Bhakti Tirtha Swami Krishnapada

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Fast Facts
Bhakti Tirtha Swami.jpg
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Swami Krishnapada, John Favors, Ghanasyam das
Holy Leader
Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Bhakti-yoga, ISKCON, Hare Krishna
Main Countries of Activity: 
USA, Africa, India
Date of Birth: 
Place of Birth: 
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Date Left His/Her Body: 
Other Related Gurus: 
Radhanath Swami


His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami, aka Swami Krishnapada, (February 25, 1950 – June 27, 2005) 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 18 books on religious topics and led community development projects in the United States and in few African countries, especially Nigeria. 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 for many state leaders. He also served as chairman of the Third World Coalition. In 1990 His Holiness was coronated as a high chief in Warri, Nigeria, West Africa, in recognition of his outstanding work in Africa and the world. 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 blackish 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. 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 "Betrayal of the spirit: my life behind the headlines of the Hare Krishna movement" (published by the University of Illinois Press in 1997):

"By design, the ISKCON World Review was limited to pro-ISKCON good news from GBC zones around the world. We also printed profiles and covered activities of preachers in the movement. One of our favorites was Bhakti-tirtha, a Princeton graduate who once called himself Toshombe Abdul, president of his university's Association of Black Collegians. Bhakti-tirtha had a way of striking up a spontaneous friendship with celebrieties such as Muhammad Ali. In one issue we reported Bhakti-tirtha's visit to the Zambian statehouse, where he had dinner with the country's president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. He met the president through a judge, Aiyadurai Sivanandan, who had become a devotee. We also printed a photo of Justice Sivanandan, dressed in his black judge's robes and powdered wig, with tilak on his forehead. The jurge resigned his post in Zambia to serve ISKCON temple in India. One of ISKCON predecessors had predicted that in the dawning of Lord Chaitanya's golden age judges would wear tilak and become devotees. I spelled this out in a sidebar story."

Bhakti Tirtha Swami died June 27, 2005, of complications from melanoma, at Gita Nagari, the Gaudiya Vaishnava community in central Pennsylvania.

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. 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".

"Black Lotus: The Spiritual Journey of an Urban Mystic" explores the life and mission of His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami, an African-American seeker who became one of the most influential spiritual leaders of the twentieth century. His story begins in a Cleveland ghetto and culminates in the spiritual world. Along the way, readers meet John Favors, known by family and friends as "Johnny Boy." A particularly gifted youth, he overcame numerous obstacles, including a speech impediment and impoverished conditions, to reveal his exceptional character, wisdom, and spirituality.

In his teenage years, he worked with Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and became a young but prominent participant in the Civil Rights movement. As months turned to years, he excelled in school and went on to Princeton University, uncommon for an African-American in the late-1960s. While there, he majored in psychology and learned the science of yoga.

His abiding interest in black consciousness, the powers of the mind, and Eastern philosophy, however, was overshadowed by his spiritual inclinations, which led him to the Hare Krishna movement, known in India by its traditional name, Vaishnavism. This is the ancient science of the soul, long forgotten in the West and known in its purest form only to a select few even in the mystic East. Through his intense practice, "Johnny Boy" quickly transformed into "Bhakti Tirtha Swami," an adept who became renowned for his severe asceticism; his heartfelt praying; his material and spiritual welfare work around the world; his initiation of hundreds of students into the practice of bhakti (devotional yoga); and his coronation as a High Chief in the prestigious Warri kingdom of Nigeria.

But his greatest accomplishments involved pragmatic application of high ideals - simple living and high thinking. To this end, he established farm communities, schools for children, published books, and founded the nonsectarian Institute for Applied Spiritual Technology (IFAST), which sponsors seminars and provides workshops for professionals and spiritual seekers of various persuasions. In the process, he demonstrated that effective spiritual life includes the best aspects of psychology and principle-centered leadership. More, he taught how to balance head and heart in pursuit of the spirit. His inspiring story is enriched by personal interviews with family, friends, college professors, mentors, disciples, and other fellow travelers on the spiritual path. These interviews make their appearance in the book as inset quotes, allowing his associates to speak for themselves. As a result, Black Lotus offers an intimate look at the Swami's life and times, which blossom on these pages for the first time in written form. As the beauty and sublime perfection of a lotus rises in supreme majesty above its stem, which is buried deeply in clouded waters, so Black Lotus is a tribute to one who rose above all boundaries and limitations, and inspired others to do the same.



Due to the critical natures of this time period in the history of our planet, Bhakti Tirtha Swami indicated that there is need to apply ancient system of transcendental knowledge, as given in Bhagavad-gita and other holy scriptures, to train people to become God-awakened spiritual warriors.

A specialist in international relations and conflict resolution, Bhakti-Tirtha Swami constantly traveled around the world and has become a spiritual consultant to may high-ranking members of the United Nations, to various celebrities and to Several chiefs, kings and high court justices.

In addition to encouraging self-sufficiency through the development of schools, clinics, farm projects and cottage industries, Bhakti-Tirtha Swami conducted seminars and workshops on principle centered leadership, spiritual development, interpersonal relationships, stress and time management and other pertinent topics. He was also widely acknowledged as a viable participant in the resolution of global conflict.

HH Bhakti-Tirtha Swami passed away on June 27th, 2005. He was suffering from advanced melanoma cancer. His realizations during the year he was fighting cancer are amazingly deep and profound, they can be read in the book he wrote during this time - "The Beggar IV, Die Before Dying" and in the many letters and classes that he gave. These letters and classes are available at His passing was like his life, a deep expression of love and compassion, and a lesson in dying for us all.


"John Favors (B.T. Swami) has had a major impact on our lives, on a daily basis, both personally and professionally. As a mechanical engineer, and my wife Parijata as a senior human resources executive, we take great inspiration from his legacy and wisdom. Thanks to his guidance, we strive for excellence in all that we do. His deep insights and practical technologies guide us. We are indebted to him for teaching us the Science of Life in a simplified way, and for demonstrating how to live in this world with the understanding that we are not of the world."
--Dhruva Dasa


Institute for Applied Spiritual Technology, IFAST

IFAST is a non-profit non-denominational organization whose staff members represent a variety of spiritual paths and professional backgrounds.

The Mission
The mission of the Institute is to conduct seminars and offer services wherein members of our communities can support and assist each other’s spiritual development.

PO Box 76451 Capitol Hill,
Washington, Washington, D.C. 20013, USA

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Books & Media

Recommended Books: 
Cover image

Leadership for an Age of Higher Consciousness: Administration from a Metaphysical Perspective

by Swami Krishnapada, B. T. Swami


leadership in any capacity has taken on such awesome proportions that even the best leaders must find innovative and creative ways to deal with today's complex situations.

Leadership for an Age of Higher Consciousness: Admiministration from a Metaphysical Perspective is a groundbreaking self help manual written for those who seek to develop a more penetrating perspective and greater effectiveness in the leadership process.This book is relevant for heads of government, organizations and families,and for anyone seeking greater insight into self-leadership.