Radhanath Swami: The Journey Within with an American Swami

I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive to conduct an interview with a Swami. Prior to this, I had not had a direct encounter with someone who holds this religious title. I wasn’t sure if there was a particular way to address him, or a particular manner in which I should speak with him.

Now, before I go any further some of you may ask, “What exactly is a swami?” Well, to continue along the lines of the uncertainty I experienced, I didn’t know either. I had to look up the definition.

The word swami means master. The name Swami is a monastic name given to one who has “set aside all of the limited, worldly pursuits, so as to devote full time effort to the direct experience of the highest spiritual realization, and to the service of others along those lines.”

Now that I was clear that there would be a master on the other side of the call, I finished reading his latest book, planned my questions for the telephone interview and began to wonder, “What have I got myself into? I am not spiritually prepared to talk with a master.”

Despite my initial concerns, the interview with Radhanath Swami turned out to be one of the most endearing and accessible interviews I’ve done.

Flowing like a conversation between two familiar acquaintances with undertones of kindness, patience, presence and sincerity, Radhanath Swami went on to explain that his most recent work, The Journey Within, is “meant to highlight the opportunity we all have to find deeper, more meaningful forms of happiness and being an instrument to give others that happiness.”

Here’s what Radhanath Swami had to say:

BJB: Could you talk about the difference between your memoir The Journey Home and your most recent book, The Journey Within?

RS: Actually, I never wanted to write either one. When I was 19 years-old I left my home in the Chicago area on a spiritual quest.

I decided to hitch hike from London through Europe, from Greece to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, to India and to the Himalayas. Through the journey I visited monasteries, cathedrals, holy people and synagogues. I studied Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Eventually I came to India and studied various forms of Buddhism, Hinduism and yoga.

I saw something beautiful and common at the essence of all these traditions. I believed in that essence and wanted to give my heart and my life to connecting with that essence.

I came to a very holy forest in India named Vrindavan where people consider it their holy place who are devoted to the one God, who appeared with the name and the form of Krishna. There I felt this was my home.

While there I met my guru, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I saw that he was representing a very ancient lineage of great enlightened beings. I was so influenced by his compassion that I wanted to assist him.

Over the years, since 1970 when I made that journey, people have asked me to write a book about it.

I had a consistent answer, “No.” I just would not consider it. One, I’ve never wrote a book before, so I’m not a writer. Two, if I told the truth about what happened to me I really didn’t think people would believe me because it was quite different. And third was, if I just write a book about me where the words “me” and “mine” are on every page, isn’t that an act of arrogance? I’m trying to go beyond arrogance.

So I was firm until one of my dearest friends, Bhakti Tirtha Swami, was dying of cancer. His doctor told him he had three days to live. He asked me to come visit him.

I drove about six hours and spent a day with him. The next day when I was about to leave he said to me, “I want to die in your arms. Please stay with me.” I thought he had two days, but he stayed for another eight weeks.

The most profound experiences of human relationships I’ve ever had in my life were during those eight weeks sitting by his bedside. We just shared our hearts to help each other connect with God, who we call Krishna.

Toward the end he told me I should write a book about my travels. He said, “It would be an act of arrogance” if I did not write the book. “If your story will inspire other people, then it’s your service to them to share it.”

I still didn’t want to do it, but I made the promise. He squeezed my hand, smiled and said, “You cannot tell a lie to a man on his death bed.”

A few days later he left us and I wrote the book, The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami.

On one level The Journey Home is about traveling through some incredible and mysterious places, but it’s really about an internal journey of how I was being transformed by these situations in the good and bad times.

After The Journey Home was published, another publisher who had read it convinced me that I should I write a book about the universal teachings that I discovered on this path, using analogies and stories that would make these teachings easy to understand.

This book is The Journey Within and in a sense is a sequel to The Journey Home.
BJB: In the introduction you write The Journey Within “…is a call to an adventure to reach beyond monotony and pursue your hearts deepest calling.” For those who have identified what they want to pursue and are taking action towards the calling, but still experience monotony and frustration. What is the deeper purpose of monotony? Is it a call to do more or be more?

RS: So much of how we are either diminished or we grow in the fulfillment, the happiness, the purpose of our life is according to how we perceive everyday events. Two people could see the same thing. One could be depressed by it and one could humble oneself before God in that process.

A knife is knife. A thief will see the knife as an instrument to kill somebody, and a surgeon will see the knife as an instrument to save a person’s life. According to the consciousness of what our purpose in life is, is very much how we’re going to perceive the same things.

The monotony, the fears and the challenges of this world come to everybody. It’s according to our consciousness how we’re going to respond to those challenges.