By Pradeep Krishnan
Meet Swami Udit Chaithanya, a Vedanta and Bhagavatam teacher who travels across the world promoting the eternal values of Indian spirituality
Perhaps the greatest need of our times is to present and promote the eternal teachings of India’s rishis in a way that inspires and convinces the modern mind. That is the mission that drives Swami Udit Chaithanya (44), a teacher of Vedanta based in Kerala, relentlessly. Swamiji’s inspiring discourses on the Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, the Upanishads and the Ramayana hold his audience spell-bound, leavened as they are with humour and practical wisdom.
Swamiji, who has been teaching Vedanta since 2000, shot to fame when his discourse on the Bhagvatham for 108 consecutive days at Ernakulam, Kerala, was aired by a leading Malayalam TV channel. Demand for his lectures snowballed and he is presently a much sought-after speaker in India as well as in the Middle East, USA, Canada and some European countries.
An alumnus of Sandeepani Sadhanalaya, the Vedanta training centre of Chinmaya Mission at Powai, Mumbai, Swamiji’s greatest mission is to set up the Bhagavatam Village, on the banks of Chalakkudy river, Kerala. The village will promote the five ideals propounded by Sri Krishna. These include service to Mother Earth through the cultivation of a medicinal forest as well as a “nakshatra vanam” (the planting of trees based on one’s birth star); service to the Indian cow by protecting and caring for disappearing strains as well as the promotion of gomutra (medicated and filtered cow’s urine) and cow’s milk; promoting sound mental and emotional health by practising chanting, the study of scriptures and the self; training senior citizens to be useful to society and therefore earn society’s love and respect; and finally support the mentally, physically and financially challenged sections of society to cultivate their potential.
I met Swamiji at Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, where about 250 of his disciples had assembled as part of a 10-day spiritual camp titled ‘Brahma Vidya Vicharam’ based on the Katopanishad. Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
Swamiji, what exactly do you mean when you advocate following the ‘spiritual path’?
Life has two parts, the gross and the subtle. The body is part of the ‘gross’ and the mind is part of the ‘subtle’. Our rishis discovered that the subtle mind is the pivot on which the gross body exists. Our mind is responsible for making our body work. Only when the mind
|“Careful study and observation of the functioning of the mind, equips us to face any situation that life throws at us intelligently, and thereby become joyous, peaceful and strong.”
is awake, is the body able to awake and work. When we realise this, we can understand that our life is centred on our thoughts and by changing our thoughts we can become capable of facing any situation in life. Our sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and the various Upanishads teach us how to handle our wavering mind properly. Careful study and observation of the functioning of the mind, equips us to face any situation that life throws at us intelligently, and thereby become joyous, peaceful and strong. Living such an intelligent life is what I call spirituality.
Swamiji, why do you criticise temple worship in your lectures?
I have never condemned temple worship. I only advocate that it be practised as envisaged in our scriptures so that one’s mind gets elevated! When we go to the temple and pray, we think that the deity in the temple has some supernatural powers that will fulfil our desires and help us to solve any problem. As per tantra sastras, the deity gets its ‘consciousness’ through the ritual of avahanam (consecration) conducted by a priest. Thus it is clear that the deity derives its chaithanyam (energy) from a conscious human being. But unfortunately, most devotees do not realise that the ‘power’ of the deity is the power of consciousness within each one of us. Out of sheer ignorance we pray for the fulfilment of our mundane desires. By following such illogical and irrational practices, we misuse the entire system. Great acharyas like Adi Shankara always insisted that without the real knowledge of spirituality, temple worship and the practice of rituals will never help in our spiritual progress.
What have you got against astrologers and people who consult them?
Astrology is scientific and reliable; but not so all astrologers! Only rigorously trained astrologers can give reliable predictions. If the astrologer has correctly predicted some aspects of our past we automatically assume that his predictions for the future are true too. Many astrologers have the habit of misleading and frightening people and discouraging them from their endeavours! True devotees of the Lord do not seek future predictions – instead they surrender to the Lord, act fearlessly and accept everything as His prasad!
Astrology falls in the category of astronomy, which is the study of the cosmic energy. But the human mind is a manifested conscious energy. Though our inherent character, behavior and attitude are different, all have the ability to divert the mind from pursuing negative thoughts to positive ones. For people who realise this capacity, astrology will not have any significance. But astrology comes in handy for the weak-minded as an excuse to cover up their weakness.
Of what relevance is Vedanta in modern times?
Even though we have progressed a lot, the difficulties we face in our social and individual lives are enormous. Suicide rates are on the increase as many are not able to cope even with simple issues. The economically rich citizens of the USA are embracing yoga and meditation in a big way and are flocking for darshan of Indian gurus from India. Our rishis gave us their teachings as a remedy to the umpteen problems we face both in our individual and collective life.
Spirituality is not merely practising rituals or praying in a temple, mosque or a church. Rather, spirituality should enable us to face the vicissitudes of life boldly. While humanity has progressed tremendously materially, human values have taken a back seat. There is no place for love, compassion and saner human sentiments in our busy life. While our intellects have become sharp and strong, our minds have become too narrow. When we study the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, or the Bhagavatam we will realise that our rishis were world class scientists in psychology, sociology and even in physics. They were doctors and engineers of the human mind. That is why all around the globe, Vedanta and Indian darsanas (insights) are getting popular.
Unfortunately there is no place for spirituality in our educational system. How can we make the works of our great culture popular?
Any one who reads the great works of the rishis will be amazed at the depth and understanding of the all-encompassing nature of its philosophy. It is not for any sect or creed that such wonderful darsanas (insights) were given. This unique philosophy is the heritage of the entire humanity. The study of the scriptures should start at home and parents have a great role in making their children study these texts and thereby empower them to face life in totality. Vedanta helps the individual face life boldly with a determined heart.
What is your reaction to the allegation that Vedanta is too self-centered?
Such an allegation is the result of not properly understanding sanatana dharma (the eternal doctrine) in its depth and totality. If you read our sacred scriptures, you will realise that our rishis had very clear directions about an individual’s role in society and the need to fulfil social needs. The concept of dharma itself came into being as a mode of an individual’s interaction with society. Thousands of social reforms movements originated in this land thanks to the tireless work of several hundred saints and sages. But you must understand that the concept of social service in Vedanta focuses on equipping an individual to stand on his own two feet rather than on providing him with food or shelter.
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