From hippie to swami
Published by: Jaico Books
Price: INR 250
He was one of the flower children: shoulder length hair, lost in blues, flirting with marijuana and always wandering. Then began the “Journey home” for Radhanath Swami—and here is a gist of that story.
Radhanath Swami, born as Richard, is the son of Jewish parents from Chicago. He leaves home when he is 19 and hitchhikes across Europe and Asia. It’s the classic hippie journey: Little or no money, free rides across borders, living in the same set of clothes for days and always travelling without purpose. That’s, of course, only one side of it, because the lowlife has its dangers and danger makes very good reading. He writes about his experience at the Greek Turkish border, where wolves are howling intermittently and when he creeps ahead he discovers that the land was full of unexploded mines. Some days later he finds himself in Afghanistan, where a mongoose makes a nest in his hair and he just about manages to escape from a gang of hashish addicts in Kandahar.
Finally, it’s India. What follows is excitement and typically western naiveté.
He knew this part of the world was home to many great sages, who he longs to meet and learn from. He wanders though the Himalayas trying out one Baba after another: Tat Walla Baba, Kailash Baba, and Anadamayi Ma. None of them suit him. He lives in caves and meditates on rocks in the Ganges and tries to go on his own but that’s not convincing either because Richard is still the hippie journeyman seeking the branch line to Nirvana.
So more wandering follows, this time among the Buddhists and in Mother Teresa’s home in Kolkata. Richard doesn’t really tell us what he learns spiritually from these experiences; it’s too fleeting for one and he just seems to want to pack in as much as he can rather than settle down and explore something to its depths.
It’s about now that he meets Srila Prabhupada of the Hare Krishna Movement. For a moment, it looks like Richard has found his Guru. “I heard a voice within my heart proclaim, this is your guru,” he says, but wanderlust gnaws at his soul again so off he goes—to Goa, Mumbai, to the Himalayas and to Vrindavan.
It’s in Vrindavan that Richard finally settles and in a chapter filled with emotion and ‘Krishna love’, he accepts his guru in Srila Prabhupada. Richard is now Radhanath Das but it takes the next four decades for him to realise that home was where he always was. “Over the years,” he writes in the afterword, “I have realised that whether living in a holy place in India or in a congested city in America, if we harmonise our lives in a spirit of devotion to the Lord, we can realise our eternal home.”