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My one and only meeting with Swami Bua, the alleged oldest man on earth

By Daniel KriegerJune 16, 2015

Seeking serenity
Seeking serenity Laflor

My barber told me about a holy man living in Midtown Manhattan. I happened to be in the market for a guru in the tri-state area; this came as great news. 

"This guy's for real,” my barber said. “He'll teach you everything."

Swami Bua, or just Swami as he was called, sounded like the type of guy who could help me manage the gyroballs life kept throwing at me. Therapy, self-help books, and half-hearted positive thinking just didn't seem to do the trick.

"You here for the Swami?" the white-gloved doorman said on a frosty Saturday afternoon when he caught me lingering at the entrance on West 58th Street, as many would-be initiates before me probably had. 

Waiting for Swami in his living room, I assumed the 'half lotus' pose to show him I was ready. Despite not having attempted yoga for years, I coaxed my right foot onto my left thigh. Then he arrived. 

Before me stood a short, slight, barefoot Indian man in an orange robe, with an ash mark on his forehead. With his flowing white beard and all-knowing eyes, he bore a passing resemblance to God and spoke with a thick accent that was hard to follow. According to the best estimates of his age, he was about 120 years old at the time but didn't look a day over 95.

His first words had something to do with "a … pen and … paper!" I didn't have any, so he hoisted himself up to get some. Master of the physical realm though he'd been – pictures of him achieving astounding bodily feats covered the walls – walking didn't come so easy anymore. 

He handed me a single sheet of white paper. By way of introduction, I penned a brief note that ended, "I look forward to your teaching." He held it close, squinting, slowly tracing each word with his finger. This might be what my fourth-grade teacher was anticipating when she said that my substandard penmanship would catch up with me one day. 

Finally, yoga. I began by saluting the sun. Then I received instructions that I couldn't quite understand. I felt truly sorry about this, figuring the deficiency was mine. Taking a hands-on approach, he tried to steer me into some pretty contorted poses, but my limbs had other plans. He didn't give up on me, and at the end said he would teach me. But when I followed up not long after, I found out that Swami died. 

If he really had been born in 1889, as was said, he would've been the oldest person on earth when I met him. And though I didn't end up getting the chance to learn how to manage those gyroballs, this nugget he often shared at the end of his classes will suffice for now: 

“Begin the day with love, fill the day with love, spend the day in love and end the day with love. This is the only way to God."