EXPLORING THE PATH OF BHAKTI

Reviewed By Pankajbala R Patel

DON’T get confused between the two books! The first titled `The Journey Home’ and this sequel of sorts titled `The Journey Within.’ Both are inspirational literature to the core, the first is an account of a 17-year-old American Jewish boy, Richard Slavin by name, who adventured his way through Europe and the Middle East to discover spiritual India. `The Journey Within’ strikes a powerful chord because herein Radhanath Swami (who met the International Society of Krishna Consciousness’ founder Swami Prabhupada and soon became a follower) recounts interesting tidbits about how it is even more important to journey inwards into the deeps of one’s own life to find one’s own raison d’etre for living.

What is more important? To keep journeying outwardly into a more and more frustrating material world of the senses, or to journey inwardly so that as soon as we can, as soon as possible, we find equanimity and peace of mind while learning how to live life to the fullest? There are some fine answers in Radhanath Swami’s `The Journey Within’ (Mandala Publishing, San Rafael, California, hardcover, $25) for it is a guide like no other to how to simply life gracefully and yet enjoy it.

Hey, perhaps you need to read this book if you’re increasingly finding it difficult to live, forever in search of  ways to understand what it takes to have an abiding faith in some superpower guiding human destiny. If like me you too at one of life’s crossroads, confused, unhappy, wondering how to live in a stressed-out world…there are some clues in Radhanath Swami’s life and how he explored the path of bhakti with ISKCON and found it a fountainhead of spiritual wealth.

The book is a big help in exploring oneself inwardly, take a dispassionate look at all the ways in which we feel, think and react; most of us are too infatuated with ourselves outwardly chasing material dreams and very often become victims of our own inability to define need, want or greed. If life is a constant struggle sooner or later we exhaust ourselves and run out of energy, maybe despair and an all pervasive negativity takes over…somewhere along the way while reading `The Journey Within’ one finds a calming perspective courtesy Radhanath Swami’s own life and times.`The Journey Within’ is a fitting follow-up to his earlier `The Journey Home.’  ISKCON’s founder Prabhupada changed his life forever. Richard Slavin discovered bhakti yoga and joined ISKCON as Radhanath Swami where today he contributes in no small way towards breathing life into ISKCON’s many projects dedicated to ameliorating society’s ills.

If `The Journey Home’ won over our hearts, his `The Journey Within’ takes us into the nitty gritty of how imbibing a little bit of spiritual bhakti may lead us to the essence and principles of balancing our lives. His many years travelling and living in the many spiritual places across India and meeting various holy men and women gives him a formidable insight into life and times in Bharatdesh and India and his accounts are both educative and convincing.

Here is a perfect West-East blending of spiritual discourse offering more insight into how to live life fruitfully, `beyond material existence’ as Swami Radhanath puts it in his book, “Although the purpose of this book is to present the universal nature of bhakti yoga’s basic teachings and practices and how they are relevant to our daily lives, I feel these brief descriptions of the loving exchanges in the spiritual world may fascinate you as they fascinate me, for they provide a window into a spiritual a reality.’

 

(Note: Radhanath Swami was born in Chicago in 1950. At a 19-year-old teenager he travelled overland from London to India, where he lived in Himalayan caves, learned yoga from revered masters, and eventually became a world-renowned spiritual leader in his own right. His acclaimed memoir, `The Journey Home’, has been translated into over 20 languages and published in over 40 countries worldwide. He presently travels throughout Asia, Europe, and America teaching devotional wisdom, but can often be found in Mumbai, where he works tirelessly to help develop communities, food distribution initiatives, missionary hospitals, schools, ashrams, emergency relief programs and eco-friendly farms.)

Excerpted from `The Journey Within’ by Radhanath Swami…

THE DOG’S WISDOM

YEARS ago, I lived in a small ashram on the bank of the Ganges in the Indian state of Bihar. Every day I met with an eighty-year-old man named Narayan Prasad, a HIndu, and his close friend, Mohammed, a Muslim. One day I asked Narayan Prasad, `How is it that you are so affectionate with someone from another religion in a country where there is so much conflict between Hindus and Muslims?’

Narayan told me something I’ve never forgotten: `A dog will recognize his master in whatever dress he wears. The master may dress in robes or a suit and tie or stand naked, but the dog will always know him. If we cannot recognize God, our beloved master, when he appears in a different dress in other religions, then we have much to learn from a dog.’

Narayan Prasad’s simple but sobering analogy stays with me. Today, more than ever before, we need to understand unity in diversity. We are each being called on to have the courage to resist pettiness, selfishness, and hypocrisy and know that we are all children of the same Supreme Truth, the ultimate lover and beloved.

THE SECRETS OF THE REDWOODS

EVERY year I travel to Northern California to spend a day with a close friend. Together we roam Muir Woods, a sanctuary of enormous redwood trees, where we share our hearts and thoughts. As we walk, we inevitably look up at the towering redwoods, so tall they hardly allow a ray of sun to reach the ground. Their thick bark tends to absorb sound, enveloping us in silence.

One day we happened to come across a group of tourists gathered around a park ranger, who was explaining the secrets of the forest, and we stopped to listen. The redwood and sequoia trees, he explained, are the largest trees on the planet. Many of the trees in Muir Woods are hundreds of years old. Yet their root systems tend to be shallow, and with the loose soil and hilly terrain, the trees have little support. Still, over the centuries, these trees have endured massive windstorms, frigid blizzards, and devastating earthquakes. With only shallow roots, how do they keep standing?

The park ranger explained the underground secret of the redwoods: their roots reach outward and rightly wrap around the roots of other redwoods. The embrace of their roots creates a permanent bond. In this way, the trees support one another. Even the newest sapling is sheltered, as the ancient giants extend their roots and protect the new tree’s roots. In this underground root network, all the redwood trees in the forest are directly or indirectly connected to one another. Their strength is in their unity. It’s unity that empowers them to grow, even in the face of adverse conditions.

Here in Muir Woods, Mother Nature is teaching humanity a lesson critical to our well-being. Despite our shortcomings and differences our strength lies in caring for one another. We need to reach out with the roots of our affection and embrace one another with a commitment to share, care, and support. Self-absorption exiles us to the shallow soil of our own limitations, dependent only on our deceiving ego. When we can stop thinking of `me’ and `mine’ and instead think of `ours‘ our roots will hold strong in the soil of love, trust and  and grace, reminding us that in giving we receive.

A MATCHLESS GIFT

WHEN Prabhupada, my beloved guru, first came to the United States, he rented a small, rundown storefront on the Lower East Side of New York city in order to teach a message of divine love. It was a meager beginning, and he didn’t even have money to pay the second month’s rent when he signed the lease. The previous tenant had run a trinket shop named Matchless Gifts, and the sign still hung above the front window when he took it over. When a student went to change the sign, Prabhupada smiled and said, “You may leave it as it is. Bhakti is a matchless gift.’

 

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