Book Summary: Be Here Now by Ram Dass

Are you looking for a book summary of Be Here Now by Ram Dass? You have come to the right place.

I jotted down a few key insights from Ram Dass’s book after reading it.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book summary provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this Be Here Now book summary, I’m going to cover the following topics:

What is Be Here Now About?

In 1971, when Ram Dass’ Be Here Now was published, it filled a deep spiritual void, launched the ongoing mindfulness movement and established him as one of the foremost seekers of the twentieth century.

During a period of experimentation, Alpert disassociated himself from his identity as a professor, a social cosmopolite, and finally, a physical being. At first, he was terrified, but then he realized he was nothing more than himself: a luminous being who could trust indefinitely and love infinitely.

So began a spiritual journey. When he went to India, his guru renamed him Baba Ram Dass, “servant of God.” He was introduced to mindful breathing exercises, hatha yoga, and Eastern philosophy. While reminiscing or planning, he was reminded to “Be Here Now.” He embarked on the path of enlightenment and has been following it ever since.

Below are some of our favourite quotes from Be Here Now:

“I can do nothing for you but work on myself…you can do nothing for me but work on yourself!”

“Just because you are seeing divine light, experiencing waves of bliss, or conversing with Gods and Goddesses is no reason to not know your zip code.”

Who is The Author of Be Here Now?

Ram Dass served on the faculty at Stanford and Harvard Universities. In the 1960s, he travelled to India, where he met his guru, and over the course of his life pursued a variety of spiritual practices, including guru kripa, devotional yoga, karma yoga, many forms of meditation, and Sufi and Jewish studies. Many of his books, including Be Here Now, are international bestsellers and classics of their kind. He died in December 2019.

Be Here Now Book Summary

Ram Dass is now known as a teacher of spiritual ideas, in particular those of Eastern religion. However, he started out as a successful psychologist in the Western tradition. He was called Richard Alpert, born 1931, and was teaching at Harvard in the early 1960s when he became fascinated by hallucinogenic drugs and their effects on the mind.

Of his own use of the drugs, he later wrote: ‘Psychedelics helped me to escape…albeit momentarily…from the prison of my mind. It over-rode the habit patterns of thought and I was able to taste innocence again. Looking at sensations freshly without the conceptual overlay was very profound.’

This was in the early days of LSD when it was quite common for intellectuals to become interested in the ways in which the drug altered consciousness and what that might teach us about how the mind worked. Alpert was in an esteemed company – he worked with Allen Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary, among others. 

It was Leary that introduced Alpert to teonanácatl, the Mexican psychoactive mushroom after Alpert flew them to Mexico in his private plane.

However, the Harvard establishment was less open to the idea of drug-induced enlightenment, and Alpert was dismissed from his post as a result of his work. He went on to study yoga, meditation and other spiritual practices.

He became an environmental and political campaigner and also a devotee of the Indian guru Neem Karoli Baba, a Hindu adept of bhakti-yoga who regarded service to others (seva) as the ultimate form of unconditional love for God.

After Alpert changed his name to Ram Dass, he would help found the Seva Foundation, which aimed to abolish world poverty. Neem Karoli also practised an inclusive form of teaching: in spite of India’s caste system and natural tendency to hierarchical social practices, he preferred to make his students feel like part of the process and to believe that their contributions were as valid as anyone else’s. 

This is an attitude that Dass took into his own teaching. In some ways, Ram Dass seems like a typical exponent of the mystical, optimistic ideas that were in fashion in the 1960s. But you shouldn’t underestimate the subtlety of his thinking. 

His writing has developed over the years and he has the wisdom to be able to acknowledge how much of his early work was influenced by the zeitgeist than by genuine revelation. One of his late books, One-Liners, brings his story up to date and shows a funny, likeable man who can understand his own failings, but who still has a real message of love.

However, it was Be Here Now, published in 1971, that initially made Dass’s reputation. The book has sold over a million copies but was originally distributed as a pamphlet by the Lama Foundation, a commune in New Mexico whose founders were friends with Dass.

The Lama Foundation later gave the copyright and an equal share of the proceeds to the Hanuman Foundation, another of Dass’s ventures which worked to advance his spiritual aims.

The book is divided into four parts. The first tells the story of Richard Alpert’s journey to becoming Baba Ram Dass. He is open about his use of psychedelic drugs and the revelations he felt he experienced while under their influence, but he focuses more on other alternative paths. 

The second part is a series of charming aphorisms on the spiritual life, together with his own illustrations. In the third part, Dass examines practices, including yoga and meditation, through which you might make spiritual progress. 

Finally, in the last section, Dass recommends writings and texts that might help the reader to discover their own spiritual path.

Dass is never prescriptive in his teaching. He puts his own life forward as an example but allows us to see his faults as well as his achievements. And he understands that his path may not work for everyone. This aspect of his writing gives it a particular charm and is arguably the most important thing he learned from his own guru, Neem Karoli Baba. 

Part of the book deals explicitly with the ways a student-teacher relationship can both help and hinder spiritual growth.

Be Here Now continues to sell to this day. Ram Dass has continued to write over the years, but this is the book that most clearly encapsulates his early espousal of Eastern religious techniques as a path to a more enlightened life. 

It was also a book that had some positive influence at the time, as the theory that drugs could lead to enlightenment became more and more obviously a dangerous idea that had led many into addiction or psychosis.

By putting himself forward as someone who had learned from drugs but who had moved on to a yogic lifestyle, Dass was sending an important message to the post-hippy community. 

He showed that it was possible to come from a drug-influenced background, to learn from that background and then move on to safer, more positive ways of ‘freeing one’s mind’.

Now that most people recognise the dangers of drugs more clearly, Be Here Now works both as a testament to the mood of its times, and as a lesson in alternative routes to enlightenment.

Ram Dass’s legacy is not restricted to his writings. He also has a powerful record of trying to effect positive change in the world through the various foundations with which he is associated. If you can judge a man on the life he has lived, then Ram Dass is someone who deserves great respect.

Further Reading

If you like the book Be Here Now, you may also like reading the following book summaries:

Buy The Book: Be Here Now

If you want to buy the book Be Here Now, you can get it from the following links:

Related Lists

Or, browse all book summaries.

Leave a Comment