Interview: Swami Swaroopananda – Chinmaya Mission Head
Swami Swaroopananda Ji, Spiritual Head of Chinmaya MissionWorlwide, was on his first visit to Mauritius and Reunion from June 3- 6, as was explained in an article in the May 31st issue of this paper. On June 7, the morning of his departure for India Dr N. Gopee took the opportunity to ask him some questions and obtain his views on a number of issued pertaining to religion and spirituality, happiness, dharma and secularism Swami Ji’s clarifications have a practical bearing and can inspire us to follow the path of righteous living.
* In this age when there is so much of information available online why should people come to listen to gurus? What can or do gurus offer that cannot be found elsewhere?
Firstly, all information is not online. Secondly, there’s a difference between information and knowledge, which takes place only when one is in tune with a person who has the knowledge. That’s why for higher studies, for example for a doctorate, a mentor is needed. A lot of research may be done in a library, but finally the insight into the subject can only be given by one who knows and lives it. At the same time, we can be inspired by a book or information from the net, but when we are with an inspiring person, it becomes effortless. Another thing is that when we read we are not given to authenticate what we read. Likewise, what we have understood we can’t be sure of. That’s why even in a school we require a teacher. So it depends on whether you want information or life-transforming knowledge.
* There are so many other organizations in addition to Chinmaya Mission, how does someone decide which one to go to? In other words, how does one choose a guru?
This relationship between guru and disciple is just, in simple words, a divine intervention. Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda used to say that when there is a flower blooming, the bee will come. Wherever we are when we have grown to become a sincere seeker, we will find our path and the right teacher for us. There are so many organizations – well, there are so many universities! Which one do you choose? In the same manner, according to your aptitude and development, and what is accessible to you, you can take benefit from a reputable organisation.
* Do they all teach the same thing?
Yes, they transmit the knowledge based on the solid foundation of precedents, that is, the well-tested path which has been irrefutable over the period of time lived by many masters, and that can be considered to be the authentic source of knowledge.
* What is it that is unique to Chinmaya Mission’s approach or method of teaching?
As Gurudev would say, I am not here for blind belief: enquire, even challenge the ideas, but come to know it for yourself.
* How is this teaching relevant to our times which is driven by materialism and consumerism?
Which era in the world was not driven by materialism and consumerism? We all want to attain success without stress. Please try hard for success. If we do not have the spiritual values, as well as attitude, we have to pay a very heavy price for stress. This teaching helps you to set high and noble goals, go beyond your limitations, discover your greater potential, act efficiently without stress. Having done your best, learn to leave the rest. And whatever comes to you, know it to be the best. This way, as the Bhagavad Gita points out, you will not only reach excellence but exceed excellence.
* Is this teaching in opposition to science?
No. Both spiritual and material science have developed on a scientific basis. Neither material nor spiritual science is based on mere belief. Today we have become blind believers of just the word science, not understanding what it means.
* Youngsters and even many adults criticise Hinduism for its plethora of religious rituals which they do not understand and are not in tune with. Moreover the youth get confused when confronted with criticisms that Hinduism has so many Gods, especially from believers in monotheism. How does one deal with the problem?
When we do not know the glory of our religion, culture, are steeped in our own mental procrastination and lethargy and unable to practise or to understand these practices from sources that can explain them, we will be confused about everything and everybody. Hinduism is the only religion which does not only say God is one, but God alone is, and therefore everyone and everything in the universe including you are the expression of God. Not understanding, the ignorant sees many gods, but Hinduism teaches you to see the One God in the many manifestations.
* A major challenge that is faced is to attract such skeptics to attend classes so as to gain proper knowledge about Hinduism. What can be done about this?
In this world we have got believers and non-believers, not sceptics. A sceptic neither believes blindly in some God, nor blindly rejects the very idea of God, but is one who enquires to know. So come to these classes to enquire as a sceptic and know! Swami Chinmayananda himself was the biggest sceptic ever, but turned out to be a man of the greatest knowledge.
* But beyond the immediate concerns and problems of material living, in what other way can knowledge of Hinduism be beneficial to the individual, whether rich or poor?
Hinduism teaches you who you are, and how with your present swabhava – nature — you can enhance your life, share and help many. Let us not make a distinction between rich and poor: the poor also have a lot of inner wealth that they can demonstrate and share with the rich. The rich in this world are those considered to be wealthy, but the truly rich person shares his abundance. Thus mutually sharing one can attain the highest good – as is enjoined in the Bhagavad Gita: Parasparam bhaavayantah, shreyah paramavapsyatha (Ch. 3, Verse 11).
* Does living according to dharmic principles apply only at individual level or at collective level too? For example, can a country follow dharmic principles?
No – individuals make up a society, so when individuals live a life of dharma, collectively they do so too. As a result it becomes convenient for all to live a life of dharma.
* For that to happen, the leadership must be educated in these principles. India being the land of dharma, is this the case there, that its leaders imbued with values of dharma, and do you have the impression that these prevail in the country’s governance?
Why not, we elect such leaders! After all, we are in a democratic country.
* What can be done to strengthen the input of dharma in the running of the country? Secularism is enshrined in India’s Constitution. Is secularism incompatible with dharma? Which of these two should take precedence in the polity?
We must understand the true spirit of secularism. It is not anti-dharma, anti-religion, anti-goodness. It is the openness to take the best from all fields and sciences, including religion, and give the people the freedom to follow their religion, their path. Secularism is not incompatible with dharma: it should allow you to live your dharma. In India secularism means that government is not based on one particular religion but gives you your freedom to practise your religion, and every religion should be about practising goodness. That is what we have to understand. Anything incompatible with the harmonious way of living called dharma is harmful.
* Can following dharma lead to happiness, which everybody is seeking? What is your perspective on happiness?
When we live in harmony with each other, then only we can share happiness with each other.
* There is a lot of talk about religion and spirituality, some people claiming that they are not religious but spiritual. Is there a difference between the two?
If religion does not have the element of spirituality, it is mere superficial practice, and if we consider spirituality to be just some esoteric practices then how is it different from any other religion? If you think that religion is external rituals and spirituality is just internal practices, then also we are misguided. To think that religion is all about God, and spirituality is all about me is also misunderstanding.
In every aspect and discipline in life, one requires the internal knowledge, vision, attitudes and values which may be considered as belonging to one’s spirit and therefore spirituality. At the same time it must express in one’s actions, behaviour and practices that lead you to further enhance your attitudes and knowledge of values. External practices must develop your mind and internal development must make your actions efficient, productive and beneficial to man. This is the practice of religion and spiritual growth.
* Published in print edition on 14 June 2019