Radhanath Swami- the builder of communities

Radhanath-Swami1
In an era of uncertainty and confusion where state-of-the-art technology has given us access to speed but not necessarily direction in life, the society needs a torchbearer of wisdom who can give us a sense of purpose and direction. In an age of anxieties and adversities where humanity is suffering due to inner emptiness and external turmoil, the society needs a helping hand who can wipe tears and awaken hope. In times of high tempers and low forbearance where conflicts occur at the slightest provocation, the society needs a connecting thread of compassion who can weave us together into a big loving family.

This is exactly what Radhanath Swami has done over the past three decades for his community here at Shri Shri Radha Gopinath Temple which from its humble beginnings as a makeshift Krishna temple at Girgaum Chowpatty in 1988 has now grown into a thriving community of thousands of devotees spread all across the globe. Built on the philosophy of unalloyed devotion to Shri Krishna; spirit of selfless service and sacrifice; and ethos of care and compassion, the community is now like the second home for over 5000 congregation devotees and about 200 resident monks in Mumbai with satellite centers spread all across Maharashtra and other parts of India too. Shri Shri Radha Gopinath Temple is one of the biggest and most thriving projects of the global spiritual movement- ISKCON (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness). ISKCON was established in the United States of America in 1966 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada) and has since developed into a worldwide confederation of over 500 temples, centers, communities, schools, and restaurants with some 3,00,000 devotees. Radhanath Swami has inspired and shaped several other prominent ISKCON projects in India including Govardhan Ecovillage, Pune, Kolkata, Belgaum, Nasik, Nigdi, Baramati, Aurangabad, Goa and several others. Radhanath Swami is a prominent leader of the global ISKCON movement and serves as a member of its top governing body- the Governing Body Commission. Radhanath Swami’s dedication and devotion for Srila Prabhupada is very admirable and his life has been a marathon of selfless service and sacrifice for fulfilling the vision and carrying out the sacred teachings of Srila Prabhupada.

However, Radhanath Swami’s journey from being a suburban Jewish youth participating in the counter-culture of the 1960s in the US, to becoming a devout ascetic and spiritual leader of the Bhakti tradition, influencing the lives of millions is no less than an adventure. He writes a captivating account of his breathtaking journey across multiple continents, learning from various traditions, cultures and teachers, in his memoir ‘The Journey Home’. Even as a small child Radhanath Swami- then Richard Slavin had qualities which hinted about his future tryst with spirituality- his heart would go out for the poor and unprivileged, he was fascinated by the soul music and spiritual ethos of the counter-culture, he wasn’t interested in comforts or wealth, he was deeply inquisitive to know about God and found shelter in praying to him. While on a vacation with his friends to Europe, Richard got an inner calling to go to India in search of Absolute Truth. With no money or contacts, he hitchhiked from one country to another, while on the way keenly absorbing in the spiritual wisdom of variegated religions and cultures he came across in these different lands. Hitchhiking across borders, braving several hardships and even life threats, Radhanath Swami arrived in this fascinating yet unknown country with great hopes, only to be told by a border official that he will not be allowed into India. Glaring, the official flatly informed him, “We have beggars enough in India. We don’t want another one…You will not enter India. You are rejected. Now go back to where you came from.” Physically exhausted, destitute and heart-broken, Radhanath Swami’s only response was one that has continued to characterize his life’s work and achievements, “I knew that I would not turn back… Never once did I dream that entry to India would be denied to me.” After the change of guards, he pursued another official and pleaded with him to allow him passage into the motherland of spirituality, “One day I will do something good for the people of this great nation.” As destiny would have it, the officer’s heart melted and he stamped Richard’s passport which for Richard meant no less than opening of the doors of endless spiritual opportunities.

His journey through India also had many eventful adventures: ferocious animals, dubious and saintly teachers, exotic spiritual sites, robberies, mishaps on the road, friendships made and lost. His spiritual adventure in India took him to the caves of Himalayas, thickets of deep Himalayan jungles, Ashrams of mystic yogis and sacred shrines of several gods and goddesses but finally his journey reached its crescendo when he by a chance occurrence like so many others in his journey, stumbled into Mathura, the land of Lord Krishna. There he discovered the sublime spiritual path of Bhakti Yoga, the path of awakening ones lost love for the all-powerful, the all-merciful and thus the all-attractive, Lord Krishna. Though appreciating and learning from all the spiritual paths he came across in his quest, Radhanath Swami found a natural connection and longing for the path of Bhakti which led him to commit his heart to it. He decided to accept spiritual initiation in a line of the Bhakti tradition in which pure spiritual knowledge is being handed down from one master to next in an unbroken chain of disciplic succession dating back to the beginning of the creation. Thus, Radhanath Swami accepted H.D.G. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder-acharya of ISKCON, as his Guru or Spiritual Master. Swami Prabhupada was the one who for the first time in history took the sublime path of Bhakti Yoga to the West and created a spiritual revolution all over the World. Radhanath Swami has been devoutly following the path ever since and is now a dedicated swami — an ascetic, teacher and leader for more than 45 years now.

One of Radhanath Swami’s most significant lifetime contribution has been building spiritual communities based on the principles of devotion, care and compassion. The Radha Gopinath Community a sparkling example of one such community developed by him. Some of the principles which form the fabric of spiritual communities developed by Radhanath Swami are as follows:

Imbuing Family Spirit

Radhanath Swami has always emphasized upon the spirit of coming together for spiritual practices as the glue which holds a community together. The Radha Gopinath community stands for the principle of unity in diversity where everyone comes together irrespective of whether they are rich or poor, erudite scholars or illiterate farmers, brahmacharis (full time monks) or the grhasthas (congregation). The sight of the wealthy business man Mr. Hrishikesh Mafatial and his driver chanting and praying together in the temple, holding hands in kirtan, has been a case in point. This is especially significant because many Indians are status-conscious and Mafatlal in India is a household name but the path of Bhakti transcends all external qualifications and disqualifications. Radhanath Swami teaches his followers to treat each other as friends and well-wishers irrespective of their social or financial status. He says, “The principle for any spiritual community is that we are not an institution but a family; the institution is important but it has the essential service of facilitating love and trust because ultimately, we are a family.” Radhanath Swami has inspired his followers to carry this legacy and culture of family spirit to their homes and workplace as well. Some of the disciples of Radhanath Swami who were doctors by profession began a mobile clinic to serve the poor all around Mumbai. In time this clinic transformed into an award-winning multi-specialty hospital- the Bhaktivedanta Hospital. The highly qualified doctors serving in the hospital eat their lunch with the housekeepers, thereby maintaining the spirit of simplicity and unity. This has always been the appeal, hope and prayer of Radhanath Swami.

Radhanath Swami says:

“A family that prays together, stays together.
A family that sings together, clings together.
A family that dines together, shines together.
A family that dances together, advances together.”

In order to facilitate this spirit of togetherness, Radhanath Swami has instituted several programs such as annual Yatras to holy places, community festivals like Pushpabhishek, Sunday Feast etc, More than 5000 devotees from all across the globe join in for Radhanath Swami’s annual Yatra in Oct-Nov. The kitchen at the Yatra was also featured on the National Geographic as a mega-kitchen.

Embedding Care

Care has been the essential fabric of the Radha Gopinath Community. Radhanath Swami has always emphasized that devotees support, encourage, and inspire one another in a way that they will be enthused to grow spiritually through every stage of their life. Radhanath Swami says, “The leaders should feel the responsibility to make sure that everyone in the community is happy and fulfilled at every stage of their lives. This should take priority over what has to be done today. What has to be done today is a serious concern, but even more serious is to think what needs to be done to each member inspired, enlivened, and spiritually strong for the rest of his/ her life.” Radhanath Swami started a Counselor system in the community in which the senior members of the community; with their years of experience and wisdom; guide and facilitate the growth of younger members. In addition to Counsellor system, special committees & programs were started for addressing the unique needs of children, women, monks, elderly, youth etc. Radhanath Swami designed the Devotee Care Program in Radha Gopinath Temple, which eventually led ISKCON to emphasize the need and develop systems for such a program globally.

The Balancing Act

Only those who are deep in tradition can innovate without diluting the essence. Tradition brings substance and innovation brings relevance. Radhanath Swami is known for balancing and harmonizing apparent contradictions, differences of opinions, working styles etc. Radhanath Swami mystically harmonizes and brings together people from a wide variety of backgrounds. In one of his recent lectures, Radhanath Swami offers invaluable wisdom, “As long as we allow false ego to rise in our hearts, we stand alone in this world and the temptations and fears of this world will overwhelm us. Therefore, we need each other and we really need to harmonize our differences; only then nothing can break us.”

Facilitating Self-Expression

One quality of great leaders is that they can recognize the potential in people very early on and fan it so that it can be realized fully for serving the society. Radhanath Swami is no exception and has inspired and empowered his followers to recognize and utilize their potential for serving Shri Krishna and the society. Many projects have been born out of this far reaching visionary approach of Radhanath Swami such as the Bhaktivedanta Hospital, Govardhan Ecovillage, Gopal’s Garden School, Annamrita Food for Life program etc. Bhaktivedanta Hospital is now a multi-specialty hospital with 300 beds catering lakhs of patients every year. Bhaktivedanta Hospital also runs many free community healthcare services like an annual free cataract surgery camp, the Barsana Eye Camp, in Barsana, Mathura District. The camp serves the people residing in Barsana and the surrounding 120 villages. Govardhan Ecovillage (GEV) is a model farm community and retreat center highlighting the importance of spiritual ecology: the need for us [humans] to live in harmony with ourselves, nature and the sacred. The Annamrita Food for Life program is a Strategic program to address two of the most pressing problems of India : Hunger & Education. Since serving 900 meals on its first day of operations in 2014, Annamrita has expanded considerably and now daily serves more than 1.2 million meals across 10 states in India.

Sharing Compassion

Radhanath Swami’s life has been a journey directed by compassion. Whether it is lecturing at the House of Commons in British Parliament, Google HQ, Apple HQ or helping the sick/ elderly/ underprivileged children/ tribal women etc. by providing healthcare, food and other basic amenities; being an instrument of compassion of God has been the guiding force of Radhanath Swami’s life. It’s not just wisdom that makes Radhanath Swami a brilliant spiritual teacher; it’s his deep compassion that makes him so. Driven by that compassion, he orchestrates the flow of wisdom in a way that benefits the society optimally. He says, “All beautiful and great concepts and plans are really great when there is a mood of unselfish compassion to serve without discrimination.”

Thus, Radhanath Swami is a multi-faceted spiritual leader and visionary and is well-known as a renowned author, speaker, environmental activist, philanthropist and spiritual guide. Following are some of the facets of Radhanath Swami’s personality and his service to the world:

    • Speaker
      • He has given keynote speeches at the biggest brands across the world including Google HQ, Apple HQ, Oracle and Starbucks to name a few.
      • He has also been an invited speaker at the House of Commons to the MPs, Lords and government leaders.
      • He addressed 1000 bankers at HSBC
      • Some other forums he has addressed: Intel, Apple, Infosys, Ernst & Young, Ford Motors, Milken Institute Global Conference, AIMA World Marketing Congress, YPO Mumbai, Bahrain, and Accenture.
    • Author
      • His autobiography The Journey Home captures his adventure as a teenager from a suburb in Chicago to now being one of India’s most respected spiritual teachers.
      • The Journey Within: Exploring the Path of Bhakti, the highly anticipated follow-up to his best-selling memoir and became a New York Times best-seller in July 2016.
    • Philanthropist
      • His philanthropic work includes running hospitals, health clinics, rural development programs, women empowerment programs, orphanages and food distribution programs. His project midday meals feeds over 1.2 million meals per day.
        • Bhaktivedanta Hospital
        • Lady NorthCote Hindu Orphanage (LNHO)
        • Annamrita – Food for Life
        • Vrindavan Hospice
        • Barsana Eye camp
    • Environmental activist
      • He has envisioned, inspired and given shape to several sustainable farm communities like the Govardhan Ecovillage- Wada, Gokul Dham- Belgaum, Venu Madhuri- Kolhapur, Vella farm- Pune etc.
      • Govardhan Ecovillage has bagged several awards on the national and international level:
        • International Green World Award for Symbiotic Development Model
        • The Green World Environment Award
        • Limca Book of Records for Agricultural Innovation
        • Aqua Excellence Award for Protection of Quality and Supply of Fresh Water Resources
        • The Prestigious Aqua Excellence Award for ‘Protection of The Quality And Supply Of Freshwater Resources
        • The International Built Environment and Architectural Heritage Award for Green Buildings
        • Green Apple Awards for Built Environment & Architectural Heritage Award for Green Buildings
        • Award for Excellence in Architecture
        • Asian Sustainability Leadership Award
        • The Golden Globe Tigers Summit Awards
        • IAA Olive Crown Awards for Creative Excellence in Communicating Sustainability
        • Skoch Platinum and Renaissance Award for Water Conservation

    Mr. Ajay Piramal, Chairman of Piramal Group very succinctly presents the contribution of Radhanath Swami: “Radhanath Swami is the builder of communities.”