In the early 1980’s, on the request of his friends and colleagues, Bhakti Tirtha Swami based himself in Africa to manage the few fledgling centres that were falling apart there due to poor leadership. The initial challenges in Africa was the diseases; for a person not born in Africa there are many diseases that attack and that’s one of the reasons why many of his colleagues couldn’t survive there. Besides, the food that he was served was unpalatable. The circumstances and facilities for his spiritual and social services were primitive. Besides, the local tribes turned against him by using Voodoo spells. Voodoo is an African type of tantricism and the curses they inflict are actually effective. Voodoo attacks can torture people, can cause one to go insane, afflict one with terminal illness, and even kill the victims. Many powerful people were hiring voodoo priests to put curses on him but he persevered on the spiritual strength of a strong culture of prayer and the consciousness of being the genuine servant of those he desired to serve. This mood helped him be an effective transition person even in the most challenging situations.
Another challenge he faced was the volatile political situation in African cities and villages where he was serving. Government instabilities cause a lot of uncertainties; if you didn’t have government support they would crush you. But the problem is if the government supports you and you come close to them, then if a rival party takes over the government, you are finished. In an atmosphere surcharged with political wars and military coups, the new government would often kill the previous prime minister, president, all the cabinet members and kill any party that’s close to the previous government. These coups were happening regularly while Bhakti Tirtha Swami was there. With remarkable intelligence and sensitivity, he simultaneously got close enough to get the support of the government but far enough so that if there was a coup, the selfless workers of his team wouldn’t be in trouble.
His tireless services bore fruit; soon he was running farms and service centres. He was on television stations and featured in all the major news papers, magazines and radio shows. The prime ministers, presidents, the heads and ministers of states were approaching him for spiritual guidance. His compassion, love and determined services fetched him the highest civilian honour. He was made the honorary chief of the Wori tribe in Nigeria; in a grand ceremony the tribe leader coronated Bhakti Tirtha Swami as the king of the tribe. Bhakti Tirtha Swami soon had immense influence, and he became a spiritual counsellor for many celebrities.
Leading world magazines like Time had at one time voted Mohammad Ali as the most popular man in the entire planet. Mohammad Ali was another success story. Born in the ghettos of Louisville, Kentucky, he had to learn how to fight just to survive, and he made it into an art and a science, then he became the world champion boxer. It is difficult to meet somebody so popular and high in the public eye, but Bhakti Tirtha Swami was regularly going to his house to give him spiritual guidance. Muhammad Ali was confiding in Bhakti Tirtha Swami, revealing his problems and seeking help to overcome his weaknesses. The United Nations, heads of countries and celebrities were calling on him for counselling, guidance and advice. During the grand opening of the magnificent Radha Radhanath centre in Durban, South Africa, Nelson Mandela was the chief guest. Mr. Mandela walked onto the stage and embraced Bhakti Tirtha Swami, and from then on, they met on many occasions, and Mr. Mandela received spiritual guidance from Bhakti Tirtha Swami. Meanwhile in the capital of America, Washington D.C., he initiated a successful project called the Institute of Applied Spiritual Technology; he was now reaching many people and conducting classes at Harvard University.
Bhakti Tirtha Swami travelled all over the world. His enthusiasm, determination and compassion were unlimited. Wherever he went he just mesmerized people’s hearts by being personal in his concern for everyone he met. Since he came from a minority family and faced persecution till youth, he sympathized with any person who was being mistreated. He never judged anyone and was everyone’s well-wisher and friend, whatever their condition.
While his lectures transformed peoples’ hearts, he also wrote over twenty books, catering to the needs of the general population who could potentially be very receptive to spiritual knowledge. He wrote books on the problems of sex passions, terrorism, war, suicide, poverty, mental disease, and depression- things that are relevant to people all over the world. He was addressing them from a spiritual perspective and his books have been translated in about 30 languages in the world.
Radhanath Swami shared close friendship with Bhakti Tirtha Swami. In their intensely intimate and sweet exchanges, they shared many soul searching talks; when they met once a year for a few days, their conversations would last 14 to 15 hours daily. They poured their hearts to one another and bonded in a special and unique way as the best of friends.
In 2004 Bhakti Tirtha Swami was diagnosed with melanoma cancer, a cancer that by clinical analysis is not possible to cure. He decided to take this whole dying experience and share it with the world in a totally positive spiritual, God conscious spirit. He wrote his last book, “Die before Dying,” in which he shares his realizations and experiences of going through the transformations of death and dying in a perfectly God conscious way. This is yet another example of Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s being a transition person, especially at a time when one is weak in discrimination and needs empathy and solace. Bhakti Tirtha Swami on the other hand provided strength, inspiration and hope to thousands even on his death bed. During his last days Radhanath Swami spent time with him and saw him affect people’s hearts like he had never done before in his last thirty five years of practise and teaching of spiritual principles.
Bhakti Tirtha Swami revealed his own realization on the subject: “Since I had this cancer, in the last few months, I have affected people’s lives in such a way that I could never have been able to do if I lived for another 30 years. Therefore, this disease is a blessing of God because I am not living to live, I am living to serve. And in this condition, I am doing the greatest service quantitatively and qualitatively, that I could have ever done, if I lived a long life. Therefore I will not change my position for anyone else in the world because of the service I am allowed to render.” Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s incredible positive attitude during the testing time of death is a result of his cultivating the consciousness of being a transition person his whole life.
As Bhakti Tirtha Swami breathed his last one little child was crying uncontrollably and rolling on the ground. His father and other elders worried about him, and asked, “Son, what’s wrong?” The grief stricken boy lamented, “Bhakti Tirtha Swami was my best friend. No one played with me like he did. Who will play with me now? Now I have no one to play with.” This was Bhakti Tirtha Swami, a friend of everyone. To the children he was their favourite playmate, to his friends and colleagues, their best friend and to his students, the most loving guide. He could adapt to any situation to conquer people’s hearts and fill them with God’s love. His departure is a great loss to the world but also a lesson in being a transition person.