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Becoming Nobody (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Becoming Nobody


Featuring Ram Dass.

Directed by Jamie Catto.

Distributed by Love Serve Remember Films. 81 minutes. Not Rated.

“When you take off your mask, it’s easier for everybody else to take off theirs.”

As a philosopher and spiritual teacher, Ram Dass knows a lot about masks. Even his persona is a bit of a mask, this Buddhist spiritual man was actually born in Newton, Massachusetts as Richard Alpert, and grew to be a Jewish academic and child psychologist. As a child he considered himself something of an atheist.

His spiritual path started at Harvard, of all places, and stemmed from his relationship with fellow professor Timothy Leary. Trips to India to study with Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba opened his eyes to spirituality, and he has followed that course ever since. He has given lectures, taught, wrote the seminal book Be Here Now and to this day teaches and spreads to word.

Ram Dass is easier to relate to than many spiritual teachers – he’s like your cool former-hippie professor.

This loving overview of his teachings is a good introduction to the man and his smart and nuanced views of life.

Director (and interviewer) Jamie Catto is a former student and does not push Ram Dass, in fact he sort of gushes over him. This makes for a nice, but not exactly deep, overview of the man. It could almost be an infomercial.

We get lots of clips from Ram Dass’ speeches throughout the years, which in general are fascinating, smart, funny and surprisingly insightful and self-deprecating. However, we get very little in the way of biological details about the man, and when we do it is Ram Dass who offers it up. It isn’t even explained (or noted) why he is in a wheelchair through the current interview footage, and his slightly halting speech patterns in the present day, both of which are the result of expressive aphasia, a symptom of a 1999 stroke.

However, Ram Dass does not let hardships define him, in fact he has been known to say that the stroke was teaching him things, and that was a state of grace.

The majority of Becoming Nobody is made up – rightly so – of Ram Dass’ teachings and speaking engagements from over the years, often with original and archival footage illustrating the points of his teachings.

But, perhaps the term “teachings” is a bit unfair. Yes, Ram Dass is imparting knowledge, but he knows that it will only take if he engages his audience. Part guru, part professor, part standup comedian, and even occasionally as a folk singer, his lectures never feel like sermons. He makes spirituality palatable to the average person.

And while I would have preferred to have learned a bit more about the path he took to arrive to his state of grace, I still feel enriched by the time spent in his company.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: September 6, 2019.

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