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In Conversation With Dr. K. (Subbu) Subramanian

Ranjani Saigal

Alongside a distinguished technical and management career, Dr. K.(Subbu) Subramanian, has also dived deep into Vedanta. He has written several books on spirituality. He talked to Lokvani about his recent book- Spirituality in Practice that makes spirituality accessible for the current generation. 

  1. How did  you generate the contents for this book?

There are three parts to this question:

First, I was introduced to studies in Vedic Philosophy when I was a graduate student at MIT. I was very active with Sangam, the Indian student club. This was nearly 50 years ago, from 1972 to 76. We were requested to organize lecture halls for Swami Chinmayananda during his annual visits. I became responsible for that. Along with that I listened to his lectures! They raised some deep questions and curiosity in my mind. Many years later, I started self-study and translation of BG as a lay person - not a religious or theology student, but as an ordinary person curious to learn what was in it? I found many things useful for managing my job, career and research. This self-study became even deeper due to the next two parts!

I started blogging essays on Spirituality in Practice based on my learning and observations in life. I had a small but committed core of readers who encouraged my writing. When it grew to over 200 essays some folks suggested “Why don’t you compile all these into a book?”

Then the third part: We started a discussion group with a few people in NH. It was called NHHT Sath Sangh, which we now call as Jnana Yoga sessions. Through this group we went into translation and in depth study of several chapters of BG, Athma Bodha, Nirvana Shatakam, Katha Upanishad and many more scriptures.

All of the above provided a rich content, which has now been compiled into this rather large thick book, about 425 pages long!

  1. What would you say is the main thrust or core idea of this book?

When we started the discussion sessions more than ten years ago, we asked “What is Sath Sangh”? Most people would say it is like minded people getting together for prayer, Bhajan, discourse, etc. That would be a surface level meaning. In fact “Sath” means truth and “Sangh” means association. So “Sath Sangh” can also be thought of as deep and sustained analysis until we arrive at an association with the “truth” or “fundamental understanding” of anything! This is exactly what we are trained to do as professionals, scientists and researchers!

In terms of philosophy, then Sath Sangh could mean understanding in depth, what is life? why is it that way? and how should it be lived? 

When stripped of all theology and rituals, these are exactly the questions addressed in all scriptures and particularly in our scriptures and in the Vedic Philosophy.

This book on Spirituality in Practice answers a series of questions that people have on “Spirituality”. Then we go through a series of 22 short essays through which we clarify what is a spiritual way of life? Why and how is it valuable to each of us, to live a life of inner peace and harmony with everything around us?  In one of these essays we also summarize BG in 28 short paragraphs. Another includes the metaphor from Kathopanishad that describes life as a horse driven chariot of which each of us are the driver or the charioteer. We also cover the what and why about our “experiences” and the 5 layers of our existence (Pancha Kosha). 

There are many illustrations and models that help to simplify and clarify all of the above. For example we show any aspect of anything can be seen as a two sided coin - one side is all that we can relate to (Cognitive) and the other side of the coin the enabler (in-cognitive). These are also known as creation/ creator, Prakruthi/Purusha, Deham/ Dehinam, etc. This invisible enabler is collectively known as Brahman. Scientists would call them as laws of nature and theologians would call That as God. Just as there is no such thing as a single sided coin, there is also no such thing as “Cognitive” without the “In-cognitive”  enabler. This single idea that everything is like a two sided coin, brings with it a moment of reflection, with the mind asking the question - do I see the two sides and to what extent? This self-reflection is Yoga. The objectivity that comes out of it is “enlightenment”. The stability as a result reflects our inner peace. We are also comfortable and in harmony with all that surrounds us.

After laying out the brilliant and profound principles of Vedic Philosophy we go on to 49 short essays where we find application of the basic principles of Vedic Philosophy in our daily life.

  1. This two sided coin analogy is fascinating. Can you give me a concrete example?

I will briefly describe one of the examples in the book. Imagine a beautiful spring day. You are in a boat in a lake, along with a few others. There are safety jackets, paddles, etc. on the boat. You can relate to all these. They are “Cognitive”. In order for the boat to remain stable, everyone should try to be closer to the center or balanced, paying attention to each other. This is the “Objectivity”. If anyone acts impulsively for their own needs and not mindful of others, that is “Subjective”. That is not good for them or for the others as well. While scriptures and moral codes and prayer songs, etc. teach us to be less subjective and more objective, this distinction is self-evident for everyone in the boat. Their safety and survival depends on it! This self-evident understanding of subjectivity over objectivity at all times and in all matters is an element of “Spirituality”.

Now all the people, paddle, safety gear and even the boat - are all floating. But, what enables the floating? Trained as a student of physics, you would say “buoyancy”. It is a law of nature. But can you describe buoyancy in any manner other than through the effects (i.e.) objects floating? It is “In-cognitive”, the other side of the coin. Vedic Philosophy defines all the in-cognitive - known and unknown to us - as Brahman. We or the entire Universe is enabled by the in-cognitive Brahman. This leads us to the many of the grand pronouncements of Vedic Philosophy such as: Everything is Brahman (Sarvam Brahma Mayam), I am Brahman (Aham Brahma), Consciousness is Brahman (Prajnanam Brahma), You and the Universe are integral in each other (Thath Thwam Asi), etc.

  1. All this sounds very heavy? Do you think your readers are ready for it?

If you say all this requires deep thinking, I would agree yes. But “heavy stuff”? I don’t know what it is? Most of your readers are professionals, well accomplished. There are also a lot of youngsters, students - working hard to get good grades and make a mark in their careers. Nobody gets there without putting in some effort. There is nothing more valuable than having a good life. But nobody gets there without some model, some tools to learn, to understand and manage our mind, to know why our mind thinks and feels that way? Spirituality in Practice is the pathway for that.

  1. Many people are very well off and successful in their professions. Yet, they feel unhappy, feel a sense of despair. Can you explain why it is like that?

Inner peace and harmony with our external is an outcome of a spiritual way of life. You can see very poor and uneducated people peaceful and content. But you see well accomplished and rich people always grumbling. Even medicines work better for a person with a positive outlook and contented mind. This requires looking at life as a three legged stool, as illustrated in the front cover of our book: One leg is the economic and physical wellbeing (this includes education, health, career, etc.). Second is the social or emotional well being (this includes relationships, family, friends, religion, society, community, etc.). Most people know of these and try to balance these two legs. Lots of books on self development are also useful for this. But, much of the problem we see is due to the lack of focus on the third leg of the stool, the “Spiritual”. This is the leg for self-reflection, objectivity vs subjectivity, respect and faith on the incognitive as a stabilizing effect. We address all this through various examples in the 49 essays which are application oriented.

  1. How is “Spirituality” connected with “Management”?

Management always requires influencing someone to do something according to a goal and a plan! This always has two dimensions: Internal and External.

The internal starts with a genuine self-reflection: Looking inward. How well do you know the goal and the plan and the means to accomplish them? Why are they needed for you and for others?

The more “Objective” you are, the more you will be governed by your knowledge, understanding and reasoning. That will be a good manager with a tranquil and balanced mindset. Then all the “external” resources - the 5 Ms of management - Money, Manpower, Materials/Machinery, Motivation and Methods - which include people, place, money, time, etc. can be aligned and organized.

When you are “Subjective”, you become attached to certain views and ideas based on your partial knowledge. Then things don’t work out because of limitations in your knowledge and your bias to action, no matter what. You become turbulent, agitated, blame others and this starts the downward spiral. 

When you are “Subjective” it may also be because you are totally ignorant and uninformed. You are timid, procrastinate, get dejected. Everyone around you can’t depend on you anymore. Chaos and confusion grows. This is our inertial state of mind and action. 

These tranquil, turbulent and inertial conditions of our mind are the famous Sathvikam, Rajasam and Thamasam. Only each person can know the true state of mind. That reflection is “Yoga” and the outcome is “Self-realization”. 

We have a few illustrations in the book that describe all of this to make it easy for the reader to use them in any aspect of their life.

  1. There are many who are caring for elders. But it is not easy by itself. On top of it they have to face issues with others in the family. What is “Spirituality in Practice” for them?

First of all we have to acknowledge the divine nature of all those who care for others - elders, parents, children, relatives, those in need, etc. To think of others beyond their own self-care by itself is a noble human quality. Everyone who provides such care must be reminded of this goodness in them and in their service to the needy. It is not false praise or pretentiousness. It is truly “Smelling the rose” on hand or cherishing the fruits we have in our own hand. This is also called “Self-compassion”.

With that sense of duty and determination one can look at everyone and everything around. Then anything we do to care for elders will be well calibrated and appropriate. It would be the same care one would give to anyone without being overcome due to attachments. This objective frame of mind will also help us to reflect on the in-cognitive side (Laws of nature) behind the health conditions, care available, financial limitations, etc. We do the best we can (Karmaani eva Adhikarasthe’)

While doing our duty, we will be faced with judgment and criticism from others. This could be our own self-doubt, elders we care for, or from relatives or friends. In each case through non-attachment, we reflect on all inputs and the knowledge, bias and ignorance. We use the knowledge where we can and set aside and be aware of the bias and ignorance of all inputs.

Again this analysis and non-attachment requires “Objectivity”.

As you can see, we rely on self-reflection, objectivity and emphasis on the in-cognitive laws of nature (Brahman) while doing what we can and what we need to do as best as we know. This is Spirituality in Practice. 

I hope everyone who cares for their elders or others would read the above and find it a matter of genuine inner comfort for them.

There are several short essays in the book that would be useful. For example I can refer to “The burden of relationship”, “Adversity and faith in nature” as two essays for quick reading.


Our life is an interdependent existence in three conditions: Physical or Material; Emotional or Social and Spiritual or Intellectual. Every one of us exists in all these three conditions from the moment of our birth. Life is a balanced outlook across all three conditions as illustrated in the front cover of the book, a balancing act like standing on a stool with three legs.

We make our best effort to take care of our physical body and its health. Our mind reflects the proper function of our brain as a physical organ. Through our mind and hence our knowledge, we learn to deploy and benefit from the governing forces – the “Spirit” or laws of nature – for our good health and physical wellbeing.

Emotional or Social wellbeing is the way we live as part of the family, community, or society at large. All our feelings of like/dislike, happiness/sorrow, rich/poor, friends/foe, etc. are the result of our need to live together with others. Our mind plays a critical role here as well. Managing our emotions and feelings is largely a matter of how we use our brain to think Objectively vs. personal centered or Subjective outlook.  Our objectivity is enhanced when our emotions are managed as a response to the “Spirit” (governing forces or laws of nature at play.)

Physiology and medical sciences are being perfected to ever increasing details to improve and manage our Physical wellbeing. Psychology, religion, self-development, and related fields play their roles in our emotional and social wellbeing. However, conditioned by our thoughts we do well or poorly in our physical and emotional wellbeing. Our knowledge, bias, and ignorance are the connectors behind all our thoughts. Through these connectors our mind is tranquil, turbulent, or inertial. This intellectual condition of the mind and its reflection of the prevailing laws of nature is the Spiritual well being. It promotes “peace of mind” and “harmony within”. It also promotes a cohesiveness of who we are and how we relate to everything around us. They in turn enhance our wellbeing in all three aspects of our life.

Following is an excerpt from a talk given by his holiness Dalai Lama at the Tibetan Children’s Village, on 16th Dec. 2011:

Though there has been great economic progress across the globe, there is still something that seems to be missing. Modern human knowledge has expanded greatly, yet there are many among the learned who create trouble. Our knowledge is put to destructive use because our mind remains untamed. It is only now people are seeing the destructive role of Information and Technology and are paying attention to the issue of peace and wellbeing of the mind. There is also a new interest in the issues of wellbeing in society and families.

Taking medicines to treat the illness is not enough. If one’s mind is peaceful and happy, then elements of the body come into balance. Even though two people may suffer from the same disease and under the same physical conditions, the person with a peaceful state of mind recuperates faster.

When we say “peace of mind” we do not picture someone with an idle mind sitting still, doing nothing. This is neither peace nor happiness. For real peace of mind, one should remain at peace even in the middle of turmoil. We must face our turmoil, keep our peace of mind and work our way out. This is what we should do. This is definitely achievable”.

We hope readers will find enough materials and inspiration from this book and all its essays to find the meaning, purpose, and outcome to be gained from the above words of wisdom of his holiness. There is increasing emphasis on Yoga and meditation practices to tame our mind. Self-development is a popular subject of study for many these days. We do hope that the contents of this book channel the readers for better and more effective use of their Yoga practices, meditation sessions as well as self-development initiatives.

Vedanta (essence of Vedic Philosophy) states that “Spirituality” is a way of life where our actions, emotions and thoughts are centered on the “Spirit”, the driving force of nature or enabler, collectively known as “Brahman”. They are invisible, becoming visible only through their effects – our cognitive universe. They are always objective, reliable in their cause and effect, invariant of time, place, circumstances, etc. Hence the knowledge of the driving forces – the spirit, Brahman - provides a clarity on all that is physical, the objectivity needed to manage all our emotions and an ability to condition our mind and hence our thoughts such that we remain at peace within and with everything all around.

Swami Chinmayananda has said “Do not go to the mountain peaks seeking meditation; seek the “peaks” in your meditation”. This book on Spirituality in Practice is a modest effort and a knowledge source for such practice oriented education on Spirituality.


Om Tat Sat brahmArpanam astu

Om shAnti, shAnti, shAntih

May all that we do be dedicated to total self-control

and Unattached active engagement!

Peace! Peace! Peace!

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