It’s about a Jewish boy with long hair and jeans who went hitchhiking in Europe one summer. He returned years later with a shaved head, wearing a robe and tilak on his forehead. Today, he’s a spiritual leader of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and his selflessness serves 250,000 impoverished children, daily.
Radhanath Swami’s Humanitarian Efforts
Last year, he was given a Humanitarian Award at BhaktiFest for his impressive charitable works in India including a hospice program, a full-service hospital, an eye camp to treat the unusually high number of Indians with cataracts, and the food kitchen that feeds the children.
Although he travels around the world as an ascetic with no possessions, our paths have crossed several times. The gracious Swami, who was raised in the Chicago suburbs, as was I, has met with leaders around the world. Barack Obama read his book before I did. Our President conversed with him before I did, and I’m sure that our nation’s leader had significantly more quality time with the Swami than I did. However, I’ve shared collective space with Radhanath Swami for a total of about two weeks over the period of three years.
Just after Labor Day, I attended my third workshop with Radhanath Swami. It was at BhaktiFest, the Disneyland for yogis, the same venue where I’d met the former Richard Slavin several times in the past.
Filled with Humility
Although he wears the traditional saffron monk’s robe, his demeanor is like the quiet guy sitting behind you in chemistry class. He’s approachable. He’s personable, with a sense of humor. Most of all, he is humble, a trait that Krishna devotees worldwide value.
At BhaktiFest, he talked to a large crowd about appreciation on the personal and higher level. “The resources of nature are a gift given to us by a higher power,” he said. “Real appreciation is expressed by the choices we make in our life.”
During Radhanath Swami’s informal chats, which are preceded and/or followed by melodious and catchy chanting accompanied by a harmonium, kartals and other Indian instruments, he often relays memorable anecdotes of people he’s met around the world. Radhanath Swami at BhaktiFest gave several examples of how expressing appreciation can be priceless.
“In human relationships, people thrive when they are appreciated. Appreciation is an expression of love. It doesn’t cost anything, but it can bring great fulfillment.”
Radhanath Swami recounted the story of an American surgeon volunteering at an ISKCON hospital in India. The doctor saw a crippled young boy with a cheerful personality and decided he wanted to make a difference. He donated hours of his time in the operating room to bring more normalcy to the child’s life and correct the limbs on the youngster. After the surgery, the boy lavished the visiting doctor with appreciation. His expression was indelible. “Doctor, I really think that you are a wonderful person.”
Wealthy with the Love of God
“I do surgery on VIPs and they pay me a fortune, but I’ve never been so happy as with the words of appreciation of this child,” the surgeon cried.
In another case, Radhanath Swami spoke of an ISKCON hospital that serves people amid great poverty, where they cherish just a drop of water. “Most of these people have never seen a doctor. Thousands go blind from cataracts. (Each year) 3,000 people come for (free) surgeries. The doctors work 12 hours a day, without pay. People are dressed in rags, emaciated,” he explained.
Radhanath Swami continued to describe the emotions shared by one old woman. After the surgery, when the bandages were removed, she was ecstatic that she could see for the first time in years. Her emotions of joy were priceless. She showered the doctor with appreciation.
“That lady was wealthy with love of God and blessings,” the spiritual leader judged. The doctor had never experienced this level of gratitude. “Real wealth is to love and be loved, between atma (eternal soul) and God, whatever you may call him. When we open up our heart, we become full with happiness and instruments of love. Love empowers us.”
Radhanath Swami may just be “a little swami that hasn’t had a bank account since the 1960s.” But when he looks into people’s eyes, or across a crowded room, he connects with others and shows appreciation and love for humanity, life, sangha (community), and spirituality.