Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #10 – The Tale of Shlomo, The Greatest Yogi

March 7th, 2022

Shlomo was one of my favorites. I met him 1982. He was an older Jewish man from Israel. He wasn’t a hippy, or one of the throngs of young cool Israelis who rushed to India after finishing the pressure cooker of their compulsory military service from eighteen to twenty years of age, or any of the kind of typical alternative Western pilgrim that would occasionally trek to India at the time. When I first met him, I just couldn’t place him in India. He was a simple, squat, balding, over-weight Jewish family man who was suffering, like most people, on the daily grind of work and family. It seems in that anxiety, and a thirst for some adventure, he got a sudden itch to follow some of his younger compatriots to India. According to him, he had no idea what Vrindavan was, or why he particularly came there on his pilgrimage. As he recalled, he was just mysteriously directed to Vrindavan and to our temple where something inexplicable happened.  When he got to the altar of Śrī Śrī Rādhā Śyāmasundara and gazed upon Their beautiful forms, he became overwhelmed with an intense joy. He broke down in uncontrollable tears and surrendered right then and there to Their lotus feet and never wavered in that conviction for nearly forty years. Strange? Not really, if you understand the way of faith.


Faith is trust by experience. We move and commit ourselves where we experience some happiness, but faith is not a trust in just some temporary stimulation or ego boost, but true sublimity in relation to God. Those on a legitimate spiritual path often come by an experience of divinity so profound, so transcendent, so undeniable that the maturity of that experience becomes their goal for the rest of their life. I don’t remember all the details, but at least for some time he stayed in our temple and had the fortune to serve in the deity kitchen under its head cook, Śrī Vibhu Caitanya, who was universally recognized in our community as its greatest saint. I was sometimes amused by the letters Shlomo got from his family. While some of us were getting letters from parents imploring their children not to commit ourselves to Krishna consciousness, his letters were from a new angle we hadn’t seen before. This time it was a parent that was being warned by their children. I remember one from his daughters: “Daddy, Daddy don’t join the cults!” But Shlomo was neither deterred in his faith, nor irresponsible to his family responsibilities.


After his short time in India was up, he went back and took care of his family, but remained unflinchingly dedicated to his spiritual path, eventually retiring to serve in the temple there. One learned friend shared his realization with me that our taste in Krishna consciousness, what activities in devotional life we have a passion for, are our doors to spiritual world. Shlomo was a grandfatherly presence to the younger devotees, especially the young girls that came, as he had daughters himself whom he cared for when they were younger. He liked to do that, but mostly his passion was prasādam. He loved to cook for the devotees. I remember when visiting Israel, he passionately shared with me his deep appreciation for Gauranga potatoes, a buttered, sour cream and sauteed potato prasādam. Yes, he was anything but an archetypical yogi. He just loved Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and to distribute and taste the prasādam from the deities.


Last week in Vrndavan, when I was walking from my room in the Russian Building, I saw my friend Shlomo, now in his eighties and initiated as Vibhisana das, sitting on the stoop in front of the simple guesthouse, which has been his residence for many years. He loves to sit there in the winter chanting and basking in the sun and his fortune. He goes to the temple every morning without fail on crutches, which is fifty meters down from his door. It takes forever, but he tells me how he relishes every step. He needs a chair when he gets there, so he sits in the back in one provided for him. Although he can’t see the deities over to the packed temple crowd standing in front of him, he can see the video screen on the wall. When Śrī Rādhā’s form comes into view, he cries out of joy for the whole ārati and then slowly shuffles off to his room. He loves Vrindavan, and by Krishna’s blessing he will meet his vow to never leave there for the rest of his life.


I sat next to him for a short while, as I often do when passing him, to feel his affection and show my own. That day he looked up at me and with deep gratitude said, “I could never imagine such an old age!” Imagine such an old age? He lives in the simplest of rooms and in a rundown guesthouse, can barely walk, but is the happiest man in the world. In his final years he has the blessings of Śrī Vrindavan with the association of the devotees, but most importantly he has Śrī Rādhā in his heart. He sometimes gently pounds his heart and talks about Śrī Rādhā’s mercy in utter disbelief that he has earned a drop: “I wake of up in the morning, and I am still here. And look where I am!”


When you talk to Vibhisana, he seems to be filled with gratitude for every breath in the land of Śrī Rādhā. I remember him years ago expressing to me the suffering he had experienced in life before Krishna consciousness, but whatever that difficulty was, rather than making him bitter, had simply increased his feelings of appreciation for the peace and joy that Śrī Rādhā has offered this humble soul.


Shlomo can’t touch his toes or even sit with his legs crossed. He never could, nor does he seem to possess, any other feature of the classic or modern fit yogi, but somehow by Śrī Rādhā’s grace he has become the greatest yogi, for he lives focused in a heart welling with gratitude for the unfathomable mercy of his spiritual master and Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. And that is the tale of Shlomo, the greatest yogi!


“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Bg. 6.47)



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