Neither health issues nor physical blindness hampered his march towards the right shelter at the lotus feet of Krishna
My journey into Krishna consciousness has been a long and winding one. After going through many tests and struggles, I got this precious gift of Krishna consciousness. I hope my story will inspire you to appreciate the gift that you have received, so you do not throw it away carelessly. Here it goes.
Right from my childhood, I had serious health problems. At 5, I had severe ear pain and asthma. At 13, I developed a tumor in the brain that took me to several hospitals. Some friendly Christians approached me during this time and recommended that I should come to church and attend their prayer sessions. Their love and care initially moved my heart, and their prayers and concern for my health comforted me and uplifted my spirits. But after some time, they started blaspheming various gods of our Vedic tradition. They criticized the Vedic scriptures and the devotional practices described in them. I soon realized that all their pleasing talks were a covert attempt to convert me into their faith. I got frustrated and gave up all connections with them.
While in school I enrolled for a Reiki course in Mumbai, and much to my astonishment the 12- year-old daughter of my instructor diagnosed my illness and pointed out the exact location of the tumor inside my brain – without any prior knowledge of my ailments. This experience gave me a profound realization: that there are certain higher powers which are beyond our sense perception. Our physical senses are limited and incapable of providing us complete knowledge of our self and the universe around us.
Several questions started brewing up in my mind, and my quest for spirituality began. I started delving into various spiritual, quasi-spiritual and metaphysical practices. One spiritual leader in a small town in Maharashtra really inspired me – his talks ignited my curiosity to know more about the existence of God. My whole family got attracted to him, and within six months, all of us took initiation from him.
My visits to organizations like Divine Brain Trust and Swadhyaya Parivar gave me a good exposure to Bhagavad-gita , the foundational book for all spirituality. I would regularly hear the talks of famous spiritual leaders like Anand Murti Guru Maa, who convinced me that the Vedic literatures were not mere books of mythology, as falsely taught in modern history textbooks. These literaturesdescribed actual historical facts that occurred in bygone ages, millions of years ago.
Darkness in my Life
In 2001 calamity struck again and darkness loomed into my life – literally. While studying for my HSC board exams, I realized that I could not read my textbooks properly. Within ten days I lost my eyesight completely – both my eyes were shut and the eyeballs would not move. This was followed by loss of speech, inability to eat or drink, and severe, unbearable headaches. Whatever little liquid I would take, it would come out through the nose.
After going through two unsuccessful biopsies, the doctors wanted to open up my skull and check for tumor. But my father protested: “I will let my child die at peace instead of becoming an object of doctors’ experiments.” We felt disappointed and hopeless.
I had heard a nice quote: “When God shuts one door, He opens another.” And in 2002, a door of hope opened for me when a specialist doctor suggested that I take Panchagavya Chikitsa treatment, which is based on cowurine and other cow products. Practicing Ayurvedic techniques of body purification and other yogaasanas along with this new treatment, I experienced some miraculous results: within 2-3 months I started speaking few short words and eating little food. My headaches subsided, my eyes opened up and eyeballs started moving. Most of the disease got cured within two years, although I could not regain my eyesight.
Continuing the Search of Truth
My health almost regained, I resumed my spiritual quest. One spiritual leader explained the concept of Brahman and how God is ultimately impersonal. Ascribing personality to God, he said, was just an imagination. How can God not have any personality? I wondered. If we humans can have a personality, why should not God? Personality and form may restrict ordinary mortals, but God is omnipotent and omnipresent – He can be present everywhere and simultaneously retain His personality and individuality.
Another godman talked about the imminent Third World War and how only his followers were going to be saved – all others are bound to doom! When he declared that he ate meat and smoked cigarettes, people applauded. I felt disgusted and left the place, never to visit again.
I visited several other yogi s and teachers. One teacher taught how to invoke the kundalini and the various cakras within the body. A godman in Maharashtra was able to miraculously solve the problems of his followers, and thus the followers considered him God. Another yogi in South India could produce gold chains out of ash. Millions thronged to see him and hear from him. I was impressed by their abilities, but somewhere within I felt this is not the goal of self-realization. Remaining focused on the ultimate goal, one needs to be careful not to get distracted by various mystic powers that one may achieve while practicing spiritual disciplines.
Questions in my mind continued to haunt me. I met a group of yogi s who predicted that the world is going to end soon and that their brand of yoga is the only saving grace for humanity. They blasphemed the Vedic scriptures, alleging that they were man-made. When I asked questions about the spirit soul and its transmigration into various species, they had no answer. I left disgusted.
Another leader sounded very logical and rational in his discourses, but he condemned the worship of God in temples as bogus. I felt particularly hurt when he rejected the worship of Lord Vitthala in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, as superstitious. According to him, the mystical experiences and devotional ecstasies of great saints like Tukarama, Namadev and Janabai were mere illusions. I recalled my visits to this temple-town some years back, and how my heart had drawn towards the simplicity of varkaris and their unalloyed devotion to Vitthala. The sweet singing of Tukarama’s abhangas had invoked a deep sense of devotion inside me. Upon hearing the blasphemy about this age-old tradition, however, I rejected this pseudo-religious leader outright.
Although my encounters with most religious leaders and godmen were disappointing and frustrating, some teachers inspired me a lot and kept my hopes alive of meeting a genuine saint sometime in the future. One such person was Sri Satyanarayan Goenka, the teacher of vipashana. His simple teachings and clear focus impressed me. He taught to remain detached from the pleasant and unpleasant sensations triggered by the mind on the body, witness all events in life with neutrality, and remain equipoised in success, failure, happiness and distress. In this way,he taught,the mind gradually finds more and more subtle states of peace, and from peace compassion awakens. He emphasized on practicing dharma, which meant avoiding sinful activities, increasing piety, and purifying one’s own mind.
Baba Ramdev was another saint that inspired me. His yoga-äsanas helped me improve my health, and I particularly admired his patriotism and positive dynamic character. My physical disability allowed me to get personal darçana of several spiritual leaders and saints with ease, and I took the full benefit of it. I felt humble and grateful, but still my heart was hankering for something more. And I did not know what it really was.
An Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is
As the potpourri of my spiritual experiences was cooking, my friend Sharad became a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). We both would have soulful discussions on spiritual topics for hours together. Our discussions would eventually end in argument about God’s nature and form – does He have a form or is He formless and impersonal? Most of the times I prevailed over my friend, until one day he stunned me by showing a verse from the Bhagavad-gita (7.24): “Unintelligent men, who do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna , was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is imperishable and supreme.”
I was shocked and surprised. How is that possible! All these years, I had learned that God is actually impersonal, who takes a personal form for His devotee. “How can He have a form and be present everywhere at the same time?” I thought. “God is unlimited, and having a form makes Him limited.” Thinking that this must be the author’s personal interpretation, I decided to check other translations of the same verse, and I saw that all other writers gave the opposite translation – that God is ultimately impersonal, thus confirming my doubts that ISKCON is wrong.
But deep within I felt that my friend was right. When I read Srila Prabhupada's commentary on various gita's verses, my impersonal barriers started to crumble and I slowly began to realize that God is ultimately a person, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He can have a divine form, much unlike ours, and can be unlimited and omnipresent simultaneously.
Although Srila Prabhupada's writings convinced me about the philosophy and Krishna's divinity, some of the devotees’ behavior put me off. I felt the resident monks (brahmacaris) were acting irresponsibly towards their family and society by renouncing everything. One can practice bhakti even while staying at home, I thought. What is the need to give up everything?
I continued with my search for truth and kept meeting many other teachers but I couldn’t commit myself to any of those paths. Either the teachers were unimpressive or the philosophies were unconvincing, sometimes even bewildering. Feeling distraught, I eagerly sought for someone who could answer my questions. I prayed to God, “I don’t know if you a person or ultimately impersonal. Please guide me and show me the right path.”
I am sure the Lord heard my prayers and answered my call. No, I did not have a divine vision or a mystical experience. But I was confident that God was personally guiding me and making me meet His representatives.
I met a spiritual leader who was a staunch devotee of Lord Krishna and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. His lectures were logical and were strictly based on the Vedic scriptures. Quoting from various Upanisads, he soundly defeated all opposing arguments and established the Vedic conclusions thoroughly. He convinced me that bhakti, or the path of love, is the topmost method of selfrealization. In his presence I felt easily drawn towards Lord Krishna and His pastimes. This was a beacon of hope for me.
But soon I encountered a problem that created serious doubts in me: He emphasized on guru-bhakti, or the need to surrender oneself to a guru, but he himself never accepted a guru. His followers defended him by saying that there was no one who was qualified enough to be his guru. If Lord Krishna and Lord Caitanya accept a guru, why cannot this person, I wondered. The final blow came when his followers proclaimed that he was nondifferent from Lord Caitanya Mahabrabhu . I understood that nothing could be further from truth than this.
I felt disheartened, unable to find proper shelter and guidance. I felt an attraction toward Lord Caitanya Mahabrabhu , so I thought let me try ISKCON once again, although my past experiences with this organization were not so memorable. I started visiting Sri Sri Radha Rasabihari temple at Juhu, Mumbai, and participated in their kirtan. One time a devotee approached me and asked, “Why do you come to the temple if you cannot see?” I had no answer. So he himself provided the answer: “You should say that I may not be able to see the Lord but the Lord can see that I have come to take His darshan.” His answer was simple but it touched my heart, and I understood the deeper motive behind all our devotional activities: to please the Lord.
I became more devoted to ISKCON and soon started chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra. The Siksastaka prayers of Lord Caitanya deeply moved me, especially the third verse, trnad api sunicena. Then I heard the talks given by His Holiness Radhanath Swami Maharaja, where he repeatedly quoted this verse. Upon closely observing him, I felt that he even exemplified and followed this instruction completely. Moreover, he never criticized demigods, pseudo-philosophers, or other religious leaders. One time I heard him say, “A real sadhu is not the one who takes higher position to uplift fallen souls. A real sadhu takes a lower position than the most fallen soul and gently pushes him up.” This statement changed my outlook towards life forever.
Getting a Positive Outlook
I attended many lectures at the ISKCON Chowpatty temple. In one class, given by Gaura Gopala Prabhu, I heard how to face problems in life. He said when we get problems, we should understand that Lord Krishna is trying to remind us how the material world is not the best place for us to live. Problems, therefore, should motivate us to go back to Godhead. During the kértäna that followed, the intensity of the frustration due to my physical and mental pains piqued my emotions. I just burst out crying and praying. Devotees then took me to the center of the hall and encouraged me, “Come on, friend. Please don’t waste your tears. Dance with us.”
They graciously started to teach me the dancing steps. I was so moved by their kind gesture. During the whole kértäna I kept dancing and crying.
The most inspiring aspect of ISKCON’s philosophy is its practical philosophy. Unlike other organizations, no one here gave me false hopes of prosperity and recovery from illness. By studying Srila Prabhupada's teachings, I understood how Krishna consciousness helps you transcend worldly problems. By the power of bhakti, material problems become insignificant. Now whenever I think of my physical problems, I don’t get discouraged. If I had proper eyesight, I would have taken darçana of Their Lordships for hours together, but with those same eyes I would have wasted many hours enjoying the illusory forms of maya.
I am confident that by chanting the holy names of Krishna , one day I will be able to see the divine forms of Sri Sri Radha -Krishna . ‘nama’, ‘vigraha’, ‘svarüpa’ – ei tina eka-rupa tine ’bheda’nahi, – tina ’cid-ananda-rupa’
“The Lord’s holy name, His form and His personality are all one and the same. There is no difference between them. Since all of them are absolute, they are all transcendentally blissful.”
Ravikant Jagtap is now married and has two children. He lives in Mumbai and teaches Krishna consciousness to young couples and college students.