Bhakti Tirtha Swami : biography
Bhakti Tirtha Swami (February 25, 1950 – June 27, 2005) (previously known as John Favors and Toshombe Abdul),From slogans to mantras: social protest and religious conversion in the late Vietnam War era by Stephen A. Kent – Syracuse University Press 2001, also known as Swami Krishnapada, was a leading guru and governing body commissioner of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (commonly known as the Hare Krishnas or ISKCON). He was the highest-ranking African American in ISKCON. Bhakti Tirtha Swami met with prominent world figures such as Nelson Mandela and Zambia’s president Kenneth Kaunda, was frequently interviewed in the media, wrote 17 books on religious topics and led community development projects in the United States and other countries. He was the founder and director of the Institute for Applied Spiritual Technology in Washington, DC, "a nonprofit, nondenominational organization whose membership represents a variety of spiritual paths and professional backgrounds". He traveled the world constantly and served as a spiritual consultant. He also served as chairman of the Third World Coalition. On February 7, 2006 the Council of the District of Columbia recognized "His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami Krishnapada for dedication to social change that has impacted civil and human rights for residents in the District of Columbia".
Bhakti Tirtha Swami was born John Edwin Favors on February 25, 1950 into a poor Christian family living in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents instilled in him the values of self-confidence, religiosity and a spirit of generosity demonstrated by giving to persons less fortunate than others. As a child, John Favors appeared on television to preach Christianity. He excelled in his academic achievements while attending East Technical High School in Cleveland and received a scholarship to attend the prestigious Hawken School, where he spent an additional year of college preparation in philosophy and political science. While at Hawken, he was a member of the football and wrestling teams.
In 1968 he came to Princeton University. While at Princeton, he was a leader in Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement being "at the forefront of political activism on campus, a leader of the Association of Black Collegians (ABC) and a founder of the Third World Center". He also served as a president of the student council. In 1972, he earned a B.A. in psychology and African American studies.
Attending lectures at the university and reading books on different subjects, "he began feeling the futility of acquiring knowledge, which would become obsolete very soon". After Princeton, he joined the Hare Krishna Movement and "began a career of worldwide travel, study, teaching, lecturing, and writing". On February 16, 1973 in Los Angeles he was initiated into the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition by ISKCON’s founder A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whereupon he was given the name Ghanashyam Dasa (meaning servant of Krishna). In the 1970s, Ghanashyam Dasa preached Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Eastern Europe by distributing religious books and working with scholars.
On March 13, 1979 during Gaura-purnima festival at New Vrindaban, he was initiated into the Vaishnava sannyasa order of renunciation by Kirtanananda Swami and given the name Bhakti Tirtha Swami. In the same year, he became the first devotee of the Hare Krishna Movement to visit Nigeria and preach there. In 1990 his holiness was coronated as high chief in Warri,Nigeria. Later he went on to become a senior leader and one of the most prominent preachers within ISKCON and a member of its management body known as the Governing Body Commission. He was the first person of African descent to become an initiating guru in the disciplic succession of the ancient Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya. As a religious leader, Bhakti-tirtha Swami made a friendship with celebrities and served as a spiritual consultant, specializing in international relations and conflict resolution to high-ranking members of the United Nations and world leaders, including former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Ex-member of ISKCON Nori Muster, who worked for ten years as a public relations secretary and editor of ISKCON’s newspaper, the ISKCON World Review, recalls in her book:
In 1990 Bhakti Tirtha Swami was coronated High Chief in Warri, Nigeria, West Africa in recognition of his reputable work performed there. Bhakti Tirtha Swami died June 27, 2005, of complications from melanoma, at Gita Nagari, the Gaudiya Vaishnava community in central Pennsylvania. Bhakti Tirtha Swami is survived by four sisters, Bernadette Satterfield, Julia Henderson, Frances Myers, and Marguerite Brooks; a brother, Paul Favors; and numerous nieces and nephews.
On February 7, 2006 the Council of the District of Columbia adopted ceremonial resolution, in which it "recognized His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami Krishnapada for dedication to social change that has impacted civil and human rights for residents in the District of Columbia".
In 2007, his biography was released entitled Black Lotus: The Spiritual Journey of an Urban Mystic, the 410-page book is complete with full-color pictures, interviews with loved ones, and comprehensive Index. The author, Steven J. Rosen is senior editor of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies and associate editor of Back to Godhead, the magazine of the Hare Krishna movement. According to Princeton University website, the book "explores the life and mission of His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami (1950-2005), an African-American seeker who rose from impoverished conditions in the Cleveland ghetto to become a global spiritual leader of the Hare Krishna movement".