== A Trip Report ==
A recent lecture tour of India of Dr. Ravi Gupta a renowned scholar in Theology from USA was organised by ABTN and its partners.During the whirlwind three week lecture tour—from December 20th through January 14th—Dr Ravi Gupta visited forty-two educational institutions, governmental organizations and private corporations in nine cities, speaking to over 5,000 people.
“He wanted to impress upon his fellow Indians that their tradition was not just a collection of outdated ideas and myths, but had something to contribute to today’s world and the lives of even contemporary engineers or computer programmers,” says Dr Ravi Gupta, who was accepted into Boise State University at thirteen years old after following a homeschooling curriculum based primarily on the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other books of ancient Vedic wisdom. “And he wanted to show them that whether or not they were interested in their own tradition, people all over the world were fascinated by it and studying it seriously.”
For Dr Ravi Gupta, the first Indian American participant in this program in the a series of lecture tours organised by ABTN in association with its partners. The nationwide tour started from Mumbai and went on to Pune, Goa, Jaipur, Bangalore, Kolkata, Kharagpur, Jamshedpur, and Delhi, ensuring a more widespread inspiration amongst Indian students in their ancient culture.
But Dr Ravi Gupta says that once the Bombay part of the tour was underway, he realized that such inspiration could go as far as sparking a change in the Indian educational system.
“The same debate that’s going on in the Western World about introducing religious education in schools is going on at all levels, including the University level, in India,” he explains. “Although historically it’s one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world—and has a fairly good history of religious tolerance—the fear is that such academic study might in some way compromise India’s secularism, which it holds very dear as a way to protect itself from conflict, misunderstanding, and oppression of minority religious groups.”
Thus religious education in India so far has meant simply hearing from a priest or Imam at the temple or mosque. “There’s still very little concept of what it means to study religion academically,” says Dr Ravi Gupta, who has worked as a religious studies teacher since graduating from Oxford with a PhD at only twenty-one. “And as a result, there’s a great need amongst students to learn about their own religious traditions as well as those of others. But for now, there’s no facility in their country for such study, and no opportunity for jobs if there was.”
== The topics ==
Dr Ravi Gupta learned of this need from his audience while touring three lectures that presented Vedic culture and philosophy in a universally appreciable and practically applicable way.
=== Six and half traits of an effective leader ===
Organizations could select which one of these they felt would be most relevant to their staff or students’ needs. Dr Ravi Gupta’s first talk, 6 ½ Traits of Effective Leadership, for example, was a popular choice amongst corporations, such as Indofil Chemicals and Times Foundation; as well as amongst the high profile government organizations he spoke at, such as its premier defense research organization, DRDO. And many management educational institutions like Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,
“In 6 ½ Traits of Effective Leadership, I took the different qualities that help or hinder good leadership from various verses of Rupa Goswami’s Nectar of Instruction—and combined them in the form of paradoxes,” Dr Ravi Gupta says. “For example, a leader is enthusiastic, but at the same time patient; a leader is determined, but at the same time not foolhardy; a leader is confident, but at the same time humble. Then, to give them contemporary relevance, I added plenty of statistics and studies from the management world.”
6 ½ Traits of Effective Leadership concluded with an explanation of the mysterious ½. “I said that although we all try to be the perfect 7, there is a part of leadership which is beyond our control,” Dr Ravi Gupta smiles. “A part beyond the human being. Some call it luck, some call it faith, others karma. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna Himself, I explained, calls it “daivam,” or God’s grace.”
=== Head, Hearts and Hands ===
Ravi’s second talk, Head, Heart and Hands: Finding the Right Balance in Life, was preferred by some corporates like Delphi Automotive which recorded the highest attendance of about 250 attendants which is more than a quarter of its employees. In it, he described three essential components to our lives: what the Bhagavad-gita calls Karma (action), Jnana (knowledge), and Bhakti (devotion). All are important, Dr Ravi Gupta explained, but if we emphasise one at the expense of the others, then this can lead to stress and an imbalanced life.
=== God and Google ===
Institutions like IISC Indian Institute of Science that were more comfortable with broaching the topic of religion chose Ravi’s third talk, God and Google: Human Relationships in the Internet Age. This took a humorous approach at first, citing the website thechurchofgoogle.org, wherein “proofs” that Google is God are given: for instance that the search engine is the closest thing to a scientifically verifiable omniscient entity, or that people can ask it for an answer about any question or problem that plagues them and their prayers will be answered.
“This, however, leads to a serious question very relevant in India, one of the most technologically savvy countries in the world,” Dr Ravi Gupta says. “What is the role of technology in our lives today?”
To answer this question, Ravi first discussed the nature of God as defined in the Upanishads, and then the role of science, suggesting that we cannot replace one with the other. “The most popular Google searches and websites—all social networking sites—show that people are not looking for knowledge, but for relationships,” he says. “Technology and science cannot directly give that to us, but God can. In fact, the whole definition of God from the Vedic tradition is centered on relationships.”
Interestingly, it was this religious part of Ravi’s talks that people wanted to hear more about. “The way you drew leadership from the Nectar of Instruction was amazing!” students wrote in their evaluation forms. “I learned so much, and I want to learn more!” Yet due to the taboo associated with religious discourse in any public sphere in India, they were afraid to express this in front of their peers and colleagues.
These kind of reactions were enlightening for Dr Ravi Gupta. “Although I’d been to India many times before, have family there and have lectured at various places here,” he says, “This time I really got a feel for the pulse of India. I met so many different sectors of society and different types of audiences, and gained an understanding of their concerns, needs, hopes and aspirations—especially in the area of education.”
== Meeting with the Education Minister ==
A major positive move in this direction was Dr Ravi Gupta’s meeting with Kapil Sibal, India’s Human Resources minister for education, in which Ravi made the case for religious studies in India. “We met at the end of the tour, when I had gotten an understanding of what Indian students are looking for,” he says. “And although Sibal was understandably very hesitant about anything below university level, he was favorable to the idea of university level religious study.”
Keep tuned for more.