Rudi: His Life And Teachings


by Swami Chetanananda
(from the March 1983 issue of Rudra, published by Nityananda Institute)

We are especially blessed to have encountered Rudi. He was a very great being whose presence in our lives taught us something fundamentally important -- we should be ourselves. Rudi was not a swami in the traditional sense of the word, but this did not inhibit his capacity to absorb the essence of the teaching and transcend the circumstances of his existence. He was a monk in that he lived alone and and he lived a very simple life. He was not exactly a monk in that he supported himself and maintained contact with his family. Some people have the opportunity to be monks; others do not. Some people have a feeling within them that draws them to orthodox practice; Rudi had neither the opportunity nor the feeling. He lived completely within himself in a demanding and pressurized existence. Simplicity and grace permeated his presence. 

“Rudi was a shining example of the extraordinary potential that exists in every human being. This potential emerges in those who are devoted simply, deeply, and with great faith to the vision of the inner Self and the unbroken experience of God.”

Around Rudi, miracles happened every day. But for him, every day was the same. Rudi always rose at the same time and made breakfast for the few of us who stayed in his house. After meditation, we would eat together; often we'd have coffee and sit with Rudi for a while. Sometimes people from Big Indian came; sometimes people from Indiana or Texas visited. Rudi spent time with them in the morning, and then he'd go to work at the store. Every day he worked until six o'clock and then came home to teach. At 10 or 10:30, he would go to bed, night after night. On the weekends he went to Big Indian or traveled to one of the other Ashrams. He lived a profoundly simple life -- rigorous and disciplined. 

Rudi worked very, very hard. Even on the last day of his life he worked until six in the evening and then, promptly at six o'clock, boarded a plane to go to Ft. Miller in upstate New York to spend the evening teaching and working with people who wanted to start another ashram.

Rudi's store was a rich environment. All day long people came and went -- shopping and browsing. Four or five of us would sit with Rudi or work in the store. Rudi handled it all with humor and a loving simplicity that was touching and powerful at the same time. He was not different whether there were many people in the store or none. He was not concerned with making an impression on anyone. Famous people and unknown people used to come there. He was the same for everyone. Whatever a person brought into the store, he got back.

Rudi was a deeply quiet being whose attention was turned inside. He was a person who, in the proper manner of the tradition, was dependent only on himself and from himself he gave a lot. He gave a lot of love, advice and assistance, and support. He was not a capricious person,  but certainly he was a remarkably generous one. Rudi understood the difference between giving where it was needed and giving where it was wanted. He lived from within himself in the midst of a tremendously difficult situation without strain -- without doubt or concern. His understanding was complete, and he manifested that understanding in so many ways for so many people.

Rudi was also a very thoughtful person. Just a few weeks before he died, a Catholic man walked into his store. The man was only browsing, but he got involved in a conversation with Rudi about his deep interest in Catholicism,  his conflicts with it, and the spiritual crisis that he was experiencing. Rudi talked to him for about a half hour and resolved this conflict for him. Rudi did not tell this person to become his student, but instead, Rudi resolved that person's conflict in a very simple and nice way.

About two or three months later, a remarkable thing happened. That same man came into a store in Texas called Rudi's South; I was  visiting a friend there. He said, "Rudi's South. Did you know Rudi in New York?" Of course, this is not an uncommon event. We said, "Yes, we knew him." So he told us the story of his meeting with Rudi.

He said, "I came back to see Rudi a week or so after he passed away, not knowing what had happened. When I walked into the store, his mother was there, so we talked for a few minutes, and I expressed my condolences. As I started to leave, she said, "Wait a minute. Rudi left something for you."

Tears formed in his eyes as the man explained that Rudi's mother went to the cabinet in the back and took out a parcel with his name on it. When he opened it, he found a lovely ivory crucifix from Portugal. This man was deeply moved by this and grateful to Rudi for two reasons. First, Rudi had profoundly altered the course of his life and freed him from an internal conflict that was really chewing him up inside. Secondly, Rudi had talked with him for only a short time, yet had remembered him in such a thoughtful way.

This was not the exception; this was more like the rule. People like this man came to see Rudi in a simple way, and by the power of his love, Rudi transformed their lives. Often they moved on, never to come back. This didn't matter. Rudi had great faith in God and an immense love for people.

“Life around Rudi was an endless marvel and an endless tribute to the vastness, the vitality, and the supreme appropriateness that emerged from within a great Being who was totally surrendered to the Self.”

Rudi was a very successful art dealer, but his interest was never in material gain. Rudi loved art because it expressed the variety, the vitality and the power of the human spirit. He loved the art that he handled because it expressed the love, the aspiration, the ideals, and the creative power of an ancient people. In a way, he saw that it brought everyone close to the inspiration and the dedication that had manifested that work of art. It reminded him, I think, that each of us, in a way, is a sculptor of our own life.

A lot of people claimed to understand Rudi. A lot of people had a definite idea about Rudi's psychology -- what he was thinking, what he was doing, or who he was at different stages along the way. I could only be amazed by the vastness of the experience I had when I was in his presence. His power as a spiritual person was unbelievable. He made remarkable things happen; they were magical, but at the same time completely subtle. This used to happen so much, it was almost commonplace. And yet, looking back, those were remarkable events.

Rudi was a loving person, and yet no one was close to him. Many people got close to him physically, but no one really knew what he was thinking. You never had the feeling that you were comfortable in his presence. Rudi was totally established in the Self. This awareness -- this continuous, unbroken continuity of Self-realization -- was his only purpose in living. When you sat with him, you were in that state or at least striving for it. It happened all the time.

Rudi  believed in discipline and he was completely dedicated. He didn't appreciate anything but dedication. He understood that the other existed, and he tolerated it totally; he was very generous with people. But from his students, he was not tolerant of dilettantism. He was not tolerant of laziness or confusion, because for him the process of growing spiritually was very simple: either you are doing it or you are not doing it. There is no confusion necessary. Once one makes the fundamental decision and devotes himself to it, it either happens or it doesn't. There are no complex emotional questions to be dealt with, no dilemmas or dichotomies to untwine. A person is either inside -- allowing the tensions of his life to unravel -- or is struggling. He once said that life is profound only in its simplicity.

It is not by reaching and struggling that we accomplish anything, but by simply being established in the purity of our own spirit. Within that, all things come to fulfillment in their own time. People confuse Rudi's idea about work and effort because he talked about "spiritual work." He used this term because he wanted to make a distinction between spiritual work and meditation. He felt that, especially in the early 60's, many people who practiced meditation used it as an excuse to sit down and fall asleep. This has nothing to do with meditation at all.

Rudi was interested in the miracle and magic of spirit — the magic of the Divine Force to play out this extraordinary unfolding of life.

Rudi's notion of work was to become aware of that vital creative energy flowing within us -- the essence of us and all life. It is possible to maintain a continuous and unbroken awareness of this creative energy without falling asleep, and without becoming immersed in tensions, simply by staying connected inside to the core of our own being. Rudi's notion of work was based on the concept of surrender -- surrender to this creative flow. Another way of putting it is surrendering our lives into the hands of God. This is the basis upon which we attain awareness.

Life around Rudi was an endless marvel and an endless tribute to the vastness, the vitality and the supreme appropriateness that emerged from within a great being who was totally surrendered to his Self. Rudi lived in this state of surrender. He was not simply talking about what he hoped life might become; he had the genuine knowledge from within him of this creative energy. He did the simple things at the appropriate times to really allow and support the manifestation of his life as it took place. Every act was an act of pure consciousness.

Rudi did not strain and struggle inside during periods of pressure. He didn't make statements he felt he had to live up to. The pressure he felt was the same pressure that a mother feels in giving birth. There are a lot of internal stresses and strains that culminate in the emergence of a new event. It is not something that a person has to live up to, but something that is born organically within due to the union of the individual self and the Divine Force. It is that union that brings about what Rudi sometimes called a rebirth. It manifests as a completely different level of insight and capacity to reach, serve and uplift human beings around you as you sustain and maintain yourself in that supreme state.

For Rudi there was no tension or confusion -- only the daily performance of one's duty. The fruits of our labor on all levels manifest and accumulate. In distributing this attainment generously and freely among those who are attracted to it out of their own need and capacity for appreciation, the beauty and richness of that spiritual event is enhanced. Rudi was a person who had transcended much difficulty; he had grown up through many unusual circumstances and experiences to become established in the purity of the Supreme Being. In spite of enormous effort, struggle, and dedication, he was in no way stingy, obtuse or peculiar. He was a great tribute -- a tremendously important example to us.

“For every person who came to him with a sincere inner wish, Rudi manifested a very intensely powerful, intimate, transcendental and mysterious contact.”

As Americans we don't have a two thousand year old unbroken spiritual tradition to help us understand our place and the place of spirituality in society. We are an amalgamation of different nationalities and cultures, and the complexity that we discover within ourselves is often overwhelming to deal with. We don't have any guidelines to follow. It is nice to look to Indian culture to see its ideas, but no one can turn into that. The only thing a person can turn into is who they really are. Changing names or clothes won't do it. Changing cultural affiliations or jobs doesn't help. Changing marital partners isn't the answer. We must simply be our Self. Rudi was a shining example of the extraordinary potential that exists in every human being. This potential emerges in those who are devoted simply, deeply and with great faith to the vision of the inner Self and the unbroken experience of God.

In the last then years -- since the days of Rudi -- many things have changed. This is the way it should be; this is wonderful. Rudi was continuously Rudi -- completely alive and ever-changing. Today people talk about Rudi's work as if it were something defined and static. They talk about what happened around Rudi as if it were something that was set in stone. There is no such thing. Everything around Rudi was in continuous dynamic motion. In a way, the circumstances that Rudi came in contact with were dramatically accelerated because of the stillness he was established in.

The power around him was immense. It caused an acceleration that allowed the true nature of us as human beings and of events to become revealed. Without that acceleration, we would muddle along and wade through our own inner mud for years and years before having any real insight. Rudi's presence shattered and dissolved our old understanding of ourselves. It challenged our behavior, perspective, and direction, and made us look again at who we were and what was important to us. This did not happen in a violent way (although sometimes it was very dramatic). The one thing everyone will testify to is the experience of joy that surrounded everything Rudi touched, everything he did, and all of the people who were with him.

These stories about Rudi really concern the physical guru. The way in which they are told is a reflection of the attitude a person should have toward a guru. There is no more powerful, significant, important or enduring force in our lives than the presence of the guru. Once touched, we can never forget -- as much as we might allow other things to come between us and that experience. Therefore, we should learn to have profound respect and appreciation for this presence in our lives.

Rudi manifested a great concern for all of the individuals looking for this vision. He was not interested in contact with large numbers of people, but rather he was interested in the quality of each contact. For every person who came to him with a sincere inner wish, Rudi manifested a very intensely powerful, intimate, transcendental and mysterious contact. And people who came to him couldn't come with their toes crossed. If they weren't in a state of surrender when they came into his presence, they were definitely in a state of surrender when they went out. It was the only possible way to survive.

Rudi was a very demanding person and almost magical in his capacity to transcend any line of discussion. People came into Rudi's presence with a whole line that they would begin to unravel, and in one second - whack! -- finished. Yet there were times when I saw him hold people who were so tense that others would not go near them physically. Rudi would hold them until everything in them melted and the tension dissolved. It was like opening a can and taking out something beautiful. These people were unable to reach into themselves. The magic and the love -- the very deep and powerful transforming force that permeated Rudi's presence -- was something that I have not seen since. It was a very great and mysterious gift.

From within ourselves we can remember Rudi and be grateful for a remarkable presence that he brought into our lives. He brought us a deep and rare access to spiritual understanding. Rudi's grace saved my life. His grace has been the continuing support of our endeavor.  Rudi's grace manifests in everything we do and all things we will do.

For some reason, Rudi was much more introspective during this time of year. He was much quieter. It was a time for him to plan new things and to bring out his experiences of the previous year in a new way. It was an immensely creative time in the weaving of this extraordinary tapestry of the Rudrananda Ashram and the unfolding of the teaching. It was always especially beautiful. A new piece of the puzzle was put down in those times and sustained our enthusiasm and excitement for a long time.

So this year, 1983, is an especially appropriate time for celebration, and I hope that you will be excited and enthusiastic. Think about Rudi and remember the big-heartedness, the vast, loving spirit that he manifested. Remember the way he gave of himself to enrich our lives. He was interested in the miracle and magic of spirit -- the magic of the Divine Force to play out this extraordinary unfolding of life.  He was a very great soul -- a person whose attention was not outside in the world but inside. Rudi thought that loving God was the only reality.

Even today a person who remembers Rudi with love will definitely be remembered by Rudi and his grace. His presence is very powerful -- especially here. He was a person whose love was extraordinary. The people who knew him can tell you that. He was brilliant and beautiful and totally giving.

We dedicate this issue of RUDRA to Rudi with great love and gratitude. In it we celebrate Rudi's presence in our lives. We remember that, in some way, our contact with him has resulted in our lives being inexorably changed and totally improved. We remember with love, appreciation and  gratitude the remarkable love that has touched us due to his grace. We remember the wonderful wisdom and strength that his coming into this world has brought to our lives.

Michelle Valentino