From a darshan with the monks of the Bhaktivedanta Ashram, NYC, on 7-23-09
As our humble temple here in the East Village blossoms into The Bhakti Center, a front-line dynamo of progressive outreach and spiritual shelter for the denizens of the universal capital of the material energy, Manhattan, we look for guidance to the realized teachers whose vision propels us forward in a task with so many sublime qualities spiced with grand challenges both expected and unexpected.
The path we must tread is a careful one, requiring the balance of a tightrope walker with the sincere open-bigheartedness of the selfless saint, complete with the layered and authentic sophistication demanded here in one of humanity's most vibrant aesthetic playgrounds
His Holiness Radhanath Swami is one of the great inspirations behind the expansion of our project, following firmly and with great devotion in the footsteps of his beloved spiritual master, our eternal well-wisher and original neighborhood spiritual pioneer and patron, A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.
In this very same neighborhood where Srila Prabhupada's mission first took root, where the timeless practice of loving devotion to God, bhakti-yoga, first made its presence felt in the contemporary Western world, Radhanath Swami now offers us his energy and presence to fulfill a promise he sees coming over the horizon.
It is a new wave of seekers, a renaissance of authentic children of the Divine ready for real spiritual culture, looking for a community of selfless love, deep wisdom, intelligent realizations, and total mind/body/soul connect that could change the shape and course of the world.
It is our duty to serve this new movement with open hands and hearts, with the warm family atmosphere of a delicious dinner topped with soul-stirring music, with the space to allow tired bodies to stretch out and become renewed, and most importantly of all, with the gift of the soul's eternal life of bliss, the art of bhakti.
Radhanath Swami, in his discourse with us, revealed that we carry within our hearts the deposit of Srila Prabhupada's mission here in NYC, a mission whose depth and openness is so rare in today's world that thrives and collapses in on itself in the name of strife, ruthless competition, and immoral and impersonal understandings of our relationships with each other.
We live in a city that has tasted the terror of what happens when faiths collide with one another, seemingly because of spiritual differences but actually based in the economic, political, and social realities of our time that never seem to fail in causing us to gnash and bear our teeth at one another like wild animals desperate to protect their territory.
The rare depth and openness of our mission, Prabhupada's mission, comes in the desire to help everyone, without discrimination, reach to their spiritual core. The bhakti tradition tells us that this core, the essence of our soul, is a condition of eternal knowledge and bliss, in service to the Divine, to Krsna, and to each other.
It is a condition which belongs to everyone equally, and which is beyond all sectarian strife and material misunderstanding. Radhanath Swami explains this eloquently himself in describing his first encounter with the mission and words of Srila Prabhupada in Bombay in 1970, in this excerpt from his biography The Journey Home.
Radhanath Swami writes:
"He confidently explained how true religion was not the property of any sect, caste, or creed, but the nature of all living beings. Our nature, he said, is to love God, but this love has been forgotten since time immemorial. Such love of God must be unconditional to completely satisfy the self.
'We are spirit souls,' he said, 'but in ignorance, we identify this temporary body with the self.' He went on to explain how the cause of all suffering was forgetfulness of our relationship with God, and how this consciousness could be easily awakened by the chanting of God's names.
In a voice brimming with compassion, he pleaded with the audience to take this message seriously. 'This process,' he said, 'which revives our dormant love of God, is called bhakti-yoga.'"
Srila Prabhupada himself explains this essential nature of his mission in a 1968 letter to Roland Michener, the governor-general of Canada. Prabhupada writes:
Our society (the International Society of Krishna Consciousness) is a non-lucrative organization, whose purpose is to promote the well-being of human society by drawing its attention to God. We are a non-sectarian society, and our members include people from Christian, Jewish and Muslim as well as Hindu faiths. The aim of our society is not to found a new religious sect, but to invoke the living entity's dormant love of God, and thus provide the human society of all faiths with a common platform of clear theistic knowledge and practice.
Members of our society may retain their own respective religious faiths, as our society is meant to establish a clear, practical common formulation of the common ideal of all theists, and to defeat the unnecessary dogmatic wranglings that now divide and invalidate the theistic camp. This common ideal of theism is to develop love of God.
In my own experience so far here in the city, encounters with the spiritually inclined have revealed a real eclectic mix of philosophical and practical viewpoints. It leaves me alternately enthused and confused, excited knowing that so many are ready and willing to bring real spiritual change into their lives and into the lives of others, but also wondering what is our specific approach, true to our tradition, that we can give and serve to this eclectic bunch of seekers.
I asked Radhanath Swami about this concern, and in his typical sweet simplicity, he told us that we should simply have faith that the attractiveness of bhakti, the attractiveness of the essential universality of the soul and its relationship to the Divine that we all share, will break and shine through any ideas that we are too different or specific to be able to share what we have.
In his own words, Radhanath Swami says we should, with taste and discretion, "love them for who they are." It will not do us any good to wage any theological battles, to establish some kind of supremacy in the turf war of religions big and small.
It should not concern us to try and prove that we have the right message and understanding. If we know, and if we feel, that the fruits of bhakti have sprouted and warmed our hearts, and have filled our lives with immense meaning and satisfaction, no matter who we are and where we come from, then it is just simply our own personal example and the example of our community that will allow our new friends to enter into a relationship of trust with us.
In this way, we can begin to serve them with the jewel-like gifts of the bhakti atmosphere, the life of selfless devotion that is the foundation of the real spiritual life and the key to the door that gives our full relationship with God and with each other.
As Radhanath Swami concluded with:
"Our anesthesia is making friends, and the bridge will be hospitality and friendship. Unless people open their hearts, our philosophy does not enter. We have to show people that we care about them.
There will be an explosion of Bhakti in Manhattan. We have to stay together and work together."
By his blessings, and by our effort, and by your support, we can begin to soak the streets of NYC in the essential understanding of the real bliss of a life centered on the soul and on service. And if it happens here in NYC, the hub of the wheel of anything that happens on this Planet Earth, it will happen everywhere else.