Absolute Is Sentient Foundation features Henry in latest newsletter

October 19, 2022: Issue No. 159 of the newsletter for the Absolute Is Sentient Foundation featured a conversation between Henry and a reader, specifically dealing with ISKCON guru Radhanath Swami, which follows:

February 11, 2021


Back in the fall of 2020, I joined a Bhakti study group with the New York City Bhakti Center, and they assigned the book The Journey Within by Radhanath Swami. I had never heard of him before. I was three pages into the opening chapter, where he describes meeting a distraught woman in an airport and, in answer to her distress, giving her a Bhakti 101 tutorial, when I thought, “I don’t believe this. This just does not have the ring of truth.”

Still, wanting to give Radhanath Swami the benefit of the doubt, I then went and looked up some YouTube videos of him lecturing. I immediately had a negative reaction. He struck me as smarmy and cloying. I thought, “If I ever wanted to satirize a clich&?eacute; of a spiritual leader, I would use him as a model.’ But I was trying to reconcile this with all of the really sincere, devout, and smart people I was meeting who revere him and see him as second only to Prabhupada.

The leader of the Bhakti study group, who I really admired and liked, recommended I read Radhanath’s autobiography, The Journey Home. But I had the same reaction. So much of it felt either untrue or overwritten, like someone writing their own hagiography. So many of the scenes, quite frankly, struck me as complete Bull Shit. But I soldiered on.

Suddenly, I stumbled on a passage that knocked the wind out of me. I discovered that he had plagiarized from the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse! On pages 114 to 115 of Radhanath’s autobiography, he describes how he is meditating on the rock in the Ganges: “I meditated on the song of the river. . . . From the river’s song emerged thousands of celestial voices, all chanting in unison the sacred syllable Om. . . . Closing my eyes, I merged again in the endless chant of Om, the river’s song.”

I grabbed my copy of Siddhartha, Modern Library Classics paperback, translated by Susan Bernofsky, and found the parallel passage, also, ironically, on page 114: “And when Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, to this thousand-voiced song, when he listened, . . . then the great song of the thousand voices consisted only of a single word: Om.“

So in both passages:

    —the river sings a song
    —the song consists of a thousand voices
    —all those voices unify into a chorus of Om

If he is not plagiarizing in the strictest legal sense of the term, he is clearly appropriating. He then adds this kicker: As he listens more closely, deeper into the heart of the Ganges, and the river starts singing the Hare Krishna mantra, which he calls the song of the Ganges.

So in other words, he steals a passage from Siddhartha, inserts himself as the protagonist, then uses it as a polemic to plug the Hare Krishna movement. I was especially infuriated to read the epilogue where he describes this book as “this simple story of mine.” It’s not! He’s editing his life story to make the case that this particular Bhakti school supersedes all other forms of spiritual expression.

I would be very interested to see what others think of this.

David Cameron.

Henry replies:

Hello David, and thanks for your email.

When I first read The Journey Home, I had similar doubts. To me, too many events appeared to be fabricated, or if they were actual events, placed into sections of the book not because of historical accuracy, but to make a point.

Sometime, I think it was 2010, I attended an outdoor program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, spring or summer, in the field (now it’s a parking lot) between the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on Forbes Avenue, and the Carnegie Mellon University library. While a graduate student at Duquesne University (and after), I visited both libraries many times.

Radhanath Swami was the featured attraction of the festival, and some of his disciples set up book tables. After all was finished, Radhanth Swami was chatting with some long-time New Vrindaban residents who had come to the program. I remember Lilasuka was there, and a few other mothers. Maybe a brahmachari or two, who I didn’t recognize. They were sitting on the grass and conversing with and listening to Radhanath Swami in a worshipful mood. I think they were praising his recently-published autobiography. Radhanath Swami was squatting on the sidewalk next to them, I think. I came over to chat. I also squatted down on the sidewalk, and remarked, “I read your book, Maharaja. You tell some fantastic stories!” We smiled. He was pleased. Then I asked, “But did everything happen just the way you described it, or did you embellish the story?”

There followed an awkward silence. I think the devotees present were horrified that I would be so offensive to ask such an incriminating question, which I’m sure they thought was not needed nor necessary. Radhanath Swami did not respond. After a few moments, in an attempt to change the strained mood, I said, “Oh, even if you embellished the story, it’s still a great story!” I don’t think I stayed around much longer than that.

Of course, Radhanath and I go back to 1978. I always respected him, but I never understood the devotion and worship which many New Vrindaban devotees awarded to him. I thought it was a bit fanatical.

I think your comparison to Herman Hesse’s book is valid, and I’d like to post something on my Killing For Krishna Facebook page about this. I can leave your name out of it, if you wish. I don’t think there is concrete evidence of plagiarism, but the similarity is suspicious.

I don’t think you will receive an answer to your question from the Bhakti Center people. The question would certainly make Radhanath Swami disciples uncomfortable, at the very least.


P. S. Radhanath Swami did not write this book, The Journey Home. He never ever wrote anything, except letters. He only gives lectures and tells stories. Someone else wrote his book, with his guidance of course. A ghostwriter.

David replies:

I did just get a response from one of the Bhakti Center leaders I know. He essentially said, and I paraphrase, that Radhanath Swami’s life so clearly evidences divine love that even if he made up every detail in the book it doesn’t matter, and it wouldn’t change a single thing for him. In fact, he too had often wondered if the things reported in the book were true, but he said he still trusts Radhanath Swami with his life unconditionally.

I guess that’s the clearest example of “fanaticism” I’ve ever seen.

Henry replies:

Once either in the late 1980s or early 1990s I heard Radhanath Swami give a class at New Vrindaban and during the question and answer period, one guest asked, “If science should prove someday that consciousness is a symptom of a highly-coordinated series of molecules in the brain, would that change your belief in the Vedic scriptures, which claim that consciousness is a symptom of an invisible, unprovable and immortal soul?”

Radhanath Swami replied something like, “Even if science someday proves that Krishna consciousness is merely a fiction in the mind, and all the scriptures are false, we would still believe in Krishna, because love of Krishna is so wonderful. I would rather live in illusion with Krishna, than in reality without Krishna.”

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