Meditations on The Journey Home – Chapter 1: Journey to the East
Childhood is the most impressionable age, and exposure to incidents of hate and violence leave deep scars on a child’s consciousness. An interaction with Danny, the friend of little Richie (Radhanath Swami’s childhood name) threatened to destroy his innocence. Seven year old Richie shivered on seeing two pistols and several hand grenades stacked up at Danny’s cellar. Hideous images of hate and violence flashed through Richie’s mind when Danny displayed Hitler’s framed photograph. Richie was stunned with disbelief to know that Danny’s parents hated him because he was a Jew, and they believed Jews Killed Jesus. Danny hoped to not hate Richie when they grew up. Hurt knows no reason, and Richie, hiding his misery, asked his mother if God hated him. The contradiction of love and hate made little sense and Richie offered silent prayers to God, with faith in his mothers’ words that God did love him.
While most children may not undergo such extreme incidents, but they do get exposed to violent and passionate images on the television screen, and the budding purity, founded on childhood simplicity and innocence, is throttled right away. National Institute on Media and the Family (U.S.A) revealed that children younger than eight “cannot uniformly discriminate between real life and fantasy/entertainment. They also quickly learn that violence is an acceptable solution to resolving even complex problems, particularly if the aggressor is the hero.” University of Michigan psychologists Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesmann studied the viewing habits of a group of children from various cultures, for decades. They stated in their testimony before U.S Congress that across the world, watching television is the single factor most closely associated with aggressive behavior -more than poverty, race, or parental behavior. Repeated exposure to pornographic and vivid scenes of bloodshed and violence degrades the consciousness.
Due to living at a time when TV was not so widespread, Richie (now Radhanath Swami) was spared the television onslaught; the onslaught of hatred that he did face, he tried to deal with by spending his nights whispering a silent prayer to God in his thoughts.
Richie prayed in bed, until he fell asleep. In prayer he found a sense of shelter, and that someone was listening to him. Being inspired by his example, I have personally tried praying and must confess, despite all my shortcomings, it is indeed a powerful tool. From little Richie to Radhanath Swami, the essence hasn’t changed. He still prays, and once when a student asked if he could write letters to him, Radhanath Swami humbly replied, “Of course you can”. The student then enquired, “Do you also write letters to God and to your guru?” Radhanath Swami smiled, “I am not a writer, I am more of a prayerer. I love to pray.” As a seven year old, he revealed the power of prayer- a tool to perceive God’s presence in our lives and touch Him with our thoughts.
Radhanath Swami, with his saintly wisdom, cautions us from underutilizing the power of prayer, “Don’t expect God to answer your prayers for material well being. That wouldn’t be a relationship based on love; that’s more of a business deal. A sincere prayer to God doesn’t always guarantee a material solution to problems, but it certainly ensures that we come closer to God. And that coming closer to God fills the heart with a spiritual joy that transcends petty material pursuits.” A culture of prayer then solves a much bigger problem of this world- the problem of smiling faces but crying hearts, the problem of enacting a pretense of happiness, while being empty within. Prayer enriches our hearts with God’s presence and brings deep, lasting fulfillment, thus enabling us to have smiling hearts and smiling faces.