Meditations on The Journey Home – Lesson from Chapter 1
Radhanath Swami, as a nineteen-year-old Richard, followed his heart’s calling. In London, while searching for a life of substance, Gary and Richard heard Jimmy Hendrix in a concert. Jimmy Hendrix was one of the heroes of the counterculture and advocated freedom of expression, even if it meant rebellion against the popular norms of the society. Richard’s inner calling yearned for more, and went beyond jimmy’s external theatrics. Radhanath Swami writes in his autobiography, “… The music was thunderous and seemed to shake the hills, stir the sea, and scatter the clouds. But the silent call within me, one I couldn’t yet name, seemed louder still.”
A few days later Richard was shocked to hear about the tragic, untimely death of Jimmy Hendrix due to an overdose of sleeping pills that led to choking on his vomit. Thousands craved for the wealth, fame and talent that twenty-seven-year-old Jimmy had, yet he himself lived dissatisfied and died frustrated with no one by his side. This incident jolted Richard: though the youth around him proclaimed freedom through sex, drugs and rock and roll, he began to feel an urgent calling to look for something beyond it all. The youth were not really free. The excesses of their lives took a heavy toll, and many had become wild, ungrateful and destructive. Richard had rejected his family and society to join the counterculture, but the ugly reality he witnessed now, left him disillusioned.
The world is indeed strange, for it rewards glamour and ignores substance. Whether it’s Jimmy Hendrix or any other Superstar, we are generally attracted by their talent, fame and wealth- all external indicators of success. These parameters constitute the personality, while the values and ideals we strive for, and our our response to trying circumstances in life make up our character. Personality is what the world thinks about us, but it’s the character that determines who we actually are. If we ignore the character while developing our personality, it makes the foundation of our lives weak. While reading about Jimmy Hendrix in Radhanath Swami’s autobiography, I remembered two contrasting examples that my college teacher once quoted, to emphasize the importance of character.
A man on the verge of a major success in his career met with a serious accident and burnt 65% of his body, and lost his ten fingers. Four years later in 1975, in another accident he injured his spinal cord that left him paralyzed waist down. There was another man, who as a twenty year old rocked the world with his music and at twenty four was a millionaire celebrity, with over fifty million copies of his album sold worldwide. Our teacher asked us to judge who is more fortunate of the two men and whose life would we wish to emulate? I remember falling for the bait and opted for the second choice. Then the teacher revealed the real story: the first man is W. Mitchell who since his devastating accident has decided to be an instrument of positivity and lend substance to everybody’s lives. He is a successful businessman and as a motivational speaker, transformed thousands of lives. He also become a small town mayor and authored It’s Not What Happens To You, It’s What You Do About It (1997). He leads a life centered on service, gratitude and prayer. The second man is Kurt Cobain who despite his wealth and fame was a victim of substance abuse. In April 1994, his heroin addiction consumed him; he committed suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.
My college teacher had taught me an important lesson, and now my spiritual teacher, Radhanath Swami, is reinforcing this message- the need to centre our lives on strong principles, rather than seek success based on an external yardstick.
During the tragic demise of jimmy Hendrix, Richard was also exposed to a photograph of an old man sitting under a tree. This man’s smiling visage radiated peace, and his expression shone with the innocence of a child. During this turbulent phase of his life in London, Richard was attracted to this person and realized, “If anyone in this creation has spiritual bliss, it is this person.” Months later, Richard discovered this man was to be his guru, spiritual master, the person who would reveal to him the way to a life based on the highest principles.