Swami Mukundananda: The man who could have bought Ferrari but happily settled for monkhood

He was a normal child, desiring a good life. He studied hard and finished his BTech from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, and then completed his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kolkata. But after joining the corporate world, he realised this wasn’t his calling; working to increase the profits of shareholders of the company did not inspire him. It was at IIT that he began questioning the raison d’etre of his life. “Rigorous science training left me unimpressed. Though we learnt about the laws of nature at IIT, there was no mention of the ‘lawmaker’. Same at IIM — while learning economics, psychology, and other subjects, the bigger questions of life persisted in my mind: Who am I? Why did I come to this world? What is the purpose of my life?” recalls Swami Mukundananda in an exclusive interaction with Firstpost . The quest for the ‘Absolute Truth’ led me to the Bhagavad Gita . And thus began his spiritual journey. The following is an edited excerpt of the interview with Swami Mukundananda where he recounts his journey, how mind management is the key to one’s happiness and success, why it’s important to empower intellect, and how we can get our kids rooted into our cultural and civilisational ethos. You have been a voracious writer. What motivates you to write books? And what's your new book all about? I have seen people blossom into the best version of themselves through knowledge. This goes to show the power of good wisdom. Witnessing this world become a better place, one seeker at a time, keeps me inspired. I strive to present the perennial Vedic wisdom of our scriptures in a modern context to make it comprehensible to both youth and adults. The latest, My Wisdom Book , is a compilation of 75 Sanskrit and Hindi verses with transliteration and meanings in English. It encourages kids to imbibe the rich Indian culture values. These gems of wisdom can be instrumental in forging a child’s character. Just like wet clay that can be moulded into any shape, we hope this book will shape children’s hearts and personalities. Swamiji, you say that these shlokas, mantras and bhajans will help kids cope with challenges calmly. How do you think these will help our children? Shlokas, mantras, and bhajans are imbued with divine nectar and wisdom. There is tremendous learning from associated stories of these verses. The bhajans too have deep meaning hidden in the lyrics which is uplifting for the mind. Reading and reciting the mantras, shlokas, and bhajans helps children instill within them a spiritual paradigm and values that serve them well for lifetime. These gems of wisdom help develop inner-strength and the ability to think positively. Listening to these divine tenets, young minds get charged up with strong ideals, noble thoughts, and skills to make their life a success. It further builds their personality by growing in virtues like resilience, optimism, and discipline, which propel them forward in challenging times. At a time when we are getting away from our cultural and civilisational roots, how can we get our kids involved with and interested in our culture, traditions? In this age of technology and fast-paced lifestyle, inculcating cultural traditions and spirituality in children is becoming a daunting task. However, the trick is to emphasise the vast wisdom inherent in our Indian culture. One of the good ways of introducing our culture is to daily read scriptures or divine literature at home together as a family. Expose children to wisdom stories from the Puranas, Mahabharat, Ramayan, and others. Discuss the moral takeaways with real-life application. Further, celebrate the many festivals that India has around the year. Explain the meaning of rituals to children and encourage them to enjoy the celebrations by bringing God into their hearts, while having fun. Teach them to sing and dance on Vedic themes. Engage children in creative projects of arts and crafts on devotional subjects. In your last book, you said that mind management is the key to your happiness and success. Please elaborate. Our mind is the singular most important factor in determining the quality of our life. The successful distinguish themselves by their ability to marshal their mental resources. They choose their thoughts judiciously to be ever happy and inspired. Hence, it is our sovereign duty in life to carefully tend our mind to make it bloom with sublime thoughts and noble emotions. We can fulfil this duty by learning about the science of mind management, one of the most useful skills we can learn in life to be happy. Some of the powerful techniques that I describe in The Science of Mind Management book, include contemplation, positive affirmations, visualisation/meditation, karm yog for everyday living, and others. You differentiate between mind and intellect. You also talk about battle between the two and how intellect should control the mind. The ability of the intellect to control the mind is called vivek (power of discernment). We all possess it and use it to varying degrees. But we have not yet harnessed its full potential. Thus, the battle between the mind and intellect ensues. Consider the thought of having a well-balanced meal with rice, lentils, and vegetables. The intellect contemplates this and has a favourable evaluation. The mind rebels, and thinks, “No! Healthy food is boring.” The mind now has a desire for something less healthy and tastier. “How about a nice plate of samosas and tea instead? Yum!” Now the battle is on between the mind’s cravings and the intellect’s knowledge. If the intellect yields to the mind’s desire for the samosa, discernment is lost and the mind wins. However, if the mind submits to the intellect by having a healthy meal, control over the mind is accomplished. This lends to the understanding that if our intellect can repeatedly make good decisions and choices, we would be able to master the mind. So, if intellect is so important, how can we empower that? We must ensure that our intellect is illumined correctly to steer our life in the proper direction. For that, we have to empower the intellect with right knowledge and divine wisdom. Then, we use the intellect to govern the mind. This is referred to as Buddhi Yog (Yoga of the Intellect) in the Bhagavad Gita. It states, “To cross over the material ocean and attain your divine goal, illumine your intellect with divine knowledge, then with the illumined intellect, control the unruly mind.” Hence, through understanding, contemplation and internalisation of the scriptural truths we must align the intellect with higher values and beliefs. This will allow us to live by spiritual wisdom rather than the whims of the uncontrolled mind. You often emphasise the importance of a guru in life. Why? Whether it is professional career, sports accomplishments, musical excellence, or in any other field of human endeavour, the need and benefits of mentors are irreplaceable. They voluntarily and graciously share their expertise to help us succeed as they have. With their abundant experience, they see our shortcomings — which are often not visible to us — and point out the areas in which we need improvement. Moreover, they create a safe and nurturing environment to experiment, learn, and stretch our imagination. On the spiritual path, the mentor is known as the guru, who guides us on the journey to inner perfection. The word “guru” consists of two syllables—gu and ru. Gu means “darkness” and ru means “one who destroys.” Thus, the guru is the personality who destroys the darkness of ignorance from within us and brings us into the light of divine knowledge. The guru’s mentorship propels us forward to living a more insightful and fulfilling life. It helps us grow and become the best version of ourselves. How do you deal with emotions and stress, especially during pandemic times? Life throws difficult situations at us but whether we get stressed or whether we remain equipoised, is a choice that we make. If we react to situations, we will become angry, annoyed, and irritated. But if we can learn to respond — not react — then we bring our best mental, emotional, and intellectual faculties to bear upon the situation. Hence, we have to train the mind to remain positive and choose healthy emotions in difficult times. When people are hostile, your health is poor, or the pandemic creates fear, do not succumb to negativity, instead, focus on the positives and be cheerful. One last question, Swamiji, you have graduated from IIT and IIM. Please tell us your journey from the materialistic world to the spiritual? How did you get pulled towards the world of spirituality? When I look back, somehow my life was designed for the spiritual path. When I was in grade eight, I came across a book and started meditating. I developed the desire to know the deeper meaning of life. Throughout my academic career at IIT, I was introduced to models, theories, and assumptions. However, rigorous science training left me unimpressed. Though we learnt about the laws of nature, there was no mention of the lawmaker. Same at IIM — while learning economics, psychology, and other subjects, the bigger questions of life persisted in my mind: Who am I? Why did I come to this world? What is the purpose of my life? The quest for the ‘Absolute Truth’ led me to the Bhagavad Gita. As a student, I began reading it and practising bhakti yoga. Upon graduation from IIM, I joined the corporate world. However, working to increase the profits of shareholders of the company did not inspire me. I wanted my life to be more purposeful. So, to attain God-realisation, and to help others do so as well, I took sanyas . Under the tutelage of Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj, I studied ancient Vedic texts. Subsequent to that, my Gurudev entrusted me with the key task of sharing the divine knowledge I had received from him. I always feel blessed to have had the opportunity to lead a life of meaning, value, and purpose. 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