restricted access 2. Building Tantric Infrastructure in America: Rudi’s Western Kashmir Shaivism
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41 2 Building Tantric Infrastructure in America Rudi’s Western Kashmir Shaivism Helen Crovetto You must understand that what I say is not, in any sense, intellectual. I don’t pass on ideas. I try to give you the raw flesh of my own experience. It may be slightly messy at times, but the blood is still warm. —Swami Rudrananda, Rudi: 14 Years with My Teacher Swami Rudrananda, also known simply as Rudi, was born in New York City in 1928 as Albert Rudolph. He was the eldest son of a Great Depression–era family who became one of the first American gurus to teach Hindu‑inspired Tantric spirituality in the West. As David Gordon White’s classical definition states: Tantra is the Asian body of beliefs and practices that works from the principle that the universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the godhead that creates and maintains that universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways.1 42 / HELEN CROVETTO Rudi referred to the type of Tantra that he taught as Kundalini Yoga. This spiritual system based on medieval Tantric practices is called “Kashmir Shaivism,” a philosophical tradition that developed in the area of Kashmir between the eighth and twelfth centuries ce. Rudi reinter‑ preted Kashmir Shaivism for a twentieth‑century American audience. He taught the construction of a basic internal spiritual structure designed to transfigure its practitioners and effect union with the ultimate nature of reality, nondual consciousness. At the time of his death in a plane crash in 1973, Rudi had thousands of students and had engendered a group of teachers with eclectic approaches to spiritual development. Under Rudi’s guidance, the branch of Tantrism known as Kashmir Shaivism underwent a metamorphosis, especially in its social approach, to adjust to the inclinations of people in America. The relationship between guru and disciple was made more informal and esoteric teach‑ ings were made accessible to the public, with most Sanskrit terminology having been eliminated from his teachings. Furthermore, he instituted what he considered a more egalitarian and democratic system for the distribution of spiritual knowledge. Some aspects of Rudi’s lineage, such as manner of dress and ashram decoration, exhibit traditional South Asian cultural elements. Other aspects are esoteric and mystical in char‑ acter. The latter includes ritual activity called shaktipat, the transfer of spiritual energy from guru to student. In Rudi’s system, the construction of spiritual infrastructure is thought to be the result of concrete exercises that produce tangible results. Rudi and his lineage believe that success in the spiritual realm is measured by an individual’s ability to “form soul” and to simultaneously access “other dimensions of energy” as a result of the accretion of consciousness through performing specific exercises.2 After describing Rudi and the spiritual influences that contributed to his system of practice, I discuss how he presented those practices in a way that proved to be very attractive for Americans. Then I examine the aspects of Kashmir Shaivism that Rudi incorporated into his Kundalini Yoga. I end with a consideration of the practices and teachings unique to Rudi and show how those who followed him carry these forward. Rudi’s Spiritual Eclecticism Rudi was a successful oriental art dealer who had regular interactions with the public and maintained close relationships with blood relatives. Narratives of his early life describe his family as very poor. Rudi claims to have engaged in spiritual practices from age six, when he says that the BUILDING TANTRIC INFRASTRUCTURE IN AMERICA / 43 Heads of the Red and Yellow Hat sects of Tibetan Buddhism visited him in a visionary experience and placed two large knowledge‑jars within his abdomen.3 His spiritual search brought him in contact with a Gurdjieff study group in New York. George I. Gurdjieff (c. 1866–1949) was a Rus‑ sian who founded an esoteric spiritual system called the “Fourth Way.” He believed that human beings go through life as if asleep and that individuals should perform spiritual practices to develop themselves and become more conscious. The term “Fourth Way” was coined by Gurdjieff’s students and refers to their belief that Gurdjieff combined techniques from three spiritual schools that emphasized the body, the emotions, and the mind to produce a fourth distinct approach. Rudi studied with the New York group for five years, and Gurdjieff’s phi‑ losophy had a lasting impact on Rudi’s...


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Subject Headings

  • Hinduism -- United States.
  • Gurus -- United States.
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