(New Delhi and Patna)
COVER STORY By Giridhar Jha
SUNDAY SPREAD, December 24, 1995
GOD GOES HI-TECH
And now it is an invasion of the sacramental kind. A Bihari NRI working in the US has successfully brought the life-giving message of the Bhagavad-Gita to many seeking solace, via the Internet, in the US. Giridhar Jha wades through Cyberspace to meet this messenger of Lord Krishna.
Lord Krishna said: One who shall study, practice, propagate, or help the propagation of this supreme secret philosophy, shall be performing the highest devotional service to Me and shall certainly attain Me. No other person shall do a more pleasing service to Me, and no one on earth shall be more dear to Me. (The Bhagavad-Gita, Verses 18.68-69).
In three days time, Bihar will be rolling out red carpets for many sons of the soil who have taken voluntary exile in the modern world's never-never lands earning pots of gold. Inveigled by Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav during his recent trips abroad, the prodigals have responded to a well-high desperate call made in the name of their motherland. A share of their lucre will be needed to resuscitate the ailing industries, boost the economy and propel the State properly on the road to prosperity.
Luncheon meetings would be organized, well-drafted speeches read out and quite a number of strategies formulated in Patna. Apparently, the visiting Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) of Bihar origin based in some of the advanced countries of the world will deliberate on ways and means to help the State make rapid strides. Being fortune's blue-eyed boys who have not severed their umbilical chords with the place where they were all born and brought up in their formative years, they would not, or should not, really mind parting with a chunk of their hard-earned dollars. If at all that could open up the gateway to progress for Bihar. Materialistic progress, to be succinct, with smoke billowing out of the chimneys of the factories, villages awash with vaporised lights and skyscrapers threatening to cause a few hiccups to regular flight pilots.
Even as those successful sons of Bihar would be busy making the most of their materialistic fortune, a Bihari NRI settled in California, USA will remain preoccupied in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. For him the quest for materialism is symptomatic of the human ignorance of metaphysics that is the humanity’s greatest predicament. Ajana, the universal ignorance, is the mother of all sins. "The giving of the gift of Jnana (wisdom) is (the most cost effective and) the best charity. It is equivalent to giving the whole world in charity." (Mahabharata, 12.209.13, Shanti Parva).
Dr. Ramanand Prasad is no Samnyasi, nor has he any illusions about being a propounder of any new religio-philosophical theory. In fact, he is currently working as a supervisor with the US Navy, though he has, to all intents and purposes, opted out of the rat race for fulfilling what is known as the great American dream. His only objective left is the attainment of freedom or happiness from the bondage of life through performing his duty in keeping with the philosophy of Shrimad Bhagavad-Gita. However, he is far from being satisfied over his having imbibed the immortal teachings of the holy book, for he wants to propagate them throughout the world for the welfare of humanity. "The Gita teaches us that basically there are two types (or castes) of human beings in this world: the decent and the indecent ones (Gita 16.06)" and its teachings are very relevant in the world today to establish the much-needed harmony between diverse cultures, races, religions, and faiths.
Guided by such an altruistic as well as holy objective, he set up the American Gita Society (AGS) in 1984 to do the "greatest service to Him by propagating His philosophy" in Fremont, California, USA. Eleven years later, Dr. Prasad has succeeded in putting the English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita on the Internet and America Online that is free for those desirous of assimilating the kernel of Gita’s philosophy into their daily lives. He has also put free a correspondence course on the sacred book on the Internet to teach people worldwide the importance of the "mother of all didactical epics." No donation is ever asked from the students of the course, because AGS does not intend to build any more Ashrams, or Temples. Their aim is to try to make every home an Ashram by placing the Holy Gita there for the people to read, ponder, and practice in everyday life.
A registered, non-profit, tax-exempt religious institution, the society’s primary aim is to put Bhagavad-Gita in libraries, hotels, motels, hospitals all over the world on the lines of American Bible Society. Formed to enlighten and serve the humanity through the medium of Gita, it, however, has other objectives as well. It seeks to spread the basic non-sectarian, universal teachings of other Vedic scriptures in an easy-to-understand language for the common people by forming local chapter of the society in other countries, to be named as the International Gita Society (IGS); to provide inspiration, help, and guidance in establishing satsang (religious discourse) groups in the neighborhoods, and provide free correspondence course to the youth, students, busy executives, and others in any part of the world. The society also intends to provide cooperation and support to persons and non-profit organisations engaged in the study and propagation of the Vedic knowledge by arranging lectures, seminars, and short courses on meditation, yoga, and metaphysical science, as also to break the barriers between faiths, and establish unity of races, religions, castes, and creeds through the ever-relevant teachings of the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayanas as well as other major Scriptures of the world such as Dhammapada, the Bible, and Koran.
That the importance of such attitude to life has not become obsolete is obvious by the way the people have responded to Dr. Prasad’s endeavours. Thousands of people of all faiths, including Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, mostly from the USA, Canada, and Asia have already taken the free Gita correspondence course. All chapters of Dr. Prasad’s complete translation of the Gita are available in several computer formats such as plain ASCII, LaTex, and Windows in Cyberspace. The address is: http://www.digi-net.com/sunil/indian/geeta.html
"I have received a lot of very good comments from those who have read it (on the Net) world-wide," said Dr. Prasad, adding he was particularly pleased with the response of an individual from Britain recently".
A complete stranger to Dr. Prasad, the Briton who answers to Checkmate on the Internet, saying "It might seem unusual for me to say this after being not very charitable in the past, but I had a Samadhi experience a few months ago and during that experience found that everything in the Gita is true." He went on to say that "for brief minutes I was a Brahman and knew as He knows. I am not a religious man and these words are very hard for me to say but your faith, the words of Gita really are true. Don’t look for any metaphorical meaning in it; there aren’t any. It is a literal description of how things are. Just thought that might help. Om Shanti." This message was forwarded to Dr. Prasad by another person with the covering note: "Namastey, your Gita translation is moving people all over the world."
Dr. Prasad was pleased with the response to his translation of the holy book. It was in 1988 that he published and distributed over 5,000 copies of his effort. A pocket size version of this first edition was also published in India. Having received tremendous response to his maiden work, Dr. Prasad set out to work on the enlarged version of the Gita that would be published by Motilal Banarsidas, New Delhi next month. Commenting on his work, the International Edition of the Hinduism Today wrote: "Dr. Ramanand Prasad now offers his deft translation to the holy mount of Gita. His renderings are elegantly simple, easy to understand, and unencumbered by commentary." It also wrote that his forthcoming version was "...an ambitious work that will be appre-ciated by all who study the Gita..."
Several notable scholars have also lauded the work of Dr. Prasad. Rev. Phil Buzard from New York said that he usually found Gita translations tedious because of complex structure and lack of brief definitions of Sanskrit words. "But I found this translation is simply beautiful because it is beautifully simple." Another reader from Williamsville Trinidad wrote to Dr. Prasad that ".... I have read several editions of the Gita and never have I sprung upon such a simple and lucid description of the essence of the Gita and its background." The lucid translation that emphasised the renunciation of the fruits of action of the Gita and its praiseworthy attempt to maintain a high standard of metaphysical integrity between the verses have brought him plethora of plaudits.
It was, however, not that Dr. Prasad had always remained preoccupied in the propagation of the Gita’s teachings. Like all successful first generation Indians who migrated to the USA, he was also following the surefire routes to progress. So busy was he in his job that he did not have time even for his family, let alone contemplating the philosophy of the Gita. "It was around 1975 that I happen to go through the complete epic and got influenced by its teachings, particularly those of Karma Yog," said Dr. Prasad. "My life has never been the same since then." Lord Krishna’s sermons to vacillating Arjuna in the battle field had an extraordinary impact on him as he decided to devote the remainder of his life to the propagation of Gita’s philosophy as his hobby. "Everything is divinely preordained. An individual cannot do anything in accordance with his will; it is always His will that matters," he said, rather philosophically.
Having had a roller-coaster journey of fortunes, he should be a fatalist, who performed his duty without bothering for any rewards in return. Born in 1938 in a tiny hamlet, Hargawan near Biharsharif, in the family of a poor farmer who had three acres of land and six children to support, he had hard times in his early days. By dint of hard work, his father was somehow able to send his sons to college. Ramanand had his preschool education in the village from the late Mazahirul Haque, a retired (Muslim) headmaster who gave him a sound background in English and Mathematics that kept him in good stead during his advanced studies. After finishing his high school education at Mahadeva High School, Khusrupur, he passed his high school from Patna Collegiate in 1953. He attended Patna Science College from 1953-55 and later obtained his Engineering degree from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur.
"As the divine planner would have it all planned form me, I did not even have the time to attend the convocation and claim my hard-earned degree as I was offered a National Research Council of Canada Graduate Teaching and Research Fellowship to do my Master’s work on water yield of swamp lands in Ontario, Canada on the Guelph campus of the University of Toronto," he walked down the memory lane, saying it was all because of the recommendation of Professor A.C. Pandya, Head, Department of Agricultural Engineering at IIT Kharagpur "to whom I am highly indebted."
The scholarship, however, did not signal the end of hard days for him. The airfare to Toronto was a huge problem. He had saved some money, but that was much short of requirements. His doting mother sold or pawned her jewellery but the requisite Rs. 2,500 was still a distant dream. Not one to get disheartened so easily, he took an Italian Laura Line boat at a student discount rate in the lower deck of the ship, 20 feet below the ocean surface. Those days Indian Government used to give $8 to all foreign bound Indians. Having slept sometimes on empty stomach during his journey, he reached his destination with only $5 in his pocket on which he had to live for 30 days, before getting his scholarship money at the end of the month.
"But the great planner, creator, Aksharatita, Para-Brahm Paramatma, Lord Krishna had arranged everything for me," he said. "Tiwariji, my senior from IIT, was there at Guelph to help."
After finishing his MS degree at Toronto, he came to the University of Illinois, Urbana, USA where he obtained his Ph.D. in Water Resources Engineering under Dr. Ven Te Chow, an internationally known hydrologist. In the meantime, he had two children, Reeta and Sanjay from his wife Sadhana and took his US citizenship in 1974. He worked in research, teaching, several consulting Engineering firms, as well as State and Federal Governments in the USA prior to being promoted to a top position in the US Navy in the San Francisco Bay area, California. He has also published several papers in the Journals of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Nevertheless, despite the growing demands of his job, he has not forgotten his roots and frequently comes to his native place. Dr. Prasad even has his son studying medicine at Bangalore. His affinity with Indian culture can be gauged from the fact that he has been associated with several US-based "Indian" organizations. He is a charter member and founder of non-profit, tax-exempt, religious organisations such as the Universal Yoga Center, the Ramayana Sabha, and the Vedic Dharma Samaj that now runs the Fremont Hindu Temple and Cultural center.
"Ours is a closely-nit community in the USA and we have kept our Indian identity despite being part of the big American society," he said, adding racial incidents like "dotbusters" against Indian women were confined to very small areas. "Otherwise, the American meritocracy has a place for everyone."
But perhaps it was the cut-throat, mechanical competition for proving merit in society that drove Dr. Prasad to seek solace and new meaning of life in America. "Bhagavad-Gita provided me all the answers I needed," he said, "One should always remember the glory and greatness of the Creator and do his or her duty efficiently without being attached to or affected by the results even if that duty may at times demand unavoidable violence. Some people neglect or give up their duty for the sake of spiritual life while others excuse themselves from spiritual practices on the ground that they have no time. One should do one’s duty as a service to the Lord (or humanity) and see God alone in everything in a spiritual frame of mind and remember that all works are being done by the energy of Mother Nature, and that we are not the doer but only an instrument. One must strive for excellence in all undertakings but maintain equanimity in success and failure, gain and loss and pleasure and pain," as he sermonised the basic tenets of the Gita.
No wonder he is not at all bothered about his "Herculean" task ahead. How will he be able to put the Gita in all the remote places of the world? "It is the Lord’s work; if He wills it, it will be done, but it is not one-man one-life-time work. Our Christian brothers did not achieve a similar objective overnight. I want to plant the seed, let others take over, and help it grow," he said. "I want to set up Gita study groups (Satsang) all over the world. It has already been established in main American, Canadian, and Malaysian cities. I want more and more people to join me in this holy mission and share the Grace of selfless service."
Dr. Prasad will retire from service in 1999 and after that he would like to devote all his time to the "greatest service to God". He wants the like-minded persons to lend their helping hands in this mission. To his numerous fellow human beings perennially preoccupied in a wild goose chase after the ultimate state of bliss in a labyrinthine modern society, he has a verse from the Gita to quote: "Ananyaas chintayanto maam, ye janaah paryupaasate; teshaam nityaabhiyuktaa naam, yogakshemam vahaamy aham (I personally take care of both the material and spiritual welfare of those steadfast devotees who always remember Me with single-minded contemplation. Gita 9.22)."
( Following is the address of the AGS: 511 Lowell Place, Fremont, Ca 94536-1805, USA. Branch: Dr. B. P. Bajpai, International Gita Society, C-3 Khapra Mahal, Kanpur 208004 (India).
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