an interview with sridhar steven silberfein


the man behind bhaktifest

Have you ever wondered what the story is behind the largest Kirtan and Yoga festival in our country? Founder of Bhaktifest, Sridhar Steven Silberfein, has been on a personal spiritual quest for over thirty years, while quite handily blending a life as a pioneer businessman. In 1970 he established the first health food store in Southern California, The Food Chakra, in Topanga Canyon and followed with Desert Essence, a skin care company that brought quality natural products with jojoba and tea tree oil to America for the first time. He went on to co-found the Triloka recording label which helped to launch the careers of today’s most popular kirtan artists such as Krishna Das and Jai Uttal. 

Yogi Times was lucky to get a behind-the-scenes interview with Sridhar to find out how the festival came to be, where business and commerce fit into such a large spiritual endeavor and what the vision for Bhaktifest is moving forward from here.  

Yogi Times: How are you raising consciousness in your community?

Sridhar Silberfein: We are building spiritual community wherever we take Bhakti Fest. We want folks to feel safe when they come to our festival by providing everything they need to feel relaxed and merge into their deeper selves. Some of the ways we do that is by providing the best vegetarian food at all of our festivals, but eliminating alcohol and be in a drug free zone. This makes it safe for people to explore their deeper spiritual essence by not giving them what they have on a regular daily basis.

YT: Why did you choose this work?

Sridhar Silberfein: I did not personally choose this work or any other work. It was given to me by much higher resources that told to me that my dharma is to be involved in bringing together many 1000s of folks to build a healthier lifestyle.

YT: What is the vision of Bhaktifest?

Sridhar Silberfein: Bhakti Fest’s vision is to take our concept which is way different than other festivals and move it around the USA and eventually to other places in the world””bringing love, compassion and the understanding of seva to many.

YT: What inspired this festival?

Sridhar Silberfein: The festival has been inspired by my personal journey producing hundreds of events with many saints and teachers over the last 40 years. Besides programs, festivals, and retreats we have been involved in the personal helping as well as seva, social services, and helping other charities reach their yearly goals. The original inspiration came when I brought swami Satchidananda to the original Woodstock festival in 1969””I personally produced that segment and when we walked onto the stage together, I said to him, “Swamiji, it would be great to bring this amount of people together to chant the names of God.” He smiled and said, “Yes, that would be great if you could do that.” Then 40 years later, we started Bhakti Fest in 2009.

YT: What has been the most challenging aspect of your personal journey and how has that strengthened you?

Sridhar Silberfein: Some of the most difficult moments for me in my journey is being able to relate the vision to so many that help us. It does not come out in a wonderful way some times, and I find it to be misunderstood by a few. Coming from a New York Jewish background, we tend to jump in and get the job done as quickly as possible, without too much dialogue. A lot of folks these days are more into the yoga “yadiyadas” as I like to call it, and think that their work is the most important aspect and not appreciating that it is the whole, the entirety that makes it all successful.

YT: From your experience, where do business and commerce fit into a spiritual life?

Sridhar Silberfein: Business and commerce are two very extremely difficult aspects to maintain together. One is that you need to be able to pay the bills so there is concerns over spending and not bringing in the amounts needed to fulfill that level, as well as being able to separate the two and know that at the end of the day, the higher forces are in control anyway. My favorite saying is “set up the stage and get out of the way” which means let the grace take hold.

YT: What has been a key element in the success of Bhaktifest?

Sridhar Silberfein: The key element of Bhakti Fest’s success is we do our own thing, meaning we do not copy any other festival. While we have many imitators who copy our website and our talent, we even have our name copied sometimes to make it look like we are involved with a project. We have to continuously monitor that situation. We welcome collaboration with other festivals that are true to their words. It is a shame that more folks cannot get along.

YT: How has the marketing of Bhaktifest influenced the community that attends?

Sridhar Silberfein: Bhakti Fest has influenced a lot of the community that attends. Through our ”˜veterans for yoga’ free entry program we are seeing an increase of many veterans coming and being able to work on their PTS and other ailments of violence and mental disarray. We are the first festival in the country that has made this plan for the veterans. We are also now leading pilgrimages through India twice a year with visiting and well-trusted yoga teachers as part of our “Bhakti Yatras.” On these trips we are able to guide people who want to experience and dive deep into the teachings of India, with trusting guides who have traveled and even lived in India before. We have many contacts and dear friends all throughout India and it is amazing to be able to share that with people who are seeking but want to feel safe in their journey.

YT: What do you consider the most important part of the work you do?

Sridhar Silberfein: The most important part of our work is to maintain our integrity no matter what aversion comes our way. We have a goal in mind to reach as many folks as we can with clean living, yoga teachings, wisdom workshops and with the biggest kirtan voice in the world.

YT: Why do you think people choose to come to Bhaktifest over other festivals?

Sridhar Silberfein: People chose to come to Bhakti Fest over other festivals because we deliver. We give them every unique experience that we commit to, we provide fresh water free, we provide the best in vegetarian vendors, we maintain a 24 hours-per-day, 4 day-a-week schedule, non-stop on two stages. We have 3 yoga halls going from 7am to 7pm everyday. We have workshops going from 9am to 7pm everyday and we have a breath work hall during the same hours. We are cutting edge and introduce new kirtan stars and create a forum to come and showcase their talents.

YT: Do you have any financial and/or spiritual advice for those who have chosen careers in the field of consciousness? 

Sridhar Silberfein: My main advice to newcomers is just to relax. For kirtan and yoga aspirants, I say never give up your day job. Nowadays, everyone is a yoga teacher, everyone is a kirtan artist. Both of these areas require many years of practice and dedication. My good friends Krishna Das and Jai Uttal have been touring for over 25 years on a constant basis all over the world. Ask yourself the question, ”˜are you willing to give up family, friends, children home and do that?’ If so, that is the only path to success. However, if you want to have a personal practice of yoga and a practice of kirtan that is not set up for a monetary return, this is much better. This is what I have been doing for many years myself. We still get over 10-20 submissions per week from all over the world to play, teach or talk at Bhakti Fest, so the field out there is getting very crowded, and one has to be exceptional in what they are doing.

YT: Any last words of wisdom to your community?

Sridhar Silberfein: I leave you with best to be quiet, do your own work, follow your own path, and try to do as much ”˜seva’- service work for the less fortunate. Then you will wake up everyday with a new spirit, a new understanding, and say thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me another day on this beautiful path.

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