I am very grateful, honored, and happy to be with all of you this evening. Thank you to Vivek and family for opening the doors of your beautiful home for all of us. Could everyone here?
I asked, “What I should speak about this evening?” and Vivek gave me a topic- recognizing the divinity in everyone and how to bring out the best in others. I just got this topic on the way in the car.
Radhanath Swami shares his experience of 1960’s and his search to find something deeper
There is a beautiful verse in Bhagavad-Gita in the fifth chapter,
brahmane gavi hastini
suni caiva sva-pake ca
I remember, when I was young growing up as a teenager, in the 1960s in America, it was a time of a lot of social conflict. I was really searching for answers. On the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, there is a verse from the Old Testament inscribed, which essentially says that in this land all beings are given equal liberty. But, I saw people of African-American descent living as prisoners in the ghettos, and I remember reading that after America got its independence from Britain, 1/6th of the population was African descent, and they were all slaves. I even read this, this summer at the Liberty Bell where there is an exhibition, that there was a law in America; the Constitution says, “All men are created equal; liberty and justice for all.” But at that time there was a law- it was a crime to murder another person’s slave. That means if you murder your own slave, it was not a crime because they were your property.
In the 1960s, we were sensitive to these things, because we saw that really there was no freedom. Freedom was selective: according to one’s religion, according to what the color of one’s skin, and according to one’s particular social status. Many of my uncles and aunts were killed by the Nazis in Europe because of the religion. So, I became very active in the civil rights movement.
Why is there so much hate and discrimination on the basis of these external differences between people? I was demonstrating. I became a member of the counterculture which is a sophisticated name for the hippie movement. I was marching, I was getting teargased by the police, and I thought it was for such a high noble cause. But, I heard the words of Gandhi that, ‘We should be the change we want to see in the world,’ and I was more and more beginning to believe that.
I went for summer vacation, as described in this book I wrote, ‘The Journey Home,’ to Europe with a friend, between semesters of college. I was supposed to come back in August, but I never came back. In England, I was at a rock festival called the Isle of Wight, and there was a musician named Jimi Hendrix who played. A few days later, I was just outside London, and I saw in the newspaper that he was dead from an overdose of drugs. I was thinking, ‘This man was a millionaire. He had so much popularity, and so much talent and. Any pleasure he wanted was at his disposal. But he wasn’t happy. So really what am I looking for?’
I understood more and more that unless we find something deeper and rich, in values, in purpose, and in meaning within ourselves, we can’t really contribute so much of good to the world. Then, while I was traveling through India, I found this verse from the Bhagavad Gita, which I recited at the beginning. The translation is, “True wisdom is to see all beings with equal vision, whether one is the high priest, or a simple householder, or whether one is black or white or red or yellow or brown. Whatever one’s religion, whatever one social status, whether one is a human or an elephant or cow or a dog or a cat, wherever there is life, it is sacred.” When we understand the sacredness within our self, we can recognize that sacredness in others. If we cannot see it in another being, it is because we haven’t found within ourselves.
From my study of various religions, philosophies, and spiritual paths, the essence is that, they actually uncover the true nature of oneself, the living force, the atma, the soul, which is defined as a part of God and is godly by nature. Like a cloud that covers the beautiful light of the sun, due to the ahankara, or the false ego, our true nature is covered, and we become so complicated and implicated by constant bombardments of weapons of mass distraction.-Radhanath Swami
It is said that in an evolved human society, people love people and use things, but unfortunately in the world we live, so often people love things and they use people to get them or to keep them. This can give some very temporary, superficial, shallow, sense of satisfaction to the mind and senses, but it can give no satisfaction to the heart, because the heart is seeking only one thing, to love and to be loved. But, when we don’t have that, no matter what else we have, it is not going to give us lasting pleasure.
Radhanath Swami narrates the story of boy playing with pumpkin
I will tell a story about Kansas. Just this last September, I was in Denver, Colorado. I was staying at someone’s house, and some of my very dear friends came from Kansas. They lived near Lawrence, Kansas and they have a farm. This lady brought her children and she brought some pumpkins. It was a big squash which was about this big, and it was shaped like a club. She brought these pumpkins to this family to cook dinner, I guess, for me.
They have this little boy and he saw that pumpkin, and just started playing with the pumpkin. He was having so many creative games. He was playing all day with that pumpkin. He was really enjoying. Sometimes he was riding it like a horse, other times he was using it as a club to beat up the invisible people, sometimes he was rolling on it, and sometimes he was using like a typewriter. He was doing so many things with that pumpkin, and he was completely fascinated by it. I was there for three days and whenever we went out doing something with the child, he was just with this pumpkin.
Now a few months before that, I was at the home of the daughter of one of my dear friends, in Illinois. She and her husband are extremely wealthy, but in order to make the wealth and sustain the wealth, they both work a lot. They have a son who is about the same age and he took me down to his basement. It is a big house and he had every kind of toy you can imagine, some of them were really high-tech, they were computerized toys, pinball, machines, games, and weapons. There was probably thousands and thousands, if not, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of play things. The reason they said for many toys is, he would play with it for a while, then he would get tired of it, and he would just be really obnoxious, “I want something else. I want something else.” Then they would have to get him something else and he would play with that, get tired, and again “I want something else.” Because his parents gave him all things but did not have time to give him attention and affection of love that he wanted, he could not be satisfied with anything. But this other little boy, because he was given the affection he needed, he was completely blissful with the pumpkin which did not cost anything. According to true spiritual tradition, the origin of that propensity, to love and be loved, that is within our heart; it is to love God and to feel God’s love.
God has many names as he has appeared throughout history. The Srimad Bhagavatam, one great scripture of India, describes that when you water the root of a tree, the water naturally extends to every part of the tree: the root, the flowers, the twigs, the leaves, and the branches. Similarly, when you put food in the stomach, the nutrients and the energy go to every organ, and every cell of your body. So, similarly, we need to learn to love God, because everything is connected to God, who is the root of all existence, janmadasya yatha, the cause of everything that exists, and the mother and the father of all living things. We cannot love God, and not love everyone. We may not love what people do, but we see that the person is beyond that cloud of whatever distractions may be there. Life is sacred; to recognize that is evolved consciousness.
Radhanath Swami shares his experience at Rashtrapati Bhavan
Just recently, I was invited on 26th January, the republic day in India, by the President of India, Pranav Mukherjee. I was invited to his palace, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and he was doing a reception for Michelle Obama and Barack Obama and Narendra Modi. Everyone was there. That was just a couple hundred people, and it was in the back garden. So I was like about this far away from all the people. There was Soniya Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, and all the ministers of the government, Barak Obama, Narendra Modi, and all of the other people like that. We all stood as military bands played the national anthem.
People were receiving each other and a bird flew overhead. I looked up at that bird and it looked like the bird was looking at me. I was little touched by that. I am just thinking, ‘that bird is a person looking through the eyes of that bird, looking down, and there is a person in my body, look through my eyes, looking up. The living force, the atma, the soul, in that bird is a child of God, just like me, and just like the prime minister, the president, and all these other people; some of them were in power, some of them were not in power. That bird can’t rule over a country, but these people ruling over the country, can’t fly in the sky either; so God has given everyone a certain place. The sacredness of life is there in both.’
It was not that this realization was bringing down the distinction of the prime ministers, or the president, it was actually bringing up, and bringing up the bird, because life is sacred. The potential of that divinity of life itself is so important to understand; if we can’t see it within ourselves, we cannot see it anywhere, and if we don’t see it anywhere, it means we don’t see it within ourselves. In the Bible Lord Jesus spoke, “Of what profit is a man that gains the whole world and loses his immortal soul?”
That is a universal truth- to understand God’s love for us and to be an instrument of that love, through whatever we do. Whether we are mothers or fathers or teachers or bankers or politicians or farmers or software engineers or Swamis, whatever our role may be in society, the true happiness that we can feel and give is in being an instrument of that grace, that love, which is within us. It is not our love; it is God’s love and that is something so beautiful. – Radhanath Swami
When my guru, Srila Prabhupada, came to the West, he came in 1965. This year is the 50th anniversary of when he left from King George dockyard, in Calcutta, on a cargo ship, and sailed 38 days to New York City. He had 40 Rupees which was then equal to seven dollars, but he couldn’t exchange it because no one wanted Rupees in those days. He was living in New York and he didn’t know anyone, but he wanted to give something very special to people. He wanted to give the love that he had discovered within himself. He started little storefront and made it into a temple in the lower East side.
Then in 1967, some of his students brought him to Haight-Ashbury, in San Francisco, and he started little storefront there. He lived there and there was a journalist who came to interview him. At one point he said, “Swamiji, why have you come here?”
And he said, “I have come to remind you what you have forgotten, that you are child of God that there is happiness, there is love within yourself. It needs to be uncovered and that is the purpose of all religions, of all spiritual paths- to be an instrument of that love in whatever we do.”
And the journalist said, “But there are so many hippies here. Swamiji, what is a hippie?”
This is an American journalist and Srila Prabhupada was at that time, a 73-year-old sadhu from Vrindavan, a holy place in India. Prabhupad said, “You know better than me!”
He said, “You are from India, you are a yogi, can you show me a miracle?”
Then Prabhupada said something extraordinary. Prabhupad said, “My miracle is I have made hippies into happies!”
And how did he make hippies into happies? He saw something in them that they did not know existed. Many of these people were coming, and they were addicted to drugs, they were in the whole culture of free sex, and they were in a culture of revolting against practically any moralities or values. Prabhupada said most of them didn’t even bathe. He was seeing that there is something very beautiful and divine within.
“You are the child of God that makes you divine; you have the potential to do such beautiful, wonderful things within this world, if you just tap into your own potential.” He saw in them people who were just looking everywhere for everything, and revolting against everything. He just saw so much hypocrisy among people who had everything, and everybody was trying to get through the time of revolution and anarchy. But he was seeing something so good within them. “You are child of God. Love for God is within you, peace is within you, and compassion is within you.” The true testament of an enlightened state, as we heard from that verse, is compassion toward all things. Equal vision means compassion. The golden rule in the Bible is, ‘to do unto others as you want them to do to you.’
In the Sanskrit literatures of India, it is para dukkha dukkhi, an enlightened person is one who feels other people’s suffering as my suffering, and other people’s happiness as my happiness. When we are not obsessed, when we are actually feeling satisfied, when we are actually feeling certain liberation, then we are not looking for happiness, we are seeking ways to share happiness to make others happy. That is compassion. – Radhanath Swami
So Prabhupada was seeing in these people something so beautiful. And they could feel it, ‘Yes, he sees that I am something very special and something very valuable.’ By his compassion to them, he actually gave them faith that they could find it within themselves, and take to a spiritual process by which it can be uncovered, not in a sectarian way, but in a very genuine way.
So, when I saw that little bird flying overhead, I was so enlightened by just seeing the equality, of course not equality as far as our capacity of what we could do in the world, but the equality of our life. I was wondering if that bird drops something, as they do sometimes. I was thinking, ‘It would really be a traumatic conclusion to the story if the bird left its mark on one of these people.’ But it didn’t. I can’t make that part up.
Radhanath Swami on ‘Leadership is about bringing the good out in others’
Leadership is about bringing the good out in others. But, we cannot bring it out unless we see it. I think, last time I was here, I was telling about my favorite teacher when I went to high school. When I went to high school, it was a really a conservative kind of school, where the popular person was the best football player, and I was kind of like that. But then it did not make sense to me. So I grew my hair long and became kind of radical, and none of my teachers liked that. The subjects they were trying to teach really did not interest me very much, because I had so many idealistic thoughts of how to change the world.
But I had one teacher, who just saw so much good in me, and actually took me by surprise. He really liked me and he really encouraged me; others would chastise me, whereas he would encourage me. That was 1968, when he was my teacher and I was a senior in high school. Actually, he changed me a lot and to this day, I thank him, because he saw something good and brought it out. And this is so much the beauty of parenthood, and of leadership, and on every level.
There are so many stories of saintly people, who saw the good in others, even crooks and thieves and somehow or other, by seeing that and reminding them, and giving value to that person, it transformed them. Of course, justice is required in the world, but prevention is the best justice. The best way to prevent is to actually educate people in values, in universal values, and to remind people that those values are inherent within themselves.
I think that’s the topic you wanted me to speak about. The first time, I met Vivek, within five minutes we were lifelong friends because somehow he read this book, ‘The Journey Home.’ Book is about all different religious people and sadhus that I met in 1970-73, because I was traveling through the Himalayas, and through the different holy places of India. Almost everyone I met, Vivek has lived with and he was telling me that they would all come to meet his father. Some of these people, nobody knew anything about, but he knew. It is a very special connection. Thank you. I am so grateful. Your friends are always such beautiful special people.