Yoga teaches us to live in the present. Don’t worry about the future, or dwell on the past. Be content.
Why is there so much arrogance and hate…in the name of religion?— Radhanath Swami
Radhanath Swami was raised in an affluent
Chicago suburb. He went to Deerfield High School, where pretty much everyone back in the 60s was college-bound. The now spiritual leader got a different type of education. He found answers on the journey within.
Growing up, he felt he didn’t fit in. When he was just a young kid, his father filed for bankruptcy. As a result, Radhanath worked at a car wash. There, almost all his workmates were African-Americans who had witnessed poverty.
“They all had no way out,” Radhanath Swami told a group of yogis at Chicago’s Bhakti Fest 2016. “I really loved them. I remember thinking, ‘why is it they had no opportunities?’ A lot of things didn’t make sense.”
Richard, as he was called, considered himself part of the counter culture. Early on the journey within, he had long hair and wore one set of clothes. “I ended up at Grant Park during the Democratic convention, and I am proud to say I got tear-gassed by the Chicago Police.”
He chose to be the change.
“I started doing some yoga and meditation and read different scriptures. I came to a crossroads.”
He was in a desperate quest to find himself, and the meaning of life. On summer break, he went to Europe. Atop a mountain in Crete, he received a message. Head to India.
I was homeless but felt so much at home. — Radhanath Swami
“When I arrived at the border it took six months. Now it takes eight hours on British Airways. But it’s not as scenic or life-changing. I was emaciated when I arrived. I had 26 cents in five currencies.”
What’s more, he was denied entry to India. He was in a desolate area. There were problems between Pakistan and India. The border agent told him, “We have enough beggars in India.”
Meanwhile, he pleaded. Begged. Got philosophical. “For six hours I sat under a tree and tried again. Finally, they put their guns in my face and said, ‘If you come back we will kill you.’”
Those escapades and more make his first autobiography, “The Journey Home,” read like an adventure novel.
Apparently, this kid from Chicago’s quest for knowledge wasn’t satisfied with school books. The journey within took him through much solitude.
He lived in caves. Under trees. In forests. “There was one baba and he used to sleep under trees too. And there’s a certain collegiate connection between people that live under trees,” he says.
We lose ourself … with materialism and goals.— Radhanath Swami, author of The Journey Within, and The Journey Home
He kept searching for answers. He came upon many so-called gurus. Finally, in Vrindavan, he found what seemed like the real source. The journey within led him to Bhakti (devotion) and Srila Prabhupad of ISKCON. “I found a place I never wanted to leave. After about a year, it was discovered that my visa had expired. I was a fugitive and this agent was obsessed with finding me.”
His stories get crazier and crazier. Yet, they’re true.
One day, an animal pulled him into a sewer. He got rabies. While that’s typically a nightmare, the series of shots required him to be under medical care. As a result, he was given legal medical papers. Especially relevant, he got his visa.
Despite all his hurdles, he recounts them all with laughter. Just after he returned back to Chicago, he learned he missed George Harrison and Ravi Shankar at the ashram.
“When I finally did come home (after several years), I was a hardcore ascetic. They (his parents) were confused.” By then, his traditional Jewish parents would have been happy if he had married a Muslim or African-American, he said. It wasn’t until many years later, with their son going back to India, that they gleaned the values of his newfound life. “Finally in 1989, they came to India for the first time and were totally transformed. They loved everything.”
Things can never give fulfillment to the heart — Radhanath Swami
“The nature of life is a series of choices and every choice we make affects our destiny. In whatever situation we are in, we always have a choice of how we respond,” he says. His guru, Srila Prabhupad taught that a person’s greatness is not measured by wealth, land, beauty, or athletic ability. Rather, greatness is measured by how one responds to challenging situations.
“In all the great spiritual traditions, the real wealth is in our state of mind,” Radhanath Swami says. You can tell how rich you are by counting how many things you have that money cannot buy. Peace. Love. These things bring purpose to life.”
In conclusion, we can all have what we need. It’s a state of mind. Hence, the journey within.
* Part 1 and Part 2 are based on one of Radhanath Swami’s workshops in Chicago at Bhakti Fest. For the past four years, I’ve attended multiple workshops with him at each Bhakti Fest. To read more about his prior remarks, use this blog’s search engine.