In a modern society that is predominantly driven by materialistic concerns, it is rare to find people who put Seva before self-interest. It is even more rare to find a person who can harmoniously negotiate with all the four Purusharthas of Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Sri Jaishankar Narayanan of Aarsha Vidya Varshini is one such person. In an email interview, he shared about his life journey and the seva activities that Aasha Vidya Varshini is involved in.
Namaste Jaishankar ji. Please share with our readers about your life journey- your personal and professional life.
I was born and brought up in Tiruvallikeni, Chennai. I studied up to Higher Secondary in Chennai and then went to IIT-BHU, Varanasi and studied Chemical Engineering. After graduating from College in 1992, I went to Jamshedpur and worked for Tata Steel for one and half years. Then I went to Bay Area in USA in Nov 1993 and worked as Computer Programmer.
Initially in the US, I was fascinated by the infrastructure and the quality of life they had. But after a few weeks I understood that human problems are fundamentally the same wherever you are. In US they were comfortably unhappy and in India people were uncomfortably unhappy. I did a thought experiment and came to a conclusion that whatever I may achieve in life, in terms having a career, money, power, fame and other possessions, I cannot be totally satisfied with myself. I saw most of the so-called successful people who had all these, were in sorrow, pain and some even committed suicide. So, what is there for me to achieve in this life then? Is there any purpose in living life as expected by our families and society?
At that time one of my friends gave me a book written by B V Narasimha Swami called ‘Self Realization – Life and Teachings of Ramana Maharshi’. I read that book and was fascinated by the fact that all the so-called rich, powerful, famous, and successful people were going to a person, who lived most of his adult life in a radius of a few kilometres with almost no possessions, and seeking for his grace and blessings to attain whatever they were lacking. What did Ramana have which the others did not have and which they were seeking? I also wanted to accomplish that. Now I had a purpose in life and went about reading a lot of books about Ramana and other spiritual Gurus.
In mid-1994 I went to New Jersey on a new project and was blessed to stay with Yoga Teachers Smt. Rajam and Sri. Ramanathan in their home in North Jersey. I used to commute to New York city every day and used that time to read different books from their collection. All the biographies of great spiritual masters were very interesting to read and their life very inspiring. But most of the books by these spiritual masters were either giving some dos and don’ts or talked about practices which were supposed to lead you to some life changing experience. There was no systematic teaching and I did not get any clarity. It was all so mystical.
I used to do group meditations for 6 hours at a stretch during the weekends. Even though I enjoyed the meditation sessions I was not fundamentally changed by these practices. I was already a calm person who could concentrate on whatever interested me and keep the focus on it. I was not satisfied by different types of meditations and felt like I have hit a dead end. I came to a conclusion that I cannot do this anymore by self-study and practice and that I need a Guru.
When did you meet your Guru Swami Dayananda Saraswati ji? How did Swamiji inspire and influence your life?
In Aug 1994 one of my colleagues asked me to accompany him for a weekend trip to a Gurukulam which was 90 min drive away from New Jersey. I went with him and attended a talk by Pujya Swami-ji on Isvara in one’s life. The way Swami-ji communicated clearly and revealed the nature of Isvara as the one who is manifest as different orders – physical, biological, psychological, moral etc., was impressive. I was instantly attracted to Swamiji’s teachings. I got his books and cassettes and used to listen to them in my car while commuting. Swamiji knew how to use words to communicate complex topics clearly and make it simple to understand.
I accepted Swamiji as my Guru and wanted to study with him. I again met him in on New Year’s day 1995 in Arsha Vidya Gurukulam (AVG), Saylorburg, but I did not know he was going to start a long-term residential course in Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikkatti near Coimbatore in India, that month. Again, I met Swamiji in Jul 1995 and I asked him whether I can come and study Vedanta as his shishya. He refused as I was young and had a good job. He asked me to continue with his Gita Home Study Course, books and tapes. But when I insisted that I want to be a residential student he told me already more than 6 months are over in his course and it will be difficult for me to catch up. I convinced Swamiji that I am a very good student who can catch up easily as I had passed out of a college only a few years back.
Finally, Swamiji agreed with a condition that my parents have to give their approval to him. I had already planned to bring my parents for vacation to US in fall 1995. When they came, we went to AVG, Saylorsburg and my parents blessed me by giving their approval to Swamiji. My batchmate from IIT-BHU Kalyankumar, who was also working with me and staying in the same home, also wanted to come for the course at AVG, Anaikatti. Swamiji told us to come as soon as possible as the course was already under way. We then made a Garage Sale and sold off our possessions and left for India in Oct 1995.
We joined the course and learned Sanskrit and Vedanta systematically. Swamiji showed us how Vedanta is a Pramana – a valid means of knowledge and why it is required to know our real nature. We were transformed from a limited, lacking and wanting individuals into the limitless, whole and complete Self in the light of the teaching of Vedanta and Guru. Swamiji showed our reality every day in the word mirror he built for us. Over a period of time one can’t but see the truth of oneself and be transformed by it.
During the last days of our course Swamiji arranged for my marriage with Srividya who also was a student in the course. In Nov 1998 we were married in the presence of Pujya Swamiji in Chennai. After that I started working in a Software company in Chennai and started teaching Sanskrit and Vedanta to interested people in Chennai.
Between 2004 and 2007 you worked with AIM for Seva. You were especially involved in post-Tsunami relief activities. Can you please share more about your Seva activities during those times?
In the year 2000 Pujya Swamiji started All India Movement (AIM) for Seva. He asked all his students to do seva work under the AIM for Seva banner in their respective communities. My wife and I started to do seva work in Kovalam, a coastal village and Illalur, an agricultural village near Chennai. We used to conduct weekly children’s classes and did some rain water harvesting projects. We also organized some medical camps occasionally.
In 2004 Pujya Swamiji wanted me to quit my job and work full time for AIM for Seva. I agreed but told Swamiji that I was currently in some project and will join once the project was completed. In the meantime, Swamiji sent me as the AIM for Seva representative to Pan Asia Pacific Youth Leadership Summit organized by UN at Hiroshima.
The tsunami in December 2004 suddenly changed everything. I was on the beach on that day and the tsunami waves went over my head. I escaped by holding on to a broken catamaran. We immediately started Tsunami relief work at Kovalam village. AIM for Seva did lots of Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation work. We built nearly 100 boats, two Schools, two Students’ Homes and ten water desalination plants. I started working full time for AIM for Seva from the day of Tsunami. I shifted the AIM for Seva head office to Chennai and set it up.
Free Students’ Home was the flagship project of AIM for Seva. Pujya Swamiji had a goal of building at least one student home in each district of India. Swamiji made me the Joint Secretary of AIM for Seva and asked me to take care of the day to day administration. The next two and half years were very memorable. I travelled all over India from Karnaprayag in Uttarakhand to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu to set up Students’ Homes. During this period, we setup nearly fifty Free Students’ Homes (Chaatraalayaas) and a few hospitals.
As one of the trustees of Arsha Vidya Varshini Trust you have been doing on-the-ground seva since 2015. Can you share with us about the vision, mission and the current activities of the trust?
Aarsha Vidya Varshini Trust has been setup as a public charitable trust by the disciples of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati Ji on 23rd Oct 2015. The main objects of the trust are to build a Gurukulam to teach Vedanta, Yoga, Sanskrit and other traditional Indian knowledge disciplines in a residential setup and do seva work for the under privileged people in Tirunelveli District, India. Our vision is to do seva in the villages near South Kallidaikurichi and help all under privileged and needy people with interventions in education, desi cow protection and natural farming.
To fulfil this objective the trustees have purchased land in the village Therku Pappankulam and given it on long term lease to the trust. The land has been developed for construction of the Gurukulam. More than six hundred trees have been planted.
We are running a Goshaalaa to protect the local breed of cows which are facing extinction and to educate interested farmers in natural farming. Started with a few cows, the number has increased to around 25 now. We try to maintain and care for them in a protective environment. Since the numbers have increased, we have extended the shed for accommodating more cows. We are conducting Children’s classes in the village and trying to give them good values and improve their academics.
Can you share with us about the Gurukulam that the trust is planning to build at Therku Paappankulam Village near Kallidaikurichi in Tirunelveli District.? And why a Gurukulam? And what all branches of knowledge would you be teaching in the Guruklulam?
We are building this Gurukulam as a tribute to our Guruji. Pujya Swamiji asked me and Kalyankumar to buy some land in a rural area and build a Gurukulam around 2010. But we did not do anything as we thought it will be a monumental task. But when in 2015 Swamiji was not keeping good health we decided to do as he had wanted. In May 2015 we met Swamiji in Anaikkatti and told about our plans to construct a Gurukulam near my ancestral village Kallidaikurichi, which is also the ancestral village of Kalyankumar’s father in law. On hearing this Pujya Swamiji was very happy and immediately gave a copy of Sruti Seva Trust deed (the trust that built and manages AVG, Anaikkatti) and asked us to form a trust and model our objects similarly.
We are planning to build a Gurukulam with rooms, lecture hall, kitchen and dining facilities for 50 people to stay and study. We have finalized the master plan and will be starting the construction soon. Once we have the infrastructure in place, we plan to have weekend camps, short-term courses and long-term residential courses for interested people. We plan to teach Vedanta and Sanskrit primarily for adults but also plan to have yoga camps, children’s camps and youth camps. As of now we are conducting online classes on Vedanta, Sanskrit and chanting.
In 2019, you constructed a temple in the proposed Gurukulam campus and did the installation of Vigrahas of Adi Shankaracharya, Ma Sharada, and Vallabha Mahaganapathi. Can you please share more details about the event and how these Vigrahas came to be housed in the temple?
In Aug 2018 we wanted to install a Vinayaka vigraha under an Ashvattha Tree which we had planted in our Gurukulam. We wanted to do this as an auspicious beginning before starting any big construction work. We decided to consult Swami Omkarananda ji of Theni regarding which form of Ganapati to install. Swamiji suggested that we should have Vallabha Mahaganapati (Ganapati with 10 hands and Vallabha Devi in his lap) and generously offered to donate the vigraha himself.
We were then returning home after seeing Swamiji and on our way back we received a call from Swamini Atmaprakashananda ji from UK. Swaminiji told us that a person known to her, Hari Kiran of Indic Academy, has made a sankalpa to install 108 Adi Shankaracharya Vigrahas all over the World and the first vigraha is ready. Swaminiji further told that she wants the vigraha to be in some place associated with Pujya Swami Dayananda ji and that place is our proposed Gurukulam near Kallidaikurichi. She further said that she wants that vigraha to be there during the Tamraparni Mahapushkaram which is going to happen after 144 years.
We then called Swami Omkarananda ji to ask what can be done, as we had not planned to build a temple. But Swamiji said it is a very good shakuna (omen), that Guru has come along with Ganapati and we should build a simple mandapa by extending the platform under the tree and perform the pratishtha of the Vigrahas there. So, we agreed and the first to come was the Adi Shankara Vigraha one day before the start of the Mahapushkara on 10th Oct 2018. We placed the vigraha at Ayiramkaal mandapam (Thousand Pillared hall) on the banks of the river, did bimbashuddhi and did puja to Adi Shankara for the next 15 days.
During the Tamraparni Mahapushkaram Swami Omakarananda ji came to Kallidaikurichi to see the Adi Shankara vigraha. He then visited our Gurukulam to see how the temple mandapa was coming up. At that time Swamiji felt that if Ma Sharada also is there then it will be like Shringeri. So, he told us that he will donate a Shaarada vigraha also and we should perform pratishtha of all three in uttarayana. Thus, we had the kumbhabhisheka on Jan 19th 2019. We now do regular puja in the temple and have also built a mandapam in front for devotees to assemble.
Please share with our readers regarding the online Vedanta classes that you regularly conduct and how people can register for it.
The details of the online classes we are conducting are available at our website.
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