You may think you know Ram Dass, the Harvard trained psychologist turned philosopher and spiritual leader, but a new documentary, “Becoming Nobody,” suggests his multifaceted life is the result of a lifelong search to figure out who he was and then shed the burdens of that discovery. In other words, feeling trapped by his body and personality, he searched for freedom and decided, “Only nobody gets free.”
Born Richard Alpert, the son of a preeminent Boston lawyer, he began his spiritual journey after Timothy Leary introduced him to LSD during the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Mind expanded, his next stop was India’s Kainchi ashram. There he met guru Neem Karoli Baba, the man who named him Ram Dass (“servant of God”). “I would get so high, light was pouring out of my head,” he says. “I was some combination of the pure mind of the Buddha and the heart of the Christ, which for a Jewish boy is not bad.”
Using a conversation between Dass and director Jamie Catto as the spine of the film’s philosophical musings, “Becoming Nobody” also uses nicely chosen archival clips to document Dass’s journey and learnings. It chronicles his how path to understanding life sidesteps the rational analytic process. “It turns out intuition is perhaps where our salvation lies whereas thinking is where our destruction lies,” he says. “We’ve thought our way into a peculiar situation where we are alienated from each other and caught in greed which is a product of the mind.”
It’s heady stuff, sometimes hard to follow—”You start to respond to something in you that knows even though who you think you are doesn’t know it knows.”—but the allegorical teachings are told with such personality and humour that Dass’s joy becomes infectious.
“Becoming Nobody” reveals a restless spirit, a man whose entire life is curriculum, dedicated to learning and teaching. Most of all, it’s a chronical of someone who is always true to himself, wherever the road leads him. “If you get phony holy,” he says, “it ends up kicking you in the butt.”