NAMARUPA is a monthly journal that conveys the vast scope of sacred philosophical thought that has emanated from the land and people of India over many millennia. Their January 2010 issue was dedicated to Radhanath Swami and his autobiography, “The Journey Home”. Below is an article excerpt. The article can be read in it’s entirety here.
Eddie Stern: (chanting)
Vande gurunam charanaravinde / sandarshita svatama sukhavabodhe
Nishreyase jangalikayamane / samsara halahala mohashantyai
Mukham karoti vachalam / pangumlangayate girim
Yat kripa tam aham vande / parmananda Madhavam
I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus, that awaken the great happiness of one’s own Self revealed; acting like jungle physician who can remove the poison of a snake bite, the Guru removes delusion caused by the great poison of conditioned existence.
I bow to the all blissful Madhava (Krishna), by whose grace and compassion the mute speak, and the crippled can cross mountains.
Thank you all for coming. Radhanath Swami Maharaj, thank you for gracing us with your presence. It is a delight and an honor to be sitting here with you in our temple. Particularly, I’d also like to thank Kaustubha Das for arranging this whole evening. It is a great joy of ours to have Kaustubha here in our yoga school organizing so many programs where we can enjoy the company of people whom we consider to be great and whose presence gives us peace of mind and happiness.
I want to give, by way of introduction, a few words about Radhanath Swami Maharaj for all of you who do not know him, or have not read his amazing book, The Journey Home, Autobiography of an American Swami. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to go ahead and read it after this evening is finished—I’m sure it will amaze and inspire you.
The story is fascinating on many levels. Everyone here tonight is basically a spiritual seeker of some sort. And so you have all heard the familiar saying “when a student is ready the teacher will appear.” But what happens when a student is so ready that every person who appears in front of him is a teacher? And not just in the way of mundane teaching but really every meeting with every person that comes your way transmits to you a deep spiritual teaching. And further, what in the case of a student is so full of yearning and so ready—that great teachers are pulled into his pathway like a magnet.
I feel this is the case with Maharaj—that at a very young age he had such a yearning in his heart for understanding who he was and for loving God and being on some kind of a quest to fulfill the unnamed something—that this deep yearning brought him face to face with challenge after challenge. But he didn’t seem them as challenges, instead he asked, “Okay, what am I going to learn from this, and what is this person going to teach me?”
Upon reaching India, after much travail, he met pretty much every spiritual personality that we’ve heard about—Sri Anandamayi Ma, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Neem Karoli Baba, S.N. Goenka, Krishna- murti, and finally the man who was to become his guru, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Nowadays, we can buy their books in the bookstores or we can see their videos on YouTube. But in 1971 and 1972 or earlier—there weren’t billboards and bookstores promoting all these teachers. For you to come across a teacher like this in India it was up to some level of grace and some level of chance that you could meet anyone like that. It wasn’t like going to the bookstore. Now, there is everything for us. But those days, in India, travel was hard and everything was not there—so there has to be some kind of magnetism that draws you to those people and those people to you. Aside from those luminaries, there were the other Babas like Ramesh Baba, and living saints in Vrindavan that are known to us at all but who were immensely well-respected in India, that Maharaj had a chance to encounter. So many of these stories are in the book.
But there are also stories that are inspiring that show what Maharaj was learning from nature. He was learning from the animals, observing nature, observing the Ganga, observing the ocean and seeing what all these different elements could teach him about his spiritual quest and how all these elements strengthened his desire to know God. And another thing which moved me about the beginning of the book was his initial yearning—his desire to experience from a young age as a teenager that which was being unanswered by religious inquires but was coming from music, and from his impassioned involvement in the civil rights movement. One story from his youth stood out to me; he related while listening to Johnny Rivers on his headphones. I don’t know if you know Johnny Rivers—he was a brilliant guitar player—in one of his songs he sings, “Look into your soul for the answer,” and a light bulb went off and Maharaj looked into his soul. Instead of projecting into the universe, “oh this person has to take care of me,” or, “that person has to take care of me,” there was a state of surrender which made him open to every situation whereby he said, “Whatever comes my way, I will accept and work with it and sees what happens.” Later, on his way to Europe on the beginning of his spiritual quest, Maharaj ended up sitting in a plane seat next to Johnny Rivers, where they jammed on their harmonicas through the evening flight—much to the consternation of their fellow passengers, but the enjoyment of the flight attendants!
After leaving America and going to Europe—surrendering to the life on the road in Europe and ending up in Crete—(I don’t want to spoil this but something remarkable sent him towards India) —after going through Istanbul and traveling through Kandahar and Kabul and through the Khyber Pass— through Afghanistan and Pakistan and finally reaching India all set to renounce everything, leaving America, leaving the materialistic lifestyle, the disillusionment with the counter culture—which ended in the death of Jimi Hendrix and of Janis Joplin—the break up of Jefferson Airplane [laughter]—anyway—he reaches the border of India and the woman who is the border guard asks, “How much money do you have with you? Just a few coins? Go home, we have enough beggars in India we don’t need any from America.”
Later on, that woman was replaced with an older gentleman and Maharaj pleaded with him with tears in his eyes, “Please, let me into your country. I know that this is the home of my heart and where I need to be and I promise you that I will make good and give something back for letting me in.” The new boarder guard stamped his passport and allowed him in. And to that effect, Maharaj has done more than that by establishing his Ashram and temples and feeding upwards of 171,000 school children everyday, building hospitals, offering spiritual counseling, prayers and the worship of God, and the carrying on of a lineage. All these things he promised on his entry into India he has repayed a million fold if not more so – but still he feels as though he has not done enough!
[To Maharaj] I’m very happy that you have come to speak with us and I will now turn the microphone over to you.
The remainder of the article can be read in it’s entirety here.
Eddie Stern is the director of Ashtanga Yoga New York and The Broome Street Temple. He also serves on the board of Bent on Learning.