By Harvinder Kaur
Equipped with a deep understanding of human nature and a deeper knowledge of Vedantic tenets, A. Parthasarathy—scholar, teacher, sage—tries to make life more peaceful for all
A tall, thin man in spotless white kurta and lungi, with a long red tilak adorning his forehead, the 70-plus A. Parthasarathy is the founder of the Vedanta Cultural Foundation, a charitable trust that runs the Vedanta Academy near Mumbai, India. Hailing from a business family, Parthasarathy devoted 40 years of his life to the study and practice of Vedanta. With a multi-disciplinary academic base, he also has the style to back up his scholarship—a fact corroborated in his seminal work Vedanta Treatise.
But beneath all the erudition, Parthasarathy’s message is simple: stress is an internal phenomenon. Impulses, feelings, likes and dislikes reside in the mind. And the intellect holds reason and discrimination. The body is driven by the mind and/or the intellect, and stress results when the mind overtakes the intellect.
But does this imply that there’s no place for feelings?Parthasarathy points out that the idea is not to feel less, but to cultivate the intellect as the supreme guiding force behind feelings. He gives the example of not getting up early in the morning to exercise. ‘The mind will tell you to sleep just a little longer,’ says the scholar, ‘but the intellect guides you to rise and shine.’
Parthasarathy provides no short cuts: if you want to be happy, you must begin from within. The emphasis is on vivek or listening to the voice of the intellect. Knowledge of right choice comes ‘through Knowledge’. But how do you attain ‘Knowledge’? One way is the study of Vedanta, part of ancient Indian scriptures, which Parthasarathy offers to teach. But the journey towards knowledge, he contends, can only begin when you become conscious of your ignorance.
Parthasarathy also conducts seminars for senior corporate professionals. When he is not on lecture tours, he is busy teaching at his Academy.
The Vedanta Academy is a bastion of spirituality in a sea of materialism. Spread over three-and-a-half acres of land, the lush and disciplined greenery forms a pleasing background for the small cottages that house the academy.
The academy curriculum consists of a three-year course of the Vedas, along with selected texts from English literature. The entire course has to be completed on-campus. Total seclusion from the outside world is the norm. The day is distributed between yoga, meditation, jogging, self-study, lectures and prayers. The students themselves run the academy and the choice of work depends on their preferences. The daily study involves listening to Parthasarathy’s taped talks. This is usually followed by group discussions on the topic concerned. For a brief period every year, Parthasarathy stays at the ashram and conducts discourses. While the medium of instruction is English, the students are also taught basic Sanskrit.
Simplicity is the order of the day at the academy. The furniture is low: even the computers are kept on low tables. The dining room, however, is an exception. A spacious and cool room, it is furnished with tables and seats made of stone slabs. The kitchen is starkly modern. Huge machines grind, knead and process the sattvik (vegetarian, without onion, garlic or strong spices) food. Before meals, everyone takes his/her plate from the designated racks and returns it after a proper wash. Thus runs the academy—smoothly and amicably, thanks to an industrious batch of students. Little wonder then that it attracts people from all over the world.
But, since the academy can admit only 50-odd students, admission tends to be restricted. Parthasarathy himself interviews the students. The purpose is to find out how interested they are and also to judge whether they can stay there for three long years.
The age limit rests between 16 and 30. On completion, the academy awards a diploma in Vedanta philosophy. Although the cost of maintaining a student for three years works out to Rs 75,000, all students are sponsored by the Vedanta Cultural Foundation, which is funded by corporate and individual donations.
‘We impart education according to ancient principles where you don’t have to pay for it,’ says Jaya Rao, a senior disciple of Parthasarathy who teaches at the academy.
But what difference does Parthasarathy’s teachings make to the students?
‘It has taken out a lot of confusion from my life,’ answers Alok Chopra, who has taken the Vedanta course. His wife, also a student at the Vedanta Academy, adds: ‘There’s a greater degree of awareness, emotionally and in action.’ Says Sunanda, Parthasarathy’s daughter, who runs the Chennai chapter: ‘We work but are never tense. Life is a calm affair.’
If this is the result of Vedanta, then the mind certainly stands to benefit. Beyond that? Never mind!
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Desires give rise to stress, as not all desires can be fulfilled. You can avoid the resulting mental agitation by using your discerning powers. Control and discipline your desire.
All grumbling is tantamount to why a lily is not an oak. The mind has a tendency to ramble in the past or future. This saps energy.
Don’t let present happiness be linked with future achievement. The main idea is to be content with the present, while aspiring for higher things.
Attachment is love polluted with selfishness. The attached mind is as unsteady as an upside down cone standing on its tip. A mind free of attachment is as steady as a cone firmly placed on its base, and cannot be distressed by any external problem or circumstance.Vedanta can`t catapult you to transcendence
In an interview with Harvinder Kaur, A. Parthasarathy, Vedantic scholar extraordinaire, unveils a practical perspective to life:
How would you define Vedanta?
Vedanta explains your psychological and philosophical constitution, which you ought to know to be able to contact the world. By learning the art of how to contact, you’ll remove the conditioning you are in and regain your original identity.
Is the Vedantic path suitable for all?
Vedanta gives you knowledge of the self. So, the seeker should be looking for the self. You only require the ability to think.
What is meditation?
Meditation is focusing the mind on a single thought. But that can happen only when you’ve offloaded the bulk of desires. Vedantic knowledge is terrestrial. It cannot catapult you to transcendence.
What do you have to say about courses that offer ‘enlightenment’?
Sick! It is like squashing a doctorate into a crash-course. Even the three-year course I offer at the Vedanta Academy is a compromise.
Do you consider yourself enlightened?
The question is absurd. It is like a dreamer asking a person in the dream whether he is awake. I’ll be stupid if I say ‘yes’.