By Nandini Murali
Meet T T Rangarajan, a former software consultant, and entrepreneur, whose organization, Alma Mater, is committed to an awakening humanity
In 1995, as a successful software entrepreneur, TT Rangarajan abdicated a life of material wealth in response to an “inner calling”. Responding to his turmoil and anguish at the preventable suicide of a friend, the “pathfinder, and path-breaker,” decided to “invest the rest of my life with people” by establishing Alma Mater, an organisation with a difference. Its mission: to awaken humanity. Over the years, the Chennai-based institution has helped thousands of individuals transform their lives, live holistically, and function from a higher plane than is possible for everyone.
Through experiential programs that include holistic development for individuals, corporates, schools, spiritual retreats, and a monthly magazine, Frozen Thoughts, Alma Mater enables people to rediscover their connection to themselves, and live their lives in harmony with the laws of the universe.
Alma Mater today has branches in Bangalore, Pune, and Hyderabad. TT Rangarajan, 42, defies conventional stereotypes of a New Age guru. This proponent of holistic living is popularly known as Rajan, and actively discourages being placed on a pedestal. “At Alma, we are a set of contemporaries growing together,” he affirms.
In his aesthetically designed office that harmoniously blends corporate efficiency and a personal touch, he spoke about his passion for creating a “humanity of peak performers”.
Can you tell us about your life before Alma Mater?
I grew up in Chennai (then Madras) and graduated in Maths from AM Jain College in the city. When I was 19 and jobless, my father chided me for not working and began to cry. The family was going through financial hardships, and he found it difficult to make ends meet with his corporate job. So I enrolled in a course in computers (those were the days when computers had just arrived on the scene) and found a job in Pune. I earned less than Rs 700 a month, and it was insufficient for me to rent a place. So I slept in the office. That was a blessing in disguise, for I made use of computers all night to learn more. Later, I worked in Bombay, Delhi, and Hyderabad in computer software.
Four years later, in 1988, as a 23-year old, I left for Dubai where I spent the next seventeen months heading a software consultancy firm. I had seen my father work for a corporate for 40 years and come up with nothing.
So I planned to be an entrepreneur. You should be able to define how much you earn, and not have somebody or someone else do it for you. Between 18 and 25 years, I made every career, every decision, keeping this in mind.
How did your transition to entrepreneur come about? What motivated you to come back to Chennai?
Meanwhile, I had had sufficient exposure and experience to set up a software consultancy. I wanted to be an end-user. How does an end-user think? And I was ready to take the plunge. Back in Chennai, I set up a software constancy specializing in seafood automation that grew to be successful over the years. There was a lot of money, and the venture took off beyond my expectations… My mind was on American markets, Mercedes Benz, and beach houses….
Life is a series of defining moments. In 1994, a Christian friend of mine was involved with a Brahmin girl. I knew both of them. The girl’s parents forcibly got her married to someone else. She could not deal with the emotions, and two years later, committed suicide by jumping from the terrace of her house. She was a postgraduate with a degree in education. The incident left me with a lot of questions, but no answers. What is the use of an education system if it does not teach you how to live life? We teach science but do we teach the science of living? We teach history, but don’t teach how to create history.
How did this episode change your life?
The incident shook me by the roots. It was a period of enormous confusion. But clarity is always born under confusion. My business was doing well, but my heart had already lost focus. Restless, I went to a leading bookstore where I stumbled on the Chinese quote, “If you feed a man with a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life.” It certainly set me thinking…
When MK Gandhi was thrown out of the compartment, nothing happened. When he was lying on the platform, nothing happened. But when he thought, “If I, as an individual, go through so much, what would be the plight of a nation…? Then something happened. He stopped being MK Gandhi.
In which experience life hides her call, nobody knows. In that instant, I knew what I should be doing: teach others fishing.
I drove back to my firm and handed it over my software consultancy to my most loyal employee. In two weeks, everything was transferred. I decided to spend the rest of my life with people. I threw away 11-year expertise and a five-year software consultancy that employed 38 software engineers. I was back to square one. My parents and well-wishers were against it. My wife, however, had confidence in me.
How did you arrive at that decision?
You have to follow your heart. There’s no logic to it. A lot of us are living lives we should not be living because we ask for a reason where none exists. Unintended consequences have shaped the history of the world much more than intended consequences. I go by impulse, intuition, calling… and advocate it to others who are spiritually centered and aligned. My decision to quit my business was not an emotional impulse. In my case, the calling got louder with every ray of sunshine. Unless you do it, there is perpetual restlessness. It makes you feel incomplete.
The history of the world has been a history of disobedience. (Adolescent children, often misunderstand this message). The birth of every religion is an act of disobedience. Gautama Buddha’s father did not want him to do what he did. Mahatma Gandhi’s movement was called civil disobedience. The church did not want Mother Teresa to go ahead with her service. So she quit the Church to do her work. They chose to walk a different path.
Every time you want to follow your heart, you might sound rebellious to people. There might be times when you have to stand alone. If you listen to your heart, only then He is with you. But you have to learn to go ahead… He is with you.
You are well known for using stories from Indian mythology in a contemporary context to impart transformative learning. Can you illustrate with a few examples?
Rama is an epitome of obedience. Yet the Ramayana is an epic of misery. All characters except Hanuman were miserable. I see three flaws: nobody in the Ramayana was disobedient. Most of them were consequence receivers, not choice makers. They allowed somebody else to make decisions. As long as you are a consequence receiver (victim), you can’t blame anyone in your life. People took decisions in the sway of emotions. They later regretted it. Do you want to be a painter or a painting?
The Mahabharata is an epic of bliss, a celebration. Krishna is a product of disobedience. He did what he believed was right. He is a choice maker. Human beings go through natural evolution – first as consequence receiver, and then evolve into another level of consciousness.
How do you make spirituality accessible to everyone and democratic in its appeal?
I believe all people can live a life of spiritual alignment; whatever I experience is also possible for every one of them. In essence, spiritual alignment is purity in thought and feelings. How do you go through this process of continuous self-purification? Awareness is the key.
Anything that is life negative automatically shrinks. Anything that is life positive expands. Love grows in awareness. Tolerance grows. We need to keep watching ourselves. We need to develop awareness between thoughts and words, feelings, and action. It has to be cultivated. Am I living my life in such a way that every day I’m moving closer to my God?
Spiritual alignment comes about by practicing awareness, by watching yourself, by standing apart from yourself. Practice introspection by running through your entire day. Was there a better way to live that moment? Take a self-inventory chart: were you the master of your anger today? Through such self-monitoring, you can track personal progress.
I’m a huge believer in the power of non-doing. The power of doing comes from the power of non-doing. What leads to non-doing? The process must lead to non-doing – pranayama, Omkara, kriya … but people practice the process and get back to doing. That’s why at a temple we are ideally told it is good to sit for a while. Because only in a state of non-doing can you inherit vibrations. What we call meditation are basically processes that prepare a person into a state of non-doing. Practice terminal non-doing at the end of the process. To start with, just be. Initially, it is slow. Buddha took six years. There is no instant nirvana.
How do you integrate spiritual alignment on a daily basis?
Spiritual alignment is the willingness to practice spirituality on a daily basis – the dinacharya (daily routine) of Ayurveda. Each of us has to take a new path so that the existing conditioned mind is thrown into a perplexity by which it stops. What you do on a daily basis imperfectly gives better results than what you do perfectly but inconsistently. Dinacharya, the master card of Ayurveda, is simple. It translates into contemporary terminology as consistent, directed, self-motivated effort – you’ll get what you want.
Over the years, Alma Mater’s focus has shifted from corporate training to individuals. How did this happen?
Yes, you’re right. In 1995, when Alma Mater was established, we focused on skill-building such as effective communication, public speaking, goal setting, and time management. One of my earliest students, AS Gopal, said, “I’m able to identify with your mission. I want to be a bridge between thousands of Gopals and Alma Mater.” He took the daring decision of resigning from a promising job and threw his lot with Alma Mater. A one-man show now appeared to be an organization.
I firmly believe that you can’t change an organization unless you change the person at the top. Hence our focus on the individual-centered on value-based holistic living.
Another beautiful thing happened. One day my landlord’s grandson laughed. I asked him why. He said, “Uncle, do I need a reason to be happy?” The answer to the question changed the entire design of the courses at Alma Mater.
We’ve lost the innocence to be happy. Rather than telling people death is not an alternative, but life is, show them what life is. Don’t preach. Teach them to cry. Teach them to laugh. Show them that happiness can be expressed through dance. That child changed the entire design of the course. Teach people to be child-like without being childish. We have alienated ourselves from ourselves, there’s too much of façade. Love and happiness, I never thought would have to be aspects of teaching.
What is Alma Mater’s philosophy?
At Alma Mater, we believe in scientific spirituality. We explain the laws of life to people in everyday language they can understand, and show them their day-to-day applications. We believe that quality of life and standard of life must be integrated. Standard of life, for example, is having a water bed. Quality of life is the ability to sleep irrespective of the bed. When and is possible, why choose or?
The core of our philosophy is evolving consciousness. In every way today I should believe I am better than I was yesterday. Eventually, it will become present continuous. Am I growing in my awareness on a daily basis?
You resent epithets like ‘New Age guru’ or acquiring cult status. How do you steer the line of moderation?
Over the years, personal transformation modules at Alma Mater have evolved based on the needs of Almanites, and the process of addressing them. Certainly, Alma Mater is not a Rajan-dependent organization.
We’ve created a number of potential people. One of my trainers gave up a successful steel career to head the Pune chapter. An anti-cult formula in the organization is the common practice of calling me by name. At Alma, we are a set of contemporaries growing together. It is a movement that will go on…
You should be able to walk as a man among men, and still, live life as a man above men. Spiderman and Superman are larger-than-life heroes, but vulnerable and down-to-earth. I dislike prefixes, suffixes, and cults. To me, living spiritually means living like the next-door neighbor, and yet when the need to act arises, rising to the occasion. The more people like me can go through an awakening, the greater its reach.
I also dress only in white, symbolic of purity and spotlessness. It certainly reminds me to stay that way. As the leader of a cult, I would be above the rest. Yet the wisdom that created me is the one that created you. The second banyan tree is no less than the first… it’s just that one came earlier.
What is your perception of the upsurge in spirituality in contemporary times?
Globally, there is an explosion of consciousness that expresses through all of us. There are a number of contemporary masters walking the same path, and there’s tremendous willingness to complement each other. As for me, my greatest satisfaction is in participating in the process of evolving consciousness. We’ve created a small world transcending religion; yet not by renouncing but by accepting all religions. Prem Satchidananda. Go with love, truth, consciousness, and joy. Don’t think of only yourself. Set standards for others too. You will automatically rise. Make life an expression of gratitude to the force above.
‘The core of our philosophy is evolving consciousness. In every way today I should believe I am better than I was yesterday.’
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