Bhagavan wasn’t really a Zeeber, but he did stay with us now & then. Whenever he was here, everything came to a halt. He was a follower of “Shiva,” the Hindu deity known as the destroyer and the transformer. Bhagavan’s presence was so powerful our daily routines were upended, hardly anything got done.
Chitra was someone we knew from Montreal (she also played Lyla Ulupi in “Moon Over Morocco”). Chitra had a friend who needed a place to stay, and she figured we’d find him interesting. Bhagavan was originally a surfer from Laguna Beach, CA, by the name of Michael Riggs. He left for India in the 60s, lived there for about 6 years (never bothered to renew his six-month visa), made the mistake of leaving briefly, and when he returned, the Indian customs officials took one look at his passport and said, “You’re never getting back into this country.”
When Richard Alpert went to India for the first time, he had met Bhagavan, who took him to meet his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Baba became Alpert’s guru, and Alpert became Ram Dass, thanks to Bhagavan.
The Little Bhagavan’s
While Bhagavan was in India, be got involved in a cult of wandering Sadhus, he took a vow not to cut his hair, it grew down to his waist (and he was a tall dude!). Since most the Zeebers had long hair (but nothing like that) whenever we got a snarl or knot in it, we’d say, “I see you’ve got a little bhagavan stuck in your hair.”
When Bhagavan arrived in India, he had picked up Hindi very quickly. He said, “I felt I already knew it.” And that’s pretty much all he spoke while living in India. When he got back to the U.S., and came to ZBS, he could barely speak English. He had such a thick accent, we’d look at each other like – “What did he just say?” He spoke very little, but he loved to sing. He had a great singing voice, really enchanting too. And like I said, he was tall, like 6 feet 4 or 5.
The 2nd Time Here
The second time he was staying with us, his followers had found him. They would approach him bowing, “O Bhagavan, Bhagavan.” But when they left the room, Bhagavan turned to Meatball and said (in a low voice), “I’m going with them for a few days. They have some great dope.”
Was Bhagavan for real? Jesus, was he ever. Being in his presence was, “Holy moly that dude’s packin’ a lot of juice!”
The 3rd Time
Peter Max, the artist, bought time at Electric Lady Studios in NYC so Bhagavan could record his singing. And later, Bhagavan recorded more up here, and at Mitchel’s father’s studio in Quebec. The third time he came here, Bhagavan brought up all his tapes, he worked with Bobby assembling a two vinyl LP album, “Ah.” You can find it online. It’s beautiful. Fulton used a couple cuts of Bhagavan’s singing near the end of the Fourth Tower.
The 4th Time
The 4th time he came here, his hair was missing! Not totally but cut just short of a brush. His beard was gone too! When he saw Meatball’s shocked face, he said, “Do you want to hear what happened?” Boy, did he ever. Because (as you can see from Bhagavan’s photo), that tall dude had a lotta hair.
Tail of the Tiger
Not far from where we live, there was a Buddhist ashram, “Tail of the Tiger.” It was founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Now Trungpa, who escaped from Tibet, and is credited with bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the U.S., had a fine sense of humor. He was brilliant too. And Bhagavan, unable to visit his guru back in India, had become close to Trungpa. When Trunpa (who had short hair) asked, “Why all the hair?” Bhagavan explained that he’d taken a vow.
And so, one night, while on an extended meditation retreat at Tail of the Tiger, just the two of them in one of the retreat cabins, they both got drunk together, and while Bhagavan was asleep, Trungpa took scissors and started in on his beard, and continued on up to the top of his head. Bhagavan awoke the next morning looking like Bart Simpson!
He told Meatball
- when he realized what had happened and saw Trungpa sitting there with a little smile on his face, his first impulse was to reach out, pick the little Tibetan up and shake him like a dead rat. But Trungpa knew what he was about to do, his fist shot out and punched Bhagavan square in the nose. The sudden flash of pain not only snapped Bhagavan out of it - Trungpa gave him a look that said, “If I didn’t pull that punch, I would’ve driven the cartilage right up into your brain. I could kill you in an instant.” That sobered Bhagavan up. *
If you google him, you’ll see that in recent years Bhagavan has grown his beard back, and his long hair (with the little Bhagavan’s). He’s wearing robes again, and he’s back out there singing, chanting, and teaching. He is quite the dude.
* It turns out, you can’t kill someone by punching them square in the nose. But still, it did the trick.