The organisation that helped Dr Anupam Chatterjee turn over a new leaf in his life was PrashantAdvait Foundation, founded by Acharya Prashant, who bid goodbye to corporate life with the aim to create a new humanity through intelligent spirituality. As the world is suffering from materialism and a lack of a bigger purpose in life, the foundation’s vision is to make people understand how our minds are conditioned by others.
Ten years ago, when I was in college, I always felt there was something incomplete. I would not socialise easily and was labelled as a misfit. As a result, I used to feel lonely and was looking for something more in life. Upon my family’s suggestion, I tried various meditation techniques. But all this would only give me only temporary relief. A lot of my effort, time, and money were spent in doing this but no visible change could be seen. Then one day, as I was browsing on YouTube, I came across a video of Acharya Prashant on loneliness. I felt an instant connection and watched at least a dozen of his videos at a stretch. Here was someone who was brutally honest in his approach. He wasn’t speaking to impress the audience or sugar-coating his words. Instead, he seemed to be speaking from his personal experience. Intrigued, I found out more about him and his organisation on their website and made up my mind to attend the sessions personally. Little did I know at that time that magic was in store for me. It was pure grace!
From corporate life to spreading consciousness
Prashant Tripathi, known as Acharya Prashant, fondly called by all of us as Acharyaji, is the founder of PrashantAdvait Foundation (PAF). He is a spiritual teacher (perhaps the most contemporary representative of all the spiritual traditions of the world) rooted in Advaita Vedanta and breathtakingly original. Leaving the corporate life behind when he was just 28 years old, he founded Advait Life-Education for the ‘creation of a new humanity through Intelligent Spirituality.’ Two years later, Acharyaji started speaking in his Shabd-Yoga Sessions—Samvaad or clarity sessions. These were in the form of open discussions, essentially pure satsang. This was the time when I got associated with Acharyaji. Soon it became clear to me that these sessions were deeply meditative, brought my mind to a strange peace, and had a miraculously curative effect upon my psyche. Acharyaji’s voice and videos were being recorded and uploaded on the Internet. Around the same time, he started organising Self-awareness camps or Aatm-smaran-shivir. He would take true seekers with him to the Himalayas, in groups of around 30 each, for periods of around a week.
I too got an opportunity to attend one such camp in Shivpuri, Rishikesh. This camp turned out to be a deeply transformational event in my life. The moment the camp began, our phones were taken away from us for the next five days. I also didn’t speak to my parents during this period. We were totally immersed in the activities, the readings, and the sessions by Acharyaji. Complete strangers became the best of friends, and we were sharing our deep-rooted tendencies. I got a glimpse of a new way of looking at myself. The old afraid self was slowly disappearing. Soon after the learning camp was over, a thirty-day tracker task was given to us by the volunteers to help us stay connected to the teachings. Gradually, the frequency of the camps increased and so did my involvement with Acharyaji’s mission.
Being a philanthropic initiative to bring about a socio-spiritual revolution, Acharyaji’s work is quite simple and transparent. Every month, volunteers like me organise various programmes including learning camps, online courses on saints and scriptures, personal one-to-one counselling sessions, Holistic Individual Development Programmes for students and young working professionals, and many more. People register for these programmes and donate for the greater cause.
Advait Learning Camps are week-long retreats held several times a month close to nature for helping the participants understand and reflect on life at a much deeper level. The idea is to bring ancient wisdom and modern philosophy to the masses. In the past few years, these camps have been organised pan-India, with thousands of participants benefitting from them. A participant, Joydeep Bhattacharya, who later joined the mission as a full-time volunteer, shared his experience from his first learning camp held in Nainital:
“It was my very first learning camp with Acharyaji. We were constantly involved in activities that were challenging my usual patterns and my tendency to cling to safety. In four to five days I realised that it is pointless being cautious in life when that caution never lets you live. I was experiencing what Acharyaji speaks of in clarity sessions. I learnt to trust my teacher completely. He knows what is good for me and I feel safe with him. His presence gives me the strength to go through tough situations. Despite his humility, I know that his presence is magical. With him on my side, nothing can ever go wrong.”
Online with the masters
Online courses with Acharyaji are a unique initiative to bring the clarity and wisdom of the scriptures into our day-to-day life. Ancient spiritual texts like the Upanishads and the Gita are more relevant today than they ever were. When I was introduced to the love songs of Saint Kabir Sahib and the verses of Bulle Shah, I couldn’t stop singing them for weeks at a stretch. Upon reading them further, I could identify similarities in their teachings, despite them being from different eras. I understood their eternal relevance. To spend a lifetime without the words of the saints, the avatars and the gurus is to lose a lifetime. In these courses (conducted in Hindi and English), a rigorous study of a scripture or a saint is undertaken each month.
The volunteers are actively involved in the free distribution of wisdom through the two YouTube channels of Acharya Prashant in English and Hindi. The channels promote ancient wisdom in the most contemporary and authentic way.
The personal touch
Meet the Master (MTM) is a programme that provides an opportunity to resolve your problems by the Master himself in a one-to-one confidential environment. MTM caters to people’s deep-rooted issues like depression, addictions, guilt, fears, etc. In the past few years, thousands of people from all across the world have taken part in the MTM initiative. Says Nitesh Patel, “My first MTM proved to be myth-shattering. I didn’t know I was carrying so much unnecessary baggage. I feel I have saved so much time, money, and effort by going directly to Acharyaji instead of endless readings, meditations, and pilgrimages. It seems as though I have managed to short-circuit my way to the Truth, with the help of Acharyaji, for which I’m grateful.”
With the simple objective to help people live their lives in the light of truth, the Open Shabd-Yoga Sessions are organised twice a month by our team of volunteers which focus on dealing with problems concerning various aspects of life ranging from personal to professional and physical to mental. These sessions are primarily for people who belong to the lower-income category and cannot afford to pay the registration amount in the Advait Learning Camps.
Holistic Individual Development Program (HIDP) is another initiative proficiently designed to help youth gain control over their life. The course empowers them to gain clarity of thoughts, substance in personality, and smooth and effective communication with the world. One of my friends, Jasdeep Kaur, shared her experience of HIDP and the learning camp:
“A few years back, I was a non-vegetarian; I used to eat meat with no sensitivity. I was attending HIDP sessions by PAF in my college. In one of the sessions, Acharyaji himself came and spoke about consuming flesh. For the first time, I could see the craving in myself and realised that I was a slave to my tongue.
“A few days later, during a learning camp with Acharyaji, he handed me a little rabbit in my arms and left. I was a little uneasy initially, but as I looked into the eyes of the little animal, something sparkled. My hold became softer, loving, and welcoming. He was still looking at me, unmoved. And suddenly, it was clear to me. From that day, flesh became my living friend and not food. I did not have to resist meat; I just did not eat it. The change was not limited to animals. I was less violent to everything: my notebook, pen, relationships—everything.”
A Myth Demolition Tour (MDT) is a speaking tour wherein Acharyaji questions all the prevalent myths which are misleading genuine seekers since ages. As a result, Book of Myths was published in the year 2016. On reading this book, I realised that my notions about positive thinking, self-improvement, meditation, and many other concepts were challenged and, consequently, demolished. This is what Alok Bhute, a senior programmer in the IT industry, U.S.A, had to say when asked about his experience with Acharyaji:
“The biggest thing that I got after being associated with PAF was the shattering of myths. After attending Acharyaji’s sessions, I realised how shallow my understanding was about spiritual topics. For the first time, I felt I had arrived home. I felt this is the master I had been searching for all my life. Acharyaji gave me clarity about myself and my onward spiritual journey.”
Youth and women benefit
PAF is a non-profit organisation which works tirelessly for the welfare of several sections of society such as students, women, and the youth.
While there have been concerted efforts in social, political, and economic ways to instil women with due agency and power, nothing is really effective without the inner dimension of clarity and freedom. Countless women today—from the teenage schoolgirl to the septuagenarian homemaker—owe their sense of liberty, clarity, and the courage to rise against external oppression and internal debilitation to the teachings of the Master. Monika, a dear friend, shared her experience:
“Being born and brought up in a male-dominated family, I always took domination by men in my family as natural and never dared to question their decisions. I was afraid of them and never had the confidence to take any decision independently. Women in our family had to always seek permission before attempting something. Acharyaji not only guided me on how to go beyond my fears and bondages but also helped me in relating with my family members in a better way.”
A boon for the true seeker
There are seekers for whom spirituality is mere entertainment, while some come to spirituality to escape the bare realities of life. Then, there are those who suppose that spirituality consists of esoteric rituals and superficial treatments for deep underlying life problems. Acharyaji has been known to vigorously shake such seekers out of their self-deceptive stupor. And then there is the odd genuine seeker: the one who has already tried hard to go into the recesses of his mind and the reality of life; the one who is prepared to work hard for his liberation; and pay the price for freedom. Acharyaji comes as a rare and real friend to such seekers. Pradeep Sharma shared his experience from Advait Learning Camp in Uttarakhand and MTM programme:
“The first time I saw Acharyaji speaking, sitting in front of me, it was a mind-boggling experience. I could not hold on to my thoughts and their grip on me was too feeble (which was otherwise so strong), as if the mind was blown away. And my questions to him were very spontaneous. He destroyed my age-old conditioning, and I was left with an unburdened self. I also participated in the MTM with him and it was as if a doctor was healing your wounds. That was an instance of transformation.”
Awakening to animal suffering
It is estimated that millions of animals, especially animals used for food—chickens, goats, sheep, cows, buffaloes, and fish—have been saved due to the foundation’s work, besides a large number of wild animals too. With the foundation’s efforts over the years, it is broadly estimated that lakhs of people have adopted vegetarianism or veganism and have chosen an awakened lifestyle involving environmental consciousness and a low carbon footprint. Many see Acharya Prashant, the guiding light of the foundation, as the spiritual face of the vegan movement. I myself have turned from a hardcore non-vegetarian into a vegetarian and, later, a vegan. Here is what Acharyaji had to say when asked about his thoughts on veganism:
“Veganism cannot be a taught quality; it has to be something of the heart. You cannot give arguments in favour of it. It has to be a destroyer of all arguments. You are really a vegan if, in spite of all arguments, you are still a vegan. Veganism is about having the right relationship with the world around you. Veganism in its essence is religion.”
It is remarkable to know the transformation many have experienced just by being close to the foundation. What PrashantAdvait Foundation is doing is, I believe, the biggest service to the world. There is not even a single dull day in my life, and that is the beauty of being associated with Acharyaji’s work. Today, the Advait movement has touched the lives of more than ten million individuals. Through his direct contact with people, his books, and through various Internet-based channels, Acharyaji continues to bring clarity, peace, and love to all.
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