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The simple and powerful story of IIM and IIT alumnus Swami Mukundananda and how he chose a life of spirituality over a corporate career, and spread the message of God realization across the world.
| Swami Mukundananda comes across as a uniquely simple yet powerful personality. A spiritual teacher with a distinguished academic background, Swami Mukundananda is someone who is able to dissect the meaning of the ancient esoteric Vedic knowledge with rigorous scientific logic and conviction.
Swami Mukundananda is also not your archetypal spiritual guru. Many years ago, Swami Mukundananda trained to be an engineer, went to IIT from where he completed his B.Tech. Armed with an engineering degree, Swamiji went to the equally distinguished Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. and completed his MBA. From the IIM campus he joined one of India's topmost industrial houses.
However, these outstanding schools and a glittering corporate career held no attraction for a man whose quench for the absolute truth had gone unanswered till then. The longing for God was so strong that he renounced his career and began traveling throughout India as a sanyasi.
Once he met his teacher and spiritual master, Jagadguru Shri Kripaluji Maharaj, he knew that he had found the right path. Under the guidance of Kripaluji Maharaj, he extensively studied the Vedic scriptures, and the Indian and Western systems of philosophy. He decided to reach out to the world with the teachings of his Guru. Thus began his journey through the world.
Swamiji has now been delivering religious discourses for the last twenty four years, as a preacher of the Jagadguru Kripalu Parishat. Swamiji has been traveling far and wide over the years, granting audiences to thousands of followers with his unique approach of thinking spirituality with science and logic. Using such an approach, Swamiji offers new ways of understanding and applying spiritual knowledge in the daily lives of people.
He has kept his teachings simple and driven by practical reasoning. This approach has won over many young followers in the west and he has been able to penetrate areas across the world, spreading the message associated with various paths of God-realization. As he says, "Spirituality is not mere philosophy. It is a practical effort because only through spirituality can you control the mind".
Swami Mukundananda knew early on in life what his true calling in life was. He perhaps did not know what lay in store for him at that time, though he knew what he wanted to do while undergoing premier education at the IIT and IIM. As he tells us about what has given him the greatest joy in life, “Doing what I feel is right and doing what I like and having the joy of the soul from within.” That’s has been the underlying, simple truth that has guided him towards his calling in life.
Swamiji’s life holds a unique and pioneering inspiration for everyone. It shows us how passion towards one’s true calling is greater than the sum of small parts of mundane lives put together. Swamiji’s journey is the exemplar of this world’s secret in which the beauty of life lies is in the simplicity of it. It lies in the awakening towards your true calling that can be achieved with a simple weapon that resides within.
Swami Mukundananda spoke with 6bridges about his life, views, teachings and how he found his true calling in life.
Interview with 6bridges:
6bridges: Tell us about your early life - the growing up, IIT and IIM days, initial corporate career before you renounced the material world and took to spiritual life.
Swami Mukundananda - My father was in a government job and he used to get transferred all over the country. So, I spent my time in different cities. I went to school in Delhi and completed my schooling there. As was the norm for good students, We were not so career conscious or so aware those days, so the options were limited. Just as everybody else was doing, I also appeared for the IITs and got in.
IIT was good education and gave me intellectually stimulating company besides lots of opportunities for extra curricular activities. It was a good time there, but I had started meditating when I was in standard VIII. Perhaps it was my sanskars from the past. Without anybody guiding me I just picked up a book and I started meditating and that was a practice that I continued even in IIT. The philosophic mind would throw up questions that could not be answered by the science courses that we were studying. For example we were taught so many laws of external phenomenon, but the question in my mind would ask ‘whey are there laws at all in nature’; if the world was made by a big bang then everything should be have been random and chaotic. The fact that they are following a pattern means there must be an intelligent design. These philosophical questions would be there in my mind, like who am I, what is the goal of life, is there a God or not?
I did complete the engineering but from a philosophic viewpoint I wasn’t very impressed by the rigour of scientific knowledge. For example, we would be taught a number of models in engineering wherein we would begin by an assumption and build up on it. The question, therefore, in my mind became very strong that what is the absolute truth. Then after that, I joined IIM Calcutta and the exposure was to a lot of humanities subjects as well since as a part of the management courses we were taught sociology, psychology, economics and organizational behaviour. In each of these areas, I found that the preciseness wasn’t there. They were all theories. These were trying to understand reality, but nothing was perfect in terms of knowledge.
By the end of the first semester, my curiosity to know the truth had reached a climax. By this time there was a class fellow of mine who was also into spirituality. Through the association with him, I came in touch with spiritual knowledge and read the Bhagwad Gita and the Sreemad Bhagvatam. He was in touch with a spiritual organization and I also got to know their devotees. I would go and stay in the ashram on weekends. I saw the life of the sanyasis at the ashram and I found it fascinating and that held a special appeal for me. Alongside my classes I would practice my sadhana or meditation and again it was the sanskar that resulted in my mind turning into a spiritual self rapidly. The conviction came very strongly that this was the truth and this was what I was searching for.
Nevertheless I continued with my studies and at the end of it I graduated and took up a job. Since my priority was spirituality, I didn’t want a high-commitment job. IT industry had just started and I took up a job with a company called Tata Burroughs. I was working in Bombay, but after working for three months and doing my sadhna, the questions returned to my mind - is this the purpose of my life? What was I putting all this energy into my work for? This was not what I had intended life for - to increase the profits of the shareholders of the Tatas.
In light of the absolute truth, my life was far more precious than this. At that time I was associated with renunciates in Mumbai and someone inspired me. He said there is no shortage of engineers and MBAs in the country, but what the country needs young educated Indians who can understand the spiritual science and who can then explain it to the others. I then decided that since my interests lay in this area, why not do something that was closely linked to my value systems and interests. For fulfilling my own spirituality and for the service of the Lord, I took this decision of renouncing and becoming a sanyasi.
6bridges: Tell us how you met your guru Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj? What brought you to him?
Swami Mukundananda - To practice spirituality one does not need to renounce the world. As the Bhagwad Gita, which is all about Karma Yog, says, you can stay in the world and also practice spirituality. In my case, work was taking me to the US and I decided to go see the world before I took sanyas. One sanyasi told me a story of a person sitting on the banks of the Ganga and kept dried rice before him to offer to Lord Vishnu. Yet he kept wondering if he were to offer it to God, what would be left for him to eat. When he was contemplating, a gust of wind came and blew the rice away. The person then screamed, “Oh Lord I offer the rice to you.” He said, that kind of offering doesn’t make sense. Same is the case with life. If you offer something when you are old and infirm, and you come and surrender to the Lord, that surrender doesn’t have meaning. When you have an option in life and you give it up and you come to surrender to the lord, he will accept it as a sacrifice. So the right time to take the decision is right now.
How did I find my Guru? Well for the next few years, I was traveling all over India, meeting different people and associating with different faiths and organizations etc. finally I came across a book of Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj. The cover of the book had him in a Samadhi. I was impressed that he had attained the state of enlightenment and the desire to meet him became quite strong. A few days after that I was at a lecture of one of his preachers in Bombay and I was impressed by the logical manner in which thoughts were presented in that lecture. A few days later Kripaluji Maharaj came to Bombay and I had his darshan from close. I instantly knew that he was an enlightened personality and realized that he had that divine love for God. Since that is what I was wanting, I decided that if I would surrender to him, I can also attain that divine love. When I asked him, he replied that he would teach me all the scriptures.
So I joined him at his ashram near Allahabad. I would spend time studying scriptures and alongside I would practice sadhna under his guidance again. Since then it has been twenty years since I have been preaching his philosophy and helping others along the path. Mostly I have been preaching in India and also in the US where I have been traveling for the past 6 months.
6bridges: Did you have any doubts when you chose this path?
Swami Mukundananda: No. It was a call from God and it was the strongest call I had received. Friends, family and relatives tried convincing me otherwise at that time but I was adamant. I don’t really know what gave me the intensity of this decision at that time. It was the grace of God. I have been practicing this path for the last 26 years now full time. Not a day has passed when I have regretted this decision.
6bridges: Were there any initial challenges in the transition period?
Swami Mukundananda: There was a great resistance from the family which was quite understandable because they had done their best in giving me good education and they had great expectations. So all of a sudden I turned around and changed my mind, they did not share my convictions and naturally, they were very uncomfortable. Over the years, they have realised that I am happy here, and they have heard about the good work being done and how people got inspired by my lectures and about the DVDs and CDs etc. At this stage they are more than pleased that I have taken this path. People also come and tell them that they were inspired by my lectures. So, at this point they are very happy with me and my work.
Apart from this the transition was smooth. The IIT background gave us an intellectual and rigorous outlook towards knowledge and logic and that applies towards philosophy as well. I like the logical form of explaining things, which was also appreciated by my friends. I treat spirituality also as a logical form of knowledge and it helps in gaining conviction about the path etc.
While studying I was a lazy fellow and would not take my studies too seriously. I used to wonder why. Later on, I realized that there was little motivation. That’s because when I delved into spirituality, the inspiration arrived. I realized that I was doing it for God. Because of this inspiration, everything became interesting and exciting, and its been a dynamic experience.
6bridges: After your corporate career, you traveled across India as a Sanyasi. How and when did you consciously realize that your interests and calling lay in the spiritual world? Was there any specific incident that formed your thinking?
Swami Mukundananda: The spiritual world is forever new and fresh. What put me off in the corporate world was this artificiality. I had done my summer training at Hindustan Lever. I had been put off by the artificiality and pretence of the corporate world where you are always pretending to impress. Although the company doesn’t care for you it pretends to do so, and vice versa. Whereas here the work is of the heart, and we are doing things that the heart tells us to do. That is what makes it so inspiring.
During my MBA, I was like everybody else, with all the worldly interests and then suddenly everything died off. Our friends could not understand and they thought I had gone crazy. There was another person and me who would roam around the campus with the japmalas chanting the name of God. We would go around with the exuberance of youth and were fanatical about our philosophic convictions. We would engage in debates with our classmates and there would be disagreements regarding our viewpoints. We couldn’t see each other’s viewpoints then.
It was pleasing for me that when the IIM batch had a silver jubilee reunion in 2009, people came with their families from all over the world, and during that program people wanted to hear about spirituality. So, they arranged for me to talk, as part of the program. On popular demand, they asked me to speak to them. I spoke to them on a topic relevant for them - Spirituality for Managers. Everybody appreciated it.
I had lost touch with my friends from IIT and IIM over the years, but over the last 5 years I have reestablished contact with my friends and sometimes when I am in the US, they also do come and attend. It’s so nice to see that they are developing spiritual interests, and their keenness to host me in their house.
6bridges: What are the current focus areas?
Swami Mukundananda: It’s a continuous journey and a never ending one which is also a fascinating project of one’s life. One that extends from lifetime to lifetime. The mission has become clearer and therefore a lot of my time goes into preaching and traveling. I would sincerely like to make a difference towards people’s lives because I believe that the knowledge we have in our Vedic literature is so relevant in our lives and can unfold its spiritual treasures in our lives, and unfortunately due to historical reasons, this knowledge from India has not come out into the world as it should have. A lot has been done but a lot more needs to be done. I would like to see this mission grow and make a significant impact on the lives of people.
I am also trying in my own way to add to this attempt at bringing the spiritual knowledge to people. Earlier it was spirituality but now we are also teaching people yoga. People across the world have seen the physical benefits of yoga exercises. In the west, the spiritual aspect of yoga has not been known. We are stressing upon the fact that yoga also has a spiritual side to it too. Yog in Sanskrit means union, and in this case it refers to the union of the individual soul with the supreme soul.
Yoga is a spiritual union with God and the physical exercises are just preparatory stages. To bring about this message we have started a system in the west, called Jagadguru Kripalu Yoga. It involves 5 sciences for the physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual well being of an individual for the development of their personalities at all these four levels.
We have incorporated both the mental and spiritual aspects, apart from the physical aspects. The first is yogasans. We teach them yogasans along with the chanting of the names of Gods: we call it Radhey Shyam Yogasan. We also have pranayama along with chanting the names of God and its called Radheynaam Pranayama. Next we also teach them meditation. No matter how much physical exercises we do, if we do not focus on the mind, good health will still not be attainable. Here we teach them how to control, purify, elevate the mind and meditate. Also we teach them emotional techniques of meditation around the thought of God which makes it more blissful.
Then we teach a technique called subtle body relaxation which is a way of releasing stress and bringing the body to complete relaxation. Finally we also teach them proper diet. So, the program is divided into two parts - first the physical part including the 5 sciences and the second part is the spiritual discourse, for enlightening them with spiritual knowledge.
6bridges: How did going to IIT and IIM help? How has a premier education at IIT and IIM helped you in pursuing what you believed in and practiced with such passion?
Swami Mukundananda: IIT and IIM was good training for the mind and the intellect and it developed logical faculties, besides exposure to knowledge and very stimulating intellectual company. For my personal sadhna it may not have made a difference but in terms of the work I am doing right now, it makes a great difference. There is a belief among many people who are unaware of the spiritual knowledge, that this path is for people who are unsuccessful in life and who don’t have other options. So, when they meet me and see that here is this swamiji who is well qualified.
There are forced to think that there must be some reason why he has taken to this path. So, they say lets hear him out. That is one advantage. Secondly, people in the west share the same backgrounds. So they are able to understand my approach as we are on the same wavelength. Thirdly by virtue of the education, I am firmly grounded in logic. Because I explain the truth with logical deduction and reasoning, people get more easily convinced. Overall it was definitely very helpful.
6bridges: There are regular professionals who want to strike out on their own or follow their passions. However they are hesitant for a variety of factors. What factors should a person internalize before taking a decision? What advice would you like to give to people who yearn to follow their passion but are held back due to some reason or the other?
Swami Mukundananda: I would like to say that if you choose to work in line with your passion, work becomes play and you don’t have to work a single day in your life. I would strongly recommend that people choose their professions in line with their passions and take the risk. In fact I came across a very interesting study. There’s a book by Mark Albion called Making a Life, Making a Living which quotes a study in the USA conducted on MBA graduates.
Careers of 1500 MBA grads were traced over a period from 1960 to 1980. They were divided into 2 categories, the first consisted of those who decided to first make money and secure themselves before pursuing what they really wanted to do. The second group decided to follow their passions and they thought money would follow as a consequence.
There were 83% in the first category and 17% in the second category. After 20 years there were 101 millionaires. 100 out of them belonged to the second category and only 1 came from the first category. So, not only is it more satisfying to follow your passion but also more lucrative too!
6bridges: Over the years do you think more people are turning to spirituality in India as well as the US than before and why do you think that’s the reason?
Swami Mukundananda: As long as economic boom was happening, there was an illusion of happiness as a mirage. The interest in spirituality was less. However, after the recession, that mirage has disappeared and people are realizing that there is much more to life.
I recently delivered a talk at the Kellogg Business School on Spiritual Paradigms for management. What I witnessed is that these students who comprise the cream of the world have a genuine interest in spirituality and in being socially productive and responsible, which at our times we were not so involved in.
6bridges: You have been a proponent of science in spirituality. Tell us how the two intersect and what we should look to learn.
Swami Mukundananda: The beauty of our Vedic knowledge is that it isn’t just blind faith but treated as a bonafide branch of knowledge. Srikrishna tells Arjuna in Bhagwad Gita that there is nothing so pure in this world as true knowledge. Now this conflict that exists in the west between science and spirituality does not exist in the Eastern religions, particularly in the Vedic system. The vedic system says that there are two branches of knowledge - one is material science and the other is spiritual science. In fact it says that material knowledge as necessary. It goes on to say that if somebody only cultivates material knowledge without spiritual knowledge, he will attain darkness. It also says that somebody only cultivates spiritual knowledge without material knowledge; he will attain an even greater darkness. It says that in life you need both of these and you need to be able to synthesize and reconcile both of these to attain success.
Material sciences are necessary for your body needs. Your needs of the body, finances, house etc can be achieved through understanding the material sciences. For that it is necessary to understand the external phenomenon of this world. On the other hand, to know your internal nature and in order to drive it, elevate it and harness it you need spiritual science.
Material sciences don’t have the means to purify the mind. So for success you need material sciences and for knowing the internal machinery and harnessing the mind you need spiritual sciences. Somebody with Vedic wisdom could adopt both these branches of knowledge for reaching the goal of life.
6bridges: These days we see multiple gurus and paths. How does one identify which guru to follow and path to take?
Swami Mukundananda: Well, the point here is that the knowledge being presented by the guru must be authenticated from the scriptures. In our Hindu system, the authority is the Vedas, and that knowledge has been revealed by God in the Vedas and other vedic scriptures. That’s why it is called the Sanatan Dharma. The guru doesn’t need to create a new path, but speak about the path mentioned in the Vedas or Sanatan Dharma. When the guru is speaking and preaching in accordance with the scriptures then there is reason to believe that the knowledge is authentic. If it all coming from the mind, there is always a doubt that it could be a concoction of the figment of the imagination.
Other thing is that, when we associate with a true saint the result should be visible to us in terms that we should be able to develop detachment from worldly things and develop attachment with the divine. That should be a natural consequence of associating with a true saint. We can go to number of saints and see where we got the inspiration from, the most. That would be a very telling criterion for making the choice.
Another misnomer, especially in India, is that to be spiritual you need to renounce everything. However, our Veda says that this entire world is the energy of God - Mayadhyakshen prakriti surya tesa chala chalam. The Veda says of God - I govern this energy and through it I create this world. Everything that exists is the energy of God and everything is a part of God. Spirituality teaches us to develop this holistic, divine viewpoint that everything is a part of God and somebody in his spiritual consciousness doesn’t need to renounce everything. That person needs to be able to use whatever is at his disposal in the service and in the glorification of God.
If you are a good singer or dancer, you can use it in the devotion of God. That has been our Indian culture - with God at the center. The epics of the west are the Illiad and the Odyssey which are secular themes and the epics of our culture is Ramayana and Mahabharata which have God at the center. It was a God-centered civilization where every art and every craft was centered around devotion. If we can get this message across to the people that to be spiritual, you do not have to give up your talents and abilities, you need to use them in a proper direction.
6bridges: Any suggestions to the professionals whereby they can include God-realization in their daily lives?
Swami Mukundananda: Here is one of the practical suggestions they can take, as a result of which others could also follow suit. If they could take out half an hour or one hour every day for spirituality during their daily schedule, and during that time they could engage their minds in spiritual thoughts like meditating, reading, chanting etc. they would greatly benefit from it. Like the exercise every day that keeps your body fit, this exercise is one that helps the soul and the mind. And once we do this, we retain that consciousness for the rest of the day. We find that whatever we do during the remainder of the day, we retain our consciousness, and it reflects on our work as well.
6bridges - How do you look at work-life balance for yourself?
Swami Mukundananda: Because I speak to a cross section of people I also need to recharge my batteries. I tell managers that managers must manage thyself. To be an effective manager, one’s spiritual consciousness needs to be high. As a manager, if you have worked on your consciousness, then when you are interacting with others you can inspire them and also retain your focus and enthusiasm which are necessary to charge yourself spiritually. I pay attention on this for myself too and keep sometime aside during the day, and also keep aside a few weeks in the year when I spend time with my master Shree Kripalujee Maharaj in the ashram.
6bridges: What has given you the greatest joy and satisfaction in this path?
Swami Mukundananda: Doing what I feel is right and doing what I like and having the joy of the soul from within. Everyone hankers after satisfaction and how to find it; so when we follow this path we realize that joy comes from within. That is the most satisfying thing.
6bridges: Thanks for your views, sir. Your insights and views are very inspiring and enlightening, and your talk has a calming effect. We are sure your views will inspire professionals to whom someone like you can best explain the true import of spirituality.
Swami Mukundananda: I am glad that you have found it useful. I wish you all the best in your work. You are doing great work and it is a very nice project you have undertaken. My blessings!
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