Autobiography of a Sadhu: A Journey into Mystic India
A Quest for buried treasure – a review
by Tejaswini Rachel Ann Shankara
When you were a young child, did you dream of finding buried treasure?
As a young boy in California, he began the search for buried treasure, a search that eventually led him to seek the Truth of existence. In Autobiography of a Sadhu, a Journey into Mystic India, he gives an intimate account of his spiritual journey.
The son of a surgeon, Rampuri became disillusioned with the affluent world around him. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War made him question the glitter of Beverly Hills. The more he questioned reality, the more he realized that his real self was buried in a mound of temporary identities.
In 1969 the nineteen-year-old Rampuri journeyed to India. After journeying throughout many parts of the country he found himself in Rajasthan, where he met an English-speaking guru. In spite of being placed in the position of having to make a life-changing decision in an extremely short amount of time, Rampuri found that he could agree to make the commitment to become a chela, a disciple, of Hari Puri Baba.
His head was soon shaved and he was given the name Rampuri, which reflected the Puri lineage of babas of Juna Akhara, the ancient order of the Renunciates of the Ten Names. As his main guru, Hari Puri Baba instructed Rampuri in the Tradition of Knowledge—a tradition that has been passed down from guru to disciple for thousands of years.
Rampuri’s book offers readers wonderful glimpses into the mystical ocean of Indian stories. He describes the beautifully rich history of the Kumbh Mela, the great religious fair that is held every twelve years in four sacred places in India. Many millions of people attend each Kumbh Mela, rendering it the largest religious event in the world.
Of his first Kumbh Mela, at Allahabad-Prayag, Rampuri writes, “The numbers and colors made me dizzy, the dust was the stuff of legends … A World Series, World Cup match, or Mardi Gras pales in comparison.”
At the Kumbh Mela, Rampuri entered another world—a world in which the line between mythology and reality became blurred, at best. There, a thousand sacred fires burned in front of the sadhu’s tents. Amidst garlands of marigolds, naked yogis with matted dreadlocks, chillams of ganja, and continuous chai, Rampuri struggled to keep his mind focused as the day of his initiation drew near.
Rampuri’s studies included mantras, language, diet, and reading the stars. He often wondered if he was doing things correctly. “I worried about how my ashes looked, whether my sindhur tikka was exactly on my third eye, and if my dhoti hung properly.” Yet he was able to also see the humor in the experiences he was having. When describing a bhandara (feast) at the Kumbh Mela he asks the reader “Have you ever had a couple of thousand naked men over for lunch in a tent encampment in a riverbed, served them individually, and then paid them for attending?” (Short Cut to Nirvana, a film about the 2001 Kumbh Mela by Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day, may help those of us who answer “no” to this question to at least get a taste of this tremendous gathering.)
As Rampuri gradually learned to view the world in a new way, he began to see resemblances rather than differences. Particularly fascinating for me was Rampuri’s account of the provocative questions that ran through his mind as he dropped his attachment to the senses of the body during the night of his initiation at the Kumbh Mela.
If you are a seeker on the yoga path, Baba is likely to be a thrilling experience for you. For those who are not seekers of Vedic truths, Baba will still be a fun and enlightening read.