Becoming Nobody finds Ram Dass still being here now

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      A documentary by Jamie Catto. Rating unavailable

      If you spent any time in a college dorm in the early 1970s, you surely encountered a square-shaped, purple-covered book called Be Here Now—possibly wedged between copies of The Whole Earth Catalogue and Our Bodies, Ourselves.

      Its author, known as Ram Dass, is one spiritual leader who never really lost his sheen, mainly thanks to his earthy sense of humour. He’s still using himself “as my own case study” at the age of 88.

      The man born Richard Alpert was fired from Harvard in 1963, alongside colleague Timothy Leary for offering then-legal LSD to their psychology students. He was part of Leary’s Millbrook experiment until travelling to India, foreswearing chemicals, and finding a guru who renamed him “Servant of God”.

      Alpert had a stroke more than 20 years ago, leaving him partially paralyzed—a major blow for someone whose reputation rests more on his conversational expressivity than on any theological dogma. (One of his many rabbinically self-deprecating lines is, “If you ever start thinking you’re really enlightened, just go visit your family.”)

      This valedictory visit with Alpert, wheelchair-bound in his airy Maui home, finds him as playful as ever. He does need some verbal nudging from director Jamie Catto, a British musician who previously made at least three docs involving Ram Dass. A somewhat goofy presence on-camera, Catto got more serious with his guru’s archive of videotaped talks, which stop short of being lectures, thanks to the man’s spontaneous, conversational musings.

      Among the clips capturing him at various stages of life and beardedness—in the “space suit” he calls his own body—there are amusing anecdotes about fellow seekers, including Leary.

      Best of all is a recollection of getting drunk with the late Alan Watts at a Benedictine monastery. “The trouble with you, Dick,” he recalls Watts saying, “is that you’re too attached to emptiness.”

      Naturally, with death approaching, the Be Here Now man is pretty well prepared to Not Be Anywhere Forever; the last third of the 80-minute film is preoccupied with the particulars of, well, Becoming Nobody.

      The effect is curiously cheerful, as any viewer can share the wizened teacher’s obvious pleasure at breaking one last taboo.