I am very much grateful and honored to be among all of you this evening. Thank you for being here. There will be a beautiful concert by Gaurvani and as Kindred spirits. So we will speak briefly. What that means? “Destiny will reveal.” As dear Gaurvani Prabhu has explained “I was extremely reluctant to write a book about myself. One of my very dear lifelong friends made me promise him in his death bed that I would write this book. And this is an offering to him. It is also an offering of my gratitude to my mother and father, who have dedicated their lives to invest within me, values and qualities that I could later on use in the service of my gurudev and that I could share with humanity. It is my offering my gratitude to many teachers I had on my path; Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, Jain’s, Hindus, parsies and atheist who tried to kill me. Even a mongoose, who taught me so many beautiful lessons. And it was my very dear friend Rama Dasa, who is the publisher of the book (Mandala press,) who said to me, I feel that the best title is “The Journey Home” and that became the title. What does “The Journey Home” mean? Home is where you feel shelter. A place where you feel loved. A place where we can go even despite the hesitation, stress and tribulations of this world and find real comfort. That home is within the heart of every living being. If we cannot find in our heart, you cannot find the real home anywhere. Because it is within the heart that the eternal soul beyond our designations of this temporary world is united with the Supreme Soul. The true object of everyone’s love. There is our beauty and grace of God. I was born in America, where I lived, there were no traffic jams, there was no pollution, very peaceful place. People had all the material requirements and comforts they could possibly want. But yet the society was turbulent. It was the 1960s; economically the Unites States of America was on a peak of wealth. The middle class and upper class were spreading everywhere. But as a teenager I saw people of the different caliber “the African and the Americans” who literally prisoners of the state, because of the color of their skin and they had no chance that society gave them to go out. At the same time there was war rising in Vietnam. And as soon as you became 18 years old, you are subjected to the draft. My friends, brothers of my friends who are totally against this war were forced, either go and fight for war that you hate, or spend the rest of your life in prison and never get a job for the rest of your days. Those are the only alternatives. There was a lot of insult on arrest. This created a counter culture. Many of you are college students. In America in 1960s; the colleges were blazing with revolution. Why? They had all comforts, all the premises, and all the opportunities for a luxurious life. But they understood that things were wrong. Through music, through intoxications, through various philosophies and ideologies, people were trying to look deeper for something real. I was among them. I was stoned with a bottle thrown onto my face by white people, because I was marching for the rights of the blacks. I was chased in teargas, just for making peaceful demonstration against a war that was absolutely useless. But again to realize that what I was really looking for, was not political adjustment or social economic informs. Nobody is really looking for that. We all looking for that home within our hearts. There was a meaningful purpose for feeling life taste and truth. Whatever was a platform, can actually be understand and realized by the true equality of all living beings. With the love, the love we are yearning to give and receive. Unconditional love which is forever in our hearts. I began a spiritual search. I realized “If I had no purpose, I was willing to die for; I had nothing really meaningful to live for”. And the greatest thing is to be an instrument of God’s love and compassion within this world, beyond our ritualistic and egoistic considerations. In Sanskrit there is a word “Sara grahi”. A person who is really on spiritual path is seeking the essence. I was young and confused with something within my heart inferably to seek that essence. Actually if nothing else comes out of this book, then as far as I am concerned, this beautiful drama that the children performed is success and worth the effort of me writing this book.
My friend Garry invite me to take a summer trip to Europe. And I was thinking this is an opportunity to break the way from the shackles of my precondition conception of what a fool I am and what is right? And explore how other people and other cultures view, new values, and how they understand God. The first day we arrived in Europe, we were robbed off all the money we had and our financer, Frank immediately left back for America. Garry and I were too excited to go back.
And I found that source of blessings. Going to the places as tourists, you will learn what people want to learn for their own financial purposes. But nothing forced you to live among the common people and just be one of them. It was a beautiful experience. In the 1960s; music was a very very important part of the path that life is meant. And I was going to these concerts and rock festivals try to find some enlightenment there.
In the Elovite in England was the biggest Rock festival in the history of the world of until then. Jimi Hendrix gave his last major performance and a few days later not far from where I was staying he died of an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol. He was a multimillionaire. He was one of the most famous people on earth. He had incredible talent but yet such a frustrated and empty life. He died such a sad and useless death. Things like this separated me from the counter culture and helped me to focus my total energy on the internal journey to search for my own soul and real purpose of life. On the Ireland of Greece I cried, I prayed, I meditated, I read books for weeks, longing for direction and heard that voice “Go to India”. Why India? It so far. I had never met any Indian in my entire life. The first Indian I ever met in my life was that lady security guard that you saw in the drama. But she helped me a lot in my spiritual path actually. I went back to the cave and then I say to Gary “Something amazing happened to me, right at the sunset”. And Gary said “something amazing happen to me also”. I said “what happened”. He said “I heard a voice”. I asked him, “what did the voice say?” And Gary replied “this voice told me “Go to Israel””. I said “what! Where did he say? I don’t think that I heard to you properly”. He said “Israel, go to Israel. Don’t you believe me?” I said “I believe you”. He said “let’s go”. I said, “A voice told me something also. But he told me to go to India”.
Then there was silent for about half an hour and we were both looking out into the stars. I broke the silence, “I am leaving tomorrow”. I began a hitch – off the coast of Greece, through Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. Many stories are there in this book. Many were edited out actually. Not by Ram Dass, but by another editor. But I like to tell one simple little story.
Happiness with less – Story of a blind boy
While I was living in Kandahar a city in Afghanistan, many romantic experiences came upon me. One is very simple. But it had deep impact. I was sitting in a tea stall with about six old men. They had baggy pants and very long long kurta type suits and big big turbans, just wrapped covered with dust and there were holes. Afghanistan at that time was the poorest country, I had ever seen in my life. And we were sitting there sipping on tea. There were no tables or chairs. Everyone just crouched down on the ground. And a young boy may be about fifteen years old came in. He was blind. But there was nothing covering his eyes. Both of his eyes were swollen, gray, and terribly disfigured. The boy was emaciated and thin. He had rags for his cloths and he carried a rustic wooden instrument with a single string nailed across it. It was a musical instrument. He began to pump on this musical instrument. It was just like pump, pump, it was an very harmonic instrument. But he pumped and began to sing songs in praise of God. And as he was singing his voice showed his enthusiasm. His entire expression became ecstatic; his body was emanating such light, such feeling. He sang for about half an hour and all of us sat there listening totally in thrill and this to me was a total culture shock. Because I was taught and I was programmed in my whole life, “You work hard, you get a good education, get a good job, you make a lot of money, you raise a good family, and you will be happy”. But I can tell you honestly I had never in my entire life, seen any one so happy as this blind poverty stricken boy. As he was chanting the names of God. It conformed something to me. There was very deeply awakening in my heart. The real happiness is in love and the trust, and the purest form of love is the love of the soul to God. Because every living being is a part of God, whether there is love for God. There is a natural spontaneous love for every living being.
A lesson on patience – Mongoose story
Couple of days later, I was seating with a very very wealthy trader, who had international contacts. He invited me as a guest. We are discussing philosophy. Suddenly, he said “Mr. Richard, please excuse me for moment. But I have some urgent duty to attend to”. I could do not believe, what did next? He cocked his head towards the moon and started howling like a wolf. Seeing this I thought that this man has gone mad. Again and again he howled in the voice of a wolf. Then he grabbed a rope and threw it out of the roof and a minute later he pulled the rope up and there was living mongoose. He let the mongoose onto the roof and then he sat and started talking philosophy again. Another culture shock. I felt the sharp claws of this mongoose scaling my back. I had very long hair in those days. The mongoose really liked my hair, not for fashion reasons, he crawled right up to my neck crawled up and went to sleep. Have you ever had a mongoose sleep on your neck? He was really heavy. I turned to my friend and said “what do I do now?” And he was sipping on his tea. He said, “Oh, he had found a good sleeping place”. I said, “Its really hot. Can you taken him off?” He became very serious. He said “Oh, there is a saying ‘never wake a sleeping mongoose’. The mongoose is known for killing even the cobra, the deadliest of all snakes and symbol of death”. He said, “Mr. Richard, don’t even move. If you do he may rip your head to shreds”. So I sat there, and he was talking philosophy but I was very attentive. And couple of hours went by and he said I have to go to sleep. So he left me, all alone in the moon light night on the roof top. When I was trying to adjust to this situation and then insects started biting me. My mind was going mad. But then I began to think that (I had read in books from India) “Every situation is an opportunity to grow, if you just use it to do so”. May this mongoose just teach me patience? May be this mongoose is just teaching me how to turn to God and go deeper and deeper within. Rather than just complaining and agonizing over circumstances. That was the one of the most enlightening night I have ever spent up until then. When the sun rose and the mongoose crawled down to my back and then looked at me and almost bowed down as he was thanking me for the hospitality. And then my host woke up put the mongoose in the rope and threw him down. And then he praised me. He said, “You really gave hospitality to one of my mongoose”. And I was thinking that he said mongoose in the plural. But I did not want to be around the next time, he raised his head to the sky and began to cry like a wolf. So I thanked him for his hospitality. And we continued the journey.
Value of Mother India
Then I came to the border of India eventually. After 3000 miles, three months, really risking my life with this dream that “all places in this world there is no better place to understand the greatest treasure of human existence than India”. I had read the books, I had read histories, I was absolutely convinced and I had a calling. But for a want of money I was rejected. I prayed, I cried, and I learned, that “if you want something valuable, it does not come cheap”. And finally that Sikh security guard, when I promised him that someday I will really try to do something for your people honestly. Tears came into his eyes, he stamped my passport, and welcomed me to India.
A major reason in my own heart for writing this book most to show my gratitude to India and the people of India. From all of you I have received the greatest wealth in all of creation. I know that many of you are hoping to get top grades and a job abroad, we can make big salaries, that’s alright. That could be a beautiful thing. But please do say after Yamaraj “when the real oasis of nectarine water is right at your door”. The culture, the history, the spirituality of this great land has been inspiration for sincere seekers throughout the ages. I was very disappointed and discouraged by many of the western religions. Because I found so much division and sectarianism connected to it. But my study of Indian literature, I found the spiritual path that is philosophically so deep, so scientifically sound, and so inclusive that it accepts the essence of all great spiritual paths.
In Delhi, I attained an international yoga conference, where I met many known and unknown sages. Some of them more known was Swami Rama, Swami Sachidananda and Jai Krishnamurti. At the end of conference the different yogis came on the stage and started fighting with each other. Over whose turn it was to speak. The persons who I named were standing there with great integrity. But others were very conflicting.
Lessons from mother Ganges
From there, I went to the Himalayas. On the bank of Ganges in Hrishikesh on the eastern bank I sat, meditated, and prayed. Seeing the Himalayas and the waters of Ganga devi to thrilled me. After many hours one sadhu approach me from the forest. He was caring something in his hand looking down in the ground. I stood to receive him and he said I know you, because I was looking for a long time. But you do not know me. I have come to give you the robes of a sadhu. Now takeoff your western dress and offer it to river Ganges.
I put on a lungi and chadar and took my jeans and turtle neck shirt and offered them into the swift flowing current of Ganga Devi. And he told me something. He said that “Ganga has become your mother. You will understand this in time”.
I sat on a rock on Ganges praying to god and Ganga Devi therapy on spiritual path. And found “if we really deeply want wisdom, it is revealed where ever we may be.” I saw around me the beautiful current of Ganges that was the month of December. Glistening, clear, aqua blue shoreline. And I was thinking that every moment, mother Ganga is creating a master piece of art. But in same moment it’s gone. No one in human history could ever fully capture the beauty of one moment of Ganges current. And I was thinking that this is the way life is. In material nature, everything is always changing. Nothing is stable. As soon as something appears, it is vanishing by the power of time. But the beauty of the current of Ganga down deep is forever. If we go deep into a perception of this world with the spiritual perspective we find there everlasting truth which is not subject to the fickle waves of the joys and sorrows of this world. The Ganges begins in Gangotri in the Himalayas and is coming down and never stops its current till it reaches the sea. On the way so many impediments, giant trees fall onto the current, massive rocks and even mountains, yet mother Ganga flows around, over, somehow or other never stops its path to the sea. Similarly, whatever impediments still may be in our lives, they are like rocks in the river of life. And if we learn from the Ganga to always perceiver to somehow or other managed to get around through every impediment with the help of God. We will all reach the sea in our inner most aspiration. But as Ganges is flowing I was watching, there were trees, there were leaves, there were flowers, there dead buffalos, there was even some dead human corpses. If they just stay with the current, they will reach the sea, the ultimate destination of Ganga. But most things will be diverted to the banks. And as soon as it diverted to the banks it doesn’t go further. Similarly, in spiritual path there will be many temptations, many diversions, many alternatives, inviting us to come out from the current of the teachings of the god, or scriptures, or the teaching of the guru. Only those remain in the current of that grace will reach the sea of human life to destination. And I prayed as mother Kunti prayed
tvayi me nanya-visaya
matir madhu-pate sakrit
ratim udvahatad addha
“My sweet Lord, as the river Ganges forever flows to the sea without hindrance, let my attraction be constantly drawn to you without being diverted to anything else.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.8.42)
Lessons from the lepers
After about a month of sitting on the Ganges bank on a rock from sunrise to sunset. I went to stay for some time with the ashram of maha rsi, Mahesh Yogi and then to a cave of a great yogi, name Mahavirdas Tat Walla Baba. Then I decided to go higher into the Himalayas. I then went to the forest and suddenly I was terrified. There were people with different bodies. Their nose is melting into in their faces, their fingers bloodiest stubs. Absolute poverty, somewhere sleeping in little holes in the ground covering themselves with dirt as blanket. Suddenly about twenty of them surrounded me and stuck the bloodiest stubs in my face with desperate eyes. Screaming out “Baksheesh! Baksheesh! Baksheesh!” I had stumbled into a lepers colony. They made such a type of circle around me, I could not leave. The smell of their flesh breath was very difficult to tolerate. Would I get leprosy like them? This thought came into my mind. But I honestly had no money. But they would not let me go. This was a culture shock. For someone who is brought up in the suburb of Chicago. Finally they patted me down and searched me entirely and once they were convinced that I had nothing they let me go. I was trembling I took a few steps and then stopped in my tracks. What I saw? Something that change my life. Do I have time to tell you? There was a old leper women. Laying on her side, her nose melted into her face, her skin totally deformed, no fingers, no toes, but her eyes were filled with light. She gazed into my eyes with the love of a mother. I saw in her a yearning, yearning for someone to accept her motherly love. Perhaps years went by and nobody accepted that love that she wanted to give to someone. She had such sympathy what I was just praying for. She folded her palms and then with one of her fingerless hands she offered me a blessing with tears in her eyes. I ran to her, knelt down and put my head onto her hand. And she cried out in Hindi “Son may God bless you”. “May God bless you my son”. And I looked up, her face was illuminated with super-natural joy. Tears of ecstasy fell from her eyes. She was the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Not the beauty of the skin, but the beauty of her heart. She thanked me and I thanked her. I was willing to accept the love that she so long wished to give someone.
I went to the bank of the Ganges again, which was my favorite place, to try to understand what was going on in my life. And I looked at the current and I was thinking the Ganga here is very deep and all I could see it on the surface, are some waves every now and then a fish, jumps up. But underneath this surface there is a whole civilization of various kinds of fish and rocks and vegetation. This is just like life. Our tendency to see things only on its surface. But if we actually look deep down side, to see something. That has so much more meaning full. Sometimes we judge or even hate people. Because of how they look or how they behave. But deep down inside they may be reactive, to abuse, they may have abused in the past, they may have been – they may have been neglected. If we really try to understand the person deeply and start feeling, we will probably feel sympathetic in compassion. Because every living being is essentially good. We are conditioned in so many ways. Like that leper woman, on the surface she was ugly and diseased but like the river Ganga, when I look below the surface, I saw who she really was, a beautiful loving motherly person. This was very very valuable lesson in my spiritual journey. That helped me raise above sectarian judgments.
High in the Himalayas at the Prayaga I met Kailash Baba and all devotee of Siva, who taught me how to live like an ascetic in the forest. Then I went to the ashram of Anandamayee maa. A saintly lady, who loved me and treated me like her own son. So gracious and kind. And after that I lived with Naga Babas. They were very different than Anandamayee Maa. They were also very gracious and kind to me, but in their own way. They were determined to teach me lessons that I would never forget. And if you like to know more you can read the book. I met mystics, who are performing super natural – beyond logic and which science cannot explain. And I also met many of those people that became like a mauni baba. He was super natural (we may call miracle) when we live with those kind of people. It just like crossing the street. Once you gets used to it, there is nothing very impressive about it. What was impressive was people who had deep love and good character.
I descended to Varanasi or I lived at the burning ghats to study the nature of death, watching one body after another burnt and seeing the reaction of the relatives and beloved one. Many good realizations. Because death is an end to all of us. Whether we are black, brown, white, yellow, red, whether we are man, women, rich, or poor. Indian, Pakistani, Israeli, Palestinian, American, Russian, or anything else eventually reaches or left all of these material designations is a heap of ashes that swift into the Ganges or is thrown into the earth.
And then I went to Gaya, and studied under a Buddhist master. It says Jain Buddhist master. I was one of his first students. Then I went to Calcutta. I went to Kalighat and there I had very different experience. When I met with Mother Teresa. And she said something that I found to be universal in the principle of bhakti. She told me the real problem in this world is hunger. Not hunger of the belly but hunger of the heart. The only thing that satisfied the heart’s hunger is God’s love. She said “I have seen in London, in Europe, Los Angeles, in Sydney, everywhere”, she said “I see even among the richest most powerful people in the world. They are starving in their hearts. Because their lives so superficial. But many of these poor people in the gutters of Calcutta, as they die in my arms, I see serious sparks of hope and truth in their eyes. Something I hardly see anywhere in the western world. The greatest service to humanity is to feed the heart by giving God’s love. But we have to be pure to give that love”.
From there I came to Bombay. That’s how it was called in those days, Bombay. And then I took another course, Buddhist meditation. One day I just walking down street for no reason except to walk. I walked for miles and then I saw a big sign advertising a spiritual festival. I went there and by evening about twenty thousand people gathered in a huge pandal at the cross maidan. And I saw foreign people playing mridangas and karatals, and singing and then His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came on stage. And I was at the very back of everyone. And I could hardly see. Because we have this big screen I think. And a few thousand people here. Imagine ten or twenty times as many people as tonight with no screens. I was thinking, I would like to see him. But I felt bad to get in front of anyone else. And then I saw Prabhupada talks in another devotee’s ear and the devotee starts looking, looking, and signals to someone to come. But nobody came, so he came down into the crowed crossed through the entire ocean of people walked right up to me. Took my hand and said “Prabhupada wants you to sit next to him”. I asked him “How does Prabhupada know me”. He did not answer. He just said “come” and pulls me onto the stage. And there Srila Prabhupada welcomed me. And I sat over these flowers were on the ground and for the next two weeks Prabhupada had me sit beside him. As he gave his lectures and performed his kirtans. And something deeply moved me, but I was not convinced who is my guru also. So after the festival was over, I left. I had gone to Jagannath puri where I met Nityananda Baba’s samadhi and lived with swami Muktananda and then from there I went back to the Himalayas, where I lived to in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. That was under the Dalailama of Tibet. And studied under his people.
And I travelled to Ayodhya to study Rama and to Prayaga and eventually I was in Kathmandu valley, it is a place called Svyambhunath. One day I decided going to take a walk. Because I was sitting in meditation all day, every day for many days. So I do just walk. I walk to Kathmandu and then started coming back through miles of rice paddies. It was just about this time of the year. Blue clouds formed in the sky began to drizzle. I understood a monsoon downpour is about to happen. You all know here in India what rice paddies are. It is just very thin border and all the rest is very deep mud with the rice is growing. So I saw it appeared to be a middle age man walking with an umbrella a distance away and I ran as far as I could on this little ways. And just I came to him it started pouring rain and walked behind his umbrella. And both of us were afraid of falling into the rice paddies. So he never turned around. May be ten or fifteen minutes we walked together till the rain stopped. And then I was going in another direction, I said “Thank you”. He turned around. His eyes were shocked. He dropped his umbrella in the mud. It was Gary. We embraced. And I told him you should become a sadhu. He had gone to Israel and spent about a year and came to India and he was living with all western people. So I snatched him away and taught him the life of a sadhu. And we jumped into a third class train all the way to Amaranth to go through – for Lord Siva. And on the way we stopped in Varanasi and I pray to Kashiviswnath, please show me my path. Please show me my path. The train was stuck in the middle of the field for about 24 hours because it was flooding with rain. And there was no place to sit in the third class compartment. But somehow or other we just stood there. There was nothing else to do. No eating, no sleeping, no drinking for about and half, finally the train started moving. When it stopped at a station we crawled people out of window just to get some air, drink some water and the train started moving and the train was so crowd we could not get in. we were standing in a unknown place. When the train was gone and the crowds clear. Gary said to me “Now what?” I said “I don’t know”. But he has got on his mind. So I asked some sadhu’s seating on the track platform, where am I? He said this is Mathura. Krishna’s birth Place. And today is Janmastami. Krishna’s birthday. So we celebrated Janmastami. We do not know what it was you celebrate? I was bathing in Yamuna the next morning I heard something about Vrindavan and then I said to Gary I am going to Vrindavan and met you there tomorrow. So I went then he came. And was really crowded because of the Janmastami crowds. And Gary wanted to go to the Himalayas toward Amaranth, I said I will see him in four days and I will meet you in Haridwar under the Clock at brahma ghata. And I stayed on Vrindavan for two days. And on the third day I prayed. That there is something magical about this place and is affecting my heart. But I have to go to meet Gary.
The next morning I could not move. I had typhoid fever laying on the bank of Yamuna vultures were circling above me for hours and hours, a farmer threw me on the back of his oxen cart took me to a charitable hospital. And the doctor said “you can’t travel, at least a month, you’ll die”.
So during that month in Vrindavan I got an understanding of what is bhakti? What is the concept of bhagavan or Krishna. I learned that there are three aspects of God. That is eternally existing. Brahman the all impersonal existence of the Lord, whom certain yogis aspire to merge into the oneness into that Brahman. And then there Lord is the paramatma who is sitting as the guide within everyone’s heart. Bhagavan, the all beautiful supreme person. Whose body is sat-cid-ananda, eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss. And only through Bhakti, only through love this Bhagavan reveal himself within our hearts and within everything and everyone. This concept of Bhakti is completely transformed me, I realized that all inclusiveness, everything was there. And the charm of Vrindavan and Radha the feminine compassionate aspect of the absolute truth convinced me. As the months went by I understood that this is my path. How that transformation due to place, the magical, mystical and beautiful experiences of Vrindavan.
I don’t have time to tell you, but if you like you can read the book. Here it is that I accepted to the path of Bhakti. It was there that I accepted my Gurudeva A. C. Bhakitbedanta Swami Prabhupada. And it was there that I decided to assist him and being an instrument of that love according to my capacity in my life. I was staying in America for many years, but in my heart of hearts, I earned to fulfill my promise and do something. At least try to do something to show my gratitude and love for the people of India.
In 1986 we started our temple in Chowpatty and to conclude, I simple want to express “I am full of faults. But by my gurudeva’s mercy he is giving me a chance to serve and I am forever grateful to all of you to your great tradition, to your great culture, to your great nation for giving me the greatest treasure, greatest pleasure, and the most meaningful purpose of life. Thank you very much.
I sincerely beg everyone to please stay for the performance of Gaurvani. They travelled all around America and around the world. Gaurvani is an American who form I was explaining this Sunday I know his parents, that two of my dearest friends, god brother and god sister, Rukmanini devi and Brajaraja Prabhu. They were two of the earliest disciple of my guru deva, they prayed and they cried to have a child, who will spread love of god, bhakti, throughout the world. And their prayer was fulfilled in Gaurvani prabhu. They have taken the essence of western music above the authorities of eastern music and synthesize them as an offering of pure love and devotion. Where ever they go Americans, Africans, Europeans, Australians, South Africans, Indians, people cry, people re joys for experience of their true love for chanting of god’s holy names. So please he will be life time culturally experience and I forever indebted to Gauravani and I forever indebted to all of you.