SAFIC Special Lecture by Prof. Devdas Menon (IIT-Madras)

June 21, 2019             Location: Sri Aurobindo Society

As part of its events to commemorate the 5th International Yoga Day, SAFIC organised a Special Lecture on June 21, 2019 by Prof. Devdas Menon of IIT-Madras. Prof. Menon’s inspiring lecture, titled “Looking for separate self….and never, never finding it.”

Prof. Gurmeet Singh, Hon’ble Vice-chancellor of Pondicherry University was the Chief Guest. Shri Pradeep Narang, Chairman of Sri Aurobindo Society presided over the event. Shri Vijay Poddar, Member Executive (Administration & Finance), Prof. Venkata Raghotham (Ex-Dean, School of Social Sciences and International Studies and Officer on Special Duty, HRDC, Pondicherry University) were among some of the other key guests at the event.

The programme began with a few minutes of concentration with the Mother’s music. Dr. Sampadananda Mishra, Director, SAFIC then welcomed the Chief Guest, the Speaker, and all the guests who came to attend the event. This was followed by an introduction to the Chief Guest, Prof. Gurmeet Singh, who has a tremendous support and encouragement for various activities SAFIC has been doing in collaboration with various departments of Pondicherry University.

Prof. Gurmeet Singh briefly spoke about the ongoing efforts at Pondicherry University to institute the Sri Aurobindo Chair. He appreciated the various academic activities and programmes SAFIC and Sri Aurobindo Society have been conducting at the university and added that these efforts will go a long way in officially institutionalising the Sri Aurobindo Chair. He reiterated his support for more of such activities in the future. He added that in the next few months a concrete shape will be given to specific modalities regarding the Sri Aurobindo Chair at Pondicherry University.

After the address by Prof. Gurmeet Singh ji, Prof. Devdas Menon was introduced to the gathering. Prof. Menon’s course on Self-awareness and Integral Karmayoga that he has been teaching regularly at IIT-Madras (in addition to his other courses in Structural Analysis at the Department of Civil Engineering) has been a very successful course. Among all his books and creative writings, “Stop Sleepwalking through Life!” and “Spirituality at Work” are the ones which are very well received books.

Prof. Menon began with greeting the audience as “pujya ātman” (venerable Self), thus setting the tone of his lecture which aimed to bring out some of the profound truths from Indian spiritual and wisdom traditions. He spoke about Sri Aurobindo’s supramental vision of manifesting a Life Divine on this very earth, a vision which is much wider and vaster and higher than the goal of individual self-realization or liberation that is put as the ultimate aim of human life by most Indian yogic and spiritual traditions. With this as his starting point, he gradually developed his argument for what needs to be done to manifest this ideal on an individual level in terms of walking the path of one’s spiritual sadhana.

He said that there is still a wide misconception about spirituality as something that is life-denying, ascetic and world-shunning. He spoke about the need to challenge this misconception and the necessity to bring a deeper awareness about the practical spirituality in our educational institutions so that the future generations can be given a deeper grounding in the larger purpose of life as well as the right ways to create for themselves a more fulfilled life beyond their most immediate desires for a successful and materially rich life. He told the audience that he has been trying to do this through his courses at IIT-M, and his other regular classes and workshops for the local community.

Prof. Menon said that Bhagavad Gita brings for us some really profound teachings and practical guidance on finding meaning and fulfilment in life as it builds its arguments on Integral Karmayoga, doing the right, dharmic action without the sense of doer-ship. He emphasised that it is the sense of doer-ship that causes suffering to the mind. As people continue to fill their lives with ‘doing’ and ‘doing more’ to satisfy the numerous cravings of their separate ego-selves, they forget how to just ‘be.’

Only when we are able to control and master the restlessness of the mind, and arrive at a calm and peaceful state of being, the next step is to go beyond and reach to a higher poise of ‘dynamic being’ where we can fully engage in action but without any sense of doer-ship. It is then that one begins to discover that as long as one abides in a strong sense of one’s separate ego-self when doing this or that action, one will never experience the equanimity of soul that comes with a deep sense of detachment to not only the fruits of one’s action but also the very sense of doing the action.

Prof. Menon said that we can begin applying some of these profound ideas in most practical ways when we grasp the five states of mind as explained by Patanjali in his Yogasutras. These 5 states are: Mudha, Kshipta, Vikshipta, Ekagra, and Nirodha. Giving an example from the educational context, he said, that one of the big challenges today is to get the students to a state of concentrated mind, ekagrata, from where they can fully devote their energies to whatever work they choose to pursue and do that in a state of detached equality, with no agitation and restlessness. This is also the stepping ground for people to begin the process of an inward search for something deeper, for a true awakening to their deeper potential.

Prof. Menon brought in important references from several spiritual masters and mystics to highlight that the one essential need for humanity today is to wake up from its current state of slumber, the outer edifice of which is built upon an exclusively materialistic-utilitarian-rational view of existence, which in turn keeps strengthening a separate sense of ego-self in the individual. The awakening to one’s true, real self that is beyond the separate ego-self and that is universal and cosmic, and therefore, one with all and everything, is the most immediate task for an aspirant if the vision of a Life Divine has to come true.

Prof. Menon concluded the lecture with a short story emphasising once again that a state of being that is pure consciousness and where one is completely at rest or in bliss (“peace in motion” as he had earlier spoken of) can only be arrived at when one experiences and abides in the state of universal oneness. The story also brought to light that even this state of being completely at rest or the state of dynamic being is a result of the Supreme Grace which comes in response to a sincere aspiration from the seeker.

On behalf of SAFIC and SAS, Dr. Beloo Mehra thanked Prof. Menon for the inspiring lecture, which was highly appreciated by one and all. Shri Vijay Poddar of Sri Aurobindo Society concluded the event by narrating a couple of inspiring anecdotes to further add to the last point made by Prof. Menon through his story. The evening ended with tea.  

Here is a full recording of Prof. Menon’s talk:

For other videos of the event, click HERE and HERE.

Report by SAFIC