While wandering Vrindavan’s forests in 1971, I met AC Bhaktivedanta Swami. Although he considered himself a humble servant of God and all other beings, his students called him Prabhupada, “beloved master.” Prabhupada was a teacher of the tradition and philosophy of bhakti yoga as he had received it from a lineage of enlightened sages that stretches far into the past.
I was especially sensitive to sectarianism at that time in my life, and I found that Prabhupada’s presentation of Bhakti harmonised the truths I had gathered from other paths. He put everything I admired about the world’s many faiths into a fascinating perspective that seamlessly reconciled whatever differences appeared on their surface.
From him I learned about the Self ‘s true nature and its capacity for unconditional love. I also learned that that longing reaches its full realisation only in the self ‘s relationship with the Supreme Self, God. Once love between God and self is awakened, it flows naturally out into the world in the form of compassion for all beings, just as water is first absorbed by a tree’s roots and then flows into every branch and leaf.
On my journey, I came to value compassion as the essential expression of true spirituality. Prabhupada embodied that compassion. Through his simple analogies, he resolved the questions that had challenged me since childhood, and later that year, in that beautiful, holy place, I accepted him as my Guru, resolving to follow his teachings and example for the rest of my life. From 1971 until the mid-1980s, I practised Bhakti Yoga in a variety of settings.
I lived as a riverbank ascetic in Vrindavan, became a cave-dwelling yogi in the Himalayas, and, after my Indian visa expired, moved to an isolated mountaintop Ashram in the Appalachians, where I farmed, cared for cows and goats, and tended an altar in a simple farmhouse temple.
Later, I began travelling again, this time lecturing on the philosophy, sociology, and spiritual practices of bhakti yoga at American universities. I also taught the yoga of cooking! Sharing the joys of practising bhakti has been my heart’s calling.
In1987, I returned to India, where I was entrusted with a small, dilapidated, one-room Ashram in Mumbai. The Ashramites were engulfed in bitterness and scandal, and the surrounding congregation seemed to be at war too. I reluctantly consented to take charge.
As I waded into the existing complexities and uncertainties and dealt with my own shortcomings, I tried to establish a model of living that genuinely represented the sublime principles of bhakti.
By God’s grace and the dedication of numerous souls, that Mumbai Ashram is now a thriving spiritual community with dozens of branches, hundreds of Ashramites, and tens of thousands of congregation members. People of all ages, social backgrounds, and vocations have discovered balance and harmony in expressing their own spirituality while living out the other aspects of their lives, and with their families they have learned to practise the culture of Bhakti in peace. In just a few years, these people have cooperatively built spiritually based schools, temples, ecovillages hospitals, hospices, an orphanage, a food distribution programme for impoverished schools, and outreach programmes to a number of Maharashtrian villages.
All of this service has come from people who have appreciated the power of the yoga of love. It’s thrilling to see people united by a higher principle and working with a genuine appreciation of one another.
True spirituality opens the door to an extraordinary life, regardless of your vocation, religion, or spiritual path. All it takes is a willingness to journey within and explore this timeless way of transforming consciousness. Awakening our potential to love is a most ancient practice that is especially relevant today.
In the end, this inward journey will culminate in a reunion – a reunion with the Supreme Source of everything that exists. We usually call that source “God,” although I understand that many thoughtful people struggle with that word. After all, we’ve seen deceit, hate, and egoism divide humanity in the name of God. Still, I ask you to open your mind to the notion of an infinitely loving and beautiful Supreme Being.
Call To Adventure
This journey is a call to adventure. It will ask you to reach beyond sectarian spirituality as well as the distractions, routines, or monotony you may have in your everyday life. I invite you to pursue your heart’s deepest calling, to discover the beauty of your own true self and appreciate life’s miracles at every moment. Abridged from The Journey Within.
First formed roughly 480 million years ago, this is the oldest mountain chain in North America. The mountain range derives its name from the Apalachees, an Indian tribe inhabiting this region. The tree species found here include red spruce, white pine and yellow birch; wildlife includes moose, bears, beavers, coyotes, porcupines and minks; birds include hawks, warblers, wrens and grouses, and reptiles and amphibians include frogs, rattlesnakes and turtles.
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