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Death and Taxes

Stretch for Success:
Richard Hittleman in 1960
When famed American yoga guru Richard Hittleman died in Santa Cruz in 1991, he left his ex-wife with a million-dollar tax bill, merciless IRS agents at the door and nowhere to turn

By Ami Chen Mills

Wearing a turtleneck and tights, the late yoga teacher Richard Hittleman straddled the great American divide between domesticity and the Age of Aquarius--and was a hit. In the 1960s and '70s, Hittleman's books and television shows brought yoga and Eastern thought into the living rooms and community centers of America.

A Jewish boy from a conservative family in New York City, Hittleman learned yoga from his parent's Hindu maintenance man at a getaway called Utopia in the Catskills. He founded his own yoga school in Florida in 1957 and rode the swelling tides of nonconformity and curiosity in Eastern culture to finally become "America's leading Yoga expert"--as proclaimed on the jacket of the Yoga for Health edition released in 1983. In his lifetime, Richard Hittleman sold over 8 million books, hosted public television shows in San Jose, Los Angeles and London--including Yoga for Health on KQED--and appeared in the books and social circles of such beatnik luminaries of the day as Allan Watts and Jack Kerouac.

Hittleman, it turns out, died four years ago in his home in Santa Cruz of prostate cancer. No one lives forever, but the once internationally famous Hittleman left more than a legacy behind when he died. He left a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation in Scotts Valley that still operates in his name, and he left his ex-wife, artist Linda Hittleman, with a million-dollar tax bill, merciless IRS collection agents at the door, and nowhere to turn.

Richard Hittleman's story, and that of his ex-wife, Linda, reflects the ambiguity of an era in which women--at least in financial affairs--still had a long way to go, and a guru with a message could be one thing to his adoring masses, and another to those who knew him well. For Linda Hittleman, who now faces the aftermath of a tumultuous era, it is a story that starts with a sweet book dedication in Richard's top-selling Yoga 28-Day Exercise Plan, and ends at Chapter 11.

Love At First Tights

Linda hittleman and partner Russell Everett's small house in the Seabright neighborhood in Santa Cruz is a hodgepodge of found art, offset by candy-colored walls in yellow and pink. There's a tiny fish pond set in half a wooden barrel on the front porch, and loose packs of stray cats and adolescent kittens wander the unkempt back yard. Hittleman's paintings, as colorful and whimsical as the house itself, hang in every room. Sunlight reflects warmly off the walls and the feeling is cheerful and welcoming.

Linda has the look of a capable older woman, with cropped sandy hair and a no-nonsense style, who gets around just fine, thank you, in bright secondhand castoffs from the Bargain Barn. But once she starts talking, I sense that she is a woman who has always--despite her strong and smart opinions--sold herself a little short.

Guru Wrap

"Yeah, I guess I'm an artist--whatever that means," Linda shrugs, when asked about her accomplished tropical paintings. "I've always drawn and painted. But I've never sold anything. To sell, you have to do things like piss on a portrait of Christ or something."

Linda was an ace student at her high school in North Hollywood. But she was an ace girl student in the early 1950s. At 17, after scoring high on aptitude tests, she was called into a counselor's office. Apparently, the counselor had seen only her first initial, "L." When she walked in, "he laughed," Linda recalls. "Then he said, 'That's so funny. I was going to tell you to be an engineer.' " The counselor recovered, and continued. "He said, 'So, what are you going to do? Get married? Be a secretary, or maybe a nurse?'. That was 1952," Linda notes.

Linda graduated and duly went on to marry a plumber ("a plumber in every way possible," she says), give birth to a daughter named Cindy, and get divorced. She settled with her daughter in a large communal house, nicknamed Quebec House, just below the last "o" in the "Hollywood" sign in the Hollywood Hills. "It was one of those germinating points before the whole thing went wild," Linda remembers. "And I was kind of the concierge." She played welcome wagon to people like Aldous and Laura Huxley--"all the people at the edge of that whole New-Agey thing"--Esalen founders Bernard Gunther and Richard Price, poet and author Shel Silverstein, and the young, up-and-coming Richard Hittleman, handsome Jewish boy turned Eastern Yogi who had landed in the city of angels to tape his Yoga for Health television show.

Linda and Richard courted in Los Angeles and were married in Reno in 1967. Their son, Josh, was born in 1971.

For a few memorable years, Linda accompanied Richard on yoga tours in the East Coast, posturing yoga positions as he lectured at workshops and seminars. They lived the carefree, experimental and popular life of a liberated couple, teaching yoga in the old tennis courts at Grand Central Station and shacking up with fellow yoga-head Mort Levitt in Greenwich Village. Then the couple bought a house in Carmel, from where Richard would direct his yoga empire. "I just assumed that our life would be a continuation of that lovely, lovely time," Linda reflects.

To his adoring public of the 1970s, Richard Hittleman was a sedate hipster with great flexibility, a wise man in leotards. But at their home in Carmel, Richard turned out to be an extremely traditional father and husband. "He came on as very hip--he had studied with Allan Watts and hung out with all those bohos in San Francisco--but in reality, he was coming from a really almost orthodox family," Linda notes. "He was a businessman, ultimately. His business just happened to be the business of yoga."

According to Linda, Richard guarded his business dealings like J.R.R. Tolkien's Gollum guarded his ring. The door to his office was kept locked. "He was very private and he made you feel foolish if you asked about those things," she recalls. According to friends, Hittleman was a controlling man. He would go to a restaurant with a group, and order for everyone. And he had a white-hot temper that flared when anyone second-guessed him. "You just didn't confront him on anything," Linda says.

At home, Linda was relegated to the caretaking of Cindy, Josh and three sons from Richard's prior marriage, an arrangement which, at first, she didn't object to. "We had what we needed," she says, "The house was full of kids--there was plenty to do. I liked the whole family scene, making the meals and all that."

In 1972, the Hittlemans picked up and moved to Scotts Valley. Family life continued on as usual, its familiar patterns digging deeper grooves into everyone's lives. Eventually, Linda wanted out. Hittleman was rigid--she says now that she couldn't really talk to him. And, she adds, "we just got disinterested in each other." She pauses, reflecting on the general nature of marriage and concludes in a sad voice, "We just disappointed each other somehow." Linda left Richard, much to his surprise, in 1983. The Hittlemans divorced in 1988.

Flowing to the Chapel

Throughout their courtship and marriage in the 1970s, Richard Hittleman's books were flying out of bookstores. "Once, you'd go into the Bookshop Santa Cruz," Linda recalls, "and half the yoga section would be his books." The Hittleman household received hundreds of letters each week from followers. Richard Hittleman had become a legend, and a spiritual leader for thousands whose intentions were to follow the yogic path to enlightenment, or to weight loss, or just to decreased stress.

Hittleman's intention at all times, Linda says, was to be seen as "a spiritual guy. That was how he became a religion."

In 1977, Hittleman established the Yoga Universal Church, based in Rapid City, South Dakota, and formed under the auspices of the Universal Life Church in Modesto.

The ULC, founded by the cantankerous, anti-religious and highly opinionated Kirby Hensley, was thumbing its nose at both church and state and bestowing ministerial licenses on anyone who could afford a $20 donation and a stamp--a practice the church continues today. Throughout the '70s and '80s, Hensley and the ULC ordained millions of self-styled clergymen and women, many of whom used their newfound ecclesiasticism to avoid yearly tithings to the IRS, and tithe themselves instead. But those who thought they might get away with the scheme ended up--or are still in--tax court facing back taxes, penalties and interest in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Richard Hittleman was one. After his separation from Linda, the IRS audited Hittleman for the years 1979 through 1982, finding tens of thousands of dollars of unclaimed income due, compounded with fees and interest.

The IRS never disputed Hittleman's claims to spiritual achievement, nor his position as a yoga "guru" for the Yoga Universal Church. In a court opinion on the matter, the IRS reiterated some tenets of the Yoga Universal, noting that Linda and Richard's house and church in Scotts Valley was "known as an ashram ... [which] serves as a symbol of a bringing together of an individual's total life ... so that his family and religious practice are not separated."

To the IRS that may have seemed true, but according to Linda and her daughter, Cindy, Richard's "family and religious practices" at the domestic ashram on Bean Creek Road in Scotts Valley were separated as if by a wall. On paper, Linda appeared to have a hand in most aspects of the church--she was listed on church records as treasurer and had signatory authority over accounts. But Richard was in charge. "He had all these hats he needed heads for," Linda says of her treasurer status. At home, Linda recalls, she was only alloted a certain number of checks for household expenses and was asked to sign papers occasionally. She was not, however, allowed or inclined to read the papers, to question Richard's judgment and certainly not to reverse his decisions. "That never would have occurred to me," she says.

Linda first got nervous when Richard told her after their separation in 1983 that they were being audited. "At that time it was a sum he could have settled and I said, 'Good God, settle it!' But he really thought he was right. He trusted the people who told him what he could and couldn't do. From that moment on everything he did just got him in deeper, and none of my protestations had any affect on him."

Richard would go on to fight the IRS for 10 years, and employ the services of an attorney named Peter Stromer who had also represented the Universal Life Church in its attempts to gain and then to retain its tax-exempt status, which the church lost in 1987. The Universal Life case is currently under appeal.

At one point, Richard insisted Linda accompany him to San Jose to meet with a small army of attorneys and accountants that included Stromer and two brothers by the names of John and Greg Michael Priest. Stromer later resigned from the bar amid charges that he failed to refund unearned fees by various clients--all related to the ULC, and all of whom sought help when the IRS questioned their church dealings. John Priest, Richard's accountant, would later serve jail time for using false tax returns to procure bank loans.

From the outset, Linda says now, she mistrusted them. "I had gotten the worst feeling from all of them and on the way back as we hit the summit, Richard asked me what I thought and I told him that I thought these guys 'did not inspire confidence.' He got angry and floored the car and nearly went off the road. That was the last time I complained about that."

Linda was subsequently excluded from all IRS matters and never once appeared in tax court with Richard. Neither was she consulted about ongoing proceedings. When Hittleman lost his case in 1985, he assured her he would appeal, and win. "He kept saying everything was still OK, but I think he was in denial. Maybe he thought he was doomed, but he would never cop to it."

Richard began an extensive appeals process that continued until October of 1991, when he received his final judgment, ruling against him. A few days later, he died.

According to his family and longtime friends, and to Linda's daughter, Cindy Gilhom, now 37, who played nurse and secretary to him during the last year of his life, Richard's struggle with the IRS transformed him. "It ended up being a game for him, a sort of obsession," Cindy says.

"The way I see it," Linda adds, "There was an 'early Richard' who was this sort of open, loose and jolly guy and then there was the 'late Richard.' The tax thing turned him into a closed, cranky martinet." Nonetheless, Linda and Richard remained friends. Toward the end, Linda says, "I felt really sorry for him. He was dying with the full knowledge that everyone would suffer, and continue to suffer, because of his actions. He wanted to provide for his family--he always hoped that [our son] Josh would finish college and he talked about the Bean Creek house going to his children."

But the Bean Creek house had been sold during the Hittlemans' divorce to a former student of Hittleman's by the name of John Roddy. And Josh Hittleman has quit school at San Francisco State University for a day job. In 1988, after 18 years of marriage, Linda received half the money from the sale of the Bean Creek house, a monthly child-support payment of $180, and nothing else. Any proceeds from Richard Hittleman's yoga workshops, including the copyrights to some books, remained with Hittleman's revamped nonprofit organization Yoga Universal, currently operated by Roddy and Hittleman's girlfriend before he died, Mary Conley.

When Richard died, Linda Hittleman was beyond caring about his affairs or Yoga Universal. She had moved on, as had other friends of Richard's, when he began his strange struggle with the IRS. Then, three days after Richard's death, an IRS agent showed up at the door of Linda and Rusty's shared bungalow on the Big Island, Hawaii, talking tough and waving a bill at her for more than $1 million.

Romancing the IRS

'He said the U.S. marshal would come and red-tag the house," Linda recalls. "He was the bulliest, nastiest man. I hadn't even gotten over the shock of Richard dying yet."

This unpleasant tryst began Linda's affair with the IRS. Because she had signed joint returns, the IRS shifted the entire weight of the Hittleman tax bill to Linda when Richard died, complete with penalties and interest, aggressive collection agents, threatening letters and intimidating visits.

Since her separation, Linda and her boyfriend, Russell, had eked out an artist's living, residing in mostly ramshackle but cheerful bohemian homes in Santa Cruz and Hawaii. In 1991, Linda began drawing on modest monthly payments from a trust fund established by her father. Discouraged from participating by Richard, Linda left the tax matter in his hands. But in 1991, when it seemed that Richard might die, Linda called tax expert Phillip Storrer, a specialist in the "innocent spouse" defense.

The innocent spouse defense asserts that a spouse faced with a bill from signing a joint return during marriage must be relieved of payment if she or he had no knowledge of unreported income, and no way of knowing that income was not reported to the IRS. The innocent spouse defense is expensive and difficult to pull off, but it has been used successfully by thousands of women.

When Storrer asked to see documents from the case, Linda called Richard's attorney, Peter Stromer, who, she maintains, was very unresponsive. "He sort of laughed and said, 'You're going to have a really big bill,'" she says. Within the hour, Richard Hittleman called Linda from Santa Cruz and warned her in no uncertain terms not to proceed. "He said I would ruin his case if I interfered," Linda recalls. Stromer never sent the documents.

Later that year, Richard Hittleman lost his final appeal to the ninth circuit court, the last step before the federal supreme court system, and died.

For Linda, Richard's end was the beginning of an arduous journey with the IRS and with a series of attorneys. She hired one attorney before Richard's death, who passed the case on to another attorney named Helen Jennings who once worked for the IRS. Jennings then passed the case on to bankruptcy attorney Wayne Silver. At various points during the four-year ordeal, the IRS has lost Linda's files, rejected a $225,000 offer to settle on Linda's westside house when the housing market was booming, and apparently forgot about the case for a while. Then it returned with a vengeance when a new Santa Cruz collection agent by the name of Greg Yarbrough took over.

"I think they like to have people scream on their way down," Linda observes, "It just makes everyone else more afraid of them."

"The question is, why did they reject a $225,000 offer on the house?" says Linda's former attorney, Helen Jennings, "They were jumping up and down, banging the drums two years ago for the money. Now, if they win everything they'll get less than that."

Why Not Innocent Spouse?

All discussions with the IRS have been toward reaching a settlement on the now over $2 million levy. According to the attorneys, it's too late to appeal the IRS tax court decision, lost by Richard.

At any rate, they claim, Linda Hittleman does not have a shot at winning an innocent-spouse defense. That's what Linda has been told from the beginning.

"Her time for appealing is long past," Jennings says. "And I would not litigate that case. She's in too deep. Shutting your eyes is not a reasonable excuse to the IRS." Yet Linda says she feels like an innocent spouse, "Yes, I am an innocent spouse! I'm innocent!"

Richard's former attorney, Peter Stromer, who saw Richard's case to the end, and has won an innocent spouse case before, says, "I would think she's got an absolute defense as an innocent spouse. I don't even think Linda's name came up once during the proceedings."

Yet no one has raised the issue. There is confusion about Linda's case: Attorney Jennings and IRS officials believe the innocent spouse issue was raised during Richard's appeals. According to Stromer, however, it was not.

Linda's current attorney, Wayne Silver, is handling bankruptcy proceedings in a last-ditch effort to appease the IRS. "There's no way to get that bill down to a reasonable amount that she could pay. The IRS has to realize that you can't get $2 million out of Linda Hittleman." Silver says he's in the process of making an "offer in compromise" with the IRS and "have them leave [Linda] alone." But, he says, if all else fails, an innocent spouse defense might be a final option. "We're not done yet--there may be a way out."

Greg Yarbrough, collections agent on the Hittleman case, says Linda Hittleman "should have raised the innocent spouse issue" long ago. Yarbrough admits, however, "I am not involved in the examining process. ... Hypothetically, a woman like Linda might be able to raise the issue through a 'taxpayer assistance' appeal to the IRS Problem Resolution Office. But I don't know if that would be the appropriate thing in this situation--hypothetically," he says.

Meanwhile, Linda Hittleman has already spent thousands on her case. And just when she thought things couldn't get worse, the IRS audited her partner, Russell, claiming that he owes roughly $500,000 in back taxes. In addition to Linda's westside house, Rusty's cottage where the couple lives is threatened. "This has dragged on for four years--not knowing if we'll be locked out of the house we come home to," Linda says mournfully. But there's more for Linda to worry about than just a roof over her head. "I'm really angry about Josh not being able to finish school--and Rusty. It seems like the IRS is coming down on everything that's near and dear to me.

"I used to trust the government, but now I think it's so horrible. It's great if you're rich, but if you're not, you've got no pull, no bargaining power. I'm 61 and I'm unemployed. What am I going to do? It's not that easy ... " she fades out. Currently, both Russell and Linda await decisions from the IRS about how much they owe and what they must do, or lose, to pay it or fight. The waiting is hell.

A Guru's Legacy

The death of the secretive Richard Hittleman left in its wake a jigsaw puzzle with more than a few missing pieces. In his consultations with attorneys before his death, why didn't Richard leave enough money for his youngest son to finish school? Why didn't he provide Linda with some way out of the monumental tax burden that he, by fighting it to his death and then dying, had shifted to her? Was there any money left at all? And if so, who got it?

Finally, how could a man so admired for his wisdom, a man who wrote that "every action has a reaction and each thought has an effect," have left behind a mess of such proportions?

According to Linda's daughter, Cindy Gilhom, and other family members, if anyone got money from Richard, it was Yoga Universal, the nonprofit entity which replaced Yoga Universal Church. Cindy recalls that, during the last year of his life, Richard promised--in the presence of YU members--that the organization would "take care of" his children after he died. But after Richard's death, family members who went to Yoga Universal for Richard's effects, or for money or loans, were turned down.

"You've been fed a bill of goods," says John Roddy from his Bean Creek home, former ashram and Hittleman family home.

Roddy is a corporate attorney who, with Mary Conley, operates what remains of Yoga Universal. "There are no positions here," he says. "There is nothing to run."

Richard terminated Yoga Universal Church and severed his ties to the parent Universal Life Church in the early '80s. But Yoga Universal, incorporated in 1982, continues to operate as a nonprofit corporation based in South Dakota. And, according to Roddy, Yoga Universal "does not make a profit and does not have assets," beyond a budget to run the organization.

In accordance with Richard's last wishes, Yoga Universal continues to hold two Hatha Yoga workshops annually at various retreats in California, but Roddy says attendance is dwindling at both.

Did the organization get any money after Richard's death?" What money? There is no money. ... I would assume he would have left any money to his family," Roddy says. "Richard was a very, very private person. I didn't even know he was divorced until he died."

Still, according to Workman Publishing, the YU receives royalties from the three Hittleman books still sold at bookstores. Yoga Universal is listed as copyright owner on Ballantine Books' Yoga for Health. And Peter Workman, publisher at Workman Publishing, which handles Yoga 28 Day Exercise Plan and Introduction to Yoga, says, "There are royalties, and they go to Hittleman's successor, Yoga Universal."

"I'm not going to discuss that--I don't get anything," Roddy says.

But Cindy Gilhom disputes the church's non-involvement. Up until his death, she claims, Richard was busy rewriting the Tibetan Book of the Dead in preparation for his own cremation. Cindy typed the manuscript and maintains Richard told her to bill Yoga Universal for her time after he died. When she did submit an invoice to Mary Conley, "Mary asked me if I really thought I was worth $10 an hour," Cindy recalls. After that, she says, she stopped asking.

Until last year, Yoga Universal continued to pay the rent on Richard's two-story townhouse near the University of Santa Cruz for an annual total of more than $12,000. Roddy claims it was simply "more convenient" to maintain the townhouse as an office. He says Yoga Universal finally gave it up last year because it became "too expensive to maintain." As for the invoice on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Conley claims she never got a bill for services rendered, but says she asked Cindy to send a bill. "Of course I was willing to pay it," she says. "I never made that comment" about Cindy's relative worth.

Did Richard leave Yoga Universal any money? "The answer is one great big negative," Roddy insists. "Any money went to Richard Hittleman's direct heirs." What about promises from Richard, noted by Cindy, that Yoga Universal would "take care of" the family after his death?

"That was never said at all to me," Conley says. "Maybe employ them," she concedes, "but ... Richard's personal affairs were separated from Yoga Universal."

As far as both Roddy and Conley are concerned, they've done what Richard told them to do. "We've continued to run Yoga Universal the way Richard asked that it be run," Conley says. "What's happening to Linda, that's very unfortunate. It's a tragedy, actually. But I don't run the IRS and there's nothing I could do, really. I just feel as bad as I can for them."

An attorney representing John Priest, Richard's former accountant, says that any financial agreements he oversaw are confidential. According to his stepdaughter, Cindy, Richard left no will but a statement that he was dying broke. No probate documents were filed with the Santa Cruz County clerk's office.

Denise Quade, spokesperson at the California State Franchise Tax Board, reports that the organization Yoga Universal was suspended by the state in March of 1986 for failing to file corporate information returns. That means, according to Quade, "they no longer exist. Legally, they have no ground to stand on. All contracts are voidable. They have no exempt status. Basically, if they operate in California, they are in violation of the law."

"That's wrong," Roddy says. "I'm telling you that as a lawyer. If the franchise tax board wants to talk to me about that, I'm sure I'll hear about that." Yet a letter of exemption from the tax board to Yoga Universal dated Sept. 28, 1982, outlines the responsibilities of the corporation to file information forms on an annual basis.

"It was up to Richard Hittleman," Roddy notes, "to take care of his family's affairs."

The Inevitable Chicken Pot Pie

There is a story that floats around the funky seaside town of Santa Cruz where Richard lived that has taken on mythic proportions. It's about a certain "breatharian" guru by the name of Wiley Brooks who went around saying he never ate anything, that he was so spiritually advanced he was able to live on air, light and water--with a lemon slice--alone. Late one night, somebody caught him at a 7-11 digging into a freshly microwaved, steamy chicken pot pie and a package of Twinkies--and washing it down with a Big Gulp. When questioned about the pot pie in local newspapers, Ol' Wiley said negative vibrations from people in town had caused him to become hungry. Nevertheless, his career as a guru in Santa Cruz was over.

Everyone who followed Wiley Brooks was shocked. Some of his disciples even complained angrily to papers that the story was false. They refused to accept the fall from grace of one upon whom they had rested their faith.

Richard Hittleman, famed yoga guru and spiritual leader, instructor of "alternate nostril breathing," used to smoke cigars. He'd snuff them out when students came around. When he got angry, he gave the silent treatment. Sometimes he busted out in a tantrum. He insulted people. Finally, he locked horns with the IRS in a futile, obsessive struggle and lost, and didn't live to tell about it. According to friends, Richard's illness was an embarrassment to him, and hidden even from them. Apparently, Hittleman left his family nothing. Except his ex-wife, to whom he bequeathed an impossible burden. Hittleman, ultimately, ate chicken pot pie.


The American tendency is to discredit a fallen hero entirely. He who once was perfect becomes irreparably undermined. But if we are dismayed by Wiley or disappointed by Richard Hittleman, we have only ourselves to blame for lionizing them in the first place, for giving them some magical superiority over us.

The danger in Hittleman's case is in besmirching the legacy of a man who was a remarkable teacher to many. Hittleman introduced and spread the concept of spiritual evolution to a generation of Americans who had not thought about life in that way before. According to anyone who knew him, he was a funny man, with a keen sense of humor. He was a wonderful father to his son, Josh, and he was generous and usually kind. He said the right things to the right people at the right time, so that his lesson would stay with them for years.

Ultimately, he turned millions of people on to yoga. Those who followed Richard revered him as a saint among men. And even those who knew him well say, despite shortcomings, he was not a hypocrite. He believed in what he preached--if he did not always practice the same.

Hittleman was not an angel, by his own admission. He had not left his body, had not achieved ultimate liberation, samadhi, as he called it, or muhkdi. And--who could blame him?--he hated the IRS.

In Shakespeare's King Lear, Lear is a leader who ruled wisely and well. When his estate planning went down, however, Lear allowed his ego to rule. Those around Lear who flattered him received his material blessings. It was they who brought about his ruin. Lear had his faithful servants, though, each loyal to that quality Lear so amply displayed called authority.

There is a man who followed Hittleman whom I call Pool, who has spent time with me over coffee and on the phone. Like the Fool, he speaks in riddles. Like Kent, he is loyal to a fault.

Early on, I ask, "Who runs Yoga Universal?"

"I don't know. How would I know? Richard told people what they needed to know, and nothing more--are you writing that down?" he asks. "Don't quote me on that."

"You didn't say anything," I retort.

"Here, you can quote me on this: Richard sparked people's energy to a very high place. Who was he? Who is anybody? People say he was controlling. Well, if he ordered for you and you told him you hated chopped liver, he would order chopped liver and you would eat it and suddenly love chopped liver. He would be right. ..."

When we get to the subject of Richard's death, Pool sounds depressed. "Richard didn't tell me he was going to die. If I asked him something, he would say, 'You don't need to know that. If you don't know something, you're not involved.' He was like that all his life. But I will tell you something," he says, cheering a bit, "Richard's not dead. He's living in a cave in Oregon. Last time I saw him he looked like Howard Hughes, and he said 'The IRS ain't gettin' shit!'"


"I'm kidding," he says.

"Someone said that the karma of the personality lags behind the spiritual development. But that's the way it is with masters. Half the time they're these great masters and half the time they can't find their blanket."

There's a pause and then, quietly, Pool says, "I think Richard was really straining himself by not letting people see his human side. But he also had all this stuff that he did. He did a radio show. He had a master's degree from Columbia, four TV series, a newspaper column. I mean, the guy went through like 10 lifetimes. Maybe he wasn't the most enlightened guru, but he was 10,000 times more advanced than you or I."

I'll buy that.

Being Your Own Guru

Richard Hittleman is not available to respond to this article--I've often wondered what he would think. I can't ask him, but I did receive a tape of his called Being Your Own Guru.

Richard's voice startles. It's thick with a Bronx accent and somehow less authoritative than I had imagined, a little more stiff. I've been told Richard took diction lessons to try to beat his accent.

The things he says are nothing I haven't heard before. And, actually, it's all stuff I believe, about transcending the "ordinary mind" and merging with spirit, God--whatever you call it--with the creative energy of the universe. I tune in and out as I'm driving. But that night, I feel higher than I've felt in a while. I feel funny and light and kind.

Who's to say where wisdom lies? It lies in the palm of your hand.

I'd like to play a brief part the tape now for anyone who followed the yoga guru Richard Hittleman. He can have the last word.


The true guru resides within you. If the guru is not within you, then he is nowhere.

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From the Nov. 22-Nov. 29, 1995 issue of Metro

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