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Guide Review: "The Journey Home" by Radhanath Swami

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“As I crawled out from the icy Himalayan water of the Bagmati River, I gazed at two heaps of ashes, one from a cremation pit and the other from a sacrificial fire. I was dressed in only a loincloth, and a cold wind chilled me to the bone. An intense longing gripped me. What was I doing here -- shivering, alone, nearly starving, and so far from home?”

Thus begins Radhanath Swami’s gripping autobiographical tale, The Journey Home, which -- once I began reading -- I quite literally could not put down, until, in sympathetic resonance with the author, I had indeed -- in the final pages -- found my way home.

If you loved Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography Of A Yogi, it’s likely that you’ll greatly appreciate The Journey Home also, which -- like its haloed predecessor -- is set largely in India, and offers glimpses of a full range of yogis, lamas and mahasiddhas, who the author encountered along the way.

The prose is fluent and engaging, weaving seamlessly together the narrative of an often-harrowing journey, with the author’s self-reflective process of divining jewels of wisdom buried within experiences pleasant and challenging alike. And, if you’re a “child of the 60’s,” that subtext will likely be enjoyable, also.

Of Jewish heritage, and raised in a suburb of Chicago, Richard Slavin (only much later to become Radhanath Swami) was -- by all external appearances -- a more-or-less typical western kid. The fact that the protagonist of the story, like me, heralded from American soil, somehow made his adventures all the more engaging. I myself have yet to travel to India -- my “spiritual initiation,” as it were, unfolding largely in the by-comparison-extremely-tame Dordogne Valley of south-central France -- but have definitely felt that spark of interest and curiosity. Reading The Journey Home felt, at times, to be fueling that desire, and at other times fully satisfying it.

The author’s journey is framed, in large part, by his relationship with his friend, Gary -- who he connects with initially when both are young children. It’s with Gary that he initially sets out on his journey. Then, in a heart-wrenching moment, on an idyllic Greek island, the friends part ways, each following the inner guidance heard, in deep meditation, at more-or-less the same time: Gary called to Israel, and Richard to India.

And yet, in seemingly-miraculous fashion, the two would cross paths, three times again -- as though propelled, by some invisible force, to remain as spiritual friends, each to the other. It’s one of the most charming, and beautiful, parts of the story.

The authenticity and intensity of the author’s search is perceived clearly by one after another spiritual teachers, many of whom offer formal initiation. Yet the young Richard Slavin graciously refuses, each time -- sensing that the time is not yet ripe for him to settle into one particular path. All variety of siddhis (supernatural powers, rooted in control over subtle energy) are displayed to him, yet he is privy also to various abuses of power, by adepts who themselves had yet to “come home” fully.

He is nourished deeply by places of great natural beauty, and subject also to the very real dangers inherent in living in direct contact with the elements, in mountains and forests and jungles. Yet equally-close brushes with death unfold in wholly urban contexts -- and for the most part he maintains a strong preference for the purity and silence of the forests and riverbanks, for a life of wandering as a sadhu, heeding the call of intuition and deep longing, not-knowing what might happen next, yet somehow trusting the process.

Anyway, I recommend The Journey Home wholeheartedly. My only complaint was that it ended too early! I doubt that this book will achieve the almost immortal status of Yogananda’s Autobiography Of A Yogi -- but is certainly in the same category, chock-full of inspirational energy for anyone who’s ever felt the impulse to just “drop it all” -- and set out on a journey whose destination seemed, at each step, both wholly unknown and inevitably complete.

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