Richard Alpert, known as Ram Dass (Servant of God), was an American spiritual teacher, author and humanitarian. He helped bring Hindu and Buddhist spiritual ideas to a Western audience.
Born to a Jewish family in Boston in 1931, Dass went on to become a psychologist, psychedelic researcher and, eventually, a spiritual seeker who traveled the world.
In the course of his 88 years, Dass wrote numerous books and gave many talks and consultations, where he shared what he had learned.
These teachings have changed my life and given me inspiring, shocking and sometimes challenging insights into the meaning of life, love and success.
Here are the top teachings from Dass that have made a massive difference in my life and how I live it.
1) We meet who we need to meet
The first key lesson from Dass is that life brings us across people and experiences that help us evolve.
This isn’t always pleasant, but it’s necessary.
According to him, what we notice and focus on in others (in pleasant or unpleasant ways) is usually what needs to be worked on in ourselves.
This isn’t bad or good, but is simply a natural process that unfolds. We bring out in other people what we need to bring out and work through, and they do the same in us.
“What you meet in another being is the projection of your own level of evolution.”
2) We cling to identities to feel safe
Dass questioned everything, including how real our existence is.
He believed that our outer identity is often quite illusory and is a way to hide our deeper self and the truth of our feelings and experiences from others.
Society, as a result, was very much a place of shallow roles and external identities that tend to keep us trapped in being what we think we “should” be, rather than what we are.
“In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are put on straight.”
3) Real power comes when you stop wanting to have it
According to Dass, one of the biggest things blocking us from getting what we want is our ego fixation on it.
In other words, when we tie our wellbeing to getting something it tends to dodge us.
But as soon as we are willing to just be ourselves without needing anything extra to be “good enough,” all the power and glory starts showing up.
The irony, of course, is that by then we just chuckle at it, since we’ve already found a deeper source of wellbeing than any external validation and applause.
“The most exquisite paradox: as soon as you give it all up, you can have it all. As long as you want power, you can’t have it.
“The minute you don’t want power, you’ll have more than you ever dreamed possible.”
4) We’re all interconnected on many levels
Dass taught powerfully about how we’re all interconnected.
Everything we do and say affects others, if not now then at some point or in some way.
Even what we think and feel has a ripple effect on the wider world, he taught.
“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter, because we are so deeply interconnected with one another.”
5) We all have different ways of communicating
Dass taught that everybody has an inner spark and it just takes the right kind of flame to light it.
In other words, we all share our gifts in different ways and through different forms.
They’re all worthy and part of maturing is realizing how much value is in every person’s form of communication and sharing, whether it’s with their hands, mouth, mind or imagination.
“Each of us finds his unique vehicle for sharing with others his bit of wisdom.”
6) Fear of the unknown keeps us trapped
It’s natural to fear the unknown, and it’s something that’s always terrified me, especially the idea of an endless void or emptiness.
But Dass has a different conception of “the void,” saying that it actually is full of potentiality, not empty like we imagine.
He urges us to see nothing as raw untapped energy rather than heartless, endless space.
“Emptiness is not really empty; emptiness is full of everything. The ‘everything’ just isn’t manifest.”
7) We doubt our own value way too much
Many of us were taught from a young age that we are flawed, “sinful” or broken in some way.
This can have devastating effects as can the general environment of a society that makes us jump through hoops to feel we have “succeeded.”
When we internalize that mindset and doubt our own value, we cling to feeling unworthy in a well that can self-sabotage it.
We’re more powerful and worthy than we think!
“Your problem is you are too busy holding on to your unworthiness.”
8) Listening is extremely powerful
Dass taught about the power of listening in many of his talks and books.
When you start opening your ears, you learn how much power there is in remaining silent and hearing what’s around you.
We don’t always have to chip in, sometimes we can choose to just observe and hear what somebody is saying.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
9) The present moment matters most
Like other late spiritual teachers such as Eckhart Tolle, Dass taught about the power of the present.
Dass’ 1971 book “Be Here Now” is still his most famous work.
When our mind tries to launch us into the future or bury us in the past, Dass urged us to jolt ourselves back to the present moment and really live fully in it.
“Ask yourself: Where am I? Answer: Here. Ask yourself: what time is it? Answer now. Say it until you can hear it.”
10) Mental suffering and pain aren’t ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’
Dass urged everyone to feel their suffering without rejecting it.
Learning to experience the pain as a kind of neutral observer and then loving it instead of pushing it away.
Instead of blaming ourselves for feeling pain or hurting, accept it and love it.
It’s part of us too, even if we don’t find negative thoughts about ourselves or others to be true or accurate, they are part of our evolution.
“Those particular thoughts that are painful – love them. I love them to death!”
11) Enlightenment is not about being detached and perfect
Dass always kept his sense of humor and reminded people that enlightenment isn’t postcard perfect.
We all get in fights and have petty issues that upset us.
That’s life, and it’s important not to become a spiritual narcissist or think we’re
“superior” because of learning some deep spiritual truths.
“If you think you’re enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving.”
12) Work on yourself before trying to correct and guide others
Dass consistently taught people to focus on understanding and becoming aware of themselves.
The bridges between people are only possible when we have understood deep truths about ourselves and accepted our own imperfections and flawed human experience.
Before judging or correcting others, in fact instead of that, Dass urges a cycle of consistent self-work and looking in the mirror instead of pointing a finger.
“I can do nothing for you but work on myself…you can do nothing for me but work on yourself!”
13) True love is stronger than any temporary emotion or exchange
Dass was insightful about romantic love as well, noting that it can often become a kind of transaction or jealously-guarded possession.
Instead of giving or receiving love, Dass urged his followers to “be” love.
His point was that instead of looking for love or hoping to get it from someone, just embody it without a self-interested approach.
In this way, the love that does cross our path and appeal to us will also be the love of a person who is also trying to be love.
“The most important aspect of love is not in giving or the receiving: it’s in the being. When I need love from others, or need to give love to others, I’m caught in an unstable situation.”
14) Your life is meaningful and has purpose in it (if you use it)
Ram Dass was a complex man who taught powerful lessons and lived a unique life.
His ultimate message was quite simple:
We’re all on unique journeys of transformation and our lives are meaningful, even the low times and conflicts.
He urged us to see obstacles and challenges to our identity and routine as an opportunity instead of a threat, and to realize that the most valuable thing in life is to progress into a view of the interconnectedness of everyone.
“Everything in your life is there as a vehicle for your transformation. Use it!”