Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati Transcript

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati Interview

Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews or conversations with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done hundreds of them now and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out other ones, go to 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 My guest today is Sadhvi Bhagavati Saraswati. Namaste. I often say this when I do interviews, but I really enjoy 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. 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.

Sadhviji: Thank you so much.

Rick: You’re welcome. You’re living an amazing life. 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 how you ended up with a name like that and what you do and all that stuff. I’ll be sure to interject questions as we go along.

Sadhviji: Sure. Wow. It’s so funny because it doesn’t feel like my story. I mean, I’m the one it 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. 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: And before you did that, we can’t forget to mention that you got a black belt in karate at the age of 15.

Sadhviji: 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: PhD ultimately.

Sadhviji: Ultimately, eventually PhD and was about halfway through the PhD when I went traveling to India.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. So for me, travel was very, very natural. And after having done the first few years of my PhD program, pretty much nonstop, 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 made 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. I had originally been anticipating a trip with a backpack to the mountains of Europe, which was very much what I tended to do. But India was suggested by the person I was traveling with. I thought, “You know what? Why not?” I agreed to go to India. 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 had been a vegetarian since I was 15. 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 chicken broth powder in your seasoning. 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. It had never occurred to me that anybody could possibly conceive of cooking rice in chicken broth. By the time I found out, I had been eating it for several weeks or even a couple of months at that time and was so upset that I literally had PTSD from it. So when India was suggested, I thought, “Well, God, at least in India, I’ll be able to eat properly. At least in India, they know what vegetarian means.” Actually, I was vegan. In India, vegetarian means also that they don’t use eggs. There’s no concept of, “Well, I’m a vegetarian, but I eat eggs.” So it was really, really easy for me. That was actually why I had even agreed to go to India. 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. Here I was flying thousands 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 living in the San …

Rick: Which you can do in Los Angeles, yeah.

Sadhviji: 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. 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.” I realized, 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. On that plane, I said to myself, “Okay, there must be a reason I’m going that I’m just not aware of. I have to keep my heart open.” 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.” Even though I couldn’t 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 practicum units. I mean, there were all sorts of productive things I could have done. We get to India and get to Delhi and 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.” 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. We were already yoga students in San Francisco. 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. In Delhi, in looking at the guidebook, I had selected one of the hotels. Rishikesh is a holy city, which means that you cannot buy meat in the entire city. You cannot buy alcohol in the entire city.

Rick: Even today?

Sadhviji: Even today, even today. It’s against the law. So yeah, it’s great. 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 Jhula. The southern bridge, what’s called Ram Jhula, at that time on the non-downtown side of Rishikesh, the calmer, more peaceful, beautiful, you know, non-trafficky 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. Something about it, again, the descriptions all were identical, but because I was this avid environmentalist, you know, I had organized the first Earth Day at Stanford when I had been an undergrad there. 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 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. 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 bridge. It’s only a footbridge.” 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 at, you know, the only hotel that required you to schlep your bags across this footbridge in the hot summer.” So we get to the hotel, 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 nature. I said, “I’m going to go put my feet in the river.” 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 the water of Ganga, right there, I had such a vision, such an experience that was visual, it was physical, it was physiological. I mean, it was every sphere of sensation and perception that we have. It was on that level. It knocked me to the ground and I burst into tears. 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. In that moment, it was as though a curtain had just come down on the first twenty-five years of my life. All of that to which I was attached, goals I had, relationships I had, possessions I loved, sensory pleasures I loved, it was as though the curtain just dropped on all of that. Suddenly nothing mattered except being there in that presence of truth. That was really, really the beginning. I mean, there’s so much more but I could take up our entire time with this story.

Rick: I’m going to read something you wrote about that experience. You said, “The unanticipated, indescribable experience of spiritual awakening I had on the banks of the Ganga River was richer, 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, re-merging me into myself.” That was beautiful. 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. If someone could step inside your head, so to speak, what would they actually be experiencing or seeing then, besides a river? I mean, there was obviously much more going on there.

Sadhviji: 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, “Ah, yeah, that’s what the experience was. I can go around it.” 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.

Rick: Or a woman with four arms or something.

Sadhviji: No, no, no, no. Yeah, it wasn’t the image of what we consider Ganga the goddess. It wasn’t a woman on a crocodile, it wasn’t that. But it was a very, very visual image of Divinity. The river and this image of Divinity sort of merged into each other and it was divine, but the felt-sense experience was that it also merged into me. 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. Then eventually when I started moving my head around, something very interesting happened, which was that my visual field split into foreground and background. 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. What happened to me was that visual field split and so 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 it was just whatever I saw, although the background kept changing, the foreground stayed the same. I just kept crying because it just was so beautiful. It was as though a veil that I had worn not just on my eyes but on my mind, on my brain, on my heart, on my interaction with the universe had just been pulled off and I could see from every aspect of me.

Rick: That’s beautifully described and we can all hearken back to what you said a few minutes ago about the sense that there’s a plan to the universe or it’s a life or something. There must have been a feeling of tremendous significance like, “Ah, this is why I came here and this whole thing was orchestrated to bring me to this point,” and so on.

Sadhviji: I didn’t, you know, I didn’t actually have…

Rick: You may not have intellectualized it at that point.

Sadhviji: Yeah, I didn’t have that much intellectual capacity still available. I was I think pretty incoherent in those early days, crying a lot, a lot of just open-mouthed awe. 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 Niketan, was a parallel pathway to get from the hotel down to the river. The pathway that originally the hotel people had sent me down was an alleyway between two ashrams. You know what alleyways in India are like. 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 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. I discovered that there was this other pathway which was really calm and really clean and really still and beautiful that also could take me from the river back to the hotel. That’s what I started using actually the path at Parmarth Niketan for. 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…I mean I knew the word of course, but it wasn’t a part of how I referred to my own actions or experience. It was only in retrospect that I could look back and say, “Oh yeah, that was meditation.” 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. I was walking through the ashram one day and I heard a voice and the voice said, “You must stay here.” 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. 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.” I kept walking and 30 seconds or so later I heard it again, “You must stay here.” Again I looked around. If there’s a voice there must be a speaker. But there was no one. I looked up, was somebody yelling from a balcony? There was no one. I just was about to ignore it for the second time and my own voice came in. 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?” 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. 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 going to get yourself back to Delhi and back on a flight to California because you are making a choice not to keep your heart open.” For me, I’ve always been very, very, very dedicated to truth. I was one of those truth at all costs people. Since I’ve come to India I’ve learned a lot more in terms of 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: Yeah, I just read your article about how 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.

Sadhviji: Exactly, exactly. So, they’ve got the kind part down and I had the true part down. I just didn’t have the kind or beneficial part down. I had always been a truth at all costs person, both with other people as well as with myself. It was acutely obvious to me that I was ignoring something. 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. Clearly I wasn’t schizophrenic or I certainly hoped I wasn’t schizophrenic. I had never even read books by or about religious people or spiritual people or 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 a 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.” 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. I had to say, “Okay. All right. I’ll admit I’ve heard a voice.” I looked up and I see a sign in English that says “Office” and I went in. 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: Okay. So, you saw the office and …well, you know …I know your story but the listeners don’t. There was a point at which, you know, I guess they told you, you know, you may not be able to 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. 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, put those in order because those are interesting parts of the story.

Sadhviji: So, yes, I walked into the ashram and I said, “I want to stay.” They said, “Oh, you know, you’ve got to get up early in the morning. We have prayers at 5 o’clock.” At that time, the 5 o’clock in the morning prayers were compulsory for everybody. They’re no longer compulsory because we now have so many different programs that also run and so many people of so many different religious traditions who come. So, we’ve just removed anything compulsory. But at that time you had to show up. 5 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 5. They’re all in Hindi. Everything’s in Hindi. And so, you know, don’t stay here.” I realized I need to stay there. 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.” That was when he said, “Well, actually, we don’t even have the authority.” See, Parmarth Niketan is a very, very old lineage. The ashram has been there since 1942 and the lineage is one of the oldest and most traditional Shankaracharya lineages of India. It’s the Shankaracharya lineage. That’s where the Saraswati last lineage name comes from as it goes back to the Shankaracharya tradition. So, it’s very traditional. Under my guru, Guru Swamiji’s leadership over the decades that he’s been in charge, it has blossomed and grown and opened. We now are full of people from every country and every corner of the earth and every religion and every race and every aspect of society. 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. But 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 or religious leaders, I pictured a man in a suit and tie with a briefcase who was going to come and review my application and either approve it or disapprove it. I said, “Okay, well, can I meet him?” And they said, “Oh, he’s out of town.” I said, “Okay, well, when is he coming back?” And they said, “Maybe tomorrow.” 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. They just said, “Maybe tomorrow.” I came back every day and I would ask, “Is he back?” They would say, “Maybe tomorrow.” 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. They tell you what they think you want to hear. I read that and I realized, “Oh, okay. So for whatever reason, they don’t want me to stay. 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. I thought, “All right, I’m not going to harass these people unnecessarily by continuing to go in and ask. Let me just stop asking.” I knew something was about to happen in my life. You know, it’s like if you’re in a movie, watching a movie and that music starts to play and 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 hand and your heart rate starts to get a little faster and you just know something is about to happen. That music was playing in my life and I knew something was about to happen. I realized, “All right, maybe it’s not here, maybe it’s not at this place.” As I said, I had always been a mountain person, so I thought, “Well, maybe it’s the mountains.” We made a plan to go up to the mountains, up to Badrinath, which is a very, very sacred pilgrimage area, a few hundred kilometers up in the mountains from Rishikesh. 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, “Let’s not go tomorrow. Let’s go Tuesday.” All right. Didn’t matter. We changed the plan and 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 ashram’s 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 a year doing seva or dedicated service, selfless service. It’s a very, very strong tradition in the Indian spiritual philosophy, this concept of selfless service, particularly in religious places, for religious places. He would spend several months a year doing seva and his seva 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. He would sit there and he would hand out the puffed rice. I had befriended him earlier in the week and he knew that I was waiting to meet the president. I was walking through the ashram that day and he came running after me and he says, “He’s here, he’s here, he’s here, he’s here. You have to come meet him.” I 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 pranam. I’m like, “What’s pranam?” And he says, “It means when you bow, you bow low on the ground.” Suddenly I was nervous, where before it was a man in a suit and tie at a desk, now suddenly it was this figure who made Pratap’s eyes just, I mean, suddenly they were glowing. I was going to bow low on the ground and I was nervous. I said, “All right, look, I’ll just do whatever you do. You just show me what to do and I’ll follow.” 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. At the front of the room, sitting on this very thin little cushion on the ground is Pujya Swamiji, is this incredible being. Again, remember, I had pictured a desk and a man in a suit and tie and here was this just being 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 he has a long brown beard and yes, he’s wearing orange robes.” 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. I was feeling the love, I was feeling 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 reeling me in and my heart was just like, “Oh, I just wanted to get closer and closer.” Rather than a fish being on the end of a hook dying and gasping for life, it was for me also in a way gasping, but gasping for suddenly this new life that I had just been in the presence of for 10, 15 seconds. We sit down in the back of the room to await our turn. Eventually we get called up to the front and Pratap bows down and I bow down next to him and I’m looking out from under my elbow to see what he’s doing, because otherwise when you bow 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. We sit up and 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. I don’t mean countless dozens, I mean countless hundreds of people, maybe even countless thousands of people. This is what Pujya Swamiji says, “This is your home. Welcome home.” You arrive, he says, “Welcome home.” But at the time it felt very prophetic. I said 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.” 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. Pratap went back to the temple. 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 that I had just found an ashram that we could stay in and 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. 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’s in front of Pujya Swamiji’s reception area. 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. 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, all of these things I had to get. Suddenly I thought, “Oh my God, one of these vaccinations didn’t hold and I’ve contracted some horrible disease and I’ve lost the feeling or the use of my legs.” Then I calmed 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 them. Just couldn’t pick the feet up off the ground. I mean, 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. I then thought, “Well, all right, 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.” 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…I couldn’t get them off the ground. I was a neurology student. I was studying pediatric neuropsychology. I thought, “Okay.” 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 were going to be released into which synapses of which neural networks in such a way that the muscles of each leg could contract and lift. Nothing. I then started to get scared again. But at this moment, I’m at the back of the ashram where a lot of the people who serve in the ashram live 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 yelling and they’re racing and chasing each other. Instinctively, because I was standing in the middle of their pathway, instinctively I moved back. I then realized, “Oh, all right, I’m free.” Maybe it was like the hiccups and I just had to get scared in order to be able to move again. Again, I couldn’t move forward. I thought, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense because I literally just moved backwards.” Then 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 spin myself around so that my back is now facing the back of the ashram. I decided, “Well, all right, I’m going to just walk out of this ashram backwards.”I already had a little crowd of people around me because at that time, Westerners were also unusual. Now again, it’s become just full of people from every country, every walk of life, all over the world, every color. At that time, being white was still unusual. As it was, people would turn and notice and look. Here I was now, standing in the central pathway of the ashram, flailing my arms, trying to move. You’ve got a white girl in the middle of the ashram flailing her arms. I had quite a crowd of people around me. Now I was spinning around as though I was going to walk out backwards, but I couldn’t move. I then took a deep breath and I went, “Ah, 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. Yet, I could walk backwards in the direction from which I had come, the direction of Swamiji’s area. I thought, “Well, maybe it’s the direction.” 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?” Of course I could. Now this entire drama had lasted maybe only about two minutes or so. I mean, it wasn’t very long. 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.” He said, “Welcome.” That was it.

Rick: Okay. I think let’s broaden it out a little bit. You obviously have been in the service of a guru now for a couple of decades and I’ve also had that experience. 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 one should be one’s own guru, one should be self-sufficient. Partially this is due, I think, to there having been many abuses by so-called gurus. 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 other human being. There shouldn’t be this hierarchical difference between us and a teacher, everybody should be more of an egalitarian arrangement and so on. I mean, have you gotten whiffs of that sort of sentiment in the air and how would you respond to it?

Sadhviji: Well, I haven’t gotten whiffs of it exactly like that, but certainly as I travel and do satsangs, 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? This comes up frequently even in India because the people who come, come from all over the world. This question absolutely comes up very frequently. For me, first of all, it’s not a power differential. So the idea of equality is really a moot point. 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 guru 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. 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. That’s not a bad thing. That’s not a judgment or a 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. The ego is 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.” And 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. 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 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. If you want Johnny’s cookies, you have to say to Johnny, “Johnny, can I have a cookie?” This is where we start to distinguish between where I end and Johnny begins. Or, “Honey, 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. This is ego development. The problem becomes later in our life when I don’t want to just identify as this body because yet this body is very, very finite. This body is very fallible. The things that have happened to this body, the things this body has done, and by body I mean, of course, the brain as well. I’m not going to distinguish between brain and mind. 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. 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 connect with the truth of who I am, that I-ness that has been continuous and pervasive even though the body has changed continuously, 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 mean, I can’t be my anger because if I were angry, then 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. If I ceased to exist between my thoughts, well, who would be there to think the next thought? So 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 an 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 is me. This is where I end and you begin.”

Rick: That’s its function.

Sadhviji: That’s its function, exactly. When we talk about the guru removing the darkness and bringing light, it’s 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 whole. On top of that whole and pure and perfect and light divinity, we’ve put ignorance. 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. What the guru does is shows us the light, which is who we really are. 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 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. 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. I’m so good.”

Rick: I should start teaching.

Sadhviji: Right, exactly. Where do I get a certification?

Rick: Put up a shingle.

Sadhviji: I need the advanced course. Where is the advanced course? So, this is the ego, but we don’t realize that. Or the ego works another way, which is, you know, we get a little bit of teaching. So, you study maybe some of Indian philosophy or yogic philosophy and you learn terms, concepts like “Aham Brahmasmi,” “I am divine,” “So-ham,” “I am that.” So, these teachings of “You are divine,” “You are one with God.” The ego loves that because if I’m God, well then, yeah, you should do the dishes. Yeah, you should 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 a simultaneous awareness of everyone else’s oneness with God.

Rick: Yeah, there’s “Tat Tvam Asi” as well.

Sadhviji: Exactly, and therefore our oneness with each other. You know, 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. For me, having a guru has been of immeasurable value because my ego, it’s really insidious and it loves my intellectual mind, it loves rationalizations, it loves excuses, it loves separation. The guru is the one who comes in and literally, you know, like a potter with a piece of clay on a wheel, just slaps you back into shape. 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 wait. You know, everything is instant and if it’s not instant there’s a problem, you know. We get very, very angry. I was listening yesterday to 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 people scream at Siri, how people scream at Alexa, how people scream at these devices for not understanding them exactly, for 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, wait. This thing is a programmed 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. Well, we want to feel good, so I’m going to 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 guru, see, because you’re perfect already. Aham brahmasmi. You’re 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: I have about a four-part question. See if you can remember all the parts. One is, what qualifies a person to become a genuine guru? Not somebody who just uses the term, but really a guru worth his salt. Number two, how does the student know that 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, many gurus like there are a thousand people living in your ashram, and if you go to see Amma, you know, there’s tens of thousands maybe showing up and she only has a couple seconds for each person. These situations where there’s one guru and maybe thousands or tens of thousands of people around, how can the guru possibly help because he or she really can’t spend that much time with anybody. There might have been a fourth part, but that’s good enough. That’s all the ones I remember.

Sadhviji: Okay. So…

Rick: So, the first part was, what really qualifies a person to be a guru?

Sadhviji: 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 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 is giving 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. 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 a candle and my candle is lit, well, I therefore am qualified to light your wick. I have something to offer you. How does someone know that a guru is right for them?

Rick: Or that they are really lit, you know, because there have been many people who may not have been quite so well lit, but who began functioning as a guru.

Sadhviji: Yes. Well, 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. I mean, 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. Please, please, please bless him that he should get an A on the exam.” Pujya Swamiji will say, “Well, is he home studying?” 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 guru’s blessings are amazing and powerful and magical and they’re grace, but what are we … what are we going for? The reason that I mention this is because in a lot of the cases with the gurus who have “fallen,” which I’ll come to that, we’ll talk about that, 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 at 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 guru 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, 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 have this prosperity. Follow me and there will be prosperity in your life. 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 you’re 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 tell you that they will teach you how to do that. “You want to be the most virile sexual partner on earth?” You’ll be able to find gurus who I am sure will tell you that they will be able to make you that. You want to … 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: Yeah, a guru in India, as I understand it, sometimes just means like you might have a tabla 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.

Sadhviji: 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 found in amazingly enlightened leaders. It’s also found in amazingly harmful leaders.

Rick: It’s found in politicians and rock stars.

Sadhviji: Exactly, exactly. We really need to check in with ourselves of, “What is it that’s making me attracted to this guru?” The other thing to me that’s really a crucial element is, “What does this guru tell me about being my guru?” 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 satsang with another master. A real master is not going to try to convince you that they are the most enlightened, the best guru. 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 real masters are the ones who, due 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. That’s another way. I think lastly what I would ask is …

Rick: Let me just interject here. If they really got something, chances are they may collect a lot of disciples, because people will be attracted to them.

Sadhviji: Of course, of course.

Rick: What you’re saying is that’s not their motivation, it’s just happening because they’re naturally … moths are being attracted to a genuine flame.

Sadhviji: Of course, of course, absolutely. Yeah, 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 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 guru. The guru doesn’t need you. You need the guru. The guru is there, the guru is light, but [they] are not going to come running after you saying, “I’m the only guru for you. If you don’t think that I’m your guru, it’s because of your ego, it’s because of your ignorance.” The guru is not going to start berating us for either not wanting to be with them or having doubts or having questions. 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 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 a lot of spiritual ecstasy is made of, but it’s also the stuff that lynchings are made of. That power that happens in a crowd is very, very seductive. 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. If it’s all about only being near the guru and only following the guru around, then 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 ten feet back you’re still lit. That’s important, is “Do I feel that light in me when I go back to my room at night, 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 guru’s presence?”

Rick: Yeah, so those are good criteria.

Sadhviji: And then the last part that you had asked about … and our ashram by the way, we have a thousand rooms, it’s not a thousand people. The ashram actually has a thousand rooms.

Rick: Two or three thousand people maybe.

Sadhviji: Yeah, if they’re Westerners, many, many more. If they’re Indians who can sleep, lots and lots.

Rick: Ten to a room.

Sadhviji: Yeah, 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 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. I know, for example, that Pujya Swamiji absolutely doesn’t have time to be doing a lot of one-on-one with everybody who comes, and I’m sure the same is true. You gave the example of Ammaji. I’m sure it’s true for her. I’m sure it’s true for all of them. And yet, the beautiful aspect of grace is that you could have a thousand people sitting in a hall, sitting somewhere. The guru speaks and every single one of those people walks 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?” These are the ways that the guru teaches.

Rick: Yeah, I would say it’s not only what the guru says and that speaks directly to each of those thousand people, but the guru, see if you agree with this, that it serves as a sort of a conduit or a transformer or something that helps, a catalyst that helps to enliven the field in which everyone is gathered.

Sadhviji: Exactly, yes.

Rick: And that enlivened field by osmosis kind of uplifts everyone, like kind of like the rising tide lifts all boats kind of an idea.

Sadhviji: Yes, yes, yes, absolutely.

Rick: Yeah, and not anyone has that effect. Not everyone would have such a powerful cathartic … transformative magnetic, you know.

Sadhviji: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s very, very, very powerful. This was what happened to me when I met Pujya Swamiji for the first time. I was in a room.

Rick: You were in the back of the room.

Sadhviji: 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: Yes, and I would just say to somebody listening if you have an opportunity to spend time 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 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and with Amma where I didn’t even know they were coming into the room, but all of a sudden something changed in the room. There was a shift, you know.

Sadhviji: Yeah.

Rick: Good, I think we’ve exhausted that topic or at least for the time being we have. There’s always more I can say on any of these things. Now maybe it would be good to talk about seva 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 topic for a little bit.

Sadhviji: Sure, it’s a beautiful topic. It’s one of my favorite topics. Where we are, the word parmarth, the ashram is called Parmarth Niketan and niketan means an abode, a place. Parmarth means dedicated to the welfare of all and so it’s really dedicated to service. We’re dedicated to service on two different levels, 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, and we do lots and lots and lots of that.

Rick: Yeah, this thing of providing toilets, I mean the statistics are shocking in terms of how many people don’t have them and what the social implications are.

Sadhviji: Exactly, exactly, exactly. 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 due to lack of clean water sanitation and hygiene. People need medical care, so we’re going to run free medical camps, so that’s that side.

Rick: Let me just ask quickly, are you doing this in the Rishikesh area, in North India, in all of India, even places other than India? I mean, what’s the scope?

Sadhviji: Primarily India. We have some projects that are in the pipeline for Africa, but primarily India for now. We like working in our state of Uttarakhand 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 over the place.

Rick: Okay, let me ask another quick question. What’s the difference, if any? 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 groups like that?

Sadhviji: 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 component. So the other component of service is the spiritual component, which is people who have roofs 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. To us, there’s no judgment on which is more important, an 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, in joy. So that’s what we do. And here’s how the seva works. This is really what distinguishes it from all of those other organizations that you just mentioned. For us, the service really is spiritual practice. 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 free schools. Here are the women’s vocational training programs. Here are the upliftment programs. Here are the medical camps. Here are 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.” So whatever it is, you could look down all of this, top down. But bottom up, really what we are is a spiritual organization that is rooted in the belief that we’re all one. 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. The example that I always give about this is if you trip and you fall and you hurt your right leg, the left leg is going to pick up the extra weight. We call that limping. 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. You never have to say, “Oh, wonderful humanitarian, great left leg. Would you mind picking up the extra weight?” The left leg is never going to say, “Oh my God, again? I just did this last month. What is it with that right leg? Forget it. No, I’m not going to do it again.” Or it’s never going to say, “All right, 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. It’s not expecting some kind of accolades or a gold star or a humanitarian award because it understands that the right leg is self. For us, seva is sadhana. Service is spiritual practice. It’s not sadhana and seva. It’s seva as sadhana. Can I see the other as self? When people are serving and if they’re grumpy or they’re cranky or they’re jealous or there’s whatever it is, 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. That’s really what the seva is, is can I become just a vessel and a vehicle? 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 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 he 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 bullet 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. He’s brought her and 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, “I teach meditation. Sit down. Let me teach you meditation,” it would be absurd 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. Only after all of that is done should we even begin to start to say, “Oh, and by the way, we run this satsang every night,” or, “By the way, I teach this meditation.” It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Rick: I was just going to say that, yeah, exactly.

Sadhviji: So you’ve got to work like that and so that’s really how we do the seva and this is where all of the components become so crucial is whatever the person in front of you needs is what you do. They need a cup of tea, you’re a chaiwala. They need a spiritual lecture, you’re a teacher.

Rick: So you’re a tool or instrument of the Divine providing whatever the person needs.

Sadhviji: That’s the goal. That’s the way that seva becomes sadhana. That’s the “how can you serve your way to enlightenment” path.

Rick: Yeah, and I’m sure that people aren’t so crass as to think this way. They’re not so crass as to think, “All right, well I guess I better do this seva thing because it’s going to help me get enlightened,” but nonetheless it would seem to me that doing it sort of tends to attenuate the ego and to instill a deeper and deeper experience that we are indeed all one. As Jesus said, “Whatever you do unto the least of these you do unto me,” and he also said, “I and my Father are one,” so by logical extrapolation the oneness of oneself with God can be cultured or cultivated or enlivened in one’s awareness by actually treating others as golden rule here.

Sadhviji: Of course. 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. So really it feels to me, and I’m far from any kind of an expert or scholar or even slightly knowledgeable about Christian philosophy, but it feels to me like what he’s really saying is, “See thy neighbor as thyself,” and if I’m going to see my neighbor as myself, and he didn’t say only the next-door neighbor, you know, so there’s no border. 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: vasudeva kutumbakam, right?

Sadhviji: Well, vasudeva kutumbakam means the world is a family.

Rick: Right.

Sadhviji: So that’s a beautiful, beautiful tenet of the teaching and what to me is so interesting is we’ve got vasudeva kutumbakam, the world is a family, and then 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 the self, at least treat the other as the family. If you can’t see yourself in them, at least see your family in them.

Rick: Yeah, hopefully a harmonious family.

Sadhviji: Exactly, exactly.

Rick: Ram Dass said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your parents.” But I think Shankara said something to the effect that 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 higher teachings might become practicable for you.

Sadhviji: Exactly, it gives you the experience. It’s the same thing, all of our sadhana, whatever we choose to do, whether it’s karma yoga, whether it’s bhakti yoga, whether it’s jnana yoga, whatever path we may choose, path of devotion, path of knowledge, path of service, all of what these do, whatever, even if we’re sitting in meditation, different techniques of meditation, what all of them do is they clear that windshield of the dirt that blocks us from seeing the light that’s already there. None of it brings God. There’s no meditation practice that brings God. God is there. There’s 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 pujas 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. What all of our 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: Yeah. Another metaphor I like is the sun is always shining, but maybe it’s obscured by clouds, and so practices are like the wind which blows away the clouds. They don’t make the sun shine, but they remove the obscuration of the sun.

Sadhviji: Yes, exactly.

Rick: And you just ticked off four or five different branches, you know, karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and I’m sure in your own life is an example that it’s not an either-or thing. It’s not that you’re exclusively one or the other. You’re doing all of them at once, and most people will, although maybe some people have a proclivity a little bit more towards one or the other.

Sadhviji: But they all converge.

Rick: Yeah, yeah.

Sadhviji: That’s the thing, 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 jnana 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. If you…let’s say you fall in love with someone, and it’s love at first sight, it’s love from across the crowded room.

Rick: West Side Story.

Sadhviji: Right, we’ll 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 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. Ofcourse, it could begin the other way as well. I didn’t love you at first sight. We met in some workplace or some class or at the gym or wherever. We started talking. I started learning more and more and more about you. 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. Then of course, as I fall in love with you, so again, here I am making you breakfast in bed.

Rick: Or one way or the other, you get breakfast.

Sadhviji: Exactly, either way. And of course, you could begin with service as well. There are so many stories of patients in hospitals and nurses who fall in love with each other. You serve someone for long enough, and as you serve, you learn about them.

Rick: Yeah, you can think of it like a table. You drag any one leg and all the other legs are going to come along.

Sadhviji: Exactly, exactly. So what we say in Rishikesh is, “Come to Ganga, get in Ganga.” Ganga doesn’t care whether you get in at Parmarth Niketan’s ghat, 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 the concrete slope. It doesn’t matter. Just get in. You start anywhere.

Rick: I think you’re speaking a little bit metaphorically here. You’re not just talking about getting into the Ganges, you’re talking about spirituality in general.

Sadhviji: Yes, of course. So whatever path our yoga is, because that’s what yoga is. Yoga is union. 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. Whether we say Bhakti-yoga, path of devotion, Jnana-yoga, path of wisdom, Karma-yoga, path of service, they’re all yoga, so union. So there are ways into that oneness. Or Hatha-yoga, can you get in there through practice of asanas? Yeah, as long as you do it with the awareness and the intention that this is my path into unity.

Rick: Yeah, I remember I interviewed this guy named Gary Weber and he 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 thought.

Sadhviji: Yeah, I was very, very blessed to be able to practice in the room where B.K.S. Iyengarji 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. 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. 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 back bend. 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. He would hold it for 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes. Everyone else is sweating and panting and their faces are red and they are coming out of the pose. When he finally came out, his face and his eyes looked like he had just come out of the deepest meditation. 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. But it isn’t automatically. It has to have that intention that this is going to be my path.

Rick: I think Dattala Baba was primarily a Hatha Yogi. He was a great sage who lived in Rishikesh.

Sadhviji: Yes, of course, of course. Before I got there, I have heard a lot about him.

Rick: Yeah, interesting character. Well, there are so many things we could talk about. We could talk about the Gita and we could talk about just a million different things. But I’ve 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 Manu declared, Manu was an ancient lawgiver to the human race, Manu declared, and our scriptures remind us that, “Where women are adored, there 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.” I thought 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 of things, given us such a sort of militaristic, arm-to-the-teeth kind of world and has resulted in environmental devastation and just a gross materialistic kind of treatment of nature and animals and everything else. I’m sure you could riff on this for hours, but I thought it might be nice to just touch on this topic.

Sadhviji: Yeah, no, it’s a beautiful topic and it’s especially a beautiful way to even 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. For India, 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 want to take our remaining time to dissect the societal issues of contemporary Indian society, but rather to talk about 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 of that, which when we think about life 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. 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 “Prakriti,” both are feminine, 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. 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. That in this ancient tradition, the words and concepts of the creative energy and the creation are both feminine. The fact that in not only India but also in English, we say “Mother Earth,” “Mother Nature.” So, this is all, it’s 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. It’s the viewpoint of everything is an object. I’m an object. 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 interacting with an object. Either you are an object I can use, you are 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.

Rick: Like an obstacle.

Sadhviji: You’re an 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 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 specifically, women’s bodies, not just that which is being done to them by men, but that which is being done to them by themselves. Because as has been said so beautifully in this whole #MeToo movement, 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. There’s also many, many, many, many circumstances in which 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 mention this because women are just as likely to objectify themselves and to objectify other women as men are.

Rick: Yeah, I mean the advertising brainwashes young girls end up getting into bulimia, anorexia and all that, because they want to look like models or something.

Sadhviji: Or they want 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 in any case, the point is that this objectification has become the way that we see ourselves. We then 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 our rivers, our mountains, our trees, our air, our soil, or how we treat the women and girls in our life, it’s all one. It’s all one. It’s all how we treat the feminine, how we treat that creative energy. Of course, therefore, how we treat the masculine, because it’s not about treating the feminine with respect, but objectify and abuse and discard the masculine. I’m sorry, go ahead.

Rick: Well, I was just going to say, what you’re saying actually gives one hope, because the sea change that has taken place in the past year with the #MeToo movement and 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 the first step and the other things will fall in the line.

Sadhviji: I seriously hope that. I really, really hope that. Whenever we speak about women’s rights or women’s equality, I do a lot of different panels. I get called to a lot of panels on 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. 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, the other women. We also have to extend that to Mother Earth, Mother Nature, to that prakriti, the creation, the entire creation. Only when we do that can we really say that women have rights. That’s actually why one of the things that we’re working on is rights for Mother Ganga. Ganga should have rights. You know, it’s a separate topic, of course, but that’s to us the most natural next step of rights for women is rights for Mother Nature. Why only Mrs. Smith and not Mrs. Amazon or Mrs. Himalayas?

Rick: Yeah. 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 and Ramana Maharshi and Advaita and so on. But if you’re really experiencing non-duality, it would seem to me, like what you were saying before about the left leg and the right leg, I don’t see how you can see the environment as really being separate and different from yourself and it needs to be treated accordingly. Anyway, and it will be, I think, if people naturally grow into this more unified consciousness.

Sadhviji: Well, there’s a beautiful line in the Upanishads that tells us, “Isha vasya midamsarvam, yat kincha jagat yam jagat,” and what it means is everything in the universe is pervaded by the divine. There is nothing, no one not pervaded by the divine. 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 then going to become, well, of every species.

Rick: Good.

Sadhviji: That’s how, to me, it really needs to go, is first within, “Yeah, 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 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 things that they should be given just automatically and inherently due to the fact that they’re divine.

Rick: Yeah. Again, what Jesus said, “Whatsoever you do unto the least of these you do unto me.”

Sadhviji: Exactly.

Rick: 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.

Sadhviji: Ah, fantastic, that would be really wonderful.

Rick: Yeah, that would be a goad to get you to finish your autobiography. So, just in conclusion, how can people connect with you? Can they come to that ashram?

Sadhviji: Absolutely. We would love it, and in fact, we are hosting our International Yoga Festival from March 1st to March 7th. We host it 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. It’s a very, very renowned yoga festival. That website is So, literally, just like it sounds, all one word, .org, International Yoga Festival. The ashram is Parmarth Niketan, and the website is And my website is So S A D H V I J I dot org. We do them live every day on Parmarth Niketan’s Facebook, and eventually they go up onto YouTube, but they do them live on Parmarth Niketan Facebook every day as well.

Rick: Are they streamed all over the world?

Sadhviji: 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 flash it on the screen after so people can note it down, or do you want me to speak?

Rick: Well, the easiest thing to do would be, I’ll have a page for you, a page for this interview on, 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 they’ll be. So, so far I have,, and, and then you just mentioned a couple of others. So make sure I have those too, and I’ll just put them all on there.

Sadhviji: Fantastic.

Rick: Great.

Sadhviji: Fantastic. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. And when are you coming to India?

Rick: Well, I don’t know. I haven’t been since ’86.

Sadhviji: Wow.

Rick: I’ve been there twice, but only in the New Delhi area, and each time for about four months. I 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.

Sadhviji: It would be so, so wonderful to welcome you. You could broadcast from the banks of Ganga.

Rick: That would 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 interview him.

Sadhviji: Wonderful. Wonderful.

Rick: All right, thanks. So, let me just make a couple of real quick wrap-up points. You’ve been watching an interview with Sadhvi Bhagavati Saraswati, and as I’ve been saying, I’ll create a page for her on, 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 if you go there, you’ll 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 the links to the audio podcast, if you 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. I hope to have Sadhvi back on as a guest when she finishes her autobiography.

Sadhviji: Absolutely. Well, thank you so, so much.

Rick: Yeah, thank you. It was really a pleasure preparing for this, to know you through that, and then getting to know you through this lovely two-hour conversation. Thanks for all you do. You’re living an exemplary life.

Sadhviji: Well, thank you, and I’ve really, really enjoyed these hours as well.

Rick: Good. Okay. Namaste.

Sadhviji: Wonderful. Namaste.