Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati answers the question:

What is the nicest thing a non-family member has ever done for you?

For me, by far, the nicest, the kindest, the most compassionate, and the best thing that a non-family member (really, anyone) has ever done for me is the way that my guru Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji took me in and transformed, not just my life in its expression in the world, but transformed the way that I understood myself.

When I was 25 and arrived in India with a backpack on a trip that I really had no interest in going on, I was not a spiritual seeker. I always felt somehow that I wasn't quite qualified for spiritual life. The idea of grace, and God, and consciousness, and infinity, and perfection... never felt like these were things that applied to me. I had experienced — in addition to great opportunity — great privilege, great blessings. I also had experienced great trauma in my childhood and that had manifested in a whole variety of very well intentioned, but completely dysfunctional ways of living in addiction and eating disorders. And I was managing them.

That was where I was when I arrived in India, I was managing these things. And that was really the very best that I thought one could hope for. Certainly one like me, who had experienced trauma, and difficulties, and pain, and abandonment, and eating disorders, and addiction, and anxiety, and all of these things. The ability to manage that seemed like the absolute highest that one could hope for. I was managing that and I thought that I was in good shape.

I was in the midst of getting a PhD. I was an academic and spirituality was never something that had been a part of my life, but I was married to a wonderful man who was on a spiritual quest. And with him, I went to India, and had this incredible spiritual experience standing on the banks of the sacred Ganga River that blew open my heart, blew open my mind, blew open my whole way of understanding myself in the universe.

And it was extraordinary and it rendered me on the ground, sobbing and pretty nonverbal for quite some time. Pretty much all I could say was, “Oh my God, it's so beautiful. Oh my God, it's so beautiful.” And fast forwarding... about a week later, I met the head of the ashram where I now live called Parmarth Niketan and the series of synchronicities and divine pulls that brought me there are a different story. But I ended up in front of him — this very, very renowned leader in India.

When I explained to him who I thought I was and the way that I suffered and what had happened to me — from that moment, he immediately took me in, in the deepest and most powerful and most compassionate way. Rather than enabling me to stay more and more identified with the victim…

(Everyone else who had ever heard the story, the response was always, oh, you poor thing — what seemed sympathetic and loving, but actually kept me stuck in that identity.)

… he looked at me and he said, “Are you going to take that to the grave with you?”

I was like, “No, not the grave.” And he said, “So are you going to give it up on your deathbed? How about a week before you die? How about a month before you die?”

And I was 25 and I was like, my God, was he trying to tell me I'm going to die soon? No, no, I'm not taking it to the grave. I don't want to wait until a week before I die or a month before I die. And he said, “You're waiting for someone to draw the line for you. You're waiting for someone to come in and say, ‘Now you can be done with that. Now you can let that go. Now you can forgive and be free.’” He said, “No one will. You have to draw that line.” And it's a longer, but very, very, very beautiful story.

But I want to end here, just in the interest of time, because it wasn't that his role began and ended with that piece. It was continual, up until this day 25 years later, of helping me understand, not just intellectually, but in the felt sense, experiential understanding of the rightness, the divinity, the perfection, the infiniteness of who I am. That of course does not in any way belie or dismiss the psychological work that we do that makes our journeys through this human existence, deeper and richer and so much more profound. But that I wasn't those stories, that I wasn't that identity, that I wasn't damaged in some way, that I wasn't dark in some way, or wrong or bad or undeserving. But actually that I was an embodiment of the Divine.

And it was so foreign for me — coming from a Jewish background and American culture — the idea that I, this tiny little thing who had been abused and abandoned and was suffering and struggling… that I was divine, was so foreign to me. But the way that he, as the master, gave it, it felt much more like he literally implanted it into my consciousness, into the very cells of my brain, rather than something that I needed to intellectually first understand and digest, and then process. It just went straight in and then straight down into my heart and it transformed my life. 

And it has continued to transform every minute and every moment — and I was not an easy case. It was not like he said it once and I was done. It was an ongoing practice. And he just... the presence and the compassion and the love, and yet the strictness and the straightness of the non-dilution of the message created the space into which I knew it and could live it. And it's been just the most — not only the nicest thing — but just the most extraordinary blessing

And there's so many nice things that people have done. And that when you asked this question, I was thinking of so many things. And yet right now in this moment, as I've just launched my memoir of Hollywood To The Himalayas... that journey into India, that journey into grace has been so up in my mind. And so up in that, which I'm having the blessing to talk about and share around the country, that I think this is most definitely the most pertinent, the deepest, and the most expansive way of answering this very beautiful question.

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, a renowned spiritual leader and motivational speaker, is based in Rishikesh, India. Originally from Los Angeles, California, and a graduate of Stanford University, Sadhviji has lived on the banks of the sacred Ganga river, in the lap of the Himalayas for nearly 25 years engaged in spiritual service, wisdom teaching, sacred action, and deep spiritual practice.

At Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, where she lives most of the year, she gives daily spiritual discourses (satsang), teaches meditation, provides spiritual counseling and mentoring, and oversees myriad charitable and humanitarian projects and activities.

Her book, Hollywood to the Himalayas: A Journey of Healing and Transformation, is an enlightening memoir of a reluctant spiritual seeker who finds her true self and lifelong calling when she travels to India. Now one of the preeminent female spiritual teachers in the world, Sadhvi recounts her journey with wit, honesty, and clarity, and along the way offers teachings to help us all step onto our own path of awakening and discover the truth of who we really are — expansive love, perfection, and an embodiment of the Divine.

Sadhviji serves as:

Sadhviji gives keynote addresses at large forums on a wide variety of topics, ranging from conscious business... to science and spirituality... to sustainable development... to the keys of happiness and peace in life... to all aspects of yoga. Her talks blend the knowledge and logic of the West with the insights, spirituality, and wisdom of the East, serving as a spiritual bridge between the two cultures.

She has spoken at several United Nations events, including with the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, and at many high-level international conferences and summits

She has been featured in CNN, The New York Times, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, BBC, NPR, The Times of India, Dainik Jagran, and many other media outlets.

Sadhviji has received numerous national and international awards and recognition for her work with water, sanitation, and hygiene, and with women’s upliftment and empowerment.

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This article appears in: 2021 Catalyst, Issue 13 - Awakening With Spirit Summit