By Purnima Coontoor
Swami Sukhabodhanda, the ebullient and dynamic founder of the life programme, gives guidelines on spiritual living
He was voted the best speaker in a Times of India poll on �who talks best�.
His books, Oh Mind, Relax Please! and Oh Life, Relax Please! topped the bestseller list in the country. The Kannada, Tamil and Telugu versions of the former set an all-time sales record in the history of these regional language books.
His talks on the Gita, life, and spirituality, among others, are watched and heard on several TV and radio channels by thousands.
His life-transforming workshops for corporate, youth, students and other individuals have guided lives and helped people deal with relationships and phobia, fear, trauma, drug and alcoholic abuse.
An orator, writer, manager, teacher, spiritual guide, an alchemist � all of this and more, Swami Sukhabodhananda is just the kind of spiritual master the 21st century needs. His USP could be the practical spirituality he dispenses, applicable to everyday situations in a manner that is palatable even to the younger generation. Savvy and articulate, Swamiji�s innovative workshops, especially LIFE: Living In Freedom � an enquiry have given him the status of a much-sought-after corporate guru in India and abroad.
Swami Sukhabodhananda�s spiritual quest was triggered when, as a teenager in St Joseph�s College, Bangalore, he used to watch his friends engage in drugs, dating and drinking � but never seem happy. In one of Swami Chinmayananda�s talks, he heard the master say that happiness could be found within. That was enough to set the young seeker on the path of spirituality.
Swamiji is founder chairman of Prasanna Trust, a charitable institution engaged in social service and transformative education. The trust focuses on the various facets of Indian philosophy and culture for the effective transformation of individuals and society. Its research wing focuses on the scientific aspects of meditation.
Talking to the saffron-clad monk at Nirguna Mandir, his spiritual retreat in the suburbs of Bangalore, I have a glimpse of his charismatic persona. His steady, clear gaze and presence is relaxing rather than overwhelming � I can see clearly how natural it is for him to bond and empathies with humanity. In this enlightening session, Swami Sukhabodhanada holds forth on several contemporary issues with masterly ease:
I have always wondered, why saffron is the color of sanyas?
Saffron represents the color of fire. It represents the one who constantly dwells in the fire of understanding. A monk has to live in this context � in the fire of knowledge. Knowledge transforms into wisdom through the process of understanding. This understanding is represented by fire. So attire in the color of fire is in fact a constant reminder for one who wears it to live life in that context.
Please tell us about your spiritual journey.
Rather than the actual journey, I�ll tell you about the inner journey. The shift has been from deficiency-oriented to sufficiency-oriented; from being poverty-conscious, arising from scarcity, to being abundance-conscious. I am aware of a tremendous inner abundance. I experience a psychological freedom. I now feel a deep sense of harmony, even in conflicts. Spiritual persons too experience them � because there�s no evolution without conflict. However, today, there�s a synthesizing energy in me which creates harmony, not chaos.
Earlier, there was a mechanical quality to my actions. Now there is a magnetic awareness. Before, a namaste was just a joining of hands. Now when I say �Namaste�, I feel and mean that �you and I in the space of love are one�. Before I took to a spiritual life, I was like a dismantled radio which could not receive any signals. Now the radio is put together and my awareness is high. The magnetic centre is activated. Now there is harmony in the body, emotion and intellect. In this state there can be sudden intuitive flashes. Sometimes when I come out with a brilliant answer, I feel it�s not me who is answering � somewhere some energy is flowing through me. And one is not arrogant, but grateful and respectful, reverential to this force.
How can we see godliness in everybody, especially in one who is grossly bad, like a murderer or rapist?
The Bible has a beautiful saying � hate the sin, not the sinner. Hating the sinner is a juvenile approach towards a situation. In a drunkard, the chemical reaction the drink causes in the person is to blame, not the person himself. In a drug addict, it�s the cocaine that is working in him. Even an enlightened soul can behave erratically with a high dose of cocaine! Once you operate from this point of view, it will be difficult to hate anybody.
The second stage is to be an anthropologist, and study human behavior dispassionately and not be judgmental about it. An anthropologist knows that a rapist is so because he is not able to transform his sexual energy. There are two bodies in an individual � a hurt body (dukha sharira) and a bliss body (ananda sharira). Disturbed people operate from a hurt body. Spirituality teaches you to master your hurt body joyously. When the inner bliss comes to the fore, you can dance on the hurt body like Nataraja dancing on the demon. This is the symbolism of the Nataraja � Lord Shiva � doing the tandava on top of a prostrate demon. Criminals are victims of untransformed energy, operating through the hurt body.
Thirdly, if an individual�s magnetic centre is more activated than the mechanical centre, compassion arises. This can happen only with practice. Just as one has to practice the swaras �saregamapadanisa� to sing melodiously, one has to practice compassion. With singing practice, even your snoring will be melodious! With the awakening of the magnetic and spiritual centers, you experience compassion. You cease to be judgmental.
What if you are the victim of a crime?
Then you have no choice but to go through it. Don�t whine and complain that it�s unfair. Accept. Be at peace with what is.
Much has been said about karma, but it is still misunderstood. There is still a conflict between the role of free will and destiny in our lives. Which is more powerful?
Karma is a complex, technical word. Life is an interplay of sanchita (acquired), prarabda (fructified) and aagami (to be acquired) karmas. Not everything is predestined; at the same time � it is. I�ll explain with an example. Consider a boatman with his boat. The boat has a motor with which it can traverse the river. If the boat is the body and the boatman is the jivatma (the individual soul), he has to turn on the motor (free will) to start the boat and travel on the river (life). Without operating the motor, he can only go wherever the river takes him. If he starts the motor, the boat can even travel against the current of the river, even though the current slows his progress. Thus if you surrender to destiny and desist from any action, karma will take you along where it will. But if you activate your free will, you can control things to a certain extent � but still can�t avoid the impact of karma completely.
Every action has a drishta phalam (seen result) and adrishta phalam (not seen). How and when one�s karmas fructify can�t be said with surety � it could be now, next few days, next year or next birth. It all depends on the karma field of the person. We all know that smoking is bad for everybody. But a chain smoker with a strong metabolism may not be affected even after years of smoking, whereas a weak person might get cancer due to it. The impact will be there on both, but with varying degrees.
How can one deal with noise? There�s so much noise pollution everywhere � traffic, honking, loud music, television. It has become an inherent part of our lives. If we can�t escape from it, how to deal with it (apart from physical measures)?
Yes. Noise is a physical reality. I know because the street I used to live in slowly turned into a highway, with lorries and heavy traffic plying day and night. You have to understand that any resistance to something you dislike is psychological. When a neighbor�s child is noisy, it is intolerable; when your own child is, it is ok. It�s psychological. So how to deal with it? Don�t resist the noise. Don�t reinforce the idea of conflict � don�t go on telling yourself �there is too much noise, too much noise�. Just be empty � the noise will pass through you. Look for the gaps between the noises rather than concentrating on it. When you look at the gaps, there�s a shift in consciousness � you can then merge into the silence.
These are days of immense competition in every field, giving rise to games of one-upmanship among friends and colleagues and thus, a lot of stress. How can one cope with competition?
Competition is good if it remains healthy. Competition helps us to push our limits, inspires us to do better. The problem arises when we constantly compare ourselves with others � we look at somebody�s success and define our failure. We should learn to be happy at somebody�s success, and try to adapt their winning formula � that is good.
"If you activate your free will, you can control things to a certain extent � but still can�t avoid karma completely."
People have not learned the knack of relaxing. I travel constantly; I have a very busy schedule. But I find some pockets of time for myself � to do yoga, meditation and charge myself up. People don�t have this knack. People should also practice economy of effort. They should learn to apply only as much pressure as the job demands. There is unnecessary abuse of effort � like raising the voice or waving hands vigorously while talking. Why? It�s not required. The martial arts teach us to apply just enough effort � just as much pressure as the situation requires. One should learn how to relax even with a busy schedule. That�s exactly what I teach busy executives in my LIFE workshops.
What do you think of the present generation and their work culture?
I have observed that in today�s generation, there is a commitment to excellence. People are no longer stuck in the average rut. There is a thirst for excellence, a high level of intelligence; they no longer operate from a space of scarcity. I can see a new culture emerging. The younger generation has a lot of exposure and access to material benefits at a very early age. But they haven�t learnt the art of relaxing and balancing life. They need to balance between success and satisfaction. If they look only for success or only for satisfaction, it�s a lopsided development. They need to be successful and satisfied too. I say that success is getting what you like; satisfaction is liking what you get. One has to develop that attitude, and work towards a holistic rather than linear development. I often feel that in their younger days, people put so much into work that they sacrifice their health for wealth, and in their old age they sacrifice their wealth for regaining health! The younger generation doesn�t know when to stop. In fact, in some IT companies I have been to, I have been asked to advice the employees to get back home early � some managements view it as a lack of effectiveness on their part if they stay back at office well after working hours.
Do you think there is a general rise in the spiritual consciousness in the world today?
Yes, I definitely think so. Why just spirituality, the overall awareness towards everything is rising. Because of early material success, people are now asking � what next? The process of elimination is faster. And they are turning to spirituality. But one should know how to administer the dose of spirituality to the younger generation. Be trendy when you talk to them � speak their language.
Tell us the difference between philosophy, religion and spirituality.
Philosophy is a view of life; religion is a way of life; spirituality is to heighten the spirit within you. Everything has a philosophical, ritual and spiritual aspect to it. While rituals are necessary for a beginner, it�s enough to get the spirit of it as one progresses towards spirituality. An orthodox Brahmin will do the sandhyavandana with precise mudras and chant mantras just so, but for a spiritual person, the spirit of the sandhyavandana is enough � which is a feeling of gratitude towards the earth, the sun, the universe and so on.
Will you please give our readers a special message?
All of us have four zones of life � an intimate zone, a family zone, a social zone and a spiritual zone. Have a vision for each of these zones. Learn to balance them all. There is no need to sacrifice one for the other. I am a monk, but I love exercising, music, trekking � I do not feel the need to limit myself just so that I can fulfill the role of a monk. I also have a private zone, and a social zone � I can�t ignore the slums that are next to this ashram because I am a sanyasi. I implore everybody to fulfill their social obligations � if only everybody could set aside just five per cent of their earnings towards charity, there wouldn�t be any poverty in the world. The gap between the haves and have-nots can be bridged with social commitment. Five per cent is nothing for an individual, but collectively means a lot to improve society.
Learn to be successful and satisfied. Express self-confidence and self-esteem in your work and life. Don�t worry that you are just a small individual. What a little lamp can do, the great sun cannot do. The lamp can shine in the night. An individual can achieve a lot in his or her space.
Don't focus on what is missing � rejoice in what you have. Learn to be grateful for what is, but go ahead and work on what is not.
Learn to balance body, mind, emotion and spirit. Balance is the key to life. Always be in the company of good people, satsanga, so that you are always exposed to good thoughts and good vibrations.
Forthcoming programmes: LIFE � Bangalore, February 17,18. Contact: 41535832-35, 93437 72552;
a free public talk on the Bhagavad Gita in Mumbai on March 1 � 4. Contact: 2568 4667, 9821555134
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