“All you can buy & acquire doesn’t really bring happiness: Bhagawati Saraswati”, The Pioneer
By Radhika Nagrath| Haridwar
From Hollywood to the holy woods, journey of Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati is an interesting one. Raised in an American family in Hollywood, California, she graduated from Stanford University before leaving America in 1996 to come and live permanently at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh.
Clad in an ochre cotton sari, looking after diverse humanitarian projects, she is an important part of the ashram and the surroundings, especially during the International Yoga Festival held here annually.
She spoke about her beliefs on spirituality, aspects of life and the Ganga while talking to The Pioneer. Some excerpts from the interview:
What brought you to India and has kept you here for so many years?
I came to India as a 25 year old tourist with a backpack but divine plan brought me here for something more. First place I visited after Delhi was Rishikesh. I had such a profound spiritual experience on the banks of mother Ganga that I knew where I had to be. Whatever I had owned, achieved, relations developed in 25 years was on one hand and being on Ganga banks on another. After this special experience I looked around and found beautiful people. It was fascinating to know that the people here who were living far below western standards of poverty were happier and content than the people I had known where I grew up in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. If you asked any westerner, how are you, they would have a list of things that were wrong but if you ask someone on the banks of Ganga, even a sweeper said, “Ma Ganga ki kripa”. A woman carrying a load of firewood on her back in the mountainous region of Uttarakhand was much happier than those living in metros with riches so I had realised that all you can buy and acquire does not actually bring happiness. A spiritual connection to the divine within ourselves is paramount.
What is your view on spirituality in Indian culture?
Spirituality in India is inextricably linked to Indian culture. You can’t pull culture away from spirituality. Everything we do in our lives from morning till evening, how we wake up, interact, sleep- everything is interlinked to spirituality. So spirituality is not just a dogma or confined to book or our houses of worship, rather it’s actually about every breath we take, every word we speak and every action we perform. It is rooted deep in the philosophy ‘who we are’ which is pure and divine at the core. All suffering is due to ignorance, identifying ourselves with the body, with our ego which leads us to lust, anger, frustration, greed and competition. The solution is go back to the Vedas, go back to the Self and that is applicable to people of every walk of life, religion and culture which has transformed me and many known to me.
You have been chosen as co-chair of the Faith-Based Advisory Council to the United Nations. What do you think about women of faith as agents of transformation?
Women, the divine feminine is the creating principle. In Sanskrit we say that ‘Shakti’ creates ‘Srishti’ (creation). Prakriti (Nature) that is created is feminine. That which creates and which is created is feminine so women not just in physical form but as embodiment of energy are agents of creation and transformation. What is crucial is that we utilise this energy for positive transformation and that task has been bestowed upon me as co-chair because women of faith have unique role in bringing changes.
Is renunciation necessary to realise God in your opinion?
Renunciation is definitely necessary to connect with God. But it doesn’t have to be by way of becoming a sanyasi, you can be a family person and be in the world and still attain god realisation. Renunciation is actually in our minds and that is most important. If you renounce money or possessions, pleasure or family, and spend your life regretting or longing for those things, feeling depressed, then you’re not experiencing god, you are not benefitting in any way. The real renunciation for divine realisation is renunciation of our false egos, identities, histories which keeps us stuck in the world.
Do you sometimes wish to enjoy life, dressed up like other common people? How do you resist worldly temptations?
To be very frank, I really do not have worldly temptations, I never have urge to wear something different. The reason is that because of the incredible fullness which I have experienced on this spiritual path due to which I feel there is nothing lacking in my life which colourful dresses or worldly objects would provide. The only thing I find myself longing for is deeper connection with God and constant awareness. I do enjoy my life. When you take sanyas, you are not renouncing joy, you are just renouncing focus on the temporary external objects and sensual pleasures because you are able to experience fuller, deeper and lasting joy.
How much time did you take to adapt to Indian culture? What were the major hassles in bridging the culture gap?
I feel I adapted right away. It felt as if I had come home, my own land, so culture was not difficult to adapt to at all. The only major challenge I faced was the language because you cannot learn to speak Hindi overnight. I committed myself to learning, even while I was busy in sadhana and sewa. I tried to understand and speak to people by interacting with them.
Living on the banks of Ganga, do you feel the focus on cleaning the Ganga by the government and NGOs has achieved anything worthwhile?
Everything that we are doing for the Ganga is worth it. I wish we could do more. I wish I could engage every single person on earth to work for Ganga and water. Ganga is our mother, the goddess. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your mother goddess especially when the need is so great? Not only from spiritual perspective but also from logical perspective, considering the 500 million plus people who live on the banks of Ganga and on its river basin.
They are dependent on Ganga not only for moksha but also for their drinking water, bathing and irrigation needs. But if our actions are harming our family members living in different villages (as per philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam), it is incumbent for us to ensure that our global family is healthy, happy and sustainable.