“If a person does not have an ideal he’s ready to die for, he has nothing really meaningful to live for”. This statement encapsulates the spirit behind Richard Slavin’s journey home – a journey that was all part of a beautiful plan. In reading “The Journey Home – Autobiography of an American Swami”, one is struck by the kind of life that Richard Slavin (Radhanath Swami) led, or rather, was chosen to lead. The events that Radhanath Swami narrates are almost the stuff of fiction, and the reader sometimes forgets that it is an autobiography!
The author’s candid and clear expression, as also his courage in making public his struggles and weaknesses, are what make this narrative endearing. The reader can at once identify himself with Richard Slavin at the level of an ordinary human being, and at the same time is in awe of his superhuman determination, and his unwavering conviction in his ideals. Born into a traditional Jewish family in Chicago, Richard, from his early years, wrestles with ideas about Religion, War, Hatred, and God’s role and identity in the entire scheme of things. In order to find some answer, he makes a study of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity, but issues still remain unresolved in his mind. His restlessness and search for a meaningful life with ideals draws him towards the counterculture of the 70′s, wearing his hair long as an aggressive challenge to mainstream values driven by money, power and prejudice.
From here begins his quest for the meaning of life which takes him and his friends on a European tour, where, on the island of Crete (Greece), Richard hears an inner voice urging him to go to India. With single-minded determination, grit and tact, he travels overland, often hitchhiking, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and finally reaches India. His experiences in these countries are at times spine-tingling and at other times absolutely hilarious. The narrative then takes us to his sojourn at Kathmandu, the Himalayas, Calcutta, Hrishikesh, Dev Prayag,Patna, Varanasi and finally, to his being stranded on Mathura station on the day of Janmashtami, half way through his train journey to Amarnath. His eight mile walk to Lord Krishna’s Vrindavan becomes the culmination of his journey home.
Richard’s narration of his experiences in this forest of grace is so vivid that the reader is virtually transported to Vrindavan and can actually feel the gentle flow of the Yamuna, hear the lowing of cows and the melodious notes of Krishna’s flute. Strangely, the most seminal event in Richard Slavin’s life is narrated in an absolutely non-dramatic manner. The simple and stark dialogue between Richard and his Guru Srila Prabhupada – “I wish to offer you my life” – “Yes, you are home.” – serves to remind us that very often, the most important events in life need not necessarily be the most dramatic.
The rich and varied experiences and anecdotes that are included in the autobiography ensure that there is never a slack moment. Richard’s reflections on these events are something that will compel readers to ponder upon and savor.
Richard Slavin’s life is unique just as each one of ours is too. The kind of life that he has led sculpts an image of a man who seems larger than life yet human enough to feel pain, humiliation and fear. But what inspires the reader is the power that he receives to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles through patience, perseverance and prayer. His experiences plumb the depths of human potential to reveal what an individual is capable of through sheer faith. “The Journey Home” is Richard Slavin’s transition from being the one who sought, to the one who is sought after. The book is a must-read, not only for the spiritualist but for anybody who is sensitive enough to see the miracle that Life is. – Lucy James
Lucy James is an Associate Professor, Dept. of English at Government College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Sanquelim, India.