Black Lotus


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New York – How do youdescribe a journey that starts inaCleveland ghetto, takes a turn into PrincetonUniversity, immerses itselfinspiritual India, and then crisscrosses betweenurban Washington D.C. and the villages of West Africa? Readers of ISKCONscholar Satyaraja Dasa’sBlackLotus: the Spiritual Journey of an Urban Mystic(Hari-Nama Press, 2007)–released last week with a book-signing at New YorkCity’s East West Books–will soon find out.

Satyaraja spent twoyears tracking the profound journeythatwould lead a young Black civil rightsleader and Princeton graduate namedJohnFavors to study under A.C. BhaktivedantaSwami Prabhupada, the founder oftheworldwide Hare Krishna movement. Black Lotuschronicles the extraordinaryexperiencesthat transformed Favors into BhaktiTirtha Swami, the world’sfirstAfrican-American Vaishnava guru.

Black Lotus usesBhakti TirthaSwami’s unique background as alens through which to appreciatehisaccomplishments; he conveyed the teachingsof the 5,000-year-old BhagavadGitaand Gaudiya Vaishnava theology using theframework of modern psychologyandprinciple-centered leadership. The result wasa dynamic andnon-sectarianapproach to spirituality that broke barriers anddefiedcategorization.

Intertwining readableprose, historical context, andinsightfulpersonal interviews, Black Lotus shedslight on Bhakti TirthaSwami’s search formeaning. Along the way, Bhakti TirthaMaharaj imbibedlessons from a host ofinspiring role models. In one memorablepassage, the bookrecounts Dr. MartinLuther King Jr.’s impressions after meetingMaharaj (then ateenage JohnFavors). “That young man is really headed somewhere,”King isquoted aspredicting. “He’s at least ten years ahead of his time. Hespoke likea trueleader.”

The 400 page biographyincludes a 16-page full colorpicturesection, a timeline of significant dates,and a comprehensive index.Theengaging book details Swami’s rise from a childborn into poverty,describinghow he overcame obstacles like racial segregationand speechimpediments, tobecome an outstanding student and a young leader inthe CivilRights movement ofthe 1960s. His achievements earned him a fullscholarship toPrincetonUniversity, where he was among a handful ofAfrican-American studentsat theprestigious school. At Princeton, Maharajexcelled and began to delveinto thesubjects that he would dedicate the rest ofhis life to: racerelations,international justice, parapsychology, spirituality,and yoga. Itwas at thistime that he decided to embrace the worship of Krishna,soon becamea discipleof Srila Prabhupada, and quickly rose to become aprominent preacherin ISKCON.

While working hard toconvey the truths of his chosenfaith,Bhakti Tirtha Swami maintained close tieswith the African Americancommunity inwhich he was raised. He also traveledinternationally, meeting andsharing hisspiritual perspective on contemporaryissues with world leaders andscholars,including Nobel Peace Prize LaureateNelson Mandela. In 1990, BhaktiTirtha Swamiwas coronated as a High Chief inWarri, Nigeria in recognition of hisoutstanding work in Africa. He strived touse his “dual identity” tobuildbridges and inspire others to transcenddifferences of race, religion, and gender.

In August 2004,Maharaj wasdiagnosed with melanoma cancer. Inthe months that followed hecontinued toteach, drawing upon his condition toaddress the fears, struggles,and painsassociated with facing death.Strikingly, he even wrote the foreword toBlackLotus himself, expressing hisdesire that “it will help me to live on andonfor many generations as a servantof humanity. I want nothing more thanthisopportunity.”

Less than one monthafter penning those words, on June27, 2005,Bhakti Tirtha Swami passed away,surrounded by friends and followersand thechanting of Lord Krishna’s HolyNames.

Hot off the press,Black Lotuswas deliberately released withinBlack History Month. SatyarajaPrabhu viewsthe book as a celebration of theAfrican American community byhighlighting thelife of a Black American whoovercame great adversity to benefitthe lives ofmillions.

“Black Lotus is atribute to one who rose above allboundariesand limitations,” he said, “andinspired others to do the same.”

Vyenkata Bhatta dasa
Director of Communications for North America, ISKCON


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