Ram Dass, Deepak, and Other American Acharyas Take the Wheel
Americans had been disseminating Indian spiritual teachings for a century and a half by the 1970s, but then the number of Vedic Transmitters exploded. American Veda divides these “gnostic intermediaries” into three categories: acharyas, pandits, and gurus. This chapter describes the leading acharyas – Sanskrit for “a wise religious teacher.” David Frawley, Georg Feuerstein, and Andrew Harvey are briefly described (we’ll add more on them here at a later date). Then we profile two of the most recognizable and influential voices in the history of American spirituality.
Prior to meeting his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass was, of course, Dr. Richard Alpert, the Sundance Kid to Timothy Leary’s Butch Cassidy. He returned from his sojourn at his guru’s ashram in India with a Sanskrit name and a mission to serve God, as the name implies. He inspired a large portion of the Baby Boomer generation to take up authentic spirituality, with his candid, self-disclosing, well-informed, and witty discourses–a combination of Borscht Belt and Harvard Yard–and the publication of his iconic Be Here Now.
When young American seekers were trekking off to ashrams in India, Deepak Chopra was moving in the opposite direction. The son of a prominent New Delhi cardiologist, he came to America to do his residency training in endocrinology and stayed. After nearly burning out on the career treadmill, he started seeking for answers to the Big Questions of life and for solutions to his own unhappiness. He found both in the tradition of his ancestors. Learning Transcendental Meditation led to a fateful meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which led to his becoming a spokesperson for Ayurvedic medicine, a breakup with the TM movement, and fame and fortune on his own. He’s probably delivered the message of Vedanta to more people in the world than anyone else in the past 30 or so years.
More to come. Please e-mail suggestions, links, etc.