Radhanath Swami – Harmonizer of Tradition and Modernity

Radhanath Swami - Harmonizer of Tradition and Modernity

Adapting an ancient tradition for contemporary times is a sacred and delicate challenge, a challenge that requires a true seer to navigate. Spiritual teachers who have to harmonize tradition and modernity sometimes compare it to walking on a tightrope. If they bend too much on the side of tradition, they risk making the tradition unappealing, if not irrelevant. If they bend too much on the side of modernity, they risk distorting the tradition and diminishing its potency. It takes a true seer to "see" the essence of the tradition and preserve it while adapting its external form according to the cultural and intellectual ethos of the times.

Presenting an ancient tradition to a modern audience was the challenge that confronted Radhanath Swami two and a half decades ago when he started building a spiritual community at Mumbai, India. In a letter to a scholar, this is how he phrased the challenge: "It is important to remain faithful to the siddhanta [philosophical conclusions] while being open to effective ways of reaching and sustaining people's hearts. The essential teachings should not be compromised in principle or practice. At the same time there need to be a presentation in a way that will actually achieve the purpose of attracting people's hearts, nourishing faith and sustaining devotion."

Mumbai being on the west coast of India is famous as the Gateway of India and is widely considered the economic capital of the country. Consequently, it is the epicenter of modernization, with most western materialistic influences radiating from there to the rest of the country. To present and popularize a pristine spiritual tradition in the heartland of materialism is no easy task. Radhanath Swami represented a tradition of bhakti (devotional love) to God in the form of Krishna that dated back to thousands of years. While most people in Mumbai were familiar with Krishna-bhakti, few saw it as having much relevance with their lives as progressive urbanites. Yet 25 years down the line, by Radhanath Swami's inspiration, over 2500 individuals – engineers, doctors, businessmen, software professionals, industrialists, professors, government administrators among them – have become dedicated bhakti-yoga practitioners who congregate every Sunday for a weekly devotional get-together at the Radha Gopinath temple in South Mumbai inspired by him.

Evidently, Radhanath Swami has successfully walked the tightrope. What are the elements that led to his success? Here we will focus on four principal elements:

  1. Providing a sense of community and belonging
  2. Offering immediacy of spiritual experience
  3. Showing a different way to change the world
  4. Demonstrating a living example of pure saintliness

1. Radhanath Swami Provided a sense of community and belonging

One of the inevitable consequences of urbanization is the replacement of the joint family with the nuclear family. Soap operas that highlight the perennial domestic conflicts between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law may make the nuclear family seem like a liberating option. But it is an undeniable fact that this apparent liberation comes at a stiff price; nuclear family members are deprived of the emotional sense of community and the practical assistance available in a joint family. In a metropolitan city teeming with millions rushing about in cars and trains, almost everyone at some time or the other feels overwhelmed by a feeling of insignificance and alienation. One feels like a mere statistic in the city's socio-economic arithmetic, a "nobody" for whom nobody cares outside one's family circle. And conflicts within the nuclear family jeopardize even that sole shelter, as is often the case nowadays.


Humble beginnings

For such harried urbanites, Radhanath Swami envisioned a spiritual community that would offer, in his own words, "shelter and empowerment." He had seen both worlds, having experienced the frantic materialism of Western metropolitan sites and the tranquil spirituality of Indian holy places, and he knew he had his task cut out before him – and a formidable task it was: to create a tranquil islandof spirituality amidst a turbulent ocean of materialism.

But he started off with guts and gumption, bringing to the task the same resource that had successfully led him in his own search for the truth: prayerful determination. He started sharing his wisdom by conducting small spiritual programs in various places in Mumbai. What raised those humble beginning above the ordinary was the fact that Radhanath Swami personally spent hours and days with the few individuals who seemed somewhat interested. Little did those people know that they were destined to be spiritual pioneers, thanks to the expert mentorship of Radhanath Swami. Of course, not allwhom he beckoned responded to his call, but those who did soon found their lives dramatically, positively transformed. In Radhanath Swami's presence and guidance, they experienced what he had set out to offer: "shelter and empowerment." With the testimony of their own transformed lives, they started sharing with others the wisdom and the love they had received.


The Counselor System

Radhanath Swami, with characteristic far-sightedness, envisioned, based on the instruction of his spiritual master and the need of the times, a system for providing love and care to every member of the community. Calling it the counselor system, he explained that "the counselor was a philosopher, friend and guide to the counselees." He encouraged, guided and trained his early students to become counselors, doing for newcomers to the temple what he had himself done for them. The result was evolutionary in its progress, but revolutionary in its product. Today every visitor who comes to the Radha-Gopinath temple can avail of that product, if he or she so desires. They can choose, without any financial entailments, a counselor who provides them all-round guidance for applying spiritual principles in a modern setting. Consequently, visitors feel welcomed, valued, cared and guided, and many of them take to spiritual practices enthusiastically, rediscovering the sense of community and belonging that had been missing in their lives. Demonstrating the adage, "A friend in need is a friend in need," Radhanath Swami makes himself available to the counselors whenever they need him to cope with the inevitable trials and tests of life. Inspired by his example, the counselors make themselves available to their counselees. This creates within all of them the sense of belonging to a larger family – the spiritual community – that serves as the feasible modern-day substitute for the traditional joint family.


Empowering women

With his trademark style of empowering all those who are eager to take up responsibilities, Radhanath Swami fostered not just a male counselor akin to a male patriarch, but a counselor-couple, akin to a joint family comprising both male and female elders. The system of having counselor couples – with males guiding males and females guiding females – preserves the gender distances essential for maintaining spiritual standards, but without creating a culture of male chauvinism or female marginalization. Radhanath Swami stresses the vital, indispensable contribution of ladies as mothers and homemakers, the role that tradition has earmarked for them. Simultaneously, he also encourages and facilitates them to take up leadership roles that are compatible with community requirements and individual talents.

The results – multitudes taking up spirituality every month, if not every week – are remarkable, to say the very least. These results are all the more noteworthy, considering the fact that the tradition Radhanath Swami represents demands stringent spiritual standards: daily two hours meditation and lifelong abstinence from meat-eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. And Radhanath Swami credits this spectacular success to the counselor system, declaring it the single most important feature of the temple's outreach wing.

The counselor system was just the first of the many social support systems that Radhanath Swami and his trained students unfurled: a marriage board, a community hospital, a devotional school… The list has expanded over the years and it will, no doubt, continue to expand, but the motivating, underlying principle will remain the same: to empower individuals by providing a sense of community and belonging.

2. Radhanath Swami offered immediacy of spiritual experience

It is rare that a ten-minute event attracts a crowd of several hundreds. It is rarer still that the same ten-minute program repeated daily continues to attract crowds. But this rare event happens every evening between 9 pm to 9:10 pm at the Radha Gopinath temple. The event? The final musical prayer of the day, known traditionally as the shayan-kirtan. The soft singing of the Hare Krishna mantra to a heart-soothing melody with the accompaniment of gentle traditional music creates a hypnotic atmosphere that transports visitors to a divine world of peace and joy. Add to it the opportunity to behold the beautiful Deities of Radha Krishna dressed in endearing rustic apparel, and you have a delicious feast for the heart that can be relished not just through the ears but also through the eyes.But what makes the spiritual menu irresistible is its timing: by being served out in the late evening, it offers visitors, drained by a long day's hard and stressful work, a ten-minute divine-energy capsule that not only de-stresses, but also rejuvenates.


Charming Temple

This evening musical prayer is just one of the many features of tailor-made spirituality that Radhanath Swami has meticulously master-minded to offer temple visitors immediate spiritual experiences. Foundational to all these features is the temple building itself. Constructed externally using red sandstone and internally embellished with vintage wooden carvings, it impresses visitors by its traditional look and enchants them with its devotional feel. Little do these visitors know that this magical effect is the end-result of the sustained devotional visualization of Radhanath Swami, who has personally overseen everything from the shape of the decorative patterns on the floor to the design of the artistic wooden boxes that contain and conceal the sound amplifiers. Of course, for devotees, the main charm is not the temple building, but the Deities who reside in, nay preside over, the temple. Radhanath Swami has personally worshipped Deities for nearly a decade on a lonely hilltop in Western Virginia. Thus having himself experienced the spiritual potency of Deity worship, he has inspired many of his prominent students to serve as pujaris or worship-specialists, who feed, bathe, dress, decorate and serve the Deities in manifold ways. The result of his devotion and their dedication is that the temple altar shines with a divine resplendence that attracts aesthetic minds and charms devotional hearts. In addition to the aesthetes and the devotees, for all those who come in front of the altar, the Deities radiate a sweet compassion that soothes stressed minds and comforts troubled hearts.


Air-Conditioned Temple Hall

One of Radhanath Swami's bolder innovations was to have the temple hall air-conditioned. Such modernization may at first brush seem to militate against the traditional setting that the temple intends to re-create. This innovation reveals Radhanath Swami's focus on being a stickler not to tradition, but to the purpose of tradition. The purpose of the path of bhakti is to fix the mind on the divine, not to torture the body. One of the most important ways of fixing the mind on Krishna is by hearing discourses that describe his message and pastimes. Radhanath Swami therefore intends the temple hall not just as a place for having darshan (beholding the Deities) for a few minutes, but also for sitting and hearing and relishing talks for hours. If relieving the body of the discomfort of the coastal sultriness of Mumbai can help visitors better fix their minds on Krishna during the crowded classes, then arranging for that relief is entirely in harmony with the principles of bhakti. Thus the spiritual environment at the temple offers transcendental relief from the stresses of city life – and the air-conditioners pitch in by providing temperature relief from the sultry Mumbai climate.


Lively Festivals

The temple pulsates with palpable spiritual vibrations at all times, but these vibrations reach a crescendo on festival days, when thousands congregate for a cultural variety program comprising, among other things, a talk on the spiritual significance and relevance of that festival and a celebration of devotional dancing and singing. The heavy crowding during the festivals appears like the crowding in the metropolitan trains in Mumbai, but except for the appearance nothing else is similar. Unlike the sulky irritable atmosphere in the trains, a cheerful warm atmosphere pervades the temple. In the trains people crowd because they have to: they have no alternative other than the trains for transportation. But in the temple people crowd because they want to: they would prefer no alternative to the temple, because it transport them efficaciously to a divine realm of fulfilling inner experience. These festivals happen approximately once a month, on the days that mark spiritually significant events in the distant or recent past.

More frequent than these festivals are the weekly Sunday feast programs that attract nearly two thousand five hundred people when Radhanath Swami is present to give the talk and lead the singing. The electrifying spiritual experiences provided by these Sunday get-togethers can be inferred from just one observation: hundreds of people commute hundreds of miles to be a part of this four-hour event.


Devotional Dramas

Another important cultural initiative pioneered by Radhanath Swami is the enactment of devotional dramas. This may not seem innovative, given the fact that such dramas have a long history in India that continues to this day in many places. But what makes Radhanath Swami's initiative distinctive is his insistence that the dramas be performed by devotee-practitioners, even if they are amateurs, and not by hired professionals. The reason for this insistence goes to the heart of devotional philosophy. According to devotional philosophy, the purpose of devotional drama is to provide the audience not just entertainment but also a glimpse of divine emotions. And the audience can get an authentic glimpse, devotional philosophy holds, only when those performing the drama are themselves relishing and sharing those emotions. As only devotees can deeply relish sublime devotional emotions, Radhanath Swami insists that only devotees enact these dramas.

Dramas are performed at all major festivals throughout the year, but a special annual festival focuses exclusively on dramas. Titled aptly as the drama festival, it marks the culmination of months of diligent preparation by dozens of devotees, who participate as actors, decorators, musicians, dancers, directors, and in every other way required to make the drama a resounding success. Participants meticulously study the scriptural narratives, memorize the relevant dialogues, enter deep into the moods of the characters they are enacting and, on the drama performance day, transport the audiences to that same divine mood. The dramas move onlookers to tears and laughs, to terrors and thrills, to agonies and ecstasies – all in the background of loving remembrance of the Lord. For the participants, their fulfillment comes not from the applause of the assembled audience, but from the presence of Radhanath Swami who attentively and affectionately watches the entire drama and then comes backstage to appreciate the performers.


Pilgrimages: Vacations from the World

The most outstanding of Radhanath Swami's initiatives is the annual pilgrimage, popularly known as the yatra. With over six thousand people traveling to remote holy places, these pilgrimages are, at the very least, a marvel of management. Some two hundred buses going in a pre-determined sequence along dusty broken roads, each bus filled to capacity with cheerful faces jubilantly singing the holy names: that is a sight unbelievable for those who don't see it and unforgettable for those who do see it. The marvelous management behind this two-week mega-event is the result of Radhanath Swami's repeated teaching that one's devotion is demonstrated by the responsibility with which one execute one's practical services to the Lord. The massive management – right from booking the hundreds of rooms, cooking the thousands of pounds of sanctified food (prasad), arranging the scores of buses for transportation – is all done by volunteers, who, being inspired by Radhanath Swami's stress on selfless service, seek no remuneration for their tireless efforts – no remuneration, that is, except the pleasure and the blessings of Radhanath Swami.

The managerial expertise is no doubt impressive, but it is like the stage-setup for the real show: the glimpses into the spiritual world. Radhanath Swami, who has during his own spiritual quest has had many such glimpses, shares those glimpses during these pilgrimages through his enlivening classes about the historical and devotional significance of the holy places, through his enchanting kirtans that lead to thousands dancing joyfully in hundreds of small graceful circles and through his enthusing personal presence from the beginning to the end of the pilgrimage. Thus he ensures that pilgrimages are not reduced to rituals of pious sight-seeing, but become vibrant spiritual experiences that inspire and transform the hearts of the participants.

At the end of each pilgrimage, when the participants depart to their respective destinations, they carry with them not just mementos purchased from the gift shops, but also memories that are unavailable at any gift shop. These mesmerizing devotional memories that enter the hearts of the participants are the finished products that have resulted from the materials of the devotional heart and the visionary expertise of Radhanath Swami, catalyzed by the managerial competence of his leading students. These memories sustain and inspire the participants spiritually throughout the year as they eagerly count the days to the next annual pilgrimage. Devotees look forward to these pilgrimages not just as vacations from work, but as vacations from the world itself, for these pilgrimages offer them glimpses of the spiritual world, the eternal home that awaits them at the end of a life of diligent spiritual practice.

In times when people are finding legalistic, overmoralistic religious rituals unappealing, Radhanath Swami reveals himself as a creative genius in coming up with dynamic spiritual methods for providing one and all with immediate spiritual experiences. He brings to life the Bhagavad-gita (9.2) statement that devotional service is joyful to perform.


3. Radhanath Swami thought of a different way to transform the world:

The world is, as usual, in the midst of a major global crisis. The real crisis is not that there are so many problems, for these have always been there throughout the history of the world. The real crisis is that nobody really knows how to solve the crisis. Those who claim to have the solution often demand exclusive belief in their sectarian dogma, because such belief, they insist, is the only way to save the world. But more often than not, such dogma ends up creating more conflicts than it solves. No wonder that many intelligent people become suspicious and skeptical about such grandiose "savior" claims. Most other people feel apathetic or helpless toward the world's problems, reasoning that solving the problems that beset their personal lives is a task big enough to keep them occupied lifelong.

Amidst these winds of crisis, self-righteousness, skepticism, apathy and helplessness, Radhanath Swami's teachings are a breath of fresh air. He stresses that the solution to problems – individually and globally – lies not in the propagation of a sectarian dogma, but in the practice of universal values. Radhanath Swami does represent to a specific tradition that some might consider sectarian and he does teach a specific philosophy that some might consider dogmatic, but what makes Radhanath Swami non-sectarian and universal is his emphasis on personal transformation and selfless contribution, values that all open-minded people can appreciate. He repeatedly reminds his students that the test of their assimilation of the philosophy and the tradition is that they develop the universal values of devotional love and selfless service. Love for God, he tells them, must lead to love for all his children, a love that is real only when expressed through humble service for the benefit of all. Selfishness, he teaches, is the root cause of all sufferings and selflessness is the only way to happiness. The test of one's spiritual advancement, he points out, is how much one has traversed the path from selfishness to selflessness. By providing such a nonsectarian and objective test of spiritual advancement, Radhanath Swami ensures that his students respect authentic practitioners of other traditions. Moreover, by encouraging them through his talks to periodically take "a selflessness inventory," he makes sure that they don't remain superficial practitioners, proud of their religious label, but devoid of spiritual substance. By his words and example, he gently but firmly leads them along the challenging but fulfilling path of authentic spiritual advancement, by which their latent divinity as parts of the Supreme shines forth to illumine their own lives – and the lives of many others.

An eloquent testimony to the success of Radhanath Swami's training in selfless service attitude is the astonishing sight that one sees during his pilgrimages: an IIT postgraduate in the kitchen, cooking; a US Doctorate at the prasad counter, serving vegetarian delicacies; and a globally known business magnate at the wash basin, cleaning plates.

By rising from selfishness to selflessness, his students find that their minds become peaceful; their relationships, joyful; their careers, meaningful; and their lives, purposeful. And as they discover themselves wonderfully transformed by applying his teachings, they are naturally imbued with the confidence that those teachings can similarly transform others and the transformation of many such individuals can transform the world at large. Thus they start seeing the truth of Radhanath Swami's teaching that self-transformation and world-transformation are intrinsically interconnected: the second cannot happen without the first, and the first is the surest way to the second. Therefore they feel inspired to begin the transformation at the place where they have the most influence: their own selves and then share the fruits of that transformation with the world.


4. Radhanath Swami demonstrated a living example of pure saintliness

Radhanath Swami's success at harmonizing tradition and modernity stems from one more factor, a factor far more important than all the earlier three. That singularly important factor is Radhanath Swami's own pure saintliness.

The essential, indispensable motivation for an authentic spiritual search is the faith that life has more to offer than its material rewards. In a culture that incessantly glamorizes materialism, such a faith in the spiritual potential of life is nearly impossible to develop or sustain. Consequently, many people neglect spirituality. And even among those who practice spirituality, most relegate it to the role of a handmaid for materialism; Spirituality is considered useful as long as it serves as a stress-reliever and shock-absorber along the bumpy ride to material achievements.

Such a watered-down version of spirituality, though immensely popular and practically useful, misses out on the everlasting fulfillment that authentic spirituality offers. What raises people from popular spirituality to authentic spirituality is a saint who lives only for God and his service, and for nothing mundane, and who thus demonstrates the living reality of spiritual fulfillment. For millions, Radhanath Swami is such a saint: a young seeker who left all the riches of the mundane world to search for God and who has returned to the world as a seer for only one purpose: to share the spiritual riches that he has discovered. Over the years, thousands have been charmed by the simplicity, sincerity and spirituality of Radhanath Swami and have their hearts turned from the mundane toward the divine – and that is the hallmark of a saint.

And that brings us to the point with which we started this discussion: the genius of a true seer. A seer "sees" the essence of a tradition, assimilates it his own heart and presents that essence in a form appealing to the modern mind. The essence of the ancient wisdom-tradition that Radhanath Swami represents – and indeed the essence of most of the world's great wisdom-traditions – is love: pure, selfless, divine love. Radhanath Swami has awakened that sublime love not just in the deepest core of his heart, but in every fiber of his being. And by sharing that love with one and all, he walks skillfully on the delicate tightrope between tradition and modernity. Nay, he dances gracefully along that tightrope, for his love and wisdom have transformed that tightrope into an expressway. An expressway that not only he, but thousands can joyfully tread and eventually attain the ultimate fulfillment that everyone longs for: a life of love – here and hereafter.

Engineering a better world- address to two thousand youth

Prerna lecture by Radhanath Swami

This was the title of the 111th monthly Prerana youth festival held in Mumbai on 27th July’ 2013, Saturday.

Prerana, one of the most anticipated events in the itinerary of Radhanath Swami has been a monthly feature of Radha Gopinath temple activities since 2002 July. Saurabh Pandey, a noted Bollywood Actor and Producer and Mr Hari Vamsha, the chief editor of a prominent newspaper ‘Prabhat Khabar’ were the chief guests for the festival.

The programme began with melodious kirtans followed by a talk by Radheshyam das, a senior student of Radhanath Swami, and the President of the community in Pune, close to Mumbai.

In his address to the two thousand youth of Mumbai, Radhanath Swami shared how humanity today has spent enormous amount of time, money and energy focusing on outer space but there’s practically no focus at all in understanding our own inner space. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, he explained the reason the world is in such disunity is because humans have disunited from their own selves. He also pointed out how one of the prominent teachings of Jesus was ‘what will you gain if you achieve the whole world but lose your own eternal self’.

Offering a brilliant analysis on the way people see this world, he pointed out three common views. The first is the materialistic view, where people see the present world as the only real reality. The second is to deny the world by declaring it as an illusion. However a genuine spiritualist has the view that the world is a sacred property of God. Although the world is real, it’s a temporary manifestation and a devotee of the Lord serves the Lord and harmonizes his existence with God’s energies by engaging his life in the service of God and all living beings of this world.

First he explained the dangers of the conception that the world is the only reality. “When we believe that this world is the only reality, then even our so called moral principles are built on a weak foundation, because when temptation and fear threaten, we’d break our moral and ethical values. We then become the servant of greed, envy, lust, anger, arrogance and illusion.”

He then elaborated on another prevailing conception that the world is nothing but an illusion. For people living by this philosophy it doesn’t really matter if the ecological condition of the world is getting precarious. They are interested in their own salvation and are least bothered if they leave behind a mess. He revealed how holy rivers like Ganga and Yamuna are today polluted and lot of waste is indiscriminately dumped into these rivers.

“But then we have the sublime Vaishnav philosophy,” said Radhanath Swami, “that reveals how the Absolute Truth, God is perfect and complete and is the source of everything that exists. When we see the whole world as God’s property we are freed from greed, envy, anger and lust because we understand, ‘I am not the proprietor; I am the caretaker.’”

Imploring the audience to build their lives on the foundation of service to God, he said, “Exploitation is the symptom of the disease of a selfish egoistic heart. Compassion is the symptom of a person who has actually found inner fulfilment within his or her heart, and to live happily in this world we need to consider everything is a sacred property of God. ” Contrasting a vision separate from God which is characterized by ‘this is mine, and this is yours’, he explained how when we understand that we are all children of God, we respect all life. “In order to actually engineer a better world, we have to begin by engineering a proper perspective of this world” concluded Radhanath Swami.

He also candidly shared many personal stories and anecdotes from his memoir, ‘The Journey Home’. The programme concluded with a melodious kirtan and dinner feast for all the attendees and guests.

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25th anniversary celebrations at Radha Gopinath temple

Radhanath Swami

Radhanath Swami’s most successful and thriving project is ‘Radha Gopinath temple’, a loving spiritual community in downtown Mumbai. On 21st July’ 2013, Sunday, five thousand members gathered for the silver jubilee (25th anniversary) celebrations of the temple.

The programme began with devotees singing bhajans, devotional prayers and songs in glorification of Radha Gopinath, the presiding deities of the temple. The principal deities were installed on the sacred altar twenty five years ago on July’ 17 1988

Many senior members shared their heart felt realizations, and the journey down the memory lane went on for more than four hours. One of the senior members and the President of the temple, Govinda dasa, recollected how the area where the temple is situated is a mesmerizing blend of tradition and modernism. There are over a hundred temples in the three kilometre radius of the temple and the vicinity also hosts a high tech sports stadium, race course and it’s also the political headquarters of the state. He then analysed how another temple as ours stands out because of its exclusive purpose to add spiritual meaning and purpose to the lives of its members. Vishaka devi, another senior member who has been here since the beginning of the temple recollected how they learnt practically everything in their lives while being centred on the temple and devotees.

Radhanath Swami also gave a heart-touching class on the occasion and revealed the secret glue that has held the community together for the last two and half decades, “In modern times, it’s natural for everyone to have reasons to fight, to hate, to be suspicious, and to go their separate ways. But our guru, Srila Prabhupada taught us that if we just keep this chanting and hearing very strong in our lives, individually and collectively, and put God, Krishna in the centre of our lives, then by Krishna’s grace we can overcome all obstacles. And then there can be an actual community.”

He recollected how during the budding stages of the growth of the community, it was inspiring to see the well-known industrialist Hrishikesh Mafatlal and his driver Laksman dance together in the kirtans and chant and pray together in the temple. Incidents such as these gave hope and inspiration to many others that here is a place where discrimination on the basis of caste, economic and educational status is absent, and members truly love and serve each other. “It’s these kind of relationships that creates a real community, where despite the differences in our background, education, income, and nationalities, we value and honour each other, and serve together”, said Radhanath Swami.

Giving credit to his guru, Srila Prabhupada, Radhanath Swami emphasized the tradition of establishing temples. Five hundred years ago, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu established temples through the six goswamis of Vrindavan. Since then many leading spiritual leaders presented a temple as a platform for bringing people together for a common cause and revealing how the sublime spiritual philosophy can be practically lived centred around God and service to all.

The day long programme also included a cultural presentation by the different children groups and melodious kirtans throughout the day. All members were served a sumptuous and delightful feast on the occasion.

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Radhanath Swami’s Visionary address at the Eco-village

Radhanath Swami

“As we are fighting for oil now, in future there could be wars due to shortage of water. This farm community is a humble attempt to show people how to live peacefully by optimally using water and avoiding wastage of God’s sacred and precious energy.” Radhanath Swami’s visionary words came at a time when the United Nations has declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. Through this initiative, the UN aims to encourage sustainable development of agricultural systems, communal units and indigenous groups, and thereby effectively combat world poverty and hunger.

On 22nd and 23rd July’ 2013, Radhanath Swami addressed the leaders of the Govardhan Eco Village (GEV) on developing a vision for the future. GEV is a farm initiative of Radhanath Swami that addresses the need for sustainable rural development.

Besides the opening of the Hanuman temple, Radhanath Swami’s two-day trip to this lush green community on the Northern outskirts of Mumbai focussed on a visionary plan for developing a Vrindavan forest at the GEV. Spread over ten acres, Vrindavan Forest will have replicas of twelve forests of original Vrajmandal, Vrindavan, Mathura, Nandagaon, Barsana, Govardhan, river Yamuna (around 450 feet long, 30 feet wide) and the different ghats. The dioramas depicting Krishna’s pastimes and the miniature replicas of seven major temples of Vrindavan will add to the beauty of the landscape.

PVK Rameshwar, the famous Landscapist designing the forest candidly admitted. “This project will test my twenty eight years of experience in this field.”

Radhanath Swami explained in his brief address that the thoughtful people of the world now understand that the world is sustainable only if we individually and collectively accept an eco-friendly lifestyle. He also revealed how the industrialization of the world is unsustainable without the foundation of a strong agricultural based society, that’s centred on noble and divine principles. “When people come here from all over the world, they will see a God centred life in a way that’s not simply a theoretical philosophy but also the most practical, and the most needed philosophy”, concluded Radhanath Swami.

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Radhanath Swami’s address to Entrepreneurs and Business leaders

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“In a cultured society people love people, and use things. But unfortunately in this world people love things and they use people to get them and keep them” Radhanath Swami made this poignant remark in his talk titled, ‘What to learn after you know everything about everything’ to hundred prominent entrepreneurs, corporate leaders and business men of Mumbai during the Artha Forum conference held in Chowpatty, Mumbai, on Saturday, 20th July’ 2013. Amongst the participants were Mr Sunil Shanghai, MD HSBC Bank, Mr. Ajay Piramal, CEO Piramal Industries, and Mr Amit Chandra, MD, Bain Capital. Besides, a host of other Investment bankers, authors and political leaders also attended the presentation.

The event was similar to the ‘Artha Forum Silicon Valley Event’ held a month ago at Santa Clara, California where Radhanath Swami addressed entrepreneurs and investors from all over the United States.

Artha Forum is an online community dedicated to connecting entrepreneurs, professionals and business leaders and bringing to them the relevance of ancient wisdom and literature in modern business. One of the objectives of Artha Forum is to create awareness amongst business leaders to share the profits of business for helping society. Artha Forum also emphasizes the importance of doing business without greed or pride.

Rajeev Srivastava, one of the founders of Basil Capital and with twenty years of experience in investing in U.S, Europe and India shared the wisdom he learnt from Radhanath Swami, “The turning point in my life was in 1996 when Radhanath Swami guided me ‘make sure that whatever you do, there is no greed or pride’”. Rajeev expressed that since then he and his friends Kushal and Sanjiv pledged 50% of the profits to social initiatives of Radhanath Swami. Rajesh Talwar, a former CEO of a non-profit hospital and presently a trainer and coach for corporate professionals shared his realization, “I have been lucky in life to be guided by Radhanath Swami for over thirty years.” Rajesh has over twenty five years of experience in the field of healthcare administration.

Mr Hrishikesh Mafatlal recollected Radhanath Swami’s wisdom he heard years ago, “God does not see what you give; He sees what you hold back”. Mr Mafatlal has known Radhanath Swami for over twenty eight years now, and he explained how over the years his understanding of charity underwent a substantial change, “Thanks to Radhanath Swami’s friendship, I now realize that charity does not include only money. It’s a matter of awareness, our thinking, our time, all our efforts, and certainly whatever privileges and background we have”. He confessed, “Our goal since then has been to carry out the projects in such a way that after taking care of our minimum needs, we can do the maximum to society.”

Nupur Desai then briefed the participants about the activities of Annamrita, a food- relief programme initiated by the students of Radhanath Swami. Through twenty kitchen centres across eight Indian states, Annamrita is presently catering over 1.2 million wholesome meals every day.

In his address Radhanath Swami contrasted the titillating sensual gratifications with the experience of real fulfilment earned from service. “The nature of flickering gratifications on bodily, sensual and mental level is the more you have, the more you need. It’s like fire; the more fuel you put, the hotter, bigger, and hungrier it gets. And that’s the way with wealth, power, prestige and all sensual pleasure.” He explained how these things can’t touch the heart whereas a rich inner life where we find the treasure of love within ourselves naturally manifests as compassion towards other living entities. “Whether we are little swamis travelling all over without any resources or we are farmers, businessperson, politicians or billionaires, all are wonderful when we are united with the right, fulfilling motivation behind our activities.”

Radhanath Swami presented a spiritual perspective to our occupations; “When we connect with God’s love, we recognize the sacredness of our lives. And that is our natural state. When we tune-in to that divinity, then we’ll naturally feel genuine compassion for others. And then our fulfilment in life is not simply in what we can get, but in what we can give.”

He appealed that if we are motivated by compassion and see the needs of the suffering world, we’ll truly understand that we are all one family and are God’s children. Then we’ll be motivated to make a difference in this world through our character, integrity and our efforts.

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Radhanath Swami meets the Journey Home ‘fan club’

Radhanath Swami at JHB Fan Club

On the evening of 19th July’ Radhanath Swami met around two hundred enthusiastic readers of The Journey Home, at Patidar Samaj Hall, Opera House, Mumbai.

The Journey home book club helps the inspired readers of the book to connect with the author, Radhanath Swami. All the participants were meeting the author for the first time and they confessed that the book has inspired them to further their spiritual quest.

The chief guests of the programme included Ms Parkar, Dean of the prestigious KEM Hospital and Medical College, Mumbai. Mrs Asha Bhosale, the former Mayor of Satara and the CEO of Bank of Mauritius, Ms Subhalaxmi Chakraborty were the other dignitaries in the programme who appreciated the book and the author.

After a short kirtan, Radhanath Swami addressed the attendees by sharing his realization that although the details of the story he wrote in the book may be his own personal story, the principle of the quest for fulfilment is everyone’s story. “We are all trying to find a home; home is where we are completely free, where we are comfortable, where we are with people we love and people who love us. That home is within the heart of every living being, and if we cannot find that home within our own hearts, in the soul’s relationship with God, and in that relationship, understanding our spiritual relationship with all beings, then we’ll never really feel at home anywhere. But if we find that home within our hearts, we can feel our home everywhere” said Radhanath Swami.

He also narrated humorous incidents from his life that happened after the era that he speaks about in the book. These events were related to his own outreach programs in the US and the challenges he faced in presenting the teachings of Bhakti Yoga in the American universities.

He concluded his talk by emphasizing how the universal principle of all spiritual paths is to render loving service to God and humanity that is uninterrupted by any situation- easy or difficult, honour and dishonour, and is free of any selfish or egoistic motivations.

“Service to God and humanity that is not disturbed by the inevitable changes of this world, and is motivated genuinely for God’s pleasure, and for the welfare of others, is the supreme goal of all genuine spiritual paths”, revealed Radhanath Swami. “And this is the beautiful gift that my guru Srila Prabhupada gave me and through my life and the ‘journey Home’, in whatever small way I can, I am trying to share with the world”

The programme concluded with the questions and answer session, and a short five minute film on Radhanath Swami made by Saurabh pandey, a Bollywood film actor and producer. He shared, “Radhanath Swami has so many facets to his personality and in this film I have tried to capture all those facets.”

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Radhanath Swami Addresses Senior Bankers

Talk-by-Radhanath-Swami-at-SBI-Kolkata

On 16th July, Radhanath Swami addressed twenty five senior managers and Bankers of State Bank of India (SBI), in Kolkata. SBI is the largest banking and financial services company in India. Ranked amongst the top thirty reputed companies in the world by Forbes 2009 rankings, and being the only bank featured in the “top 10 brands of India”, SBI has a mammoth 20% market share in deposits and loans among Indian commercial banks.

Radhanath Swami spoke on “Balancing the Balance sheet of life”. He recollected a similar programme he attended with the HSBC in London. “I find it quite humorous and fascinating that you are asking me to speak to you because I have not had a bank account or signed a check since 1969. Someone asked me in London, “How do you survive without having bank accounts, and without signing checks?” and my reply was, “very happily”.

Radhanath Swami emphasized how money is sacred when seen from proper perspective. “Difference between material and spiritual is the consciousness in which it is utilized. If a knife is in the hands of a thief it will be used to cut the throat of a person. But in the hands of a surgeon it can save a life.”

In his talk, Radhanath Swami explained the secret to balance our lives means to see the sacredness of our occupation, to realize, ‘I have certain boundaries of values and ethics within which I earn, and the money I get I understand is what has God has entrusted me with it, and real fulfilment is when I use it with compassion

He also presented a refreshing insight on ‘evolution’ by sharing his thoughts that human evolution really takes place when we progress from our tendency of ‘need to get’ to the ‘joy of giving’.

“And Bhakti yoga helps us to reconnect with our inner nature”, concluded Radhanath Swami, “When we gain inner fulfilment through a balanced spiritual life, temptations and fears cannot disturb our values. We then truly leave a legacy that we are proud of.”

The bankers unanimously expressed feeling enlightened and enriched by the experience. All of them also got their copies of ‘The Journey Home’ signed by Radhanath Swami.

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Radhanath Swami visits birthplace of Srila Prabhupada

Radhanath Swami at Srila Prabhupada's House, Kolkata

On 22nd July, Monday, Radhanath Swami visited the sacred birth place of his guru, Srila Prabhupada.

Tollygunge Road is a busy and crowded street in the suburbs of Kolkata and it was here that Abhay Charan (Srila Prabhupada’s childhood name) was born in 1896. Abhay went on to become a renowned world teacher of Bhakti Yoga and in 1966 went to New York. Known as Srila Prabhupada to the world, he helped thousands transform their lives with the practise of the science of Bhakti Yoga. Radhanath Swami was one of his students who felt Srila Prabhupada personally touch his life with rich devotional experiences.

Accompanied by his friends from Kolkata, Dayaram das, Radha Raman, Acharya Ratna, and a few others, Radhanath Swami paid respects at the 150 year old jackfruit tree, the exact spot where Srila Prabhupada took birth. After leading all the devotees and friends present to a sweet twenty minute kirtan, Radhanath Swami happily exclaimed, “we are right under that tree, the same exact place”. He then distributed sweets to all the neighbours.

Radhanath Swami then visited the nearby Radha Madan Mohan temple, said to be 400 years old. Srila Prabhupada, as a young boy regularly visited this temple, and thus the place has added spiritual significance for all of his students and followers.

While leaving the premises, Radhanath Swami softly chanted Hare Krishna for a sleeping cat and gently patted her.

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Radhanath Swami graces the Cultural festival in Kolkata

Radhanath-Swami-at-Kolkata-Rath-Yatra

“To the degree our service is unconditional or uninterrupted by ego or selfishness, it makes us happy, and it makes Krishna, God happy and it will make the whole world happy”, Radhanath Swami shared his candid heart-felt realizations with thousands at Park Street, Kolkata.

Radhanath Swami is in Kolkata for the annual cultural-spiritual festival of Lord Jaganath’s rath yatra, an event celebrated with festivity and joy uninterruptedly since 1972.

Traditional Odissi dance by the renowned Dona Ganguly, mass distribution of sanctified vegetarian food, tents displaying Vedic education and distribution of literature, and Kids corner are some of the exciting things happening at the various camps put up in the grounds. Over a million people participate in this festival spanning over nine days. Radhanath Swami addressed the crowd on the 13th and 14th July when over three hundred thousand people attended.

While Ms Mamta Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal inaugurated the festival, prominent Indian leaders from various walks of life grace the festival. In the past noted former cricketer Saurav Ganguly, Indian President Pranav Mukherjee, Industrialist Harsh Goenka of the RPG group, Bollywood celebrity Hema Malini are some of the guests who have attended the festival and addressed the enthusiastic participants.

As part of ‘Clean and green Kolkata’- the theme of the festival for the last two years- the volunteers distributed 25,000 trees each year. This year the theme has been the ‘Temple of Vedic Planetarium’. Radhanath Swami along with his dear friends Jaya Pataka Swami and Bhakti Charu Swami inspired the thousands; Jaya Pataka Swami in his address expressed, “Radhanath Swami is not only my dear friend, he’s also a spiritual power, attractive to the whole world, and we are very fortunate to have him here in this festival.”

Radhanath Swami, remembering with gratitude the tireless efforts of his guru Srila Prabhupada, explained how the Ratha yatra festival is now held in every part of the globe. Rome, Philadelphia, London, Moscow, Melbourne, Mumbai and many other prominent cities of the world today host this festival.

Radhanath Swami noted how people love to chant and dance; they love colours and decorations; all love to eat a nice feast and Rath yatra is a festival when all these happen, and simultaneously profound, intimate experiences of Bhakti Yoga are relished by all participating in the festival.

Radhanath Swami also congratulated the efforts of his dear friend Jaya Pataka Swami who has not missed the festival even once since the last forty two years. “His sacrifice and love is the foundation on which this festival is built", said Radhanath Swami in his address.

Radhanath Swami also appreciated the festival as a glorious testimony of the splendour of Indian culture and spirituality. “So many people from India are going to the west to seek happiness in the form of material comfort and prosperity”, said Radhanath Swami, “and so many people from the west are coming to India to seek happiness through spiritual enlightenment. This shows how everybody is seeking happiness, and in the practise of Bhakti Yoga we seek happiness not in the temporary, changing things, but in our eternal spiritual nature.”

The festival concludes on the 18th of July with the return Rath Yatra where their Lordships Jaganath, Baladeva and Subhadra ride the magnificent carts to reach back to their temple.

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The annual rath yatra, cart festival, in Puri

Radhanath Swami

Radhanath Swami participated in the annual rath yatra, the cart festival in Puri on the 10th of July’ 2013, Wednesday. The festival attended by over a million devout pilgrims from all over the world is one of the most popular traditional festivals of India. Radhanath Swami was attending this festival after a gap of seven years.

The festival is to honour the Supreme Lord Jaganath who along with His brother Baladeva and sister Subhadra travel in three giant carts to nearby Gundica. The festival celebrates Lord Krishna’s return to Vrindavan from Kurukshetra. The devotees happily pull the carts with a desire to get Krishna back to Vrindavan, and the journey is accompanied by loud chanting and dancing. The festival represents a devotee’s sincere effort to invite the Lord into our own hearts. Our heart symbolizes Vrindavan, the eternal abode of the Lord and the chariot festival is an expression of our desire to once again reunite with the Lord.

Radhanath Swami chanted and danced the whole day in front of the cart with thousands of his students and friends. Earlier during the day, as part of the traditional rituals, the king of Puri, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb personally swept the road to invite the Lord. Before Rath Yatra begins, a regal procession led by an elephant travels through the parting crowds to Sri Nahar, the king’s palace. After a formal invitation, the king of Puri advances slowly by palanquin towards the chariots to perform the chera-pahanra ceremony of sweeping for the Lord.

The king performs the menial service of sweeping the carts with a golden-handled broom. He then offers flowers with scented water on all three chariots, first Balaram’s, then jagannath’s, and finally Subhadra’s. The meaning behind this function is that although the king is leader among men, he humbles himself before the Supreme Lord, Lord Jagannath.

Radhanath Swami witnessed these events in the morning and the whole afternoon danced and chanted in procession to the Gundica temple. Lord Jaganath’s cart didn’t reach the destination that evening. The next morning all devotees again gathered in front of the cart and pulled the cart to Gundica.

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Puri Book Launch

Radhanath Swami

Radhanath Swami’s Journey Home received appreciation and recognition at Puri during the annual cart festival. At the giant tent erected for the daily classes and kirtans for devotees taking part in the Puri pilgrimage, it was a treat for all on the 8th July, Monday.

Amongst the prominent residents of Puri and well known celebrities of the state of Orissa who graced the occasion was Mrs. Shantilal Pradhan, the chairman of Puri town. She extended a warm welcome to over five thousand devotees, guests and friends of Radhanath Swami and requested them to come to Puri every year for the rath yatra, the cart festival. Mr. Somanath Khuntia, a recognized commentator of the cart festival in Puri and a renowned spiritual writer and founder of orphanages, acknowledged the efforts of Radhanath Swami and his guru, Srila Prabhupada in presenting the Bhakti science. Ramachandra Pratihari, a veteran award winning actor expressed the dire need of modern times to accept a God centred life. He said this alone can guarantee a happy life. Pintu Nanda, a famous movie star of Orissa and Sushant Kumar Raj, Professor and Head of Department of ‘Rashtriya samskrit sansthan’ also took part in the programme. All these guests unveiled ‘Ghara Bahuda’ the Oriya translation of the Journey Home.

A beautiful traditional Orissa dance called ‘Gotipua’ was performed by young local teenagers on the theme of Lord Krishna’s pastimes. Radhanath Swami also addressed a press conference in which he spoke his message to the people of Orissa. “Our home is wherever our dearest friend, our mother and father are, and the most intimate of all is the Lord in our own hearts” said Radhanath Swami in his interview to the media, “and The Journey Home is about bringing our consciousness back to the Lord within our own hearts

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Kirtan and sanga with four thousand devotees

Radhanath Swami

On the shores of Bay of Bengal, amidst the gentle breeze blowing from the ocean to the giant pandal tent erected for the kirtan and discourses, Radhanath Swami’s voice resounds over the amplifiers.

Radhanath Swami is in Puri for a week long pilgrimage with over four thousand of his friends, students and well-wishers. The tour culminates on the 10th of July, with the eagerly awaited rath yatra, festival of chariots, where the principal deities of Puri, namely Lord Jagganath, with his brother Baladeva and sister Subhadra ride on three magnificent chariots, amidst over a million faithful who accompany the procession with loud kirtans and dancing.

The daily itinerary begins at 5.00 am with devotees coming together for early morning chants and japa meditation session in the tent. This is followed by a lively discourse by Radhanath Swami on the teachings of Lord Chaitanya, the bhakti apostle, who incarnated in the fifteenth century in Eastern India. Radhanath Swami speaks on this subject from the bhakti scripture ‘Sri Chaitanya Chaitamrita’.

From 10.30 am onwards the congregation scatters to tour the various holy places at Puri. Some visit various temples in and around Puri, while others bathe in the sea. And some others tour the sacred places associated with Lord Chaitanya and His followers. Then again at 5.00 pm the congregation gathers at the pandal, and this time Radhanath Swami leads the group on kirtans and class on the pastimes of Lord Jagganath. The pastimes of Lord Jagganth are recounted in various Vedic texts and Puranas, which Radhanath Swami quotes abundantly. Around 8.00 pm, Radhanath Swami leads a melodious hour long kirtan with everyone joyfully dancing and chanting to the various melodies.

In the group accompanying Radhanath Swami to Puri, are associates and students from across the globe. Radhanath Swami’s dear friends Chandramauli swami, and Bhakti Purushottama swami have also joined him; they accompany the various groups during the day as they visit the sacred places and together participate in the morning and evening sessions at the tent.

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Radhanath Swami meets the King of Puri

Radhanath Swami

Jagganath Puri, a thriving tourist spot, and for the bhakti yogis, a sacred place of pilgrimage, is abuzz with excitement as the annual cart festival is soon approaching. Over a million devout pilgrims throng to witness the festival of chariots where the Supreme Lord, in the form of Lord Jagganath, with his brother and sister, ride beautiful chariots amidst loud chanting and dancing festivities.

While the billion plus Indians watch the event on television, prominent citizens and spiritual leaders of all faiths congregate with groups of friends and followers.

Radhanath Swami entered Puri on the 6th of July’ 2013 to the gracious welcome of the King of Puri and the principal high priests of the traditional Jagganath temple.

The King of Puri, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb is also the administrative head and the Chairman of the Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee which carries out the annual festival at Puri. He greeted Radhanath Swami at his residence in Bhubaneshwar, close to Puri. Both of them had an eventful one hour meeting and discussion on how the devotees of Lord Jagganath all over the world could come together and cooperate as one family to render better and loving services.

The main high priests of the Jagganath temple are carrying on the traditional worship of the Lord uninterruptedly for the last thousands of years. They are called as Daitya patis, and two of the prominent priests, Ram kumar Panda and Bhabani Prasad Mahapatra happily welcomed Radhanath Swami to the temple town Puri.

Radhanath Swami is in Puri for over a week to participate in the annual cart festival. He is accompanied by his friends, students and well-wishers.

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The Journey Home Book - Yet another milestone achieved

Radhanath Swami

Launched in the Oriya language at Bhuvaneshwar, Orissa

"I am grateful that you chose this place for the book launch; we feel honoured and privileged" This was often repeated by Dr Achyut Samant, recognized as one of the top fifteen social entrepreneurs of the world by Edge foundation, Inc, U.S.A. Dr Samanta hosted the launch of 'Ghara Bahuda', the Oriya translation of 'Journey Home' at the convention centre of his Kalinga Institute. Dr. Samanta is the founder of Kalinga Insititute of Social Sciences, a world class university that provides education to twenty thousand neglected and under privileged tribal children.

Besides Dr Samanta, the book launch programme was also graced by Shri Arun Kumar Sahoo, Hon’ble Minister, Energy, Information and Public relations, Odisha, and Shri Sitakant Mahapatra, a noted writer and a recipient of prestigious National awards. Mahapatra appreciated Radhanath Swami’s gesture of ‘embracing the whole world’ through his memoir. “As we learn to accept the joys and sorrows, ecstasies and despairs all in our stride, we also need to pursue an inner journey”. Mahapatra confided, “This is a great evening in my life”. Mr Sahoo also shared his realization that when we internally follow the path of ‘sadhus’, the genuine seekers of God, a positive transformation of the society shall certainly happen.

Addressing a gathering of eight hundred guests, Radhanath Swami spoke of his discovery of a great wealth in India. "The treasure of integrating every aspect of our lives through yoga, dharma and spirituality has given me a whole new dimension to life”. He explained that the gift of ability to serve that we all possess has the potential to spiritualize everything. Earlier during the press conference, Radhanath Swami expressed his heart-felt gratitude to the people and culture of India and said this book was his offering of love to his guru and the people of India. Answering various questions regarding his travels and teachings, Radhanath Swami pointed out that unless we change ourselves, we can’t change the world. He quoted Gandhi who said, “we should be the change we want to see in the world.”

In his speech, Shri Hrishikesh A. Mafatlal, Chairman and MD, Mafatlal Industries, shared his twenty seven years of friendship with Radhanath Swami. “I have seen Radhanath Swami consistently practise and teach the principles of acceptance and tolerance of what’s uncontrollable in life, while focussing on the positive.” He noted how the most profound lessons are often very simple in life.

Dr. Achyut Samanta in his address shared the need to pursue spiritual interests early on in childhood like Radhanath Swami, and not postpone this drive for a later age. Having won the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru award from the Prime Minister of India and also being recognized as Asia’s best social entrepreneur by World HRD Congress (2010), Dr. Samanta’s simple appeal touched the hearts of all, “I bow down to you, Radhanath Swami and seek blessings for my own further journey in life” he concluded.

The programme closed with the melodious rendition of traditional Orissa songs of devotion.

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Journey Home Book - An Autobiography of An American Swami

                                                                       -By Radhanath Swami

The Journey Home Book

"Mystic Yogis, and an epic quest through spiritual India"

Within this extraordinary memoir, Radhanath Swami weaves a colorful tapestry of adventure, mysticism, and love. Readers follow Richard Slavin from the suburbs of Chicago to the caves of Himalayas as he transforms from young seeker to renowned spiritual guide. The Journey Home is an intimate account of the steps to self awareness and also the penetrating glimse into the hearts of mystic traditions and the challenges that all souls must face on the road to inner harmony and a union with the Divine.
   Through near death encounters, apprenticeships with advanced yogis, and years of travel along the pilgrim's path, radhanath swami eventally reaches the inner sanctum of india's mystic culture and finds the love he has been seeking. It the a tale told with rare candor, immersing the reader in a journey that is at once engaging, humorous and heartwarming.