The ‘happiness swami’
Swami Mukundananda, in an engaging conversation with Anuradha Sahu, emphasises the importance of bhakti on any spiritual path that one undertakes as well as the need to purify and elevate the mind
A graduate from the renowned institutes of IIT and IIM, Swami Mukundananda uses his engineering and management background to help people of all faiths, backgrounds, and walks of life to easily grasp the key concepts of how to achieve happiness.
Disciple of Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj, Swami Mukundananda travels worldwide to spread happiness and teach the Art of Mind Management. While on a tour of the USA, he shares his thoughts with LP via an email interview.
An alumnus of two prestigious educational institutions, he says, a self-query always had him looking for answers that were beyond the material realms. His spiritual sojourn began with an introduction to the divine discourse—Srimad Bhagavad Gita—by a classmate. Thus inspired, the young seeker set out to traverse the path of bhakti, along with his studies and soon yielded to the call of the divine.
With an altruistic vision of happiness, this charismatic yogi and accomplished public speaker recently launched the worldwide Happiness Challenge. This programme, comprising a combination of deep and meaningful secrets of happiness with fun activities, is attractive to minds of all ages.
Hundreds of thousands of people were introduced to the time-tested art of happiness based on ancient yogic scriptures in a very modern, easy-to-understand and digestible format. It provided the foundation and practical tools for developing the necessary skill sets for building true personal happiness. This is his only wish, as expressed by him: “Utilise these tools for yourself and share them with others to spread happiness to one and all in the world.”
Excerpts from the interview:
Do tell us about your growing-up years. Anything, in particular, etched in your memory?
My father was an engineer in the Indian Air Force. Every three years, he would be transferred to a new city. Hence, I lived in many different cities while growing up. As an eighth-grader, I came across a book that fascinated me then: Energising the twelve powers of your mind. It had a chapter on meditation, and I adopted the techniques described therein. Since then, all through school and college years, I made meditation a part of my daily routine.
As a youth, what were your aspirations? What prompted you to join IIT and later, IIM?
Frankly, I had no idea what IIT was. During my final year in school, I saw my classmates filling up the IIT Joint Entrance Exam forms. On their suggestion, I did the same. When the results arrived and I passed with a good rank, I discovered the importance of IIT and enrolled. While in IIT, I realised that hardcore engineering was not my area of passion. To study a closer-to-life curriculum, I joined the MBA programme at IIM.
What motivated you to embrace spirituality? What was the turning point? Were you disillusioned with the material world?
The syllabi in both, IIT and IIM, were rigorous. Every subject was full of models and theories, yet they did not answer the questions that were gnawing at me. Hence, the yearning to know the Absolute Truth became very strong. The questions “Who am I?” “What is the purpose of life?” “Why did I come to this world?” plagued me.
Around then, a classmate of mine, who was already on the spiritual path, introduced me to the Bhagavad Gita. On reading it, I found the whole jigsaw puzzle falling into place. The conviction that I was a tiny part of God became very strong, and I began practising bhakti while continuing with the MBA course. Finally, the call of God became so strong that I could not resist it, and I left the course to dedicate myself to His service.
Tell us about your spiritual masters and mentors.
Just as a student goes from primary to middle to high school, I too kept moving to different gurus as I kept progressing. My journey finally took me to the lotus feet of Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj. He was the perfect master I was in search of. I found in him an ocean of divine knowledge and love for God. He trained me in the Vedic scriptures and entrusted me with the task of spreading the teachings for the welfare of others.
Among the four paths of yoga—Bhakti, Karma, Gyan, and Raja—which is more relevant for today’s times (Kaliyug)?
Whether we wish to achieve liberation from Maya or attain God-realisation, we require the grace of God to succeed in our spiritual practice. It is devotion to the Lord that attracts His grace. Thus, any system of yoga can only be complete when bhakti is added to it. If we add bhakti to karma, it becomes Karma Yog. If we add bhakti to gyan, it becomes Gyan Yog. And by itself, it is Bhakti Yog. But if we subtract bhakti from the mix, then like the Ramayana states, “Yog kuyog gyan agyanu, jahan nahin rama prema pradhanu.” (Yog and knowledge both get corrupted in the absence of devotion to Ram).
How important is chanting the name of the Lord? Any specific mantra for this age of Kaliyug?
God has infinite names, and He has empowered each of His Names with all His energies. Thus, the highest mantra is the Name of God itself. However, we must bear in mind that mere chanting of mantras or names does not purify the mind. Maharishi Patanjali states, “Taj japas tad artha bhavanam.” (While chanting, create concurrent sentiments in your mind.) Hence, while chanting the Names of God, we must also engage the mind in meditating upon Him. The technique for that is Roop Dhyana meditation, i.e., meditation upon the image of God.
India has always been the land of spirituality, but the times we live in are very challenging. How does one conduct oneself in these testing times to attain bliss and liberation?
In modern times, one of the most challenging obstacles in the practice of spirituality are the innumerable distractions all around—TV, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, social media, etc. If we are not careful, each of these has the potential to steal away our spiritual earning by making our mind turn worldly.
In spiritual parlance, these distractions are called ‘kusang,’ which means an association that takes our mind towards the outer world. It is the opposite of ‘satsang’ or association that takes our mind towards God. If we are serious about making progress, we must carefully avoid kusang while regularly participating in satsang.
What is the purpose of one’s life?
The soul has been transmigrating in 8.4 million species since endless lifetimes. In this life, having received the human form, the goal of one’s life is to attain the ultimate perfection, which is divine love for God.
Is it necessary to take sanyas to be on the path of spirituality? What can a householder do? Sometimes it becomes difficult to juggle both. How can one strike a balance?
This confusion is widespread in Indian spirituality. People think that to practise spirituality, one must leave the life of a householder and become a renunciate. However, the Srimad Bhagavad Gita teaches us the very reverse of this concept. Arjun found his worldly duties to be troublesome and wanted to run away. But Lord Krishna dissuaded him and instead instructed Arjun to practice Karma Yog. What is this Karma Yog? ‘Yog’ means union and ‘karma’ means work. Hence, ‘Karma Yog’ is the technique for keeping the mind absorbed in God while simultaneously doing all your worldly duties. There have been many Karma Yogis in Indian history, such as Dhruv, Prahlad, Ambarish, and Prithu who were great kings. As kings, they were executing arduous administrative responsibilities while their minds remained absorbed in God.
Tell us about your teachings and spiritual practices. Do you accept students and disciples? Any particular techniques that you teach?
Invariably, people engage in devotion for some time in the day. But after the session is over, they absorb themselves in worldly activities and forget about God. Consequently, the spiritual gain achieved through sadhana gets washed away. If we wish to make continual spiritual progress, we must keep our mind in God at all times.
To accomplish constant remembrance of God, I teach the ‘practice of the presence of God.’ It entails feeling the presence of God while doing our worldly duties. Thus, the mind reaches a state of yog with God, while the body is engaged in performing karma. The practice of the presence of God is a powerful technique for achieving the state of Karma Yog described in the Bhagavad Gita.
Please guide us regarding desirable food habits in general and also for those on the spiritual path. Is non-vegetarian food to be completely avoided? Some say eating meat is taboo, but fish is okay. Please comment.
The grossest portion of the food we eat gets eliminated as stools. The subtler portion of our diet goes to make our body. And the subtlest portion of our food goes to make the mind. Hence, there is a connection between our diet and the state of our mind. “Ahar shuddhau sattva shuddhi.” (Eating pure foods help purify the mind.)
Even in vegetarian fare, there are food items that are in the mode of goodness as well as those that are in the mode of passion. Consuming food that falls in the previous category of goodness makes the body and mind sattvic while consumption of food that is in the mode of passion inflames the desires of the senses and sends the mind in a worldly spin. Non-vegetarian foods, including fish and eggs, come in the category of tamasic foods. A diet consisting of such food increases the propensity for violence, laziness, anger, and ignorance. Keeping this principle in mind, we should be careful about the food choices we make.
How can we control our tendencies—the vasanas?
The actual vasana is for divine bliss. Our soul is a part of the ocean of bliss, which is God, and hence we all desire bliss. The problem is that thinking ourselves to be the material body, we are seeking happiness in material things. Hence, material vasanas are troubling us.
The solution is to realise the nature of our soul and understand that the bliss we seek is in God. Repeated contemplation of this will divert the senses away from the world and towards God. That is the sovereign recipe to control the senses.
People smile much lesser today despite the increase in worldly comforts. There seems to be a vacuum in every heart. What is the cure for this loneliness?
Imagine, there is a bird kept in a cage and we keep decorating the cage but neglect feeding the bird. Then the poor bird will naturally be unhappy. Our situation is akin to the bird in the cage. We indulge in enhancing our bodily comforts and gratifying our senses, but the needs of the soul within, remain unmet. That is why, despite all the materialistic progress, humankind is no happier today than it was a hundred years ago.
The vacuum in the heart is not due to a lack of material comfort. The longing is for our eternal relative—God. When we install His presence in our heart, we will experience the feeling of having reached the destination we were searching for.
How much do service and charity help in raising human consciousness? What do you think is the best form of service?
The scriptures state, “Parhit saris dharma nahin bhai.” (There is no dharma higher than helping others.) However, service and charity become a means of elevation when they are done without the pride of giving. The proper sentiment is to feel blessed if we have the opportunity to serve. Attribute all credit for the good we have done to the grace of God. And having given all we can, still feel that I have given nothing at all.
In human society, service can be of innumerable kinds: education for the poor, health care for the underprivileged, etc. All these are essential. The level of a civilised society can be measured by the extent to which its members engage in acts of charity.
Amongst all the services we can offer, the highest is to help unite others with God. That is the charity which permanently eradicates the root cause of people’s miseries.
What is true worship?
True worship is to love God with all our heart. The ceremonies and rites are helpful in evoking our love. But often, performers of the ceremonies forget the ultimate goal of their rituals. Saint Ravidas put it very well when he said, “Man changa to kathauti mein Ganga.” (If your mind is pure, you do not need to go and bathe in the Ganga, for you can find the very same Ganga in the palm of your hand.)
Are you a follower of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu? What is the significance of his teachings in this age?
If I consider myself a follower of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, I will be limiting myself to a tiny drop of the ocean of our Sanatana Dharma. Rather, I am a follower of the One Supreme Lord who is worshipped in countless ways and forms by His devotees. The path to Him was revealed by Surdas, Tulsidas, Meerabai, Nanak, Tukaram, Kabir, Narsi, Ekanath, and innumerable other venerable saints.
However, I do believe that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explained the Absolute Truth in a very beautiful manner in his philosophy of achintya-bheda-abheda-vada (inconceivably one and different simultaneously). Further, he revealed the simple path of bhakti through the chanting of the names and virtues of God. He also displayed the highest states of devotion, called Mahabhav Bhakti, which are a tremendous source of inspiration for everyone on the path of bhakti.
Any predictions on how people and the world would evolve in today’s world of artificial intelligence, social media, and hi-tech gadgets.
Technological advancement has put powerful gadgets in our hands without a concurrent growth in our ability to utilise them for our benefit. Thus, millions of people in the world today find their consciousness impinged upon by useless information and debasing content via the Internet.
What message or knowledge would you like to share with the readers of Life Positive?
The mind is the cause of bondage as well as the cause of liberation. The mind can be our best friend and also our worst enemy. Hence, the mere physical practice of rituals will not suffice. We must strive to purify and elevate our mind. And the easiest means to purify the mind is to engage it in the all-pure Lord. Therefore, whatever form of devotion one engages in, one must remember to also absorb the mind in God through techniques like Roop Dhyan meditation, chintan, manan. That is the Art of Mind Management which I teach.
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