Monday, August 10, 2009

The Gift of Renunciation

The Ganges River
photo courtesy of

In Radhanath Swami's autobiography, he writes how after a month of solitary meditation, he decided to renounce his most prized possession and talent - his harmonica - because he realized that it was drawing him away from his spiritual path. He threw the harmonica into the Ganges River. After it had sunk, he received the maha mantra from the Ganges River.

Frankly, his experience confounded me.

So when two friends and I had a darshan with Radhanath Swami on the Thursday of KulimeLA, I asked him to clarify his mystical experience.

"Had you heard the mantra before? How is it possible you could hear the mantra for the first time, and hear it clearly... in the swishy sounds of water?"

"It's very possible that I had heard the mantra before. But when I was sitting on the rock in the middle of the Ganges, and I was listening to Her flow, I heard the mantra for the first conscious time in the roar. Maybe others wouldn't have been able to hear it. But I could hear it, clearly."



"How mystical," I murmured.

Radhanath Swami smiled.

Venice Beach
photo courtesy of behance.vo

The next evening of the KulimeLA, I decided to not go to the Ford Theater extravaganza. I was too exhausted from the first two days of the Mela, and I knew that if I went to the extravaganza, I wouldn't be able to properly do my service for the festival. I had decided even before I came to the Mela that my service took priority over entertainment.

It was a wrenching decision, one that I knew I would feel twinges of regret for years to come, but I stood by it.

So while the block emptied out and headed to Hollywood, Gopishvari and I caught a bus down to Venice Beach. In the cool evening, she swam in the Pacific and I took a japa walk down the beach. I pondered the waves. I thought about how I was missing the extravaganza, an event I had looked forward to for months. But I felt peaceful in my heart to be walking along the sand, and I knew I had made the right decision. When I returned to where Gopi was swimming, I sat in the sand to chant and closed my eyes. The evening sun soothed my face.

I listened to the ocean.

I wondered, what if I could hear the maha mantra in the roar of the waves? I imagined what the mantra would sound like, whispering through the roar. I listened and listened, but I was mystified at how impossible it was to hear a word, what to speak of the maha mantra.

But I was grateful I had the peace of mind to even chant.
Radhanath Swami had given up something so dear to him - his harmonica - because it was drawing him away from his spiritual life. I realized that with his sincere renunciation, he had been given something much, much greater - the holy name.

I now realize that because I had forgone the Ford Theater, the next day I could do my service with patience and with a smile because I had slept properly. The gift of my renunciation was nicer service. And hopefully, if I can serve the Vaishnavas, I will be able to humbly hear the holy name. If not from a holy river, or the ocean, at the least may I sincerely hear Krishna's name from my own mouth.


Aspiring Servant ! said...


Madhava Gosh said...

That is the Old New Vrindaban mood -- missing the festivities because of service to the devotees who are visiting.

I have 6 DVDs of raw footage from the RVC temple opening in 1983 and one thing that was conspicuous is how infrequently the NV devotees appear in it because they were all doing the behind the scenes stuff like cooking,serving out, cleaning, etc.

FYI, one time in the early 1980s, Soma was messing with a harmonica for a while. He was practicing it in the temple at Bahulaban one day when Radhanath S came by and asked if he could see it.

He took it and played a short riff that demonstrated he was really good with it and then handed it back.

He said the last time he had played a harmonica had been the time he threw his into the Ganges and he hadn't touched one since. He told us the story you just related how he had really loved playing the harmonica.

So it was really a sacrifice for him.

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