritual guide, and part psychedelic exploration, all interwoven with Eastern philosophy, Western psychology, and a generous dose of 1960s counterculture.

Here's a breakdown of its key themes and sections:

Part 1: "From Bindu to Ojas" - The Journey Begins

  • Personal Transformation: This section recounts Ram Dass's life before and after meeting Maharaj-ji. It details his early academic achievements, his experimentation with psychedelics alongside Timothy Leary, and the eventual disillusionment with purely intellectual pursuits.
  • The Guru's Grace: The narrative emphasizes the pivotal role of Maharaj-ji in his transformation. Ram Dass portrays his guru as a manifestation of pure love and wisdom, guiding him towards true enlightenment.
  • Eastern Philosophy: Concepts like karma, dharma, reincarnation, and the illusory nature of the ego are introduced, forming the foundation for his spiritual journey.

Part 2: "From Ojas to Ananda" - Practices and Insights

  • The Path of Yoga: Ram Dass delves into various yogic practices โ€“ Jnana Yoga (knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Karma Yoga (action), and Raja Yoga (meditation) โ€“ as paths to self-realization.
  • The Power of Now: Echoing the teachings of his guru, the book stresses the importance of living fully in the present moment. It encourages readers to detach from past regrets and future anxieties.
  • Love as the Highest Truth: Love, in its purest and most unconditional form, is presented as the core of existence and the key to spiritual liberation.

Part 3: "Cookbook for a Sacred Life" - Tools for Transformation

  • Practical Guidance: This section offers a collection of exercises, meditations, and spiritual practices drawn from various traditions.
  • Psychedelic Integration: While acknowledging the potential of psychedelics, Ram Dass emphasizes the importance of integrating those experiences into everyday life through spiritual practice.
  • Finding Your Own Path: The book encourages readers to find their own unique spiritual journey, drawing inspiration from various traditions and practices.

"Be Here Now" โ€“ A Lasting Impact:

  • Popularizing Eastern Spirituality: The book played a significant role in introducing Eastern spiritual concepts to a Western audience, making them more accessible and relatable.
  • Counterculture Bible: It became a cornerstone of the 1960s counterculture movement, influencing a generation seeking meaning beyond materialism and societal norms.
  • Timeless Wisdom: Despite its ties to a specific era, the book's core message about presence, love, and self-discovery continues to resonate with readers today.

Criticisms and Considerations:

  • Guru-centric Approach: Some criticize the book's emphasis on the guru as the sole path to enlightenment, potentially overlooking other spiritual traditions.
  • Cultural Appropriation: There are concerns about the appropriation and simplification of complex Eastern philosophies for a Western audience.

Despite criticisms, "Be Here Now" remains a significant cultural artifact and a powerful call to awaken to a deeper reality. It encourages introspection, self-exploration, and a shift in perspective towards love, compassion, and living a more conscious life.