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Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

By Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner, Ph.D.

Foreword by John Perry Barlow & Other Contributors

Look Inside

A conversational memoir by pioneers of consciousness research, Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner.

Look Inside This Book


Ram Dass


Ram Dass first went to India in 1967. He was still Dr. Richard Alpert, an already eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr.Timothy Leary. He had continued his psychedelic research until that fateful Eastern trip in 1967, when he traveled to India. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharaj-ji, who gave Ram Dass his name, which means “servant of God.” Everything changed then – his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since. Ram Dass’s spirit has been a guiding light for three generations, carrying along millions on the journey, helping free them from their bonds as he has worked his way through his own.

Since 1968, Ram Dass has pursued a panoramic array of spiritual methods and practices from potent ancient wisdom traditions, including bhakti or devotional yoga focused on the Hindu deity Hanuman; Buddhist meditation in the Theravadin, Mahayana Tibetan and Zen Buddhist schools, and Sufi and Jewish mystical studies. Perhaps most significantly, his practice of karma yoga or spiritual service has opened up millions of other souls to their deep, yet individuated spiritual practice and path. Ram Dass continues to uphold the bodhisatva ideal for others through his compassionate sharing of true knowledge and vision. His unique skill in getting people to cut through and feel divine love without dogma is still a positive influence on many, many people from all over the planet.

Ralph Metzner, Ph.D.


Ralph Metzner, PhD, (1936-2019) was a world-renown pioneer in the study of consciousness and transformative experience. His work stretched the boundaries of traditional psychology by incorporating shamanic methods that transform consciousness and expand understanding of the human psyche. 

Metzner was involved in the study of transformations of consciousness since his time as a graduate student at Harvard University, where he worked with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass) on the Harvard Psilocybin Projects. Metzner co-wrote The Psychedelic Experience in the 1960s and was editor of The Psychedelic Review. Metzner earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and psychology from Oxford University and a PhD in clinical psychology from Harvard University.

During the 1970s, Ralph spent 10 years in the intensive study and practice of Agni Yoga, a meditative system of working with light-fire life energies. In the early 1970s he wrote Maps of Consciousness, one of the earliest attempts at a comparative cartography of consciousness; and Know Your Type: Maps of Identity, a comparative survey of personality typologies, ancient and modern. In the 1980s and for a 10-year period, Metzner served as Academic Dean at the California Institute of Integral Studies where he taught courses on “Altered States of Consciousness” and “Developing Ecological Consciousness.” He later became a Professor Emeritus at CIIS. 

Metzner’s books include The Well of Remembrance, Green Psychology, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture, and two edited collections on the science and the phenomenology of ayahuasca and teonanácatl. He also wrote The Unfolding Self: Varieties of Transformative Experience, first published in the 1990s. A new printing of The Unfolding Self was published by Synergetic Press in 2022.


Conversations about Leary, the Harvard Experiments, Millbrook and the Sixties

Introduction by John Perry Barlow

No understanding of the history of the sixties could ever be complete without a grasp of the work of Leary, Alpert, and Metzner, the cultural resistance to their experiments, and the way in which psychoactive drug use became a part of contemporary society. Next Generation Independent Book Awards Finalist, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture shines a bright light on these experiments and their cultural milieu through never before seen photographs and the personal accounts of authors Ralph Metzner and Ram Dass, who vividly recall descriptions of particular “trips” as well as conversations with luminaries such as Aldous Huxley, Charles Mingus, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and others that appeared on the scene.

Ram Dass, (formerly Dr. Richard Alpert), is a world famous spiritual teacher and author of the best-seller Be Here Now. He is well known for his journeys to India and his association with the guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Ram Dass is the founder of several organizations dedicated to expanding consciousness and awareness. Including the Lama and SEVA Foundations.

Ralph Metzner, author of many books, practices psychotherapy and is Professor Emeritus at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Involved in consciousness research for over 40 years, including psychedelics, yoga, meditation, and shamanism, he is co-founder and president of the Green Earth Foundation, a non-profit educational organization devoted to healing and harmonizing the relationship between humans and the Earth.

Gary Bravo is the Chief Psychiatrist for Sonoma County Mental Health in Santa Rosa, CA. He has written numerous articles on psychedelics, psychiatry, and transpersonal psychology.

Available in the U.S. from Baker & Taylor, New Leaf Distributors and direct from Synergetic Press.

The Erowid Review


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1 review for Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

  1. D Daniel

    Thanks for the article, it was really interesting. I think it is difficult to know how LSD affects each individual’s perception of reality and/or their spirituality, but I do believe that it gives everyone a different perspective of the world and therefore can teach us something about our own existence, if we are willing to listen.

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Ever since psychedelics (from the Greek for “mind-manifesting”) first came into use in the West, Buddhism has had to deal with them. Many students of Buddhism have become interested in psychedelics, and many users of these substances have become interested in Buddhism. In the sixties and early seventies, zendos and meditation halls were flooded with young people who had experimented with LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and other hallucinogens and were now seeking a more sustainable society. Birth of a Psychedelic Culture contains reminiscences from the vanguard of the psychedelic movement. The book centers on conversations about the good old days between onetime Harvard professor Richard Alpert, later known as Ram Dass, and Ralph Metzner, a psychologist and author who was a graduate student at Harvard when Alpert and his colleague Timothy Leary were conducting their experiments in psilocybin and LSD. The dialogue is deftly moderated by psychiatrist Gary Bravo, and there’s a breezy, beautifully written introduction by John Perry Barlow, a Harvard graduate, Grateful Dead lyricist, and computer pioneer who by the mid-Sixties was also “fully enrolled in the Eastern Orthodox Church of LSD,” as he puts it. Revelations about the Harvard Psilocybin project (later the Harvard Psychedelic project), about Leary and Alpert’s continued experimentation with psychedelics in a Millbrook, New York mansion, and about their sojourns to Mexico and India offer a sensational—and at times riveting—contribution to our understanding of a complex and confusing issue. Peppered with recollections from lesser-known members of Alpert and Leary’s circle, Birth serves as a kind of scrapbook of the psychedelic movement. The detailed descriptions of their specific drug “journeys,” along with insights about the various substances they ingested, are particularly interesting. Numerous cultural figures play supporting roles in the drama, including Aldous Huxley (everyone’s inspiration, it seems), radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing, musicians Charles Mingusand Maynard Ferguson, and writers Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. Black-and-white photographs of the pioneers serve as a visual timeline of the transformation in their physiognomies that accompanied the transformation of their minds.
-Tricycle contributing editor Allan Badiner is an adjunct professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies and the author of Zig Zag Zen:
Buddhism and Psychedelics

This entertaining and firsthand account of those heady days of the sixties sheds light on the intentions, dynamics, trials and errors of the utopian movement led by Timothy Leary and his chief lieutenants, Richard Albert (later Ram Dass) and Ralph Metzner.

A clear evolution is painted: from the carefully controlled scientific explorations and academic background of the early phase beginning at Harvard; to the middle years in Mexico and at Millbrook in upstate New York where LSD became a key element of experiments in group living; to the disintegration of the movement under the influence of ego battles, family demands, a trend to indiscriminate drug use, and the inevitable crackdown by officialdom.

Along the way we hear live interviews and conversations with Ram Dass and Metzner, interspersed with written excerpts from Leary and some of the other notable consciousness pioneers. Overall the book serves not only as a fascinating chronicle of a unique period of social and cultural history, but also as a tale about the testing of the limits of human potential – the boundless and universal truths accessible with the aid of psychedelics, and the counterbalancing forces of ego and social constraint – the range of possibility we continue to confront half a century later.
Alternative Culture

What a treasure of a gift this is! Psychedelics may not be addictive, but this book is, and I read it compulsively. There is something about what you three guys did that had a massive loosening-up effect on so many. You opened our minds and your book demonstrates that the party goes on. I found the honesty of your sharing profound; the way you were able to be so critical of one another, and yet still uphold each other. Thank you for having fearlessly mapped out a cultural history from which a lot of people, both knowingly and unknowing, now live and are touched by.
–Alastair McIntosh, environmentalist, activist, and author of Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power

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