In the 25th Episode of The Mindful Initiative, we speak to my Veda Chanting Teacher, Shantala Sriramaiah. Shantala teaches Vedic Chanting to people worldwide through her online portal Veda Studies. According to Shantala, Vedic Chants create positive vibrations, and these vibrations can uplift us, especially during challenging times. These vibrations originate in our abdomen and travel through our lungs. In the current times, we can use some of the vibrations for uplifting our spirit, create an anchor that can hold us through these extremely trying times. This episode may introduce Vedic Chanting to you and for others, it may serve as a reminder for you to get back to your chanting or keep chanting.
Our 25th Episode marks the 3 year anniversary of The Mindful Initiative Podcast. With so many of our friends, family, children, brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts suffering, it is difficult to even use the word celebrate. However, I would like to take this moment to acknowledge and Thank all our listeners, who have been listening to us, providing constant feedback so we can keep delivering top-quality content. Thank you to all our previous guests for sharing your lives with us, our advisors, our most ardent volunteer Gita Venkataramaiah, Pranjali, Naureen and our Editor Juan Pablo Velasquez Luna.
About Shantala Sriramaiah
Shantala has been inspired by her mother Saroja, who taught chanting classes in their home for over 30 years, she is very grateful to the early exposure to Sanskrit chanting and Indian scriptures through her family tradition and school education. Born and raised in Bangalore, India, Shantala is an Engineer by qualification and enjoyed a 20-year career specializing in Learning & Development before making the change to Veda chanting classes to continue her family tradition. Her teaching draws from her previous experience, bringing structure, detail, and clear objectives and methodology to all the classes & courses. She has developed a unique system to accurately and completely transmit all the nuances of Vedic phonetics to help support students learn without error. She is a student of Sri M. S. Sreenivasan of The Challakere Brothers who has been guiding her Veda recitation practice and mentoring her teaching.
She lives in Brussels, Belgium with her husband and two small children.
Show Transcription >>
Nitesh B. 00:22
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Mindful Initiative Podcast. I’m your host Nitesh Batra. Thank you for joining us. Today it’s a privilege and honor to welcome Shantaa Sriramaiah on our show. Shantala teaches Vedic recitation to an international community in Brussels in Belgium, and globally through her online platform classes. The majority of her inspiration comes from her mother’s Saroja, who taught chanting classes at their family home for over 30 years. Shantala is very grateful to the early exposure to Sanskrit chanting and Indian scriptures through our family tradition, and school education. Shantala was born and raised in Bangalore, and she’s an engineer by qualification, and enjoyed a 20 year career specializing in Learning and Development, before making the change to become a Vedic chanting teacher. Her teaching style draws from her professional experience. As she brings structure, detail and clear methodology to her teachings. She developed a unique system to help students accurately and thoroughly learn all the nuances of Vedic phonetics. The ultimate goal in her teachings is to create a community of regular practitioners who are inspired by and benefit from the knowledge of the Vedas. She’s a student of Shri MS Srinivasan of the Challakere brothers, who has been guiding her Vedic recitation practice and mentoring her teaching. She lives in Brussels, Belgium, with her husband and two children.
Shantala R. 02:03
I think that these are very natural human feelings, that your spiritual practices should not be taking away from you. I think that your spiritual practices does not sort of dismiss your human experience, you know, that you will still experience joy and sorrow and attachment and all of that, but how you deal with it is what the spiritual practice helps you with.
Shantala R. 02:35
And just seeing how she would interact with those students, and how much love she gave all of these students and what a community she created, I mean, it was just the most inspiring, magnificent process to watch.
Nitesh B. 02:52
Shantala R. 02:54
Thank you, Nitesh. And thank you for having me, it’s my honor to be here.
Nitesh B. 02:59
These interviews, these podcasts, we have people from all over the world from different walks of life. And we like to bring all of them on the same page by asking them about their spiritual upbringing you grew up in Bangalore, you grew up in India. And there is a religious element that ties into our upbringing in most homes. So if you can just walk us through your upbringing, and what part of your life has spirituality associated with it.
Nitesh B. 03:26
Just as you mentioned, you know, when you grow up in India, there is a certain spirituality or religious element involved in your upbringing. And that was very much also the case for me. My parents were very spiritual, they were spiritual and religious. So I grew up very much in the context of, you know, poojas, and ceremonies and homas and Yagnas and going to the temple. Our summer vacations, you know, we’re not about going away to resorts, it was mainly two things. One, going to grandmother’s house, in the village to going on a pilgrimage. So really entire, the entire time growing up, I think, until the time we were teenagers, which is when we started to go to a jungle resort and you know, do more what is considered a normal holiday, mainly for us, it was going to Tirupati and, you know, getting the darshan of, you know, the different deities, you know, all over India, actually, we we did a lot of traveling for a lot of pilgrimages we did together as a family, but also at home. It was very much you know, the Friday Pujas, and my mother was a teacher of chanting. I think this is my greatest influence. This has been the greatest influence in my life. So right from the time I was born, my mother, I’ve seen her teach students who would come home, so she had a modest in the beginning a very modest practice. Whereas she would teach the neighbors and just a community of people who would come home, mostly women and be teaching them, she was also teaching children. So I used to be sort of watching a lot of this, and I would participate in many of these. And I was always someone sitting on the fence, you know, I was never fully convinced, as a kid, as many of us are, you know, growing up in India, because I also had this very rational, questioning mind. So I would always ask my parents, what is the reason we are doing this? Or what is the purpose of this, you know, what happens to ansem. And often, you know, in India, being sort of immersed in that tradition, these questions can seem quite strange to parents, because you’re just simply sort of expected to, you know, accept the whole context and sort of go with it. And it’s a celebration, and it’s a, you know, it’s about God, and we, we worship and good things happen to you, if you worship and that sort of thing. But fortunately, I also had a little bit more, you know, I saw how my father evolved himself, you know, how we evolved his own thoughts, how we evolved his own relationship, you know, with the deities, he would be praying to come, he developed his own type of meditative practices, and I could see the results, especially in my dad, you know, I saw him go through extremely tough times. And I saw how coolly he would sort of navigate these situations, you know, and really tough situations, his entire life, youth was all a very difficult experience for him. But I could see how instead of turning into somebody, you know, bitter and sort of jaded with life, he was actually full of positivity, and he, his first thing was always to help others. So I knew there was something, you know, there was a very good effect of all of these rituals, and the meditative practices of the chanting, the listening to the chanting, all of that, but I was never really able to articulate and pinpoint exactly what was going on. But I could see the effect. So I was always very attracted to no more. But I just, you know, didn’t I think have maybe the right resources at that point, to go deeper. So of course, just like everybody else, in Bangalore, I became an Engineer. Because this is what we do in Bangalore, we first become engineers. And then we think about life goals. But the first step to any life goal, if you’re from Bangalore, is to first get a professional degree. So either you have to become an engineer, or a doctor, if those two don’t work out, I think a law degree is considered acceptable. So I became an engineer, and I have no regrets. I really loved, you know, the brilliance of it all. And I loved logic. And, you know, I loved all of those things. And I got a job in technology. And I sort of stayed in that environment for over 20 years. And I, you know, I gained a lot of skills. So I really enjoyed all of that. But always through, you know, I’ve always had these periods of time when I would come back to chanting or, you know, different spiritual practices would attract me. So along the way, I was always even though I had this corporate life, I always spent some time I would do a Bhagavad Gita retreat, or I would go to a Vedanta class, or I would go to, you know, this Art of Living retreat in Bangalore and, and many retreats I ran away from as well, because they didn’t, I didn’t know I didn’t, didn’t seem like the right time for me, or it didn’t seem like the right environment for me. But it was a very supportive environment of going to these things, while also having, you know, life and technology and corporate. So I’m very grateful for, you know, the only exposure I’ve had at home, especially with, you know, the privilege of being in my mother’s classes, you know, and seeing her teach, seeing how she would correct students, and just seeing how she would interact with those students and how much love she gave all of these students and what a community she created. I mean, it was just the most inspiring, magnificent process to watch. And so I feel like what I do now is just, you know, miniscule sort of offering in my own way, but very much inspired by, you know, this upbringing that that I’ve had
Nitesh B. 09:59
Thank you, it’s good to know about your upbringing and your parents. I’ve just read about them on the paper and now know a little bit more. And this feeling and the creation of community that there’s so much that you packed in, in those four or five minutes. But this feeling of community with the Vedic chanting that you teach through with Veda-Belgium, in person and through online. That’s one thing I think I see that you are creating, and I being a student of yours, I love learning from you. And you’re trying to create this community of people trying to learn. And in your upbringing, you saw this community of people across your mother, which you didn’t think of a community at that point of time, surely, because you can watch younger? And now the way I think about it, I feel the same way. But do you think it had an impact on you? And do you think that it’s, it’s more relevant now to have such a community than it was before?
Shantala R. 11:00
That is a great question, because it went straight to my heart? And absolutely, I have to, you know, and share something very deeply personal. And possibly, you’re the first one I’m sharing with, because it seems, you know, like you asked a question that sort of brings up that memory. But when my mother was dying, I had just had my baby, my firstborn. And he and I had this, you know, I did this very daring thing of traveling with a two week old newborn, or to India, from Belgium. Because my mother was dying, she was really on her deathbed, you know, her last weeks of life. And I really wished for her to see her grandchild. So I traveled and everything was thankfully, you know, fine. It’s actually very easy to travel with a newborn than an older child. But I remember those days that I spent in my family home there. And watching, you know, her students or friends, the community, even strangers, people who didn’t know her, would come to see her, you know, there seemed to be something very special going on, people would be standing in line, I could not believe this, you know, people will be standing in line, she was in her bedroom on the first floor, there’ll be a line of people that would, the line would go all the way to outside the home. And I remember my aunt once had to wait three hours to see her own sister, because there were so many people to see my mother. So this, I mean, for me, that was really something very stunning to see. And I said, you know, this is a lady, my mother, who didn’t really have a college education, you know, she barely finished high school. In fact, she dropped out of high school because she was so afraid of the math teacher, she dropped out of high school. And she pursued her devotional life, you know, she gave up, not gave up actually, she actually took on this spiritual life. And she built it up, you know, with so much heart that, you know, her last moments, I think were such an endorsement of her entire life’s work, you know, so many people waiting to see her. And for me, it was not that I would like to have so many people come to see me when I die or something. But it was just the inspiration of how many lives she touched, you know, what she created, and what she, you know, what she attracted into her life, it was amazing for me to see, that was really inspiring, and it helped me reflect on the work I was doing at that point. And what I was building for me personally, and whether what I was doing was gratifying for me and for my community and whether I was really adding any value. You know, as much as I enjoyed my corporate life. These were the questions that sort of started to, you know, haunt me. And it was very much so what she built as a community had a deep impact on me eventually designing because it was only, you know, a one year after that event, that I decided to leave my corporate job yet I didn’t know what I would be doing. You know, so this is the, the wonderful, you know, story about how your life’s purpose can be right in front of you, right under your nose. And it still doesn’t strike you that that is your life’s purpose, you know, so I had to quit my job and sort of spend a lot more time in reflection before it happened.
Nitesh B. 14:49
It gave me goosebumps just listening about your mother and people coming around. And I remember when my father passed away He passed away in his mid 60s. And when we came back to India, or for the final rights and some of the other things, there were people who I didn’t even know, knew my father. And he was a person who would just go to everyone, no matter who they were, whether they were angry at them or happy with him, he would always maintain a relationship. So it’s, the community seems so relevant. It’s not who you are, what you study, but who you are, as an individual, I think that’s what I’m hearing and such as, such as May May God bless her. And I’m glad we are seeing glimpses of her through you and the world is getting to experience the same sort of feeling for all of us. And the other question that came to my mind was this idea of that, get a professional degree, and do something with your life, and then do whatever you feel that you want to do. And many of us have gone through it ourselves. And a lot of us, like you mentioned, you don’t have any regrets of going through it, because it’s structured your mind mind in certain ways. But then you also mentioned that you were running away to these retreats and some of these other places. So there’s this irony that lies that, you know, yes, I don’t have any regrets. But I’m trying to do something different. I don’t want to do what I’m being asked to do. So now the question comes in. And this is, especially for the younger generation, that this is his whole mantra that’s coming up, you know, follow your heart, follow your dreams, do this do that. What do you think about that? What place does it hold in the current situation in the world, because our times were a little different than where we are today, the situation of her family or finances, and so many other things. So your thoughts on that?
Shantala R. 16:54
I think indeed, our times were a little bit different, you know, not that we’re super old or something. But just that, I think that it was very, we were very career driven, you know, and I think because, you know, our generation had parents who had sort of just made it, you know, they had made it most of our, many of our parents, you know, have this rags to riches story. You know, like my father, for example, he had absolutely no money at all, you know, growing up, and he basically put himself through college, and I remember his story about how he would play football, bare feet, you know, he still has these Bunyan’s to prove to show for it, that he didn’t wear proper shoes, he didn’t have shoes, you know, when he was in college, and he would walk to college, from the hospital, and he really put himself through his education. And so for him, you know, for his children to thrive, and to have a good education, without having all of the challenges of having how to pay for this education, etc. You know, it was very important. And I think we could see why it was important, and most of us had that attitude, you know, of, we must do well, and we must get a good job, and we must sort of contribute financially be financially independent, you know, this is something my father would always tell me that your financial independence is a very important, you know, part of the choices you make in life. So, I think that that bit maybe was a little bit, you know, different for us. And now, I think that, you know, the younger generation, they have, you know, a lot more choice, you know, they don’t have these type of challenges to sort of deal with. And I think that there is more opportunity now to sort of have alternative careers and, you know, to not have these traditional careers of becoming an engineer and doctor, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that as well. You know, I think we need all types of people, we need all types of careers to thrive and things, but I think that younger people have a lot more exposure, and a lot more, you know, a lot of access to opportunities that maybe didn’t present themselves, you know, when we were in college and things for us. I mean, even the internet came about really after we finished our graduation, etc. So, I mean, we were very different generation indeed. But I think now people, you know, sort of can make choices that are maybe more aligned with their life purpose and sort of discover it, maybe even earlier on. I’m not sure, though, you know, because, you know, like what I do now, I think my life purpose was very much in my home. But I think there is something inside that needs to sort of open up to recognize it. And for me, I think that the path that life unfold For me, was absolutely perfect, you know, including, you know, these beautiful opportunities that during my corporate career, I would have also the time to dabble, not dabble? Well to explore my spiritual side, you know, I think that was actually perfect for me. And it happened at the right time and it happened, you know, the unfolding happened at the right moments. And I had exactly the right resources, I suppose, you know, because I had this job I could pay for, you know, taking a three month sabbatical, and going to Mysore to study and going to Vaishno Devi, and we packing all these things into three months, you know, doing my own kind of spiritual journeys, you know. So I think that people should just sort of follow what is right for them. I don’t think there is a blanket advice for all young people. And I think that each individual has to really look at what is right for them in that moment and think, and I think that there is a much better chance now of being able to do something alternative than we had. That’s for sure.
Nitesh B. 21:15
And I think you’re absolutely right. And it’s to the point that they’re way more opportunities, and people can follow their heart, their dreams, in many ways that they would like. But then we’re becoming a generation of instant gratification. And this generation of instant gratification is that I like something right away. But the hard work, so So let’s look at your journey of becoming away the chanting teacher, it’s been going on throughout your life, it’s not something that you started yesterday, and the hard work that has gone in, if you look at the countless hours, not just reciting, but listening to your mother, or to your teachers, or outside, you know, there’s so much that has gone into it, and practice and patience. But that’s one thing that has been a challenge that how do you become patient, but more, have more shraddha or faith in what you’re doing? Because that comes over a period of time you keep doing and this little breadcrumbs keep coming, right? So I feel that this shraddha` is extremely important and belief and it’s not right away that you figure out this is what I would like to do and and blossoms into that particular thing. Right? So how did this evolution of teaching to a few people in Belgium, go to the teaching people globally? You have people from all over the world that that you’re teaching now, how did that materialize? And how has your experience been in teaching people who do not understand Sanskrit, but just the power of chanting, how to take it, and what effects they have on their lives? So a lot of questions.
Shantala R. 23:11
Yes, and a lot of very beautiful points you make as well, you know, especially when you speak about Shraddha in such a beautiful thing to say Shraddha. But also to recognize that in you or in others, and to grow this, you know, it’s an attitude. And I think all I can say, you know, if I were to give a short answer to your very beautiful, multi faceted question, I think my one answer would be that I am supremely fortunate to have had the time to think about what was important for me, and also, you know, an element of fearlessness somewhere to sort of make that switch, and to not really spend, you know, because if if you start sitting down and spending time on what are the consequences of leaving a 20 year career and something you’re very good at, to start doing something that you don’t know where it will go. I think if I had done that kind of, you know, analysis, you know, a SWOT analysis, I think, if I had done that sort of thing, I think I would not have even left my job, or I would not have done any of the things that I’m doing at the moment. Because if you look at things rationally, everything pointed to, you know, it would have been better for me to stay in that job. You know, I could have become Vice President, I could have become whatever and you know, and it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the job as well. I worked with brilliant people, great colleagues. I mean, even now I’m in touch with most of my managers, most of my bosses, let’s say, from my previous jobs, and we have a great relationship, there was really no reason for me to leave in that sense, you know, and yet, you know, there is something in us, you know, there is a light that sort of opens and is refusing to be, you know, trapped in is refusing to take your rational answers. And I think that I’ve been very fortunate in being able to follow that little light, you know, and my teacher says it beautifully, you know, my, my Vedic chanting Guru Ji, Guru Ji Sreenivasan, he says that, I am basically benefiting from all of my mother’s hard work and sadhana that she did her whole life. And I’m basking in the effects of that. And so I think I’ve been very fortunate in saying that, you know, I’m going to give this a try. And through the process, you know, in the beginning, of course, I had, you know, some moments of feeling down, and I was like, oh, I’ve sheduled this class, and nobody’s coming. But of course, you know, I mean, I’m in Belgium, I am a foreigner here, I have no network, I have no website, I’ve suddenly switched from being a head of HR for a technology company to saying, Okay, now I’m going to do a chanting class. So it’s not like magic, the people just show up. Because you have good karma or something, you know, there’s a lot of effort, of course, you have to put into making making that work. So I’ve had the support of my family, you know, my husband, who basically said, just do it, just do it, you know, and that sort of pushed me and gave me that initial push. But I remember never feeling afraid. I remember never having any doubt about the practice. Never any doubt about that this was a helpful practice to share with people. That is shraddha for me, you know, that feeling of complete clarity, that this is a practice that is helpful to people on many levels, you know, because it’s not immediately your religious practice it can be, but it’s also a very practical practice that regulates your breath. And, you know, makes you feel a sense of calm immediately. And, you know, you apply concentration. And this, this level of concentration that you apply, people can immediately feel the benefits of that, because when you focus single pointedly on something, even for a short period of time, there is a sense of calm, that is just an you know, it’s just a response to that activity, which is very beautifully calming, even though the practice has been difficult in terms of you having to apply that level of concentration, the effects are beautiful, you know, and that is a sense of application of your intellect because you have to understand some phonetics, you have to and then also spend some time on reflection, which you tend to do, because you want to know what is the some chanting, so even momentary reflection is basically time spent with the divine. And it’s basically, you know, a practice that helps people lead a prayerful life without being connected to any, you know, religious organization, you live a prayerful life, because you take care of yourself, and you thank all the forces in your life by doing Vedic chanting. So it’s a continuous sense of gratitude that you can experience and everybody experiences and I think the mainly the, the growth from, you know, teaching a few handful of students in Brussels and then, you know, a few more in Belgium to now, you know, really students from all over the world has mainly been because the practice works, you know, the practice works for people. It’s not a simple practice, because, of course, there is involvement of, I mean, there is this application, you have to learn some basics of Sanskrit, you don’t need to learn it as a language, but you need to learn the sounds and you need to learn certain, you know, rules of recitation and you have to put all of that together, and then also understand the meaning and of course, you have to do all your own work of reflecting on the meanings of this because, you know, the mantras revealing themselves to you really, what that means is that you make that meaning yours, you know, you put yourself into the meaning of these mantras, they have to mean something to you personally. And for that, that is a long sort of process. You know, a long, long process of reflection, you know, all of this combined together, it’s a very effective practice, you know, a very effective meditative practice, that involves a lot of, you know, preparatory work. And so I think that is basically a result of that. And for me, I think another very principal thing for me is that the teaching hours are much, much, much lower than my practice hours. So a majority of my time, is still dedicated to my own practice. And I believe this is the place from which I teach is from my own place of practice my own reflection, and I have my own way of teaching and the meanings without distorting, you know, it’s a prayer value. So I mean, that that is the strength, I think the whole growth is I attribute only to that. And I hope I will continue to have the resources to keep that balance, you know, of keeping my practice first, and the teaching next.
Nitesh B. 31:18
So beautifully articulated, and so much wisdom. You know, you mentioned fearlessness, quite a few times in different ways in this answer as listening to it. Because as you venture out on your own. After working in corporate life for 20 years, you have to have that fearless attitude, I believe, in some way or the other, or some belief in yourself. And that’s out there. And I’m reminded, you know, when I was thinking of fearlessness of your story, which I’ve heard a couple of times from you, regarding your brain hemorrhage. And I’ll let you speak on that. Because you are way better in telling what happened and how you recognized it. And what happened after. But my question is, which I’m sure you hopefully you bring up as well, that that your chanting practice, in some way helped you your yoga practice in some way helped you. So if you can bring that element out, I think that would really help people listening and inspire them as well.
Shantala R. 32:27
Yeah, this was a shocking incident, especially for my family. Because throughout my life, you know, I’ve been someone very attracted to a healthy lifestyle. So I always ate well, and I practiced, you know, I’ve been studying yoga, since basically, I was a child, because we had yoga and Sanskrit as the mainstream curriculum in school. And for me, it was always a very important part of my life. And the entire family, you know, I was quite famous for being someone who ate healthy and, you know, stayed in a healthy weight range. You know, and liked holidays, that involved going for a hike or nature and, you know, going to a yoga retreat. I mean, this was my idea of our holidays, to go spend New Year’s Eve, in a yoga place, you know. So for someone like that to experience, you know, a sudden brain hemorrhage, you can imagine how shocked the family was, like, you know, so there were all these questions about why is it happening to me, you know, and the thing is that it doesn’t matter, you know, how healthy or life you lead. I mean, when it doesn’t mean that you’re sort of invincible, you know, to episodes like this, because this was something that the cause was never really pinpointed. And it was eventually, you know, their eventual diagnosis was that it was just something I’ve had since birth, and you know, that it was a vein that basically popped. So I had a sudden, spontaneous bleeding in the brain. And ironically, this was this happened to me while I was teaching or chanting class. So you know, the number of people, who started to question whether I, you know, I had the brain hemorrhage because of a chanting practice, you know, that was I had innumerable questions come to me. But I think, you know, what, for me, what strikes me is that my recovery was very, very rapid. And for me, it was basic and to top it all off, the brain hemorrhage happened on the morning of my 44th birthday. So I mean, it’s really fully is power packed in on this incident is like so power packed because I wanted to do something auspicious on my birthday and therefore it sheduled a class. So I can spend my morning chanting, you know, with people who are with like minded people. And then this, you know, it gets struck by a brain hemorrhage in the middle of this class. And then, you know, there is all the ambulance and hospital business. But I remember deciding when I was told that, you know, you’re not dying, I was like, okay, that’s, I guess that’s good. I can still be around to take care of my kids. But I also decided that I would be the best brain hemorrhage survivor ever. It was like a, we call this a sankalpa. You know, I decided that I would be one of the best ones. And I really worked towards it. And I think that my recovery, you know, I don’t think the brain hemorrhage happened, because of my spiritual practices. This is what a lot of people were questioning. For me, I credit, my recovery to my spiritual practices do we are recovered, and how quickly I recovered, you know, within six months, I was sort of going back to a normal life. I did. Initially I did a, you know, just simple. I worked with food a lot, a lot of clean eating, which I was already doing, but I did much more. I did a full Nutri test and checked all the things I was intolerant, I was very, very good with food. But I also did Nadi-Shodhna the nice simple breathing practices that helped me regain my strength. But throughout I was doing I remember, even through the MRIs I had to have and everything was mainly the chanting, you know, silent chanting. So I had no energy to chant loud. But I did a lot of silent chanting, that got me through things in a very calm way. So I think now it’s about coming to four years since this happened. And I feel there are absolutely no traces of this incident left. And I credit a lot of that, to my chanting practice, to leaving, you know, I think what the chanting has done for me is this, living in this prayerful way, you know, that whatever is happening, is just meant to be, but my spiritual practice shows and how I deal with it. And so, you know, I remember not feeling fear about this as well, of course, I had the natural fear of, you know, who will take care of my kids kind of thing, which is, I think, very normal. And even that was question I remember my spiritual friends, questioning all but that is attachment, how can you be worrying about your children and things? I think that these are very natural human feelings, that your spiritual practices should not be taking away from you. I think that your spiritual practices does not sort of dismiss your human experience, you know, that you will still experience joy and sorrow and attachment and all of that, but how you deal with it, is what the spiritual practice helps you with. So I don’t know if I answered all the questions that were packed in there. But please do feel free to ask me if there is anything specific I should address more than this?
Nitesh B. 38:12
No, I think that’s you talked almost about everything. The other thought that came to my mind when you had mentioned your father, when he responded to difficult situations in his life. He didn’t think of them as difficult situations, he just had to overcome them. And I think that’s what you did. You just overcame it. Whatever way you thought was best for you at that point of time. I think that’s what was going on in my mind when you were talking about it.
Nitesh B. 38:44
And we’re getting towards the end of our time here. So I have, I have one question related to Vedas, which I thought, which we’ll ask is, you mentioned a bit of the yoga practice that has been part of your life since your childhood. And I know you’re an Ashtanga practitioner, as well. And now you’re doing Vedic chanting. So a couple of questions there. One, I think a lot of people find it hard to see what is the relevance of the Vedic studies today, or the Vedas today. And then then see, the connection between the yoga and the yoga practices and Vedas. So based on your experience, if you can just enlighten us more about the way that I think in general is what I’m looking for.
Nitesh B. 39:33
I think there was a really pertinent questions. Because I think in general, especially in India, we have a great reverence for these texts, if I may call them that, you know, great reverence for this body of work. You know, whoever you ask about the Vedas, you know, people will definitely show their respect for it. Even if we don’t have a clear idea about the contents of the Vedas. And then coming to, you know, yoga practitioners and yoga teachers, we are all told that the Vedas are the source texts of Bhagavad Gita of yoga, you know, and of Vedanta of all of these, you know, Vedic shat darshana, so to speak, that the Vedas are the source of all of that, but especially the modern day practice of yoga, you know, when you look at this modern practice of yoga, is highly confusing as to how can these mantras be the source of this practice, you know, so I like to also think of one of the, as my service to the community as helping practitioners find this connection, because there is a very deep connection, and it’s not even connection, it’s as if it’s the same thing. You know, the practice of yoga, is the same as being someone who is learning and chanting in a meaningful way, the mantras of the Vedas, it’s the same practice, you know. So, I mean, basically, that comes down to, first of all, understanding what is the actual content of the way that it’s basically a collection of experiences, you know, and revelations to the greatest Yogi’s of the Vedic times, you know, or rishis, we call them or seers, the people who had a vision, you know, of the truth, let’s say, but it’s not that some sky god came and just granted them a book and said, Hey, here’s the truth, because you’re the Blessed One or something. The process was not like this. But these Rishi’s` were actually the greatest Yogi’s, and it was through their spiritual discipline, and spiritual and meditative reflective practices, that they were able to get to a point where free from, you know, the ordinary human conditions of, you know, greed and lust, and anger and envy, and you know, all these other petty feelings, they were able to sort of compose their, you know, extraordinary mystical poetry from a place that was beyond all of these, you know, feelings, let’s say, your feelings and emotions. And therefore, you know, there is such a sense and sound of purity and truth and light in these mantras when you recite it, that you can, you can’t help but feel a joy and a sense of familiarity. Even with many people in my classes, you know, the first time they try a class, they burst into tears, and they cannot explain it, you know, so the sound, there is a certain joy to it. So the Vedas, what is important to know is that it’s not a book of rituals, but it’s actually, you know, whole collection of deep wisdom. And there is this constant point of contact with the divine, through the mantras of the Vedas. And the divine is nothing but just all of the different, you know, natural laws and psychological forces around us that help us thrive as a human being. And the Vedas speak about a structural ascent of humans, you know, so there is a certain process of divinization, you know, that every action that you do, can become divine, by acknowledging all of the forces that act together with us to complete a task. And the other beauty of the Vedas is that there was no division between spiritual life and a so called worldly life, you know, it was life, and your spiritual life and your life was one basically. And the knowledge of the Vedas is not limited to a spiritual life, you know, it’s about also living with nature. It’s, you know, this ecological mindset, it’s about, you know, how to be a good student, how to be a good teacher, how to find a good partner in life, all of this, you know, the end to end spectrum of knowledge, required in the human lifespan is contained in the Vedas, but in the form of beautiful, mysterious poetry that we need to understand and sort of unveil and news for our benefit. So the Vedas were basically you know, transcribed, the knowledge was transcribed into these mantras for our benefit. And so if you start then looking at yoga, and what Yoga is telling us to do, which is you know, to cleanse your kleshas and to, you know, go inward and to develop a calmer state Mind and to develop thoughts that are helpful to developing that calm state of mind versus, you know indulging in thoughts that are unhelpful. So the Vedas have this entire message of yoga is embedded in the mantras of the Vedas. So once we start to understand the deeper meaning of the Vedas, basically all the things you mentioned as well, about shraddha, for example, shraddha is basically worshipped as a goddess in the Vedas, and to cultivate and to to our first of all, to acknowledge, recognize that feeling and then to cultivate and develop it in us, and so on. So every single point that we speak about in yogic texts, you can find the source of it in the Vedas. And this is the beauty of it. So it’s, I can go on for hours, but I think you get the idea.
Nitesh B. 45:59
I do. I do. And I think it’s a good way for people to understand what is in the Vedas. And you’re absolutely right. There is so much reverence of Vedas in India, not just in India, I think all over the world when you when you just say, Vedas, as people are like, Okay, let me just sit up straight. That’s the kind of reverence it’s the way the texts have in India, and all over the world. So towards the end of our interview, we ask some questions about your life. These are questions that can be answered in one word, one sentence, or one paragraph, however you choose them to be there is a story around that a story would be nice as well. Are you ready? Sure. I’ll try to control myself. Do not give you too long answer.
Nitesh B. 46:48
One place in the world that you would like to be at?
Nitesh B. 46:52
Oh, wow. Like right now.
Nitesh B. 46:55
I think I’d like to be at home in India right now. That would be where I’d like to be,
Nitesh B. 47:00
Nitesh B. 47:02
All right. The next question is a childhood memory that brings joy to your mind.
Shantala R. 47:09
I mean, there are there are so many, so many, from my childhood that make me laugh. I think the one that makes me laugh the most is, I remember, when I watched the movie, Superman, I went up to my terrace in my nightgown, and I waited for Superman for a very long time. And I remember how much everybody laughed about that. And I still I think it was my funniest moment, most hopeful moment of waiting on the terrorists for Superman.
Nitesh B. 47:42
I don’t think I can ever forget that in my life. A book that’s very close to your heart.
Shantala R. 47:50
You know, it’s funny, you will expect me to say something from the Vedas. But actually, my top book still, and there is still not a book that has sort of taken this place is very easily book called Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels. Canadian author, just reading this book, you know, it has it had my hair stand on end and just her eloquent, beautiful, really elegant prose, very heartful story of survival. And beyond, is such a beautiful book, it’s still in the top place for me, I am yet to read something that has moved me more
Nitesh B. 48:36
A person that you would like to meet in history, someone in the past that you would like to meet.
Shantala R. 48:44
You know, actually, it’s not so far back in history, but I would have loved to meet and spend time with and study with Swami Dayananda Saraswati because his teachings just are so spot on, and listen to a lot of audio lectures by him and I have every book he has ever written. And they are so insightful and so brilliant, and so much clarity, so much lucidity. You know, there is, I mean, obviously, his knowledge was so beyond doubt. I find it so inspiring. I think I would have loved the opportunity to study with him and directly although I’m very fortunate to study with his disciples,
Nitesh B. 49:29
One wish that you have for the future.
Nitesh B. 49:33
Is it for my future or for
Nitesh B. 49:36
doesn’t matter? Well, I
Shantala R. 49:39
You know, my personal hope for me for myself, is I wish to continue to have this clarity and purpose in life, which brings me my inner peace. I wish my for me to continue to have that and I wish for my children to have that. That is My hope.
Nitesh B. 50:01
So now I’m forced to ask your wish for the for the world in the future.
Shantala R. 50:07
I think it would be the same thing you know, if we all had just complete clarity and knew our purpose in life. I think this is what peace inner peace is really all about. That would be my wish for everyone.
Nitesh B. 50:21
Shanta last question is if you can chant your favorite mantra, that will be great.
Shantala R. 50:29
Sure Nitesh. The thing is, they’re all my favorite mantras, but I’ll chant something for us to have an auspicious ending to this conversation. It’s a mantra for peace, asking for blessings of happiness from all of the natural forces in our lives. For all of us. ॐ शं नो मित्रः शं वरुणः । शं नो भवत्वर्यमा । शं नो इन्द्रो बृहस्पतिः । शं नो विष्णुरुरुक्रमः । नमो ब्रह्मणे । नमस्ते वायो । त्वमेव प्रत्यक्षं ब्रह्मासि । त्वामेव प्रत्यक्षं ब्रह्म वदिष्यामि । ॠतं वदिष्यामि । सत्यं वदिष्यामि । तन्मामवतु । तद्वक्तारमवतु । अवतु माम् । अवतु वक्तारम् ॥ ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥ (Om Sham No Mitrah Sham Varunnah | Sham No Bhavatv-Aryamaa | Sham Na Indro Brhaspatih | Sham No Vissnnur-Urukramah | Namo Brahmanne | Namaste Vaayo | Tvam-[e]Iva Pratyakssam Brahmaasi | Tvaam-[e]Iva Pratyakssam Brahma Vadissyaami | Rrtam Vadissyaami | Satyam Vadissyaami | Tan[d]-Maam-Avatu | Tad-Vaktaaram-Avatu | Avatu Maam | Avatu Vaktaaram || Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||).
Nitesh B. 51:52
Thank you so much for ending our interview on that high note. It really has touched my heart. And I would like to thank you for for being a part of our show, for being part of the mindful initiative, so much wisdom. And I’m sure our listeners will benefit greatly from listening to you. Thank you so much.
Shantala R. 52:15
Nitesh, thank you for inviting me and for this conversation. It’s been a privilege sharing with you. And it’s been a great honor being here. Thank you so much.
Nitesh B. 52:26
It’s been an honor for me to speak to you. And thank you everyone who has tuned in to listen to another episode of The Mindful Initiative podcast. If you like listening to our show, if you like what we do, please share this podcast with your friends and family. Thank you so much.