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Monks who sold their Ferraris

Four young professionals with cushy jobs gave up the pleasures of their material lives in favour of discovering their spirituality. Ruchira Hoon and Nivriti Butalia track their stories to see how they are faring in their new avatars.

entertainment Updated: Jan 16, 2010 22:50 IST

Motorcycle diaries

A drummer, a painter, a bike enthusiast — there are a lot of feathers in Joshua K John’s hat. But the one thing that he wears very proudly is that of a pastor.

At 30, he is one of the youngest ‘visionary leaders’ in Delhi. The head pastor of the Capital City Church, John gave up his career in advertising to embrace spirituality about three years ago. “I was a given a project to paint a mural at the Capital City Church. That was when I met the church members and was very inspired,” says the Stephanian. “I studied the Bible a bit and I just knew what I had to do.”

As a part of the band ‘Soundcheck 42’, Joshua decided that he would not give up what he loved — painting and drumming. Still, many of his friends couldn’t understand his decision. “I just couldn’t see any point in earning so much money and not being able to deal with real people.”

He’s unlike a pastor that you’d ever know. He doesn’t dress the part, nor does he talk the part. At the best of times, you’ll find him on his motorcycle. He’s even shot a documentary called Highway Headrush. “I’m spiritual from the inside, and that’s all that counts,” he says.

Practising detachment @ Rishikesh

“Why should I burn incense sticks? What if I’m allergic and choke to death?” Growing up in Cuttack, Orissa, Satyajeet Panda (now Swami Yatidharmananda) had a thousand questions like this.

Even though Swami Chidanand was the family guruji, Yatidharmananda admits to being “the spoilt kid of a businessman-magician father”.

Later, he became a door-to-door salesman before taking up a job at a salary of Rs 700 as a data entry operator in a company at Nehru Place. In 1994, as a 22- year old, he felt like he had already “lived a long life”.

His first flight — “that too international” — landed him in Hong Kong as a Computer Programmer.

For the next year and a half, Yatidharmananda led an austere, vegetarian life. He would send his salary back home, and bow his head while crossing a shopping mall to avoid spending money.

Soon, he detached himself from his ‘professional ego’. “The change came after my contact with swamiji and I fell in love with his humility.”

At Rishikesh today, you will find him digitising the ashram’s audio visual material and managing the website sivanandaonline. org.

In touch with his ‘spiritual’ self

On Facebook, Vishal Merani’s profile picture is a close-up of him in a crimson kurta, wearing a tikka and grinning broadly.

There are photos with friends dating back to his four years at IIT Delhi where he did his B.Tech. There are more picture albums of his days in Germany and Holland — he did a double Masters on the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship.

And then there are some more — in white, with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. His religious views are listed, ‘spiritual’. Why did he have to chuck up a potentially successful career to ‘be spiritual’? “There is no have to in Art of Living,” he says. “All our life they teach us to study Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, but never how to handle our own emotions.” That realisation was step one.

“I was anyway happy… I had a scholarship, a girlfriend, a car, and an apartment.” Plus, a job offer in Amsterdam as a management consultant.

When he decided to return to Bangalore to live in the ashram, his girlfriend stayed back in Germany. The reason: long-distance hurdles rather than a vow to remain celibate.

Was the family shaken up? Yes, but the theatrics died down and everyone came around to Vishal’s decision to embrace the way of his guruji. “In fact, my mother is a changed woman,” She calls me her guru now,” he says.

On a journey to find ‘peace’

At five, Harsh Khanna told a family friend that he wanted to be a sanyasi (monk). At 31, he’s been there and back. It’s a story that films are made of and Harsh a.k.a Nithya Shanti has lived his life that way.

A degree in Economics, an MBA in Human Resources, and a secure job in HCL Technology didn’t make this good-looking boy very happy. “The thought that somebody else was happier than me, made me feel jealous. That’s when I knew I needed to find peace.”

Inspired greatly by his school Mirambika and the practice of Vipasana meditation, Nithya rationalised the teachings of Buddhism. “And after months of convincing my parents, I left for the forest monastery in Thailand to become a monk. And it was like coming home,” he says.

“I knew how to wear a robe instantly and even picked up the chants in half an hour as opposed to the several weeks it took people.”

But Nithya’s journey didn’t just stop there. Six years later, he decided that he wanted to lead an active life sharing the gift. Today he’s a spiritual teacher or a modern-day sage, as he likes to call himself, living in Pune. He holds workshops on happiness and even runs a website called lovingsilence.org. “I just had to follow my heart. That’s how I found everything else.”