My Teachers: Swami Pranananda

After leaving the ashram my spiritual life remained rooted in Kundalini Yoga, my academic life focused on India and Tibet, and my social life expanded out into the community. I reconnected with old friends and made new friends. But deep down inside I yearned for the emotional connections I had found in the intensity of ashram life. Put simply, I felt lonely on my own, and began to seek a partner. But finding someone who could share all the facets of my life - and particularly my spiritual life - was a challenge.  In time I settled in with a woman friend from pre-ashram days. Holly was a local girl with a deep longing for a spiritual life. It was a place where we connected and what had begun as friendship grew into love, and in time we married. It seemed a natural progression when we lived it, but in retrospect I am not at all sure what really brought us together or kept us together. We were both pretty far out at the extreme end of the eccentricity scale, so perhaps what kept us together was merely mutual empathy and a desire to avoid isolation rather than actual love. Or perhaps it was karma.

Though I had moved out of the ashram, I continued to study with Rudi when he came to town. A little over half a year into my new life I received shocking news. Rudi had died in a small plane crash, commuting between his townhouse in Manhattan and his ashram in upstate New York. Apparently the pilot, who was a student of Rudi's, had gotten lost and crashed the plane while trying to determine his location. Of the four yogis in the plane, only Rudi died. Apparently he was dictating a journal entry at the time of the crash and his last words were "... a deeper sense of surrender ..." 

It took some time to recover from my shock and grief, and to begin to process what had happened. I'd had a guru, and now I didn't.  Now what?  I continued to practice what Rudi had taught for several years before an answer presented itself.

One of Holly's friends was a Hatha Yoga teacher, who introduced Holly and me to her own teacher, Swami Pranananda.  He was a monk in the Ramakrishna tradition of Vedanta and in time, as I attended his lectures, I began to find ever deepening connections between the Kundalini Yoga I was practicing and the monistic philosophy of Vedanta. Even as an undergraduate at UCLA I'd been inspired by the Upanishads, and in this swami I found a man who could open layer upon layer of their meanings. He once spent an entire hour explaining the significance of the first word in one of the Upanishads.  I was enraptured the whole time.

While I connected with the swami on an intellectual level, Holly made an emotional connection with him and we saw an opportunity for a marriage enriched by a shared spiritual practice. Moreover, I was craving a guru who would help me develop spiritually. With all this in mind, we began to attend not just his lectures, but his retreats, first in Bloomington and then around the Northeastern USA, finally establishing a formal discipleship with him.
Swami Pranananda of the Ramakrishna Order

Swami Pranananda's instruction in meditation was in the tradition of Ramakrishna himself. Though outwardly a priest in a Kali temple on the outskirts of Calcutta, in fact Ramakrishna was a remarkable adept at many forms of meditation, but he recommended Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of Devotion, as the best practice for the people of this age.  As he said, love comes naturally to us, and if we can turn this natural sentiment toward God, the outcome will be rich and satisfying. Swami Pranananda taught specific techniques for this Yoga of Devotion, and in time I committed myself to it in combination with my Kundalini Yoga. There was no conflict there, as Ramakrishna himself had practiced in the tantric tradition of Kundalini Yoga.
Ramakrishna

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