Book Review: The Autobiography of a Western Yogi: Review of "It's Here Now (Are You?)" by Bhagavan Das (Kermit Michael Riggs)
Review by Paul Rottenberg
The controversial author of this autobiography about his 1964 search in India for a spiritual teacher was actually born in Laguna Beach, California in 1945, which is part of the reason for the controversy. Called a yogi by some but a mere spiritual tourist by others, the writer of this little book is a good example of a seeker with a thirst for an understanding of reality. This obsession drove many Americans and Europeans to visit India throughout the 60s. Seekers included the Beatles, Dr. Richard Alpert, and Kermit Riggs, an 18-year-old kid from the U.S. Riggs found himself with little money and no understanding of the ancient and confusing Indian culture, stuck in Amritsar, North-Western India, home of the Golden Temple (the Harmandir Sahib).
Riggs (who is called Bhagavan Das) says that he "stepped into the masses" of people in the street, "having no idea of where I was going," and this sentence is a good description of his spiritual confusion or thirst, since he then finds himself pushed along to the Golden Temple. His first thought is, "How could one of the poorest countries in the world afford a temple of solid gold?" This shows the naivete, or ignorance, of a Westerner in India for the first time, who thinks that the "irony" of this temple doesn't "seem to bother these people" in the street, and that "all their energy was directed toward the temple, while people were dying in the streets. This made no sense to me."
The power of the devotion of the people overwhelms him, though, which is a kind of answer to his question. "I had never seen anything like it. The all-pervading devotion was like a golden mist of love we were breathing in together. I felt as though I was one of them and that we were all one great heart flowing through the street." Perhaps only a true seeker could feel this "great heart," though it takes time for him to find his own personal faith -- which some may find to be a confusing mix of many of the traditions he encounters. He says that, "It would be some time before I would grasp that there is only one temple in the world. It's an internal temple, and we each go there in our own way."
This idea is the central point of this book, and despite all the wandering and confusion which follow this point, the reader holds on and somehow comes out at the end with a deeper understanding of our age and its great hunger for any knowledge that can make sense of all the mess.
After a long period of wandering India and being initiated into many great spiritual traditions, Bhagavan Das (as he's now called) moves back to California in 1972. Here is where some readers may find they have questions about this time of sex and drugs, and his meeting Allen Ginsberg and Alan Watts. He eventually becomes a salesman to support himself, and takes "all my Shakti (spiritual energy) and all the shamanism I'd been practicing, and putting it into cars, I became the top salesman" at the auto sales where he works in Hawaii. This may not sound very spiritual, but as a Westerner who seeks for Truth in the East and then comes back home, perhaps Bhagavan Das does have something to say to us in his simple, sincere way. He introduces Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) to Neem Karoli Baba. Alpert then features Bhagavan Das in his famous book "Be Here Now," which then interests many readers in a spiritual path beyond the ones of the West.
"It's Here Now (Are You?)" is a genuine record of the 1960s' search for Truth, which really continues now. The story has value beyond the individual life of its author, and it does not matter how checkered the path was. Just that he has a path, shown in his book, and that it's certainly real. Perhaps that's enough.
(c) copyright 2016 Michael Laughrin
From the June/July 2016 issue of Michael Laughrin's North American Jyotish Newsletter. Click to subscribe to this free Jyotish newsletter.
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