My Rudi Story

by Dan Cook


I was going to school at North Texas State University up in Denton, Texas, and I was living with a group of people in a communal situation. There were about twelve of us living together, and we had a health food restaurant called the Kozmic Kitchen downstairs in our building.

When I was 19 I started practicing TM, transcendental meditation. Some of the Kozmic Kitchen crew were dropping acid and reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead and other other books about mysticism. Sometime in the fall of 1970, we heard about a Swami who was going to be coming to Dallas and speaking at Kumar’s Yoga Center, so we went to Dallas to hear him. When we arrived, they wouldn’t let us in because it was for a very select group of people, mostly the wealthy Dallasites, the Carr Collins group and the James Hall crowd (James Hall was the foremost Jungian psychologist in the United States at the time). Well, I and a friend decided that wouldn’t do, and we snuck in a door that was unlocked and sat in the back. It was a small group, 25 or 30 people, and Swami Muktananda was giving a talk. Professor Jain was interpreting the discourse that Swami Muktananda was giving. Instead of paying attention to Swami Muktananda, I was mesmerized by this short fat bald Jewish guy sitting on the floor. 

After the talk, everybody ran up to Muktananda and gathered around him; they were really enamored by him. I, on the other hand, was captivated by this little Jewish man, and I walked up to him and introduced myself. The first question I ever asked Rudi was “What’s the difference between Transcendental Meditation and kundalini yoga?” And he said, “The difference is like a pair of roller skates and a rocket ship. Why are you asking?”

That got my attention. So I asked him what he was doing later on. He asked me why, and I told him there was a group of us in Denton, Texas, that would really like to hear more about what he was talking about.  He was very gracious and said that he would come . So he came up to Denton a few days later and talked with us, and he kind of lit a fire under a bunch of us. All of a sudden the Kozmic Kitchen hippie group was meditating. It wasn’t long after that initial meeting that the Kozmic Kitchen group became the first Siddha Yoga Ashram in the US. (see photo)  There’s Rudi, Professor Jain, Muktananda with an orange cowboy hat on, and Stuart Perrin, in the last row on the right. I’m the bearded guy in the center of the last row.

While Rudi was still in Dallas, I went back to see him at the Hilton Hotel on Central Expressway with Muktananda. I remember spending time with him in Swami Muktananda’s hotel room, and that’s where these two photos on the right were taken. 

We all went back to Denton afterwards. The Kozmic Kitchen was in old house right off campus, an old frat house that we took over. We transformed the attic into a meditation room, like almost every other beginning ashram Rudi had back then. We covered all the upstairs walls in orange fabric and started doing the breathing exercise that Rudi showed us when he came to visit us. 

I started saving money so that I could go to New York to visit Rudi every chance I could. One time in New York I was upstairs for dinner after class. I was always near Rudi when I was there. I walked over to the dinner table and I gave him a hug, and he said, “You know, Danny, I can love you more than your parents know how to love you, and that’s all you need in your life.” And that just rocked me through my bones. Every bone in my body shook, it just rang so true. 

All of my time with Rudi was magical. It was Rudi doing Rudi’s thing, and I was just so fortunate and blessed to have been part of it the way I was.  Whenever I would go to New York, after class, we would be invited upstairs, and Rudi would continue teaching there.  For the first six months that I knew him, I couldn’t sit in front of Rudi. I always sat behind him and stared at the back of his head – being in front of him was too strong for me. When I got to New York, I could not even go into Rudi’s store without standing outside for 45 minutes and gathering myself and preparing myself to be in that environment because it was so rarefied and so powerful. Then all the intimidation would dissolve the minute I walked into the store.  Rudi could adjust to any kind of environment. My “preparation” had nothing to do with him; it had everything to do with me.

During a trip to New York, I was in Rudi’s store one day, and he said, “Danny, go over there and pick out a pair of tingshas.” I went into the back of the store and there was a pile of tingshas. Rudi never bought one of anything; it was always hundreds of something. I was going through all the bells, hitting them to hear the sound, and Rudi got so pissed off that when he heard one particular pair I happened to hit, a terrible set, he said, “Oh Danny, just give me those.” I didn’t want those bells because they sounded terrible, but I gave them to Rudi.  He took them and rubbed them on top of his head and handed them back to me, and they were perfectly in tune.

I went to Big Indian with Rudi a few times. We’d get into this old station wagon, a Pontiac or Chevy. Rudi would put on the Beatles or the Rolling Stones and crank up the music. Rudi often wanted to stop and get an ice cream cone. He was very fond of ice cream. One day we pulled up in front of an ice cream store in one of the smaller towns that he used to go to on his way to Big Indian. A pickup truck was parked to one side of us with a little kid in it. When the kid’s father went in to get ice cream, Rudi was sitting in the driver’s seat and the kid was next to him in the passenger seat in his father’s truck. Rudi looked over at the kid and started wiggling his ears – he had phenomenal control over his body – not only could he wiggle his ears, he could flap them. So Rudi was wiggling and flapping his ears and jiggling his boobs and making them bounce up and down and doing all this funny stuff, and the kid was rolling over laughing. He had probably never laughed so hard. The kid’s dad came out of the ice cream place and just got all over Rudi and yelled at him for talking to his kid and making him laugh.  Rudi got out of the car, and he was much shorter than the kid’s dad, who was over six feet. He got right up in the guy’s face and just backed him right down. Rudi basically told the guy that ifhe gave his child more of what the child needed that he wouldn’t need to be entertained by someone like Rudi.  It was amazing to watch Rudi change this kid’s life in the space of a few minutes, and probably his father’s life as well.

Another treat was going to restaurants in New York City with Rudi. One time we went to a Chinese restaurant that we had never been to before. Rudi wanted to try it out. A young waiter came in to take Rudi’s order, and before he finished taking Rudi’s order, he was sitting on Rudi’s lap with his arm around him.  

Rudi broke with Muktananda in 1971.  When he did, he got us all together at one time. He told us that we had to make an important decision. He said that he was moving on past Muktananda, and that he would understand if anyone wanted to stay with Muktananda, but that he was no longer going to associate himself with Muktananda.  Those that wanted could still work with him, everybody went with Rudi, because that’s who we really related to.

It was because of Rudi that I have had an art business for over 40 years. Right before I went to see Rudi for Christmas in 1970, I called him from the pay phone in the Kozmic Kitchen and asked him if he wanted to go into business with me. I had only known him a couple of months so that was a ballsy thing to do, but I was oblivious to that aspect of it. After I asked him if he would go into business with me, there was dead silence on the other end of the phone for what seemed like an eternity. Then Rudi said, “Okay, Danny. I’ll go into business with you.” 

A few weeks later a big truck that pulled up – Barry Kaplan was one of the drivers. The truck was full of art from India, Tibet, Japan, China and Indonesia. I had not a clue what it was. All of a sudden, I had to find a place to rent. I didn’t have any money; I was completely broke. But I saw this place for rent on Oak Lawn, and it was $400 a month. I talked the landlord into giving me the first month free, and no deposit. I put all the art in the store and waited to see what would happen. I was a little intimidated because I didn’t know anything about the art.  People would walk into the store and ask me, “How much is that tansu over there?” I didn’t know what a tansu was, so I would say, “Which one?” They’d go over and point, and I’d register in my mind, “That’s a tansu.” That’s how Rudi South started. Every morning before I would open for business, I did an visualization exercise that Rudi showed me to bring in customers. He also told me to mop the store very morning after I did my exercise.

The art Rudi gave me was all on consignment. Rudi never bothered me when business was bad and I couldn’t send money. It was only his mother, Rae, who was an issue. 

When Rudi died, I had the ashram with 15 or 20 people living with me. It was like the rug was pulled out from under me. I was a complete basket case. I asked myself, “What am I doing here with 20 people and trying to do something good for them when I didn’t know what I was doing for myself?” Rudi had been filling that space for me. I didn’t realize it fully until after Rudi was gone. 

I bought a ticket to India with Joan, my wife at the time, and Tom Harris, a good friend from the Kozmic Kitchen days, and his wife Madge. The four of us went to India for a couple of months, and I started buying art during that trip. That’s when I started applying myself to learn about what I was buying. I knew some of Rudi’s contacts, the Essajee boys, Fahkru and Saifu, in Bombay, as well as Ravi Chaula and Sharma in Delhi. They were all really fond of Rudi, and they took me in. After the first trip to India, I started going every time I had $450, which was the price of a roundtrip Braniff ticket from New York to Bombay. Then I started going to Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Borneo and Taiwan, and all over Southeast Asia. 

In those early years, when I first went to Indonesia, I went to an antique store and bought some art, including a martian (large jars made in China and exported throughout Southeast Asia). I bought a couple of them in the store, and a young man in his early 20’s came up to me and said, “Are you interested in martiban?” I said yes, and he said he had some at his house. Did I want to see them? We hopped into his car to go look at them, and I handed him my card that said Rudi South. He said, “Do you know Rudi?” I said “Yes, very well.” He said that he had been Rudi’s runner when Rudi would come to Indonesia, and he would take Rudi to all the antique stores and Rudi would give him a commission for the items that he bought. Then after working for Rudi for a couple of years, Rudi encouraged him to start his own business instead of working on commission—to save his money from commissions to buy things and sell them to people. He could get full price and make much more of a profit. We went to his house in the outskirts of Jakarta and I bought several pieces from him. I just picked up where Rudi left off. Over the course of a ten year relationship, I bought so much stuff from him that he was able to put his kids through good schools and he ended up buying a new house for his family. It was simply a continuation of what Rudi started.

A similar experience happened to me in Japan. I was buying art at an antique store in Tokyo from an older gentleman, when I wrote him a check and handed him my card. He started tearing up. He said, “You knew Rudi?” And I said yes. He opened up the top drawer of his desk and took out a letter from Rudi that you could tell was very special for him. It was as if he read it everyday, and it was all about telling him what his potential was and how he could really make something happen, that he shouldn’t just sell things on the side but open up his own store. He became very successful because of Rudi. 

Rudi inspired so many people to fulfill their potential, just as he did with me. It brought me to a state of total humility whenever I encountered the people whose lives Rudi changed in profound ways. Rudi’s impact was felt all over the world.

Every time I encountered Rudi, there was something completely new, completely fresh. The night before he died was very powerful. After class, he asked me to come up to dinner. After dinner he asked me to come upstairs into his bedroom so he could show me something. We went upstairs into his bedroom and he showed me an exercise, and he took me to places I never knew existed, places I couldn’t have imagined. We were sitting down on the carpet in his bedroom afterwards, and he poured me a cup of tea and said, “You know, Danny, I can’t wait until we have a cup of tea together. “ I immediately understood exactly what he meant.  What he meant was that he was looking forward to having a cup of tea with me not as a student and a teacher, but as friends. That moment was profound. 

I was supposed to go on the plane with him the next day, but that night he said, “I don’t want you to come with me tomorrow. I want you to go to Connecticut and see Joan’s parents.” That broke my heart, because I really wanted to go with him to initiate the new yoga school. So I hopped on the train with Joan in the morning and just had this sick feeling in my stomach the whole time. When we got to New Haven, Connecticut, I said to Joan, “I’m not going. Let’s turn around.” We got back on the train and went straight back to New York.  We didn’t even leave the train station.

 When we arrived back in Manhattan, we went to Rudi’s store. It was evening by this time, and Rae was there with a couple of other people.  The phone rang, and it was the Highway Patrol patrol telling Rae that there was a plane crash, that there was one deceased and three survivors. That’s how we learned that Rudi had died. 

Shortly after that, I took off and went to India. I went to see Professor Thomas, Rudi’s astrologer. Rudi had two astrologers. Professor Thomas was a Muslim man, just a wonderful character. Professor Thomas wanted to do my life reading, and he took down all this information. He wanted me to go to another astrologer for mathematical work, things he wasn’t familiar with. He sent me to see M.S. Chunakar. He gave me an address, and I got into a car and went to the other side of Bombay and walked into this old British Colonial building and walked through the swinging doors into a waiting area with a bench. Behind another set of swinging doors the astrologer would sit.  He couldn’t see me, and I could only see the top of his bald head. He didn’t know I was coming, and he just screamed out, “Whyyou want to be a yogi? Go home and have babies!” And I thought, “You’re absolutely right.” I said out loud: “ I’m outta here.” And there was this elderly swami sitting on a bench. He said, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m getting out of here.” He said, “Would you like to come and have a cup of tea with me?” And I responded, “No, thank you.” He said, “I don’t think you understand. I’m asking you to have a cup of tea with me as a friend, not as a guru and disciple, but as a friend. You need a friend right now.” And that was Swami Rambaba, who I spent 16 years with in India after Rudi died.

Swami Rambaba played a very important role in my life. I would go to India every six months if I could. He was a sadhu, so I never knew exactly where he was going to be. He was extremely old. He passed away at age 130. I know his age because I had to write a letter of sponsorship which included a copy of his passport for his visa when he came to stay with me in Dallas. When I went to India, I would find out where Ram was and go to the town where he was. He introduced me to all kinds of interesting people. His guru was Sai Baba of Shirdi. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge. He came from a royal family in the Punjab. He was a very interesting man. He knew Rudi and he knew Nityananda very well. 

Ram reminded me of Rudi in many ways. Rudi was sitting in his store one time, and a swami came into his store. Rudi had on his khaki pants and an orange t-shirt with a big mustard stain, which was not unusual. This Indian started ragging on Rudi, saying “How can you be a Swami? You don’t wear your lunghi. You eat meat. You haven’t renounced sex. What are you renouncing, anyway?” And Rudi said, “Tension. What are you renouncing?”

There’s a similar story about Ram.  Ram took sannyas when he was 68 years old. Once while walking on a pilgramage in Maharastra, he came upon an old man sitting on the side of the road, and the old man waved him over and asked him if he’d like a roti. Ram sat down with him, and the old man put a bunch of onions and garlic in with it. Sadhus will traditionally not eat onions and garlic. Ram asked the man how he could be a holy man and eat onions and garlic. The old man turned out to be Sai Baba of Shirdi, and his answer led Ram to become his disciple.  

I would go with Ram to Shirdi, and Ram would walk me through significant places and recount experiences that he had with Sai Baba, and I became very close to a number of priests at the Sai Baba temple over the years. For my sixtieth birthday, I went there with my wife Pat. It happened to be during Holi as well as one of the most auspicious days of Sai Baba of Shirdi. The priests took me in before Holi started and brought me up to Sai Baba’s statue, and took a single yellow rose off the crown on top of Sai Baba’s head, and gave it to me. Then I was given a squirt bottle with colored water in it. They had the statue of Sai Baba dressed up in a beautiful white silk lunghi and shawl. All the priests and I sprayed it with the colored water. They took Sai Baba’s chillum, which is a sacred relic to all of his devotees, and were going to take it in a procession to the mandir that he used to sleep in. As soon as we walked out of the hall, it was just Pat and I and the priests, and the people carrying the chillum on a palanquin. There must have been ten thousand devotees waiting for us to come out so they could honor the chillum. Pat and I were the only white people there. We were all completely covered with red and purple and green and powders and paints and colored water. It was a huge celebration.  It all came about because of Rudi.

Ram never wanted to be a teacher or a guru. He never allowed people to gather around him. He has been and still is one of my best friends. He came to Dallas one time to stay with me. When he arrived and I brought him home, we stayed up until two or three o’clock in the morning, I was hungry for answers and was just grilling him for answers to in-depth life questions. Ram was a tall man, about six foot one, with tremendous stature. He stood up, pulled me up to his face. and said, “Danny, I’m your friend. You will have only a very small handful of friends, less than you can count on one hand. But you will have thousands of acquaintances. There’s nothing greater that one human being can be to another human being than a friend.” He was the best example of a human being that I think to this day that I’ve ever encountered, and his company was one of Rudi’s greatest gifts to me. 

Michelle Valentino