A spiritual leader taught me the path of meditation, which leads to enlightenment, and opens up your intuitive abilities.
For me, that means listening to my heart rather than my analytical brain.
The following is an example of a brilliant, but seemingly illogical, decision of visionary, and activist, His Holiness Radhanath Swami, triggered by his inner wisdom. His dream was to build a sustainable retreat center to attract visitors from all over the world to a desolate poverty-stricken area in India. The impossible dream became reality. But the journey had plenty of ups and downs and detours.
Today, an oasis lies just a few hours north of the congested, polluted, and overpopulated Mumbai. Twice, I visited this retreat center called Govardhan Eco Village. Both experiences were perfect. It was hard to imagine any painful growing pains associated with developing the resort, which boasts 26 awards, including the highest honor for NGOs from the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Today, Govardhan Eco Village spans 100 acres. People from around the world choose the retreat center to attend yoga teacher trainings, yoga vacations, Ayurvedic treatments, and senior health camps. It is also a favorite quick getaway for many Mumbai families seeking respite and spirituality. Between 4,000 and 5000 pilgrims visit every weekend. Most are day guests.
Not just a posh place for tourists, one of the Eco Village's missions is to educate and coach the rural community to live more productive, eco-friendly lives. Peace Corps-like outreach programs benefit 10,000 farmers and scores of schoolchildren.
During the pandemic, India was closed to tourism. Radhanath Swami’s foundation used the shutdown to build a 70,000-square-foot empowerment center. The largest in the state of Maharashtra, rural villagers spend up to several months in on-site dorms as they learn crafts and trades such as 3-D printing, up-cycling damaged saris, cosmetology, and sustainable agriculture.
Since change can be frightening, farmers receive a stipend for a year to offset any perceived risks. The new techniques generate better crops and earnings long before the end of the 12-month subsidy.
Likewise, change was challenging for those tasked with developing their spiritual leader’s vision. The land is in a blighted region where wages are just a dollar a day.
According to Govardhan Eco Village’s director, Gauranga Das, no one believed in their guru’s instinct to create a spiritual destination complex here.
In 1997, Radhanath Swami was living and working at New Vrindavan, a spiritual community and farm in West Virginia. The following year, he led an initiative to develop 50 acres of farmland along a kilometer of valuable riverfront in India for 25 families. But by 2002, internal conflict destroyed the peaceful commune.
While some may have considered the problems temporary hiccups, Radhanath Swami took a revolutionary decision. He said, “let’s get out.” Not a quitter, he wanted something bigger and better. The following year, he bought acreage in the poorest state in India. Located a few hours north of Mumbai, the region flooded during the monsoon season. Winter temperatures reached 95—100 degrees, and summers were brutally dry and hot.
Not privy to any brilliant insider investment tips, Radhanath Swami followed his intuition.
Radhanath Swami entrusted his close colleague, Gauranga Das, with the impossible dream. “During the early days, four monks and 25 cows populated the dismal land. If any brahmacharya misbehaved, they threatened him with being sent to this scorching outpost,” laughs Gauranga Das.
No one could envision success.
“I even asked him, ‘Why are you so obsessed about [developing] it? Nobody wants anything to happen here.’ Literally, it was a jungle. Nobody wanted to come,” said Gauranga Das whose world was changing as he spearheaded the impossible task.
Radhanath Swami’s goal was to create an inviting complex to exemplify harmony with nature. The American-born Indian resident wanted to highlight the spiritual treasures and traditions of the East with the comforts of the West. A baffled Gauranga countered, “We don’t have retreat centers in India.”
All the better. No cookie-cutter plans. No competition.
Gauranga enlisted a team of new initiates to launch one of India’s first “green” yoga destinations.
All, including Gauranga, were cynical. Now, he sees the wisdom in his guru’s implausible idea.
“It took me ten years to get convinced. “If Radhanath Swami for a moment said, ‘let’s take a break,’ this place would have been empty. He never stopped dreaming, even though others wanted him to rewrite his dream.”
Officially, they began in 2010. “They still call it Labor Day,” he jokes. There was no money for research or hiring professionals. They found experts to help turn their guru’s intuitive dream of spirituality, ecology, and social impact into reality.
“We may be experts in the Bhagavad Gita, but we became humble in front of the sustainability gurus.”
Fortunately, “It helped that we had 45—50 monks, almost all of whom were engineers.”
Within a short period, they recreated an ancient temple town concept. “We wanted to show spirituality in action.” One of the best landscape architects in India joined the team. They built everything as precise, imposing replicas of holy spaces in Vrindavan and Barsana.
Gauranga, who earned a master’s degree in metallurgical engineering, made his guru’s dream come true. Today, Gauranga serves on the United Nations’ Faith for Earth task force. Govardhan Eco Village is a part of five United Nations programs, including the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.