I had not seen Radhanath Swami since the time I was living in New York in 2010. He has always been very kind to me and even back then when I was probably at my lowest point in life, he extended his compassionate hand to me.
At that time I had decided to deconstuct everything I ever knew and to reset my outlook on life, even to the point of adopting a strict raw vegan diet. My hair was a little longer and I spoke and wrote differently about my spirituality. Some of my older Krishna friends had thought I had lost my way, but I was as passionate as ever to find spiritual truth and meaning. Like the true wise sage, Radhanatha swami did not change a beat in how he related to me. He happily sat down with my friends and I at the Sunday feast at the Bhakti Centre in New York to share funny stories of his college preaching days in the 80s when he hosted a vegetarian club on campus. This was also the same time that I began writing my book, FOOD YOGA – Nourishing Body, Mind & Soul.
A few months later, I left the US and returned to Australia to continue my new journey and admired his successes and wisdom from afar through Facebook posts and videos, and like so many others, I thoroughly relished reading his first book, The Journey Home.
I was so happy to be able to see him again once I heard he was releasing his latest book, The Journey Within at the George Washington University tonight.
My wife and I arrived on time and took our seats. My son, Bhimal is usually very peaceful, but tonight he was also excited and was making many oohs and ahhs. I watched and listened with wrapped attention as Maharaja spoke. My eyes are not good at the moment, so he was slightly blurry to me from a distance, so I was straining my eyes to really focus on his face, hoping to capture his eyes. Like any good speaker, he constantly scanned the room from side to side, communicating to the entire audience. At times, I felt that he looked my way and I hoped that he would remember me.
His lecture and answers to the questions after the talk were beautiful, enlightening and entertaining. The entire auditorium listened with respectful silence and focus as he delivered each and every word with careful consideration. Maharaja talked about his dear friend Bhaktitirtha Swami, who on his deathbed asked Radhanatha Swami to promise to tell his spiritual journey in the form of a book. That book, The Journey Home is now translated into 24 languages and has inspired millions of people.
Tonight’s talk introduced the wisdom shared in his latest book, The Journey Within, that our search for true happiness has to start from within — we are the “witness” the soul to all of the changes that are taking place in our life and bodies.
After the lecture, Rukmini Walker the host, asked if people would like to get their books signed. I jumped at the chance and got into the line. There were about 5 people in front of me and soon the line started to snake around the room. I waited anxiously wondering what I would say, but our main purpose in coming tonight was to ask Maharaja if he would bless our new baby, Bhimal. My wife, Juliana readied him in the stroller beside me. Suddenly a young man approached me and asked for our names. I asked him to write down our spiritual names, Priyavrata, Jagannatha Priya and Bhimal. It seemed that he only started taking names with us and those that went before us introduced themselves.
Soon it was our turn. I offered my respects by bowing my head to the ground in the traditional manner and reciting a prayer of respect to all Vaisnavas. At first, Maharaja did not seem to recognize me. I handed him my book for signing and then the boy with the notepad showed him our names. Maharaja glanced at our names, but still did not make a connection. Knowing Maharaja would not have much time to chat, I immediately introduced my wife and son and asked him to please bless Bhimal and if he would kindly do the grain giving ceremony for the child next week. He immediately agreed and leaned over to touch the boy’s head. He then looked at me again and his eyes lit up. His pupils dilated like they were taking in the universe and with a broad smile, he communicated clearly that he remembered me. We touched hands and then he leaned over to hug me. I did not feel worthy, but gladly complied as we embraced for a good 5 seconds. Maharaja buried his face in my shoulder and I felt so much gratitude. He asked where I was living and I told him we now live in Colombia at my wife’s animal sanctuary.
It is said in the scriptures that even a moment’s association with a devotee of God will guarantee one a successful spiritual journey. The Chaitanya Charitimarita says it this way:
sādhu-saṅga sādhu-saṅga—association with pure devotees; sarva-śāstre—all the revealed scriptures; kaya—say; lava-mātra—even for a moment; sādhu-saṅge—by association with a devotee; sarva-siddhi—all success; haya—there is
“The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success.
Tonight I got a hug from a saint and although I felt extremely unqualified, it made my day. As I read Maharaja’s book later tonight, tears welled up in my eyes as he recalled his meeting with Dorothy at the airport. Dorothy was an elderly lady that had literally gone through hell and felt the entire universe swallow her up. Her story was so sad but Maharaja was there to comfort her with his simple words of wisdom and helped her see the positive side and how we always have a choice as to how we respond to each situation in life.
We all go through challenges and I have had my fair share. Lately, however, although in many ways life is good, it can still be overwhelming and has brought me to tears.
When I hear the stories of Radhanatha Swami and his incredible successes, I feel like I’ve achieved nothing and are far from reaching my full potential. In some ways, this makes me hopeful that things can only get better, but there are times, when, like Dorothy, I feel that God might have forgotten me. But when you come into the presence of a genuine holy person and take the time to attentively hear their wise words, you get a direct connection to transcendence which puts everything in your life in full perspective. Just like a light bulb turned on in a dark room, suddenly things become clearer and make sense.
In the Chaitanya Charitamrita there is a wonderful exchange between Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his dear friend, Ramananda Raya. CC Madhya 8.251
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu asked, “Out of all auspicious and beneficial activities, which is best for the living entity?”
Now, Ramananda Raya could have given so many good suggestions here, even some very obvious ones like, “Oh the most auspicious activity is chanting the holy name of God,” or “visiting a holy place,” but he didn’t. His answer was much more profound…
Rāmānanda Rāya replied, “The only auspicious activity is association with the devotees of Kṛṣṇa.”
The ONLY auspicious activity! In making this amazing statement, he clearly declares that there is nothing auspicious about this material world. It is a temporary realm of birth, disease, old age and death, combined with three kinds of suffering (bodily, other living beings and natural causes). His statement supports the bold claim that even a moments association of a pure devotee of God can guarantee one all success.