In Hollywood, which she left 25 years ago with a backpack to visit India on a short break from her PhD programme, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati was nicknamed ‘vegeterrorist’ by her friends. Reason? She ate only vegetarian food wherever she went eating out with them. “When my husband invited me to join him for a vacation to India in 1996, I said yes simply because I love the vegetarian food here. At that time, I was neither seeking God nor was I spiritual. Yet, my enlightenment happened at one magical moment when I put my feet into the Ganga. I felt touched by divine grace,” she recollects. It is this journey—from being a middle-class Jewish girl who had been through sexual abuse, depression, anxiety and bulimia to becoming a beacon of spirituality—that she sums up in her latest book Hollywood to the Himalayas: A Journey of Healing and Transformation released in August.
Sadhviji, as she is known at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh today where she lives, serves and works, was a psychology student at Stanford University, California, in 1996. She had an academic break and wanted to travel the world, and ended up in India to never really go back to her life in America. The book is an enlightening memoir of a reluctant spiritual seeker who finds her true self and lifelong calling when she travelled to India. “All that I did was to keep my heart open. I have always asked God, ‘what do you want from me at this moment?’ This ability to embrace whatever comes to me has led me into the path of spirituality,” she explains.
At Parmarth Niketan, she gives daily spiritual discourses (satsang), teaches meditation, provides counselling and mentoring, and oversees myriad charitable and humanitarian projects and activities. A motivational speaker and best-selling author (Come Home to Yourself: Wisdom for Life from the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, 2019), she was officially initiated into the order of sanyas (monastic renunciation) in 2000 by Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, spiritual leader and founder of the ashram. Sadhvi, who holds a PhD in Psychology, was the Managing Editor for the ashram’s monumental project of the 11-volume Encyclopaedia of Hinduism.
Sadhvi’s key transformative moments find mention in the new book which is about healing, awakening and transformation she has experienced in India. “I have included parts specifically relevant to the trauma I went through and the lessons I learned, and make people realise that I did not come out of the womb enlightened. Most regular people, who feel they had ordinary childhood and adolescence like me, feel disqualified and unworthy of grace. It is not mandatory to be into meditation or spirituality from childhood to get enlightened. If I can do it, you can do it. I want people to feel that her story is just like mine. If I could find freedom, peace, joy and awakening, so can you,” she elucidates.
Well, in life you lose some and you win some. But Sadhvi says that the only thing she has lost in her life is the attachment to the identity of who she was. “I used to ask what’s in it for me while signing up for any new venture. Now, I ask what’s through me that I can do today.”
Looking back, is there something she wished she could reverse? “Every single moment of my journey, including the traumatic ones, has led me to where I am. I would not want to reverse anything. Sometimes, I feel I should have been born in India, but then I also feel that being born in America and imbibing that culture is what brings in the value addition to who I am.”