The inspiration for Baba Ram Dass, whose 1971 book of hipster mysticism Be Here Now became a new-age classic, Bhagavan Das (born Michael Riggs) has continued to share his vision of music and spirituality. "Singing and chanting the divine mantras repeatedly," he told an interviewer, "creates a heightened ecstasy that leaves the mind behind and brings pure stillness of the heart."
The son of an Irish Catholic father, Das attended an Episcopal church as a child. As he reached his teens, he began to be drawn to other points of view and became fascinated with beat poetry and folk music. Leaving the United States in December 1963 with $40 and his acoustic guitar, he busked his way through Europe and North India. Settling in India and Nepal, he began a seven-year study of Hinduism, Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, and the life of the sadhu (ascetic holy man). He received his Hindu name, which translates as "servant of God," in 1966. Das had little idea of the impact of Baba Ram Dass' book. One of the must-read tomes of the hippie '60s, Be Here Now transformed both figures into major celebrities.
Returning to the United States in 1971, he toured on the "guru" circuit and appeared with late beat poet Allen Ginsberg. He retired from touring to "begin the integration of spiritual experience into modern Western society" in 1976. Despite his efforts to withdraw, Das has continued to chant and lecture about Nada Brahma, a path of aesthetic devotion. Broadway Books published his memoirs, It's Here Now, Are You?, in 1997. Das released an album in 2001, Bhagavan Das Now, that he recorded with the help of Mike D. of the Beastie Boys. ~ Craig Harris