In the late 1960s, an American teen did what so many of us only fantasized about: he traveled to India in search of a guru who could show him the path to spiritual enlightenment. Outwardly he was a steady, traditional boy, an athlete and solid student. His public persona gave no hint of what was happening on the inside:
“I found it increasingly difficult to live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois…. My mind was tender then, and I began to glimpse the chaos beneath the surface, beneath all the niceties and order.”
And so, with a tender mind and in the manner of a true seeker, the young man follows the wind – or at least, the stream of students and stories about places and people he finds intriguing. Finally his journey leads him to Hari Puri Baba, a sadhu or wandering monk, who speaks English and tells our young traveler, “I have been waiting for you, I knew you would come today.”
Rampuri, as the seeker is soon renamed, has traveled for a long time and over a great distance, but his encounter with Hari Puri Baba is only the first step in a difficult and often surreal journey through the mystical traditions of the Naga Babas, an order of naked yogis. He accepts the strangeness of his situation with equanimity and a charming certainty that the path he is on will lead him to a worthwhile destination. In time, he also becomes the first foreigner to be initiated into Juna Akhara, the largest faction of Naga Babas; this in itself speaks volumes about the young man’s desire to know what the world is really about.
Few of us would have the stamina or the faith to follow a guru who has renounced everything including clothing and who speaks the language of the birds. Rampuri’s openness to possibilities and willingness to be taught allow him to experience mysterious and magical events for himself. In his captivating autobiography, he draws back the veil and lets less dedicated readers peek into aspects of Indian and Hindu culture that few outsiders have seen.
Stories of Hanuman and Shiva are intertwined with Rampuri’s spiritual journey. Often the babas appear to be innocuously crazy, wise beyond measure, or both. Rampuri flows with all these things and personalities and in time learns to read “… the Book of the World” by recognizing the shapes, marks, and connections that are obvious to those who really see.
Autobiography of a Sadhu reads so much like a colorful fairy tale that readers may wonder how much, if any of it, is real. “Of course it all happened,” writes Rampuri. “The difference between fiction and non-fiction has nothing to do with truth….” For those who prefer their memoirs linear and verifiable, Rampuri’s book will ignite a bonfire of frustration. Lovers of imagery and the sounds of words will be mesmerized by Autobiography of a Sadhu. Perhaps they will even share in the experience of truth – whatever it is.