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  • Acharya Prashant: Spiritual leader on the path of educating through intelligent spirituality.

    Published on April 27, 2020

    Prashant Tripathi, known as Acharya Prashant, was born in 1978, at Agra, India. Eldest of three siblings, his father was a bureaucrat and mother a homemaker. His childhood was spent mostly in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

    Parents and teachers found in him a child who could often be quite mischievous, and then suddenly, deeply contemplative. Friends too recall him as having an unfathomable temperament, often not really sure whether he was joking or serious. A brilliant student, he consistently topped his class and received the highest commendations and prizes possible to a student. His mother fondly remembers how she was honored several times as ‘Mother Queen’ for the academic performance of her child. Teachers would say that never before had they seen a student who was as brilliant in Science as in Humanities, as adept in Mathematics as in Languages, and as proficient in English as in Hindi. The then Governor of the state felicitated him in a public function for setting a new benchmark in the Board examinations, and for being an NTSE scholar.

    The prodigal student was a voracious reader since he was five years of age. His father’s extensive home library consisted of some of the world’s best literature, including spiritual texts like the Upanishads. For long hours, the child would be tucked away in the most silent corners of the house, immersed in stuff that was meant to be understood only by men of advanced age and maturity. He would skip meals and sleep, lost in reading. Before he had turned ten, Prashant had read almost everything that was there in the father’s collection and was asking for more. The first signs of the mystical appeared when he started composing poetry at the age of eleven. His poems were imbued in shades of the mysterious and were asking questions that most grown-ups could not grasp.

    At the age of fifteen, after being in the city of Lucknow for many years, he found himself in Ghaziabad near Delhi, owing to his father’s transferable job. The particular age and the change of city accelerated the process that had already taken deep roots. He took to waking at night, and besides studying, would often be staring silently at the night sky. His poems grew in depth, a lot of them devoted to the night and the moon. Rather than academics, his attention started flowing more and more towards the mystical.

    He nevertheless continued to do well academically and gained admission to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. His years at IIT were full of exploration of the world, deep involvement in student politics, and shining as a debater and an actor in nationwide events and competitions. He was a most vibrant figure on the campus, a dependable student leader, and a soulful performer on the stage. He would consistently win debate and extempore speech competitions in which participants from across the country would compete, and would also win prizes for directing and acting in meaningful plays. In one of the plays, he got the ‘Best Actor Award’ for a performance in which he did not utter a word and moved not a single step.

    He had been sensing since long that there is something fundamentally amiss in the way most people perceive the world, the way our minds are conditioned to operate, and hence something distorted in the way the relationships between people are, the way the worldly institutions are designed, the way our societies function – basically the very way we live. He had started seeing that incomplete perception was at the root of human suffering. He was deeply disturbed by man’s ignorance and cultivated inferiority, the evils of poverty, the evils of consumption, violence towards man, animals, and environment, and exploitation based on narrow ideology and self-interest. His entire being was raring to challenge the all-pervasive suffering, and as a young man, he guessed that the Indian Civil Services or the Management route might be an apt one to take.

    He gained admission to the Indian Civil Services and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad in the same year. However, because the service allotted to him based on his rank was not IAS – the service that he had wanted, and because he was already seeing that the government is not the best place where revolutionary changes can be brought, he opted to go to IIM.

    The two years at IIM were obviously rich in the academic content he absorbed. But he was not the one who would confine himself to slogging for grades and placements, as is the norm in these coveted institutions. He would regularly spend time in teaching kids at an NGO that operated in a slum close to Gandhi Ashram, and would also teach Mathematics to graduates to earn to spend at the NGO. Besides, his angst at human ignorance expressed itself through theatre. He took up plays like ‘Khamosh, adalat jaari hai’, ‘Rhinoceros’, ‘Pagla Ghoda’, and ‘The night of January 16th’ and directed them, besides acting in them. At one point, he was directing two parallel plays. The plays were performed in the IIM auditorium to packed audiences from within and outside the city. In the profit-centered and self-interest driven atmosphere of the campus, he had found himself an outsider. These existentialist and rebellious plays helped him vent out his anguish, and also prepared him for the bigger stage ahead.

    The next few years were spent, as he puts it, in the wilderness. He describes this period as one of particular sorrow, longing, and search. Looking for a piece of sanity in the corporate world, he kept switching jobs and industries. To gain composure, he would take time off and be away from the city and work. It was increasingly becoming clear to him that what he wanted to do, and what was crying out to be expressed through him, could not happen through any traditional route. His reading and resolve intensified, and he designed a leadership course for post-graduates and experienced professionals, based on wisdom and spiritual literature. The course was floated at some reputed institutions, and he would sometimes be teaching students elder than himself in age. The course met with success, and the way started becoming clearer to him.

    At the age of twenty-eight, he bid goodbye to corporate life and founded Advait Life-Education for ‘Creation of a new humanity through Intelligent Spirituality’. The method was to bring a deep transformation in human consciousness. The initial audience chosen was college students who were offered self-development courses. Wisdom from ancient literature was taken to students in form of simplified texts and engaging activities.

    While the work of Advait was great and prevailing appreciation from all and sundry, there were great challenges as well. The social and academic system had conditioned the students to study to just clear examinations and to have a degree to secure jobs. The self-development education, the education of the Beyond, the life-education that Advait was attempting to bring to the students was so new and so different from everything that they had ever read or experienced that it would often lead to indifference towards Advait’s courses, and sometimes even hostility from the system. Often even the management body of the colleges and the parents of the students would totally fail to grasp the utter importance and immensity of what Advait was courageously trying to do. However, amidst all these difficulties, Advait continued to do well. The mission continued to expand and is touching and transforming thousands of students.

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