Here is the full transcript of Spiritual Teachings by Bhakti Yoga practitioner, Radhanath Swami at TEDxLondonBusinessSchool.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Spiritual teachings by Radhanath Swami at TEDxLondonBusinessSchool
I am very honored and very grateful to be among all of you today.
When we discover the magic within ourselves, the miracle of life, of grace, then we naturally can see that magic all around us. I’d like to share with you some of the things that have happened in my life, that helped me to come to this understanding.
I was born and raised in the Chicago area, and I passed my teenage years in the 1960s. They were very turbulent times. Troubled and confused, I struggled so much with what appeared to be so much hypocrisy around me. I participated in the Civil Rights Movement, I dove deeply into the counterculture, I was tear-gassed and chased by the police with clubs during the Democratic Convention in 1968. And these were the people I was told were protecting my freedom.
I was there just because I had questions about the validity of a war in Vietnam, where my friends were being forced to fight and some killed. When I was 19 years old, I began a spiritual quest. I left home and came to London. From here, I hitchhiked without money to Europe, to the Middle East, and ultimately, came to the Himalayas in India.
While in the Himalayas, I was living in caves, in jungles, and I was meeting often with Yogis. Some of them demonstrated supernatural powers, which really mesmerized me, but then something happened. I was sitting in the forest under a gigantic Banyan tree, and I found under my foot, a tiny seed. I held it up before the tree, and was thinking within this little seed is an enormous Banyan tree. I looked into the sky and saw a cloud, and I reflected that during the monsoon rains, one single cloud contains enough water to inundate and flood an entire city. And yet that cloud seems to be weightlessly floating in the sky.
I looked at the birds that were flying, and the insects that were running up trees. And then I looked at my own body, and thought a mother and a father come together, a little excretion with the seed goes from a father to a mother, and it develops into a human being, with the potential to develop science and technology, to create and build empires and civilizations.
My realization at that moment was, compared to the extraordinary magic that we’re seeing every moment all around us, the supernatural powers of these Yogis were insignificant.
A few years ago I was walking with a friend, in the Muir Woods which is just close to San Francisco. It’s a redwood forest. We came upon a park ranger. He was explaining to some tourists, the secret of the forest. He told that sequoia and redwood trees are the largest trees on the planet. Some of them are hundreds or even thousands of years old. But interestingly, their roots do not grow deep.
And then he told that these trees have been standing for centuries and centuries, enduring massive windstorms, frigid blizzards, devastating earthquakes. And without deep roots, how did they keep standing? Then the Ranger paused so that we could ponder this mystery. And then he went on to reveal to us, the underground secret of the redwood forest. Being from the 60s, I like underground things, so I was very attentive. He said that the roots under the ground, they reach outward seeking the roots of other redwood trees. And when they meet, they intertwine making a permanent bond with each other. In this way, all the redwood trees in the entire forest are either directly or indirectly, giving support to each other. Unity is their strength. They reach out to care for each other. Even a little new born baby redwoods, its little tiny roots, are given shelter by the ancient giants.
In the Muir Woods, nature is giving humanity a very crucial lesson: that our real strength is in our willingness to care for and support each other. We’re caretakers of divine property. Wisdom is to understand this simple universal principle that in giving, we receive. By getting things, we make a living. By giving, we make a life.
The spiritual evolution of a society can be understood when people love people and use things. But all too often in today’s world, it’s just the opposite. People use people, and they love things.
I discovered something that really transformed my life. A simple ageless truth that all of our desires with their longings, gratifications, and frustrations, stem from a single origin: forgetfulness of a love that is inherent within our own hearts. And in that love there is true fulfillment.
In 1971, I learned this lesson from a very unlikely but unforgettable teacher. I was just coming out of my teenage years, and I decided to walk higher north into the Himalayan wilderness. I was all alone. Suddenly, I came upon a scene that horrified me. There were people who were homeless, starving, some naked, some in rags, and their limbs were mangled and deformed. I had stumbled into a leprosy colony.
When they saw me, a foreigner, they thought I must have money. So, about 20 of these lepers made a circle around me, so tight that they wouldn’t let me move. They were screaming out, “Bucksheesh, bucksheesh,” Give me charity. Part of me was thinking, “Why are they doing this to just this stranger?” and another part of me was thinking, “They are so destitute, and so completely forgotten by society. They have a right do whatever they want to do.” I think it was about 20 minutes that they harassed me. And finally when they knew I had nothing to give, they let me go.
As I walked a few steps only, I saw, to my side, a short distance away, an old leper woman. She was laying in rags. Her nose was melted into a hole in her decayed flesh. Our eyes met. She looked at me with a sad smile. She understood my anguish. At that moment, she conveyed to me wordlessly, the tender love of a mother. Her look said that she wanted nothing from me. But she understood how devastated I was by the shocking encounter with her people.
Then she held out her fingerless hand to bless me. Moved by her motherly affection, I approached her and fell on my knees, and she put her hand on top my head, and whispered, “May God bless you, my child. May God bless you, my child.” I looked up at her. Her face was lit up with joy. She was beautiful.
I felt that God had sent me to her so that she could do what any mother, however rich or poor, however healthy or sick, has a right to do: to bless a child. I wept.