This page is a collection of Rudi Stories and personal remembrances of what it was like to have known and studied with Rudi. Do you have some Rudi Stories of your own to share? CONTACT
In the Hands of a Master
— by Swami Ganeshananda
A few years before I met Rudi, I felt a strong need to find a deeper meaning to life. I felt like a leaf in the wind, without any anchoring or security. Over time, this evolved into a constant, almost intolerable existential anxiety and sense of not belonging. I experimented with relationships, marijuana, group therapy and artistic involvement. I was getting a good education and took part in the peace demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. Even though all this was interesting and to some extent educational and important, it brought no real deep peace, joy or satisfaction. I had a growing sense that the world was an absurd place that I, for some reason, could not enjoy or feel quite at home in. At the same time, I had an intuitive sense that it was not the world there was something wrong with, but me. Eventually, it dawned on me that it was my own attitude and way of relating to the world that had to change. From someplace deep inside me a conviction formed, saying that if I could only receive enough love, support and guidance, it would be possible for me to totally transform myself. I felt a deep longing for this. In the end, I felt this need so strongly that I came to my knees one evening and knocked my head on the floor in sobbing despair, asking God for help. Rudi was the answer to this prayer.
My meeting with Rudi in the fall of 1969 was a life changing event. I remember that I was very excited when I was accompanied by a friend through Greenwich Village in downtown Manhattan to Rudi’s oriental antique store on 4th Avenue. My friend had been a student of Rudi’s for a short time and had arranged a meeting with him for me. The rush traffic moved at a snail’s pace past us as we walked towards the store. The smell of exhaust, dust and garbage hung heavy in the air. People around us all seemed to be in a big rush to get somewhere, each person apparently wrapped in their own individual world. They all hastened along in different directions around us, in a jumble of movements, smells and sounds. To come into Rudi’s store from this unpleasant and disturbing atmosphere was like entering a totally different dimension. The noise and chaos outside was abruptly dissolved and replaced by a clear, calm, uplifting and well maintained atmosphere dominated by a variety of oriental art antiques and exotic plants. A pleasant smell of incense and greenery hang in the air, in sharp contrast to the outside.
Rudi sat at a desk towards the bottom of the deep space, in conversation with a young man. What struck me right away was his powerful presence, with his big body and smoothly shaved head, and the glow of life that seemed to emanate from him. He sat with his legs crossed and looked like a living example of the many Buddha statues around him. When I approached him, he turned and looked at me with extremely intense eyes. His gaze expressed a whole new world, and my world was, then and there, changed forever through it. His eyes seemed to say: “I’ve been waiting for you and know exactly who you are”. It was as if his eyes pulled my whole being into a wide open space of loving attention. I had an immediate experience of finally having arrived home, and being totally welcome. In one way or another I knew intuitively that here I had found what I needed most of all in this life. Rudi’s gaze assured me of that and erased all doubt. In the energy glowing in his eyes, all my identity boundaries dissolved; only the here and now existed. I saw and felt unconditional love. At this moment, as I was about to be initiated into Rudi’s practice, a voice from deep within me rose up and said: “You will do this practice every day for the rest of your life”. At the time, I had no idea where that voice came from. In retrospect, I believe it was a clear message from my deepest Self, the inner teacher, telling me what would be required of me if I wanted to liberate myself in this life. I had never experienced anything like this before.
Rudi asked me to sit in a chair facing him and continued the conversation with the young man next to him. Rudi explained how, by opening oneself to spiritual growth, everything in life can change. When I tried to participate in the conversation and give the impression that I had some knowledge about what he was talking about, from books I had read and from lectures I had heard, Rudi interrupted me and said: ”Listen, you don’t know anything about this.” This wiped away something superficial in me, at the very start of the relationship. With this, the main ingredient of the relationship was made crystal clear. I realized that, in order to get maximum benefit from the connection, I had to be prepared to let go of ego-attachments and limitations.
This first meeting with Rudi gave me a feeling of being observed the way a master gardener might observe a particular seed in his hand, as something small and interesting, but precious because of its great potential. I was being observed by one who mastered himself, who was solidly anchored in a state much deeper than his ego, one who was very aware that he could instruct, nourish and guide me in my spiritual development. After the initial exchange, Rudi went through a more detailed introduction, a simple explanation of what I needed to know in order to participate in what he called ”open eyes class”. He described the purpose of the practice and went through the necessary breathing exercises to be used with focus on the chakra system (subtle energy centers in the body). He emphasized the importance of turning the attention away from everything external to this inner mechanism. “You have to bring a deep wish to grow into your heart and into your whole mechanism”, he said. “Spiritual growth requires hard inner work”. He explained that continuous commitment to the growth process was required, and that the teacher is a channel for the spiritual force, a well of inner nourishment.
Shifting of Reality and Permanent Humility
— by Alik Elzafon
I walked into Rudi’s store a few weeks prior to his Samadhi. I brought some coffee and donuts. Rudi immediately started talking about Time and Space. He talked for about ten minutes while the energy in the room got very refined and strong. I tried not to budge as not to disrupt the stillness of the moment, absorbing the awe-inspiring wisdom that was coming into the room. After a few minutes, Rudi stopped talking and drank from his coffee. We sat silently. I was still absorbing the nectar in the room. Then Rudi looked up from his donut and said: “Remember Alik, everything I just said is the limitation of the next moment…”
The next day, I walked into his store with coffee and donuts in my hands. Again, Rudi talked sweetly pouring out his energy and wisdom into the room. We talked for a while and then I had to go. We hugged. As I was about to leave, he looked at me and said: “Question everything, Alik, question even me.”
These two incidents affected my life in the most profound way.
There Are No Bad Students
— by Alik Elzafon
I had spent 18 hours a day in Rudi’s presence for a whole year. I woke up at 4 am, ran to my job, (unloading supermarket trucks) and then appeared at his store at 9:00 in the morning. Not once do I remember him feeling superior or more ‘spiritual’ than anyone around him. He detested any signs of admiration and worship, even praises to his teaching ability.
There were four of us in the store when an old student of his entered and approached Rudi. He told Rudi that he was planning to leave the Ashram. Everyone fell silent. Rudi was obviously upset. His face looked sad. He spoke with the student for a few moments. The two of them hugged each other and the student left.
Two of the people in the store began talking, “Anyway, he was a bad student,” one of them said, “and he had reached his limitations.”
“There are no bad students,” Rudi said quietly, “only bad teachers. Had I gone deeper into myself, I would have found a way to connect to him and he would not have left…”
“Promise me to work very hard,” Rudi said
— by Alik Elzafon
The 20th of February, 1973, started as an ordinary day. I came to meditation class and later, as always, walked up with Rudi and several students to his living room. There, Rudi continued his Tantric work with people till around 10:00 pm. You could see on Rudi’s face how exhausted he was. When you love a person, his fatigue touches you. At 10:00 pm, he got up and hugged each of his students, bid them good night, and with the help of Jack Stewart, he climbed up the stairs to his bedroom. At the end of the stairs he stopped walking, turned around and looked down at us. His eyes moved from student to student until he came to mine. He walked down the stairs again, stopped in front of me, his face so close to mine I had to move my eyes from side to side to embrace his enormous head. “Promise me to work very hard,” he said. I nodded my head vigorously. He turned back and went up the stairs. That was the last time I saw Rudi in his body.
That afternoon I went to the Ashram and into Rudi’s living room. The place was packed with students, lamas, and Rudi’s friends. There was a quiet buzz in the room. The Om sound was piercing. People were semi-whispering and exchanging hugs. Beau Buchanan, who was in the plane crash and had suffered serious back injuries, was crying. Then my eyes focused on a tall, skinny young man with dark and graying hair who was standing amidst several people. He was laughing. He threw his head back with joy. He said that Rudi’s legacy was for us to continue the miracle of his work. After a lifetime of spiritual practice, our teacher had found his place with God. We should take joy in that; we should commit ourselves to working hard enough to keep him from ever having to return to the earth.
My eyes were transfixed on this man. With every smile, his mouth opened to display a dark hole where front teeth used to be. This man’s name was Stuart. A few hours earlier, he had been in the plane crash with Rudi. I was mesmerized at this display of spiritual courage and his ability to transcend pain.
There was a choice to be made between succumbing to the sadness and drama of Rudi’s departure or embracing the joy and gratitude that were his legacy. I stood transfixed, then, made my choice. A few months later I joined Stuart in Texas.
RELATED >> REMEMBERING RUDI
— by Alik Elzafon
On my second day in Rudi’s ashram, I sat in front of him working to open to the energy. There were several of us around Rudi, breathing deeply trying to reverse patterns of tightness and resistance with our breath and need. I was doing the best I could. Suddenly Rudi stopped working and came closer to me. He took my hand and ran it back and forth across his forehead few times. “My forehead is broken, just like yours”. He said, “I also have suffered a lot in life.” I was stunned. And extremely happy. Rudi touched the deepest part of my being, the cocoon inside me that was guarded and felt so unique. At that moment I knew there was hope for my life.
— by Alik Elzafon
I arrived at the Ashram the next day still filled with joy and gratitude. Again we sat around Rudi and once more I breathed as deep as I could, struggling to feel deeper sensation than the immediate surface emotions. And again, as if in a replica of the previous day, Rudi turned to me and beckoned me to approach him. I came close to his chair. He looked at me and said, “Suck on my neck, there is a lot of energy there.” My knees buckled. My worst nightmare materialized as I envisioned cults and magic. I suppressed an enormous urge to run. I bent down and started kissing Rudi’s neck. Years later I have experienced the same sensation when I kissed my children’s neck. Sweet and palpitating with life.
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Embracing the All of Me
— by Bob Sink
Every so often Stuart would send several of us from the Denton Ashram to New York City in order to bring back antiques and collectables from Rudi as more inventory for Stuart’s antique store. The good news that I got one day was that I would be one of the drivers going on a big adventure to Manhattan, and the golden opportunity to visit with Rudi. The bad news was that we would be driving in the infamous Strohs Honey Truck, renowned for its lack of such nicities as suspension, making for a rough ride. But no matter, we were on our way to the Big Apple!
In the past Rudi had come to visit the Denton, TX, Ashram several times at Stuart’s invitation. While Rudi’s visits held great anticipation and excitement for all of us, at the same time there was a certain sense of unspoken trepidation that we all be on our best behavior (or else). I decided my best strategy was to blend into the background during these whirlwind visits.
The big trip began with great excitement, yet the closer we got to Manhattan after a 24-hour nonstop marathon drive, the more my apprehension came to the surface. What faux pas might I commit to embarress myself and/or Stuart? (The “incident” at Rudi’s Christmas party came to mind, where I dressed up in my green velvet cape, entertaining folks with my rabbit hand puppet— where I got a thorough dressing down from Stuart). As a gangly 20-something I vowed to myself to do my best to be on my best behavior!
As unkempt and bedraggled the two of us were upon our arrival, the minute we stepped into Rudi’s Ashram door we were greeted by Rudi with big hugs and big kisses as if we were visiting royalty. All my apprehension and fears dissolved, swept away in an instant. Rudi clearly saw— better than I could— the good, the bad, and the ugly, and it didn’t seem to matter right then. It sunk in that Rudi was big enough to embrace and welcome the all of me.
The time spent in Rudi’s presence was brief, lest we be fried to an energetic crisp. One memorable moment came when a few of us were taking a brief respite on his living room floor before a class with Rudi, just chatting, and all of a sudden he casually turned to me and asked me to massage his feet that were bare at the time. He promptly stuck his feet in my lap, and instantly perplexed, I did my best as a complete novice. Within 30 seconds he barks “You’re suppose to be massaging my feet, not arranging flowers! Dig in!” He immediately resumed his light-hearted conversation with someone else, and I dug in like there’s no tomorrow.
One of my favorite memories was going out to eat in Chinatown with Rudi and a dozen or so students. It really didn’t matter what the restaurant was or what we ate, but rather that we were all together having the best time, laughing as much as eating. We were in the middle of this cyclone of energy, and it taught me deeply. It showed me that having a spiritual life was wide, spacious, and full of joy. Thank you Rudi, to this day!
Heady Days In Cambridge
— by Dean Gitter
It was 1970. Cambridge in those heady days was a frequent stop on the holy-man tour. Yogi’s, Sufi’s, Zen Buddhists and Lamas all traipsed through, frequently reaching out to new converts at halls in Radcliff and the Episcopal Theological Seminary. I attended them all.
I was beaten across the shoulders for inattention by Phillip Kapleau— a noted Zen master. Later on, Per Vliat opened my heart with a mantra sacred to Allah and I was initiated into Islam. I brought an orange and a grapefruit to the Maharishi’s envoy. He then initiated me and I began sitting twenty minutes, twice a day, in transcendental meditation…and finally, I danced with Sam.
Samuel Lewis, more widely known as Sufi Sam, was then in his mid-seventies. He had been born to privilege, the son of an executive of the Levi’s jeans company and a Rothschild mother. He early on rejected a career in business and, in time, became both a Zen master and a Sufi murshid. He had come to Cambridge to teach his universal dance of peace. He was the spitting image of my long-dead grandfather. I loved him immediately.
After attending several evenings of his classes, I invited him to lunch at the restaurant in the Orson Welles complex. He came with two of his beautiful young acolytes. He loved the restaurant, he loved the film school, and he loved the energy of the place. I believed he had taken a shine to me.
As all the traveling mystics eventually did, Sam moved on. I never saw him again.
In January, I was sitting at my desk when someone told me that a young lady had shown up and wanted to see me. She was a disciple of Sufi Sam.
I jumped up, rushed down the stairs to greet her and ushered her up to my office.
She was young, maybe twenty or twenty-one, slight, blonde and moderately attractive. With some prodding, she began, “Sam sent me to tell you that he is involved with a group of people who are planning a mass gathering on the West Coast in imitation of Woodstock”.
Instead of rock musicians from all over the country, she explained, the centerpiece of this festival would be 600 of the world’s holiest holy-men. It would take place beneath the slopes of Mount Shasta. It would usher in the Aquarian Age and sow the seeds of peace for generations to come.
I nodded and smiled, taking in this information with respect and disinterest. Her next sentence brought me up short.
“Sam would like you to film the event and make the movie”.
“Wow”! This was huge. “Woodstock, the Movie” had been a worldwide sensation. I was rolling this enormous possibility around in my head when she continued.
“And Sam would like your people to do the catering”!
Now, we had participated in helping at Woodstock. We had taken the lead in feeding the couple of hundred folks at Goddard who had come unprepared for the event, but a mammoth festival…?
“How many people are they expecting? ” I asked.
“About half a million”, she said without as much as a smile.
“And how long does this thing last, ” I asked.
“Three days”, said she.
“Let me understand this. Sam wants my restaurant crew – folks who have had one year’s experience in the food business in a one hundred and sixty-seat restaurant, to feed a half a million people for three days. Is that right”.
“Yup”, said she.
“When is this all expected to happen”, I gasped.
“This July”, she answered.
“Well”, says I, glancing at a calendar on the wall behind her which read January 12th, “We’d better get busy.”
“Yes, she said, “That’s why Sam sent me! There’s to be an organizational meeting in ten days and Sam wants you to come.”
“On Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Swami Sivananda has an ashram there”.
Well, I would have traveled almost anywhere to spend more time with Sam at his invitation. And the Bahamas in January was hardly going to be tough duty.
I said I’d be there.
So, in due course, I gathered together a few of the more experienced people from the film school, with whatever professional equipment they could scrounge up, and, with my wife, Frances, and Odette Bery, the general manager of my restaurant, we set out for paradise.
We had a tough time passing through Bahamian Immigration. They wanted to charge us thousands of dollars in import fees for our camera equipment. But eventually we passed into Nassau and, with some confusion, managed to find two small boats that would row us over to the island. In front of us, on an absolutely flat sand-spit, was a seedy bungalow colony that provided the magic isle’s spiritual quotient. Three hundred yards to the right was the Paradise Island Hotel and Casino, Huntington Hartford’s failing Caribbean adventure, now the site of Atlantis!
We awoke the next morning to cries of “Get up! Get up now! Now! Now! Now!” from the chubby holy man whose lumpy mattresses we were sleeping on. The bossy little Swami led us through 45 minutes of yogic calisthenics before a meager breakfast was offered; and, after ten minutes to wolf it down, we were directed to the organizational meeting we had come to attend.
There were a couple of New Age psychiatrists who had been selling various human potential techniques, some low-level disciples of Yogi Barjan, Swami Sivananda, someone close to Per Vliat Khan, the psychedelic artist Peter Max, other assorted New Agers, and a fat man I had seen before in the company of Swami Muktananda. No Sam. Unaccountably, he had not come. I was devastated.
For three days we filmed this motley crew as they haggled over details of the planned extravaganza in California. Then, to my amazement and utter disgust, the two human-potential gurus fell to fighting over which one of them would run for President of the United States in the aftermath of the festival which would surely have been an earth-changing event.
Throughout it all, the fat guy never said a word. But, for some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
Finally, on the last afternoon, he started to speak. He spoke from a place of deep conviction and in a calm and loving manner, shaming all the participants over their terrible behavior and selfishness and concluding that they did not have an iota of the consciousness and depth which would have been needed to pull off an event such as the one they were haggling over.
The meeting was clearly over, concluded sine die!
The next morning we packed and I went for a last swim. When I waddled ashore, Odette was waiting for me.
“He’s leaving”, she said.
“The fat guy. Rudi. You better get over there before he gets in that little boat”.
“Why”, I asked.
“Because, jerk, he’s your teacher!”
Four weeks later, at Rudi’s invitation, I traveled from Boston to stay in his house and receive his shaktipat. It was late February. I was with him virtually every moment from then on until the day he died, almost exactly two years later.
As for Sam, I never saw him again. In late December, I learned, he had fallen down the stairs in his San Francisco home and broken his neck. As near as I could figure it, he dispatched the young blonde lady on her mission to me as what must have been one of his last acts. I have been grateful to him for forty years.
Every few years, I visit his grave, high on a hillside in Lama, New Mexico where he is buried in a grove of pine trees. After every visit I bring home a pinecone as a memento. This September I plan to pick up my seventh.
© Dean Gitter, 2011