Where East meets West
When you hear him chant Sanskrit shlokas and mantras, tears well up in your eyes. The power and devotion that his voice holds is sheer magic. It mesmerizes and holds sway over mind, body and soul to captivate the listener in a trance. But that is just a tiny part of his personality. Dr Chinmay Pandya, Pro Vice Chancellor and professor at the Dev Sanskriti Vishwa Vidyalaya (DSVV) in Haridwar, India, holds more credit than one can think of. Born and brought up in a spiritual academy (ashram) - Shantikunj, Haridwar, Dr Pandya completed his medical graduation and went to pursue his Master's degree from the University of Wolverhampton, UK. Armed with MRCP in psychiatry from London, he worked as a Consultant in West London Hospital Trust, London, and then as Associate Specialist for Alzheimer Disease Treatment Service he helped patients recover from rare diseases. After spending a few years in the UK as a practicing medico, he decided to return to the spiritual realm of his home in Haridwar.
At DSVV, he is the director for School of Yog and Health. He is also chairperson of the International Festival of Yoga, Culture and Spirituality; has been the convener of International Conference on Veda and Vichar Kranti, and International Conference of Gathering of Elders and International Conference on Yoga, Vedic Culture and Ayurveda, as well.
Presently, in Munich for a talk and Diwali celebrations at the India Institute of Munich (in the premises of the Museum of Ethnology in the Maximilian Strasse), we caught up with Dr Pandya for a tête-à-tête on spirituality.....
How relevant is the concept of yoga in the West as compared to India where it is more a part of our culture?
Yoga has never been a concept that could be restricted to one geographical region or one school of belief. It has always been universal and hence, everyone on this planet can easily relate themselves to the central philosophy of Yoga as that is equally applicable to someone sitting in Frankfurt or someone sitting in Delhi.
If the authentic origins of Yoga and the central understanding of finding balance and harmony within us is the center of focus then it remains relevant today, tomorrow, and in unforeseen future. Otherwise, we limit it to the gym classes or religious discourses.
You have travelled the world over. Where all in the world do you see spirituality gaining roots?
Spirituality simply means imbibing higher virtues in life and you always find people in different parts of the world, where they may not have practiced the traditional methodologies or they may have not heard about yoga, mantra, japa (chanting), dhyan (meditation) or any other such practices but they are full of divine qualities and their commitment to live a life dedicated to fundamental human values makes them spiritual in my opinion.
Although I do not think that one region can be claimed to be spiritual and other as not, yet, when we talk about roots - then you see an ingrained thinking about these principles for humanity such as kindness, compassion, devotion etc. in the Vedic way of thinking that emerged from India.
The Gita' is as relevant to today's life as it was at the time it was given to the world by Krishna. Comment.
There have always been two kinds of scriptures - one that are perishable and have temporal value and others, which are eternal because the messages that they convey cannot be limited to a race, creed or culture. They belong to the humanity and 'Gita' is one of them. There would be no time when it would not be of relevance. It is a timeless scripture.
How best can the concept of the 'Gayatri Mantra' be explained to the people in the West?
Gayatri Mantra is a prayer for all the individuals because it is simply asking the divinity to show us the righteous path and not only for the one, who is saying it but for everyone around. If one can truly understand the meaning of the Gayatri Mantra then this concept of east and west would be of least importance in committing to the divinity.
The world at large is facing behavioural problems that lead to negative, violent and evil acts like unprovoked shootings, terrorism, brutal murders etc. How best, according to you, can the human mind be trained and absolved of such warped psyches?
First, we need to understand what really causes unhappiness in the first place inside human beings, and to me, the root cause is the conflict inside us. Whenever there is conflict within the layers of consciousness that we are made up of, there is bound to be disharmony and this takes us away from the equilibrium and that imbalance is enough to disturb the peace that we aspire for. This conflict in turn, arises out of dissatisfaction and the very reason for dissatisfaction to be there in the first place is simply because we are usually not sure that what precisely would satisfy us. In the morning, we want something else, afternoon, something else and evening - there is some other desire that rules our mind. And they are all conflicting desires - material wealth, security in relationships, and inner happiness (one does not really fit with another). And hence, apart from dissatisfaction nothing else remains for us to accomplish.
There is no training needed to solve this conflict but essentially a better understanding of the self is required for us to solve these issues. Happiness comes not only by being with our real self but feeling content with that discovered self.
What is the understanding of spirituality in the West, especially in Germany?
Spirituality is a concept for individuals and they each perceive it in a different manner. I do not think that a particular country or area has a particular understanding of spirituality. It is totally an individual belief and understanding.
What is required to make the world a better place - spirituality or religion?