On the evening of Tuesday, May 8th, Radhanath Swami was asked to speak at New York’s Jivamukti Yoga Studio for the program Sunset Gita, hosted by Joshua Green. Requested to speak on the suitability of New York City for the purpose of yoga practice, swami replied by referring the teachings of the Srimad Bhagavatam, wherein the great Bhakti-yogi Sri Prahlad prays to Lord Vishnu in the form of Nrisimhadeva. An except from his talk is below. 

“Prahlad said, My dear Lord I see that there are many saintly persons, many yogis and sages, and rishis, they go to the forest of the Himalayas to meditate with vows of silence and escape from the dualities and passions, greeds and envies in the towns and cities. But as for me, I do not wish to be liberated alone. The benediction I want is to let me be in the cities because that is where I can do the greatest service. Where there is the greatest need there is the greatest opportunity to serve.“

“In the Bhakti tradition our aspiration is for seva. This means service without ego or selfish agendas. Sri Chaitanya offered a beautiful prayer,

na dhanam na janam na sundarim / kavitam va jagadisa kamaye 

mama janmani jamanisvare  / bhavatad bhaktir ahaituki tvayi  

His aspiration was I do not want to accumulate great wealth, sensual pleasures with the opposite sex, fame or prestige, or even liberation from suffering, I simply desire to serve, to be the servant or the servants of your servants my Lord, unconditionally. This is a universal principle; in giving we receive. To the degree we really connect with God in our heart, to that degree our love for God manifests as compassion for other living beings. The more we see need, the more we are humbled to the call of service. As far as I can see, there is so much need in New York City – so much greed and envy, arrogance, pride and what to speak of distraction. People are constantly being bombarded with weapons of mass distraction. So what a wonderful place to share something beautiful and wonderful. And in sharing something wonderful we get such immense benefit.”

“To connect with that is the higher taste and when we experience that higher taste we want to share it with others. New York City is such a special place to share. People are struggling so much. Its not only the poor but the wealthy as well. I need to tell you this story because it is a very far away place from the culture of New York. Sometimes I am with simple village people and recently I was with one lady. It was just outside of a village called Varsana in the Vrindavana area. This area it is the eternal home of Radha, the supreme feminine aspect of God. And in that area, surrounding it, the people are so poor materially. They live in small villages without electricity and running water or sewage systems. And many of the residents develop blindness due to untreated cataracts which they have no money to have treated. So our hospital from Mumbai has set up a permanent small camp there, and once a year we set up a large camp where 200 devotees from our congregation in Mumbai go there to treat several thousand villagers.”

“I was in the camp this February. Among the people waiting in line for their surgeries was one really really old lady. She didn’t speak any English and was very tiny. I am pretty tiny, but she was tiny next to me. She was 85 years old but she looked at least 125 years old. She had been beaten by time severely. Her skin was deeply creviced by wrinkles and she wore the clothes of the very poor. She looked like a desperate old lady. She was sitting on the ground with all these other ladies and I felt something for her, and so I sat next to her and someone was translating as I asked her about herself. She told me a little of her story. She said that her husband died. She had four children and they all died. And her brother died. She had no relatives and no family and this all happened within a few years. And because she is illiterate she can’t read or write and can’t get a job. And she is very old. She had lived in a little hut. Then someone took her hut away leaving her homeless. The winters are really cold there and the summers are really hot.  The rainy season can be very wet and she was just living under a tree and had lost everyone in a last couple of years. That is a pretty desperate situation. She said she had two cataracts in her eyes and she could hardly see. She told me how happy she was – how grateful she was. She said she prayed to Radha, as in that area of Vrindavana Radha is worshiped as the feminine aspect of the Supreme Lord.  She said I only have one prayer to Radha and Krishna for the past year – to take away one of my cataracts so that I can once again make bread and offer it to Radha. So she could make rotis, which are very simple unleavened bread, for Radha. That is all I want in my life and then I will be happy. She started embracing me. I am a swami and usually women don’t embrace swamis, but she was so happy and said you people are going to take away my cataract so that my prayer can be fulfilled. Then she started singing and dancing a really beautiful dance, and she got 15 other ladies to join her. This totally forsaken, poverty stricken lady was illuminating the entire atmosphere. She was so grateful that she could make rotis again and offer them to Radharani.”

“I was thinking, what is happiness? Sometimes I am with middle class people, sometimes millionaires and sometimes even billionaires, but I don’t see such happiness as in this old lady. She got her cataract removed, and the doctors told me that when she was leaving the eye camp she was dancing all the way.  She is not insane – just happy. She is more sane than most people because she is grounded. What is real wealth? When my beloved gurudeva, Srila Prabhupada was here in New York City he had nothing and he was feeling such sympathy for people who were driving around in limousines. He was not wishing he had that. He was thinking I wish they had the love and bliss that God has given me. There are so many illusions and so much suffering here that it is a very good impetus to take shelter of our spiritual practices. Sometimes when we are in holy places we take for granted what we have, but when we are in a place where there is so much going on so many people distracted in so many ways, and so much suffering, we really understand how valuable what we have is. So the perfect place for our spiritual life is wherever we are and that very very uniquely includes New York City.”

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