Mindfulness, Humility & Holistic Approach to Education: Gadadhara Pandit Dasa at TEDxTeachersCollege


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Good morning. They asked us to wear solid colors, so I thought I’d put on orange
for the occasion. (Laughter) This morning I’d like to speak a little bit about mindfulness, humility,
and a holistic approach to education. And as I share my thoughts
on these topics with you, I thought I could also take a moment
to share a little bit about my journey which led me to monastic life, which is something I’m assuming
is on a lot of your minds. As a Hindu monk, I wear orange robes, have a shaved head,
and some markings on my forehead, which means I’m trying
to elevate my consciousness. Growing up in Los Angeles
as an only child of wealthy parents, for the most part, I had everything
one could hope to have. We had a million dollar house on the hill with a really beautiful swimming pool. I had my very own room
overlooking all of Los Angeles, and I was given a brand new car
at the age of 16. Safe to say, I was a tiny bit spoiled. Didn’t really learn about mindfulness because I didn’t have to share
anything with anybody. The first humbling experience
that happened to me in my life was in 1993, when my parents’ multimillion
dollar jewelry business burned down to the ground, and we lost everything. The business was gone, the beautiful six-bedroom house
on the hill was gone, we lost all three of our cars, and practically all of our savings. I found myself along with my parents
packing up our bags and moving off to East Europe
to look for new business opportunities. We ended up landing in Bulgaria. I was 21 at the time. Never worked a real job,
because I didn’t have to, so I had no work experience. From my perspective, Bulgaria was about 50 years
behind in technology because it had just come out of communism. Nobody spoke English,
or hardly anybody spoke English, and I sure didn’t speak Bulgarian. I didn’t even know where it was,
I had to look it up on the map. Every day, to make
an international phone call, I would have to walk
about a kilometer to the post office; and I would just write the number
down for the operator, she would dial it
and point me towards the booth. This was a daily ritual. Needless to say, it was a time
of great introspection. I don’t know how many times
I sat on our one-bedroom balcony wondering, how long is this going to last? How long am I going to be here?
Am I going to die in Bulgaria? But it was also a time
that I explored my spirituality. This was the time I picked up
a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, which is considered to be
the primary spiritual text of India, which has influenced the lives
of very prominent thinkers like Emerson, Gandhi, Einstein, Thoreau. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna told me that true happiness can’t come
from material achievements and gains because all of these things are temporary,
and I’d already experienced that; that I should learn to be equipoised
during times of happiness and distress, success and failure, and fame and infamy; and that the answers
I was looking for from life would have to come from within
and not from outside. After spending two full years in Bulgaria,
we decided to move back to the U.S., but my parents – we didn’t want to go back to LA
because of so many bad memories – moved to New Jersey. (Laughter) I’m glad somebody
got a laugh out of that one. They live in Jersey City, and I’m very much in touch with them,
even at the moment. Figuring out what I’m going to do,
what my next steps are, I end up getting a job as a loan officer
in a mortgage company. I have no experience with loans,
no experience with mortgages, on-the-job training. Very soon, I find myself writing loans for people
with extremely high credit card debt, or even bad credit card debt. These loans were going
to be against their houses, these were equity loans. I knew a lot of these loans
weren’t going to help them, they might even hurt them in the future. This kind of work was really
eating away at my conscience, I just knew I couldn’t do this
for the rest of my life. I needed some kind of work
in which I was helping people, had some meaning for me. So it was around September of 1999 that I decided
to take some time for myself. I talked to my parents,
got their permission, and decided to go to Mumbai, India, and I moved into a Hindu monastery. Now for somebody who’s never had
to live with anybody, because I was an only child,
or share anything, I all of the sudden found myself
living with 40 other monks, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor
with 15 other bodies next to mine, waking up at four in the morning because the morning services
started at five, and then having to wait in line
to use the bathroom. I always had my own bathroom. Doing simple services
like cleaning the floor or helping to cook in the kitchen brought a great amount of joy to my heart, a kind of joy I’ve never
experienced before, even when I had everything
that I ever wanted. What made it really special was the amazing amount
of camaraderie and community that the monks shared with one another. They did everything together. We woke up together,
we prayed together, we ate together, we had meaningful exchange
of dialogue together, we had time for personal introspection. All of these activities
allowed all the monks to feel emotionally, intellectually,
and spiritually very, very satisfied. Although education and learning
was of a great emphasis for members of the monastery, an even greater emphasis was placed
on the development of personal character. It was understood that knowledge
combined with proper character would enable the monks to become
agents of change in the lives of people. But knowledge without proper character
could lead to a prideful attitude and wouldn’t really help anybody. The Bhagavad Gita explains that if one hopes to have an impact
on other people’s lives, then one needs to develop humility
within their own character. Humility isn’t something
that can be developed by signing up for a two-semester
or three-semester course, it needs lifelong enrollment. It’s a course that’s an absolute must
for anyone in a position of influence: parents, educators, policy makers,
government workers; for everyone, actually. Gradually, I moved back to New York to continue my monastic
training and education. In 2001 I had a friend who was doing
his doctoral work at Columbia University. He invited me to help him with some spiritual
programming for the campus. He formed the Bhakti Club –
“bhakti” means devotion. Together we decided
we would start club activities by doing vegetarian cooking classes. So, the first vegetarian cooking class –
we only had five students. I taught them how to cook
some Indian food, and we all sat and ate together. But very quickly, the numbers grew,
and the word spread; within five years or so,
we were getting 50 students every week for a vegetarian cooking class, teaching students how to cook food
in good consciousness. Now we get anywhere between 60 or 70
to 120 students every single week, and we feed everybody. Our program also expanded where we added
a weekly discussion on the Bhagavad Gita, the text that had influenced
me very deeply. A few years ago, we added
a weekly meditation session, where students, staff, and faculty
can come together, learn about their mind,
learn to destress, and learn to relax, and learn to let go of all the things
they’re holding in their minds and hearts. I never expected
to be so personally involved in the lives of so many students. But the way they would come up to me and express their gratitude
for the programming we were offering, I began to realize
that even though they had access to some of the best facilities
and best educators in the country that they were hankering
for something more, that they had certain needs
that just weren’t being addressed. What were they looking for? They were looking for the same thing
everyone’s looking for, they were looking for the same things
the monks in Mumbai had: camaraderie and community. There were looking for a place
where they could go and talk about the things
that were really on their minds. this is exactly what the Bhakti Club
hoped to achieve: to create an environment where people of like-mindedness
can come together, develop friendship, and talk about the things
that are important to them. I’d like to take a moment
to read a couple of statements from two students
who graduated from Columbia, and who were very active
with the Bhakti Club. The first student actually graduated
from Teachers College last year with a master’s degree
in Organizational Psychology. Here’s what he have to say, “In a city where there’s difficulty
in finding some peace among the noise, a graduate program that keeps me up
into the wee hours of the morning, and a life where stress is inevitable, I found the Bhakti Club. It has become an oasis in the desert, an oasis that doesn’t disappear
but opens the doors with open arms. The Bhakti Club has certainly given me an opportunity
to explore my spiritual self and become closer
to understanding my true self. Aside from enjoying the weekly events,
dinner, and networking, it has truly allowed me
to stop and smell the roses. It has given me more
than I can ever return.” Another student who graduated with a degree in Environmental
Science last year says, “Bhakti Club is one
of my favorite parts of Columbia. Aside from the delicious food, I always have great conversations
and make new friends at events. The monks have so immensely
contributed to my education in ways that are not available
in any classroom setting. Through informal meditation
groups and discussions, I am beginning to see how it is possible to control the mind
and live life to its fullest potential.” These are just two
of the thousands of students who have gone through the Bhakti Club. It has become my full conviction that if we really want to have
a holistic approach to education, that we need to be very mindful of not only the intellectual needs
of the students but also the emotional
and spiritual needs. I’d like to take now a couple of moments
to allow all of you to experience something similar to what the students
who come to the Bhakti Club experience. I’d like to engage everybody in a very short, two to three minute
meditation session. If you’ve never meditated before,
don’t panic, don’t get scared, I won’t ask you to do anything strange; you won’t shave your heads
or anything like that. We’ll just try to relax you a little; this may be more useful
for the organizers that are here. So, if we can, maybe
just take a moment to relax. Put your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands just on your legs. Close your eyes. And just take a deep breath in. As you breathe in, feel the air going in through your nose
and filling your lungs. And just try to focus on that. Now slowly exhale. Watching the breath leave your nose,
exhaling completely, take another slow and deep breath in, watching the air enter your nose and filling your lungs. Exhale slowly, letting out
all of your thoughts, all of your anxieties, all of your plans,
and all of your worries. Now bring your awareness
to the top of your head. Slowly bring your awareness
down to your forehead. Center your awareness
in between your eyebrows. Take a moment to look inward
and try to observe your mind. Now bring your awareness
down to your heart. See if you can feel
the beating of your heart. See if you can notice
the rhythm of your heartbeat. Now bring your awareness
down to your feet. Feel the weight of your feet
against the floor. Now slowly take a deep breath in raising your awareness
all the way back up to the top of your head. Then exhale slowly. You can slowly open your eyes. Take another deep breath in. Relax. Feel free to use this technique
throughout the day and throughout your life,
as and when needed. Thank you very much. (Applause)

10 thoughts on “Mindfulness, Humility & Holistic Approach to Education: Gadadhara Pandit Dasa at TEDxTeachersCollege”

  1. The speaker, Gadadhara Pandit, is a Hare Krishna follower. It surprises me how he tries to hide this fact and simply present himself as a nondenominational monk pushing points that are completely foreign to the ideas of the Hare Krishna group. It would have been more honest to state his real position and make a decent presentation of the Hare Krishna doctrine.

  2. Worse is to have followed this link from a site that considers itself an ISKCON mouthpiece, tacitly giving approval to this watered-down presentation that contradicts Srila Prabhupada's directives on presenting Krishna consciousness to the masses — from calling himself a "Hindu" to closing his talk wih an impersonalist meditation rather than introducing the Mahamantra as a desireable daily practice. Would Hare Krishna "as it is" have been so offensive to or over the heads of that group?

  3. @lm108108 and @RK Das. I understand both you points and needed to let you know that your ego is getting in the way of understanding this very simple message. I do agree that Pandit is using language that could be heard by the masses to which this message is intended. To that regard, he is sacrificing his own beliefs and unselfishly reaching out not to those already in-it but to those without. And this is the way to do it. He mentions his work with students at Columbia and if you could get over your frail perception you will see a room full of individuals, including my self reciting the mantra all the way through. Harre Krishna is so prominent among those who come across Pandit that even my eight year old son can recite the full mantra for years after attending only one of Pandit's meditation sessions. I can assure you that by opening the door the way Pandit is doing it here, Krishna have heard more recitations than you could imagine. The statements below do not model love and if one knows Pandit, they will know that no other man is more committed to Krishna consciousness than him. Pandit thank you for opening the door that bring us closer to light. 

  4. I felt as though this speaker really understood and spoke to the human needs of westerners. I very much enjoyed those thoughts on humility. Thank you for sharing your experiences and what you've found Gadadhara Pandit, and for sharing that wealth with others, and being part of the betterment of this world.

  5. hi everyone ,if anyone else wants to uncover memorization techniques try Elumpa Simple Studying Alchemist (should be on google have a look ) ? Ive heard some awesome things about it and my co-worker got amazing results with it.

  6. Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, obviously a Hare Krishna devotee, never says "Hare Krishna" even once! It's also strange that the audience is never shown even when he's asking the audience do stuff!

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