Rudi, the Maverick Yogi

Written by Bruce Joel Rubin

Albert Rudolph, affectionately known as Rudi, was a spiritual original, a maverick yogi whose spiritual teachings transformed the lives of thousands of emerging spiritual seekers in the tumultuous 1960s. During that decade a sense of spiritual rebirth occurred in the West with very few people available to give it shape or guidance. Rudi, a teacher of Kundalini yoga in New York City, suddenly found himself inundated with students seeking some understanding of the ferocious spiritual awakening occurring within them and around them.

It was a time of remarkable societal upheaval and personal change, and Rudi acted as a catalytic force, directing this erupting energy into powerful channels of growth and spiritual development.

Rudi’s teaching was an eyes-open meditation involving an energy transmission from teacher to student. The experience was immediate and powerful. It could fill a student with an overwhelming sense of presence, of well being, of joy. It could also be like a jolt of cosmic energy, sometimes sending people flying off their chairs or falling backwards to the ground. It was not for the faint of heart. One sitting with Rudi and you knew that your life had been touched in a remarkable way, that something extraordinary had transpired. You sensed that he had ignited a spiritual unfolding within you that would expand and define your life from that moment on.

Rudi did not believe in leaving the world to have a spiritual life. In fact, he believed that life in the world was your spiritual life. He insisted that his students live and function fully in the world, using all of its trials and tribulations as grist for the spiritual mill. It was only by engaging life, by absorbing its tensions as well as its pleasures, by embracing its daily demands and struggles, that one became free. Sitting with Rudi provided an additional energy to make this engagement possible. It also opened you to your own spiritual wellspring so that you could begin to function autonomously. In the end, Rudi taught that not he, but Life, was the teacher.

Rudi was born at the beginning of the Depression and raised in Brooklyn, NY, along with his two older brothers David and Arthur. Abandoned by their father when they were very young, their mother Rae worked in burlesque to help support her family. Rudi and his brothers had to work to make ends meet. At 18 Rudi enlisted in the Army. After being discharged, he attended night school, got his high school diploma, and then went to North Carolina State College. Soon after returning to New York, he opened an Oriental Art shop in a small closet of a store on 7th Avenue next to the famous jazz club, the Village Vanguard. Within several years his shop became one of the major Asian antique stores in America. Soon he moved to larger quarters on 4th Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets and grew into a wealthy businessman and landowner as well as meditation teacher.

Rudi was aware of his spiritual potential as a young boy and spoke of experiences that guided him into this spiritual path. His earliest teachers, he said, were Tibetan Buddhists who appeared to him in visions. In his early 20’s, he studied Gurdjieff work and Subud. Most of his studies however were spent with Hindu masters, Sri Shankarcharya of Puri, Bhagwan Nityananda, and Swami Muktananda, who, in 1966, recognized Rudi as a swami, and gave him the name Rudrananda.

RUDI, the Teachings of Swami Rudrananda is the movie about Rudi preparing to welcome Swami Muktananda as his guest on his first trip to America. Little did the filmmakers know that this would be the only footage ever taken of Rudi before his death in a small plane crash in 1973. This remarkable film is a miraculous document. It not only captures an extraordinary time in American culture, but it records and preserves the core teachings of a spiritual original. This is Rudi in all his glory. Not only does it document his teaching, it is the living embodiment of them. To watch this film is to be immersed in the very essence of the man and to experience first hand the extraordinary nourishment that radiated and continues to radiate from his being. This is not a movie about a spiritual teacher, it is the teaching itself.