“Let our family expand to millions and billions, but let’s never compromise on the love and care for each person…” – Radhanath Swami (Address to the Radha Gopinath community leaders on his 62nd birthday, in Mumbai, on December 7, 2012)
What does it take for a spiritual community to sustain through the thick and thins, the ups and downs, of this material world? In an age characterized by rampant quarrel and hypocrisy, it’s a veritable challenge to establish and maintain a community based on spiritual principles. The Shri Shri Radha Gopinath mandir community in downtown Mumbai was established with a group of fifty to hundred devotees in 1986, and since the last twenty six years, the community has grown to more than eight thousand, including the satellite centres that have expanded in Maharashtra.
The interesting and heartening feature of this growth is that more than ninety per cent of the original members of the community are still actively practising spiritual life, and rendering services through various outreach projects initiated by the community.
Tolerance and appreciation brings unity
For relationships, both at the individual and community level, to be maintained in the long run, lot of emphasis is placed on tolerance; each member is different and emphasis is often placed on the need to tolerate and respect each other. However the most critical factor for healthy relationships is that not only we tolerate but also appreciate our differences; this appreciation brings unity in diversity.
When Radhanath Swami began the community, there was practically a war amongst the householders and the renunciants. Lot of misunderstanding and hatred was fuelled by some political elements. However, by the grace of Lord, these people moved away, unable to stand against the strong culture of community-based spiritual practises, where members lived by common commitment to spiritual sadhana, discipline and services.
Need to abandon pride
A spiritual leader works diligently to abandon pride; the process of spiritual leadership gives paramount importance to being humble. During the initial struggles of the Mumbai community what gave members hope was to see the materially wealthy Hrishikesh Mafatlal, and his driver chanting and praying together in the temple, holding hands in kirtan. This is significant because many Indians are status conscious, and Mafatlal in the late 1980s was a household name in India. Such treatment of a menial driver as one’s own friend and brother by Mafatlal filled many people’s hearts with hope; Radhanath Swami says this convinced him then that spiritual leadership has future here because the principle of humility and unity is the foundation.
Amongst the brahmacharis, the renounced order, there are many scholars and PhDs staying at the Mumbai ashram; yet, all of them respect their leader who is a simple man from the small Indian town of Belgaum. Although he isn’t a great scholar, his goodness as a practising spiritualist, his love and compassion, has been recognized and he has emerged as a natural leader of the community.
Institution v/s family
At Bhaktivedanta Hospital, one of the outreach projects of the community, the director was requested to step down and be the head of the ailing spiritual care department. Without any hesitation, he immediately relinquished his high post, and this natural humility of the leader shocked many sceptics. The highly qualified doctors serving in the hospital take lunch with the housekeepers, and thus they maintain the spirit of simplicity and unity.
The principle for any spiritual community is ‘we are not an institution but a family’; the institution is important but it has the essential service of facilitating love and trust because ultimately, we are a family. This has always been the appeal, hope and prayer of Radhanath Swami.
Harmonizing our differences to protect each other
The Mumbai community has seen so much magic in terms of projects and success, yet the foundation of all of this has been the unifying principle of humility and cooperation. Radhanath Swami often quotes the fifteenth century apostle of love of God, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who taught that all wealth of the whole universe is not as valuable as one sincere spiritual practitioner. Spiritual leadership implores all to not lose sight of this vision.
Radhanath Swami offers invaluable wisdom, “Material life with all its glamour has no substance. As long as we allow false ego to rise in our hearts, we stand alone in this world and the temptations and fears of this world are beyond us. Therefore we need each other and we really need to harmonize our differences; only then nothing can break us.
“In the path of spirituality alone there is beauty, for it’s real. Let our family expand to millions and billions, but let’s never compromise on the love and care for each person as a soul, part and parcel, dear to God. In this mood let’s aspire to be the servant of servant of all.”Google+