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In Conversation With Padma Shri Shri Madhu Pandit Dasa

Ranjani Saigal

How did you come about setting the vision of feeding 5 million by 2020?
In  2013, when we had touched 1.3 million mark, at the end of a joint board meeting of both India board and USA board, Desh Despande all of a sudden put a light but aspirational query to me as to whether we will be able to touch 5 million by 2020. It struck me that maybe Lord is unfolding his next vision. I felt we could reasonably do it with God’s help considering that we have come this far, most unexpectedly. That is how the Lord raised our bar of vision to feed 5 million by 2020 as it stands today. Again it was not pre-meditated. It just manifested from Him spontaneously through one of us.

 From what has transpired since its inception, we all understand one thing- Akshayapatra is a different kind of organization where nobody can claim to be the big visionary or inspiration behind this program. It would be dishonest for any human being to think so. It is divine vision and constantly divinely inspired. We fully realize that God, from time to time, is inspiring in our minds, more confidence through smaller successes to raise the vision to next bigger level. He is continually inspiring, in installments, parts of divine big vision of Akshayapatra. What is the total vision of Akshayapatra?  It will only reveal itself from time to time. I myself do not know now.

How confident are you to meet this target of 5 million?

Now the vision for next few years have been revealed by Him, it is upto us to match up our human efforts so as to receive His divine help that is needed to mobilize all the resources that are required for achieving this vision.

What is it that you wan’t to share with the world of NGOs from this Akshayaptra experience?

That experience we want to share with the world as there is something to learn about how anyone can succeed to serve large human causes if we put in place the right consciousness of purity of purpose, human efforts and work selflessly with God as the primary partner. It does not matter what the kind of self less cause that we are tackling. The principle works.

Akshayapatra is very lucky in also having the right minded external trustees whose sincerity of purpose is beyond question. They have no other interest than the children’s interest in all their services to the foundation. A case in point is the recent Nikkei Asia Prize. When we received the intimation, I told Mohan Das Pai that, he, being from the corporate world is the right person to go to Tokyo and receive the award on behalf of Akshayapatra. But he insisted I go. After many email exchanges he was firm that I should go and receive it. Finally I had to go to receive the prize.

How do you financially sustain this program?

Recently I was giving a talk at IIM Bangalore. I said that Akshayapatra which is such a big program does not have a corpus fund to secure its monthly operations. The money needed every month has to be raised the previous month. A management student in the audience asked me a question, ‘How do you sustain the program when you don’t have a predictable source of income’. I was not surprised at this question. A huge operation that needs to meet a monthly deficit of 6 million rupees over and above the government subsidy had no fixed source to meet this deficit amount month after month. Any normal management student will label the program as unsustainable.

 We had faith in God’s help in triggering the divine quality of compassion in human beings. I replied that the program is sustainable because of our faith in collective compassion of human beings. The sustainability of Akshayapatra has never come from assurance of one wealthy person or one organization from the inception of the Akshayapatra.

How do you envision the future of Akshaya Patra?

When there are 120 million hungry children in the government schools in India, we have plenty to do. We cannot rest. This divine mission to feed the hungry children with nutritious food to support their education will unfold further installments of vision from Him. We envisage better technologies that will help us set up new kitchens in shorter span of time than the present time of one year. Further we are on the look out for better cooking technologies that can save fuel cost and hence cost efficiency over a longer period of time though initial cost may be more. More unexpected sources of funds are sure to be revealed with time as we go one expanding.
We also need to expand more on the rural model of decentralized kitchen by deploying local women folk to cook for a group of local schools. This model is a necessity as well as a real challenge due to bad or no road conditions in remote areas. We are already running such decentralized kitchen in interior parts of Rajasthan, UP and Orissa. 

Everywhere we see it seems conflict is on the rise. What do you see as the cause and what do you see as the solution for peace?

Tell me what will happen to peace of citizens of a country if majority of them, indiscriminatingly start breaking the laws of the state. The country will be in chaos. Or even take case of people breaking simple road traffic laws. There will be chaos on the road. In the same way the reason there is so much unrest and chaos in this world is because people are ignorant of higher subtle laws of nature (laws of karma) and are breaking the rules of good living (dharma). These principles of good living are based on the universal principles of (Satya) truthfulness in words and dealings, (Daya) compassion for fellow beings, (Tapas) cultivation of frugality, sacrifice and austerity and (Saucham) external and internal cleanliness (honest relationships). As long as these principles are violated there is no question of raising the quality of life.

In the name of economic growth, modern civilization is mindlessly exploiting material nature by artificially creating ‘needs’ which are not really the needs for a peaceful and prosperous life. Prosperity and economic growth may look synonymous. But they are different. Prosperity means there is increasing satisfaction, contentment and happiness among the population. With consumerism, the great human virtue of frugal living, keeping in mind the limited resources of the earth are meant to be shared by all for a sustainable earth, is being compromised.
Breaking of family structure due to illicit dishonest relationships is on the rise (compromising the principle of Saucham) as can be seen in the increasing divorce rates all over the world.
Indiscriminate large scale mechanized production and killing of animals (compromising the principle of daya or compassion) for satisfying the palate of human being is adding a huge burden of bad karma on the earth attracting mass natural calamities as a reaction.

Lack of culture of sense control and self control leading to extravagant life styles as artificial symbols of social status is leading to depleting earth’s resources. This is compromising the principle of tapas or austerity.

Fanatic understanding of ones own religion and scriptures without understanding the oneness behind the fundamental universal principles behind all religions and scriptures is creating intolerance of one group against another group. This is due to non-appreciation of unity in diversity of life. Srila Prabhupada said that common aim of all religion is to develop and practice tangible love for God and all other beings who are inseparable part and parcels of Him.

The only solution is to increase our efforts at human transformation through spiritual education so as to increase the quality of inner life that embody these fundamental principles of good living. Spiritual education means making people understand we are essentially spiritual identities who are eternal in nature but circumstantially in a body made of matter and journeying between birth and death for a higher purpose of self realization of attaining our true eternal nature.  Presently for most of the people, the purpose or destination of the journey of life is not known or is forgotten. They are stuck in the journey itself as the goal of life. Today the slogan is to maximize selfish enjoyment and happiness of the journey itself. One who knows the real purpose of the journey of life, will give right degree of value, attention and care to both the journey as well as the destination of the journey and harmonize the needs of journey with the ultimate goal of human life. 

What is your personal goal in life?

My personal goal in my life is to deepen my understanding of God and my real deep self within this body and live life in harmony with that understanding. From Bhagavad Gita you learn that the soul in this body is of a substance different from matter which is of the quality of eternal existence, knowledge and joy (sac-cit-ananda) being in eternal relationship with the Supreme Being who is an ocean of sat-cit-ananda.

But knowing these things just by reading is different from realizing this truth by living these truths. And it is not some utopian state of existence to be achieved only after this life. It is not like working now for a post dated cheque. In my 35 years of practicing this spiritual path, I can assure that anyone can progressively realize these spiritual truths even when they are here in this body, and do not have to wait for something after this life.
My personal goal includes doing as much as possible for peace and prosperity of all life on earth whether it is by spreading higher knowledge of soul and God and principles of harmonious living or by serving spiritual and social causes like Akshayapatra that gives human beings and opportunity for a higher quality of life.    

What advice do you have for people who may consider looking for peace and looking for a spiritual path?

In a nut shell I would say that leaders and thinkers should seek spiritual solutions to material problems. We should look for deeper solutions.Then material solutions will automatically follow. Knowledge is very powerful. And spiritual knowledge is most powerful to bring about positive changes in humans as well as to all life on earth. Just like take my life. Spiritual knowledge has impacted me 35 years back and a part of that spiritual knowledge has had a social impact by my leading this effort of feeding millions of children. When I joined as a missionary in 1981, my IIT friends thought I was escaping from the world. Even if anyone apparently escapes for a genuine spiritual seeking, he will, after a full circle, come back some day to create an impact of service to humanity. Such is the power of spiritual knowledge.     

Just as material knowledge is achieved by one who subjects himself to discipline through an educational system, it is the same with spiritual knowledge. We have to combine the best of east and west. There are plenty of source books of spiritual knowledge in India like Bhagavad Gita revealed by India’s sages who were scientists of the domain of spirit.

India has to revive Sanskrit within its education system. Then, when children grow up as future brilliants minds of this new world, they will apply their intelligence to understand the rich heritage of material and spiritual knowledge contained in the Indic texts  Real leaders of knowledge will emerge. In the last few centuries, gradual elimination of Sanskrit language from our education system in India in the has kept away the scientific knowledge of these Indic texts hidden from intelligent people of India and this world. We have to revive it at school level.

My advise for those seeking peace and happiness is that they read  Bhagavad Gita. ( I suggest the edition: Bhagavad Gita As it Is by His Divine Grace AC Bhakitvedanta Swami Prabhupada where its message is explained very simply and elegantly)  One does not have to be an expert Sanskrit scholar or philosopher to understand the message of Gita. The message of Gita is a call from Krishna to every human being to stop the sufferings caused by the illusions of life.

For those who are looking for peace, the first simple thing they need to understand is that it cannot come from outside. This is especially so, in the modern times of constant external disturbances arising from complex nature of modern life style. Today’s life style makes peace a distant dream if you search for it outside. True sustainable peace can come only from within. One needs proper guidance and direction through proper association of people who have already found that process of peace within them and are practicing it. It is that internal sense of spiritual security and spiritual happiness that are derived from spiritual knowledge and loving God and every fellow being who are parts and parcels of God. 

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