Rudi: In New York City
by Barbara Benson
(from the Spring 1982 issue of Rudra, the Nityananda Institute newsletter)
Swami Rudrananda lived and worked in New York City, probably the only city that provided enough activity and challenging situations to support his creative energy. By the last year of his life, Rudi had ashrams all over this country and abroad, but New York remained the headquarters for his work and teaching. He had a store on Fourth Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets, on the fringes of Greenwich Village, and going there was an experience that none of his students ever forgot.
Rudi supported himself for over 20 years by importing oriental art, and he supplied many fine pieces to major museums and private collections across the country. Every last inch of space in his store was crammed with oriental art. Huge tranquil Buddhas stared down from atop glass shelves or wooden pedestals. Colorful cloissonne vases lined the aisles, some of them bursting with flowers. Statues of fierce protector deities guarded the entrance. There were Tibetan paintings and rugs, wild masks and ritual objects. And there was always the distinctive, intoxicating fragrance of amber incense wafting through the air.
Along the side of the store shelves were stacked with books, papers and art objects. On the wall nearby were pictures of Rudi's teachers, respectfully bedecked with flower garlands and surrounded by sticks of incense. Beneath the photographs was a large metal desk with papers and correspondence spread across its entire surface. And seated at the desk was Rudi himself, a short, powerfully built, bald-headed man dressed casually in an orange T-shirt and khaki pants. He radiated energy and warmth like a great sun around which all activity in the store revolved.
And active it was! A steady stream of customers would browse through the store, asking questions and bargaining with Rudi, a pastime enjoyable for both Rudi and his intrepid fellow New Yorkers. At the same time, one or two of his yoga students would sit discreetly behind him or by his side on little fold-out chairs happily absorbing his energy until the heat from his presence was too powerful. Then they would leave and others would take their places. Still more students would be dusting art or sweeping the floor. It was always a great honor to do anything to help Rudi in the store. The more muscular students would unpack art and store it in the cavernous basement below, or move pieces to more advantageous positions on the first floor. I remember one very gifted spiritual student who was somewhat clumsy, but nonetheless would always help move the art. As yet another vase would slip through his fingers and crash to the floor, Rudi would look up, roll his eyes, and says: "He's a wonderful guy, but every day he costs me $100."
Aside from customers and students, visitors from all walks of life--mailmen, movie stars, artists--came to visit that store, and each in his or her own way experienced the special quality of Rudi's presence. One musician, for instance, would sit beside Rudi in the store for hours composing music because he did his most creative work in Rudi's presence.
The flow of life through Rudi's store was a phenomenon that Rudi consciously cultivated and nourished on many levels. Even the smallest events of his day could provide him with symbolic insights into his spiritual work. He would often use the incidents from his day as material for lectures to his spiritual students held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening at his ashram, located around the corner on 10th Street. These examples from his day lent immediacy and often humor to his evening talks.
The following excerpt, from one of his evening talks in January of 1972, is a good example of how Rudi consciously experienced and shared his spiritual insights from the day with us:
When people come into my shop as customers or students, I make an effort. I look at them and their connection between me and life. I look at them that way, and it immediately makes much more of a flow possible...so when you look at a person and you instinctively dislike them--they remind you of your mother, or your father, or your grandmother, or an uncle who once hit you--and you look at them and say, "No! What do they have that I can relate to? I don't want to be stuck with Frank." Try to find something that can relate to a higher level in the situation; try to feel the flow of life. If you find that there are aspects of them that remind you of other situations that were difficult, then completely put those situations to the side, because you are not going to tune into that. Don't tune into it; it does not exist, do you understand? You nourish something which is living, which has flow, which is healthy, and it has to come to life.
Anybody can look at a painting or a work of art and complain about it. You can say, "Look, the feet are big, and the hands are big, and the nose is this, and why does it have one of these?" And you can pick and pick and pick. When you look at it, you should feel its beauty. You feel the life of it; you let it carry you. A work of art should not be in any way touched by the mind; it should be a flow of energy. And when you become aware of a human being as a flowing creative force, you relate to that instead of picking and picking and picking. Don't forget: It's a crazy human being who needs perfection on the physical plane. The closer you are to evolvement, the less perfection you need.
When somebody comes into my store and they want to spend $25, the really want a plastic Buddha that they can rub with Brillo wire. It should be clean, and it should be this, and it should be that. The nick on the ear or on the nose or anywhere annoys them. They are vulnerable--the more vulnerable you are, the more perfect you need something to be. And it's essential for you to be aware of that. The crazier you are, the less rational you are in yourself, the more you demand from somebody else. That's why we use the word "God." God does not demand anything from anybody, you know, and it's really symbolic of the level of perfection that encompasses everything.
Take a torso: it can sell for $50,000, but someone who is a connoisseur will look at that chest and the back and see the whole statue. They'll see more than the whole statue; they'll see every Greek and Roman head that ever was. They will get more than what they paid for. They will not see its limitations. They'll see it without limitations, because they know the art. Well, in the same way, when you become aware of the art in a human being, the creative flow in a human being, you really don't need much. Because there is so much to love, there is so much beauty, there is so much flow, there is so much of a wonderful nature to relate to that you don't have to look into all the small things. It's this vastness of the flow within you that finishes off all the checks and the broken parts and limitations. Someone who picks and picks is neurotic, and they're without love. They're without love.
I had somebody come into the store not too long ago with a child that had a cleft lip. It was beautiful to see the effort that she could make. It was extraordinary. This child was so ugly, and I want you to know that he was beautiful. The effort that this woman made and put into him was unbelievable. This little boy with all his wet fingers and feet, twisted, was like a piece of clay someone had just turned around and dropped. I looked at him, and I looked at his mother, and she walked with him proudly and talked to him like a brilliant human being. It would wring your heart out if you could stand looking at the child. I looked at him and it was really like a great work of art. So much had been put into him which made him beautiful, rare and very extraordinary.
Then you have to look at yourself and say, could you walk down the street, could you call this your own and live with it proudly and consciously? There are very few people who qualify in this sense. And this is really what you all need. You need to go into a hospital and see what maimed and twisted and almost totally destroyed human beings there are, and see how hard they fight to live. Then you have to be deeply ashamed of yourself, destroying and wasting this quantity that comes to you every day, that you don't value because you've never had to fight hard enough.
So until you work hard enough to build your life, to absolutely force yourself to work much, much deeper, you really are in danger, because you can fall asleep and forget that this need exists within you. Consciousness is growing, building more and more responsibility, and working harder. A lot of you don't have the need to work, and so you destroy your energy over and over again outside, making tensions and making games that waste it, only because you do not work deep enough and hard enough to have respect for it. Our work is to harness the energy, and bring it inside, and refine it, so that we can really lift ourselves from the stupid level of games, the stupid level of ego, the stupid level of paranoia and projection. It has to do with using your energy consciously, of being able to use your life force in a very real way. Until you transcend yourself, you will be making all kinds of games with your energy, because you externalize it instead of internalizing it. When you really work deeply inside, and feel this flow, and this flow grows, you will cease being involved with external conditions. You'll be working inside to gather your life force so that you can really serve God, and so that you can transcend yourself day by day. You'll attract more than you need from inside to keep you busy. All of this outside stuff will be drawn in, because it will be needed to sustain this tree of life, which is higher than a huckleberry bush. And that is what growing is about...