Colleague:” Why aren’t you coming for the happy hour?”
Me: “I need to go to New Brunswick for a lecture on Bhaja Govindam (Seek the Eternal), a Vedanta text”.
Colleague: “Watch the recording. We won’t have any happy hours for next few months.”
Me: “I do not know if there will be any recording. This is an annual lecture, so I am not worried about missing the happy hour. Let me understand happiness first.”
It was early days learning Vedanta from Gautamji. He announced in our weekly class that Sunandaji, an internationally acclaimed philosopher was coming from India for a lecture series to explain Bhaja Govindam. That was the first time I heard about Sunandaji. I googled the “Bhaja Govindam” and learned that it is about looking at life through a spiritual lens. I was living in New York City, and going to Rutgers University, the lecture venue, meant 2.5 hours travel after work. I decided to attend the first day and decide if it would be worth going there the next three days.
So, here I am on Day 1 at the venue. Before the lecture, there was a short video on the Vedanta Academy in India. It was founded by eminent philosopher A. Parthasarathy, known as Swamiji, who wrote the commentary of Bhaja Govindam, which Sunandaji is going to teach today. Two hundred of us from diverse backgrounds were waiting eagerly for the lecture to begin. She asked the audience how many were familiar with Vedanta. Quite a few hands went up. She carefully explained the concept along with a brief introduction to the epic text. Her powerful delivery and clear thinking engaged me in the lecture from the word go.
Bhaja Govidam, comprising 31 verses composed by the 8th century Indian saint Adi Sankaracharya, (also known as Sankara), illustrates our lives in different perspectives, prompting us to question our purpose in life. It provides general and practical guidelines on life. Using intellectual re-evaluation, Sankara explained a human life from birth to death, and again to rebirth. The book was relevant 1,200 years ago, is relevant now to all human beings, and will be relevant in future as long as humanity exists.
Sunandaji explained five verses on Day 1, providing examples from our daily lives to help unfold the philosophical essence of the text. Before the lecture ended, I decided I had to come for the next three days. The experience got better with each passing day as she continued to explain the futility of depending on external objects and beings for our happiness. She also shared insightful quotes from philosophers across the world supporting the fact that truth has no geographical boundary and religion.
At the core, a human spends a lifetime in acquisition and enjoyment. If you ask yourself what you are doing, morning, noon and night, the answer would be one of the two. It may vary from person to person based on their physical, emotional, and intellectual needs. Yet, this questioning and self-awareness is an essential pre-requisite for spiritual understanding and growth.
Sunandaji’s explanation of 31 verses left a profound impact which propelled me to commit to the study of Vedanta. Subsequently, I found out that she has travelled the world giving lectures on the Bhagavad Gita — one chapter every year at various venues. For those who do not know, the Bhagavad Gita is a 5000-year-old ancient text that talks about life and living. It is a dialogue between Arjuna (a warrior prince) and Krishna (Arjuna’s friend, cousin, and a Self-Realized person). Arjuna is highly stressed in the battle of life (literally and figuratively) and Krishna teaches him how to not only overcome his stress and strain but also shows him the path to become a perfect person.
A survey released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 40% of adults reported experiencing mental health issues. Bhagavad Gita is relevant more than ever for us, as the solution to our problems, to improve our lives and evolve into better humans. This year, Sunandaji will deliver a series of online evening lectures on chapter 5 of Bhagavad Gita: Wisdom for Life from September 30 to October 3, which will make it even more accessible to anyone seeking to understand this knowledge.
It’s time for you to make a choice between happiness and happy hour like I did four years ago. It may change your life for good.
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