An Interview With Swami Nikhilanand – Part 1

Swami Nikhilanand

I was recently lucky to have an hour to sit down and chat with Swami Nikhilanand, a preacher of Jagadguru Kripalu Parishat, based out of Radha Madhav Dham in Austin, TX. He has been teaching the path of Sanatan Dharm since 2003, and has traveled extensively throughout the United States, delivering correct scriptural knowledge to people for more than a decade. Swami Nikhilanand is especially good with children, and regularly gives classes to youth of all ages at camps around the country. I’ve known him for a long time, and find him consistently agreeable and eager to share what he knows. Here’s a little of what we talked about.

What can you tell us about your childhood?

N: It was a typical small town upbringing, I think. Played outside, any free time I had. And when I didn’t have free time, not counting school, I was playing sports. That was pretty much my life. Typical little boy stuff, sports and playing with my friends outside. When I wasn’t playing organized sports, we were playing pickup sports in the streets. We lived right on the edge of town, where there was basically forest behind the house, so we used to go hiking behind the hills; we called it exploring. “Bye, Mom and Dad, we’re going exploring on the back hill, see you!” They wouldn’t even ask where we were going, just “Bye, see you later.” The town was right along the river, only a mile across, and we were the second-to-last house in town. So we lived right on the edge of town, and our parents had a couple hundred acres well out in the forest. We had a log cabin out there, and we used to go out there on the weekend. Cut down trees with axes, chop firewood, chase bears, you know. Jungle stuff.

What did you do after you graduated high school?

N: My job was teaching outdoor ed to school kids. Our school was at an outdoor education facility, which was one of the biggest ones in the country, where I worked. Kids would come up by the busloads and stay for the week, and we’d put the kids through different things: rock climbing, low ropes course, high ropes course, team-building, canoeing, kayaking, a night of camping, a little hiking, a little natural science, go for a walk in the forest – that kind of stuff. We’d have an average of over 200 kids on the property at any given time, but no instructor would have more than ten, so I’d always have ten kids for the week. We did more guiding, vacation stuff, too, where adults would pay for a one-week ocean kayaking trip, or to learn whitewater kayaking, but most of what I did was work with kids.

How long did you do this for?

N: Eight years. I started working in this field when I was nineteen, and when I was 27, I moved to Radha Madhav Dham.

How did all this lead to Radha Madhav Dham?

N: That job was eight months of the year, so I had four months off. November, December, January, February was a holiday for me. In that job, we were literally in the middle of nowhere, so your check went in your bank account, you didn’t have anything to spend it on. So by the end of eight months, you had enough to last you the four months you weren’t going to be working. And I’d just go traveling, take a lot of survival classes, a lot of spirituality classes. And that’s how I heard about Radha Madhav Dham.

So what did you do when you got to Radha Madhav Dham?

N: I was a gardener for a year. I started going to India, once I moved to Radha Madhav Dham. Then I spent two years studying, full time, to be a preacher. Sixteen hours a day, we studied shlokas, the philosophy, how to deliver the philosophy, harmonium, dholak and chanting. I started preaching at the ashram in January 2003.

You’ve done a lot of teaching before. Was preaching easier coming from this background?

N: Teaching is teaching, but it was different to lecture a large group. I lectured groups of ten, normally kids; lecturing large groups of adults was different. I remember the very first lecture I gave. It being my first lecture was one thing, but this was at Radha Madhav Dham, in front of all the devotees, who had been devotees for way longer than I had. We were practicing our speeches before we gave them in the prayer hall, but my mouth was so dry, from being nervous. I had my whole speech memorized, so I just recited it monotone, just to get through it. When I got more experienced, after many years, then I realized that devotees like to hear that stuff again, even if they’ve heard it a million times and know it, and a lot of them need to hear it again; so eventually I got over that and became more confident talking to devotees.

Looking back on my notes, there are so many things I left out from this interview. Swami Nikhilanand has such a wide breadth of knowledge, experience and stories, not just of America but of India too. Our conversation was often tangential, with him mentioning some funny fact and me pursuing it. We talked about history, culture, religion, even food, in our discussion of his life in Hinduism. Look for more about Swami Nikhilanand in Part 2!

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