Let me begin with a full disclosure: I studied with Rohini Ralby for nearly eight years from about 1993 until 2001. During that time I learned my first tai ch’i form and worked through some very difficult issues with her as my counselor and spiritual advisor. Together with my wife (also her student) Rohini provided me with the tools to turn my life around during a very difficult period for which I am forever grateful. I will also admit that I have perhaps allowed some of those tools to rust a bit… So for me reading this book was both a way to rekindle some of that earlier experience, to remind myself of what I had learned before and to recognize that some of things I thought I’d learned, I’d only partially understood. And, that I’d fallen out of practice. But that was my experience of this book and therefore my bias.
If I may borrow a musical term, Walking Home with Baba is a kind of rondo form, with Ralby’s stories of her guru Baba, (Swami Muktananda (1908-1982)) forming a refrain between a series of practical spiritual lessons. The stories, many of which take place at the Ganeshpuri ashram in India, are all from Ralby’s personal experience between 1976 and Baba’s death in 1982. The lessons would make a book by themselves. They include such topics as an introduction to spiritual practice, the Foursquare personality game: a technique of exploring and recognizing how to own the opposites and contradictions in your life, and the practice of meditation. They are all explained in quite simple straightforward language. There are, to be sure, a collection of Sanskrit words sprinkled throughout the text, but all are explained, and repeated enough, that they become a kind of new vocabulary to the patient reader (there is also a handy Glossary in the back). The one chapter I had difficulty reading, because I was not familiar enough with the source, is the commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which as Ralby herself notes, requires you to “raise your game a bit to follow the subtleties.” But, then again, while this book is written in a clear and very understandable style, it isn’t intended to be “easy.” It is an introduction to a practice. It’s short enough that you can read it in a day, but difficult enough, that it bears much rereading.
Nothing is sugar-coated, including the stories of Baba. They are sometimes humorous. My favorite in this vein is the story of Baba cooking kir with Swiss chocolate, for a Brahmin (p. 73). They are also full of the petty venialities brought by many of the guests to the Ganeshpuri ashram. Baba is sometimes angry, sometimes gentle, but always giving what is needed, often with a touch of impish humor. The stories create a gloss on the lessons, but also a way into the lessons in the form of real life experiences, with Baba as guide.
The title, Walking Home to Baba, is a metaphor for the journey to finding God within. As Ralby notes in her conclusion, its not an easy path “Reading this book may have given you lots of ideas, but if you walk away satisfied with only ideas, you will got get far along the path.” (p. 155). So this is most definitely NOT Chicken Soup for the Soul, it’s more like an invitation to a discipline, one that is both demanding and highly rewarding, but not easy. Note to self: The reason the path is difficult: because it takes practice!