Call the pandemic rigours golden hours of isolation that can strengthen your inner self, detox the mind, give perspective to the real purpose of life. Sunday Pioneer brings you a spiritual take on dealing with this devastating virus through an IIT, IIM alumnus-turned-spiritual guru
It’s been a 36-year journey from IIT and IIM to his ashram in rural Odisha where Swami Mukundananda plans to set up a university as a part of his 100-acre spiritual zone.
But his claim to fame is not about spending seven months a year in the US imparting spiritual knowledge to the Western world on his guru Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj’s instruction, but the fact that he believes in and propagates what he calls the true journey to self-realisation, of supreme knowledge and what Vedic scriptures term as Brahman.
Yoga in its wholesome tripartite structure enriching the body, mind and soul and not just as a weight loss and fitness fad, faith not as a miracle healer but an instrument of life, and health as a tool to be fit enough to render your duties as a karma yogi, not to mention keeping the encaser of the soul in fine fettle, that’s what this swami propagates.
Ask him what he is doing in this glut of gurus and he strikes a balance in perspective. “I am in the race only against myself. I want to be true to what I am here to do and be good at it. And, that’s to show the path to self-realisation,” he tells you.
After countless lectures at Harvard, Princeton and Yale, to name a few of his usual pitstops, books on yogic health, spirituality and yoga, not to mention connections with youth and spreading the word across the world the Vedic way, he has a strange aura of peace and contentment around him, even though his engagements give you a sense of a whirlwind, whistle stop journey.
“For many students, the talks are an eye-opener, bringing them in touch with a science they were unaware of. For some, the talks provide a way to blend the values they imbibed in traditional households with the reality of the competitive world they live in. The most energised Q&A session took place in my alma mater, IIT Delhi, a few years ago, where the fertile intellects of the students were stimulated by the spiritual perspective they had just heard, and they began fervently competing with each other to get their questions answered,” he says.
People call him a happiness guru, but that kind of limits his karma bhoomi. Like Sir Francis Bacon, and even Pope John Paul II who found Bible to be a book of ancient science, he unhesitatingly marries Science with Religion for what he calls complete development. “Science finds, innovates and invents to give your body ways to live a healthy, comfortable life. Spirituality, on the other hand, controls the mind for you to give this comfortable bodily existence a purpose and a journey,” he says, conflating the two diametrically opposite concepts with seamless clarity, and practicality if one may say so.
Born to an Air Force engineer with nationwide postings, and hailing from UP, sanyaas, he tells you, forbids him from revealing his real name but the need to be a sanyasi came to him when he was graduating from Indian Ivy League institutions and was introduced to the Bhagwad Gita by a fellow student. His mind kept asking him profound questions of existence and even though he picked up his first meditation workbook for a lark at the callow age of eight, he saw a way in renunciation to get all the answers he sought, during his 20s.
Only he knows best if he got all his answers right, but his educational background has, indeed, helped Mukundananda to become a multi-faceted modern preacher who can be as effective as a motivational speaker for corporates as his mind management skills are for his more run-of-the-mill disciples from rural Odisha and other parts of India, to Dallas where he spends time “at a beautiful temple,” giving sermons, organising spiritual retreats and enriching his soul along with that of his growing followers.
He pitches for a course on Religion and Spirituality in school, college and university curricula as an essential tool to equip students to fight the modern epidemic of depression and other existential issues. “Faith gives the mind clarity, purpose, peace and positivity and our young need these values more than ever before,” he asserts.
“Youngsters want knowledge to help them in their social, professional and family life. What is, therefore, necessary is for us to take the wisdom of our ancient scriptures and make it relevant in current times.” he adds.
Talking on the pandemic and the opportunity it has given mankind to clean up their rusted window to the inner self through running inside instead of outside, he terms the Universe a university of hard knocks. “It teaches us to become our best version of ourselves. It is the hardships that bring out the best in us. Ramayana would not have been relevant, written or read but for those 14 years of rigour that Lord Ram undertook on his banishment. “It is those years that give us lessons in Bharat’s loyalty, Laxman’s brotherly passion, Sita’s chastity and Lord Ram’s godly existence,” he says.
In other words, faith and spirituality have become even more relevant in today’s time when the pandemic has nibbled into global lives like silverfish, giving rise to a never-before fear factor of imminent death and suffering.
“Spirituality keeps your mind in hold and gives you the mores to step out of your fears. If you know how not to fear death, your life is sorted. If you can stare down suffering with positivity, you will not view death as a life altering dead-end,” Mukundananda says.
This is not the first time that the pandemic has swept the globe. He attributes survival of humanity to the strong human spirit to face hardships unitedly, as a global citizen.
“So there is this story of the corn farmer. He had wonderful corn growing in his fields that would win him the national corn growing competition year after year. However, would share his prized corn seed with neighbouring farmers. When journalists asked him why on earth would he share something so precious and unique, he explained: ‘It is the pollen from the neighbouring fields that flies into my field to fertilise by corn. If they are growing unhealthy crop, it will affect mine too,’ he added. Similarly, as citizens of the world we have a global duty to unitedly fight this pandemic. Our national duty is to follow the regulations laid down by our respective Governments. Then there is our duty to ourselves, that is to be strong in these tough times,” he says.
Indeed, Mukundananda is quite a storyteller, perhaps learning the trade of constructive engagement from his IIM instructors at Kolkata. “Once Narad Muni was passing by a village that had been hit by cholera. He met a personalised cholera and asked him how many people did you kill Mr Cholera? He said 35. Narad said, but news has put the toll at 119. Cholera said, I caused only 35 deaths, rest died due to panic. So, we need to have strength and shed our fears if we have to survive in these difficult times,” Mukundananda explains.
Besides being a celebrated mind manager sanyasi, this 59-year-old gentleman clad in saffron robes with glowing hair and an omnipresent smile on his face, is also a health food and yoga expert, both of which come in handy in times like these. “Up your immunity. It will not cure the virus but it will definitely give you a workable shield against infection. Regularly take citrus fruit. Amla has Vitamin A of 10 oranges. Daily dose of antioxidants is important too and amla is a rich one for that too, as also dark coloured fruits, like blueberries. Ginger and turmeric are beneficial in building and maintaining immunity. Pranayama is a natural way of receiving antioxidants from the atmosphere. Be stress free to build immunity. Continue with your devotion and meditation and soon sunny times will be back again,” he insists.
He explains the fury of this corona pandemic by calling it more repercussive than the two World Wars. “Let us look at the positive side of the situation and how we can grow from facing this. We have prioritised ‘doing’ all our life. Spent the best part of our life in ‘doing’. But how much did we prioritise ‘being’? How much did we focus in being better people? How good we were able to become as human beings. This adversity has forced us to stop running outside and given us a window to look within ourselves and focus on the most important need to grow from within.” he says.
Yes, we have put behind us many pandemics and survived. And that’s because the basis of external success is our inner character, integrity, wellbeing and divinity.
“Look at the Tower of Calgary. It weighs 11,000 tonnes. Sixty per cent of the weight of that tower is under the ground. The foundation is so huge. Our foundation is our inner quality, let us utilise the present time to make it our priority to equip ourselves with our inner strength. Like a bow and the arrow, bow the arrow as far back as possible for it to shoot as forward as possible. You need to do this with your inner strength and look for the divinity in yourself,” Mukundananda prescribes.
He believes what Vivekanand about life is eternally true. The great philosopher of spirituality said life is a continual unfoldment in a wheel under circumstances tending to press it downwards. However, we rise to face it and we find the true purpose of life which is our inner growth.
“So be patient, go within. Take advantage of the situation. Detox yourself mentally. Cut down the toxins of unnecessary exposure to video games, social media etc in this digital age. Shut off, don’t Netflix, withdraw yourself from the world and absorb it in God. Do self-study, go within. That is what I am doing. You can connect with your family. Call the pandemic the golden hours of isolation and use them for self-strengthening.”
Even sceptics may deign to agree with him grudgingly as difficult times do teach us the most powerful lessons, one of them being the need to know our limitations. “The tiniest of viruses is evading a cure despite science calling itself God. The takeaway is to be humble. Remember Titanic? It was a huge dream ship, like a mini city. Engineers said nothing in the world can destroy it. It hit an iceberg on inaugural voyage and sank forever, killing 1000 people. So, the thinking should be, so what if there is bankruptcy of material things. Inner wealth, which is the love of God, is permanent,” he says.
Mukundananda is an unabashed votary of vegetarianism and gives rather scientific reasons for his view. “We need to respect the laws of Nature. Swine flu came from pigs. SARS and most other viruses came from the animal kingdom. The Mad Cow disease is the horrific outcome of feeding a herbivorous being with animal products for better production and the result of meddling with Nature has had its repercussions. Global warming is because of acute animal consumption. For just one kg of meat, as many as 3,000 gallons of water is used up. Forests have been cleared for make grazing grounds for animals that humans eat. The human body is not meant for eating meat. Carnivores have very tiny intestines where the meat disintegrates fast. Human intestines are too big where meat sits for long. The result? Diseases, like cancer, come because of this. We have molars, carnivores have canines to chew the meat. Our bodily structure is meant for vegetarianism,” Mukundananda insists.
The young yogi is a cool package that sells and gels well with this post-modern age where the fast and furious, the young and the restless millennials are looking for quick fixes to life issues, which are many and complex to their utter chagrin. Hence, his diligently put together lesson plans which appeal to all ages, like the worldwide Happiness Challenge he launched on finding meaningful secrets of happiness with fun activities which hid a deeper yogic way of life in them. More recently, he has been involved in evolving spiritual retreats for recharging the inner self.
Just about to turn 60, his journey is so far has been young, and perhaps relatable in that sense. But he and humanity have a long way to go. For, the soul, according to the Vedic scriptures he dotes on, has been transmigrating in 8.4 million species since endless lifetimes.
Food is for the mind, mind is for the soul and vaasana (lust) should be for only God. One-liners like these suit his countenance. As do his slender artistic fingertips on which global philosophical greats sit as pretty as Indian seers — from Ravidas to bhakti propellers in Kabir, to Tukaram to Eknath, to Gods like Krishna and Ram, whom he quotes effortlessly at the drop of, well, a sermon.
So, here is one guru who has done his homework well. His idea of spirituality is well programmed and easy on the mind. He has his knowledge in a pertinent mould and sports the relevant communication skills to draw in the crowds, and somewhere down the line, manages to insert in them a sense of self – humble, well-meaning, pious, selfless self.
TECHNOLOGY COMES IN HANDY
Anxiety, depression and panic attacks are a part and parcel of this turbulent time. However, empathy and compassion can be an answer and can provide healing and solace to our beautiful mind.
If the data of suicides, due to depression, is taken into consideration during the lockdown and Unlock 1.0, the mental isolation is proving more dangerous than Coronavirus these days.
Then increasing cases of suicides was sidelined because of the ongoing discussions about the ban on TikTok and other 59 chinese apps. While it was a welcoming step for many, others especially teenagers were very upset and even committed suicide.
For those, who still don’t know what depression actually is, depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to several emotional and physical problems. One may face trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes even feel as if life isn’t worth living.
When the Government banned the Chinese apps, many questioned what would happen to those who used TikTok as a platform to share their content and made some money from it? But fret not. There is an Indian version of the app, Rgyan. Unlike the existing social media platforms which produces minimal thoughtful content, it is a social spiritual networking platform which helps in creating a community of intellectuals and motivated individuals seeking truths about life.
The socio-spiritual technology startup is founded on the belief of empowerment of participation by creating a spiritual social network. It can also be compared to spiritual instagram with a touch of Quora. The app promotes thoughtful content on several non-trivial topics necessary to find important truths about life. It expects to do so by facilitating sharing of thoughts on various subjective matters. Amidst social media sites that promote banality and silliness, Rgyan stands out as a platform where meaningful content is shared and discussions are heard. It is available on both web as well as a mobile application on android play store in English and Hindi.
To use the application, users can log in by creating an account using a registered phone number or explore its services as an anonymous user. The app allows users to express and share their thoughts through pictures, videos, text, GIFs, or as real-time discussions.
The app also offers the flexibility of a User Generated Content Model (UGC) with that of curated content available on Divinity, Daily Horoscope, and aggregated news on spiritual and social matters.
Celebrating the success of the Made In India app, Debjit Patra, Founder and Chairman, Rgyan, says that such a platform was much needed, more so because of the current situation.
“There was a need for such a meaningful social platform where people can get knowledge as well as share their thoughts on various meaningful matters. The app was started back in 2016 with a vision and now hacve successfully reached the milestone of one million monthly views. We have come a long way, but this is not the limit as we know that in the time to come, more and more people will start to use the app and will love it. It will definitely help them to beat all the blues,” Patra says.