Friday, June 17, 2011

Uday Acharya on Times of India

Contemporary acharya packages ancient wisdom in Netspeak
by Ranjit Hoskote

Mumbai: ‘Interactive Vedanta’ is probably how Mr Uday Acharya would describe the series of talks on the Bhagavad Gita that he is giving at a city book store every Saturday afternoon this month. His name may conjure up the image of a story-book guru given to heavy-duty Sanskrit pronouncements, but when Acharya talks about the spiritual quest, he employs the language of the Internet buff.

“We do have the power to unscubscribe from unhealthy ideas and subscribe to healthy ones, as though theywere list-servers,” observes the 43-yearold teacher, whose journey as a seeker began while he was a schoolboy in Mumbai and came under the influence of Swami Chinmayananda and his disciple, Swami Dayananda. “And the spiritual quest is rally a constant process by which we upgrade ourselves.”

It is scarcely surprising, then, that many of the people who visit Acharya at the book store’s website (where he answers questions relating to spirituality and personal development) are young people. Students and professionals, they speak from a condition of distress brought on by an inability to balance happiness and spiritual purpose with career demands and material rewards – Acharya transfers the healing insights of the world’s religious traditions for them in a terminology they understand.

His sensitivity to this new, growing audience may also explain why Acharya, despite having 12 years of teaching on the Upanishads and the Gita behind him, calls himself “an explorer, a continuous student, not a teacher on a pedestal, but a friend.” This reinterpretation of the guru’s role gives him the opportunity, he says, to learn from contemporary experience while sharing the knowledge he has inherited from the past.

“There is enough wisdom available in the world to see us all through,” smiles Acharya, who imbibed both philosophy and tact from his teachers at the global headquarters in Rishikesh during the early 1980s. “My aim is to cull and share as much of itas possible with people across religions, cultures and generations.”

Acharya gathers that wisdom from an eclectic array of sources, including the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, Anthony de Mello’s parables, Richard Bach’s meditations, Edward de Bono’s courses in mental agility, Fritjof Capra’s attempts to bridge science and religion, as well as the often riddle-like teaching stories of the Zen and Taoist masters.

Emphasizing the self-development aspect of these legacies over the religions one, he reminds us that the  essentially similar core teachings of all the wisdom traditions should not be obscured by outward differences.

Although not an ordained sanyasin, Acharya leads wha he terms “a sadhu life in society, dedicated to putting people in touch with their inner resources, helping them to optimize their time and energy, to fulfill themselves at play, at work, in their relationships.”

Through the periodic workshops that he holds for students and corporate groups, Acharya helps people to help themselves in very practical situations. “I show them that problem can be turned into opportunities, because growth takes place at the point whee challenge stimulates response,” he says. “Each of us must lead an authentic life, tapping into our creativity while generating synergy with others.

Working with colleagues like the spiritual teacher Ram Mohan and the psychologist Rani Raote, Acharya guides students through minefields like success and interpersonal relationships, stress management, love and obsession. To his corporate shishyas, he speaks on themes like leadership, ethics and managerial values, competition and achievement.

“Those of us who occupy positions of authority should learn that the win-win situation is the best,” he muses. “You don’t have to be either a clone or a control freak to get ahead of the competition – just keep upgrading your own abilities and you will surpass the competition anyway.”

Renouncing competition in favour of co-operation as a ruling paradigm, Acharya insists that the inequities of human society can be dissolved only when networks of individuals and communities act on a commitment to positive change.“This is just an updated version of the satsang,” he says. “In the network-satsang, people will reinforce one another’s best qualities. They will learn to use desire instead of being used by it, to adopt constructive attitudes and manage their choices intelligently.”

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