TS: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon, I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit soundstruefoundation.org.
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Gaur Gopal Das. Gaur Gopal Das is a former Hewlett Packard engineer who joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness as a monk in 1996, in India. Since then, he’s become a popular speaker and motivational coach both on YouTube and giving public presentations all over the world. With Sounds True. Gaur Gopal Das has written a new book called The Way of the Monk: How to Find Purpose, Balance, and Lasting Happiness.
In this conversation, Gaur is at the monastery in Mumbai, India, and I’m of course recording from my home in Boulder, Colorado, and what impressed me so much about Gaur Gopal Das is his thorough contemporariness as a person, even though he’s a monk living in a monastery in India. He speaks so helpfully and intelligently about working with social media in an intelligent way, about how to manage our stress and deepen our faith as a fully modern person. Here’s my conversation with Gaur Gopal Das:
To begin with, Gaur, can you tell us how and why you became a monk?
GGD: My decision to be a monk was a journey, and the journey was a combination of multiple things. Number one was I have always believed that every individual should be very, very satisfied in what they do in their life. They should find tremendous fulfillment in the nature of work they adopt. So I studied electrical engineering and I started working with Hewlett Packard, HP. A very short stint, but then I did not find myself fitting into that role. Although I was good, decently good at my work at HP, but I didn’t find it to be fulfilling, and I usually say that if you wind up working for about 8 hours a day, conservative number, and if you work for 5 days a week, that’s about 40 hours a week. If you’re working for let’s say about 50 weeks a year with 2 weeks of holiday, that would make 2,000 hours a year, and if you’re working for about 45 years that would make it about 90,000 hours of our life at our workplace, and that’s about on an average 10 years of our life we spend at our workplace. A lot of people, they continue working in what they do, because it pays them well and they’re probably good at it, but not necessarily satisfied with what they’re doing.
So the first reason to make that shift for me was I did not want to spend my 90,000 hours doing something that I was good at, doing something that I was paid well for, but doing something that did not satisfy me, that did not fulfill me, that wasn’t my passion, that wasn’t my calling, so that was one of the first reasons I thought I definitely need to look for something that truly resonates with my soul, is in complete sync with my soul and my passion.
So I started introspecting a little bit on what would that be? If it’s not technology, being at Hewlett Packard, what would that be? The answer that I got from within myself with a little bit of introspection and reflection was that I loved working with people, in terms of helping people with their life. I loved life sciences, behavioral sciences. I loved dealing with psychology, and when I found that this is what I truly like and this is what would truly make me feel satisfied and make me feel myself, that is when I started exploring, what path would I choose?
Out of the many different paths I thought, there’s a lot of people who are studying these different subjects from the modern perspective by going to universities and taking courses in these sciences. I thought, what if I could get into ancient wisdom? Ancient wisdom from the East. I live in India, so what if I could tap into the ancient wisdom of the monks, the sages, the epics that were written in this country here? So that is when then I decided I must make my thoughts now, in terms of following my passion and my journey, by connecting to the life of a monk and living in a monastery, trying to study under masters, teachers, gurus, spiritual leaders, and understanding from them different dimensions of life.
Then of course I also had a little bit of a spiritual calling from within me as I grew up, and I think I put it all together, wanting to be satisfied with what I do in my life, and then trying to study it in a monastery under masters, gurus, and spiritual leaders. Also, trying to pursue my spiritual calling, and then putting it all together, trying to see how I can share it with people, and trying to impact their lives and make a positive difference in their life. That’s really how the journey came about.
TS: Tell me about that spiritual calling, because I think plenty of people are not satisfied with the career they’re in. That’s pretty common, but to have that spiritual calling, I think, is not as common. So what does that feel like inside you, and how would you describe it?
GGD: Yes. I think when I’m talking about the spiritual calling, personally, for myself, I was looking at finding answers to questions which were probably larger than life, probably more than what universities could answer. I had questions like, what happens to an individual when one dies? I had questions like, where did we originally come from? Where did we belong? Is the current life the beginning of our life, and is this—when we leave this world would that be the end of life? Is this the only life? Are there more lives? Are there more universes? How are we connected in the macrocosm? How are we connected in the microcosm? And how all of these answers could truly transform our life and make us live a life of deep joy, fulfillment, and purpose, and find that meaning in all of these different realities that are existing around us. So I think that’s how my journey began in trying to find answers to these questions.
TS: I think this is where, Gaur, you and I meet, and also where the listeners of this podcast, Insights at the Edge, meet with you as well, in those questions. Now, one of the things that’s really unusual about you—we’re going to keep talking about all the unusual things about you—is that here you are, you’re a monk who became a YouTube sensation. You have something like, you’re approaching three million subscribers to your YouTube channel, and you’re known as one of the most famous monks in the world. How did you go from being just someone who decided they wanted to serve through living in a monastery and helping people, interacting with people, to becoming a YouTube sensation?
GGD: I always believed in these two lines that I heard from someone, that said you work not to impress, but to express yourself. This person also said you work for a cause, not for an applause. So for me, it was trying to figure out my own journey, my own spiritual journey, finding meaning in my own life. Trying to have the taste of the pudding first before I could even try and share that with others, but first taste the pudding myself, experience it myself. So when I was living in the monastery—I still am—in my journey within the monastery, I was really trying to practice meditation, practice study of the scriptures, practice learning under my teachers, practice being with all my comrades and friends in the monastery, in the ashram, and living a very spiritual life.
Now, while I was doing that, a voice within me was also telling me that I want to share it with others, because when you experience something very deep, something very profound, something that transforms your life, you also want to see if you could share it with others, so their lives feel transformed and positive as well. Like if I watch a good movie or if you watch a good movie, you want to tell a couple of your friends, “This movie is really nice. Why don’t you check it out?” Or you go to a restaurant and you find something really delicious there, you say, “Why don’t we check this restaurant out?” We want to usually share our best experiences with people we love.
So having experienced the upliftment that I felt from practicing my spiritual path, I started sharing it with a couple of people in the city, which is in Mumbai, with a couple of university students, and then a few of my talks were recorded by these groups and they put it up on YouTube, and I didn’t even have the slightest of idea. And I usually use a lot of humor in my talks, so somebody took a joke out of context and circulated that joke on WhatsApp, and that joke went viral, that particular video clip went viral.
But then people started taking jokes out of context from the talks that were uploaded on YouTube by some other groups, and then I was wondering if that’s my image. I had used humor to make a very deep and very profound point that would inspire my audience to take life more seriously, and that’s really what the purpose of humor was, but then people started taking these clips out of context and it seemed that I’m just cracking some jokes, although I’m a monk.
So then I had a friend of mine who was a social media consultant, I spoke to him and I said this is what’s happening, He said, “Because you’re not putting any content out there consciously from your side.” So he said, “Why don’t you start a channel on YouTube, and start a Facebook page and Instagram account, and start consciously posting stuff out? So that’s when people will know that here’s the place where anything that anybody wants to know what Gaur Gopal Das wants to say, they know here’s the place to go.”
So about three years back I would say we started this journey, consciously started these, the channel, the Facebook page, the Instagram account and all of the social media handles, and that’s where it started from. So it was basically wanting to share my experience to groups of students, and then somebody posted on YouTube and that’s how the journey began, and now we took it up more consciously and started working on it, and that’s the journey.
TS: Now Gaur, you said something interesting. You said that when you joined the monastery the first thing was to taste the pudding—an interesting phrase. To have your own experience before you start telling other people about it. Tell me what the pudding tastes like.
GGD: Yes. So when I talk about that pudding, it’s an outside-in experience. Spirituality is primarily, I feel, an inside-out experience, that you truly feel it inside and then it reflects in everything else outside of your life, but I feel that journey begins outside in. So when I joined the monastery, I came in here, there were things like a very disciplined life—waking up at certain times in the morning, going to bed at certain times in the evening, eating at certain times, eating certain kinds of food. Sitting in certain postures when I meditate, praying in certain ways, reading in certain ways, talking with a certain sense of sobriety. So all of these things were the outside aspects of discipline and the first taste of the pudding was just in following these things externally.
I came from a family where I was kind of a pampered boy. Everything that I asked for was given to me. I never ate anything at home, which—whatever I requested was made and if they didn’t make it I wouldn’t eat it. So I was kind of a very pampered boy, now, here I come into the monastery, and I see there’s a lot of discipline here. I need to eat what is given to me, I can’t demand now. It’s a monastic order, so there’s a community kitchen and the same kind of meals are cooked for everybody, so I didn’t have a choice in there.
Then I come in here and I had just finished my—graduated from university, studied electrical engineering, worked for Hewlett Packard, and then I come in here thinking I’m someone, and I find people here who had come from universities which were way better than mine, who had corporate experience way better than mine, and these people were also people who had now come to a certain level of spiritual depth.
So one was I tasted this kind of dependence externally as I came into the monastery— dependence on things, whereas I could just get whatever I wanted at home, and then I had to humble myself. Sometimes I say humiliation often comes before humility, so it wasn’t kind of the humiliation-humiliation, but when I came in here I came in with something in my head that I’m someone, and suddenly I’m surrounded by people who are not only professionally more qualified than me, but also spiritually very evolved. So yes, I sensed a lot of dependence, I sensed a lot of humility. That was the first taste of the pudding.
And then as I started practicing my spiritual path, my mantra meditation, my chanting, as I started practicing study of these books and this literature, and I started listening to my teachers, my gurus, and applying the practices of meditation and the virtues that are needed to meditate properly, that is when I started finding a positive transformation even internally. So it began outside and started reflecting within. The taste of the pudding internally as I practiced all of these things were I could instantly sense a very strong feeling of calm. Earlier, I would get disturbed with little things, and when I started practicing these spiritual practices, adopting these spiritual practices, I could instantly feel a sense of calm. I started feeling that I’m able to take charge of my life. Usually—and often it happens to be that our mind takes charge of our life, but I started feeling that I’m slowly trying to now take charge of my mind and direct my mind to where I want it to be, and I felt that is one of the greatest power, to be able to direct our mind and focus our mind to where we want it to be, rather than the mind directing us and taking us to a million places where the mind wants to go.
So that was one of the internal tastes of the pudding, that I could feel a sense of calm and a feel of being in charge of the mind, taking charge of the mind, and also a very deep sense of satisfaction and a very deep sense of I would say joy, which was coming from connecting to my own self and connecting to powers beyond me. These were my experiences, beginning externally with feeling dependent on facilities in the monastery, feeling humbled in the presence of the world, people around me, and feeling a very strong sense of discipline here in the monastery, and then going much deeper into feeling peace, feeling satisfaction, and also feeling that kind of taking charge of your mind and directing your mind to where you want it to be.
TS: Now, Gaur, in preparing for this conversation I watched several of your video teachings, and what I found in your presence was an incredible positivity. I think that would be the word I would use. I felt I was injected with this uplifting, positive energy. And as you’re talking about taking charge of your mind, the question that occurs to me is, what do you do when you feel negative, when you don’t like what’s happening? Perhaps you’re perceiving something in the outside world that is unjust and you have a lot of negativity about that, or other things. What do you do with that when you feel it?
GGD: Yes, yes. I think one of the greatest assets that each one of us possesses is the power to choose. I truly do not think that there is any greater power that any human being can have than the ability to choose how he or she sees. There’s a natural tendency to be consumed by negativity. There’s a natural tendency to be overwhelmed with the negative surroundings, the negative situations, the negative happenings in our life. It’s just natural. That’s our conditioned state—we’ve got so conditioned to getting consumed by negativity that sometimes we feel that we have lost the power to choose being positive.
Like when I was in New York last year, I went to see this Broadway show at the Minskoff Theater I saw The Lion King. And one of my favorite scenes from the Lion King is when Rafiki, the mystic healer, takes Simba to this reservoir of water, to have Simba meet his deceased father, and the spirit of his father talks to him and the spirit of his father, I believe his name was Mufasa, tells his son, Simba, “You are Simba. Remember who you are. Remember the power that you are invested with. There is Scar, who’s taken over the rule of the kingdom, and as powerful as Scar is you have the inherent and the innate ability, and the power to fight Scar,” and Rafiki is that gentleman who’s the person who brings Simba to meet Mufasa, who reveals to Simba the power that he had.
I feel—when I saw that Broadway show, I had goosebumps, because each one of us has a Simba within us. Each one of us has tremendous ability and power within us to be able to choose what is right, to be able to choose positivity. But negativity seems to be like Scar, this lion who has taken over and for such a long time. And sometimes we, like Simba in the company of I believe, what’s the name? Pumbaa and Timon I think, kind of forget that I have that power to be able to choose being positive. So I think it is very, very crucial to understand that we are more powerful than the situations that we go through. We are more powerful than the negative emotions that overwhelm us. We are more powerful than the challenges that confront us on a day-to-day basis in our lives, so we have that ability to choose positivity.
What happens is when we don’t spend time on ourselves, when we don’t spend time connecting to ourselves, when we don’t spend time disconnecting from the digital world, disconnecting from the social world around us, then we lose that ability to choose being positive. I think negativity is automatic. Being positive is a choice that we have to make. Hatred is automatic. Loving someone is a choice that we have to make. Anger is automatic. Keeping our mouth shut, and being peaceful and being kind, is a choice that all of us have to make. Misery is automatic, but happiness is a choice that we all have to make.
In the book, The Way of the Monk, I tell the story about how my spiritual teacher, Radhanath Swami, told me this interesting thing, that I’d gone to talk to him about something and I complained to him about a lot of negative issues that were going on in the monastery, and I was so absolutely negative. I’m in the monastery. I’ve been practicing spirituality, I’ve been practicing meditation, but the worst of me took over, and I was so absolutely bitter and negative.
I entered into his room and he was calm. He’s always sitting in this upright posture, and I started telling him about all the issues in the monastery, and I went on for like 45 minutes ranting and raving about all of these issues that were going on. Not a single positive thing. And then after I was done, for 45 minutes I’d spoken, he asked me, “Are you done?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Can I say something?” And then for the next 45 minutes he went on to describe all the positive things that were happening in the monastery, and they were real as well.
And then he said to me, “I’m not at all saying that the issues that you mentioned to me right now are not real. They’re issues. They’re definitely there and we should definitely deal with them, but we shouldn’t be consumed by them. We should deal with our negative issues. We shouldn’t be consumed by the negative issues. We should rather be consumed by the positive things that are happening in our life.” And he said to me, “And that’s a choice that we all will have to constantly make.”
So I feel being positive is a choice, and in order to start making that choice, the few steps that we need to adopt in our lives is, number one, we have to start consciously bringing our attention to the positives, and gratitude is one of those ways to do it. So writing a gratitude journal, or slowly then moving from the journal to just practicing gratitude just consciously within ourselves, so that brings our attention to the positive things.
I think another way to do it is to regularly just be disconnected from the social world, the digital world on a regular basis. We practice that and we connect to our own selves. So when we connect to our own selves, we’re actually connecting to the Simba within us, we are powerful. And when we connect to ourselves, that spiritual connection empowers us to make that choice. But in summary I think it’s a choice that we will constantly have to make. To stay positive in the middle of all the negativity that is around us.
And of course, positive company helps as well. If you are in the company of those who are positive, that positive company can also kind of rub on us and we ourselves start practicing that journey of being positive. But in a nutshell, it’s a choice that we will constantly have to make.
TS: Can you put under a magnifying glass and tell me a situation maybe even recently where you saw, “Oh, this is a moment of choice. This is a moment of choice for me, and instead of going down a path of being hyper-judgmental or critical, or seeing what’s wrong in this situation, I’m going to choose something different.” Give us an example from your own life, recently even.
GGD: Yes. I think recently, the monastery where I stay, I have also been a part of the management here, and we are in a strict lockdown here. Mumbai has a lot of cases here. In the whole country, Mumbai is one of the third largest cities where the coronavirus is really rampant and spread like wildfire. So in the temple management there has been this ongoing debate. The lockdown, the state government has relaxed the lockdown a little bit. It’s eased it out a little bit, so there’s been this ongoing debate that can we also relax it?
There have been two schools there. One is the old school, which is very conservative, saying no, we better keep it strict, we better keep it very rigid, because once you open it up we are exposing ourselves to a massive risk. We have 150 monks living in here. One gets infected and then it’s everybody’s going to get infected and affected by it. And then there’s the more liberal kind of group in the management that said, “Well, that’s true, but we can still go out and we can still practice all kinds of safety precautions and the proper protocols, I think we should be fine.”
And I was a little bit on the liberal side. Not because I wanted to go, but I saw a couple of our monks who—it’s been three months now. None of us have stepped out of the gate, the monastery gate, the ashrams, it’s three months indoors and it’s a very closed space. You don’t have that much space in here. So I was a little bit on the liberal side, saying we should allow people to move out, with proper precautions, with face masks and all of that stuff. And I’ve spent a lot of time here—it’s been over, getting to 25 years now—and obviously being a senior person here in the management and in the monastery, I think my words would have that impact.
But the vote was not at all in my favor. Majority of the members, the management, decided that, hey, well, we should be on the stricter side. And then at that point in time I felt hey, wait a minute. I’ve spent so much time here, and I have given my life to try and serve the monastery, the people here, and to bring spirituality to the people on behalf of my monastery. I’ve done everything possible to make things good, and I wasn’t being unreasonable. I was saying we will have all the safety precautions and only go to those areas which are allowed. We won’t just roam around the city. And there I felt these negative emotions. That, “Oh, are they trying to control me? After having done all of this, is this what I get back?”
And then at that point of time I decided to tune into my ability to choose. I’ve practiced that over the years and simply practicing this over the years doesn’t mean that negative emotions don’t overwhelm us, whether we are a monk or whether we are a corporate professional, whether we are a spiritual practitioner, whether we’re just someone living in the world out there. Whoever we are, even if you practice this, there are going to be times when our mind plays games, and takes us into the downward spiral of negativity and negative emotions, whatever that may be. Feeling humiliated and therefore all kinds of negative thoughts coming out of that, whatever those thoughts may be.
So at that point of time, because I’ve practiced it for a long time, consciously I decided to choose being positive and start looking at the silver lining around the cloud. Yes, the stricter side. What are the merits in being strict? Can I focus on that? What are the things I can see in this particular situation for me to learn? That OK, I’m a part of a team and I—although externally I did play, I was a team player and I did go ahead and say yes, we’ll do it, we’ll be on the stricter side, we’ll be on the more conservative side, but inside I was still feeling, “Why are they saying this to me?” That is when I chose to be positive and see the positive side of the entire decision, and happily so.
We are doing very well. The management is very strict, so we are very safe indoors, and I learned my lesson as well. That yes, things don’t always go your way and you have to learn to adjust. You have to learn to make certain compromises. You have to learn to value relationships. So I chose to focus on that side and say OK, fine. No problem. I could have put my foot down and I could have insisted. I could have fought it out a little bit, but I said OK. We will look at it from this perspective.
TS: That’s a great story, Gaur, and it makes totally real for me and for I think our listeners as well. The question I have is when you make that choice, how do you not take the resentment you feel or whatever you want to call it, the bitterness, whatever that might be, and bury it somehow in your unconscious? So on the surface, you’ve chosen to go along with the group, but underneath it actually you’re bearing a grudge of some kind. How do you not do that?
GGD: Yes. I think a couple of things there. Number one is using rational thinking and reasoning, like in the particular case that I spoke about. I used my ability to reason, to see that I was proposing a certain line or thought, a certain way, and they were proposing a certain way. And then I reasoned it out, so all the merits, so all what they had to say. So it’s not about whether they are right or I am right. It’s about what is right. Very often we get so caught up between who is right that we forget what is right.
So I reasoned it out in my mind, rather than saying who is right, let me focus on what is right. With a little bit of deeper thought given to this particular subject I realized that they had a lot of positive things that they were saying. Not that I didn’t have a few—my proposal had a couple of merits as well. There’s pros and cons to both, but what they were saying had a lot of pros. It was in the interest of our community, and if you would have given way and one person would have gone out, you know how it is. Once we get that leeway, people take liberties. People drop their guards and it’s so easy to then get affected by what’s going on in the world around us.
So step number one was definitely reasoning. So one way to deal with the resentment in our heart and inside our minds that we bury, the resentment that we bury in our minds and our hearts because of what we had to go through, is to reason it out. And if we can find good reasons, brilliant. Brilliant. I did find good reasons. I went along with whatever everybody else decided and chose, and then I reasoned it out and I did find great reasons, which is why I said OK, there’s nothing to hold in my mind and my heart, because it’s for the benefit of our entire community, so it’s not about who is right, but what is right. And when I’m asking what is right, this is right.
That’s one way to look at it, but then there’s also situations where when I try to reason it out, I don’t really find points which are convincing to me. In this case, I did find things which were convincing, so it was easy to get over the resentment in my heart. When I don’t find those reasons, when I don’t find those pointers, then what do I do? How do I deal with that resentment?
I usually recommend speaking your heart out to someone who’s close to you, someone who’s a friend, someone who’s trustworthy; and really opening your heart out, because we have to sometimes just go by the decision that everybody’s made, but I’m harboring those negative feelings, and because I’m harboring those negative feelings I’m tremendously punishing my own self. My mental space is occupied by so much negativity and so much trash. That same space could have been utilized for something more constructive, for something more meaningful, but my mental space is now occupied by this resentment, these grudges. So I feel it’s a great idea to even express ourselves to somebody, to speak our heart out. That helps us release that negative energy. We cannot destroy energy, but we can release that energy. We can vent out that energy.
I also recommend oftentimes journal writing, when we just write our feelings out and not—sometimes I even say not to really type it on a phone or on laptop, in a file, but to actually write with a pen and a piece of paper, because it’s feeling the transfer of that energy, and pour out the feelings of our heart uncensored, unedited. Just the way they are. Whatever I feel, understand of letting it all out, and just to bring all of that out itself makes us feel a lot lighter. Now, that’s number two.
Number three is I would try and shift my attention, like I earlier on said, to make that choice, to shift my attention to the more positive things that are happening around me. It’s like if I cannot minimize the negative noise within me, can I maximize the positive noise within, positive voice within me? There’s a lot of negative noise that’s going on in my mind and I feel very helpless. I feel very overwhelmed in terms of minimizing that internal negative noise. So when I feel that helplessness can I start maximizing my spiritual voice or my positive voice internally? Can I start watching something that’ll uplift my spirit? Can I start reading something? Can I start doing some service to somebody? Can I start practicing kindness? Can I start expressing my love, my affection, my genuine feelings to someone? Can I start practicing gratitude even in a deeper way?
What I’m doing is, I’m feeling helpless with this negative noise, but I’m trying to now maximize and increase my positive voice. Now, as I increase that positive voice my negative noise starts seeming smaller. It’s not gone away. It’s still there, but it’s started to now seem small. It’s like when I take a flight. There may be a building—if I take a flight from New York City and I—the World Trade Center is a massive building. 102, 103 floors, and when I take a flight, at the ground level it’s overwhelmingly massive. Huge. It’s daunting, the size of the building, but when I take a flight and my flight starts gaining altitude, as I start going higher the building still remains exactly the same in size, but because I have risen above it, it starts becoming smaller to me.
So what I mean by increasing my positive voice is to start gaining internal altitude by the earlier things that I mentioned, whether it’s service, whether it’s gratitude, whether it’s reading something or watching something uplifting. So that’s like taking that flight and increasing our altitude, in which case we start seeing the inner resentment and those negative feelings to be small, although they may not have necessarily gone away. And then the fourth thing I also suggest is our spiritual practices. The spiritual practices, they’re not just helping us gain altitude. We’re beyond gaining that altitude. They’re also helping us slowly heal that resentment. Heal those negative emotions internally.
So these are the three, four things that I would do when I hold those feelings or harbor those negative feelings in my mind. Number one, I would reason it out to see if what the other people did to me actually made sense—and if it did, then it’s not about who’s right, but it’s about what is right. Number two, I would express myself. Express myself and feel lighter. I would express what I’m going through, either by speaking to someone who’s close to me or by writing my feelings out and journaling them out. Number three, I would gain an inner altitude by taking that inner flight, whether it’s reading or to watching something positive, or through serving or doing something good for someone. What I’m really trying to do is increase my positive voice, so the negative noise, although it exists, will start becoming smaller and won’t disturb me that much. And number four, I would definitely recommend a spiritual practice, which wouldn’t just make my negative noise smaller, but would slowly start healing it and thereby cleansing my inner state of consciousness. That’s what I would do.
TS: Listening to you, Gaur, reminds me of a quote that I found from your work, that’s quite well distributed on the internet. Powerful quote: “Feed your faith and all of your doubts will starve to death.” And I know that you’re part of the Society for Krishna Consciousness, and I wanted to know a little bit more. When you say something like “feed your faith,” what is it that you have faith in?
GGD: I think when we’re talking about faith, we’re talking about—it begins with faith in ourselves. We talk about terms, use terms like self-confidence, so the first thing we’re talking about is faith in our own selves. Faith in our own selves would be like what I was earlier on mentioning, that we are invested with tremendous power. We are Simba. There’s a Simba within us. We have the ability to overcome and deal with a lot of Scars around us. We are extremely powerful. That’s having faith in our own selves. So when we say have faith in yourself and your fears, your doubts will starve to death, we have to begin with having faith in our own selves. We have to start with having faith in our own abilities, in our own capacity to handle the challenges and the problems that are around us. So that’s the first aspect of faith.
Moving on from faith in our own selves is we now start having and investing faith in people. We know that “OK, I can deal with these things based on my own self. I can handle a lot of these things based on my own ability to deal with these things,” but then we all are human beings and we feel overwhelm, we feel helpless, we feel affected by what’s going on around us. And that’s when the second level of faith is faith in people, which is where relationships come into the picture.
We invest our faith in people, and we invest our faith in people based on their intentions, their character, their integrity. How they’re our well-wishers, how they’re going to be there for us as a support system, how they’re going to be there for us for sharing our love and allowing them to share our love with us. We invest our faith in people and we know very often, when we’ve felt very overwhelmed and when we have felt that this is just completely beyond me to handle, very often we would just go to our phones and go to our contacts, and see—naturally, we would go to that one person or those few names who we’re very deeply connected to, because we have faith over a period of time by interacting with them that every single time I have opened up with someone this person’s support, this person’s guidance or this person’s friendship has uplifted my spirit. So that’s faith in relationships. So faith in myself, faith in relationships.
Then the third aspect is faith in life itself. When I talk about life, sometimes people say, “Life is unfair. Get used to it.” and then there are others who say, “Life is unfair. Start negotiating with it.” And there’s a million quotes out there. People have spoken so much about life. But as we live our own lives and get our own experiences, get our own realizations, get our own wisdom, get our own maturity, we start gaining faith in the journey of life.
Like Steve Jobs said, connect the dots backwards, when he gave that Stanford speech, when he was chucked out of Apple Incorporation for the number of years—whatever number of years he was away. Rather than taking it as a negative thing he chose to be positive, but even at that point in time he couldn’t see where it was all going. He didn’t know where it was all going. And at that point of time that they started Pixar, they started NeXt animation, ge got married to the love of his life, started a family, and all of that happened at that point in time.
And then at the Stanford commencement speech he said this—that at that point I didn’t know what was happening, because you can’t see things forward. I can see things in the moment, but I can’t see things forward. But looking at things in retrospect I can see things backwards and connect the dots backwards. That gives me my experience, that gives me my realization, that gives me my wisdom, that gives me my maturity, and I start putting faith in the journey, in the path of life. That yes, there is a silver lining around the cloud. Let me do things right. Let me put my act together. Let me give my 200 percent to what I’m doing, and even if things are not going my way at the moment, I’ve had experiences in the past that things have unfolded in beautiful ways later. So currently I can’t see it, but maybe in the future, when I look at it in retrospect, I may be able to see that this was so beautiful, it’s because of this that I’m who I am today. That’s faith in life.
And then the fourth aspect is for those who believe, believers. Then there is faith in higher power. Some call it the universe, some call it God, some call it the Force, some call it an energy. Whatever you call it, so people who go to that level of belief, that there is a power beyond me and above me, then also put their faith in those powers and connect to those powers, and feel that kind of reliance upon those powers to help them find meaning, help them find satisfaction and help them find a lot of support in times of difficulty.
So when I talk about feed your faith and your doubts will starve to death, these are the four things that I mean. Number one is faith in my own self, because I have been invested with that power to deal with what I’m going through. Number two is faith in people, in my relationships. Number three is faith in the path of life itself, and number four is for those who believe. And even if somebody doesn’t believe, the first three are always there. The fourth is an add on for those who are believers in powers beyond [inaudible].
TS: As I was researching for this conversation, you mentioned the conversation that you had in the book, The Way of the Monk, with your teacher, Radhanath Swami, so I thought to myself, “Who’s Radhanath Swami? Never heard of him. Curious about that.” And then I discovered that he’s an American. That he was born in Chicago and lived in Miami for a period of time, and then moved to India. And I thought, “That’s interesting. This person born in India, Gaur Gopal Das, is studying with an American swami.” And I wonder what you think of that.
GGD: Yes. It’s absolutely amazing. Here in this country, when I took to this path and I decided to study under Radhanath Swami, some of my distant family members were saying, “Didn’t you have enough spiritual gurus and leaders and monks in India? Why did you have to choose an American guru or an American teacher to study Indian spirituality?” Or Eastern—I wouldn’t use the word Indian, but Eastern spirituality that’s being practiced here in this country. “Why would you go to an American person to learn? There are so many gurus and masters here in this country itself. Why would you choose an American guru or swami?”
I remember answering that question to some of my distant family members, and I said to them, it’s not really about Indian or American. It’s not about which part of the world someone is from. It’s not about what socioeconomic status one is from. It’s about their experience, it’s about their genuine wisdom, it’s about their spiritual qualities that they connect to an individual. And then I gave them an analogy. That when you go to get treated from a doctor, you don’t see what region that doctor’s from, you don’t see what nationality that doctor is from. If the doctor has the requisite qualifications and if the doctor can actually treat the malady, can treat the disease or the problem that you have, we really are not concerned so much about the external background that the doctor comes from. We’re concerned about the treatment that the doctor offers.
So when we’re talking about spiritual leaders, when we’re talking about gurus, when we’re talking about spiritual guides and masters, we’re really talking about the treatment that they can offer to us for healing our inside world, to heal. For healing our hearts, our consciousness, and our minds. And I found that in Radhanath Swami, and there are so many here in India and so many around the world, so many masters and spiritual leaders who are extremely genuine and inspiring. In Radhanath Swami I found that instant connection. It’s a connection of the heart. When you accept a spiritual teacher and a spiritual guide, it’s a connection of the heart. You must feel uplifted by the teachings, you must feel uplifted by the company, the association. You must feel impacted by that person’s aura. And I found that in Radhanath Swami, and then I told these family members of mine, just like a doctor, I would be concerned more about the treatment and how powerful the treatment is than the background that the person is from.
So yes, Radhanath Swami has been an incredible guide. In his company I’ve found meaning in my life. His book, The Journey Home, is an incredible read—his journey from America to India and his finding the Krishna consciousness path here in India. It’s a beautiful read, and the second book he wrote, The Journey Within, is a New York Times bestseller as well. Both books are absolutely brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
TS: Before we end, Gaur, just one more thing I want to talk to you about. One of the themes that I think runs throughout your book, The Way of the Monk, and also on your YouTube channel, is this notion of being of service and how powerful it is. There’s another great quote of yours: “Takers can eat well. Givers can sleep well.” Beautiful, memorable quote. “Takers can eat well. Givers can sleep well.” Talk about this power of service, being of service.
GGD: Yes. I don’t think there’s a substitute to personal experience. Like I was earlier mentioning, the taste of the pudding is in eating it, and unless and until—we can theorize, we can talk a lot about, analyze the subject of giving back, serving others, being kind to others. We can keep talking about it and analyze it, and how it makes us feel, but it’s still theory. We can see others do it. We can see others do it, we can feel inspired seeing others do it, whether it’s through videos, whether it’s through seeing people in our community around us. We can feel inspired by seeing that, but we still cannot have that experience.
I feel in order to really begin or magnify, or even exponentially grow this aspect of giving and serving, we need to have that firsthand experience, and that firsthand experience is possible by beginning to serve. When we start, even if it’s just so small, even if it’s just so tiny, even if we can just make a difference in the life of one person around us in even the smallest possible way, that positive experience that we feel in our soul impels us to do more, and that is how it’s a loop.
That little thing that we start makes us do a little more, and then we get more fulfilling experience, and then that inspires us to do a little more, and then it’s an unending loop where we get into that mode of giving and serving.
What is a habit? A habit is nothing but the positive experiences that we want to repeat again and again. What do we want to repeat? We want to repeat something that gives us pleasure. What do we want to avoid? We want to avoid those things that give us pain and agony, or make us feel miserable. So why do people do something again and again and again? Because it’s giving them fulfillment and pleasure, but it began at a certain point in time and that’s why they wanted to repeat that experience. So similarly when we begin this aspect of giving, sharing, serving, even if it’s just so minuscule, very, very tiny and small, and when you feel that, you want to repeat that experience, and the more we repeat it, it becomes a habit. It becomes a conditioning, a positive conditioning. Which is so beautiful for us, because we’re living a life of meaning and true joy, and it’s so beautiful for the world, because we become instruments of kindness and compassion to the world.
So yes, when we’re talking about giving, I don’t think there’s a substitute to the personal experience. The taste of the pudding is in eating it. I can read about it, I can analyze it, I can see others doing it, but when I actually feel it, I repeat it, and then that experience is just absolutely beyond words.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Gaur Gopal Das, a monk living in Mumbai, India, who has written the book, an international bestseller now available through Sounds True, it’s called The Way of the Monk: How to Find Purpose, Balance, and Lasting Happiness. Gaur, thank you so much for the conversation and for spreading your light. Thank you.
GGD: Thank you very much, Tami. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much. Bye.
TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at soundstrue.com/podcast, and if you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. And also, if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.