As a young boy, A. Parthasarathy loved listening to stories told to him by his father. Whether stories from Western literature or Indian scriptures, Parthasarathy would listen with rapt attention, and then fire a series of questions at his father.
“I was an enquirer from the very beginning. I remember my father mentioning to others that the age of seven, I used to ask him uncomfortable questions, like whether the chicken came first or the egg came first. I had this enquiring mind, and I wanted to know the meaning and purpose of life,” says Chennai-born Parthasarathy in an e-mail interview.
He remembers in particular the little nuggets of wisdom his father would share from the Vedanta, the ancient Indian philosophy that addresses the fundamental questions of life.
“Vedanta talks about a way of life. It is knowledge, wisdom. I was first introduced to it by my father and even at the age of seven, I took to it like a duck to water,” says the 87-year-old.
Growing up, Parthasarathy says his father was a great influence on him. He related an example of the close bond the two shared with an anecdote from his childhood.
“He was a role model for me. I remember him talking about my conduct as a child. We were in the shipping business and when I was about nine years old, he took me to the ship one evening. The manager and the entire staff were disinfecting all the holds for the transport of grains. I gave a suggestion to the manager which he immediately implemented and (later on) informed my father. I was told later that the suggestion saved them 25,000 rupees (RM1,500 at today’s rates) a day. This was nearly 80 years back. I heard quite a few episodes like this from the family,” he shares.
But at age 25, Parthasarathy decided not to go into his father’s shipping business, instead expressing a desire to focus solely on the “pursuit of truth”.
“I graduated in Literature first and then did another degree in Science and Mathematics, and a third degree in law. After that I did post-graduate study in London. All along, I had this bug in me to find out the purpose and mission in life – and this scholastic education had little value in my search for truth,” he explains.
His parents supported his decision, and so began Parthasarathy’s lifelong study of the Vedanta.
“My family responded positively. My father was more than happy to let me go. In fact, he said he had similar aspirations but did not have the courage and conviction to execute it. He wished me well and said to carry on with my search,” he relates.
Now, 62 years since he made that decision, Parthasarathy – or Swamiji as he is known by his students and those who have gained from his discourse – divides his time between the Vedanta Academy just outside Mumbai in India, which he set up some 26 years ago, and speaking to business people about topics related to leadership. Although his source material is rooted in tradition and religion, he has developed techniques to apply it in modern professional and personal lives.
The academy is a resource for study and research of the ancient text. It also offers full-time courses designed to teach students how to “open up” their intellect.
“The word ‘Vedanta’ is derived from two words ‘veda’ (knowledge) and ‘anta’ (end). So Vedanta provides the knowledge of life and living. If you carefully analyse the world, you will find therein either action or peace, never both.
“People who are active are productive and prosperous. But they seem to have lost their peace of mind. People who are relatively peaceful, as in the villages, have little action, production, prosperity.
“Vedanta is knowledge which gives you the capacity to act in a spirit of service and sacrifice that ensures production and prosperity. At the same time, Vedanta helps you to develop the intellect to control the mind so as to provide perfect peace and joy in life. So here is a subject which combines action with peace. You may call it mundane. You may call it spiritual. Whatever you like.
“Whoever you are, whatever life you lead – you would require this knowledge to ensure action and peace. Following this trend of action and peace, Vedanta ultimately leads you to the ultimate goal of spiritual enlightenment,” he explains.
Parthasarathy’s lectures address topics such as developing the intellectual, improving concentration and productivity, eliminating stress, and instilling discipline in one’s life – all of which, he says will improve one’s overall well-being.
As an example, Parthasarathy emphasises that stress isn’t something brought on by external demands; rather it is something internal and can therefore be controlled.
“One loses peace because of one’s worries of the past and anxieties for the future. If you stop bringing in memories of the past and stop your anxiety to enjoy the fruit of action, you will enjoy peace. Vedanta helps you to find that peace in action. If you cannot find peace in action you can never find it by getting away from action by courting weekends and vacations,” he says.
Parthasarathy will be in Kuala Lumpur next month to speak at the “Essence of Leadership” seminar organised by Vedanta World Kuala Lumpur at the Sime Darby Convention Centre.
The May 5 seminar is designed for senior management. In the past, he has held seminars for companies like CIMB, the Bharat Group, Khazanah, DRB-Hicom, and Westport, among others.
¦ For more information on the seminar, go to vedantamalaysia.org or contact Vinay Kumar at (03) 7859-0039 or 012-2121342.