Life is Full of Trade-offs at Every Juncture, Says Swami Mukundananda

18 Jan, 2022 12:58 IST|Reshmi AR

When all the scriptures tell us that we are the soul and the dharma of the soul is to serve the Supreme Soul, then why give up that ultimate dharma and settle for something less? asks Swami Mukundananda

It is our unforgiving ego that makes us believe that our desires are of paramount importance because the world revolves around us, he adds 

He has IIT and IIM on his CV, yet Swami Mukundananda chose the simple spiritual path over luxury. Ask him and he says, "Instead of serving an organization that only aimed at making more money, I chose to serve God. And through it, I have gained much more than I could have ever hoped for."

In an Exclusive Interview with Sakshipost, Swami Mukundananda tells Reshmi AR about why he prefers to serve god, the importance of value based education, learnings from Bhagavad Gita and also shares a few stress management techniques.

What was in your mind when you were pursuing your BTech and MBA?

In my time, after school, there were not many career options. You either thought of becoming an engineer, doctor, accountant, or aimed for IAS. In final year school, I saw my friends filling the IIT admission form. They told me it was a good thing and must apply too, and so I did it. During the B.Tech, I felt that management education would lead to greater job satisfaction, and so applied to the IIMs.

What was the turning point in your life and how did it happen?

There was no one turning point that changed my life’s direction one way or another. Even as a child, I was drawn to meditation and spirituality, but the focus was on school and grades. However, as I got older, the questions of life became stronger and more intense. I started spending time in college trying to find the answers.

It was during the MBA years at IIM-C that one of my classmates gave me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita that opened my eyes. There was no looking back after that.

With IIT and IIM on your CV, you could have settled for a cushy job with a fat salary, why give up?

Life is full of trade-offs at every juncture, and I did not feel I gave up anything. Let me ask you instead, “When all the scriptures tell us that we are the soul and the dharma of the soul is to serve the Supreme Soul, then why give up that ultimate dharma and settle for something less?”

Instead of serving an organization that only aimed at making more money, I chose to serve God. And through it, I have gained much more than I could have ever hoped for.

Was there any point in your life when you regretted making this switch?

Not at all… that thought has never occurred in my mind! Success in any field requires discipline, focus, and perseverance and this path is no different in that respect. When we walk the path that we believe is the purpose of our life, there is no turning back.

Tell us about your My Wisdom Book. How will that help kids?

We run a worldwide program for children, called “Bal-Mukund Character Building Program.” It includes classes where children are taught value-based stories from the scriptures, yoga, meditation, Indian culture, and many more things. Over the years, I have seen how these teachings are imbibed by the children and they grow up to be wonderful youth who contribute in a positive way.

When our publisher, Westland Books, reached out to us about a book for children, it was an opportunity to share these teachings with a wider audience. My Wisdom Book is the result of the efforts of a team that worked with me with a singular goal of producing a book that would nurture young minds. Consequently, it includes a total of 75 shlokas, mantras, bhajans, wisdom nuggets, and prayers that children can easily learn and imbibe.

Reciting the shlokas and mantras daily helps children develop their IQ (intelligence quotient), EQ (emotional quotient), and SQ (spiritual quotient). Research has also shown that it helps improve a child’s concentration and cognitive power and enables them to become good communicators.

Kids these days are restless and cannot be tied down, how do you think we can imbibe values into them?

Children learn through various techniques and not just in a traditional classroom setting. Their minds are like a sponge that easily absorbs nearly everything it sees and hears. Keeping this in mind, the key is to make learning fun by teaching values via arts and crafts, song and dance, storytelling, show and tell, games, and other activities that keep the children engaged in a positive way.

One can be happy by having control over the mind. Comment.

Oh absolutely! The Pañchadaśhī, a scripture states: mana eva manuṣhyāṇāṁ kāraṇaṁ bandha mokṣhayoḥ, meaning, the mind is the cause of bondage, and the mind is the cause of liberation. William Shakespeare, the great English playwright, had said, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

In effect, Shakespeare and other Western philosophers substantiated what our scriptures stated thousands of years ago. All circumstances come to us for the purpose of the evolution of the soul. It is our thoughts and response to those situations that determines whether we are happy or not. Thus, we have control over our happiness.

In a world where we inherently learn that happiness can only be attained after achieving a certain goal, we need to retrain the mind by reframing our thoughts or changing our perspective. No one can snatch away our happiness. Happiness is a state of our mind and is independent of the external circumstances.

Did management degree help shape your thoughts in some way when you give spiritual discourses?

The MBA course provided well-rounded quality education that helped me develop the “big picture thinking” approach to life. It also helped develop problem solving abilities through the case study methodology. Further, it honed my communication skills. Delivering discourses requires all these skills for getting the public to connect strongly with the message.

Stress is all around us. How does one remain unfazed when so much is happening around us?

Stress has become such a common place term in the last couple of centuries that even doctors do not hesitate to share a diagnosis of “stress”. But what exactly is “stress”?

For an engineer, stress is the force in a beam or a machine part that tends to distort, crush, bend or break it. We also face countless “stressful” situations daily. For example, as babies, we experienced stress when we were hungry and cried out to our mother. As parents, we get stressed when our children do not get good grades at school or are not admitted to the school or college of our choice. We all have faced the “stress” of dreaded deadlines whether at school or at work. In short, “stress” develops when we are attached to a specific outcome and worried that things may not turn out as we desire.

The key to managing stress was given by Shree Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, when he said, karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana (v 2.47) “You have a right to perform your work but are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.”

If we can accept the wisdom that the end result of any particular situation is based on a number of factors, such as circumstances, assistance from others, efforts of competition, sheer luck, coincidence, and God’s will among others, then we naturally become inclined to put in our best effort and leave the rest to God. Afterall, our divine Father knows what is best for us at all times.

How does one deal with disappointments in life?

Disappointment arises when our expectations are not met for any reason. To expect to live a life full of joy and without any pain is unrealistic; happiness and distress are like two sides of a coin; they both go hand-in-hand. Here is a 3-step approach to dealing successfully with disappointments:

  1. There are others who have it worse than you. So, count your blessings and maintain an attitude of gratitude.
  2. Life is a natural cyclical flow of happiness & distress. The cause of all pain/sorrow is the attachment of our mind. Even while in the midst of pain, we momentarily forget it when something good happens. For example, we may complain of a headache but when the mind gets absorbed in work, we completely forget about the headache. This means that the mind should always be engaged in positive activities whether material or spiritual; it should not remain idle – as the saying goes: “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”
  3. The greater the negative chintan (contemplation), the more our atma shakti (soul-power) reduces, which in turn, reduces our tolerance. For one who is idle, such negative chintan can quickly become a downward spiral and be destructive. We should not waste time by repeatedly ruminating on negative incidents. For one whose mind is engaged positively, the negative sentiments pass by quickly. Always keep the mind engaged by reading good scriptural knowledge or in thinking about God's leelas (pastimes) until they are absorbed in the subconscious mind.

There will always be challenges in life; the key to successfully navigating them is to maintain a positive mindset by also accepting such events as the grace of God.

People tend to get into a negative mood soon as something goes wrong. It's natural for humans to do so. How does one remain positive during such situations?

We tend to experience negative emotions when things don’t go as expected or hoped for. It is our unforgiving ego that makes us believe that our desires are of paramount importance because the world revolves around us. We forget that God is the centre of the universe, not us, and the entire creation is for His sake. We are meant to fulfil the will of God and not the other way around.

Instead, if we learn to be humble and maintain an attitude of gratitude, we will appreciate that the satiation of our egotistical desires is not the purpose of the universe. Rather, the aim of our life is to fulfil the will of God. This simple enlightenment will awaken us to the innumerable graces that have come our way, and in them, we will discover millions of reasons to be happy. This is the art of positive thinking.

You have given discourses on Life Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita. What are key takeaways?

The Bhagavad Gita was spoken by none other than Supreme Almighty Shree Krishna Himself. This makes it sentient knowledge or ever-fresh, meaning, each time you read it, you learn something more. So, depending on where we are in our spiritual journey, we all learn different things, nevertheless, below are some of the more popular key takeaways.

As early as in chapter 2, Shree Krishna explains the Science of Work. While there are four aspects to it, the most important one is: “You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.” (verse 2.47) Essentially, this means that we should perform all our works without the expectation of a reward. We perform them because it is our dharma or duty to do so.

Then in the very next verse Shree Krishna continues to prod us by saying: “Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yog.” (verse 2.48). Here, He is coaching us to accept all positive and negative situations as His grace. When we learn to do this by attaching our mind to Him, we can attain the equanimity that we are seeking.

One of the challenges that comes in the way of doing our duty is when we compare ourselves to others. Without understanding the full picture from endless past lifetimes, we tend to compare based on the little that we see. For example, as children we may see someone playing all year and then hit the books the night before the exam only to ace the exam. On the other hand, we find ourselves slogging away all year to achieve the same result. In such situations it is natural to think, “If he/she can do that, why can’t I? I will also play all year and then just study the night before the exam.” Keeping this in mind Shree Krishna teaches: “It is far better to perform one’s natural prescribed duty though tinged with faults, than to perform another’s prescribed duty though perfectly. In fact, it is preferable to die in the discharge of one’s duty than to follow the path of another, which is fraught with danger.” (verse 3.35) The nature of the mind is to flit from thought to thought. We can only be steadfast in the performance of our duty when our mind is attached exclusively to God. This is why Shree Krishna guides us: “Always remember Me and also do your duty of fighting the war. With mind and intellect surrendered to Me, you will definitely attain Me; of this there is no doubt.” (verse 8.7) When the mind is attached to God and we dedicate the fruits of all our works to Him, it becomes easier to remain focused on our everyday tasks with an equanimous and grateful attitude.

However, in order to keep the mind attached to God at all times requires faith. Knowingly or unknowingly, we all repose our faith somewhere whether it is in modern science, in our friends and family, in ourselves, or in God. Generally, it tends to be some proportion in all these. In verses 17.2-3, Shree Krishna makes an eye-opening statement: “Every human being is born with innate faith which can be of three kinds—sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic. The faith of all humans conforms to the nature of their mind. All people possess faith, and whatever the nature of their faith, that is verily what they are.” Thus, faith is a choice. We should choose to have faith in God at all times even though we may not understand His ways.

Maintaining our faith in God is important because at the end of the day, everything we do is for our happiness. In verses 18.37–39 Shree Krishna expounds on the nature of happiness: “That which seems like poison at first, but tastes like nectar in the end, is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness. It is generated by the pure intellect that is situated in self-knowledge.

Happiness is said to be in the mode of passion when it is derived from the contact of the senses with their objects. Such happiness is like nectar at first but poison at the end. That happiness which covers the nature of the self from beginning to end, and which is derived from sleep, indolence, and negligence, is said to be in the mode of ignorance.”

But mere theoretical knowledge is insufficient if not acted upon. Thus, to conclude Shree Krishna elucidates on appropriate and inappropriate behavior: “Action that is in accordance with the universal values, free from attachment and aversion, and done without desire for rewards, is in the mode of goodness (sattvic). Action that is prompted by selfish desire, enacted with pride, and full of stress, is in the nature of passion (rajasic). That action is declared to be in the mode of ignorance, which is begun out of delusion, without thought to one’s own ability, and disregarding consequences, loss, and injury to others (tamasic).”

As we strive to awaken our best self, we should remember not only the nature of sattvic happiness, but also that our speech and behaviour should be aligned to this thought. Only then can we be successful in manifesting our best self.

Swami Mukundananda is a global spiritual leader, authority on mind management, thought leader, Vedic scholar and a bhakti saint. He is the founder of the non-profit organisation JKYog and the author of numerous best-sellers, such as 7 MindSetS for SucceSS, HappineSS and Fulfilment, 7 Divine LawS IO Awaken Your BeSt Self, ESSence ofHinduiSm, The Science ofMind Management and many more. Swamiji graduated from the most prestigious institutes of the world, IIT and IIM.

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