Nani Ma said that Pramananda is so filled with knowledge and she's just the divinity of love. Nani Ma, in her true form, said, "You should interview her instead of me because she's so full."
Pramananda lives in the spiritual town of Thiruvannamalai, also known as [Tamilnadu], for those of you who are from India. It's also the home of the great saint, Ramana Maharishi. Presently, Pramananda is on a one-year retreat for herself, and this was a great, great honor that she agreed to be on this line. She only agreed because she is such a great friend of Nani Ma.
Pramananda has previously been playing a role as a teacher of the [Ghanta] in [Poinmatur], India for the last 10 years. She's a female monk and is also the spiritual coordinator of what's called the Ganga Prem Hospice, working alongside Nani Ma to generate awareness and funds to build this wonderful hospice home for cancer patients.
Janet Attwood: Pramananda, thank you so much for being Nani Ma's backup. As we were saying earlier, there are no mistakes in the universe, and we're so happy that you have joined us and we're looking forward to this time with you.
Janet Attwood: I wanted to start out with one of the questions we have. "How can I find peace when the world seems so unpeaceful?"
Pramananda: I think the question itself has a basic problem of looking for peace in the world, when the world is going in pieces. It's a very futile task, therefore, I think we need to stop and see where the answer really lies.
Janet Attwood: Do people need to leave the world in order to find that peace? What would you suggest for people to be able to find that peace inside?
Pramananda: First of all, we need to be clear of where the peace is. We don't have to leave the world if the world doesn't have peace in it. One can still be in the world, do what needs to be done and contribute to society. One knows that the world has its limitations. If I'm clear, the world has its limitations and can only give me so much, then I'm pragmatic and I don't seek from it what it cannot give; it's as simple as that.
Janet Attwood: What is your solution for people to know true peace?
Pramananda: Every spiritual tradition, every religion-this is a basic, fundamental question that every religion talks about. Looking for a fundamental answer, happiness, has really been the search of humanity for all ages. That particular search, the different theologies have different answers for it.
Here in the Eastern thought, in the Vedantic scriptures, it is made very clear to us from the teaching tradition, that happiness is not something you can find in the world. Yes, one can enjoy some experiences of some joy-something that is connected to the world-but it is time bound. Today it is there, tomorrow it is not there.
A relationship gives me happiness today; tomorrow that same boyfriend or girlfriend becomes my enemy. Anything you look at-a job you look for, thinking it is going to be your answer, and then it becomes a disaster. Anything in the transient world cannot give me permanent happiness. If I'm looking for impermanent happiness, of course, the world is the answer for that.
We all need to ask, within, "Am I looking for long-lasting happiness, everlasting happiness or impermanent happiness?" If my search is for the permanent, the intransient, then it is made very clear in the Eastern thought, in the Vedantic philosophy, that the answer is not in the transient world, in the changing world.
The question then, of course, is, "Then where is the answer? If it's such a basic urge, where do I go?" Vedanta makes it very clear that you are your own answer; the secret is the thought. You are the source of happiness. This is not a mere statement made; it's a traditional thinking, which makes it very clear, like daylight, that, "Yes, I am the source of happiness, and I need to reclaim it as my own. I need to own it up."
Once I own up myself as the source of happiness, as the source of joy, as the source of the changeless being, then I don't look in the world anymore.
Janet Attwood: What do you mean when you say "own up myself as the source of happiness"?
Pramananda: This means "I need to know this." This is what we call self-knowledge. The search for happiness in the world is because I'm ignorant about my nature. I think I am one thing, I think I am lacking, I think I have all these inadequacies because of the problem of self-ignorance.
Vedanta teaches us that once I have the self-knowledge, once I am given this self-knowledge, once this particular secret is revealed to me about myself, once I understand that I am that source of happiness, then this problem of search will naturally come to an end.
Janet Attwood: I know that presently, you said that you're on a retreat for a year to be with yourself in spiritual reflection and prayer. Just now, you said once one gives in to self-knowledge, the secret is revealed. Is that the way the secret is revealed? Is that the secret to finding the secret?
Pramananda: No; I would say one needs to expose oneself to the tradition of teaching. Knowledge has something to do with the self, it is not easy to know yourself. It's like every teaching-knowledge requires a means of knowledge. For me to see a flower, I require eyes. For me to hear sounds, I require ears. In the same way, for me to know any knowledge, requires a means of knowledge.
For me to know myself, I require a means of knowledge, and that means of knowledge is going to be in which form-is the question we ask. I cannot be my own means of knowledge because I am searching for myself. When I'm searching for myself, then how can I be the means, which have to be external to me?
The eyes are equipment. We require a means which can connect me to myself. In our tradition, Vedanta, we understand that the means given to us are means of words. The means of knowledge is words; through words, through the scriptural teachings, through the words, the knowledge of the self is revealed.
So for me, if I am a teacher today of Vedanta, I didn't just become a teacher just like that. I was also ignorant about myself. I was also in search for fundamental answers and happiness. But I was fortunate that my tradition came to my rescue. I found a teacher who could use this means of knowledge of the scriptural teachings, and through he words of Vedanta, this self-knowledge was revealed to me.
Having this knowledge revealed to me, having known that yes, I am this happiness, I am that source of permanent happiness that I seek, all I need now in life is to claim it as my own, to materialize this and actualize this. If there are any obstacles in one's life, actualize and reflect upon one's thoughts and actions. That's what one needs to do in order to own up the teaching.
Janet Attwood: What I heard you say is that one needs to have a means of knowledge. How would an individual-if he knew he needed to connect with "that which will bring me closer to me"-go about doing that? You found your guru; how would someone out in the world be able to find the teacher that is right for them?
Pramananda: This is when it is said in the tradition that when you are truly ready, nature comes to your aid. If I'm really in search, there is no urge of a human being that nature has not fulfilled. When I have the hunger urge, food is provided. When I look for air and I need to breathe, air is provided. Whatever my basic urges are, I'm always provided with the answers in creation.
If I'm really looking for this answer and I need to really find that source who can be the link to myself, I do trust that nature will come to aid of the spiritual seeker.
Janet Attwood: When you say "when I am in search, it will be provided," just like in hunger, food is provided, do you mean "when I am in the search within" in prayer, attention and intention, that my desire is to be one with myself, and therefore the rest of the universe? Is that what you mean? Not having to go anywhere for anything, but more of a search inside?
Pramananda: Correct. It is something like-if I am still caught up believing that the world is going to give me my answers, if I really still believe that in the changing world, is my answer of the changeless happiness…. Even if the guru comes, even if there is a person who can answer my questions, I will not have any questions because I have my own beliefs that I am going after.
So it is when a person really has gained a certain [discretion] from the world, or they have come to recognize the limitations of what the world can and cannot provide, it is only that individual who is seeking something more than the ordinary man. In that search, the answer will appear.
Janet Attwood: Thank you; that was so beautiful. The next question is: "How can I know what my divine plan is, and is my divine plan the same as my purpose in life?"
Pramananda: It is something like when you are living in your day-to-day life, there is nothing big; daily life is made up of small events, am I right?
Janet Attwood: Absolutely.
Pramananda: They are small things, from waking up to making coffee-any small things that make up my day. The day provides situations for me to respond to. There are many situations that come to me which are unpredictable. Maybe some I predicted, maybe some I did not.
How I respond to my situation, how I respond to my people around, how I respond to the world around me-if, in my responses, all I find is anger, disappointment or helplessness or things are not going the way I want (things don't always go the way you want)-if things go like that, a person is very obviously not living with a divine plan. Do you agree with me?
Janet Attwood: Yes.
Pramananda: In a divine plan, I suppose, divinity has a plan for each one of us. So when I am in harmony with the divine plan, I think, in a day-to-day life, I would enjoy harmony with my situation. I would enjoy harmony with my people around, with what is going on within myself. When you do something right, you always know, "Yes, I am proud of myself."
No one likes to see themselves in situations where they're cursing people or being angry with what's happening. When we do things which are in keeping with what is appropriate in a situation, then one has struck harmony with one's environment. Striking harmony with the environment, striking harmony within-there cannot be a better divine plan than that, than to just strike harmony within and without.
I feel the indications of whether I am living my life with a divine plan, or am I living my life with my own predictions and conclusions of how life should be? Whether I'm living in a subjective or an objective world, I'm sure, as adults, if we are honest with ourselves, we have inner food for thoughts every day of our lives.
Janet Attwood: I agree, and yet, what about people's desires, goals and passions? What roles do they play in the world?
Pramananda: They do play a very significant role, which is that they show us, at some point in our lives, that we are not that significant. You grew into a desire only to grow out of it. Desires are meant for teaching us lessons of life. Once you have learned your lesson, you find you have grown out of the desire.
If you haven't learned your lesson, you keep going in circles, trying to fulfill those desires. I think desires, passions and ambitions are significant, they are required, until one gets to know the impermanence of their fulfillment. As long as I think they are going to give me the ultimate in my life, I'll be after them, fulfilling them, and it's fine.
Even our scriptures say to go ahead, do what you need to do, fulfill your ambitions, be a real person, but then keep your thoughts alive. Be alert, don't be fooled, thinking that this transient fulfillment is going to take care of your fundamental question. I think that's a big lesson to learn. One who has learned that lesson is the one who is going to be looking for bigger answers next.
Janet Attwood: I love how you just said that you grow into a desire, only to grow out of it. Just recently, I was in the Himalayas, in Rishikesh, interviewing Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, another great master in India. I showed him a new book that my business partner and I co-wrote, called The Passion Test-The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Destiny.
When I was showing Sri Sri this book, he said this was such an important book and good knowledge for the world. It seems to me, and I want to know if you agree, that when an individual is in search for what it is they're passionate about, they'll end up realizing that they're passionate to know who they are. It's like peeling an onion. That's where you said you grow into the desire only to grow out of it, but you have to start from where you are.
Pramananda: That's right. We also cannot bypass desires. In a spiritual life, we have to be very alert that we do not bypass these desires, thinking they don't exist, and that's why we are living a typical life. One needs to live a full life. That's why, in Indian tradition, one used to be at the end of one's life after one has gone through the rigmarole.
It's after one has lived through relationships, raised children and raised a family. In fact, the institution of marriage in the Indian tradition is given a great value because it helps the person grow into a relationship, and also helps the person grow out of a relationship; not follow a relationship, grow out of a relationship into another dimension, to a higher dimension. The bypassing of desires is something one has to be very alert, that one really remains honest with oneself.
Janet Attwood: I love what you just said. The bypassing of desires one has to be alert to because so many spiritual seekers, with all the best intentions, do that and become frustrated and leave their spiritual path because they feel they aren't happy; they aren't happy because they didn't allow themselves to be in that joy at that time when it was appropriate in their lives.
I want to talk about service. I know you're very involved with Nani Ma in a project called the Ganga Prem Hospice. Before we start on that, will you talk about the role that service plays in one's spiritual evolution and the importance of that? How does one come to that place naturally?
Pramananda: I think it's a very important question. It's learning to be simply human. Very briefly, I'd like to mention an episode that happened in the U.S. I don't remember now which hospital this was, where premature twins were born and they were kept in two different incubators for stabilizing their oxygen intake and so on.
One of the babies, her blood pressure began to drop and her breathing became fast and she was really not well and it looked like she may not survive. The head nurse of that area wanted to put the other baby, who was doing well, in the same incubator. Technically, it was not permitted. Each baby was to have their own chamber.
Then she broke the rule and took the healthy newborn into the incubator of the other baby. There was a beautiful photograph which was emailed to me from there, which explained this episode. The picture was of both of these babies, lying on their stomach and the healthy baby had put her arm around the one who was fighting for her life, her little sister.
It said there, in that email, that about 15 minutes after this healthy baby put her arm around the other one, the other one's breathing began to stabilize, her blood pressure became normal, and that little one survived. I can never forget that event because in order to put that arm around the one who is in pain, nobody thought this healthy baby to do so.
The empathy that the human heart carries is so natural to every human heart. This teaches us the value to stretch your hand, to offer your heart to when somebody is in pain, and this was so beautifully demonstrated in that episode. I think we, as adults, if there is one thing we need to really prioritize in our lives, it's learning to enjoy that quality of being human.
If that is important to me, all my other ambitions, passions and desires become incidental. They are also important, but never at the cost of hurting another human being. If every one of us can really make human empathy as the goal of life, self-realization and self-knowledge will definitely follow.
Service is a platform that gives us the opportunity to come out as a human being, to extend ourselves, to empathize with the other in pain. I think there is nothing more beautiful than that because you give to somebody who is in need of that love, and in the process, you learn to love yourself. The more I can give love, the more I receive love, the more I tap the love that is the nature of oneself.
I just want to say that everyone is a spiritual seeker. Some know it, some do not know it. At least for those who are in search for something more than the material world provides them, I just want them to know that the answer is out there in this world.
It is a fundamental urge that is not going to be left unfulfilled in their lives; the answer is there in nature, and the answer that is given is that you are that timeless, infinite and divine self. It is only a matter of meeting the right person to really give this knowledge to them. A prayerful and honest life is all that we can live for, and when the time is right, the answers will come to them.
Let them not lose hope. We cannot live a life losing hope; we have to live a life looking forward to enjoying every moment that has been given to us in this wonderful world.