Hello Swami. Thank you for agreeing for this interview. You were living in the ashram of your spiritual master Paramahamsa Vishwananda for 10 years. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Yes, that’s correct. When I met Paramahamsa Sri Swami Vishwananda for the first time (in Split, my hometown) I felt I belonged to him. It took his second visit to Split (in 2006) that I actually realized that I was born to be with him and serve him. I happily joined him during his tour (Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Hungary, Austria) and went to his ashram in Germany straight away. I became a brahmachari (a monk of a Hindu tradition) soon upon my arrival.
I served him in different capacity, starting with kitchen, then garden, construction and maintenance, was a blogger, a writer, a translator, and helped in many different ways and areas I became a teacher of Bhakti Marga sadhanas, namely, Atma Kriya Yoga, Simply Meditation, Babaji Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), Project Mantra, Mudras. I also teach Hindu ceremonies like pujas and yagnas. As a swami of Bhakti Marga order, I give satsangs, bless people in the name of my Gurudev, travel around to spread his message of love-patience-unity.
So what made you come back to Croatia?
In October 2015, I received the sannyas, i.e. the final vows of renunciation, and became a swami of the Bhakti Marga Order. I received the new instructions from my Gurudev to go back to Croatia and establish his mission there. A couple of months upon my arrival we already acquired a place which we turned into a temple which was officially opened in late August where we had the honorable guest Mr Kumar, the ambassador of India in Croatia.
The next step is to build up a community and an ashram, a place where people can live together in harmony, peace and love, have a job and a place of worship. The world is going through a very difficult phase and small self sustainable communities are very important.
What does it exactly mean to be a Swami?
To be a swami means to love and serve all. Renouncing the world and family life does not mean I will be free and run away in a cave and meditate for the rest of my life. Not at all! A swami is a servant of all. Renouncing a family life for me means only one thing: taking a bigger responsibility for a much larger family. When people tell me , ‘Oh, you have an easy life with no problems’, I say, ‘No, I have even more problems as I deal with many more people (who need to unburden their own problems onto somebody)’. But I don’t look at these problems in an ordinary way.
These are just good opportunities for me to enlarge my own heart capacity to love more and deeper everybody. Therefore, I praise life even more and I am happy when people understand my message and live their life in a better way. It is, actually the most beautiful life, as you don’t work for yourself but for others. Whoever has ever volunteered they would have understood the dynamics of what I am saying. The joy received when helping people have no boundaries. That is my life, and I would not like to change for any pleasures of this world.
Swamis in Hindu tradition always wear orange. Is there any symbolism behind it?
Definitely so. An orange colour is a traditional colour of renunciation. The orange colour symbolizes fire. Fire burns everything; it burns all negativity. Being a swami also means taking upon oneself the negativity of other people and transforming it into positivity. Fire also purifies. It represents the ascending toward the Divine.
Fire gives light, the light of wisdom, which dispels the darkness of ignorance. Traditionally, fire is seen as the meeting point of the physical dimension with the spiritual dimension and whatever offerings and prayers we offer through the medium of fire is immediately received in the spiritual realm.
I can see that you also wear some symbol on your forehead. What is that?
It is a mark of my spiritual tradition. It is called a tilak and it shows my spiritual lineage to Vaishnava philosophy. It has a deep spiritual symbolism. The vertical V or U shape is the footprint of the Lord and this is to say that I am always surrendered to His feet. Whatever I do I place it at His feet and His feet are imprinted on my forehead (which is the seat of the spiritual eye). At the bottom of the feet is the Tulsi leaf (on the nose) which symbolizes devotion. It reminds oneself that without devotion we cannot attain His Love. And the Lord is that Love we want to attain.
The dot on the Tulsi leaf (which is a Holy Basil) represents the Guru (the one who removes the darkness and ignorance), and without the Guru’s help it is not possible to find one’s salvation. We are like blind men trying to find the light in the forest of the illusion of this world. Guru is the torchlight to show us the right way. And the last sign is the red vertical line, which represents the Divine Mother, the Shakti as we call it in Hinduism. Without Her creative power we would not be able to move and act.
So, are you dressed like that every single day? Orange robes and tilak?
And what are people’s reactions? Have you met with any intolerance?
I had many experiences with people’s reactions. I can write a book alone with those. In Germany I found people the most tolerant (apart from India, of course). The more south I go people become more intolerant. Hopefully, I never experienced any aggression. It is just a matter of time that people need to accept the difference in colour, dress, language, culture etc.
Croatia is quite closed to other cultures and faiths. And that needs to be changed. If we cannot learn to accept the others as they are, how we can strive to advance more toward the experience of the Divine who is all-encompassing, who created all faiths and races, and so on?
Speaking about tolerance, what does your philosophy say about that? What is your standpoint, when you see nowadays so much prejudice, especially in your country, towards people of different religion, race or sexual orientation?
My Guruji has a universal message. If we cannot tolerate differences, then, how can we truly love? All religions agree that there is only one God. They all call Him with different names. Bearing this in mind, how can we say that ‘my God is better than your God’ if there is only One? Religious intolerance is the worse of all as it leads to the most atrocious crimes that humankind ever witnessed. God created these differences that we can love and find Him in all. The same goes with sexual orientation. Why should we care what others do in their private quarters? Love is love, and when it is expressed in the ways we cannot understand with our minds, then we judge. Who are we to say to two people who love each other that their expression of love is not valid? Who gives us that right? Loving God who created us all, does not make mistakes. Everything breathes with the presence of the Lord. We are all spark of His Divine Love.
When we look around us with this divine vision, with this single eye, then our whole body will be full of light (reference to Matthew 6:22 “The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”, King James version). And when we do so, all judgment will cease, all ignorance will be gone, the veil of illusion that has been blocking our vision for so long will be lifted, and we will be full of joy, full of blissful presence of the Divine. Then, we will see that all are One; all come from the same source, like the beam of light in the cinema that projects different images of light on the big screen. When we see the big picture and the beam and then we will understand that all come from the same projector and that all of us are just actors on this play of shade and light. When we realize this, all of our suffering will be gone. That is my perspective.
So it is not true that religion or spirituality can make a person more rigid and less tolerant?
Unfortunately, the most intolerant people are those who adhere to some of the main religions. But we cannot say that religion is cause of that. It is the interpretation of that religion by those who have not purified their minds and hearts to see the true reality.
We have Jesus who came 2000 years ago. He did not create religion; he gave the teachings, the new gospel to replace the old teachings, so called the Old Testament. It was the message of love. Those who were receptive to that message were his followers, and after Jesus left this plain his disciples carried on his message. It was the second generation, the followers of his disciples, of his first apostles, that started to write down the wisdom and the message of Jesus.
The religion started to be created couple of hundreds of years after. The first generations were missionaries who were there with the people and for the people. The institution was necessary to be created and set of rules given for the people to be followed. Thus religion was created. The intention was good and it helped many people. Nevertheless, the leaders of such religions were not always enlightened people, so their wrong decisions created much harm as well. Therefore, we have to discriminate between the religion founder who gives the teaching, the institution that provides the organized way for the message to be disseminated, and the religion that is the system of beliefs based on the teaching of its founder.
Nowadays people don’t like to talk too much about religion. Yet, still, many people are interested in spirituality. From your perspective, what is really the difference between religion and spirituality? Or are they one and the same?
People are afraid of religion and religious people. It is because it has caused harm to so many people in the history of humankind. It is not the religion, to be more precise, that causes harm but the individuals who have institutional power in those religions. You ask me about the difference. It is simple: if we believe that there is God and we are all small parts of Him, then Him being a Spirit we are also spirits. Therefore we are spiritual by default. Very often we define ourselves as this body, or dress we wear, or profession we have, or pedigree or lineage we belong to, or the social class we are in, etc. But this all does not describe who we are in essence. All these are changeable, as that is the nature of the matter. What does not change is what we truly are inside, the very core of our being is Love, not the emotional passing feeling we call love. The word love has been abused so many times. Today we say ‘I love you’, tomorrow all that love is gone.
Many people say that they are spiritual but not religious. Religion is inherent in all human beings as the eternal search for the personal relationship with the Divine. The true religion can be called sanatana dharma, which is the Sanskrit term depicting our soul’s eternal rightful duty to be eternally in this loving relationship wherein God is playing hide-and-seek in order to see how much do we really care about Him. When our longing is deep enough He cannot resist but to reveal Himself to us in His true form. He loves us more than we can ever imagine. If we only knew who much He loved us, our hearts would be overflowing with His love, it would be too much to contain, we would be consumed in the Eternal Love. That is the only reason to live, only goal of life to strive for.
I believe this interview will reach many spiritual seekers. Is there one advice that you can give to them?
Never forget that God is imprisoned in your heart. He is knocking at your heart waiting for you to hear His cry. If you would but listen properly, you would be able to hear Him. Patiently, He awaits you. His longing is much stronger than yours.
He wants to talk to you; He wants to play with you, He wants to dance with you, He wants to show His love to you, eternally. That is my message, that people realize His love for us. When we find Him within, we will see Him everywhere.
Thank you for your time, Swami.
Jai Gurudev, and all my love and blessings to you.