ISKCON leader Gauranga Das Prabhuji shares powerful methods to navigate an increasingly complex life

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OCTOBER 30, 2023

ISKCON leader Gauranga Das Prabhuji.

ISKCON leader and director of Govardhan Eco Village, Gauranga Das Prabhuji, chose the rare path of spirituality after graduating from IIT Mumbai. One would expect him to join a high-powered corporate job with a six-figure salary, but he chose differently. Prabhuji decided to dedicate his life to serving humanity instead and spread the wisdom of God.

In an exclusive interview with indianexpress.com, Gauranga Das Prabhuji discussed his journey from being an engineering graduate to embracing spirituality, shared insights on dealing with stress and anxiety, maintaining emotional well-being, and much more. Read the edited excerpts below:

What made you pivot from leading the life of an engineer to taking a more spiritual path? 

Prabhuji: I was intrigued by the whole concept of why people undergo fear. And I realized that people experienced fear because of sudden unexpected changes. And, therefore, I thought, is there a body of language, a body of knowledge, which helps you cope with change? And the greatest, unexpected change which is imposed upon a human being is that of death. So, with that thought, I started reading various books and came across the Bhagavad Gita in the third year of my BTech. I thought there were lots of engineers in this world, but we need people who would actually be able to translate this ancient wisdom into something that people can apply. Just like an engineer joins a technology company or he may come back to college and become a professor, I took the journey of being a teacher and a professor of Bhagavad Gita to inspire people on how they can actually apply the message. So that was my inspiration.

You mentioned that people face the fear of change, and in our current life scenario, there is a lot of stress and anxiety. Mental health issues are also increasing day by day. What is your advice to people undergoing emotional turmoil? How can they maintain their emotional well-being?

Prabhuji: One in every five individuals suffers from some kind of mental health issue. As per the National Mental Health Survey conducted in 2015-16, in a country like India, the average number of psychiatrists is around 0.3 per 1,00,000 people. So, definitely, the government is trying to improve and do what can be done. But the core DNA of India has always been making an individual resilient and giving them the tools by which they can develop their own mental strength. The entire context of the Bhagavad Gita is centred around how Arjuna, a highly powerful warrior with such strong will, could also face circumstances, which could shake his self-confidence. And that happened because instead of his enemies, he saw his relatives and teacher standing in front of him, and he got confused about his identity – ‘whether I’m a warrior or a student’. When there are multiple identities, we go through an identity crisis, and the main cause of all of these mental health issues is the identity crisis.

All faiths and traditions across the world have a common principle of beginning the day with prayer. The prayer is nothing but reiterating how you are situated in your eternal identity that gives you the strength, that gives you the confidence to face any changing identities you may experience. That’s what the world and the young generation need. So, if the youth change the narrative of beginning the day by checking their smartphones and social media, which is just bombarding them with unlimited change right in the morning, and instead spend quality time in prayer, at least 15 to 20 minutes to begin with, if not more, then gradually we will be able to arrest and counteract this mental health issue. Otherwise, there is no shortcut available. And deploying any number of psychiatrists is a symptomatic solution, not a pathological solution.

If you go through any type of stress or anxiety, how do you approach the situation?

Prabhuji: When July begins in Mumbai everybody expects one thing — monsoon. So, when you are expecting monsoon, you cannot do anything within your human power to stop it. However, the onset of the monsoon is not considered to be a failure of the government. Because, by design, we have to face it because it is the seasonal cycle. So, just like the monsoon, prosperity, adversity, calamity, success, failure — all these are seasonal changes that occur. The problem is not with the monsoon. There was a time when we had a very strong umbrella to protect ourselves from becoming wrecked by the monsoon. That umbrella was the umbrella of prayer and meditation by which the mind could be protected from the onslaught of unlimited and incessant rainfall of miseries. If there is a very rough patch of road that is full of thorns and sharp stones, it will prick your feet. There are two ways to go about it. One is you break each and every thorn with a hammer and smoothen the road. And if it’s a 100-kilometre patch, just imagine the effort required to smoothen all the dirt and dust. The other option is to wear strong boots by which you can walk on the thorns and stones without being affected.

Just like we wear footwear, you can cover your mind with the proper means by which you will be able to tackle any situation of prosperity and adversity without getting affected. So, therefore, the only question to ask is, ‘How prepared are you for the monsoon?’ Earlier, we were prepared traditionally as a society. Nowadays, our priority has gone on to other things. Social media and WhatsApp messages have absorbed us. But the good news is that smartphones and gadgets reveal that all of us have the ability to be highly and intensely absorbed. They get absorbed so much that they forget to eat and sleep. Now, we just have to focus our attention on absorbing the right knowledge because the current kind of absorption is actually causing a lot of trauma and pain.

You are one of the pioneers of using social media to create positive change. So, what do you think is the power of social media? How can we strike a balance with it?

Prabhuji: A knife is neutral. The knife can be in a surgeon’s hand and save somebody’s life, and a knife can be in a thief’s hand used to steal and take somebody’s life. So, you have to utilise it with the right intention. I would say social media is a tool to make human beings’ lives comfortable and connected. But the person behind the tool is the human being with emotions, and the ability to make decisions and choices. So right now, the problem is people are allowing the tools to overwhelm them, so much so that they have lost discrimination on how to make the right choices. They have created a Frankenstein where the tools and the gadgets have taken over people’s lives. The important thing is that we need to understand that the world will always change, and tools will always remain, but we need to be able to control and form discipline because it is a fusion of intention with action. If the intention is good, then everything falls into place.

What are your tips for beginners to start meditation?

Prabhuji: Meditation is a steering wheel. So, you’re asking how one should take control of the steering wheel. But my question is – where is the GPS location? Before leaving, the GPS location should be set, then only the steering wheel will come into play. Therefore, I think it’s important for intelligent people to understand that we cannot sustain any meditation or spiritual practice unless we understand the meaning of the philosophy and the reason. The journey may be tiring, but if you do not have a GPS destination, you will not have the impetus to complete the journey when there is a flat tyre or the fuel runs out, or the weather becomes bad. There has to be complete clarity about your destination. First, the GPS has to be set, only then we can speak about the steering wheel and accelerator.

What does your fitness routine look like?

Prabhuji: As a part of my fitness routine, I do meditation, Surya Namaskar, and other types of yoga. To keep my intellect sharp and fit, I study the Bhagavad Gita. Apart from that, my diet consists of vegetarian food, which is without garlic or onion. A lot of people ask me what I suggest in a diet. But my question to them is what is your destination? Because the diet of a boxer and gymnast cannot be the same.

What is your advice to people going through a rough break up or separation? How can they cope with it?

Prabhuji: There are no shortcuts for coping. When Covid-19 hit India in 2021, many people in their early 40s also succumbed and prima facie, it appears that the difference between those who were affected by that and those not, was the state of their immunity. So, one of the inherited boosters for most people was a disciplined lifestyle. It helped them become more robust and resilient, physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. And that enhanced resilience acted as a natural immunity against this kind of physical attack in the form of a pandemic or coronavirus.

Now, you must extend the same thing to the mind. There are three kinds of miseries all of us go through: natural calamities, other people who torment us, and our own body and mind.

So, how do you create an immunity because these three will always be there. When you do Yagya or sacrifice, you are pacifying the higher beings who are in control of various natural situations. Sacrifice helps keep the agitated flesh under control. Honour or charity minimises the impact of other people upon us. Therefore, you know when you are constantly giving charity and charity doesn’t mean just financial charity, it means you’re giving the gift of your time or attention. Third is tapa, which is giving pain to oneself before pain hits. That includes getting up in the morning, taking a bath, doing one’s regular meditation, resisting urges of the senses, and controlling the mind. So, basically, it means that one must do things even though they may not like to. This kind of austerity performance enhances immunity and, as a result, the mind, the intelligence, the body, everything becomes highly organised. These three are the Astras or weapons for creating an entire circle of immunity around us. Therefore, rather than trying to control the weather, prepare yourself for the response to the weather.

What is your advice to the younger generation?

Prabhuji: Service without selfish consideration, that should be our motto. As society is progressing towards the age of social media and the internet, one of the negative points is that it is somehow becoming more and more self-obsessed. Instead of thinking about what is in it for me, let us start thinking about how I can serve and help others without expecting anything.


Courtesy:  Indian Express / PTI