Ram Dass Has a Son!

Ram Dass was working on his new book, Be Love Now, written with his longtime friend, Rameshwar Das, when a letter arrived from a stranger: “I believe you may be the father of my older brother.”

What?! Ram Dass dismissed it at first, thinking, “Someone’s trying to hustle me.” A world-renown spiritual leader, Ram Dass was formerly Richard Alpert, the psychology professor at Harvard who was fired with Timothy Leary for experimenting with LSD. He’s bisexual with a preference for men, has never wanted children and teaches that spiritual love is of a higher order than personal love. He famously said, “If you want to see how enlightened you are, go spend a week with your family.” Having a son—if true—would challenge his beliefs about love.

Peter Reichard with Ram Dass

Two weeks after the letter arrived, a friend of Ram Dass offered to check it out. He spoke with the putative son, arranged for DNA tests and the results came back in October of ‘09: Ram Dass is the father of Peter Reichard, a 53-year-old banker in North Carolina who’d never heard of Ram Dass and was raised with no religion.

When I heard the news, I was shocked. What would the son of Ram Dass be like, and how had this come about? I spoke with them both and learned that Peter was conceived in 1956, when there was no birth control pill and DNA had not been discovered. Alpert, then a lanky grad student at Stanford, had a brief affair with Karen Saum, a feisty and beautiful history major who was planning to marry another man, living in New York, whom we’ll call Hans. She and Hans had agreed to have an open relationship until they began their life together.

Right after graduating, Karen joined Hans and soon learned she was pregnant. She told Hans there was a slight chance it was Dick Alpert’s baby, but there was no way to determine that. Hans said it didn’t matter; they’d raise the child as their own.

Richard Alpert in his 20s with niece, Kathy

Fast forward to 2009. Peter’s brother, Lawrence, hears from a mutual friend of his mother, Karen, that she has long harbored a suspicion that Peter may be the son of Ram Dass. When the DNA results came back, Ram Dass was dismayed. He’d avoided creating family ties, believing they might hold him back from attaining spiritual freedom. But friends were congratulating him. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who’s conducted workshops with Ram Dass, cried out, “Mazel tov! It would have been a shame if that wonderful seed wouldn’t have continued.” Ram Dass said,“My DNA continues? That doesn’t mean a thing to me.”

Peter Reichard also had the rug pulled out from under him. He looks like Ram Dass—tall, with the same features and receding hairline. But he speaks with a Carolina drawl, eats pork, enjoys cigars and describes himself as “pretty shallow. Spirituality does not run deep with me.” He had to go on a crash course to learn about Ram Dass. “For months,” he said, “I was drinking from a fire hose.”

Peter, in 30’s, with daughter, Emily

In August I visited Ram Dass at his home in Maui and Peter in North Carolina. Although Ram Dass is paralyzed on the right side from a stroke, he practices contentment with what is, including his physical state. Love seems to permeate the air.

I asked him why the spiritual love he cultivates for all beings didn’t kick in when he learned about Peter. “It was the family thing,” he said. He’d loved his mother and cared for his father when he was dying, but he had no concept of what having a son would be like.

Ram Dass and Peter began speaking on the phone each Sunday, visited twice in person and Ram Dass came to love Peter and his wife and daughter. “Peter is such a sweet guy,” he says, and they’ve found they share many traits, including compassion, playfulness and the ability to ease tensions. Ram Dass developed a deeper understanding of the love parents feel for their children, and began to see that personal and soul love are not mutually exclusive but can coexist in nourishing ways.

“Peter and I are meeting as father and son,” Ram Dass said, “but underneath that, we’re two souls. I’d like us to get beyond the roles; then we’ll really have something. I’ll give up Ram Dass-ness, he’ll give up Peter-ness, and here we go.”

I tell him I don’t think I’ve ever given up Sara-ness.

“I know you haven’t,” he said with a playful laugh. “That’s why I’m in the business I’m in.”

“I want to…” I said.

“That’s not good enough.” He made a beckoning gesture with his finger and said, “Come on.”

I know this is hard to convey, but at that moment, something released in me and bliss came rolling in. For the rest of the day, I sat before the windows looking out on the ocean, feeling love for everyone and everything, including the hardest case–myself.

I hope to write a book about Ram Dass and Peter, how their connecting late in life has changed them, and how their story reveals the ways our culture and our families have evolved from the ‘50s to the present.

In the meantime, I recommend you check out Be Love Now, published by Harper One, which describes how love is a state of being available to us all, no matter where or with whom we find ourselves.

This is the 40th anniversary of the publication of Ram Dass’s game-changing book, Be Here Now, which sold 2 million copies. An ebook is available at Apple’s iBookstore with many extras: video of Ram Dass that’s never been released, an audio version of his original Be Here Now lecture, and two guided meditations.

 

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42 thoughts on “Ram Dass Has a Son!

  1. laura neville

    This is such a great story!! After all, what makes us think that amazing surprises don't await us later in life? I have always been a fan of Ram Dass-so this is a fascinating article to read.

    As always, Sara…you write so well that it makes the reader think that they are right in the middle of the situation. Thanks so much- and congratulations to everyone in their new family adventure.

    Laura Neville
    Larned, Kansas

    Reply
  2. Trish

    Yeah but. There was birth control. Especially for someone who claimed they didn't want children because it might get in the way of their enlightenment.

    The “personal love” vs “spiritual love” thing – I just don't buy it. The hardest people to love are the ones you know best. Being able to truly love them is the greatest spiritual love of all. Sounds to me like he was avoiding the hard stuff, relationship-wise. I don't know him, so i don't know really.

    I had a bad reaction to this. I think to appreciate this story, one needs far more backstory. Guess it's easy to be “Ram Dass” when you aren't married, raising kids and have no commitments other than to yourself. If there is a book here, I hope you can find a way to shed light on how he isn't just a little misguided. It sounds like he might be based on this.

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  3. Bruce Nygren

    It's great to see him looking so good, also! I remember sitting across a small table after a speech he gave at Oberlin, before he was Ram Dass. He had come to speak in Finney Chapel as Richard Alpert. All the “heads” were sitting in the first rows, and the “politicos” were sitting behind us (of course, there was a lot of cross-pollination). One of the latter spoke up, asking the quintessential politico question about Wasn't being spiritual a waste of time and talent when there were so many problems in the world to address.
    Richard paused for what must have been a couple of minutes (he was pretty stoned, I think) and began his reply: “The Buddha said…” at which point the whole first five rows erupted into raucous and joyful applause.
    I don't remember what was said after that.

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  4. Margaret Pevec. MA

    This is such a poignant story, especially for me since I gave up a child for adoption in 1970. What a surprise gift for Ram Dass, to explore fatherhood at this late stage of his life. My son and I have, seemingly, nothing in common except our DNA, and I suspect he will never follow-up our one meeting of 4 years ago. So it is especially interesting to me to read Ram Dass' comment: “Peter and I are meeting as father and son,” “but underneath that, we're two souls. I'd like us to get beyond the roles; then we'll really have something. I'll give up Ram Dass-ness, he'll give up Peter-ness, and here we go.” So, I'll contemplate that a bit. Thanks, Sara, for this wonderful story, and your personal experience of giving up your Sara-ness, which would be such a shame for the rest of us!

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  5. N. Lau

    It’s rather interesting that Ram Dass and I are traveling in opposite directions in regards to our respective offsprings. Whereas he is exploring fatherhood, I’m trying to retire my “Mom” hat and let my son stretch out his wings. It hasn’t been easy but I’m happy to be reminded that there is another form of love that offers contentment, joy, and peace of mind.

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  6. Rachel

    Sara, how very incredible and synchronistic that I should read your story today of all days ~ i just met with someone dear to me who will be meeting with Ram Dass very soon, and I don't know if he's aware of this profound story. I hope you do write that book within you about this icon and beloved bodhisattva. I have been sharing time with a genius who pushed me to my edge of giving up my Rachel~ness, you're right, such bliss there beyond the known identity. Blessings to you dear writer . . .

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  7. Rachel Rilinger

    fabulous post- loved reading about Ram Dass's reactions, would be interested in his new book as well. I say go for the book!!

    ps- when did you switch to blogspot instead of your website?

    Reply
  8. anne turley

    How wonderful that he opened himself to that connection and went even deeper. Simple comments like, “We are all connected,” mean nothing until you have experienced it and then the wonder of it all really hits you. If only polititians could feel it so the world would be as one, as John Lennon would say. Deep sigh.
    Anne

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  9. Fabian

    Thank you Sara! You are a beautiful person and a superb communicator. The Ram Dass story is gripping. I am in Delhi and can hear Deepawali crackers as I write. HAPPY DEEPAWALI

    Reply
  10. Bonnie

    Thanks for exploring and writing about this…it was moving to me as you shared letting in love for the hardest case love….I let a teencie bit of love in and compassion for myself right at that moment.

    blessings,
    Bonnie

    Reply
  11. Laurie

    I look forward to your book about Ram Dass and his son. I will never forget reading Be Here Now and still believe in that life approach and actually mention it often. I am an “old” hippie at 57 and remember the trips and trials and life adventures of those days and can relate to it now. I love your work and I am glad you are so interested in their life adventure and reflections.
    Laurie (early retirement as a city prosecutor – with my son in Krakow, Poland at the present)

    Reply
  12. Bernard

    Always so great to get your posts, and this one in particular. I have always been a huge admirer of Ram Dass and his books have touched me in many ways. As my own sons are almost out of the nest and off to college, I struggle with how to create our relationships on new terms. In a way, it might be easier to be able to start off anew and discover each other for who we are now, without the baggage of the past. I loved this post and it hit me at a time when I am trying to figure out how we should “be together” as we move forward and change and grow in our own ways. Thanks for sharing this, and for sparking the thought on how we can get beyond the roles.

    Reply
  13. John

    Great news , huffing along and saw your article this morning, ,out of the closet we go and into the next chapter of love and the family circle.
    Love it

    Reply
  14. Chava

    Astounding!
    I have been thinking for some time about going to Maui for one of his retreats – he was and is a hugely important teacher in my life.

    Reply
  15. Lucinda

    Thank you for this gift! Ram Dass has been a favorite teacher for years. I once spent a close-to-blissful weekend at his workshop at UNC (?) in Chapel Hill. Much later, I was heartbroken to hear about his stroke. Of course he wasn't heartbroken…he's amazing. It's so good to know where he is and that he's writing. I loved Still Here.

    I'm excited you'll be writing a book about Ram Dass and Peter. Will stay tuned. It could be a kick-ass film later…?

    All the best to you, Sara. Your message has enriched this day. Helped me move beyond election depression!

    Reply
  16. Jim Dreaver

    Just read your blog on Ram Dass and son. Great!

    If you want to get free of 'Sara,' consider my Esalen workshop in November.

    Reply
  17. Karen

    Hello, Sara. Having met Ram Dass in 1973 at the Canadian spiritual community I was involved in, I read your piece with interest.

    Thank you,

    Reply
  18. Karen

    I have enjoyed your writings for years, and liked the piece on Ram Dass and his son. Please keep me informed if you write a book.

    Reply
  19. Oksana Sagan

    Fascinating to hear and read how life turns and brings unexpected results and brings new people into your lives as evidenced in this newest blog entry. I remember reading about Ram Dass in your most excellent autobiography, Loose Change. I have reread this book, and now in my middle age, can understand much more deeply how it is important to be open to all that life can bring.
    Just lately this has become very true to me; , in my circle of friends, a couple has suffered grave misfortune. my dear friend lost her husband to a heart attack, and then received the devastating news that she herself has a grave illness. What was so beautiful to see was the outpouring of help, taking her to treatments and re-connecting with old friends from high school who haven't been in contact in over 30 years. Getting together breaking bread together, sharing old memories and laughter was so wonderful and what life is about.
    Peace

    Reply
  20. Kathryn

    Just read your piece on Ram Dass. Fascinating. Met him once in a restaurant in SF. Glad he's learning about family, finally.
    (SURPRISE!) Hope he sees it as Divine.

    Reply
  21. Kathryn

    Just read your piece on Ram Dass. Fascinating. Met him once in a restaurant in SF. Glad he's learning about family, finally.
    (SURPRISE!) Hope he sees it as Divine.

    Reply
  22. Alicia Bay Laurel

    Age-shmage.

    I started performing music professionally at 35. Recorded my first CD and went on my first concert tour at 50.

    Now I'm 61, and I'm in the middle of my 5th consecutive annual concert tour of Japan, which includes my 5th and 6th gallery shows here. Elephant skin be damned; I'm being photographed wearing fashions with my drawings on them for Tokyo magazines.

    I definitely need more rest than I used to, and I don't lift amplifiers anymore. But I'm on the road with two guitars and an attitude.

    At 70? Email me and I'll let you know.

    Love always,

    Alicia

    Reply
  23. Robert Spaulding

    I found your article about Ram Dass being a father facinating. In 1956 I was Dick Alpert's research assistant at Stanford's Owen House (a reseach center). I also knew Tim Leary quite well. When I was an undergraduate student at Berkeley, I was a member of a group of students that met weekly with Tim to assist him as he developed his theory of social interactions that became the focus of his Ph.D. thesis at Berkley. While at Stanford, when Dick Alpert was on leave from Harvard, I was privy to Dick's experiments with LSD using students from both Stanford and Harvard as subjects. Over the years, I have
    watched the fortunes, both good and bad, of the two men.
    I hope you continue you interviews with Dick and write more extensively about the two men and their lives.

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  24. Florence Van Putten

    I met Richard Alpert in the late 50ies in Berkeley,Calif. He was teaching/or doing research at Stanford. Richard had his own airplane which he flew back and fourth to his family home in St.LOUIS, MO. I drove my friend, (at the time)Judy Robinson who was in her second year at Berkeley- to the Oakland Airport where she was hitching a Ride to Kansas City with Richard on his plane. Judy went to summer school at a Universityin Mexico where she picked up Tim Leary and Richard Alpert and another HARVARD guy whose name escapes me! Judy and her new friends were all dropping LSD together! When I met Richard A. at the airport he was a handsome,uptight cold unfriendly guy! Later, in mid-1965 or 1966. I again met Richard at a party in N.Y. City. I reminded him of our Calif. meeting He was
    very friendly and had a loving manner about him. I remember being quite amazed and pleased at the change in his Richards demeanor.

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  25. Anonymous

    This is a very funny story. I remember a conference in Prague in 1992 at which RD was asked whether he intended to have any children. His seamless response was “Not in this lifetime!” I guess his zip must have come undone at the wrong moment – unless he was wearing robes at the time of conception :)

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  26. karin

    what a wonderful story….what a wonderful gift of life to have this amazing experience..and get a family just like that..amazing..

    life never fails to amaze..doesn’t it..

    big hug for you ram das..hope we will meet some day…

    hugssssssss

    Reply
  27. Nancy

    It was great happiness that I read that Ram Dass had a son and to find him in his declining years. If you will read the biography of the beloved British author of Rumpole, John Mortimer, you will find he also had a son he did not know about until later years. It was with great joy the Mortimers welcomed their new son into their already large family.

    Reply