Bringing Rudi to Boston
by Tom Fabrizio
In the early 1970’s, I was living in Stoneham, Massachusetts, in a Unitarian parsonage. My best friend, Bruce Munsen, was the minister there. We were doing our best to practice and teach meditation and yoga, but we both recognized that we didn’t really know what we were doing. We decided we needed a teacher, and we went on a quest looking for one.
In those days, there were lots of spiritual teachers coming through Boston: Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Catholic, Muslim, Sufi, Zen…you name it. We went to see them all, but none of them had what we were looking for. Then one day when I was working, Bruce went to see Rudi speak at the East West Yoga School in Cambridge. He told me after the event, “I found him. Nobody else is like him. He’s definitely the one.” Bruce had learned that Rudi’s contact in Boston, the person who had sponsored the talk, Dean Gitter, was moving to Big Indian. So Bruce suggested that we invite Rudi up to speak at the Unitarian Churches in the area.
After that, we wrote to Rudi about 10 times before he finally responded. He said in his letter that he would come if it would get us to stop writing to him. It was a cold day sometime before Christmas 1971 that he arrived on our doorstep. He had driven up with two of his students. When I answered the door, I thought I was greeting a bear—Rudi filled the doorway, with a huge fur coat on. I hesitated for quite a while, with the door open, before I said, “You must be Rudi,” and Rudi asked, impatiently, “Yes. Can I come in?”
My chemistry started to change as soon as I met Rudi. The next 48 hours, the duration of Rudi’s visit, were a blur. We had tea with Rudi, then he talked to our group for a little while about his work before he sat with us in class. At the beginning of class, as soon as I looked at him, I heard a huge crack like the limb of a tree breaking, and I promptly passed out. When I came to, everyone else had gone to the dining room to eat dinner, but Rudi was still in the room. He looked at me and said, “Welcome back. Everything is going to be different now.” I couldn’t even talk at that point. When I went back to work on Monday after he left, I found exactly that. The things that had been stresses and tensions in my work at a drug treatment facility and family counseling center weren’t anymore. I felt that the purpose of my life was different. I wanted to do the work that Rudi shared with us.
Shortly after, Bruce’s girlfriend decided she didn’t want him to study with Rudi, and they left the group. One of the other people there, Craig Benson, took over as the interim minister. Craig, Barbara, and I started going to Big Indian. Our first trip was in the summer of 1972. Rudi hosted all 20 of us in the guest room in his apartment. There was a king sized bed that several people crammed into, and floor space for the rest of us. It was crowded but we knew we were getting the royal treatment. Otherwise, the experience was like going to boot camp.
That trip was the first time I met Michael Shoemaker. I remember taking a walk with him on the hill where Rudi’s shrine later stood. I noticed he was different from the other people teaching for Rudi. He was genuinely interested in me and asked me a lot of questions about myself. Even then, he had a vision of what could unfold from Rudi’s work and talked about things like an alternative healthcare system.
Back in Massachusetts, the church hired a full time minister, and we all needed to move out of the parsonage. I found a house for us in Gloucester to rent, and I was ready to move there with my girlfriend. Then Rudi came to Stoneham one last time and told me I should start an ashram. So that same day, after Rudi left, I drove out to the house in Gloucester to get my things and to ask for my deposit back. The owner, an old fisherman, met me out front and before I could say anything, said “So you’re leaving?” He reached into his pocket and gave me the money back.
The following week I found and bought a house in Melrose. There were about 20 of us that ended up living there almost immediately. We had almost nothing but somehow we made it work. Most of the people there came from contacts I made at my work. Rudi told me to start teaching, and he had Barbara and Craig teach as well.
One time I was visiting my parents in Connecticut and went down to New York City to visit Rudi the following day. I spent the day with him in his store and did some work there. It was simple and very sweet. When I was leaving, he told me to bring my car up around to the front of the store, and he loaded the trunk with rugs, paintings and carpets. He told me they were for the ashram I was starting since we were going to need some things. Those pieces are still at the Movement Center.
Many people said Rudi could be harsh, but I never once had that kind of experience with him. He was always completely giving and kind and supportive. We didn’t talk much, although I saw him talking to other people a lot more. He did expect his students to be self-sufficient in their daily lives. He told me once, “I want to be clear. I am not your mother. I am not your father. I’m never going to be. You have to take care of yourself.”
I remember a significant shift in the way Rudi talked about his work in the last few months of his life. When I first met him, he talked a lot about power and the need to “Work, work, work.” That changed to more emphasis on love.
Our ashram had moved to Cambridge by February 1973, and I was there when I got the news that Rudi had died. It was a harrowing time. Barbara and Craig flew down to New York that day, and I came a day later for the memorial service. I flew down from Boston and took a cab into the city. There was a huge crowd and cars parked everywhere. It seemed that half the city was there. When I walked into the church, the first thing I saw was Michael. He was up front with the other speakers, but he stood out like a beam of light. I went up to him and stayed near him for the whole event and afterward. Rudi had told me that if anything ever happened to him, I should go with Michael.
The three speakers at the event were Rudi’s brother Arthur, an Episcopalian minister, Michael, and a Japanese monk and Zen teacher, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, who was so sweet. When it was his turn to speak, Maezumi Roshi brought in a little Buddha statue and set it down. He said that when he first came to New York, he had nothing and knew nobody. He went into Rudi’s store one day looking for a statue of Buddha for his practice. He was concerned that all the things he looked at were more than he could afford. He found one Buddha he really loved, and with some trepidation asked Rudi how much it cost. Rudi smiled and told him the price was $25. With relief, he bought it on the spot. He later learned that the statue was worth much, much more. It was another example of Rudi’s kindness and generosity.
After Rudi died, I stayed in Cambridge. By then, we had grown to about 40 people in the ashram and had a couple of hundred students. As the organizers of the Boston group, Barbara, Craig and I talked about what to do. We decided that Michael was the clear choice as a leader, and we maintained our connection with him. He came to Cambridge to teach occasionally, and we would go to Bloomington. In the summer, we sent a crew to Big Indian almost every weekend to help keep it going. I didn’t have much contact with Rudi’s students in New York City, and I wasn’t interested in their politics.
At some point, Michael suggested that Barbara and Craig move to Bloomington, and he asked me to stay on and run the ashram in Cambridge. I did until the Bloomington ashram moved to Cambridge in 1982.