In 1970, at the age of only nineteen, Radhanath Swami left his home in America seeking adventure and spiritual knowledge. After trekking across Europe for months, he reached his long hoped for destination: India. After living there for many years as a sadhu or wandering monk, he returned to America in order to share the sacred knowledge and wisdom he had learned from the many holy men and women he had met there. It was an extraordinary choice, given what he had survived to get there: a journey filled with bizarre characters, mystical experiences, and dangerous adventures. The story is recounted in his recently published memoir The Journey Home (San Rafael, CA: Mandala Publishing, 2009). Reviewers have called Radhanath’s saga “at once an engaging yarn, a love story, and the evocation of a transcendent paradise in all its savagery, solitude, and splendor.”
Radhanath Swami emerged from his years of travel wanting to explain for others the beauty and rewards of a life devoted to God, and therein lay a dilemma. His many followers and friends describe him as completely selfless and consequently unwilling to take credit for his work, and restless when a spotlight is focused on him. By choosing as his guru A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), the spiritual leader who compassionately spread the wisdom and culture of bhakti all over the world, Radhanath Swami cast his fate to the wind, cut his matted locks, and entered back into society.
More than a symbolic gesture, these were first steps toward an active, engaged form of devotion. This contemporary strain of the Bhakti or devotional yoga tradition maintains that people who become aware of their spiritual identity share an imperative to reduce suffering in the world—a truth slowly revealed to him in the years prior to his formal initiation by other famous spiritual teachers he had met including the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Ananda Mayi Ma, Swami Satcidananda, and many more who make their appearances in The Journey Home.
In spite of his constant global travels over many years, Radhanath Swami established his spiritual headquarters at Radha Gopinath Ashram in Chowpatty, Mumbai. For the past twenty years he has guided the community development and has initiated a number of acclaimed social action programs including Midday Meal, which feeds more than 260,000 plates of nutritious vegetarian food to indigent children daily; missionary hospitals and eye camps; eco-friendly farms, schools and ashrams; and a number of emergency relief programs throughout India.
“He sees life as a continuous blessing of God’s grace,” one follower says, “and yet he never loses his humanness. His accessibility leaves people feeling that, with a little sincere effort, they too will find the path to inner peace and God realization.