Thursday, June 19, 2008


I was right -- there was something unusual going on at Guru's house that night. Guru was going to attempt a mega-lift of some kind. As it turned out: 7,063 and three quarters pounds.

Almost immediately upon my arrival, I was swept into action. The apparent mission: to schlep every single 100 pound cast iron plate in Guru's house into his living room. Quite a task. By that time (January 1987), Guru had accumulated a lot of weights and he had weightlifting machines all over his house: in the basement, in the unattached garage area, and upstairs in his bedroom.

As I've made clear in a previous post, I was deeply ambivalent about Guru's foray into weightlifting. While I appreciated the gusto, the sheer audacity with which he threw himself into the endeavor, I thought the way in which his accomplishments were marketed outside the Center was a mistake.

That said, one had to marvel at the structure that took shape in Guru's living room that night. Just look at it (above). As one of my friends (who is still nominally in the Center) remarked to me recently, "it's like a piece of modern art." And the wide-angle lens used to capture the shot above doesn't do the apparatus full justice. That bar was long!

Now, before I go any further, let me dispel a few myths I've run across on the web about the ensuing lift. First, the weights were real -- not Styrofoam or anything else other than cast iron. And -- pardon my French -- they were fuckin' heavy. Second, the trellis-like structure running across the top of the plates had no nefarious purpose. It was there for one reason: to keep the bar straight. Finally, there was no lever involved. I think the idea that Guru used some kind of lever to raise the weight that night comes from the convenience with which web critics in all fields (religion, politics, you name it) tend to pull things out of their collective ass.

The apparatus that night was just a bar, hanging from a rack, with 70 one hundred pound plates, and the trellis keeping the whole thing erect. That's it. As for the ensuing lift itself, I'll simply tell you what I saw.

I don't remember exactly what time I arrived at Guru's house that night, perhaps around 8 p.m. or so. The weights as they appear above were in place sometime late that evening -- 11 p.m. or later.

There was then a very long time of meditative waiting, but I had a good seat -- as good as anyone there that night, I think. In fact -- in a move Forrest Gump would have been proud of -- I was one of the few faces visible in the photo (I'm off to the left, behind Sagar).

By looking through an open doorway in the wall behind Guru, I could see the spot where he would place his hand on the bar when he attempted the lift. From that angle, however, I could see nothing else.

If, however, I wanted to see the weights on the right side of the bar (as Guru faced it), then all I had to do was to lean to my right a little. If I did so, then I could see the end of the apparatus jutting into the living room.

As I recall, Guru spent a lot of time upstairs in his room before coming down to attempt the lift. Even once downstairs, Guru did a lot of pacing and staring at himself in the mirror -- psyching himself up in a way that would be familiar to anyone who had spent any time at all in the gym lifting weights.

By the time Guru approached the bar, it was past midnight. By that time in Guru's weightlifting career, I'd seen videos of a lot of Guru's lifts, but nothing prepared me for the blood-curdling kiai that exploded from Guru as the attempt was made. It was so loud that, in a flash, I wondered to myself: "What will the neighbors think?"

With my eyes riveted on Guru's hand, which was straining against the bar, I saw an upward movement.

To be sure, from my angle I could not see where the bar rested upon the rack nor whether there had been separation between the bar and the rack holding it.

But it did appear to me that Guru's hand and the bar moved vertically and back down. I was surprised because at a much lower weight a few months earlier I had definitely not seen Guru make a lift that he apparently thought he had (and I had told him so at the time).

So -- surprised at what I'd seen -- I quickly leaned over to my right so that I could see the right end of the plates jutting into the living room. They were wobbling back and forth

That's what I saw that night.

I think it's time for a short addendum.

After reading Jayanti's book, Cartwheels in a Sari, I was reminded to address the only other two reminiscences about Guru's 7,000 pound lift that I've read: one by my old Center roommate, Mangal, found here; the other by Jayanti's dad, Rudra, recounted both in her book and online here.

These accounts misremember some facts and conflate others. To be sure, I ascribe no ill motive to either Mangal or Rudra: it's hard to remember the details of these events so long ago and as I've written repeatedly on this blog, I suspect I'm guilty of the same offense here and there (and I urge my readers to write in with corrections if you have any).

Nevertheless, as far as their respective memories of the 7,000 pound lift are concerned, the accounts of Mangal and Rudra are not accurate in important respects.

As for Mangal's account -- which mentions me by name as someone who can substantiate it -- the problem is largely one of conflation. Mangal conflates the events of an earlier lift at a much lighter weight (which I blogged about separately here) for those of the 7,000 pound lift. I don't recall Guru going over and over any videotape in the very early morning hours after his 7,000 pound attempt.

There were so many people at the house that evening setting up the lift for so long -- and then the long wait for Guru to actually make the attempt -- that as far as I can recall, the meeting broke up relatively quickly after Guru made the attempt(s). In trying to quickly encapsulate his Center experience in one short post, I think Mangal simply conflated these two events.

Rudra's account is a little more complicated and, at least in part, seems to conflate the same separate weightlifting events that Mangal's account does. In Rudra's account, however, Rudra is the sole disciple willing to tell Guru that the weight wasn't lifted. And, that because of his courage under fire, Guru never dared show the videotape of the 7,000 pound lift ever again.

I'm not sure what, if anything, to say about this. As I said with regard to Mangal's account, I have no memory of Guru buttonholing individual disciples in the early morning hours after the 7,000 pound lift. Guru absolutely did do that at an earlier weight (as I blogged about), but I don't recall Rudra being there, though he certainly could have been. I have absolutely no memory of Rudra ever being the sole person in dissent after such an event.

Rudra's account is also inaccurate in a more significant and easily refutable way. He writes that "we were told to look at ckg's throne in front of his living room, and not at the attempt itself." This simply never happened. I suspect that Rudra is simply misremembering something Guru did say, which was that while he was looking at himself in the mirror before the lift, that the disciples should not look at him.

But there was never any prohibition against looking at Guru as the attempt(s) were made. One need only look at the photo above to confirm this -- Sagar and I are clearly visible watching the lift.

As a matter of fact, most people in the house that night could not see the lift -- there were very few seats with any view of Guru's hand on the bar, and I had one of them. I'm not sure what to make of Rudra's memory of where he was sitting, "at the side, near the stairs, and watched the weights and ckg as his back was to me attempting the lifts." 

I suspect it's possible Rudra was sitting somewhere in front of me using the same sight line (through the open hallway doors), but as the photo above shows, nobody was behind Guru and for anyone sitting "near the stairs," seeing anything at all would have been impossible.

To reiterate, I attribute no ill motive to the mistaken accounts of Mangal or Rudra. They are simply misremembering some events, I think, and conflating others.

To be sure, there almost certainly was a contemporaneous record made of the 7,000 pound lift, either by video and or by stenography. Someday, perhaps, we'll get the definitive account. Until then, I stand by my account as posted originally above.

July 14, 2009.

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