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Severe austerities of the Naga Babas
July 26, 2010  |  radhanath-swami

On a lonely Himalayan footpath, Richard saw a fearsome tribe of Naga Babas. They held tridents crowned with human skulls. Heavy coils of matted hair on heads and thick ashes covered their flesh. Even in the biting cold, some of them were completely naked. Richard burned with eagerness to understand why they led such a severe life. With their permission he travelled with them and they threw furious stares at him for wearing rubber sandals. He instantly threw them off and then they offered an intoxicating chillum pipe. He hesitated and after some nervous moments when Richard wondered if he had offended them by declining, they finally honored his vow to abstain from intoxicants. He also saw them levitate about a foot above the ground. He met their guru who demanded that Richard become a Naga, one amongst them, immediately. Richard hoped the guru of Nagas would understand him and appreciate his desire to follow his heart. The guru finally blessed Richard to go on his way. Richard left impressed by their camaraderie and loyalty to the sect. Although they were wild, rough and lived severely, in their own way Richard concluded it was all in search for God.

Radhanath Swami has personally lived an austere lifestyle on a mountain rooftop for over a decade. However to his students, he is reasonable and emphasizes on the need to maintain cleanliness and purity of thought. His students follow the basic austerities of abstaining from immoral activities. This he says keeps the body and mind clean and conducive for spiritual practices. The serious students, initiated into the spiritual discipline, additionally vow to chant a minimum of twenty five thousand names of God on the chanting, prayer beads. In the ashrams overseen by Radhanath Swami, there is no emphasis on austerities, the kind witnessed by Richard in the Himalayan forests. As Radhanath Swami says, “A spiritualist is known for his favorable remembrance of God, and not for his control of senses.” To the extent austerities are favorable for serving and pleasing God, the practitioners accept them. After all the austerities are not an end in themselves, they are the means to attain God.

Radhanath Swami is careful to guard his students from performing severe austerities in an exclusivist way. He warns that tough austerities performed, while living with others in an ashram or a community may send wrong signals to others who are incapable of such severe austerities. Besides, the practitioner himself may become a victim of false pride, considering himself to be better than the other lesser austere spiritualists. His acutely insightful words penetrate my heart, “Collective unity is more important than individual purity.”

Many beginners on the path of spirituality struggle with conflicting desires that threaten to pull them away from God. Radhanath Swami gives hope to such sincere aspirants, “Austerity means even if our mind and senses are disturbed, our actions and words are performed according to the will of God.” He thus appeals to our inner aspirations, rather than our achievements in spiritual disciplines. His words of wisdom echo in my consciousness, “Real austerity is not in climbing mountains, but to make the right choices in life- the choices that will please God.”

Once a student asked him why he went through so many austerities, and was tough on himself, whereas we have got it all so easy in our spiritual quest.  Radhanath Swami humbly replied, “You are all so simple and sweet, and easily came to the shelter of God. But I am fallen, and very complicated. Therefore I had to go through severe austerities before I got shelter.” Nothing could be further from truth; his sincerity is beyond doubt, witnessed over four decades of tireless service to his guru’s mission. His endearing quality is while he is austere and tough on himself, and doesn’t compromise on the strictness of his personal practices, he is lenient and accommodating with the others struggling in their spiritual lives.

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185 Comments


  1. very inspiring article especially for neophytes like me

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  2. I can see how sensitive Radhanath Swami must be to. Even though he himself has lived an austere life, he can understand and give hope to those who cannot be so strict.

    “Austerity means even if our mind and senses are disturbed, our actions and words are performed according to the will of God.” Thanks for sharing this useful insight and for giving insight into the Ashrams led by Radhanath Swami.

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  3. Radhanath Swami is a seeker of the ESSENCE….We can see this even from his book The Journey Home…!!

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  4. Radhanath Swami has become a great source or inspiration and guidance for me in search of God. He through his serious dedication and sincerity also genuineness in approaching different monks and also going through ups and downs shows what it means to be sincere. His book Journey Home is like turning point and new direction for me in my life. every one must read it to find his cherished longing fulfilled and will find ends with this.

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  5. Maharaj you are a great inspiration for us ordinary beings.

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  6. Very Inspiring

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  7. I really feel ashamed of myself after hearing such humble comments from Maharaj.

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  8. “Austerity means even if our mind and senses are disturbed, our actions and words are performed according to the will of God.”

    This is a very profound statement from Radhanath Swami Maharaja. It redefines how I look at austerity, and I have began to understand that this definition is more difficult to follow than just performing austerity for austerity’s sake. Amazing insight!

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  9. “Real austerity is not in climbing mountains, but to make the right choices in life- the choices that will please God.”

    Radhanath Swami has given us a very practical & real definition of Austerity. Thank you.

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  10. Aasheesh Sharma

    Strict with oneself and lenient with others is the symptom of a true leader and an advanced soul like Radhanath Swami.
    We see many times that leaders are strict with followers but lenient with themselves.

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing inspiring story Prabhuji.

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  12. HH Radhanath Swami is best saint I have seen in modern times. I liked that, he never expect the austerities from others, however he is so strict with himself. I think, this requires a lot of maturity.

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  13. sangharatna bhamare

    Great endeavor to search the truth. No compromise whatsoever.

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  14. The discipline that Radhanath Swami followed on his path to spirituality makes me realize the importance of God in my life.

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  15. Kalasudha Devi Dasi

    I really liked the following quote, “Real austerity is not in climbing mountains, but to make the right choices in life- the choices that will please God.” It is only by the mercy of the Lord we can make the right choices which will be pleasing to the Lord and His bonafide representative, the Spiritual Master

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  16. By performing too severe austerities, the practitioner may fall into the trap of false pride – we must be careful to perform austerities which are recommended by our acaryas. We must know that the purpose of performing austerities is to please the Lord.

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  17. Radhanath Swami’s oceanic heart of compassion and humility can be seen here.

    Usually we have seen(even in other walks of life for ex work) someone who is very austere – starts expecting, rather pushing people to come up to that level. When they see others cannot – they build an air of superiority around them and treat all others as inferior.

    Spiritualists should be very careful -its a trap in neophyte stage. Radhanth Swami so woderfully says “A spiritualist is known for his favorable remembrance of God, and not for his control of senses.”

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  18. Thank you for this wonderful lesson that i could learn. One must be austere enough to advance in devotional service but not become proud. Many times during fasting days there is a tendency to become proud by fasting till dusk or till midnight , but one must fast only for serving Krishna & His devotees .

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  19. suresh kanakraj

    radhanath swami himself had undergone through lots of stuggles and challenges in his quest in the search of the absolute truth but for his followers and believers he condensed all this hard earned spiritual treausres in the form of a concentrated juice of the fruit for which there is no need of chewing the fruit itself while at the same time they get the ultimate taste and benefit of loving the one supreme absolute truth,

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  20. “he is lenient and accommodating with the others struggling in their spiritual lives.” very true

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  21. Swami’s curiosity is endless and his adventurous nature helps to quench the thirst of his curiosity

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  22. The story of transformation of Richard Slavin into Radhanath Swami is an endless episode of sacrifices,Intrigue, determination.This “Journey Home” story narrated by Radhanath Swami in his autobiography will genuinely interest every reader who is genuinely to develop his spiritual interest

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  23. Radhanath Swami’s quality of being strict with oneself and lenient with others; endears him to one and all and also inspires others to put in their best endeavours.

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  24. Radhanath Swami is exemplary in his sadhna. Many thanks to him for presenting the essence in a very sublime manner, which can be practised by even a neophyte like me.

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  25. Truly amazing personality!

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  26. What a wonderful point! …”Real austerity is not in climbing mountains, but to make the right choices in life- the choices that will please God”. Followers of Radhanath Swami are surely happy that they made the right choice in life of following in footsteps and instructions of Radhanath Swami which will certainly please GOD

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  27. Radhanath Swami, like a true father, accepted all the austerities & difficulties & gave all protection to his children……great

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  28. Radhanath Swami is very accomodative towards others. Overlooking a person’s shortcomings & faults, he always endeavours to fan the flames of even a tiny spark of spirituality in that person. He is always so encouraging & compassionate towards others.

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  29. Radhanath Swami didn;t get carried away although he could have become disciple of Nagas he didn;t do so. Radhanath Swami doesn;t do things unless until he is convinced within his heart and that decision helped him achieve the essence of devotional service which Srila Prabhupada was distributing.

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  30. Radhanadh swami emphasizes on devotees getting together a unified approach by co-operating with each other to help each other and the humanity as well

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  31. He gives statements that come from the heart and it is not something he says to outsmart another persons comments – those are his natural way – it is not possible to fake it

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  32. The austerity of the mind- controlling it and engaging it in service of God is much more important and difficult than physical austerity. Ravana did severe austerities but he become even more demoniac. Radhanath Swami always focuses on the essence and that is why he is such an inspiring leader

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  33. Duruvan Kanniah

    Thanks for posts, every word gives so much inspiration and instruction. Hare Krishna

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  34. Hrishikesh Mafatlal

    The last sentence says it all—-Everybody loves him and respects him so much is because he is tough on himself and lenient towards others. Only a great personality can be like that.

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  35. Maharaj’s generosity,compassion,understanding and leniency reflect in the fact that Maharaj does not impose austerity on his followers but implores them to make the right choices in life.Thank you Maharaj for such a wonderful realisation

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  36. Maharaj lives for his disciples, to lead them back to Godhead, and for the illusioned, to give them the taste of Krishna Consciousness. For this purpose, Maharaj undergoes such austerities so that Krishna may be pleased and empower him in this purpose. Hare Krishna!

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  37. ananda lila das

    Maharaj lives the quality of austerity…..

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  38. A spiritualist is known for his favorable remembrance of God, and not for his control of senses –

    This is so unlike a sadhu we may have ever heard. Thats why his teachings are simple, easy and practical.

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  39. “His students follow the basic austerities of abstaining from immoral activities” – this is truly austerity in the modern age when there are so many temptations available and everyone is convinced that you can do anything as long as you are not caught. This implementation by Radhanath Swami is extremely useful for this age when a person is not faithful to himself.

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  40. Yogita Jagannathan

    Radhanath Swami has endeared himself to millions because of these qualities – always accomodating and compassionate towards others yet maintaining highest standards of in his personal life.

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  41. Radhanath Swami is very determined to follow his heart not by any one else

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  42. Definition of Austerity given by Radhanath Swami is so profound!!

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  43. i always loved the way maharaj reply to the questions……on the dot

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  44. It is very true that Radhanath Swami does not expect from his students or ever bear over them to live a similarly austere life. Instead Radhanath Swami lays great emphasis on character and purity of mind and thoughts. Radhanath Swami is very practical in his approach

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  45. Maharaj points out rightly “that tough austerities performed, while living with others in an ashram or a community may send wrong signals to others who are incapable of such severe austerities”. Very true for materilistic person like me.

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  46. Wonderful article.In this article Radhanath Swami clearly defines austerity and the purpose of all austerities.

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  47. Maharaj is so humble. He is truly a saintly person.

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  48. Very nice article. Too much austere life make one hard hearted and proud. Purity of heart is more important. Thanks to Radhanath Swami for teaching us this simple message.

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  49. So humble. Hare Krishna.

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  50. “Radhanath Swami has personally lived an austere lifestyle on a mountain rooftop for over a decade. However to his students, he is reasonable and emphasizes on the need to maintain cleanliness and purity of thought”. Radhanath Swami always lives austere life and though linient towards his students, they still advance spiritually only because of His purity. We all owe him and not let him down at any cost.

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