Pilgrim of Love by Levitt

Atma Jo Ann Levitt, ed. Pilgrim of Love: The Life and Teachings of Swami Kripalu. Rhinebeck, N.Y.: Monkfish Book Publishing Co., 2004. Paperback, xxvi + 310 pages.

Swami Kripalu (1913–1981), addressed by his followers as Bapuji (“Father”), was one of the great lights of twentieth-century Kundalinī-Yoga (of the Pāshupata tradition). He visited the United States from 1977 to 1981 and was the inspiration behind the creation of the very successful Kripalu Center in Pennsylvania. The Center was launched in 1966 by Amrit Desai, a disciple of Swami Kripalu, and today attracts well over 10,000 guests every year. The original yogic teachings have in the meantime receded into the background, though their spirit still informs the Center’s work. Nevertheless, it is good to see the present volume made available to the general public to remind us of this stalwart spiritual master and his teachings.

The volume begins with an autobiographical account in which Swami Kripalu shares some of the highlights of his life both prior to taking renunciation and subsequently. He portrays his early life in idyllic terms: One of eight children, he was surrounded by harmony and love, with a penchant for meditation and ceremonies and a deep love for and devotion to the Divine. He also was a keen student of Yoga, literature, and music, and he started to write articles at the age of thirteen. As he grew older, he started to rebel against some of his Brahmin customs, and at the age of nineteen he even seriously contemplated suicide because he felt his life had become pointless. It was at that critical juncture that a perfect stranger approached him and told him in a calm and reassuring voice to dispel his suicidal thoughts. This was Swami Kripalu’s first meeting with his guru, who had been telling his other students for the past four months that at a certain day, a new student would arrive who was destined to become his main disciple.

After spending nearly two years in his guru’s ashram, one day his teacher took him on a pilgrimage. The saint, who had always been seated in meditation for days, walked 30 miles on the first day, another 30 the next day, and then the young monk’s conceit collapsed and he begged to rest his limbs. After gently reprimanding him, his guru then lovingly massaged his disciple’s aching limbs. The saint even went to a nearby village to beg food for himself and his exhausted pupil. That day they shared a meal on the same plate—a final challenge to Swami Kripalu’s Brahmin partiality. When Swami Kripalu awoke the next morning after a sound sleep, his guru had disappeared, and he never saw or heard from him again—at least not in the same form. The essence of the teaching had been transmitted. In Swami Kripalu’s words, “ Guruji fed me with a mother’s love.”

The love that had been lavished on Swami Kripalu by his guru and, earlier, by his family and friends shaped both his character and his spiritual life. Love became the keynote of his teachings. After the initial training with his guru came many years of rigorous self-discipline until, in 1977, the love for his own disciples drew him irresistibly to the West.

Swami Kripalu’s talks included in the second part of this volume give one the impression of a spiritual teacher who was profoundly dedicated to his own self-transformation and who relished solitude but who, out of compassion and love, made himself freely available to the growing community of disciples. As Dr. Stuart Sovatsky, one of his pupils, observed: “. . . he was so easy to love because he himself had so much love for others.”

Swami Kripalu’s life story is a clear demonstration that spiritual heroism is still very much alive in our present dark age and that not every guru is a narcissist. This nicely produced volume, which includes a number of photographs, amounts to a message of encouragement for those who thirst for authentic spiritual instruction.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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