The Man Who Changed My Life

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We met in Perth in 1992. I had flown from the Gold Coast to attend a course called Mastermind. He had flown from India to begin his annual Australian lecture tour. I had no idea that we were going to meet. I was simply there to attend the course, nothing else. Yet what I came away with was a man and a philosophy that would change my life forever.

Swami Parthasarathy

The hall was packed. Everyone wanted to see and meet the Swami. He was dressed all in white; in a simple kurta and dhoti, with a mala around his neck and a red line on his forehead, signifying his spiritual status.

He sat cross-legged on a platform on the stage, closed his eyes and chanted OM… The sound echoed throughout the auditorium and calmed the many minds seated in front of him.

In his talk, he highlighted the hollowness of human pursuits, asserting that our life is consumed by two motivations: acquisition and enjoyment. He said, “In order to feel happy, you want to acquire comforts and pleasures from the world. Then enjoy what you have acquired. This is your life’s preoccupation.”

He emphasised that there is nothing wrong—and that there’s no limit to what we can acquire or aspire for, as long as the starting point is CONTENTMENT.

His words struck a chord and even though the hall was packed I felt like he was looking and speaking directly to me. 

After the talk, I was introduced to Swamiji, as he is affectionately known. He was incredibly charming and HUMBLE. I told him that I thoroughly enjoyed his talk and was in awe of his book Vedanta Treatise, which I had just started reading.

He listened like there was no one else in the room. Then he told me about his academy in India, near Pune. He said I should do the 3-year-residential course…

… The seed was planted.

The Retreat

As part of Swamiji’s Australian Tour, a Retreat was held at Point Walter, overlooking the magnificent Swan River. On Friday afternoon we were greeted by the organisers and shown to our rooms. There were approximately forty people attending the retreat, including seven guests from India.

The evening lectures were open to the public and the first lecture was that evening.

An Indian lady and an Australian girl sat on the floor and chanted while the hall filled. I remember looking at this girl and thinking that I desperately wanted to be like her. Her name was Joanne and she was so graceful with gorgeous flowing auburn hair. It wasn’t the hair, it was the GRACE I wanted.

The subject of Swamiji’s talk was very Indian, Bhaja Govindam, but the message was universal: Know Thy Self.

I learnt that by knowing the Self within I would bring PEACE and contentment to my troubled mind—and I was troubled. On the outside, I was all smiles and shiny but on the inside, I was like the matted coir of a coconut.

Swamiji entered and sat cross-legged on the stage. He paused, and at exactly six-thirty, closed his eyes and chanted OM… Everyone else closed their eyes and an exhilarating sense of CALM filled the air.

He began his talk by saying that all the stress and strain of life are because the starting point of our pursuit is discontentment. We feel empty inside, so we try to fill ourselves up with all sorts of things and as long as the starting point is discontentment our happiness will only ever be temporary. The message, therefore, is to seek the Self within. Then we will gain permanent PEACE and happiness.

It was exactly what I needed to hear. It all made so much sense. When we look for happiness outside, we find it for a while, but it doesn’t last, but when we shift our FOCUS to seek happiness within, then we gain lasting FULFILMENT.

Throughout the retreat, there were talks by Swamiji, Q&A, yoga, music, meditative walks, JOY, friendship and laughter. The retreat aimed to give people an idea of what life was like at the Vedanta Academy in India. It certainly whetted my appetite.

6 weeks later I was in India studying Vedanta at the Vedanta Academy…

… That was 31 years ago and what happened between then and now is another story for another time.

ENDS.