Mickey Lemle's documentary Ram Dass, Fierce Grace is a portrait of Ram
Dass (Richard Alpert), author, 60s guru, spiritual teacher, cohort of
Timothy Leary, & author of Be Here Now, one of the most influential
books of the 1970s. The film begins in the present, as Ram Dass deals
with the effects of a massive stroke he suffered in February 1997 that
left him physically incapacitated, & with impaired memory &
speech. Interweaving current conversations, interviews with people in
his life, & archival footage, Lemle then looks back at his
childhood, the controversy surrounding his research with Timothy Leary
in psychedelics at Harvard, his studies in India with Neem Karoli Baba,
who renamed him Baba Ram Dass (Servant of God), his work with the Seva
Foundation in social action projects dedicated to relieving suffering in
the world, & his impact as an author & guru to millions of
Several examples are shown of his compassion & his
ability to feel the pain of others. In an early sequence, his beautiful
"Rachel's Letter" comforts a family after their daughter was murdered.
In the final sequence, Ram Dass listens to a young woman struggling to
overcome her grief at her boyfriend's violent death. She brings him to
tears when she tells him about a dream she had in which her boyfriend
speaks to her from beyond with a reassuring message.
Dass received the "fierce grace" of being "stroked," he admits he did
not have any unusual spiritual epiphany. He recalls, "Here I am, Mr.
Spiritual, & in my own head I didn't orient toward the spirit. It
showed me I have some work to do." He has written about the stroke in
his latest book, Still Here in which he talks about slowing down, &
finding out about the "everything" that is out there. For Ram Dass,
aging has become a gift. "I was galumphing through life before the
stroke," he says. "I'm at peace now more than I've ever been. The peace
comes from settling in to the moment."
Enhanced by the music of
Krishna Das, the documentary is more than just a bio-pic or a meditation
on the process of aging, it is an inspiring portrait of a man whose
life can be summed up in one word -- service. Ram Dass has said, "What
one person has to offer to another is their own being, nothing more,
nothing less." In Ram Dass, Fierce Grace, Lemle has given us Ram Dass's
being, nothing more, nothing less. That is a gift of love.
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