Half a million people stood in the mud of Max Yasgur’s farm that day in August 1969 when the word “Woodstock” began to imprint itself forever into our cultural consciousness. But before the rockstars started their sets, an Indian monk in faded orange robes and a long beard sat on the stage and spoke about the spiritual power of music and the need for peace. The music festival, which concluded with the last notes of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” echoing out into a quiet field and a changed world, began with Swami Satchidananda teaching the simple devotional practice of kirtan to the crowds.
The man who escorted Swami Satchidananda to his place on the stage and said to him, “Swamiji, wouldn’t it be great to bring this amount of people together to chant the names of the Divine?” was a young Sridhar Silberfein. Sridhar now serves that vision with Bhakti Fest, whose festivals draw thousands for yoga, kirtan, workshops, and spiritual talks. To welcome Bhakti Fest to Yogis Unite, we spoke with Sridhar about the gift of Bhakti yoga, the practice of love for the divine.
Parvati Magazine: Bhakti Fest is all about heart, conscious living, and devotion. Would you say those were the cornerstones to your success?
Sridhar Silberfein: Yes, and also, of course, seva (service work); this is actually our main focus. We want to ensure others are having a deeply profound and meaningful experience, without concerns for ourselves or the bottom line. The word bhakti has many different meanings. It’s important to remember the source of bhakti, which is the heart-filled compassionate state.
Parvati Magazine: How has Ram Dass influenced your work at Bhakti Fest?
Sridhar Silberfein: I was very fortunate to meet Ram Dass on Labor Day weekend in 1970, and we have been very close friends ever since. He has been a guiding light for me, and actually aided me in starting our non-profit foundation, The Center for Spiritual Studies. Personally, I owe a great debt of love, respect, and gratitude to Ram Dass, and I am so appreciative that each year we can continue to bring forth our in-depth interviews.
Parvati Magazine: Your festivals feature yoga, kirtan, and meditation. For someone new to your festivals, how do you introduce these devotional practices?
Sridhar Silberfein: When we first start on a spiritual path, it is usually through the asanas of yoga. When we see how our physical bodies have changed and how healthy we become, we reach out for more. Then meditation becomes so much easier as the body can remain still for longer sessions. The quickest way to the next level is through kirtan. It places you in a space of freedom, absorbed in godly thoughts and feelings.
Parvati Magazine: How do you think activism relates to bhakti?
Sridhar Silberfein: Personally, I have been an activist all my life—from marching in the sixties, to working on a Sea Shepherd campaign a while ago in Washington State. I feel this is a big issue for those on the spiritual path. They need to be more active and dive in and make a difference. The more we keep stuck in our heads and make this journey about ourselves, the more the bhakti will remain frozen. When we care for others and care for our environment, our spiritual progress moves very quickly.
Parvati Magazine: What does protecting the Arctic Ocean through Yogis Unite for MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, mean to you?
Sridhar Silberfein: I think those movements that you’re mentioning are very important in today’s world, whether through actively being engaged or giving funds to help so this valuable work continues. To be clear here, we don’t really have much more time left to make a change. Most think that this is going to happen by governments and corporations—not true. It’s up to the young, progressive, thinking, spiritual folks to move the barometer and make things happen. Life is short; make it sweet.
Businessman and yogi, Sridhar Steven Silberfein successfully blends ancient spirituality with modern life. In addition to founding Bhakti Fest, he established the personal care brand Desert Essence and helped launch the recording careers of Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das, and Jai Uttal. When asked about his accomplishments, his response is always “It’s not me, it’s Grace.”