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Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati Interview
Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews or conversations with spiritually awakening, people have done hundreds of them now. And if this is new to you, and you’d like to check out other ones, go to batgap.com. And go to the past interviews menu, where you’ll see all the previous ones organized in various ways. This show is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of batgap.com. My guest today is Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati. Namaste. And I some I often say this when I do interviews, but this is I really enjoyed preparing for this interview, I’ve listened to maybe a couple of dozen of your talks, and read a couple of dozen also of your articles. And you are a beautiful speaker and a beautiful writer, not only in terms of the craft of speaking and writing, but in terms of the content that you’re conveying through your speeches and writings. And you’re welcome. And you’re living an amazing life. And I have your bio here. And I could bore everybody by me reading it over the next couple of minutes. But I’d rather you just tell it, you know, because that’ll be more fresh and interesting. So just start telling us a little bit about yourself and and how you ended up with a name like that, and what do you do and all that stuff? And I’ll be sure to interject questions as we go along.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Sure. Wow. It’s you know, it’s so funny because it doesn’t feel like my story. I mean, I’m the one that happened to, but it’s really a story of grace. It’s a story of the way that grace works, when it flows in such a beautiful and miraculous way through a life. So I grew up in Los Angeles, I had as good of a Western education as one can get. I then graduated from Stanford University.
Rick Archer: And before you did that, we can’t forget to mention that you got a black belt in karate at the age
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: I did.
Rick Archer: 15.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: I did. I did. I did. Yes. And I then graduated high school, then went to Stanford for university, graduated with a degree in psychology,
Rick Archer: PhD, ultimately,
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: ultimately, eventually a PhD, and was hot about halfway through the PhD. When I went traveling to India, and I had been an avid traveler, I loved to travel, my parents had instilled that in me from a very young age, we were always going somewhere. And they had taken me to Europe to London, just to so many places. And then from the time I was a teenager, I was traveling alone, in Europe, across America in so many different places. And so for me, travel was very, very natural. And after having done the first few years of my PhD program, pretty much non stop, because both high school and undergrad, you’ve got summer vacation, you’ve got a summer summer holidays. But in graduate school, when you’re dealing with people who are on so many different schedules, and some people with jobs and families and whatnot, they really mean the possibilities as wide as they could. So people could go pretty much to school at any of the four quarters during the year, including the summer quarter, and you could get as many units and as many courses during the summer as the other quarters. So I had gone through the summer for the first two years and then finally realized I need a break. And so I had originally been anticipating a A trip with a backpack to the mountains of Europe, which was very much what, what I tended to do. But India was suggested by the person I was traveling with. And I thought, You know what? Why not, I agreed to go to India. And as embarrassing as it is almost 22 years now, in retrospect, the only reason that I actually agreed to go to India, because I didn’t know anything about the country. I was not on a spiritual path, I was not someone you would have considered a seeker. And I was certainly not someone who would have self identified as a seeker. I was an academic, I was focused and goal oriented. But I agreed to go to India because I was a very strict vegetarian. And I had been a vegetarian since I was 15. And I was one of those vegetarians where when I was young, and we would go out to eat, my mother would say to the waiter, or the waitress, pull up a chair, you’re going to be here for a while. Because it always was about what’s in the sauce, what’s in the stock? And are you sure there’s no, you know, chicken broth powder in your seasoning. And when I had been in Ecuador, I developed pretty severe PTSD, actually, after discovering that the place where I was eating rice and beans every day, it turned out, they were cooking their rice, instead of in water, they were cooking it in chicken broth. And it had never occurred to me that anybody could possibly conceive of cooking rice and chicken broth. And by the time I found out, I had been eating it for, you know, several weeks or even a couple months at that time, and was so upset that I literally had had PTSD from it. So when India was suggested, I thought, Well, God, at least, at least in India, I’ll be able to eat properly, at least in India, they know what vegetarian means. And, and actually, I was vegan. And in India, vegetarian means also that they don’t use eggs. There is no concept of Well, I’m a vegetarian, but I eat eggs. So it was really, really easy for me. And that was actually why I had even agreed to go to India. And on the airplane over, I had this conversation with myself in which I said, this makes no sense. I was not a wanderer. I was not someone who did things that made no sense. And here, I was flying 1000s of miles away to a place I had really no interest in going to where the only redeeming factor in my mind was that I could get pure vegetarian food. But I was really well, right. And I was living in the San Francisco Bay area. So on my corner, I mean, everywhere, I could get good vegetarian food, I cook I love to cook vegetarian food. So it wasn’t like I was starving for good vegetarian food. And so I thought, This is crazy. Why am I going I’ve taken September to December the whole semester off. And it doesn’t make any sense. And so I realized, you know, even though I wasn’t religious, and I wasn’t even someone who would have said, Well, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. Even though I wasn’t either of those. I had always deeply, deeply believed in the presence of a planner. I couldn’t have told you who that planner was or what the plan was, or anything about it. But I deeply believed that this was not random. I deeply believed that there was a capital P plan. And that therefore there had to be a capital P planner, and so on that thing, and I said to myself, Okay, there must be a reason I’m going that I’m just not aware of. And so I have to keep my heart open. And I took a vow on the plane that said, I will keep my heart open, to find out why I’m going and if I can’t keep my heart open, if I find myself with a closed heart on autopilot, I’m going to come back, because there’s no point roaming around a country for three months. If you can’t keep your heart open as to why you were there in the first place. And even though I couldn’t, you know, Register now for the semester I had taken off, I could start work on my research. I could start work on my dissertation. I could get press dickham units. I mean, there were all sorts of productive things I could have done. So we get to get to India and get to Delhi. And it was it was September of 1996. And so there wasn’t Google, you could just ask, you know where to go, what to do what to see. So we had a 500 page Lonely Planet guidebook that I opened up in Delhi and said Rishikesh and it was it was just like that. Rishikesh, you know, I was a mountain person, a real, real devout mountain person, and Rishikesh was there at the base of the mountains. And it was on the banks of a river. And it had yoga studios. And, you know, we were already yoga students in San Francisco. And so it just sounded like a really perfect place to begin an Indian adventure. It also was close enough to Delhi, that we could get there easy, and it seemed like a really a really beautiful place to just go and figure out the rest of the trip. And in Delhi, in looking at the guidebook, I had selected one of the hotels. And you know, Rishikesh is a holy city, which means that you cannot buy meat in the entire city. You cannot buy alcohol in the entire city, even today, even today, even today, it’s out it’s against the law. So yeah, it’s great. And so the descriptions of the hotels really looked very much the same. I mean, they all would say things like AC rooms, non AC rooms, vegetarian restaurant, but at that time, all of the hotels were either on the downtown side of Rishikesh, or up by the second bridge, the northernmost Bridge, which is called Lakshman jhoola, and the southern bridge what’s called rom joola. At that time on the non downtown side of Rishikesh the calmer, more peaceful, beautiful, you know, non traffic east side of Rishikesh it was all ashrams except there was only one hotel there at that time. Now, there’s many, many, but at the time, there was only one, and it was called the Green Hotel. And something about it, again, the descriptions all were identical. But because I was this avid environmentalist, you know, I had I had organized the first Earth Day at Stanford, when I had been an undergrad there was just really a very ardent environmentalist, a devotee of the forests and everything green. So I thought, Well, why not the green hotel? I didn’t know it. I didn’t know anything about the geographical layout of Rishikesh. So it wasn’t that I purposely chose it due to its location. I just chose it due to its name. And when we got down on the downtown side where all of the transportation drops you, you know, there’s a taxi stand right there. The driver didn’t say to us, there’s a boat that will take you across you go right down, there’s a boat. He also didn’t say, oh, Shall I help you find a coolie to help with your bags. He just said you cross river. You cross the bridge. And it’s only a footbridge. And so we ended up actually carrying all of our luggage across this swinging footbridge. Having no idea that there was a boat, we could have taken having no idea that there were coolies who could have helped us. And I remember thinking, God, you had to choose the only hotel in this entire city, that the taxi couldn’t have actually dropped you off that you know the only hotel that required you to schlep your bags across this footbridge. In, you know, the hot summer. So we get to the hotel and drop the bags and I say, I’m going to put my feet in the river. I didn’t know that the Ganga was holy. I mean, it had nothing to do with that. It was just I was hot. I was tired. And I wanted to just go and freshen up and be with be with nature. And I said I’m gonna go put my feet in the river and I got down to Ganga and I didn’t even have my feet in the river yet. I was just standing there. And I looked out and on on the Hunter Abyanga Right there. I had such such a vision, such an experience. That was, it was visual. It was physical, it was physiological, and it was every sphere of sin sensation and perception that we have. It was on that level. And it knocked me to the ground and I burst into tears. And they weren’t, they weren’t sad tears, of course, but they also weren’t even happy tears. It wasn’t oh my god, I’m so happy. This is so beautiful. They were just tears of the truth. They were tears of being in the presence of the truth. And in that moment, it was as VO A curtain had just come down on the first 25 years of my life. And all of that to which I was attached goals, I had relationships, I had possessions I loved, you know, sensory pleasures I loved. It was as though the curtain just dropped on all of that. And suddenly, nothing mattered. Except being there in that presence of truth. And that was really, really the beginning. I mean, there’s so much more, but I could I could take up our entire Thailand, sorry,
Rick Archer: I’m gonna read something you wrote about that experience. You said the unanticipated indescribable experience, a spiritual awakening I had on the banks of the Ganga River was Richard deeper and more meaningful than anything I had ever known. She captured my soul and pulled the drop of water, I had called my identity back into her infinite stream, reemerging me into myself. So that was beautiful. And now having read that, I just want you to elaborate a little bit, you said something that all your senses were involved in this experience, visual and everything else? What if someone could step inside your head, so to speak? What would they actually be experiencing? Or seeing then, besides the river? I mean, there was obviously much more going on there.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: There was and you know, I’ve spent 21 years trying to figure out how to articulate this. And I don’t know if it’s a deficit of the English language, a deficit of my mastery of the English language, a deficit of language at all. But I’m unable to put words that to me feel satisfactory, as though I yeah, that’s, that’s what the experience was I can, I can go around it. Yeah. And so. So what had happened was, visually, I was looking at the river, but had an experience, visually, of the presence of the Divine. And no, it wasn’t like an image of a man with long white hair and a white beard superimposed on the river. It wasn’t, it wasn’t forearms or something. No, no, no, yeah, it wasn’t the image of what we you know, considered Gunga, the goddess, it wasn’t a woman on a crocodile. It wasn’t that. But it was a very, very visual image of divinity. And the and the river and this image of divinity sort of merged into each other. And it was, it was divine. And but the the felt sense experience was that it also emerged into me. And so it wasn’t just something I was seeing with my eyes, but rather something that I was also part of, and so I was seeing it, and living it simultaneously. And then and then eventually, when I started moving my head around, something very interesting happened, which was that my visual field split into foreground and background. And so normally, we just have an image like this is what I see. And sure some things are closer than others, but it’s all one visual field. But what happened to me wise, that visual field split and so the the image of the Divine stayed in the foreground, even though the background changed, so originally it was divinity on Ganga and then as I moved my head, it became divinity on steps and then divinity on pillar and then divinity on child and divinity on tree and, and it was just whatever I saw Although the background kept changing, the foreground stayed the same. And, and I just kept crying. Because it just was so beautiful. And it was as though a veil that I had worn not just on my eyes, but on my mind, on my brain on my inter a heart on my interaction with the universe had just been pulled off. And I could see from every aspect of me
Rick Archer: that’s beautifully described. And, and we can all harken back to what you said a few minutes ago about the sense that there was there was a plan to the universe or to life or something. And there must have been a feeling like of tremendous significance, like, Ah, this is why I came here. And this whole thing was orchestrated. So to bring me to this point, and so on.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: I didn’t you know, I
Rick Archer: did at that point, yeah, yeah,
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: I didn’t have that much intellectual capacity still available. I was I was, I think, pretty incoherent in those early days, crying a lot, a lot of just open mouth, or I was definitely not analyzing it, except to know, this is where I need to be. This is where I need to be the aspect of why I came, came up to me only about a week, several days later, when I had found that the ashram in which I now live Parmarth, Nick AThon was a parallel pathway to get from the hotel down to the river. And the pathway that originally the hotel people had sent me down, was an alleyway between two ashrams. And you know, what alleyways in India are like, and so it was dirty, and it was smelly, and it was, and here I was, I was having these incredible experiences. And then I would walk into this sensory overload alley, and it didn’t, it didn’t disturb me, because everything that I was seeing it was, yeah, oh, my God. And here’s the cows. And here’s the dogs. And here’s the homeless people. But it was just such a sensory overload, of smell, and of sound and of sight. And I discovered that there was this other pathway, which was really calm, and really clean, and really still and beautiful, but also could take me from the river back to the hotel. And that’s what I started using, actually, the path at Parmarth Nick Athan for, and I was walking through it one day, because of course, every day, I was just now sitting on the banks of Ganga, crying, ecstatic tears, and meditating. But I never would have used the word meditation that was not a part of my mind. I knew the word of course, but it wasn’t a part of how I refer to my own actions or experience. It was only in retrospect, that I could look back and say, oh, yeah, that was that was meditation. But I was sitting there all day, every day. And I’d go back and forth to the hotel to use the bathroom or at the end of the day, or the beginning of the day, either way. And I was walking through the ashram Monday, and I heard a voice. And the voice said, You must stay here. And I looked around, because obviously, if there was a voice, someone must have spoken. But there was no one the pathway was completely empty. There was no one on the benches. And I thought, huh, okay, because obviously, if there was no one, it meant, I didn’t hear a voice. So I thought, okay, I guess I just imagined that and I kept walking. And 30 seconds or so later, I heard it again. You must stay here. And again, I looked around. If there’s if there’s a voice, there must be a speaker. But there was no one I looked up as somebody yelling from a balcony. And there was no one. And I just was about to ignore it for the second time. And my own voice came in. And it was very clearly my voice. The first voice was definitely not my voice. I mean, obviously I heard it on the inside. People say well, was it your inner voice? And it’s such a tough question, because yes, I heard it on the inside. But no, it wasn’t any voice I had ever been familiar with. It was not a voice I had ever heard before. And I I then heard my voice, my very familiar voice come in and say, okay, okay, you can do this, you can just pretend that you haven’t heard a voice. That’s all right. But you’re gonna get yourself back to Delhi and back on a flight to California because you are making a choice not to keep your heart open. And for me, I’ve always been very, very, very dedicated to truth. I was one of those truth at all costs. People. Since since I’ve come to India, I’ve learned a lot more in terms of what what Lord Krishna speaks about when he talks about tapas of speech, or dharmic speech and how it has to be not only true, but it also has to be kind and beneficial.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I just read your article about how you know Indians will say, Oh, yes, I’ll have it for you tomorrow. And they have no intention of having it tomorrow, but they don’t want to disappoint you, you know?
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Exactly, exactly. So they’ve got they’ve got the kind part down, right. And I had I had the true part down, I just didn’t have the Kinder beneficial part down. And so I had always been a truth at all costs person, and both with other people as well as with myself. And so it was acutely obvious to me that I was ignoring something. And I was okay with that I was fully prepared to let myself pretend that I had not heard a voice because in my entire sphere of reference, the only people who heard voices were schizophrenic. And clearly, I wasn’t schizophrenic, or I certainly hoped I wasn’t schizophrenic. And there was, I mean, I had never even read books, by or about religious people, or spiritual people are anyone other than Joan of Arc who heard voices. And so I didn’t have any frame of reference in which to say, Ah, this is an inner voice. Ah, this is a divine voice. Ah, this is the voice of God, yes, this happens to people I didn’t know. So I was fully prepared to let myself ignore it. As long as I then followed up on my vow, which was get yourself back to America, no point roaming through this country, if you’re not going to keep your heart open. And I didn’t want to go, I had had this incredible experience, I knew I was supposed to be there on the banks of Ganga. So the last thing I wanted to do was go back to America. And so I had to say, okay, all right, I’ll, I’ll admit, I’ve heard a voice. And I looked up, and I see a sign in English that says office, and I went in. But that was that was the first time that actually the why I’ve come to India or anything about any conversation I had had with myself about coming to India, came into my consciousness at all.
Rick Archer: Okay, so you saw the office? And? Well, you know, I know your story, but the listeners don’t. But there was a point at which, you know, I guess they told you, you couldn’t, you know, you may not get a stay there and the head of this Ashram is away right now. And you’ll have to wait till he gets back to get permission and so on. And then there was a thing where you were trying to walk out of the ashram to go hiking in the mountains and your feet stuck to the floor. So yeah, put those in order. Because those are interesting parts of the story.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: So yes, I walked into the ashram and I said, I want to stay. And they said, Oh, you know, you’ve got to get up. Early in the morning, we have prayers at five o’clock. At that time, the five o’clock in the morning prayers were compulsory for everybody. They’re no longer compulsory, but they because we now have so many different programs that also run and so many people have so many different religious traditions who come and so we’ve just removed anything compulsory, but at that time, you had to show up. Five o’clock in the morning, there were prayers, and he said, so you’ve got to get up really early in the morning, you’ve got to be in these prayers at five. They’re all in Hindi. Everything’s in Hindi. And so, you know, don’t stay here. So, but I realized it needs to stay there. And so I said, Look, I will get up at any time in the morning you want I’ll sit in anything you say, just let me stay. And that was when he said, Well, actually, we don’t even have the authority. See. Parmarth Nick Athan is a very, very old lineage. It’s been there. The ashram has been there since 1942. And the lineage is one of the oldest and most traditional Shankaracharya lineages of India. hold strong. It’s a Shankar Acharya lineage. And so that’s, that’s where the Saraswathi last name lineage name comes from as it goes back to the Shankaracharya tradition. So it’s very traditional, and under my Guru Puja Swamiji, his leadership, over the decades that he’s been in charge, it has blossomed and grown and open. And we now are, you know, full of people from every country and every corner of the earth and every religion and every race and every aspect of society. And, but at that time, as a Western female, I couldn’t just walk in and get a room. I had to get special permission from Swamiji. And but they didn’t they didn’t say special permission from Swamiji. They said special permission from our president. Now, in my mind, since I didn’t know anything about ashrams Are they just leaders, I pictured a man in a suit and tie with a briefcase who was going to come and review my application and, you know, either approve it or disapprove it. And so I said, Okay, well, can I meet him? And they said, Oh, he’s out of town. And I said, Okay, well, When’s he coming back? And they said, maybe tomorrow. And this goes back to the saying that which is they think is kind and beneficial, but not necessarily true. Which was, we have no idea when he’s coming back. Turns out he was in America, at the time working on the Encyclopedia of Hinduism project, there was a massive conference going on in America with hundreds of scholars from all over the world. But the people sitting in the office didn’t know that. And so they just said, maybe tomorrow. And so I came back every day. And I would ask, Is he back. And they would say maybe tomorrow. And eventually, I read in the book in the Lonely Planet, where it basically talks about how Indians will say things that aren’t necessarily true to keep you happy. You know, they don’t do it maliciously. They do it to make you happy. And they tell you what they think you want to hear. And so I, I read that and I realized, oh, okay, so for whatever reason, they don’t want me to stay. But they don’t want to tell me, they don’t want to make me feel bad. And so they’ve invented this phantom higher authority, who doesn’t exist, and who’s clearly never going to show up, then, knowing that eventually, I’m just going to get tired of asking, and I will go away. So I thought, Alright, I’m not gonna harass these people unnecessarily by continuing to go in and ask, let me just stop asking. But I knew something was about to happen in my life. You know, it’s like if you’re, if you’re in a movie, watching a movie, and that music starts to play, and you just, you know, something’s about to happen, and you don’t know what it is. And you don’t know from where, but you just instinctively reach over and grab the hand of the person sitting next to you. Or if you’re watching it alone, you kind of grab your own hands. And your your heart rate starts to get a little faster, and you just know, something is about to happen. And that music was playing in my life. And I knew something was about to happen. So I realized, alright, maybe it’s not here. Maybe it’s not at this place. And as I said, I had always been a mountain person, so I thought, well, maybe, maybe it’s the mountains. And so we made a plan to go up to the mountains up to Badrinath, which is a very, very sacred pilgrimage area a few 100 kilometers up in the mountains from Rishikesh. And we had made plans to go on Monday morning. On Saturday evening, out of the blue, I said, no, sorry, Sunday evening, Sunday evening out of the blue. I said, you know, let’s not go tomorrow. Let’s go Tuesday. All right, you know, didn’t matter. And so we changed change. The plan decided to go Tuesday, Monday, I was walking through the ashram to get back to the hotel and I had stopped even going into the ashram to ask I didn’t want to bother them unnecessarily. When from the temple from the ashrams temple, there was a man I had befriended a beautiful man who was from Maharashtra and he spoke excellent English, and he spent several months We’re doing ceva or dedicated service, selfless service. So very, very strong tradition in the Indian spiritual philosophy is this concept of selfless service, particularly in religious places for religious places. And so he would spend several months a year doing savor. And his savor was he would sit in the temple, after people had finished going and having Darshan of all of the different statues, the different deities in the temple, he would be the one to give them the Prashad, the blessed food, which at the ashram is puffed rice. And so he would sit there and he would hand out the puffed rice. And I had befriended him earlier in the week, and he knew that I was waiting to meet the president. And I was walking through the ashram that day, and he came running after me. And he says, he’s here, if he’s here, he’s here. He’s here. You have to come meet him. And said, wow, okay, okay, great. And he takes me up the pathway. And as we’re walking, he starts talking about and when we get there, you have to do pronoun. And I’m like, What’s pronoun, and he says, it means when you bow your bow bow on the ground, and suddenly I was nervous, where before it was a man in a suit and tie at a desk. Now, suddenly, it was this, it was this figure, who made per tops eyes, just I mean, suddenly, they were they were glowing. And, and I was gonna bow low on the ground, and I was nervous. And I said, Alright, look, I’ll just do whatever you do. You just show me what to do and all follow. And so we go in, and there’s a room full of people. And each of them, it’s clear that they’re not together, it’s clear that it’s a room of a bunch of different individuals or families who are just waiting to see Swamiji. And at the front of the room, sitting on this very thin little cushion on the ground, is puja. Swamiji is this incredible being. And again, remember, I had pictured, you know, a desk and a man and a suit and tie. And here here was this. Just being who, who exuded love and light in a way that I had never experienced in any being where, yes, there was a form. Yes, there was a being and you could say, Ah, he’s got long brown hair. And now he has a long brown beard. And yeah, yes, he’s wearing orange robes. So yes, there was a form. But I was an entire big room away from the form. But I felt him. You know, the way that you feel when someone you love embraces you, well, you’ve got to be physically there, you’ve got to be in their embrace. But I was feeling the love, I was feeling that the presence of divinity from across the entire room. And it literally felt to me like he was a fisherman, and had thrown this fishing hook into my heart, and was then, you know, really meeting in my heart was just like, you know, I just, I just just wanted to get get closer. So rather than a fish being on the end of a hook and dying, and gasping for life, it was, it was for me also, in a way gasping but gasping for suddenly this this new new life that I had just been in the presence of for 1015 seconds. And so we we sit down in the back of the room to await our turn. And eventually we get called up to the front and for top bows down and I bow down next to him and I’m looking out from under my elbow, you know, to see to see what he’s doing. Because otherwise when you bow you know your face is on the ground and how do you know what to do next? So I had my face on the ground, but I’m looking from under my elbow at him. And we sit up and I I told him that I wanted to stay. I didn’t tell him I had heard voices of course. And he says to me, this is your home. Now in 21 years I’ve heard him say this to countless countless people and I don’t mean countless dozens I mean Countless hundreds of people, maybe even countless 1000s of people. This is what Pooja Swamiji says, This is your home, Welcome home, you arrive, he says welcome home. But at the time, it felt very prophetic. And I said, you know that I wanted to stay, they wouldn’t give me a room, he said, No problem. I will tell them to give you a room. He said, go to the mountains, if you want no problem, I’ll tell them to give you a room when you come back. And he said, but I’m going to only be here for the next week. And then I actually have to go out of town again, he said, but don’t worry, even if I’m not here, I will make sure that they give you a room, you are always welcome. So we bowed and walked out. And Pratap went back to the temple. And I walked down the path to where I was going to take a right turn to walk out of the ashram out the back gate back to the hotel to announce, you know that I had just found an ashram that we could stay in, and we had to, you know, we could stay there when we got back from the mountains. At that time, I wasn’t even necessarily thinking I have to not go to the mountains. I was just so so touched and overwhelmed. And I walk and I get to this point where the main ashram pathway that goes from Ganga, from the Ganges, out to the back gate intersects the pathway that sit in front of puja. Swamiji is reception area. And I get there, and I’m about to turn to go out. And suddenly I can’t move. My feet are literally glued to the ground. And the first thing I thought was, oh, my God, I’ve contracted some horrible illness. I mean, I had to get all of these vaccinations before I came to India, polio and tetanus boosters, you know, all of these all of these things they had to get. And suddenly, I thought, Oh, my God, one of these vaccinations didn’t hold and I’ve contracted some horrible disease, and I’ve lost, I’ve lost the feeling or the use of my legs. And then I’d calm down. And I realized, chances are, disease doesn’t come on like this. Because of course, I had no pain, I could feel my legs. It wasn’t that I couldn’t feel them, I could feel them fine. There was no pain. I just couldn’t move. I just couldn’t pick the feet up off the ground, and I could bend my knees, I could straighten my knees, I could do everything else. I just couldn’t lift my feet off the ground. And so I then thought, Well, alright, I’m not used to sitting on the ground, and we’ve been sitting on the ground. So maybe they’ve just gone to sleep. And so I bend down and I start to massage my legs. There were no pins or needles, no tingling, no nothing, I had full feeling in them. They just couldn’t get them off the ground. And so I was I was a neurology student, I was studying, you know, pediatric neuro psychology. And so I thought, okay, and I closed my eyes, and I pictured my brain. And I literally did one of these intentions of the neurons in my brain and which neurotransmitters are going to be released into which synapses of which neural networks in fire in such a way the muscles of each leg could have been trapped and left. Nothing. And I then started to get scared again. But but at this moment of the ashram where a lot of the people who serve in the ashram they have, and a lot of them have children and young children, this group of young children come tearing down the pathway, they’re playing tag or something, and they’re, they’re yelling, and they’re racing and tasting each other. And instinctively, because I was standing in the middle of their pathway, instinctively, I moved back. And I then realized, Oh, alright, I’m free, maybe, you know, it was like the hiccups and I just had to get scared in order to be to be able to move again. But again, I couldn’t move forward. And I thought, well, that doesn’t make any sense because I literally just moved backwards. And so then in in my fully serious but obviously absurd in retrospect, scientific reasoning, I decided, well, maybe I have a disease whereby I can only walk backwards. Because here I’ve just walked backwards. I couldn’t walk forwards. So I, I spin myself around so that my back is now facing the back of the ashram. And I decided, well, alright, I’m going to just walk out of this Ashram backwards. And, and I already had a little crowd of people around me because, you know, at that time, Westerners were also unusual. Now, again, you know, it’s become just full of people from every country, every walk of life all over the world, every color, but at that time, being white, was still was still unusual. And so as it was, people would return and turn and notice and look. And here I was now standing in the central pathway of the ashram, you know, kind of flailing my arms, trying trying to do and, and so you’ve got, you know, white girl in the middle of the ashram, Bina flailing her arms. And so I had, I had quite a crowd of people around me. And now I was spinning around as though I was gonna walk out backwards. But I couldn’t move. And I then took a deep breath. And I went, Okay, there’s only one other possibility. It’s not about forwards or backwards. It’s about direction. Because I cannot walk out of that ashram either facing forward or facing backwards. I’ve just tried both. And yet, I could walk backwards in the direction from which I had come the direction of Swami G’s area. And so I thought, Well, maybe it’s the direction. And I was, I was now already facing back toward his office, because I had spun around to walk out backwards. So I thought, well, let’s see what happens. Can I walk back toward his office? And of course I could. And so no, this entire drama had lasted maybe only about two minutes or so. I mean, it wasn’t very long. And so I walk back into his room. And I stand at the door, and he’s still sitting there meeting people. And he looks up. And he looks at me, and I said, I think I’m supposed to stay now. And he said, welcome. And that was it.
Rick Archer: Nice. Okay. I think let’s broaden it out a little bit. You obviously are, you know, have been in the service of a guru, and now for a couple of decades. And I’ve also had that experience. And these days, there’s so many things that are in your life that I want to have us talk about in this interview, that are really beautiful and interesting. But these days, there’s a sort of a sentiment going around, that the guru era has ended, you may have heard this that, you know, one should be one’s own Guru, one should be self sufficient. Partially this is due, I think, to there have been two there having been many abuses by so called gurus. And I don’t know, partially, maybe it’s American independent thinking, you know, that the Eastern culture has come here and run into that. And people are sort of beginning to rebel against it and say, you know, we should be independent, we shouldn’t be under the sort of jurisdiction or authority of any human other human being. There should be, there shouldn’t be this hierarchical difference between us and a teacher, every everybody should should be more egalitarian arrangement, and so on. I mean, have you have you gotten whiffs of that sort of sentiment in the air? And how would you respond to it?
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Well, I, I haven’t gotten whiffs of it exactly like that. But certainly, as I travel and do set songs that I always try to include Question and Answer in it. A question that comes up very, very frequently is about why do we need a guru? And this comes up frequently, even in India, because the people who come come from all over the world and so this question absolutely comes up very frequently. And for me, first of all, it’s not. It’s not a power differential. So the idea of equality is really a moot point, is it? It’s not looking at that relationship. The guru disciple relationship, it’s not about power. It’s not about a hierarchy. The Guru is one the word Guru, the Sanskrit Word guru literally means the one who removes the darkness and brings light. That’s what the greater is. It’s not the one who tells you what to do. It’s not the one who has power over you. I mean, it’s not about that. It’s the one who brings light and removes the darkness. And yeah, I do think it is important. And the reason I think it’s important is, unless you have been able to work with your own ego in such a brutally searingly honest way. You’re still being impacted by the ego. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s not a judgment or criticism. It’s just a statement. It’s true for all of us. I know it’s true for me. The ego still absolutely plays its games. And its games are very insidious, because the ego, much like a chameleon has the ability to become whatever it thinks we want it to be. So I’m going to tap into that inner voice and the egos like, oh, inner voice, I can do inner voice. And so suddenly, the voice you’re hearing from within is saying things like, Oh, don’t do that don’t do that. You’re not good enough to do that, you know, or, and that’s, that’s a voice from within, yes. But that’s the ego speaking from within, that’s not the capital I inner voice. But because the ego is able to do that, because remember, the ego is part of us. It’s not a disease we’ve gotten that we have to somehow eradicate with the right medicine. The ego is part of us, it has developed along with us, you know, if you study child development, there’s very clear stages of ego development that are actually crucial in many ways for development, if we help our children to be socialized members of society, that’s, that’s what the ego does. The ego teaches us, here’s where you end and the world begins. So No, sweetheart, you can’t eat those cookies. Those are Johnny’s cookies. See, those are on Johnny’s plate. And if you want Johnny’s cookies, you have to say to Johnny, Johnny, can I have a cookie. And this is this is where we start to distinguish between where I end, and Johnny begins, or honey, you know, Jenny was playing with that truck, you can’t just grab the truck out of Jenny’s hands, you have to ask Jenny, can I use the truck, this is how we learn to play nice. So this is socialization, which again, is neither good nor bad, it is certainly helpful if we want people to be living in this society with the rules of this society. And in order to have that level of socialization, you have to have an experience of where I end and the world begins. And this is, this is ego development. The problem becomes later in our life, when I don’t want to just identify as this body. Because yeah, this body is very, very finite. This body is very fallible. The things that has happened that have happened to this body, the things this body has done and by body, I mean, of course, the brain as well. And I’m not going to distinguish between brain and mind, we’ll call we’ll call the brain, the physical. For this context, we’ll call the brain the physical medium through which the mind interacts with experience. So the chemical and the electrical patterns of behavior in my brain that we call emotions, or we call thoughts. That’s all part of this body. And I don’t want to keep identifying only as this I don’t want to be my height and my weight. I don’t want to be the color of my skin. I don’t want to be my bank account. I don’t want to be my education. I don’t want to be just the thoughts in my head or the emotions I feel. I want to I want to connect with the truth of who I am. That that I notice that has been continuous and pervasive, even though the body has has changed continuously. That that pervasiveness of sense of self that as the brain has gone from scared to angry to joyful to despairing has stayed the same. I can’t be my anger. because if I were angry than when anger dissipated, where would I be? I can’t be my thoughts. Because if I were my thoughts, then I would cease to exist in the place between thoughts. And if I ceased to exist between my thoughts, well, who would be there to think the next thought so, so this is all I mean, this is all the stuff that the philosophy is made of. But the minute that we start to enter this path, we realize how much richer and experience is available to us. If I can stop identifying just as this physical form, where it’s been, what it’s done, what’s happened to it. But in order to get beyond that, I have to get beyond my ego, because my ego can only do separation. My ego can only do this as this is me, this is where I end and you begin. That’s its function. That’s its function. Exactly. And so, when we talk about the guru, removing the darkness and bringing light into the darkness of ignorance, Indian culture does not talk about the darkness of our self, the self, the true self, the core self, is divine, it’s pure, it’s perfect. It’s a whole. But on top of that whole and pure and perfect and light divinity. And we’ve put ignorance in that ignorance is the identification with the body, which Yeah, is finite, is fallible, makes mistakes, has electrical and chemical patterns of activity that we call anger, or greed or lust or despair. And what the guru does is shows us the light, which is who we really are. And so as I said, Unless you and your ego have really got a great thing going where the ego is fully prepared to just go on vacation for extended periods of time whenever you want it to and you’re able to live as the truth of who you are, without getting conned by the ego into thinking that that inner voice is your or that ego voice is your inner voice because what the ego does is the ego then is the one who says oh my god I’m living as my true self. I’m so great. See, I’ve got this spirituality thing down I’m so good look at this. Oh, my God, I know people who have been meditating for 40 years who still struggle with this and look my god two days I’m there and I’m so good. I just started teaching. Right because I, where’s where do I get a certification? I need the advanced course where’s the advanced course. So, so this is this is the ego but we don’t realize that or the ego the ego works another way, which is you know, we get a little bit of teaching you know, so you study maybe some of Indian philosophy or yogic philosophy and you learn terms concepts like a humdrum has me, I am I am divine. So, I am that. So, these these teachings of you on a divine, you are one with God. And the ego loves that, because if I’m God, well, then yeah, you should do the dishes. Yeah, you should, you should, you know, be the one to take care of things so that I can just be here and be God. But of course, any real spiritual experience of an awareness of our oneness with God comes with the simultaneous awareness of everyone else is oneness with God.
Rick Archer: That is taught to him, I see that as well.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Exactly, and therefore our oneness with each other. You know, it’s the, it’s the if A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C concept of spirituality if I’m one with God, and God is One With All well, then I’m one with all and for me, having a guru has been of immeasurable value because my ego it’s, it’s really insidious, and it loves my intellectual mind. It loves rationalizations, it loves excuses. It loves separation. And the Guru is the one who comes in and literally, you know, like a potter with a piece of clay. Jana, we’ll just slaps you back into shape. And, and it doesn’t always feel good, which is actually why, in my opinion, there’s been a lot of Western rebellion against the guru because we like to feel good. And we like things to be exactly how we want them. We’re not a very patient culture. We’re not a culture who have been taught to, to wait. You know, everything is instant. And if it’s not instant, there’s a problem, you know, we get we get very, very angry. I was listening yesterday to have a funny talk about people who yell, you know, it was a talk about artificial intelligence, and about how furious people get at their artificial intelligence. And you know, how scream at Siri help people scream at Alexa, people scream at these at these devices? For not understanding them exactly. If we’re not doing exactly what they want, and just how absolutely intolerant we have become, and how that impatience and intolerance has become so pervasive that we’re not even able to take a deep breath and say, wait, wait, wait, wait. This thing is a program the machine for God’s sake. It’s not my spouse, it’s not my mother, it’s not my child. It hasn’t been created to understand me, there are algorithms inside it, you know, but we can’t even do that. And so if a guru slaps us into shape, and I do not mean physically, if a guru slaps us into shape, and a slap on the ego, it doesn’t feel good, or we want to feel good. So I’m gonna go find someone who’s going to make me feel better. And it may be a different guru. Maybe a different teacher. It may be somebody who says, Oh, you don’t actually need a good to see because you’re perfect already. 100 matches me, your God, you’re perfect. But on a personal level, I never in a million years would have become who I am today. If I didn’t have my guru slapping me at every turn.
Rick Archer: I have about a four part question. See if you can remember all the parts. One is what really what qualifies a person to become a genuine guru, not somebody who just uses the term but a really a guru worth his salt. Number two, how does the student know that this, this or that person is genuine? How does the student muster up the necessary discernment to evaluate among all the available choices and know which person or persons are genuine? Number three, you know, many gurus like there are 1000 people living in your Ashram. And if you go to see Alma, you know, there’s 10s of 1000s, maybe showing up and she only has a couple seconds for each person. These situations where there’s one girl and maybe 1000s or 10s of 1000s of people around, how can the girl possibly help because you know that he or she really can’t spend that much time with anybody. And they might have been a fourth part, but that’s good enough I can, it’s all the ones that I remember. So first part was what really qualifies a person to be a girl.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: You have to have something before you can give it. And so I have to have light before I can bring it to somebody else. I have to have had my own darkness removed before I can remove somebody else’s. You know, it’s it’s not like a haircut where for example, I may have a really bad haircut, but I could give you a good one. You know, maybe I’m a great barber and my barber is really bad. So my barber has given me a bad haircut, but I can still give you a good one. Light is not like that. You have to have it before you can give it and so what qualifies a guru to be a guru is someone who really is able to live in the light which is why we talk about Enlightenment. I wouldn’t say someone who is enlightened because of course that takes you into a completely another category of who’s to decide. But someone who is living in light is qualified to bring light to others if I’m if I’m a candle and my candle As let go, I therefore I’m qualified to light your wick, I have something to offer you. How does someone know that a guru is right for them?
Rick Archer: Or that they’re really lit? You know, because they’re looking at exactly. People who may not have been quite so well lit and but who began functioning as a girl?
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Yes. Well, this is this is slightly tough because there is, of course, no cookie cutter answer. There’s a couple of points that I would give. First is, we have to be clear of what we’re looking for. In the highest purest aspect, the guru is the one who brings us light. But we don’t always go to a guru for light. Man, I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve heard come and bow down and say, my son’s got an exam tomorrow, you know, please, please Please bless him that he should get an A on the exam and Pooja Swamiji will say, well, is the home studying? And the parents will say no, see, that’s the problem. We can’t convince him to study. So please, I just need your blessings, you know that he should get an A on the exam? Well, yes, the Buddha’s blessings are amazing and powerful and magical and their grace. But what are we? What are we going for? And the reason that I mentioned this is because in a lot of the cases with the gurus who have, quote, unquote, fallen, which I’ll come to that we’ll talk about that, if you if you look back, what you’ll see is, a lot of what they were offering was not just pure light, which means that that which attracted us was not just an inner yearning for light. So maybe there was an incredible charisma. And we were attracted to the charisma of the guru, maybe there was a lot of gold and lavishness and wealth. And we were attracted to that, because what we’re looking for is wealth in our own lives. And if the guru just blesses me, well, then I also will have a magic wand and will become wealthy. Maybe the guru does miracles. And what we’re looking for is miracles in our life. Could you wave your magic wand and give me the spouse that I want? Or the child that I want, or the job I want, or the body I want? So what we have to really look out with ourselves is, what am I looking for? You know, in some cases, you see situations with gurus who have such incredible lavishness, and then there’ll be some scandal related to money and you find out the Buddha was doing this with money, and the devotees will have a fit, oh, my God, we were betrayed. And you look back and you realize, well, now wait, when you went in what the Guru said to you, because if you go back to teachings, what the Guru said to you was, follow me. And you will, you will have this prosperity. Follow me and there will be prosperity in your life, I will I will bring all good things to you. So the question is, what are we looking for? So the first thing I would say is, when you’re looking for a guru, you’ve got to be really clear within yourself of what are you looking for, because these days, you will be able to find pretty much someone who’s prepared to offer you pretty much anything in the name of being a guru of that thing. You know, Oh, you want to be able to manifest lots and lots of money, you’ll find people who will be telling you that they will teach you how to do that. You want to be you know, the most virile sexual partner on Earth. You’ll be able to find girders who I am sure will tell you that they’ll be able to make you that you want to know whatever it is that you’re looking for. In this day and age, you’ll be able to find somebody who will guarantee you if you just follow them, that you’ll have these things.
Rick Archer: Yeah, do in India is as I understand, it, sometimes just means like you might have a tableau guru or a cooking guru or somebody who has a craft to teach you and that they are also sometimes referred to as gurus. But what we’re talking about here obviously is a guru who can help one attain Enlightenment
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Exactly. Exactly. So this is why the first part of knowing that the Guru is right is first asking ourselves, what am I looking for? What is it that has attracted me to this person? Am I attracted by the charisma? Because charisma in and of itself, is neither good nor bad? It’s it’s found in amazingly enlightened leaders. It’s also found in amazingly harmful leaders
Rick Archer: from politicians and rockstars.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Exactly, exactly. And so we really need to check in with ourselves of what is it that’s making me attracted to the screw. And the other thing, to me, that’s really a crucial element is, what does this guru tell me about being my guru. And so for example, the real masters are really very happy to just meditate. The real masters are very happy to just be one with God, they don’t need you as a disciple in order to feel full themselves, which means that you’re not going to find a real master becoming irate. If you choose not to become their disciple, or becoming irate, if they find out that you’re also going to lectures or classes or you know, Satsang, with another master, a real master is not going to try to convince you that they are the most enlightened the best guru. So one of the things that I share with people is, the more someone feels like they’re running after you, the faster I would run in the other direction, the the real masters are the ones who do to their compassion have come back on Earth in a body for us, to bring us light. But they don’t need to collect disciples. So that’s, that’s another way. And I think, lastly, what I would ask is,
Rick Archer: understand the object here. If they are, if they really got something, chances are, they may collect a lot of disciples. But what you’re, you know, because people will be attracted to them. Of course, what we’re saying is that what you’re saying is, that’s not their motivation. It’s just have that because they’re naturally, you know, mods are being attracted to a genuine flame.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Of course, of course, absolutely. Yeah, I’m not I’m not saying by any means. Thanks for clarifying that. I’m not saying by any means that a huge crowd means it’s not the right guru. What I mean is that the guru doesn’t need the crowd, the crowd needs the guru. And, and if you say, go once, or go twice, and then don’t go, you’re not going to find that the Guru is chasing you down to find out why you’re not with the router that the guru doesn’t need you. You need the Guru, the Guru is there, the guru is light, but it’s not going to come running after you saying, I’m the only guru for you. You know, if you don’t think that I’m your guru, it’s because of your ego. It’s because of your ignorance, you know, the Buddha is not going to start berating us for either not wanting to be with them, or having doubts or having questions. So, so that’s important. And I think also is to just really ask ourselves, what do I feel in the presence of this guru? Do I feel light? Do I feel love? Or do I simply feel the the energy of the mob of the crowd because again, like charisma, that’s just an energy, it can sometimes be very, very good and beautiful and amazing, and it’s the stuff that, you know, a lot of spiritual ecstasy is made up of, but it’s also the stuff that you know, lynchings are made of. And so that power that happens in a crowd is very, very seductive. And it’s important to ask ourselves when I’m in the presence of the guru, what do I feel? Do I actually feel light and love? Do I feel personally, like there’s light and love in me? Or do I just feel like a moth who has to be drawn to the flame in order to get light because remember, what the Guru is going to do is light you. And if it’s all about only being near the guru and only following the guru around the mat that might be another indication that the Guru’s light isn’t necessarily strong enough to light you in such a way that when you take step 10 feet back, you’re still lit. And that’s important is do I feel that light? In me? When I go back to my room at night, if I’m if I’m staying in an ashram or when I go back home after seeing the guru, am I still lit? Or am I miserable? Because I’m no longer in the gurus presence.
Rick Archer: Yeah, so those are good criteria.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: And then the last, the last, the last part that you had asked about, you know, and our ashram, by the way, we have 1000 rooms, it’s not 1000 people, the ashram actually has 1000 or
Rick Archer: 3000. People, maybe,
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: yeah, if they’re Westerners, many, many more, if they’re Indians who can sleep lots and lots to wear wherever there’s floor space, there’s a bed for Indians. Here’s the thing about the guru and where a guru differs from a psychologist, for example, is that the way that the guru lights us or brings us light, or removes our darkness is not only through one on one individual psychotherapy, sitting in the presence of the Guru touches you, the teachings of the Guru touch you. And so I know, for example, that Pooja Swamiji, absolutely doesn’t have time to be doing a lot of, you know, one on one with everybody who comes and I’m sure the same is true. You gave the example of Ammachi I’m sure it’s true for her I’m sure it’s true for for all of that. And yet, the beautiful aspect of grace is that you could have 1000 people sitting in a hole, sitting somewhere, the guru speaks. And every single one of those people walked out knowing that the guru was speaking to them. Every one of them walks out feeling like, yes, that was exactly exactly what I needed to hear. How did she know? How did he know? And so these are, these are the ways that the guru teaches
Rick Archer: you. And I would say it’s not only what the guru says, and that speaks directly to each of those 1000 people but the guru. See if you agree with this, it serves as a sort of a conduit or transformer or something that helps a catalyst that helps to enliven the field in which everyone’s gathered. Yes, and that enlivened field by osmosis. Kind of uplifts everyone, like kind of like the rising tide lifts all boats kind of an idea.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Yes, yes. Yes, absolutely.
Rick Archer: Not everyone has that effect. Not everyone would have such a powerful, cathartic, not cathartic.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Magnetic, formative, magnetic,
Rick Archer: you know? Yeah, right.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Absolutely. Okay. Yeah, it’s very, very, very powerful. This was what happened to me when I met Pooja Swamiji. For the first time, I was in a room, in the back of the back of the room with lots and lots and lots of people. And I felt it immediately. And I wasn’t even looking to feel it.
Rick Archer: Yes. And that would just say to somebody listening, if you have an opportunity to spend time with, with a guru like that, you’ll know what she’s talking about. I mean, you walk in the room, or they walk in the room. And I mean, I’ve had a number of occasions, both with Marsha, Mahesh Yogi and with Shama where I didn’t even know they’re coming into the room, but all sudden, something changed in the room. You know? Good. So I think we’ve exhausted that topic, or at least for the time being we have. So is Morgan saying any of these things. Now, maybe it would be good to talk about save a little bit, because you do so much of it. And, you know, so I’d like to have you define it, and talk about the value of it as a spiritual practice, if we want to put it that way, or whatever you would like to say about it. And kind of the deeper sort of metaphysical implications of it and let’s hammer around that that topic for a little bit.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Sure, it’s, it’s a beautiful topic. It’s one of my favorite topics, where we are the word Parmarth. So the ashram is called Parmarth. Nicotine and nicotine means an abode a place Parmarth means dedicated to the welfare of all and so it’s really dedicated to service So we’re dedicated to service on two different levels, or many levels, but two categories of levels, one being what you could call external and the other being internal. So external being food to the hungry, free education to those who wouldn’t be able to afford it free medical care to those who wouldn’t be able to afford it. Shelter, lots and lots of work with now, water sanitation, hygiene women’s programs, where we do lots and lots and lots of that.
Rick Archer: Yeah, this thing, providing toilets. I mean, the statistics are shocking in terms of how many people don’t have them and what the social implications are.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Exactly, exactly. Exactly. So that’s, that’s the service of all on the logistic level, somebody needs food, they need an education, women need a vocational training center, we need trees planted so that every year when the rains come, the mountains don’t continue to fall down into Ganga, carrying villages along with them. We need fruit trees planted so that the children in the poor schools can actually have access to fruit, we need toilets, because hundreds of millions of people in India don’t have access to a toilet. And about 1600 children under the age of five die every single day, from preventable diarrhea, simply due to lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene. So this is why people need medical care. So we’re gonna run free medical camps. So that’s, that’s that side.
Rick Archer: But let me just ask quickly, is, are you doing this in the Rishikesh era in north India, and all of India? Oh, even places other than India? I mean, what’s the scope?
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Primarily India, we have some projects that are in the pipeline for Africa, but primarily, primarily India for now. And we like working in our state of silicon just because it’s close. And it’s easy to oversee. But we’ve actually got projects going in many, many other states of India, from the South to the North, so all of place. Okay,
Rick Archer: let me know, the quick question was, what’s the difference? If any, what is what dimension is there? If people who are spiritual aspirants primarily are engaged in this kind of work, as compared with Doctors Without Borders, or the Red Cross, or, you know, groups like that?
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Okay, so if it’s okay with you, I’ll get to that question in a minute. Because it’s actually it falls in very nicely with this other this other component. So the other component of service is the spiritual component, which is people who have a roof over their heads, maybe several roofs over their heads, who have lots to eat, who don’t have any diagnosable disease that a free medical camp is going to be able to treat, who don’t need to learn how to sew or need computers in order to make a living, who have toilets, or maybe lots of toilets, but whose hearts are empty. And to us, there’s no there’s no judgment on which is more important than empty stomach or an empty heart. And we are equally committed to filling the hearts filling the lives of people for whom that’s what they’re suffering from, where there may not be, as I said, a diagnosable disease, but they are living in a state of dis ease. They’re not living in peace, in union in oneness, enjoy. So that’s, that’s what we do. And here’s how the saver works. And this is really what distinguishes that from all of those other organizations that you just mentioned. For us, the service really is spiritual practice. And so from a top down, you’d look at what we do, you could go to our websites, you look at our brochures, and you say, oh, here are the three schools here are the women’s vocational training programs. Here are the upliftment programs. Here are the medical camps here the clinics, here are the toilets. Here are the water programs. Here’s the disaster relief work. Here’s the orphanages. Here’s all of the work for cleaning the river. Here’s all the tree plantation work. Here’s the menstrual hygiene work, I mean, so whatever it is, you could look down all of this top out. But bottom up, really what we are is a spiritual organization that is rooted in the belief that we’re all one. And so we serve, not as separate we serve not as people who have to those who don’t. We serve not as humanitarians or philanthropists. But we serve as spiritual people who recognize that the other is self. And so you know, the example that I always give about this is if you, if you trip and you fall and you hurt your right leg, the left leg is going to pick up the extra weight. And we call that limping. And if the left leg has to do it for two weeks, or three weeks, or four weeks or eight weeks, it’s going to keep doing it. And you never have to say, oh, you know, wonderful humanitarian, great left leg, would you mind? Would you mind picking up the extra weight? And the left leg is never gonna say, Oh, my God, again? Like I just did this last month? What is it with that right leg? You know, forget it. No, I’m not going to do it again. Or, you know, it’s never going to say, alright, I’ve done this for a week, I’m tired, I’ll pick up the weight again, in two days, for the next two days, no limping, it’s not going to do any of that. And it’s not expecting some kind of accolades, or a gold star or Humanitarian Award. Because it understands that the right leg is self and for us, Seva is sadhna service is spiritual practice, it’s not sadhana and savor it savor as sadhana. Can I see the other as self. And so when people are serving, and if they’re grumpy, or they’re cranky, or they’re jealous, or theirs, or whatever it is, the the teaching that we always give them is not about change your service, it’s about meditate more, or change your meditation, because clearly, there’s something lacking in your meditation if you’re not serving from that place, and so that’s really what the savor is, is, can I become just a vessel and a vehicle? And so it’s not what I think it’s not what I want. It’s not whose name is on what it’s not? Who’s got what title? It’s how can we be vehicles and vessels? And how can how can my only job description be to respond to whatever the present moment requires? So I mean, for example, if let’s say one day, a man wanders into my office, because for some reason at that time of day, coincidentally, there was no one sitting in the outside reception office. And he wandered around until they found a door and he found the door to my office, and he walked in. And he had spent three days traveling with his mother from someplace far away, and they traveled on the back of a bullock cart, and they had traveled by auto rickshaw, and they had walked. And they had finally come because he had seen an advertisement for a free medical camp that we were doing, and his mother needed the operation that we were offering. And so he’s brought her and he he wanders into my office, for me to say to this gentleman, Oh, welcome. Sit down. I’m a spiritual teacher, I’ll give you a spiritual lecture. Or, or I teach meditation, sit down, let me let me teach you meditation. It would be absurd, bordering on bordering on criminal. What the man needs is a meal. He needs a hot shower, he needs a room or a cold shower, depending on the season, he needs a room. He needs to be assured that his mother is going to be registered in this medical camp and is going to get the treatment she needs. And only after all of that is done. Should we even begin to start to say, Oh, and you know, by the way, we run this Satsang every night. Or you know, by the way, I teach this meditation. It’s like Maslow’s.
Rick Archer: Exactly. So you’ve got
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: it. You’ve got to work like that. And so that’s really how we do the saver is and this is where all of the components become so crucial is whatever the person in front of you needs. Is what you do. Yeah, they they need a cup of tea. You’re a child. Voila, they need a spiritual lecture, you’re a teacher.
Rick Archer: So your tool or instrument is the divine providing whatever the person needs.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: That’s the goal. That’s, that’s, that’s the way that savor becomes sadhna. That’s the How can you serve your way to Enlightenment? Path?
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I’m sure that people aren’t so crass as to think this way, they’re not so aggressive to think, Alright, well, I guess I better do the same thing, because it’s gonna help me get enlightened. But nonetheless, it would seem to me that doing it sort of tends to attenuate the ego, and to, to instill a deeper and deeper experience that we are indeed all one. You know, as Jesus said, Whatsoever you do unto the least of these you do unto me. And he also said, I and my Father one, so by a logical extrapolation, the oneness of oneself with God can be cultured or cultivated or enlivened in one’s awareness by actually treating others as you know, golden rule. Yeah.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Well, and also, you know, what, what I love is when Jesus Christ says, Love thy neighbor as thyself. And the reason I love it is because you can’t love the neighbor as thyself, unless you can see the neighbor as thyself. And so really, it feels to me, and I’m far from any kind of an expert or scholar, or even slightly knowledgeable about, you know, Christian philosophy, but it feels to me, like, what he’s really saying is, see thy neighbor as thyself. And if if I’m gonna see my neighbor as myself, and he didn’t say, only the next door neighbor, you know, so so there’s no, there’s no border. And so by extrapolation, what you end up with really is very much like what we end up with in the Indian tradition, which is, we’re all one that divine flows through all of us, there are no borders or boundaries, that’s the illusion
Rick Archer: Vasudeva katoon become?
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Well, that’s the diversity they’ve got to overcome into the world as a family. Right. So So that’s, that’s a beautiful, beautiful tenant of the teaching. And what to me is so interesting is we’ve got restorative with Umbra calm the world as a family. And then when we’ve got the teachings of, we’re actually all one we’re waves of the same ocean. And so it feels to me like what the sages and the Rishis have done is have said, okay, so you’re not quite ready to go to the place of everyone’s one. No problem, we get it. That’s difficult. Some of you may get it this lifetime, some of you may not get it till next lifetime, no problem. Let’s go to the world as a family, at least. So if you can’t treat the other as, as the self, at least treat the other as the family if you can’t see yourself in them, at least see your family and that
Rick Archer: hopefully, a harmonious family. Exactly. Well, Rhonda said if you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your parents. Yes. But um, I think Shankar said something to the effect that you know, you’re not going to get enlightened through good works. But that karma yoga, doing good works, kind of increases purity, and brings you to the point where you, higher teachings might become practicable for you.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Exactly, it gives you the experience, it’s the same thing, all of our all of our sadhna. Whatever we choose to do, whether it’s karma yoga, whether it’s bhakti, yoga, whether it’s gun yoga, whatever path we may choose, path of devotion, path of knowledge, path of service, all of these do, whatever, even if we’re sitting in meditation, different techniques of meditation, what all of them do, is they clear that, that windshield, out of the dirt that blocks us from seeing the light that’s already there. None None of it brings God. There’s no meditation practice that brings God God is there. There is no meditation practice that brings Grace grace is there. There’s no practice that brings light light is there. The problem is we’re sitting in dark rooms, chanting mantras of the sun and doing sun salutations and sun poojas and all of that. Praying to the sun. When actually what needs to be done is just our curtains need to be open or the window needs to be cleaned. And so what all of our Are practices do is open our curtains or clean the window depending on which metaphor works better for you, so that we can be in the presence of the light of the grace of the divinity. That’s already there.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Another metaphor I like is Sun’s always shining, but maybe it’s obscured by clouds. And so practices are like the wind which exactly? The clouds, they don’t make the sun shine, but they remove the obscuration of the sun. That’s, you know,
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: yeah, yes, exactly.
Rick Archer: And you just ticked off four or five different branches, you know, Karma Yoga, Yana yoga, bhakti yoga, and I’m sure you in your own life is is an example that it’s not an either or thing. It’s not your exclusively one or the other, you’re doing all of them at once, and most people will, although maybe some people have a proclivity to a little bit more towards one or the other.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: But they all they all converge. Yeah, that’s, that’s the thing is it doesn’t really matter where you begin. So some of us are more inclined by nature, to service, some are more inclined to devotional practices, some are more inclined to the path of Gyan or wisdom or study. But wherever you start, if it’s real, if it’s real, if it’s true, it’s going to take you into the others. You know, if you let’s say, you fall in love with someone, and it’s, it’s love at first sight, it’s love from across the crowded room. Well, well, you know, well
Rick Archer: story, right? Well, we’ll
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: call that bhakti yoga, right. So it begins with my path of devotion. Oh, my God, I love you. But then, of course, as I love you, I want to learn more about you. So I’ve seen you from across a crowded room. But now I want to take you to dinner and spend all night talking to you. And then the more I know about you, of course my love blossoms and then then I want to serve you. So I fell in love with you across this crowded room, I spent all night learning about you. And now I’m up making you breakfast in bed. Yeah, so so. And of course it could begin it could begin the other way, as well. So I didn’t love you at first sight we met in some workplaces or some class or at the gym or wherever we started talking. I started learning more and more and more about you. And the more I learned about you, the more I discovered that I really loved you I found myself slowly, slowly, slowly falling in love with you, the more I learned about you, and then of course as I fall in love with you. So again, here I am making your breakfast in bed, or you know, massaging your breakfast. Exactly either way. And of course, you could begin with service as well. There’s so many stories of you know, patients and hospitals and nurses who, who fall in love with each other. You know, you serve someone for long enough. And as you serve, you learn about them.
Rick Archer: To think of it like a table, you drag any one leg and all the other legs are gonna come along.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Exactly, exactly. So you know what we what we say in Rishikesh is come to the UNGA get in Ganga, Ganga doesn’t care whether you get in at Parmarth Mecca thorns got our platform that’s got these marble steps that go down. Or you could go down river to a cement slope that you could walk down, you could go up river, to a sandy beach, you could go further up river to a big rock that you could jump off of, it doesn’t matter. Ganga has no preference for those who get in, by jumping off the rock or by going in off the sandy banks or going down the marble steps than those who go down with concrete slope doesn’t matter. Just getting
Rick Archer: started. And I think you’re speaking a little bit metaphorically here and not just talking about getting into the Ganges, you’re talking about spirituality in general.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Of course. So whatever path our yoga is, because that’s what yoga is. Yoga is union. You know, we think about it as a union of my fingers to my toes, finally, or my nose to my knees. But ultimately, it’s a union of the self to the divine. And so, whether we say bhakti your path of devotion Gyan, yo path of wisdom, karma, yoga, path of service, they’re all yoga. So union, so their ways into that oneness or hatha yoga. Can you get in there through practice of asanas? Yeah. As long as you do it with with the awareness and the intention that this is My path into unity.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I remember, I interviewed this guy named Gary Weber. And he was doing it was in the middle of a yoga pose, I think it was a shoulder stand or something. And all of a sudden, his mind stopped. And he said, he really hasn’t had a thought since then. It’s just, you know, at least any kind of a chatter, blah, blah, kind of a thought, just,
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: yeah, I was I was very, very blessed to be able to practice in the room where B ksi. And gargy practiced in Pune, several years before his passing, and the room was filled only with his top students from around the world. I mean, you had to be a senior person in order to be able to be in that room at that time. And I was there actually, just because my mother is a senior student and a teacher. And I was living in India already. So I had gone to visit her and got special permission to be in there at the same time. And he would go into a pose now, he was probably, if not 90, he was late, late 80s. By that time, and he would go into a pose, he would go into backbend, he would go into shoulder stand, he would go into something quite difficult. All of the other people would also go into it, because of course, everyone wanted to do what he was doing. And he would hold it for 1015 2025 minutes. Everyone else is sweating and panting and their faces are red, and they’re coming out of the pose. And when he finally came out, his face and his eyes looked like he had just come out of the deepest meditation. And so if anyone thinks that Hatha Yoga cannot be or, by definition is not a path into that river of divinity, I have personally witnessed the fact that it can be no Yeah, but it isn’t. It isn’t automatically. It has to have that that intention that this is going to be my, my path.
Rick Archer: I think that well, Ababa was primarily hatha yoga. He was a great sage who lived in Rishikesh. Yes,
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: of course, of course, before I got there, but I have heard a lot about him. Yeah,
Rick Archer: interesting character. Well, there’s so many things we could talk about. And you know, we could talk about Nikita, and we could talk about just a million different things. But here’s, I’m just been kind of scanning my notes here. Here’s something that might be nice to talk about in our remaining time. You wrote, emphasis on the feminine is an inherent part of traditional Indian culture. Many people might be surprised to hear that because there seems to be so much misogyny in India. But mono declared mono was a ancient law giver to human race, mono declared and our scriptures remind us that quote, where women are adored. They’re the gods are pleased that respect, reverence and love for women, not as objects of desire, but as manifestations of the divine feminine is part and parcel of India’s cultural and spiritual heritage, that it might be nice to talk about that. I mean, people talk about what the world needs in general is an upsurge of the divine feminine and how the predominance of the masculine has made such a mess, such a mess of things, given us such a sort of militaristic armed to the teeth kind of world, and has resulted in, you know, environmental devastation, and, you know, just gross materialistic kind of treatment of nature and animals and everything else. So I’m sure you could riff on this for hours, but I thought it might be nice to just touch on this topic.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Yeah, no, it’s it’s a beautiful topic. And it’s especially a beautiful way to, you know, even bring this bring this to a close because it brings us into also our world today, right here right now, and what’s needed, I think, from all of us. So, for India, there’s, it’s a really interesting dichotomy, actually, between that which is in the Scriptures about women, and that which, of course, we see in so much of day to day life, but I don’t I don’t want to take our remaining time to dissect the societal issues of contemporary Indian society, but rather rather to talk about the, the importance I think of that spiritual tenant of that scriptural aspect. Because when we worship the feminine, remember, it includes Mother Earth, Mother Nature, all all of that which when we think about life, If and creation, it’s feminine. It’s interesting in the Sanskrit language, Shakti, the energy is feminine. And prakriti, which is the form the nature that which is created by the energy is also feminine. And so it’s a very, very interesting concept that the energy of Creation is feminine. And creation itself is feminine. Whether we say Shristi or whether we say Procrit, the both it, it’s feminine, the, the, the world. So when we are moving through the world and thinking about our world and interacting with our world, you’re right, so much of it has become over masculinized. And not to undermine in any way the obvious crucial role that masculinity plays in creation as well. I think there’s something very telling about the fact that in this ancient tradition, no problem in that in this ancient tradition, the words and concepts of the creative energy and the creation are both feminine. And the fact that in not only India, but as also in English, we say Mother Earth, Mother Nature, so So this is all its its feminine. And yet, we really have been moving through it with the, I wouldn’t say masculine, I would say the objectification viewpoint, because women can do it just as well as men can do it. And it’s the viewpoint of everything is an object, I’m an object. And this goes back to where we began the interview of I’m my body, I am what I look like I am my bank account, I am my history, I am what I do, I am what was done to me. So I am this object. Which means you are an object you are what you look like you are your bank account, you are your actions. And therefore if you are an object, well, there’s only two ways of me in interacting with an object. Either you are an object, I can use you or an object that’s going to be beneficial to me in some way, whether to fulfill just a sensual desire I have, or to help me get something I want. Or you’re an object on my path, your your, your obstacle, you’re a hindrance, and I’ve got to remove you. So those are the two ways that we interact with objects, we either use them or we remove them. And in many cases, first we use them and then we discard them. So they’re not mutually exclusive. But that’s that’s how an objectified viewpoint looks at the world. And this is what’s brought us I believe, to the state where we are today whether we look at what’s happening to women’s specifically, women’s bodies, not just that which has been done to them by men, but that which is being done to them by themselves. Because as has been, you know, said so beautifully in this whole me to movement, you know, women we’re not we’re not just this black and white victims here. Yes, in some cases we are. There’s obviously many circumstances in which it’s just that, but there’s also many, many, many, many circumstances in which we were, we were willing players in terms of the objectification of our own body until it got to a point where we no longer were willing participants. But I mentioned this because women are just as likely to objectify themselves and to objectify other women as men are. We look at our
Rick Archer: advertising brainwashes you know, young young girls ended up getting into bulimia Exactly. Because they want to look like models or something. Or they want
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: to look like models and even deeper because I am worthy. Only if I look the right way. It’s not just I want to be that beautiful like the model. But if I am fat, if I am ugly, I am not just fat and ugly. I am actually unworthy. So, so in an in any case, the point is that this this objectification has become the way that we see ourselves. And we then see we see the world like that we see each other like that. We see items like that. And we see nature like that. And so whether it’s How we treat how we treat our rivers, our mountains, our trees, our air, our soil, or how we treat the women and girls in our life. It’s all it’s all one. It’s all one. It’s all how we treat the feminine, how we treat that creative energy. And of course, therefore how we treat the masculine. Because it’s not it’s not about treating the feminine with respect, but objectify and abuse and discard the masculine. As we as I’m sorry, go ahead.
Rick Archer: Well, I was just gonna say what you’re saying, actually gives one hope. Because the sea change that is taking place in the past year with the me to movement and, you know, with things no longer being tolerated, that were tolerated for so long, could perhaps be a harbinger of a change that will also ripple out to the way we treat the environment and the way we treat the oceans and the rivers and so on. Perhaps this is just kind of like the first step. And the
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: seriously bad one, you know, I really, really hope that and you know, whenever we speak about women’s rights, or women’s equality, I do, I do a lot of different, you know, panels, I get called to a lot of panels on or events or functions regarding women’s rights and women’s empowerment and that kind of stuff. It’s a very, very big topic in India these days. And one of the things that I always am sure to mention is, yes, we have to protect and care for and Revere, the women, our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers are the other women. But we also have to extend that to Mother Earth, Mother Nature to that clip Krithi the creation, the entire creation. And only when we do that, can we really say that women have rights. And that’s actually why one of the things that we’re working on is rights for mother Ganga, Ganga should have rights. You know, and that’s it’s a separate topic, of course, but that’s, that’s to us, the most natural next step of rights for women, is writes from Mother Nature. Why only Mrs. Smith? And not Mrs. Amazon or Mrs. hemolysis? Yeah.
Rick Archer: I mean, you know, we’ve kind of touched around this point. But if you really, you know, everybody talks about non duality these days, and it’s very popular in Ramana, Maharshi, and Advaita, and so on. But if you’re really experiencing non duality, it would seem to me, then what, like what you were saying before about the left dragon leg and the right leg? See how you can see the environment as really being separate and different from yourself, and it needs to be treated accordingly. Anyway, absolutely will be, I think if people naturally grow into this more unified consciousness,
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: well, there’s, there’s a beautiful line in the Upanishads, that tells us, each of us see me them inside of them, yet can charge it up beyond that. And what it means is, everything in the universe is pervaded by the Divine, there is nothing, no one, not pervaded by the Divine. And so when we recognize it within ourselves, when we take it into our world, with both or all of the genders, people of every race, people of every religion, people of every culture, it’s been going to become well of every species.
Rick Archer: Good. And that’s,
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: that’s, that’s how, to me it really needs to go is first first within Yeah, I’m, I’m one with God. And then all of these beings with whom I share the planet, are one with God, which means they’re divine, which means that equal is, you know, a very, a very small, small ask. When we recognize that they’re actually divine, which means that protection and preservation and service and love and rights are, are things that they should be given. Just automatically and inherently due to the fact that they’re divine.
Rick Archer: Again, what Jesus said, Whatsoever you do unto the least of these you do unto me. Okay, well that’s Probably a good note to end on, I could talk to you for another two hours, but perhaps another time. Maybe when you finish this autobiography you’re working on.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Oh, fantastic. That would be really wonderful. That’ll be a goal
Rick Archer: to get you to finish your autobiography. So, just in conclusion, how can people connect with you? Can they come to that ashram?
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Absolutely, we would, we would love it. And in fact, we are hosting our International Yoga festival from March 1 to March seventh. We hosted every year we have very, very renowned top teachers coming from all over the world. This year, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama is coming as well, which is a very, very special treat for all of us. And it’s a very, very renowned yoga festival. That website is International Yoga festival dot o RG. So literally just like it sounds all one word, dot o RG International Yoga festival. The Ashram is Parmarth Nikka THON, and the website is. VG dot o RG. So S A D eight. Today on Parmarth, Nicolaitans, Facebook, and eventually they go up onto YouTube. But they do them live on Parmarth Nikitha on Facebook every day as well. All over the world. Yes, exactly. Exactly. So yes, we have all of that. Do you have something that if I send you links that you can actually just like flash it on the screen after so people can note it down? Or do we do you want me
Rick Archer: to do would be I’ll have a page for you page for this interview on batgap.com. And I’ll just put all those links there. And then people can just go to your page, and then they can click on them. And there there’ll be. So so far we have Sufi g.org, wash lines.org and divine Shakti foundation.org. And then you just mentioned a couple of others. So make sure I have those two. And I’ll just put them all on there.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Fantastic. Great. Fantastic. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. And when are you coming to India? Well, I
Rick Archer: don’t know. I haven’t been since 86. And, wow, I’ve been there twice, but only in the New Delhi area. And each time for about four months. Haven’t been back. I do a lot just sitting right here, as opposed to bopping around the world. But we’ll see what happens.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: It would be it would be so so wonderful to welcome you you could you could broadcast from the banks and Gunga
Rick Archer: be fun. If I ever get over there, I will be sure to come to Rishikesh and come to your Ashram. And perhaps I could meet your guru too, and maybe even wonder. Alright, thanks. So let me just make a couple of real quick wrap up points. You’ve been watching an interview with Sufi ba Bhagavati Sarswati. And as I’ve been saying, I’ll create a page for her on batgap.com, which will have information about her all the things she does, which we’ve only mentioned a fraction of those things, and links to everything that’s significant. And this is part of an ongoing series. So you if you go there, you will also see all the previous ones and a list of all the upcoming ones and a place to be notified by email when a new one is posted. And you know the links to the audio podcast if you’d like to listen to things like this while you’re commuting or whatever. So just explore the menus. And you’ll see what we’ve got. And we have all kinds of great guests planned and hope to be doing this for many, many years to come. And I hope to have sadhvi back on as a guest when she finishes her autobiography.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: So they will thank you so so much.
Rick Archer: Yeah, thank you. It was really a pleasure preparing for this. No, you do that and then getting to know you through this lovely two hour conversation. Thanks for all you do. You’re living an exemplary life.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Thank you and I’ve really really enjoyed these hours as well.
Rick Archer: Good. Okay. Namaste
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Namaste.