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Book Review of "At the Eleventh Hour: The Biography of Swami Rama" by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

Review by Andrea Pflaumer

At the Eleventh HourAt the Eleventh Hour tells the story of one of the most engaging and complex spiritual personalities of our lifetime. Written by his disciple and successor, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D., the book reveals a man who lived a life in full, at turns an artist, renunciate, householder, businessman, teacher, administrator and guru.

Born Brij Kishor Kumar, the beautiful child of elderly and deeply spiritual parents, he was orphaned before the age of five, becoming the ward of his extended family. The dreams of his youth were filled with visions of compelling and sometimes fearsome Himalayan sadhus. His quirky personality repelled local villagers, but attracted saints who heard about this unusual child. Eventually, a Himalayan Tantrik Shaivite master, Bengali Baba, the man who had predicted his unexpected birth, assumed the role of caregiver, teacher and parental figure. For the rest of Kishor's life, he considered the guru his father and in a remarkable encounter with the Divine Mother, came to know her as his true mother.

As a young student, Kishor exhibited extraordinary musical talent, teaching himself to compose and play tabla, sitar, harmonium and vina. From his guru and other great saints he learned some of the most esoteric spiritual practices. These included the ability to remove his life force from his body, projecting it into a pool of mercury and then retrieving it back. His description of the process of transforming energy provides perhaps the most cogent description ever written about how yagyas work. But his master prepared him for a life that embraced more than just the sacred.

Swami Rama, as he became known, was as comfortable in a western two-piece suit as he was in his crimson robe. He was as dynamic on the tennis court as he was holding forth on the topic of spiritual practice to his disciples at the Himalayan Institute, the ashram he founded in Homewood, Pennsylvania. He willingly subjected his supernormal abilities to scientific scrutiny at the Menninger clinic in the US, earning him a lifetime devotee among the doctors who conducted the studies. He consorted with some of the most revered intellectuals and leaders of his time including Rabindanath Tagore and Ghandi. For a number of years he was married and had children. And, based on his spiritual advancement and Vedic knowledge, he was enlisted as Shankaracharya for a brief period of time until his distaste for politics and social strata drove him away from that position.

He taught a gospel of inclusion, encouraging his students to appreciate the validity in all paths to God. In his profound concern for the health and well-being of his people he established a hospital in India that incorporated western as well as Ayurvedic practices. To his disciples, he emphasized vigorous, healthful living, a strong work ethic and regular meditation. In those times, he assumed the role of taskmaster he reserved his most passionate rebuke for Indians living in the US who had forsaken their traditional spiritual practices. But his constant message to seekers was simply to awaken to the ultimate reality of life and to do it now. In this deeply engaging book, Swami Rama reminds us that, if our eyes are open, for all of us it is the 11th Hour.

Review (c) copyright 2010 Michael Laughrin.

From the April/May 2010 issue of Michael Laughrin's North American Jyotish Newsletter. Click to subscribe to this free Jyotish newsletter.

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