“I think the message is that you don’t need to go to anywhere else to find what you are seeking.”– Be Here Now Ram Dass
Born in 1931 as Richard Alpert, spiritual teacher Ram Dass always had an interest in realities beyond the apparent. Working as a respected Harvard psychology professor, this interest led to his dismissal in 1963 for some controversial research on psychedelics.
The end of his Harvard career then led to the beginning of a whole new life and influence for Dass, leading him to India where he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him the name Ram Dass, meaning “servant of God.”
Inspired by his own spiritual journey, Dass wrote many books on spirituality, psychology, and personal growth, all of which have been hugely influential and widely read.
With over 169 books under his name, knowing where to start with Ram Dass’s literature calls for a little guidance. So, in this article, we’ll be reviewing 4 of my favorite Ram Dass books, spanning over five decades of his work, including:
- The Only Dance There Is (1974)
- How Can I Help? Stories and Reflections on Service (1985)
- Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying (2000)
- Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying (2018)
#1: The Only Dance There Is (1974)
“We don’t even understand in the West what it means to train consciousness, or what it means to develop these disciplines of one point. Because it is literally true that, were you able to keep your consciousness in the same place, on one point – literally on one point for twelve seconds – you would be one of the most enlightened beings.”– Ram Dass, The Only Dance There Is
First on my list is, “The Only Dance There Is,” which hit shelves around the world in 1974.
Based on talks by Ram Dass at the Menninger Foundation in 1970 and at the Spring Grove Hospital in 1972, this book delves deep into the intricate workings of consciousness in this literary masterpiece which sheds light on the fundamental essence of our existence.
Insightful and urgent, Dass uses his gift for words to stress the significance of leading a conscious life filled with purpose and meaning, encouraging us to question the status quo and instead embark on a profound journey of self-discovery and fulfillment.
From meditation and ego to psychedelics and death, this book covers many central but misunderstood aspects of life, with each chapter offering a unique yet intuitive perspective on the human experience.
This unique perspective is born out of the unusual combination of Dass’ expert insight into the Western versus Eastern approaches to solving human problems, the former doing so through clinical psychology and the latter through spirituality and traditional roadmaps for living well.The result is a reliable and complementary bridge between two oft-opposed two worlds.
And far from abstract commentary, Dass’s words also offer an accessible yet powerful roadmap for living a more meaningful and fulfilling life, and his gentle approach to spirituality is one that embodies a deep sense of compassion and empathy.
Overall, “The Only Dance There Is” is a charming and insightful read that is sure to resonate with anyone interested in spirituality, mindfulness, and personal growth. To anyone seeking a deeper connection with themselves and the world around them, this is the book for you.
“As we acquire a certain degree of equanimity in self-image, we are that much more likely to feel empathy for those around us. We know what it’s like to be a “self” moving through the world of “others.” When someone feels particularly isolated or in pain, we don’t need a great deal of information in order to come to his or her aid.”– Ram Dass, How Can I Help?: Stories and Reflections on Service
“How Can I Help?” is an incredibly moving and insightful book that Ram Dass co-authored with Paul Gorman back in 1985. Simply put, it’s a heartfelt exploration of the concept of service and the power of helping others, both for the helper and the person being helped.
Through personal stories and humanity-packed reasoning, Dass and Gorman gift a deep and meaningful understanding of the profound impact that service can have on individuals, their growth, spirituality, and contentment.
And much more than just a commentary, the book offers practical guidance to those in helping professions, such as social workers and healthcare professionals, on how to approach service with empathy and humility without burning out.
And while the influence of Eastern religion is clear to see in the writing, it is not necessary to fully embrace it to benefit from the stories and ideas, which are presented in a scientific and methodical way.
One of my biggest takeaways was the importance of being mindful of my own insecurities, ego, and fears, and noticing how they get in the way of helping others. By the end of the book, I felt encouraged to approach helping others with compassion and without expectation for any result or reciprocation; helping just for helping’s sake.
Its message remains as powerful and relevant today as it was back in 1985. If you’re looking for a book that will motivate and uplift you towards everyday acts for social change, “How Can I Help?” is definitely worth a read.
“Healing is not the same as curing, after all; healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather allowing what is now to move us closer to God.”– Ram Dass, Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying
Ram Dass’s “Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying” is a merciful masterpiece that offers a nuanced and compassionate perspective on the fearfully ignored human experience of aging and dying.
With his characteristic wisdom and gentle humor, Dass takes us on a journey that investigates and sheds new light on the most fundamental of human fears, exploring the challenges and opportunities that come with growing older and closer to death.
At the core of the book’s message is to view aging not as a decline, but as a journey of transformation.
Rather than developing aversions to the changes that naturally come with age, Dass invites us to embrace them as an opportunity to deepen our spiritual practice and cultivate greater wisdom, equanimity, and experiential understanding of impermanence and change.
A powerful message that challenges our cultural instincts around aging, this really inspired in me a new vision of what it means to grow old.
Overall, Ram Dass’s “Still Here” is a beautifully crafted and transformative book that offers a refreshing perspective on aging and dying, empowering readers to find greater meaning, purpose, and acceptance during the final stages of life.
“We often think that vulnerability is a kind of weakness, but there’s a kind of vulnerability that is actually strength and presence.”– Ram Dass, Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying
Last but certainly not least on my list of favorite Ram Dass books is “Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying” – a deeply moving and insightful book that explores the spiritual journey of aging and dying.
Drawing on his experiences and his two-pronged wisdom that merges expertise in Western psychology and Eastern spiritual traditions, Dass and his co-author Mirabai Bush offer a practical guide to navigating the end of life, that somehow leaves you feeling optimistic.
Each chapter deals with a different aspect of dying, from dealing with fear to preparing loved ones, and each is filled with an artful interlacing of intimate personal narratives, profound spiritual insights, and sensitive commentary that encourages a reconsideration of what we consider death to mean.
My highest praise for this book, however, lies in its explanation and emphasis on the importance of community and connection in the dying process.
Here, Dass and Bush navigate an inspiring conversation on the importance of caregivers, friends, and family during the aging and dying process, to support and accompany the dying person on their journey with fearlessness, compassion, and grace.
In a culture that can breed awkwardness, fearfulness, and avoidance when it comes to interacting with people facing sickness or death, this book bolsters us with guidance and understanding that replaces such emotions with feelings of confidence and care.
In less than 250 pages, this little book makes a sincere and striving effort towards achieving one of life’s most ambitious goals: to alleviate people’s fear of death, to aid the living in coping with grief and loss, and to help the dying to find peace during the process.
All things considered, the authors do a commendable job in their efforts towards these aims, arming their readers with optimism and focus to face life’s most trying moments with steadfastness, curiosity, and hope.
Overall, “Walking Each Other Home” is a beautifully written, gentle, and acceptance-inspiring book that will be of great value to all of us, particularly those who are facing the end of their life or who are close to or caring for someone who is.
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