North Texas Daily

Death to the myths: The truth about the Rudra Center for Enlightened Awareness

Death to the myths: The truth about the Rudra Center for Enlightened Awareness

Death to the myths: The truth about the Rudra Center for Enlightened Awareness
July 12
09:00 2018

Some locals might have seen the large pagoda sitting serenely on Locust Street in Denton. The top of its layered eaves can be seen peeking into the sky surrounded by trees. But, many have little knowledge about it, and even the people who dwell there constantly make new discoveries.

“To this day, there are so many things on the land that I don’t know about,” neuro-linguistic programming trainer Aaron Bowley, 28, said. “I ask Silver [the caregiver at the Ashram], ‘Has that statue always been there?’ And he says it’s always been there.”

This pagoda has a name — the Rudra Center for Enlightened Awareness.

Having been open for more than 40 years, the center has quite a history. While also having undergone its more-than-fair share of gossip and rumors, its spirituality has only lent itself as heat to the embers of strange myths and scary local folklore.

So, what is the Rudra Center for Enlightened Awareness?

A brief and accurate history

Founded in 1971, the Rudra Center has also been known as the Kundalini Yoga Ashram, Inc., purposed as an organization that provides impactful spiritual experiences for individuals seeking to find a higher meaning and purpose. It is and has always been a nonprofit spiritual organization.

Among many other practices, a certain type of meditation, Rudra meditation, is the main practice of the center.

“It’s the foundational practice here at the Ashram that we build everything else on.” tai chi and qigong instructor-in-training Ross DeOtte, 27, said. “It’s the knowledge that works and the practices that work. There’s no philosophy or dogmatic ancient text that we think is 100 percent correct — it’s all about practice and seeing results that are improving our lives and the lives of our relations.”

The center emerged out of the requests of a small group of spiritual seekers in Denton. They invited a man named Swami Rudrananda (Rudi) to visit Denton, after which he offered to set up a meditation group for them and established the Ashram in 1971. “Ashram” means a place to study spirituality.

In order to house this school, Rudi placed a down-payment on a small, two-story Victorian house on Locust Street and then left, leaving the rest to be paid for by the students.

However, after Rudi left for his home in Manhattan, New York, the students found themselves in dire need of a spiritual teacher in order to assist them in continuing the growth of the Ashram. Rudi therefore sent one of his leading disciples, Stuart Perrin, to fulfill this role.

“Rudi sent down Stuart to give the students discipline and structure, since it was in the ’70s and people practiced ‘spirituality’ by taking drugs,” artist Zack Mitchell, 27, said. “It needed to be a real practice instead of just a bunch of hippies doing yoga.”

Rudi would continue to visit the Ashram in Denton once or twice a year until his passing in a plane crash in 1973 upstate New York.

After Rudi’s passing, Stuart Perrin assumed head teacher at the Ashram until 1978 when he passed his role over to Robert Baker, more commonly known as Silver Ra, 70. Ra continues to extend his guidance and council at the Ashram today.

Ra had the pleasure of meeting Rudi before his passing.

“Rudi came down to visit the Ashram, and I recognized that he was my Spiritual teacher,” Ra said.

Before Ra’s attendance at the Ashram, he had led a drastically different life involving drug addiction and suicidal thoughts.

Now, after encountering Rudi and spending great amounts of time at the Ashram, Ra said he has fully experienced inner growth.

“I am a better person internally, which allows me to express a better person externally,” Ra said.

Today he is lovingly known by his students as a “caregiver.”

“The way that he cares for not only his students but every single person on this property that he happens to meet up with — his attendance to the human being is — I mean, I don’t even know of a word to describe it,” said Jenny Baker, 47-year-old yoga instructor and events coordinator at the Ruda Center. “Everything that you see here, he built: from the floors, to the windows. His care to life is exquisite.”

The Pagoda’s garden is full of plant life and has many statues resembling various Hindu gods. The establishment aims to create an environment of serenity within its walls. Josh Jamison

The mission of the Ashram

The Rudra Center aims to be a place of inspirational spirituality and a positive force of change. The instructors desire to promote peace, harmony, planetary health and well-being.

The Ashram also does not claim one single religion.

“I’d like to think of it as, whatever religion you are, if you’re going to come and study here, it’s only going to enhance your own practice,” Baker said.

DeOtte said the Asthram has bigger goals than to align itself with religion.

“It’s practice-oriented,” DeOtte said. “When you’re in the class and you’re stretching, they’re not telling you about God. They’re saying, ‘Move your foot to the left because that’s how you stretch better.’ It’s more about how to flush out your tensions, how to get clear and have a more open heart.”

The pagoda near Greenhouse Restaurant on Locust Street is home to a yoga institute and other elements of eastern Asian culture. For years, myths have surrounded this establishment and its practices. Josh Jamison

Unfounded myths of the Ashram

Numerous rumors have been sprinkled around and circle the Ashram. Spirituality, to many, is enshrouded in mysticism and may be difficult to understand.

Since the very beginning of the Ashram in the ’70s, rumors of cult activities and abuse circulated the Ashram. However, when asked about this, instructors and students of the center were shocked because the idea of that is so far-fetched to the peace and harmony they know and practice.

“I don’t think there is any actual abuse here,” Mitchell said, “I do think the atmosphere here is pretty confrontational as far as when you’re learning to confront fear — confront death. I think it’s pretty highly charged, and I think that’s where some of the negative stuff comes from.”

Some other instructors laughed, demonstrating how absurd these claims were to them.

“Well, as far as ‘abuse’ goes, I guess we can be pretty cranky here,” Mitchell said, adding that he was joking.

Another rumor from an anonymous commentator online claimed that he and his wife had been married at the Ashram by an ayahuasca shaman. According to him, their wrists had been slit and their blood joined.

To this, the instructors also laughed. To their knowledge, there has never been any wrist cutting at the Ashram.

Baker is an ordained reverend, and although she has never personally married anyone there at the center, she knows of people having been married there in the past. Marriage ceremonies do still occur — the most recent one being in April — but according to her, nothing like the rumor online.

“That’s not how I would personally marry someone,” Baker said. “That’s not how the couple got married.”

DeOtte provided more clarification as to what actually happens at the marriage ceremonies.

“What happens during the ceremony is that a blanket is wrapped around the couple’s shoulders, joining them,” DeOtte said. “No cutting, no. We do have good music, though.”

Ross DeOtte, Jenny Baker and Zack Mitchell (from left to right) shed light on some of the myths surrounding the pagoda. They debunk the myth of a history of abuse and claim that some of the learning atmosphere may seem confrontational as they teach students to face their fears. Josh Jamison

Normal life as it has always been

The people who reside and practice at the Ashram host activities, lessons and events often, inviting more people to experience harmony. They are actively looking for more students and greater community involvement.

Student Josh Barnes, 21, has attended a few classes and one of the Native American style sweat lodges at the Ashram.

“Their classes have definitely helped me in my journey toward enlightenment,” Barnes said. “Being at the Rudra Center did wonders for my heart. Feeling everyone pour out their energy into song, self-reflection and ceremony is such a beautiful experience.”

Featured Image: Tai chi instructor Ross DeOtte also teaches qigong at the pagoda. The yoga space on the property is also used for dance and other martial arts. Josh Jamison

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Claire Lin

Claire Lin

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