Swami Mukundananda — world-renowned spiritual teacher, an authority on mind management, IIT AND IIM alumnus and bhakti saint — is the founder of JKYog. Swamiji, who has studied Eastern and Western scriptures under the guidance of Kripaluji Maharaj, delves deep into Vedic psychology to leverage the immense power of the mind that results in ultimate transformation. He is the author of several books, including Art of Mind Management, Bhagavad Gita, The Song of God, Yoga for the Body, Mind & Soul and Spiritual Dialectics. Team Optimist spoke to HH Swami Mukundananda about his spiritual journey. Excerpts…
Team Optimist: What has been the response of people abroad regarding yoga? Are they more inclined towards spirituality, or do they consider yoga simply a mode of healthy living?
Swami Mukundananda: The fascination for yoga has definitely spread around the globe, but, invariably, in the name of yoga, only physical exercises are taught, and those who practise such exercises presume that they have become yogis. Actually, there’s no such word as ‘Yoga’ in Sanskrit, or in the Vedic scriptures. The proper word is ‘Yog’, which means to unite. It’s derived from the root word, ‘yuj’, which means to join. The Garuda Purana defines Yog as ‘Saṁyogo yoga ityukto jīvātmaparamātmanoḥ’ — “The union of the soul with the Supreme is called Yog.” We can achieve this union only by elevating, purifying and focusing our mind lovingly upon God.
Most yoga studios that have cropped up in the West just take one arm of Yog — asana — and teach sincere aspirants only physical exercises, or incomplete meditational techniques. Without emphasis on purification of the mind, the hunger of the soul remains unaddressed. Those who have deeper sanskārs — whether in the East, or the West, yearn for a genuinely divine experience. That’s why, JKYog workshops draw huge crowds abroad as they have this inner urge to understand and experience Indian spirituality.
Team Optimist: The realization of God is, no doubt, one of the most challenging aspects for anyone. How do you handle this sensitive aspect while interacting with devotees and enthusiasts?
Swami Mukundananda: Spiritual journey is, undoubtedly, an arduous and humbling process. And, if one doesn’t see any progress on this path, it’s difficult to stay motivated. I always remind spiritual enthusiasts and devotees that everything sublime, or noble requires a reasonably long-drawn effort. The spiritual journey is lengthy, because, for endless lifetimes, we’ve attached our mind to the world; no wonder then that it takes time to elevate our mind. Hence, the crowning virtue required is patience. The difference between success and failure is patience. Those who fail give up after a couple of attempts, while those who succeed don’t dream of giving up until they succeed.
However, a spiritual aspirant’s desire for the results to manifest is also a form of greed; I call it ‘spiritual greed’. One has to give up this greed to reach one’s goal. In other words, I teach spiritual aspirants to embark on this journey for the glory and pleasure of God.
A large portion of my audience, especially in the US, comprises engineers, MBAs and other academics. Having shared the same educational background as theirs, I explain scriptural knowledge in a logical manner and in modern terms that are comprehensible and plausible to them. At my programmes, I present pragmatic tools so that they can stay internally motivated and progress on this path.
Team Optimist: What are the youth initiatives JKYog is currently looking at?
Swami Mukundananda: We’ve established JKYog Youth Club that educates, inspires and encourages young minds. It’s an all-inclusive avenue dedicated to personal, professional, career and spiritual development of youths. JKYog Youth Club is focused on youth development through various events.
Development projects and workshops:
· Toastmasters Gavel Club — Helps build effective communication, confidence and leadership skills. This is very important for youths, who are the leaders of tomorrow.
· SPARK — A high school student-run, non-profit, youth leadership organization that’s dedicated to developing the next generation of conscientious leaders. SPARK comprises highly selective teen members with vision and ambition, who make an impact — not just on themselves, but on society as a whole by actively promoting social services among their peers and creating and implementing youth programmes.
· Youth Leadership Workshop — This fun-filled workshop has innovative leadership activities that help youths reach their leadership potential. They learn essential leadership skills from highly successful and effective leaders, develop leadership identity and discover their true calling in life.
· KAKE — ‘Kids Assisting Kids in Education’ aims at providing homeless children better access to educational resources by distributing free laptops to needy youths.
Team Optimist: What’s been the feedback on meditation workshops from the common people? How does JKYog reach out to the masses in the US and that, too, in 15 cities?
Swami Mukundananda: The feedback has been very positive. A recent well-being survey conducted on the week-long JKYog Life Transformation Programme (LTP) attendees showed significant benefits:
- 94% were able to reduce stress and anxiety in life
- 86% felt more relaxed than before
- 96% felt more hopeful, and
- 75% admitted to have experienced divine rapture during meditation
The participants were able to accomplish such results because of the meditation, ‘Roopdhyan’, the most beneficial and powerful of all techniques practised at JKYog. One can achieve great spiritual progress, concentration and strength of mind by practising this technique. God is all-pure and, when we fix our mind upon Him, the mind transcends the three modes of material nature, as Shree Krishna reveals the proper object of meditation:
मां च योऽव्यभिचारेण भक्तियोगेन सेवते |
स गुणान्समतीत्यैतान्ब्रह्मभूयाय कल्पते ||
Mam cha yo’vyabhicharena bhaktiyogena sevate |
Sa gunan samateetyaitaan brahma bhuyaya kalpate || (Bhagavad Gita 14.26)
“I am beyond the three modes of material nature. By engaging the mind in meditation upon me through Bhakti Yog, you transcend the three modes and become Divine.”
Transcendental meditation doesn’t mean meditating upon nothingness. The entity transcendental to the three modes of material nature is God. And so, only when the object of our meditation is God can it truly be called transcendental meditation. Hence, at JKYog, we meditate on the names, forms, virtues, pastimes, abodes and associates of God.
Team Optimist: What must India do with yoga to promote it as a mode of spiritual tourism?
Swami Mukundananda: Our Indian civilization has a glorious history of thousands of years. Over many millennia, our culture, education, scriptures and traditions have been inspiring the rest of the world. The innumerable gems from our heritage — yoga, ayurveda, mind management, holistic health, meditation, stress eliminating techniques and spiritual values — are all invaluable gifts to humanity. So, it’s no surprise that individuals who seek to experience serenity and spirituality take an interest in journeying from far and wide to the ‘Land of Yog’. India is, probably, the most popular destination for spiritual tourism.
The declaration of ‘International Yoga Day’ has already made a significant impact on spiritual tourism in India. Over the past four years, the government has been dedicating some hundred parks or so across the country for yoga activities to celebrate International Yoga Day. Only last year did representatives from 190 countries participate in these celebrations. Statistics reveal that over 100,000 people visit India every year to practise yoga. And we’ve been witnessing how our tourism ministry has been working towards creating better infrastructure for facilitating these spiritual tourists. We can further boost this by offering dedicated yoga tourism packages to accommodate the growing demand for holistic health-based travel.
Team Optimist: What are your plans regarding yoga and meditation in the US? Are you planning to spread it in other countries, too?
Swami Mukundananda: Early next year, JKYog will be launching a yoga teachers’ training course in the US. This course is unique as it encompasses all aspects of holistic health — yogasanas, pranayama, meditation, subtle body relaxation and healthy diet.
Also, the soon-to-open Jagadguru Kripalu University (JKU) in Odisha is set to raise the standards of education and research in the field of yoga in its entirety. This’ll provide an exceptional opportunity for yoga enthusiasts to pursue higher education and research in this field.