Welcome to Episode 28 of The Mindful Initiative Podcast with Swami Sarvapriyananda ji, the current resident Swami and head of Vedanta Society of New York (VSNY). He is a monk of the Ramakrishna Mission. I have been extremely blessed to meet many spiritual teachers on my life journey. Each person has helped me move along on my path forward – however, there are times when you meet someone who becomes a guiding force in your life – and Swami Sarvapriyananda ji is one of those teachers in my life. I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that way about Swami ji.
Fortune India mentions Sarvapriyananda as “one of the best-known lecturers of the Vedanta in the world today”. In this episode, I speak to Swami ji’s about the highest goal of life and the challenges one may face on the spiritual path. Swami ji’s profound wisdom is nourishment for any soul who is looking to overcome challenges in life. (For the transcription of the podcast, please click the link below).
Here is the link to the research paper titled, Why Pray to God who can Hear the Ant’s Anklets? Prayer, Freedom and Karma by Dr. Arindam Chakrabarti on Freewill mentioned by Swami ji in the podcast.
About Swami Sarvapriyanada ji
Swami ji joined the Ramakrishna Order of monks as a novice brahmachari in 1994 and received sannyasa (monastic ordination) from Swami Ranganathananda in 2004. Swami ji is known for his lectures on the various texts of Advaita Vedanta. His speaking engagements have included discourses at the Rubin Museum in New York City, the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, and the Parliament of World’s Religions as one of the keynote speakers. He has been a Nagral Fellow for the year 2019-20 at Harvard Divinity School.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji received his Masters in Business Administration from Xavier Institute of Management in Bhubaneswar. After joining the Ramakrishna Mission as a brahmachari, he served as the principal of the Shikshana Mandira Teacher’s Training College in Belur Math. He was also the first registrar of the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University. Prior to joining the Vedanta Society of New York, Swami was the assistant minister of the Vedanta Society of Southern California for a year.
Show Transcription >>
Nitesh Batra 0:22
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Mindful Initiative Podcast. I’m beyond joy today because we have been joined by Swami Sarvapriyananda ji from the Ramakrishna Order for this podcast. Swamiji is the minister and spiritual leader of the Vedanta Society of New York. He was the inaugural fellow at the Harvard Divinity School in 2019-20. Swamiji joined the Ramakrishna Mission in 1994. And he received Sanyas in 2004. He has served in various capacities at the Belur Math, prominently with the first Registrar of the Vivekananda University at the Belur Math.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 1:11
So use that practical feeling of freedom. And the real use would be spirituality, specifically what you said prayer. Prayer is the recognition that my so called free will is not at all free, underlying it is the will of God. That’s prayer.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 1:31
Tolerance is a very primitive concept. It’s like, I am right, but I’m just letting you live. There is violence, implied intolerance, so I’m really kind of sad when he came to the world Parliament religions, we don’t just say tolerance, we believe in acceptance, and that acceptance is a critical acceptance.
Nitesh Batra 1:52
Without further ado, welcome Swami ji. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for having me. Nitesh so Swamiji when we do these podcasts and interviews, we begin with just knowing a little bit about their upbringing and what role spirituality played in their upbringing. I think it sets the context for our conversations further. So if you can just tell us a little bit about that. That’d be a good start for us.
Nitesh Batra 2:19
Well, Nitesh, I am a monk of the Ramakrishna Order. And I really don’t think there is anything particularly exceptional about me. But having said that, I think that the stories of the monks are all unique and very interesting to know. It’s sort of a pity that the monks do not discuss their purvasharam from what I can share some details. So I grew up in Bhuvaneshwar. Most of my childhood was spent in Bhuvaneshwar, early childhood in Calcutta. And from class three, up to finishing my MBA. I was at Bhuvaneshwar. My father was a bureaucrat in the Government of India. My mother is a housewife. The main thing was that my parents and my grandparents also were very devoted followers of Sri Ramakrishna and Ma Sharada and Swami Vivekananda, we are closely connected for two generations with the Ramakrishna order. And we had an ashram nearby and more importantly, we had a lot of literature, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda literature at home. I am, I was, I guess, I was probably the part of the last generation before the widespread TV and internet and the social media and connectivity. So, all we had, luckily, I think, were books, and I became an avid reader. So, I think I grew up reading a lot of books of Swami Vivekananda, lives of Sri Ramakrishna and other saints, , and it always appealed to me, from the very beginning, I was very interested in spirituality. And I guess that’s how it started. And my parents used to take me to the ashram sometimes when I was a kid. And after I grew up a little bit, I started going to the ashram myself. I really liked it. Somewhere along the way, I decided to become a monk and here I am.
Nitesh Batra 4:16
Thank you so much. And I hope you didn’t mind me asking. I know it’s something that the monks don’t discuss. So I really hope that you didn’t mind me asking that question. All right. So I was listening to one of your interviews with Shweta Ji. And Akshar ji when you were at Harvard, where you were discussing your experience, and one of the questions that came up is, are you happy with what you’re doing? And I think that’s an eternal question, which a lot of us keep thinking and asking, Are we happy with what we’re doing? You know, is this our Dharma, is this something that we would like to continue doing in our life, and also in one of the articles in 2012, at the Vedanta Kesari, you mentioned that we can measure our happiness which is mentioned, I think in the Taitraya Upanishad recognition, and I felt that there is no perfect happiness that I have encountered other than some of the saintly folks like you, who are the firm conviction that yes, this is what my purpose of of the life is. And I think one of the questions that keep coming to my life, as you know, is what I’m doing, making me happy, like, you know, is this my right path? Is it what I should do? And I think it’s just not me so many others that I keep meeting on the journey. They’re like, you know, I’m not happy with what I’m doing, maybe I could do something else. How do you know that that the path that you’re on is the right one, that this is what my Dharma is, and this is what I should continue doing?
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 5:41
And that’s a really good question and an important one. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that, no matter how many zeros you collect, it, still the value is zero. But if you put one before the zeros, then every zero just keeps on increasing in value. When there’s a whole number if you put one zero then becomes 10, and two zeros become 100, zeros become 1000, and so on. So that one obviously, is spirituality. I mean, we are all in search of that one, which will give us a fundamental meaning and purpose to our life, which contributes to some kind of deep satisfaction and fulfillment in our life. And I have found it in spirituality. And I think spirituality is the answer is the ultimate answer. It has been so for centuries and millennia, in every civilization, particularly in India, long ago, it was realized that there is this ultimate reality, and you have to search for it and realize it in your own life. And that is actually the ultimate purpose of life. Aurobindo. I like a quote from Aurobindo, where he says, if you do it deliberately, you’re a yogi. And he doesn’t say this, but he just says, All life is yoga. That’s his quote. But what it means is, if you’re deliberately spiritual, a follow some path of spirituality, then you are a spiritual you call yourself a spiritual seeker. If somebody does not follow, it just says, I’m just living life. But that also is on the same path to enlightenment, just a very roundabout, and a very difficult and very unhappy path. So what I’m seeing here is that one sign of maturity in life is to come to the spiritual path. It doesn’t have to be Vedanta, like what I’m practicing now, you don’t have to become an actual monk, you know, giving up worldly activities and putting on an ochre robe, but it has to be spiritual in some form or the other. And then only everything gets meaning and substance and purpose. You know, so you see, what path am I on is this the right path, I could be doing something else, no matter what path we are on. Ultimately, none of it will be satisfactory, unless that one is there in our lives. And that one is spirituality. And again, repeating that spirituality in its widest sense, you could be a devotee, you could be a believer in any one of the religions or none of the religions, you could be spiritual, but not religious. You could even have a kind of atheistic spirituality. But some kind of deep spirituality is a must in our lives. And I’ve seen that, and it’s not difficult. I think lots of people have come to the solution. People who are sensitive thinking, and who look back upon their experience in life will look around and look at the experiences of people in general, they come to this understanding. So that’s one thing, that there must be spirituality in our lives, and that is the source of real happiness of lasting happiness. Otherwise, there is no other way, every other experiment in life will drive you back to this answer. Having said that, it is not entirely invalid to ask that what is what I’m doing right or wrong, be doing something else. I mean, quite apart from the question of spirituality, there is something called swadharma. Swadharma is something that is in accordance with my own samskaras. There was an ancient definition of swadharma, which was, you know, predicated upon the social structure of ancient India, which sort of defined what your role was in life, but that is no longer relevant with our modern society. The core idea, however, is relevant. Your own some samskaras, if you work according to your samskaras, your own innate tendencies, their chances of happiness and fulfilment or more, if you work against your innate tendencies, maybe you’re trying to fulfil somebody else’s expectations, maybe it’s just the force of circumstances, then there’ll always be a struggle and affliction and a kind of unhappiness. So yeah, these two things. One is add that one to your life, spirituality in whatever form possible. If you’re not satisfied, if you’re unhappy, strengthen that first. Strengthen your spiritual practices, your prayer, your meditation, your service to others, your spiritual or philosophical inquiry into the Meaning of Life into who I am, strengthen that you will find peace and happiness coming no matter what your actual occupation in life, what your actual situation in life is. That’s one. The second one is that it’s always good to do something, especially occupation, to do something which is according to one’s samskaras tendencies.
Nitesh Batra 10:21
I think that is excellently said that we follow the path of spirituality and if it becomes part of our life, it is going to help us for sure. And when I read the spiritual text, I keep imbibing that this is what you should do. And you know, Shankaracharya Ji, he came in about a millennia ago, and then we had the Vishitha da, and then you know, more exploration we had Dvaitha, you know, I mean, it came they came in sequence, everyone’s saying what to do, but the thing that I have found personally very difficult is how do I do that? That question of how is where it becomes a little bit tricky for me personally because you know, when I was growing up, mom’s like acha, you become you study you will be doing good, you become an engineer, you know, it will be okay then you do this. I think the how for the personal journey, if if you can shed a little bit light, maybe from your own experience, I think it will be helpful.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 11:18
And yes, one of our Swamis is a very senior monk of our order, Swami Satyarupananda ji, I heard him addressing a group of youngsters, college students, and in response to this very question, how do we start? What do we do? And how do we start his answer, his formula was simple and effective. He said, न्युनतम से शुरू करो और सरलतम का अभ्यास करो (Nuantam se shuru karo aur saraltam ka abhyas karo). Start with the smallest and practice the easiest, don’t be ambitious, suddenly, in your spiritual life. So for example, if you think that getting up early in the morning is, is good. And so from now on, I shall rise before sunrise. And if somebody is used to getting up at nine o’clock in the morning, and suddenly getting up before sunrise, you’re bound to fail the body and mind are not used to it. And then we give up. Rather than that, start with the easiest, get up 15 minutes earlier, half an hour earlier. And that you can do your own mind will do that much we are capable of doing. So start with the least and practice the easiest. So that’s how one starts. Again, I’ll emphasize that where you start you start with some kind of spiritual practice. The simplest things are, is there some spiritual reading and keeping it very open? I’m not even suggesting that it has to be the Gita or it has to be an Advaitic text, is there some spiritual reading in your life daily reading, it has to be some spirit of the text and also some kind of life. I would recommend the lives of the saints, you know, Swami Vivekananda, or other modern and ancient and medieval Indian, and also non-Indian and across religions. So if you actually read their lives, one gets inspired in one’s own life, from life, life inspires life that basically, no matter how many theories we talk about and philosophies we talk about, we actually read how Shankaracharya or Ramanujacharya or you know, Shri Ramakrishna, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, about their lives, we get inspired, we also want to be like that. The second component you need in your life is some kind of devotional practice. You न्युनतम से शुरू करो और सरलतम का अभ्यास करो (Nuantam se shuru karo aur saraltam ka abhyas karo). So you may be light a Diya in your house have a little place where you have a deity, maybe offer a flower, chant, one shloka Is there a service component to our lives? So do we volunteer part of our time or energy, our money for helping those from whom we do not expect anything in return? Even if that is not possible, it’s possible for many people, even if that is not possible, at least the work that we do in the house, in the community and in our jobs, can we convert that into spiritual practice into the worship of God, the Lord at whose feet I put a flower, that same Lord, I’m serving in the office, when I’m writing a report in a computer, it connecting our day to day activities to God. And finally, the fourth component would be, of course, meditation at least once or twice in a day, preferably early in the morning and late in the evening. When you shut down when we shut down everything, shut out the whole world shut out all other people shut out all of the thoughts and just focus on it could be on God, it could be if you are a very minimalistic practitioner, it could just be on your breath, absolutely calm and quieten the mind down. So these four practices, and if you are listening carefully, we have identified the four yoga which when we look at the talks about so there is a Jyana component, a Bhakti component, a karma component, and Raja component. This is where we start I think it’s pretty easy just to look at your routine and say, are these components in place in my daily life, and then go from there.
Nitesh Batra 15:13
So thank you so much Swamiji I think the four yoga does make a lot of sense. And then you speak about Swami Vivekananda. And Swami Ji is 157 birth anniversary is coming up in a few days. And I remember he used to say you mentioned about the youth, that youth are not useless, they are just used less. And, you know, that is something that has stuck with me for a long time, that if we don’t put people into action, they don’t do the work. And I so agree with that. But what is happening is that, you know, somewhere along the world, that we are going to extreme views that you know, what I’m doing is right, and what he’s doing is right. And earlier, I used to see that people used to come to a middle ground, more negotiation is happening that, and even in workplaces, that’s becoming a big issue, that my way is the only way or it’s the highway, and to bring both of them together on the table so that, you know, we respect the other individual’s views, we respect the other religions or each other’s viewpoint, I think a lot more self-reflection needs to be done. That’s what I personally think. But my question is, what is it that will put us back onto that path, where we converge and you know, become a better version of the human generation that we are, rather than going into a deep abyss which is polarising us in many ways.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 16:37
That is true. And this is actually a miserable thing, which we see in our modern world. It’s not just in India, it’s even more so here in the United States. as you can, if you see the news, you will see what is going on here in the United States. First of all, it’s a sign of weakness, that if I cannot listen to another person’s point of view, if I cannot understand another person’s point of view, while remaining steady, in my point of view, if I’m not open to persuasion, if I’m not open to change, it’s actually a sign of weakness, it’s not a sign of confidence or strength. One of the definitions of strength is the ability to live with contradictions. You have many different points of view, you have many problems in your day to day life, at home, and in the office. And you know, none of them will be ultimately solve to your satisfaction, if you solve one thing, two more problems will come up. That’s the very nature of samsara. To not only live with that, to be comfortable with that, to be able to operate with that, and not to be a doormat, you can always be very firm, in your point of view, in the essentials of your view, be very firm, there’s a beautiful Taoist saying which I like that be firm as a rock and flow like the water, in matters of essentials, you stand firm as a rock, and matters of opinion in 100 different things, you flow with them with, like water, whatever it is, seems to be right whatever seems to be good, you follow that you can change your point of view also you can be agreeable with people. But when what is absolutely essential for you, in principle, matters of principle, stand firm like the rock, what happened mostly is there are really no principles, the very relativistic world, and on matters of opinion on every little point, we are ready to fight and argue and not even argue, immediately demonize the other. So that is a sign of weakness, that is not a sign of strength. In India, imagine the reason why we have such an extraordinary, so deep, and profound philosophy. Indian philosophy, I think is the richest in the whole world, by far. And one of the reasons we have had it is we have had tremendously different points of view, crosscurrents of thinking, who always engage with each other, not just tolerant. tolerant is a very primitive concept. It’s like, I am right, but I’m just letting you live. There is violence, implied intolerance. So I’m Vivekananda said when he came to the world, Parliament religions, we don’t just say tolerance, we believe in acceptance. And that acceptance is always a critical acceptance, I am free to put forward my point of view and justify it with reasoning, you are free to put forward your point of view and justify with reasoning. And we are free to argue and come to our own conclusions. And that led to the development of such deep philosophies, and each of the schools over a period of 2000-3000 years at the least, whether it’s Nyaya or vaisheshika, sankhya Yoga, the various Buddhist schools, the Jain schools, which have not yet been fully explored so far, by modern scholarship, and of course, Vedanta. They developed over 1000s of years with to tremendous depth and subtlety. And that’s because of this attitude. That I’m willing to listen, not only willing, I’m interested in what you have to say, but you have to say cogently, you have to say it logically, or present your case. And then we interact. And then each school, it didn’t develop by rejecting each other, or by fighting with each other, they discussed and over time, the DNA of the opponents was incorporated into my school, my thoughts move found their way into the thoughts of people who are entirely opposed to my way of thinking. As a result, which we know even today, if you look at Advaita, Vedanta and Madhyamaka Buddhism, they look like mirror images. They aren’t like almost the final product of Buddhist philosophy was the Madhyama Yogachara synthesis, which forms the basis of Tibetan Buddhism, for example, now, and almost a final product in some sense, not the final product, but sort of highest product of rationality logic. And I would say, that’s my perspective. Advaita Vedanta. And how interesting that they seem like mirror images of each other. So yes. Now how do we do that? How do we reach there, I feel a lot of the solutions are in Swami Vivekananda’s teachings, especially his teachings to the youth. So to remain firm on your principles, you need principles in the first place. And that comes from having a goal in life, Swami Vivekananda said, the first thing you need is a very high goal in life. Follow your own highest ideal, that is the shortest route to progress, not because your teachers have told you not because you’ve seen it on the screen or your dress, the latest fashion, but because you have read it all you have investigated and found it to be true and found it to be good for all and then you adopt it. And we are open to changing it later. Also, if you if you feel that something better has come along, so you have a goal in life. I often say that if you ask young people today, What’s your goal in life? What’s your aim in life? Most people would be puzzled and don’t have, they can give you a lecture on what should be the goal of life what we should do in life. But what exactly is their goal in life, I mean, in terms of an ultimate goal in life purpose in life, people are confounded. And that’s tragic. That is really tragic because this is the age of decisions. Peter Drucker, a famous management guru, and his management challenges for the 21st century, he said, for the first time in the 20th century and 21st century, of course, we have a choice. For millennia, our forefathers, lived where they were born, they did the occupations of their forefathers, they ate the food and wore the clothes and married within the same community or caste. And more or less, the life was spent in the same way, they had very little choice. Unless you were a king or a mercenary or something like that, or a traveller, you are mostly stuck to what life threw at you. But for the first time, this is all Drucker. Drucker is saying that in late 20th and early 21st century, we are born in one place, we study in another place, we work in a third place, we live in another place, and we may be retired in another place. We belong to one race, and we marry into another race, we eat food of various continents and cultures, we move from job to job to job skill set to skill set so many times in one lifetime. So much choice. And so much choice calls for wisdom. We don’t have infinite time. So to make wise choices, a goal in life is important and should be a higher noble goal. One sign of a higher noble goal is does it benefit others? Is it only for myself, others, others are benefited by it. So having a goal in life. I mean, just look at us as monks, we are actually very ordinary people. But in one sense, monks are extraordinary. What makes an ordinary person into an extraordinary person is just the goal that they have chosen. That’s it that has a transformative power, a very high goal, you choose that and you live your life, according to it. Over the years, life gets transformed. I would say to young students would scratch their heads gonna ask them what is your goal in life? I said, Look, if you go to Belur Math, our main monastery and you ask the junior most Brahmachari, who has joined the order yesterday, and you ask the President of the order of the senior most monk of the order, one thing they have in common is if you ask them, What is your goal in life, they will tell you immediately, Swami Vivekananda said आत्मनो मोक्षार्थम् जगत् हिताय च (Atmano mokshartham jagat hitaya cha) for your own liberation and for the welfare of the world. That is the goal. And that is my goal. That is such a great transformative power. first goal in life. Second is, again Vivekananda, faith in oneself is often quoted. We don’t pay attention. We don’t listen, but we quote is that the old religion said he who does not believe in God is an atheist. But the new religion says that he who does not believe in himself is an atheist, this faith in oneself that I can if others have done it I can do it. If there’s something that others have not done that also I’ll be able to do that. So that kind of faith in oneself. That was why Swami Vivekananda admired the character of Nachiketa, we found in the Katho Upanisha, who went to the doors of Death to the house of death, to an inquest of spiritual knowledge. So that Shraddha or faith in oneself. As Swami Vivekananda. He stressed that if you have faith in yourself, then all things in life are possible all these possibilities of change and development are possible. I was just thinking how, in modern thought, all these ideas have come to the west, especially in the United States. Psychologist a few decades ago, Albert Bandura, he developed this concept of self-efficacy. self-efficacy means the belief in oneself that I have been able to do these things in the past, I can do them again, I have cracked this problem in the past with this new problem, I can crack now. You know, I have met many challenges in my life, and I’ve successfully overcome them, that has given me a confidence that this challenge also I can face and overcome. He saw the psychologist Bandura, he saw that students who had faith in themselves that self-efficacy, they persisted longer with the question papers, they tried more, those who did not have that faith, they got scared and difficult problems, don’t give up quickly. Obviously, if you give up, you’re not going to succeed anyway, no matter how intelligent you are. And if you keep on persisting the chances of no success, academic success, are more so faith in oneself, the powerful idea. So I’m very candid gave the idea of the importance of concentration or focus, which is so important in today’s life, the ability to focus our powers of our mind on a particular topic, we could go on.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 26:54
One thing I would like to say he had here is before we move on, is that last year at Harvard, I met this Vietnamese researcher, young Vietnamese scholar, he was working as a scholar of organisational structures of Organisational Behaviour. In business, my his role, his area was business management. Now, he said, he was looking at some of the key ideas, central ideas which have come up in the modern West, you know, belief in human potential, that the reality lies within you, the search for happiness, that that is the goal, not just money or search for fulfilment and happiness, these things, that we have enormous resources powers within us, which are which are untapped. We are not using and he said, behind all of these ideas begin to trace it back. Where are these ideas come from? And he said, every time his quest led him back to one name, Swami Vivekananda. And I was so happy to hear this is always been an intuitive feeling for me, but I could, I had no way of academically proving this. And here is this young scholar with no connection with India, with no particular interest in Hinduism, but never heard of Swami Vivekananda, but because of his academic quest, is looking at some a set of the most powerful positive ideas in the modern West today. And he’s tracing it all back to one person who came from India in the late 1890s. And from 1893, onwards, in less than 10 years, lectured across the United States and sowed the seeds. I mean, people don’t know. They don’t give enough enough credit. They have no idea what who he was. Many people don’t know here. But he’s at the source of many of these great ideas. I hope he publishes soon, and he writes books about it.
Nitesh Batra 28:43
Thank you so much he and I think, Swami Vivekananda. his inspiration goes beyond, I think, generations and generations, it’s 150 years, and I think people are just starting to read about him. And you’ve, you’ve talked about the stories that he has talked about, and so many other things. But one thing that you particularly mentioned was self efficacy and then shraddha, that comes along, and this whole idea of faith. But what I found out is that that faith can go just beyond the boundary, you know, you can be confident, then slowly, that self confidence that comes into an overconfidence, and that overconfidence, you know, sometimes pushes people to the extremes, which I had mentioned a little while before. And I think that whole idea of taking if it benefits the entire humanity, what you mentioned if or not, entire humanity may be too large a word for someone who’s starting their spiritual practice or in their earlier life, in beginning stages of their spiritual life. But what I have learned is, you know, this idea of self-compassion has been simplified a lot. Now. This is researcher Her name is Kristin Neff, and Chris Germer, who is at Harvard and Kristen Neff is in Houston. And they’ve come up with this idea of self-compassion which comes from the Karuna for which comes from the yoga sutras. And they simplify it a lot. That what I’m doing that, you know, you remove the ego aspect of it, but make it simple, which has humanity, kindness. And being mindful, which you mentioned. I think if we can simplify things in that regard, it will be easier for a younger generation to relate to it not just the younger generation, I think people who are working as well, people who are older as well. And my question relates to that, that, is there a way that we can start simplifying certain things like the way Swami Vivekananda? Did, right? He just simplified it into four yogas, is there a need to simplify our Upanishads in more simplistic terms where people can relate to it? And that’s my first question. And I think a follow up question is that in the West, there is a lot of discussion about the science backing it up. I don’t know if we need that all the time or not? Because Science is way behind where spirituality is. And I think it will, I don’t know if it’ll ever reach that point or not. But I think from an understanding standpoint, I think that gives people a lot of goals, you know, if they go to universities, if they’re academicians, they’re like, you know, can I simplify it and make it accessible to a lot more people who are, who may not otherwise be interested or may not have time to go deeper into their spiritual studies. So if you can talk a little bit about that I think will be helpful.
Nitesh Batra 31:22
You are right. And especially in this country, I noticed that is there is a great demand for practical efficiency. The questions are practical. What good does this to me? I guess that’s the spirit of America, not just America. Now, it’s spreading all over the world. I mean, we have the same mindset now in India also. My inner tendency is just the opposite. I’m more of a theoretician and more of a bookworm. So I’ve always been interested in the metaphysics of it, and the epistemology of it and the dialectics of it. But yes, I recognize that ultimately, when it comes to challenges of life, whenever I have had great questions and challenges in my life, it is the simplest direct advice from, say, from our texts, especially from Vivekananda, which has helped me not high metaphysical theory is not the most abstract kind of reasoning, no, yes. So simplify, not simplistic, but practical, simple methods which we can put into use. So one of the reasons why mindfulness has become so popular here in the West, is that it comes without metaphysical baggage. It comes without theological underpinnings. It’s like a secular method, which one can practice to get immediate, measurable results? That’s like the call here in the United States. I’m not sure that I’m totally in sympathy with that kind of an attitude, but I understand the need for it. So practically, again, to repeat what would be the few simple things that one can do. And in broad terms, I will not say I will prescribe a particular practice that we depend on your traditions and good whatever is available to you what your tradition is, again, a particular meditative practice. So it’s up to you. In our Ramakrishna tradition. It’s a mantra practice. So our Guru initiates us into an Ishta mantra. And there is an Ishta Devata it’s as a visualisation meditation and a repetition of a mantra. So that is the fundamental meditative practice, which we have. But it could be observing the breath in, like a Vipassana practice, or it could be any number of mindfulness practices. The core idea is to get some control over the direction of our attention. Recently at the Garrison Institute near New York, in upstate New York, we did a meditation retreat last year. So the retreat was on mindfulness meditation, Kashmiri Shaiva meditation, a dualistic bhakti, a tantric kind of meditation, and non dual meditation. Now, a professor of Indian philosophy, Professor Arindham Chakravarthy, I was discussing the whole retreat with him. He said, at the end of it all have a session, where you look at all that you did, find out the differences, don’t be in a hurry to find out what is similar, find out the differences to the extreme, analyse it threadbare, and then synthesize it, find out what is common to all of this. So we did a short session like that after the whole retreat, we found one essential thing among the other things, one essential thing common to all meditation techniques across various traditions is our attention. They’re all dealing with our attention, the control and direction and focus of our attention. So do something in that regard. Observe your breath, repeat a mantra, everything, whatever is there. So that’s one very simple thing to do. Another simple thing to do is study, study is spiritual practice, study the lives of great persons. Study the great scriptures of the major religions of the world, especially the meditative spiritual scriptures may not be the, you know, the ritualistic part or the more common or mythological part, but just the spiritual parts of it. And a service component, as I said, to your life, so, each yoga reduced to its basic ABCD is its basic practices. And one little component of that in our daily life.
Nitesh B. 35:33
Thank you. It reminds me of the three things Swami Ji said does Swami Vivekananda Heart to feel, Brain to conceive, and Hand to work.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 35:39
Exactly I think, yes, we need to for a wholesome life, we need all three brains to conceive in the cognitive ability, the heart to feel the affective domain, and the hand to work out the cognitive ability, the three things which modern psychology speaks about, development of the human personality along these three lines is a wholesome development of the human personality.
Nitesh Batra 36:03
Perfect, now we’re getting towards the end and you know, have this question, you know, like the way you say that, that you’re this ordinary human being simple human being another simple human being just like you was Gandhiji. And I think in your talk in my readings about Gandhiji, he says, He is one simple man in search of God. But when you look at their lives deeply, you start to realize that, of course, you know, what you’re doing is extraordinary. what he has done is extraordinary. But then there is a lot of cost that comes along with it, in certain terms that you are giving up worldly things you’re giving materialistic things, I remember him saying that I am this monk who just dresses who needs just one or two pieces, and I just need milk. And I think in his earlier book, he mentioned that I don’t need to learn piano I don’t need to dress up like a gentleman when I was in. I was training for a barrister, I just need very simplistic life. But when it comes to people who are who are following that path, sometimes it is difficult for them to let go of the desires of the world of the materialistic, materialistic things may be materialistic, but you know, they might be they might be relationships in life as well. People who may not be able to understand you, how do you overcome that conundrum? That what, when I’m going on to this path, which I feel is the right way to go forward?
Nitesh Batra 37:31
Yeah, you’re talking about that there is a cost to this kind of life. Let me tell you, there’s no cost at all. It’s all profit. So I remember this nice story about Swami Brahmananda, who is the president of the Rama Krishna order, the Vice President of our order an involute mat. This is like 100 years ago, as a gentleman came and bowed down to Swami Bhramananda and then said, Oh, Maharaj, you are great. You all have given up the world. It’s so difficult and you’re really great people. So Swami Brahmananda bowed down even more deeply to that gentleman. He said, You are much greater than me Why? Well, I am given up the world for God for Brahman for the for the infinite, you know the finite for the infinite. But you have given up the infinite for the finite, you have given up the Brahman for the world, thrown away pieces of glass for a diamond, and you have thrown away the diamond four pieces of glass. So you’re far better than me is of course, he was being humorous. But I’ll tell you one interesting thing. This is a mistake to think like that, that I am sacrificing anything particular I don’t think I am sacrificing anything at all. I remember there was a like a panel discussion organised for school and college students, I think it was either in Lucknow or in Patna or somewhere like that. And I was conducting it. And we had a very interesting panel. I forgotten the names of most of them, but but very, very interesting people, one person was Anand, if I remember correctly, he started the Super 30 that for coaching kids for IITs, and he had an incredible track record. So he was there. Then there was one gentleman who was from Chennai. He came from very poor background, but he graduated from IIM Ahmedabad. And he went in Chennai. He has a series of restaurants, a chain of restaurants, where they give food, the leftovers they collected and they distributed among hungry people. There was this another gentleman who was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who gave up his job and came back and he has this place where he collects clothes discarded, but gives them to poor people who need these clothes. And that’s a whole lineup of such people. And so one of the questions was this very question that you all sacrificed so much to do. You’re doing a lot of good to others, but you sacrificed so much. So I tried an experiment. I asked this entire panel. Do you think you’ve sacrificed a lot All of them said in one breath in one voice Not at all, we all feel very happy, we all feel we are we have got much more than what we have given up. I mean, if you tell us to go back there, my Silicon Valley job or that multi multinational corporation job, not at all. So the joy and the fulfilment, which comes as he ultimately we are all set searching for happiness and fulfilment all of us some search for it wisely some search for it, you know, otherwise. So, if that’s what we are all, I mean, the person is looking for millions of dollars versus looking to get power or to hold on to power, you know, who I mean. And the person who wants to realise God or the person who wants to serve humanity, all of us, are actually looking for fulfilment. And if we are beginning to find fulfilment, you never feel that you have given up anything, or you have sacrificed anything, or it’s a painful process. If you feel you have to give up a lot, and it’s painful, don’t do it. What you feel will give you satisfaction, Swami Vivekananda said, Follow your own highest goal. It is your own goal. And you feel it’s a very high goal. And not it’s being ignored rights being imposed on you. You follow it, you will find happiness. It’s the shortest route to progress.
Nitesh Batra 41:20
Thank you for that. I think that just spawned another question in my mind, and I was reading President Barack Obama’s recent book A Promised Land. and in it he mentions about when, when his mother was going through cancer, he couldn’t go back to Hawaii to be with her. And he was running for his first campaign first or the second campaign. I don’t exactly remember, in Illinois. And somewhere along the lines, he mentioned that maybe I’ve never thought that I’m the chosen one, because I don’t believe in destiny. But then things just happened and transpired. And we just talked about Gandhiji. We’re talking about you as well, that yes, you may not think that you are the chosen one, but sometimes you are the chosen one. And you are not aware of that. And this brings up the idea of freewill. How much do we have? And you’ve talked a little bit about it before, or maybe a lot about it before. But that’s a question that I keep coming up with. If there is no free will at the level that you mentioned like in when we are not able to choose and where we are being driven. What is it that freewill really is? In our day to day life doesn’t really even exist? Like why do we even pray, if you’re not going to get the things that we desire for I think the combination of prayer and freewill is what I’m trying to understand. Right?
Nitesh Batra 42:35
I’ll share an article with you after this is exactly about this combination of prayer and free will. It’s by the philosopher I mentioned Professor Arindam Chakrabarthi he wrote this article why pray to a God who can hear the anklets on an ant’s feet says quotation from Sri Ramakrishna, God hears everything, even the sounds of an anklet on the feet of an end. So imagine how tiny they will be in our tiny sounds they make but God hears that. So his question is that why pray to such a God who knows everything? So there and then the whole article is about freewill. So what you just asked this so that you should read that article, it’s really wonderful. The answer is given a three levels? I’ll tell you, what are the three levels briefly, first level, at what seems obvious to us, we feel we have freewill, I’m going to raise this hand, whether I will raise it or not. It’s up to me now I decided to raise it. Now I raised my hand. So I exercise my freewill, but I felt I had freewill and an exercise to have a choice to do or not to do and it’s up to me and and inside. And we all feel like that all have choices based on on the assumption that we have freewill. Imagine all our justice system, where a person can be prosecuted for crimes and charged with crimes is based entirely on the fact that the person had the choice not to commit those crimes, and then did commit those crimes. Therefore, person has to be punished. So you cannot have any kind of justice, system, reward and punishment unless you accept free will. But you cannot have modern economics the whole economy depends on consumer choice. You got your house, really we are choosing we don’t know. But anyway, so the whole of life, religion, all the exhortations do this, don’t do that all religions have do’s and don’ts. But that means that they accept that we have free will, unless we have free will. What’s the use of telling me to do this or don’t don’t do that. So first level is we have freewill we feel it and our entire civilization, law and economics and morality, all of it depends on us having free will. That’s answered one. First level. Yes, we have free will.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 44:46
Second answer. Not at all. We have no free will. If you investigate philosophically, theologically, and now it is increasingly through neuroscience. It seems that we really do not have free will itself is at least mainstream science is deterministic, though somebody said that if you understand quantum mechanics and is a probabilistic element there and that might give some room for free will, but in general, science based on causes and consequences cause and effect. So, if there are effects that there must be causes, and causes and effects are tied, in that case there is the play space for freewill if the deterministic universe back to the very beginning of the universe, everything is sort of predetermined. determinism goes against freewill in scientific rationalism goes against free will. There are philosophical discussions, which says that leads to paradoxes if you believe in free will, their theology, every theistic religion ultimately says it’s God’s will not our will, whether it is in Hinduism, theistic Hinduism, or Christianity and so on. And there are attempts to come out of this quandary. But upon investigation, the second level of answer is that probably there is no freewill. And it seems that there is no free will.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 46:05
Final answer. Third Level of answer is that what Prof. Arindam Chakrabarthi had said and some of the higher philosophies in different religions, they come to this conclusion, use the illusion of free will which you have, you feel your free will. And the second level proves that it’s an illusion, actually, is there’s no free will use that illusion to recognise that we’d have no free will. So that would mean what it would mean prayer, it would mean spirituality, it would mean recognising that there is something beyond this causal universe, something beyond this deterministic universe, which is actually free. It can mean a theistic worldview, you can call it God in a non theistic world, but you can call it the real self. Swami Vivekananda said, 0 said free will is a contradiction in terms, there is freedom. But that’s beyond the range of will after you attain freedom. After you go beyond the range of field, beyond the level of the mind, there is freedom, this, the soul of the Atman is free, Brahman is free, God is free, the same reality it is free. Once you descend into the realm of Maya into time, space and causality. Technically, there is no freewill. Practically we feel freedom to use that practical feeling of freedom. And the real use would be spirituality, specifically what you said, prayer, prayer is the recognition that my so called free will is not at all free, underlying it is the will of God. That’s prayer.
Nitesh Batra 47:39
Thank you for that. And I would love to read that article as well. But I think so well articulated. So well put in. So towards the end, we ask a few questions, which Swamiji you can answer in one word, or one sentence or one paragraph, and then you can choose not to answer as well. So it’s perfectly okay. All right. Sounds like fun.
Nitesh Batra 48:01
One childhood memory that brings joy to your mind.
Nitesh Batra 48:05
Joy? Well, I remember, you know, in those days, for the seeing examination results, you have to go to the board office and stand-in, you know, among 1000s of kids and see the results. So my Higher Secondary examination results I went and I saw to cut a long story short, I looked at all over the years to paste it on boards with all the all the roll numbers, and I found my roll number nowhere and I thought I’d failed or had been results were withheld. And then I found one little piece of paper where they were 15 names is to give the top 15 in the state in those days. So I looked at and others were looking at me pityingly that obviously nobody was deliberate what is elsewhere? Well, he does he think that he is going to be one of the top 15 in the state. And my found my name at the first and so I was like the state topper. So that’s a thrill for a young kid, you know, to suddenly find. Yeah, so that’s thrilling memory I have from childhood. Of course, it’s a completely unimportant but yeah, no, absolutely.
Nitesh Batra 49:07
I think I There are so much joy at that time when when you were a child in that regard. Yeah. I know you read a lot. This question will be difficult for you one book that you think that changed your life.
Nitesh Batra 49:20
Swami Vivkenanda. Not any particular book of Vivekananda. But generally reading Vivekanand It changed my life and keeps changing my life.
Nitesh Batra 49:28
One place that you would like to visit maybe you’ve already visited or you would like to visit around the world.
Nitesh Batra 49:35
Well, Himalayas. I have and I would like to go back again sometime.
Nitesh Batra 49:39
You mentioned the Himalayas. This is not a question on our list. But I’ve heard you say so many stories about these Himalayan monks, any anecdote from one of the Himalayan monks that you’ve met that just comes to mind right away, and then that makes you giggle or laugh or you know.
Nitesh Batra 49:56
So there’s this monk who has passed away now but I used to go and sit at his feet and read Ashtavakra. In Gangotri. So, he was this he was in his 80s with the old monk. And a group of monks used to assemble around him and read Ashtavakra, I still remember him sitting there, surrounded, we are we are surrounded, we are in the Gangotri Valley. But we are surrounded by this towering mountains, there was snow on the top of the summer. So there was not snow there in the valley itself. But the mountaintops had snow, they will deal with our forests, and the Ganga, Bhagirathi rushing by at our feet, just below us, was extraordinary and a very high spiritual atmosphere. And then he said, I can see it’s so vivid, he said, with his hands pointing around all around ये सब जो है ना महात्मा जी दिखता है पर है नहीं (yeh sab jo hai na mahatma ji dikhta hai par hai nahi), which all of this you see, it is just a sensory experience, you know, you see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, touch it. But beyond it, it has no existence of its own. What he meant while he was teaching that it is consciousness alone, which is appearing, it’s an all an appearance in consciousness.
Nitesh Batra 51:02
Thank you for that story. And I think I may not be answered to the next question. Now. Just as a side note, I interviewed Dr. Balu, who has started the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, a few weeks back? And his answer would be this, and I’m just thinking your answer would be the same one person that you would like to meet in history?
Nitesh Batra 51:20
I guess it will be Swami Vivekananda
Nitesh Batra 51:23
He had the same answers for both questions. And one last question, a message for your younger self, message for your future
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 51:32
Self. Oh, that’s a difficult one. You know, one thing is very interesting. After becoming a monk, one thing I’ve noticed the questions like where do you see yourself five years from now? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now, all these questions lose their, their meaning altogether. You have found the path and the goal of your life the highest goal that our civilization has for humanity, that is spiritual enlightenment, attainment of Moksha, Nirvana whatever you call it, now, we are on the path and there is really nothing else to think about, you have to move ahead on the path and attain that what else will you do it not this? Let me share this with you at you would not expect that in Harvard University people will be talking about enlightenment and what is the nature of what they do. There are intense discussions going on in the Divinity School in the philosophy department in the philosophy department, Professor Parimal Patil, a very brilliant philosopher positively so. So he asked me a question Swamiji answered this, people who attained enlightenment are very few in number, yes or no? Yes. Then why should one follow this path? What’s the point? So I give two answers, why we should follow the spiritual path? And he gave one more answer. Three answers are, my first answer was that everybody will attain enlightenment. It’s just that it may not be in this particular life, the hope you can because the whole game of life is for ultimately for attaining enlightenment in this lifetime and other lifetimes, we will attain. So it’s not that we will not attain that number of people attaining enlightenment is for you, and most people are failures, not at all. So all of us will attain. So Ramakrishna is to say in Banaras, it’s the place of maa annapurna. So, everybody gets fed, you may get food, you may get your food early in the morning, in the afternoon, and a very few will be entered in the evening, they’ll get fed, but nobody goes away hungry. Similarly, for enlightenment Moksha, all will get it. So let’s first answer. Second answer is, once you are on this path, and you begin to understand what it’s all about, what else will you do? I mean, you may do something else you may be in your day to day life, you may be a monk or a householder, a businessman or a professor, whatever you are, but your ultimate aim becomes God realisation once your ultimate aim has become God realisation, call it enlightenment, Moksha, Nirvana, whatever it is, what other role comes even close to it. So it is so wonderful, that you know, success or failure really doesn’t matter. This is what you’re going to do, lifetime after lifetime if necessary. These are my two answers. And Professor Patil gave the best answer he said, See Swamiji those are good answers, but they are theoretical. I’ll give you a practical answer. So a wonderful answer he gave, he said that it’s not really so much about enlightenment. Once you start on the path in any religion, any spiritual path, sincerely start practising spirituality. And then the day to day benefits, you get the peace, you get the sense of meaning and purpose in life. You get even the little bit you’re getting from day to day, that is enough to keep you going. So that is the third answer, that you are getting continuous benefit day, day after day, week after week, month after month throughout your life.
Nitesh Batra 54:58
Thank you so much. I think I agree with all three answers. And I think these are wonderful message for Sorry, my throat just choked up. Maybe because we’re getting towards the end and I would like you to end. end our conversation with a mantra if you can chant something for us. I think it would be wonderful.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 55:21
All right, let me chant my favorite.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 55:26
असतो मा सद्गमय । तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय । मृत्योर्माऽमृतं गमय ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥ (asato mā sadgamaya, tamaso mā jyotirgamaya, mṛtyormā’mṛtaṃ gamaya, oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ). Lead us from the Unreal to the real leaders from darkness into light leaders from death to immortality, Om peace, peace, peace.
Nitesh Batra 55:58
Thank you so much. Swami ji, thank you so much for being part of this conversation and this podcast. Thank you so much for taking the time. I know it’s really late in New York for you. But thank you, again.
Swami Sarvapriyananda ji 56:11
Thank you, Nitesh. Take care. Be Safe Everybody.
Nitesh Batra 56:15
It’s been a privilege to speak with Swamiji thank you so much for listening to another episode of The Mindful Initiative Podcast. If you like what we do, please share it with your friends and family.