‘It’s time for us to go back to our roots’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 03 Jul 2018 09:51:04


By Ishani Pankule,

If someone told you that every human being is God, what would your first reaction be? Mostly, a sense of disbelief or incredulity. But what if you were told it is written in all our scriptures? Then any religious, God fearing man will blindly accept it. We follow religion blindly and fear not love God. We pray regularly reciting mantras by rote, we perform rituals as instructed, we follow traditions laid down over generations, we do not do certain things as they are considered inauspicious so on and so forth. In fact, we live most of our lives the way we are expected to. And the first casualty in this business of living is ‘self’.

“The know self one needs to get back to the roots, our ethos. We need to find ‘Swadharma’ or self nature which will tell us our role in the world. This is where knowledge of Vedanta comes in. Our ancient scriptures say man is nothing but depiction of God himself,” says Prayagraj Raj Hule of the Vedanta Academy. This young man has found his calling early in life and is now devoted to guiding youngsters by helping them find ‘themselves’. In the city on a personal invitation to talk to senior bureaucrats, Prayagraj shares his journey with ‘The Hitavada’ in a freewheeling chat.

“Since I was a child, I had questions about religion. When I sat for Satyanarayan Pooja, I would pepper the priest with questions. Why certain rituals, why this before that. Rarely did I get answers. I was always in search of deeper meanings. I still am. But now I know where to look,” says Prayagraj, who joined the Vedanta Academy formed by his Guru A Parthasarathy in 1988.

“I heard Guruji speak at a programme and was moved. Guruji is 91. He has never taken a single day’s holiday. He personally guides us all daily and travels all over the world. After listening to him, I found my inner calling. Much to my family’s shock, I joined Guruji in 1998. By then I had already started studying the scriptures. I completed the three-year residential course and stayed back at the academy to study further and help others,” he shares.

On being asked about his family’s reaction, Prayagraj says, laughing, “I come from an affluent business class family. The maternal side of my family is involved in politics. For them it was a shocker. But they gave my ‘flighty plan’ three months. When I did not return, they all landed up at the ashram with a posse of cops to ‘rescue’ me. But somehow I convinced them that this is what I am born for. They conceded and are now very supportive and in fact, take my advice for all things that matter.” But how different is this ‘school’ from other institutions?

The Vedanta Academy is a world resource for study, research and dissemination of Vedanta. It is a modern Gurukul located near Mumbai in the hills of Malavli. It is perhaps the only such place in the world that offers courses that teach youngsters the holistic, logistic way to be successful human beings in any way of life they prefer. It imparts comprehensive knowledge of the scriptures with the philosophy behind the rituals and religion. The Academy disseminates knowledge through a scientific programme of study and reflection. It encourages a spirit of enquiry with liberal approach that enables the development of the intellect and not merely providing intelligence on a subject. Apart from the long term course, the academy also holds summer camps for youths, international retreats and conditioning camps. There are about 115 students in he three-year course right now and about 300-400 have passed out and are working throughout the world.

And eligibility? “Any one with ‘Mumukshutva’, the burning desire to liberate himself from the shackles of the world, can join.” But then isn’t this very concept of renunciation that makes the youth steer clear of plunging deeper into religion? Prayagraj has an interesting take on this. “Vedanta does not ask you to leave the world behind. Renunciation is growth. It is maturity. When you take up the higher plain, you automatically stop finding pleasure in lowly things. Ultimate happiness comes with control.”

He cites the simple example of a child. A child hankers for a toy. When he gets it, he covets it for a few days. But once he gets something new, say a cycle, the toy is relegated to the basket. “This is man’s nature. Vedanta teaches him that happiness does not come in the form of a house, a car or even a family. It comes in self awareness, ‘Atman’.”

Prayagraj’s philosophy for parents is also very clear. “Do not give advice to your children. Let them come to you with their questions. It is only when you give the child space that he will learn his own potential and limitations. We expect our children to be successful in life, but only in terms of material things. If an artistic child forced to become a doctor, he or she will always be a half-hearted professional. We tend to make our kids into glorified animals living in golden cages. That is why the youth of this country is disillusioned, angry and rebellious.”

Prayagraj has travelling across the world propounding the philosophy of Vedanta and feels that the Western world is more accepting of our culture and ancient teachings. “That is because India has always been invaded. But it is the richest in terms of culture and the western world is now embracing that. With their basic and material needs satisfied, Westerners are now looking for peace of mind and turning towards us for answers.

Unfortunately, because of our lineage and history, we have become a nation of ‘I know’. So we have stopped learning. Awareness is a prelude to correction. If a corrupt person is not aware he is so, he will never mend his ways.” Giving the example of our very own city Nagpur, he says, “Nagpur is a beautiful city. Its green and open. But if Nagpurians themselves are not aware of this, they will keep littering and ruin the city. The city will change when the people who live in it want to. No government can do it. It is a conditioning of the mind and building of culture. This is what Vedanta tries to imbibe in people.”

“The beauty of this philosophy is that once you understand it, you can make it a part of your life anywhere. It teaches basic qualities like leadership, punctuality, relationships. But then Vedanta may give you direction but the effort has to be yours,” says Prayagraj, whose wife, Abha is also a dedicated member of the Ashram.

On a personally level, Prayagraj wants to work with the youths. “We are culturally rich but we lack Vedanta or value-based education. If the youth get direction, India can be right on the top of the world,” feels the pragmatic man, whose personality is an embodiment of simple living and high thinking.