On Wednesday night, Radhanath Swami spoke at Prema Yoga in Brooklyn. He first elaborated on the Sanskrit word prema or pure love – what it is, where to find it, and how to re-awaken it.
He mentioned how yoga is about connecting to an inner reality that harmonizes the body, mind, and soul. He gave an example of how he was helplessly drowning in the Ganges. As he was going underwater, the mantra that the Ganges had revealed to him earlier during meditation, resurfaced in his mind bringing fearlessness, peace, and clarity. “I must swim the other way – with the gentle current of the Yamuna,” he thought. Hours later as the sun was going down he gathered up his untouched passport with relief and realizations.
Radhanath Swami prepared everyone’s consciousness for Thanksgiving, saying that it was a special time to show gratitude which makes the heart soft and fertile so it can grow the plant of love that bears the fruit of self realization. He illustrated this point by describing how his grandfather had been persecuted in Lithuania for being Jewish. He escaped to Indiana before being drafted to the army and sent to a work camp in Siberia. But later he joined the American army during WW1 because America gave him freedom. Radhanath Swami’s father was the only Jewish boy in his grade school – daily he was beaten up and cursed. He complained to his father who smiled and said, “You don’t know how good you have it, because in this country you can come out of all that and be a great person. Where I was from there was no way out. You should be grateful for what you have and don’t worry about what you don’t have.” That very much molded the mentality of Radhanath Swami’s father.
He described the positive mentality of Wilma Rudolph, an African American lady who had disabled deformed legs due to Polio in childhood. “Her mother wanted to teach her how to walk. The doctors said ‘impossible.’ Somehow she barely began to walk – she was so grateful that she could stand up. She tried so hard to improve, never giving up hope. Soon she started to run. in the 1960 World Olympics in Rome she won 3 gold medals and set world records. She was declared the fastest woman on earth. How did it happen? Her disease is what made her like that because it caused her to focus so much on really really trying and being grateful for every opportunity. She wasn’t willing to get discouraged, and especially in spiritual life this is very important. To be grateful for every chance we have and for all the beautiful gifts of God that we have all around us. But the mind is such a thing that we could have so many good things going for us, but if one little thing goes wrong we just focus on that – causing us so much disturbance.”
He told stories of wonderful saintly people like Kunti and Ganashyam that emanated gratitude, humility, and love.
While talking about vegetarianism he related a story: “When I was a little boy we had a dog named Kippy. Our family loved that dog so much. He hurt his paw and my family was going to Florida on vacation. I really wanted to go but I decided to stay home and help Kippy with his paw. I felt so much for him. But yet I was eating meat and I never made the connection till the first day I was in India. When I made that connection I was thinking why can’t we see the beauty of life and learn to be compassionate.”
Question: “How did you recall all these events in such detail in the book? How much artistic license did you take while writing the book?”
Answer: “I’m sure I forgot 99% of what happened because most of this book took place almost 40 years ago (from 1970 to 1973). But when you put your life on the line, and you have nothing, and you’re going to foreign countries, sometimes you’re alone, and you’re really searching for truth and fulfillment – very traumatic things happen. Some of these you can really appreciate and others cause deep suffering and pain – both types are unforgettable. Plus they created such transformation in me that they became etched in my heart forever. They were so many of them because my life was on the line. I did keep some notes but another thing that helped is my parents kept all the letters I had written them. By reading those letters I was very much reliving what was happening when I wrote those letters. That helped a lot. In some cases I did remember very clearly the details. In other cases I remembered the feeling, the experience, how it effected me, and I tried to recreate the details in such a way that it would bring out the same exact experience I was feeling. What was more important than the literal details was that the reader get the experience of what happened. I tried to re-create that as genuinely and accurately as I could.”
Question: “How do we cultivate that grateful heart? When we go into self-absorption and lack of humility, how do we bring gratefulness back?”
Answer: “Take some time every day for your spiritual practices – chanting God’s name, meditating, reading holy books, keeping holy company, and focusing during yoga asanas. It grounds us. It brings us back. The nature of the mind is that it is very flickering and unsteady. Whenever it wanders or goes away from whats favorable for our devotion to grow, we should just keep bringing it back. The mind is like a little child. My friends’ son was in what they thought to be an empty room. 5 minutes later they came back and found him playing with a razor blade! The mind is like that, always finding places to be in anxiety, angry, lusty, arrogant, and envious. The intelligence is supposed to control the mind or keep it going in the right direction. Like the mother, try to keep the child out of trouble. Don’t get impatient. It is the nature of the child to be naughty. Through spiritual practices we develop inner strength by which we will have the intuition, wisdom, and strength to keep our mind going in the right way.”