The day I met Rudi, he was standing quietly in the kitchen doorway. There was something different about this man. His eyes twinkled with intense energy, as if it wasn’t quite contained in his small, rotund body. We approached the door, and I remember clinging to the corner elbow of my husband’s jacket out of fear to meet someone so expansive, yet so humble. He was bigger than life, standing right before my eyes. He just said hello politely and invited us into the class. I was 23 years old. It was 1972.
After the meditation class we had dinner in the living room. I had been asked to sing for Rudi at dinner in the Tao restaurant a few days later. I was terrified, my body frozen with fear, which was common for me before important performances. But this time it was body-wide dread, my emotions so rigid with terror that I could hardly speak for days. I understood what this meant. I was approaching an important event, and I did deep breathing to try to calm my mind.
They had rented a piano for the evening, and my accompanist came. After dinner Rudi invited me to sing. My husband got up and introduced me. His name was Fritz. A diminutive leprechaun kind of guy, brilliant and childlike, he proudly introduced me. And as I got up to sing, oh my, the fear vanished just like that. As I took the first breath to sing, I felt my whole body and mind launch into flight through the air. It was utterly indescribable joy immersed in sound. I felt I was in deep communion utterly supported by some great energy far larger than anything I had known before, my heart wide open and the light was pouring in. I can’t remember exactly what I sang, maybe a few songs in Russian by Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, and a few Hugo Wolf lieder that I loved. Who knows what happened. We were just flying around in rapture.
After the concert my body was on fire with joy and shaking a little. Over the next few days it subsided. I discovered later that Rudi somehow knew that my husband’s real name was “Frederick” (he was right, like his father and his grandfather) and to help him respect himself people could call him “Fred”. The next day when we went to the class everybody called him “Fred”, not in jest, just because it was a request. Oh my! That was the last straw for my husband. Rudi had hit a key point, perhaps a trigger to invite him to make a choice, and his choice was decidedly negative. He never came back and never engaged with Rudi’s practice again.
I continued to meditate without him. I was amazed to re-experience every day the vast opening in my heart which previously I had never known possible, unless accompanied by some intense sensory stimulation such as drugs, alcohol, food, music, or sex. This meditation was different. It was cultivating pure joy created internally, all by myself. I felt this was a great gift, and resolved to learn more.
A few weeks later I volunteered for a work crew to visit Rudi in New York for two weeks and help him move into his new art gallery. I think this was summer of 1972. His small Asian antique store was full, and he had acquired a large building with a store on the first floor and rooms above. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity. Seven of us piled into a sedan as we drove out from Bloomington Indiana to eventually arrive at his brownstone on 10th St. in the East Village of Manhattan.
The outside of his home looked utterly nondescript, plain street, just another door. We walked up the steps and opened the door to see a long flight of stairs to the 2nd floor on the right side. As we walked one step at a time, it felt like the stairway got wider and taller. It seems like it never ended – it got bigger and bigger. At the top when we finally entered the door on the right into his apartment – this was truly another dimension. The air was full of light and there was more space than I could imagine. Right in front of the open door was a giant black 14-foot Japanese demon statue sneering down on us with a huge club in his hands threatening to kill any evil walking in the door. It was terrifying. To the left was a stainless steel kitchen and a table for sharing meals. Along the wall a line of enormous Rudra statues all danced together. Yikes!
Rudrananda was his spiritual name, named for the god Rudra, a powerful, surprising, and somewhat violent aspect of the God Shiva. Rudra is sometimes associated with storm, called the ‘mightiest of the mighty’, who ‘eradicates problems from their roots’. Ha! That was a perfect name for Rudi, born in Brooklyn as Albert Rudolf. The first American-born Swami, Rudi was a brilliant spiritual “heavyweight” master. Call him a renegade, a maverick. He had studied with many teachers: Mahasiddha Baghavan Nityananda, Tibetan masters, Pak Sudbud, Gurjieff, Shankaracharya of Puri, and others. Rudi integrated many traditions into a highly effective practice for modern times.
Rudi traveled the world as an Asian art dealer to museums and collectors. His tiny store on Broadway was stuffed full of invaluable objects large and small. Clearly he had outgrown it, and used his home for extra storage.
Bhagavan Nityananda was an important root guru for Rudi. I feel enormous kinship in the lineage when I visit the Nityananda shrine in Ganeshpuri. Rudi was recognized as a Swami by Muktananda, who also studied with Nityananda. However, Rudi taught many spiritual techniques, with the idea to invite all his students to stand independently on their own spiritual feet. Rudi’s teachings encompassed the devotional aspect, and went much deeper. He taught the open-eyes class, the double-breath exercise, releasing negative psychic tension, how to unblock the kundalini at the base of the spine. He taught how to clear congestion from the perineum. He showed us Tibetan Tantric practices to clear the spiritual body, and many other essential tools. Rudi’s classes were a transmission of shaktipat through the hands, feet, eyes, and words, as well as flying shakti. Oh yes! These techniques are not taught in other lineages, as far as I know.
We arrived and were invited into the living room with Rudi who sat quietly in a black leather chair watching Dick Van Dyke on TV. Several students sat on the floor around him listening quietly. After dinner Rudi asked me if I would sing. I replied that I was “a little bit tired” but that I would sing for him later. I could feel the shock spread through the room among the students. OMG, I had just rejected the master! Maybe it was a mistake. I don’t know. But my response was purely out of a wish to offer him the best performance possible. As we had just finished a 14-hour drive without rest, I was a bit frazzled.
The next day we started work. We walked down to Rudi’s new store on Broadway and for two weeks did nothing but sand, spackle, sweep, clean, clear out junk, paint and make the space beautiful for a new store. It was utter pleasure every day. Rudi’s mother brought us snacks like piroshki, and Jewish treats like potato-filled pies that were so tasty and satisfying. We worked hard, and then one of his students came up to me and said quietly “Rudi would like to hear you sing tonight.” And so, the terror began again. After we had our showers and were ready for class, Rudi’s assistant Buford came up to me and very softly said “Rudi will hear you sing tonight”. So I knew there was no escaping. I began to breathe deeply to prepare myself internally.
I can’t remember what I sang, because I wasn’t there. I was far away, and joy poured out of my body like never before. It went on and on, I don’t remember how long, all my favorite classical pieces. When it ended, my eyes were glazed, and we quietly went to bed. I had chosen a spot to unroll my sleeping bag in Rudi’s apartment in front of a white marble Buddha. It was particularly beautiful, very large with emanations of light coming out of his head. I felt safe there.
That evening was a portal into a new world, and I would be changed forever. I began to feel confused and disoriented. Every bone in my body hurt, my nervous system utterly dismantled, in terrible pain. After breakfast I sat down in front of Rudi’s chair in the living room and told him: “Rudi I don’t know what’s happening to me. I feel terrible like I’m going to die – what can I do? I feel strange”. He smiled and said: “You ARE strange”. Everyone laughed, and I felt somehow gently validated after trying to be “normal” all these years. Then he said: “Just look at you now – there’s a beautiful new opening in your third eye coming right through your forehead”. He pointed it out for everyone to see and they all agreed. That was all he said.
Rudi’s brownstone was on 3 levels. The bottom level was a large meditation room with a stage. The 2nd floor was a huge apartment with living room, kitchen, dining room, and sitting areas for students. The 3rd floor was a few private apartments, which he allowed us girls to use when the 2nd floor shower was busy. The building seemed to be his storage area for vast quantities of art. Huge statues sat everywhere emanating uplifting stillness, although some were so large, I can’t imagine how they were ever carried in the door.
Rudi’s home was obviously a back-up warehouse, however the art pieces were arranged in such a way that the overall harmony had the touch of a master designer. The whole house was spotless, the energy quiet and organized. Once a week Rudi sent his top students to the NYC docks to beg for vegetables. They returned carrying huge bags of onions and other vegetables for the kitchen. He said this exercise gives them spiritual strength and humility.
One evening after class and dinner, Rudi held an open house at the movies, inviting his students and friends. We all sat downstairs in the meditation room floor on pillows. I can’t remember which movies, but it was a zany selection like Groucho Marx on a big screen. I loved watching Rudi interact with so many different kinds of people of all walks of life. Young, old, rich and poor, important art clients, many students, and a few children. His seasoned students made popcorn for us and cared for everyone quietly for an evening of light-hearted fun. Everybody loved Rudi. I saw him embrace his uniqueness, his special abilities, even his poor family roots, and thick Brooklyn accent, all with compassion and grace. I understood better why he was so unique.
On the weekend we drove to Rudi’s center in Big Indian in upstate New York near Woodstock, where he had many students. We enjoyed living in nature. It was a big comfortable house with many rooms, perfectly clean, and the food was delicious. The meditation building sat aside from the residence. Rudi taught class every evening. He would often lead his eyes-open meditation. And he spoke. Rudi’s words were magical in that they struck everyone differently, so that somehow each one is convinced to hear a personal message meant for him or her. And of course, that was true.
Every word from Rudi’s mouth was filled with soft, gentle, kindness and truth. But for me his every word hit me like a whip. Or a baseball bat. Every word was terribly painful reminding me how much stupidity there is in the world, and how I willingly participate in it. So, that was my lesson. It was very hard to experience every word lashed out like a whip in my body and my heart. Later we played volleyball and it was fun, more like dancing. Rudi was a pretty good player! During the day we worked in the garden and prepared for class, which was the big event of the day.
Breakfast was relaxed as we ate together around the big table. Rudi wore his usual khaki pants and orange T-shirt. One morning I summoned all my courage to ask him “What is it about Fritz? Is there something that I should know about?” He just looked at me quietly and said: “He will never grow up”. And that’s all he said.
On the last day of our stay when the store was finally ready, a huge flatbed truck rolled up in front. We were asked to unpack it and bring things into the store. It was statues and art in sawdust and wood packing strips. There were smaller trinkets like some Indonesian dolls, and no huge stone statues, so we were able to carry everything. Rudi gave us one instruction – he said if you see any cockroaches make sure you kill them because we don’t want them getting out into the New York population creating hybrid cockroaches.
It just happened that morning that a curious cockroach emerged from the statue I was unpacking and I knew what to do. Immediately, I slammed my my palm down hard and squashed him flat and wet. Rudi looked up and cheered: “Good girl!”. It was a simple instruction and I had carried it out. Yet his words filled my heart with the most delicious elixir it was indescribable. Who is this man?
My remaining time in New York was like being on the moon. I was still in total pain, I did not know where I was. But I felt utterly protected with this strong resource next to me holding me like a child. Maybe I had just met the most reliable human being in the world. Someone that I could trust completely. Is this possible?
The day we left New York, Rudi piled us all back into the sedan, three in front, four in the back. The car was somehow filled with light and so much joy it was palpable. We had all had our experience. Everyone had had their bridges burned, their strings pulled, lineage cleansed, chakras spinning, and inner plumbing filled with light. There was no stopping us now. We were on the path.
It was a long 14-hour drive home and along the way we encountered serious rains. A disastrous flood in Pennsylvania showed many homes submerged, and the highways were empty. We were quite hungry and needed at least one good meal on the way home to Indiana. We happened to see a sign for a restaurant on the hill. An Italian restaurant had a long steep driveway leading up to the door, and it was not flooded. The parking lot was totally empty, but we took a chance and walked up to the door and knocked.
A dozen Italian women opened the door and shouted with so much joy, giving us hugs all around. They said “Oh we’re so happy to see you because you’re our only customers all day, and we have so much amazing food that will go to waste. Will you please eat here?” So that was it. They served us the most delicious food I have ever tasted. There was no menu. It just kept coming, and it was a banquet that I will never forget, I still giggle. We had come to New York with no money. Rudi had given us everything and asked us for nothing. We offered just a tiny bit of unskilled work. We paid the restaurant ladies as best we could and they were happy. It was as if Rudi had sent us off with a good-bye blessing to protect us on our way.
In the wee hours of the morning we finally arrived at my little apartment. I walked up the steps and opened the door. It was small and dark. My husband was there. But oh dear – I didn’t recognize him – there was no relationship between us – not a thread. It was gone. I felt compassion, but no connection. The next day I began packing my things and asked the ashram for permission to move in. It was granted and a phone message arrived from Rudi that I was very lucky. A few days later my boxes were ready. I told my husband I was moving into the ashram and invited him to come with me. He said “No, you can go. I’ll stay”
We carried my boxes to the car and he dropped me off at the ashram. I think I had four cardboard boxes of clothes. I moved into the upstairs girls’ room which had four bunkbeds, so there were eight of us there. Ha Ha! I was so happy to be there and hung my clothes up in the closet. Although the joke was that you couldn’t find anything because it was too full. Nobody minded because we could share many things. I loved the ashram because it was spotlessly clean, people were quiet and respectful. The food simple and delicious. I felt so safe, and the rest is history. I worked in the Tao Restaurant, then got my MBA, and worked as CFO of Rudi’s Bakery. I lived there through countless transformations and iterations for over 30 years except for my time singing as a prima donna in Italy. But that’s another story.
(My takeaway lesson was that to reach for anything in this dimension creates a disharmony in the ALL. Nature will move to correct it, sooner or later, somehow, for your highest good. The “correction” may come immediately, much later, or in your next life. My lessons in this life are always accompanied by much beauty, joy, and also immense pain. A word to the wise: Take your lumps with joy, and follow the Middle Path with humility. Ha Ha!)
During the year 1972 Rudi came to Indiana to visit us regularly. It was always an unpredictable, delightful learning experience – and afterwards several days of burning from processing the deep nourishment he brought. Toward the end of his life Rudi’s aspect began to change. Gradually, and he became a vortex of quiet potential. This was a stillness so deep and sweet that if you saw him, you just wanted to jump in to that immense fullness and beauty. Physically his body began to shine in a way that a new baby shines, like absolutely clean skin that glows and you’d think maybe he’d put some kind of shining spray on his skin because it was glowing so strongly. He almost looked like a beautiful baby dressed in his pale orange robe.
The thought occurred to me that maybe he was nearing the end of his journey and finally understood what it meant to come full circle in life. But in his case, it would not be exactly a death of the body. Instead it would be a merging of the spirit into source. When the vital spirit exceeds the body’s capacity to contain it, it exits the body, and the body immediately collapses as a result. These were my fleeting impressions as I observed him in the final months.
In one of his final talks Rudi warned us to get on the train now, because it was leaving the station. I courageously jumped on in spite of all my fears. A few weeks before Rudi’s passing he confided to some of us that he might be going on a long trip. He said he wasn’t sure where, maybe possibly Turkey, but we should prepare.
In February of 1973, Swami Rudrananda departed from this world in a small plane crash in the Catskills. The autopsy said that Rudi’s heart had exploded. The other passengers walked away with minor injuries. These were Rudi’s last words, dictated on the plane moments before it crashed, to perfectly express the essence of his life and his teaching:
“The last year of my life has prepared me for the deeper understanding that Divine Consciousness can come only through unconditional surrender. That state is reached by surrendering ourselves and the tensions that bind and restrict us, keeping us from expressing the power of creation that is our true essence. It is God flowing through us and showing us that we are nothing but Him. I want to live as an expression of that higher creative will, and from a deeper sense of surrender.”
But Rudi was gone. He had a particular genius for extracting every bit of nourishment from each moment, and being utterly aware in the present. This quality gave a unique experience to everyone that met him. Of course, for himself in his own life he utilized every single moment as an opportunity to dissolve into the source.
Rudi was a walking volcano of shaktipat, and finally it blew! Although he was extremely observant and attentive to details, he was not quite a perfectionist. Maybe he understood how perfectionism sometimes allows us to reject the moment of WHAT IS, if it doesn’t exactly match our ideal. Instead, Rudi took nourishment from every moment and drew vast energy from it AS IT WAS PRESENTED. Life is messy. He opened to every instant as a gift.
Rudi’s birthday is January 24. He was born in 1928, so he would have been 94 years old. I’m guessing he saw the “opportunity” to leave, and he jumped. He took the chance. Those of us left in this realm are still picking up the pieces of the mystery of Rudi. Of course, he is here with me right now helping me write this article. I am so grateful and happy to share it with you.
This is the Nityananda temple in Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra, India, where Rudi met his teacher Bhagawan Nityananda. While Lama D meditated in the sacred hot springs, I bought flowers and made an offering.
Every time I visit Ganeshpuri, I am filled with blessings from Bhagawan Nityananda. After that when I close my eyes, I feel his presence inside me. It feels hot and a little uncomfortable – in a good way – like a reminder to be the best person I can. I feel grateful that such a powerful being existed, bringing pure truth yet wanting nothing.
“It is better to be potential than to be anything. And at this point, I am reduced to potential. I feel as if one great big seed is starting to grow in me, and it has nothing to do with my will. It has to do with God’s will. The greatest thing we can do is to keep surrendering, to draw this energy in, to nurture inside us this thing that can grow. That is what really breaks us apart to conclude that particular level. This seed inside will then sprout and grow, allowing us to become not just an instrument for growing, but the tree of life, or that which gives forth this energy as a tree gives off oxygen.” Rudi