ABOUT GITA SOCIETY
A reprint from:
THE HINDUSTAN TIMES (New
Delhi and Patna)
COVER STORY By Giridhar Jha
SUNDAY SPREAD, December 24, 1995
GOD GOES HI-TECH
And now it is an invasion of the sacramental kind. A Bihari
NRI working in the US has successfully brought the life-giving
message of the Bhagavad-Gita to many seeking solace, via
the Internet, in the US. Giridhar Jha wades through Cyberspace
to meet this messenger of Lord Krishna.
Lord Krishna said: One who shall study, practice, propagate,
or help the propagation of this supreme secret philosophy,
shall be performing the highest devotional service to
Me and shall certainly attain Me. No other person shall
do a more pleasing service to Me, and no one on earth
shall be more dear to Me. (The Bhagavad-Gita, Verses 18.68-69).
In three days time, Bihar will be rolling out red carpets
for many sons of the soil who have taken voluntary exile
in the modern world's never-never lands earning pots of
gold. Inveigled by Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav during
his recent trips abroad, the prodigals have responded
to a well-high desperate call made in the name of their
motherland. A share of their lucre will be needed to resuscitate
the ailing industries, boost the economy and propel the
State properly on the road to prosperity.
Luncheon meetings would be organized, well-drafted speeches
read out and quite a number of strategies formulated in
Patna. Apparently, the visiting Non-Resident Indians (NRIs)
of Bihar origin based in some of the advanced countries
of the world will deliberate on ways and means to help
the State make rapid strides.
Being fortune's blue-eyed boys who have not severed their
umbilical chords with the place where they were all born
and brought up in their formative years, they would not,
or should not, really mind parting with a chunk of their
hard-earned dollars. If at all that could open up the
gateway to progress for Bihar. Materialistic progress,
to be succinct, with smoke billowing out of the chimneys
of the factories, villages awash with vaporised lights
and skyscrapers threatening to cause a few hiccups to
regular flight pilots.
Even as those successful sons of Bihar would be busy
making the most of their materialistic fortune, a Bihari
NRI settled in California, USA will remain preoccupied
in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. For him the quest
for materialism is symptomatic of the human ignorance
of metaphysics that is the humanity’s greatest predicament.
Ajana, the universal ignorance, is the mother of all sins.
"The giving of the gift
of Jnana (wisdom) is (the most cost effective and) the
best charity. It is equivalent to giving the whole world
in charity." (Mahabharata, 12.209.13, Shanti Parva).
Dr. Ramanand Prasad is no Samnyasi,
nor has he any illusions about being a propounder of any
new religio-philosophical theory. In fact, he is currently
working as a supervisor with the US Navy, though he has,
to all intents and purposes, opted out of the rat race
for fulfilling what is known as the great American dream.
His only objective left is the attainment of freedom
or happiness from the bondage of life through performing
his duty in keeping with the philosophy of Shrimad Bhagavad-Gita.
However, he is far from being satisfied over his having
imbibed the immortal teachings of the holy book, for he
wants to propagate them throughout the world for the welfare
of humanity. "The Gita teaches us that basically
there are two types (or castes) of human beings in this
world: the decent and the indecent ones (Gita 16.06)"
and its teachings are very relevant in the world today
to establish the much-needed harmony between diverse cultures,
races, religions, and faiths.
Guided by such an altruistic as well as holy objective,
he set up the American Gita Society (AGS) in 1984 to do
the "greatest service to Him by propagating His philosophy"
in Fremont, California, USA. Eleven years later, Dr. Prasad
has succeeded in putting the English translation of the
Bhagavad-Gita on the Internet and America Online that
is free for those desirous of assimilating the kernel
of Gita’s philosophy into their daily lives.
He has also put free a correspondence course on the sacred
book on the Internet to teach people worldwide the importance
of the "mother of all didactical epics." No
donation is ever asked from the students of the course,
because AGS does not intend to build any more Ashrams,
or Temples. Their aim is to try to make every
home an Ashram by placing the Holy Gita there for the
people to read, ponder, and practice in everyday life.
A registered, non-profit, tax-exempt religious institution,
the society’s primary aim is to put Bhagavad-Gita
in libraries, hotels, motels, hospitals all over the world
on the lines of American Bible Society. Formed to enlighten
and serve the humanity through the medium of Gita, it,
however, has other objectives as well. It seeks to spread
the basic non-sectarian, universal teachings of other
Vedic scriptures in an easy-to-understand language for
the common people by forming local chapter of the society
in other countries, to be named as the International Gita
Society (IGS); to provide inspiration, help, and guidance
in establishing satsang (religious discourse) groups in
the neighborhoods, and provide free correspondence course
to the youth, students, busy executives, and others in
any part of the world.
The society also intends to provide cooperation and support
to persons and non-profit organisations engaged in the
study and propagation of the Vedic knowledge by arranging
lectures, seminars, and short courses on meditation, yoga,
and metaphysical science, as also to break the barriers
between faiths, and establish unity of races, religions,
castes, and creeds through the ever-relevant teachings
of the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayanas as well as other major
Scriptures of the world such as Dhammapada, the Bible,
That the importance of such attitude to life has not
become obsolete is obvious by the way the people have
responded to Dr. Prasad’s endeavours. Thousands
of people of all faiths, including Christians, Muslims,
Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, mostly from the USA, Canada,
and Asia have already taken the free Gita correspondence
course. All chapters of Dr. Prasad’s complete translation
of the Gita are available in several computer formats
such as plain ASCII, LaTex, and Windows in Cyberspace.
"I have received a lot of very good comments
from those who have read it (on the Net) world-wide,"
said Dr. Prasad, adding he was particularly pleased with
the response of an individual from Britain recently".
A complete stranger to Dr. Prasad, the Briton who answers
to Checkmate on the Internet, saying "It might seem
unusual for me to say this after being not very charitable
in the past, but I had a Samadhi experience a few months
ago and during that experience found that everything in
the Gita is true." He went on to say that "for
brief minutes I was a Brahman and knew as He knows. I
am not a religious man and these words are very hard for
me to say but your faith, the words of Gita really are
true. Don’t look for any metaphorical meaning in
it; there aren’t any. It is a literal description
of how things are. Just thought that might help. Om Shanti."
This message was forwarded to Dr. Prasad by another person
with the covering note: "Namastey, your Gita translation
is moving people all over the world."
Dr. Prasad was pleased with the response to his translation
of the holy book. It was in 1988 that he published and
distributed over 5,000 copies of his effort. A pocket
size version of this first edition was also published
in India. Having received tremendous response to his maiden
work, Dr. Prasad set out to work on the enlarged version
of the Gita that would be published by Motilal Banarsidas,
New Delhi next month. Commenting on his work, the International
Edition of the Hinduism Today wrote: "Dr. Ramanand
Prasad now offers his deft translation to the holy mount
of Gita. His renderings are elegantly simple, easy to
understand, and unencumbered by commentary." It also
wrote that his forthcoming version was "...an ambitious
work that will be appre-ciated by all who study the Gita
Several notable scholars have also lauded the work of
Dr. Prasad. Rev. Phil Buzard from New York said that he
usually found Gita translations tedious because of complex
structure and lack of brief definitions of Sanskrit words.
"But I found this translation is simply beautiful
because it is beautifully simple." Another reader
from Williamsville Trinidad wrote to Dr. Prasad that "....
I have read several editions of the Gita and never have
I sprung upon such a simple and lucid description of the
essence of the Gita and its background." The lucid
translation that emphasised the renunciation of the fruits
of action of the Gita and its praiseworthy attempt to
maintain a high standard of metaphysical integrity between
the verses have brought him plethora of plaudits.
It was, however, not that Dr. Prasad had always remained
preoccupied in the propagation of the Gita’s teachings.
Like all successful first generation Indians who migrated
to the USA, he was also following the surefire routes
to progress. So busy was he in his job that he did not
have time even for his family, let alone contemplating
the philosophy of the Gita. "It was around 1975 that
I happen to go through the complete epic and got influenced
by its teachings, particularly those of Karma Yog,"
said Dr. Prasad. "My life has never been the same
since then." Lord Krishna’s sermons to vacillating
Arjuna in the battle field had an extraordinary impact
on him as he decided to devote the remainder of his life
to the propagation of Gita’s philosophy as his hobby.
"Everything is divinely preordained. An individual
cannot do anything in accordance with his will; it is
always His will that matters," he said, rather philosophically.
Having had a roller-coaster journey of fortunes, he should
be a fatalist, who performed his duty without bothering
for any rewards in return. Born in 1938 in a tiny hamlet,
Hargawan near Biharsharif, in the family of a poor farmer
who had three acres of land and six children to support,
he had hard times in his early days. By dint of hard work,
his father was somehow able to send his sons to college.
Ramanand had his preschool education in the village from
the late Mazahirul Haque, a retired (Muslim) headmaster
who gave him a sound background in English and Mathematics
that kept him in good stead during his advanced studies.
After finishing his high school education at Mahadeva
High School, Khusrupur, he passed his high school from
Patna Collegiate in 1953. He attended Patna Science College
from 1953-55 and later obtained his Engineering degree
from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur.
"As the divine planner would have it all planned
form me, I did not even have the time to attend the convocation
and claim my hard-earned degree as I was offered a National
Research Council of Canada Graduate Teaching and Research
Fellowship to do my Master’s work on water yield
of swamp lands in Ontario, Canada on the Guelph campus
of the University of Toronto," he walked down the
memory lane, saying it was all because of the recommendation
of Professor A.C. Pandya, Head, Department of Agricultural
Engineering at IIT Kharagpur "to whom I am highly
The scholarship, however, did not signal the end of hard
days for him. The airfare to Toronto was a huge problem.
He had saved some money, but that was much short of requirements.
His doting mother sold or pawned her jewellery but the
requisite Rs. 2,500 was still a distant dream. Not one
to get disheartened so easily, he took an Italian Laura
Line boat at a student discount rate in the lower deck
of the ship, 20 feet below the ocean surface. Those days
Indian Government used to give $8 to all foreign bound
Indians. Having slept sometimes on empty stomach during
his journey, he reached his destination with only $5 in
his pocket on which he had to live for 30 days, before
getting his scholarship money at the end of the month.
"But the great planner, creator, Aksharatita, Para-Brahm
Paramatma, Lord Krishna had arranged everything for me,"
he said. "Tiwariji, my senior from IIT, was there
at Guelph to help."
After finishing his MS degree at Toronto, he came to
the University of Illinois, Urbana, USA where he obtained
his Ph.D. in Water Resources Engineering under Dr. Ven
Te Chow, an internationally known hydrologist. In the
meantime, he had two children, Reeta and Sanjay from his
wife Sadhana and took his US citizenship in 1974. He worked
in research, teaching, several consulting Engineering
firms, as well as State and Federal Governments in the
USA prior to being promoted to a top position in the US
Navy in the San Francisco Bay area, California. He has
also published several papers in the Journals of the American
Society of Civil Engineers.
Nevertheless, despite the growing demands of his job,
he has not forgotten his roots and frequently comes to
his native place. Dr. Prasad even has his son studying
medicine at Bangalore. His affinity with Indian culture
can be gauged from the fact that he has been associated
with several US-based "Indian" organizations.
He is a charter member and founder of non-profit, tax-exempt,
religious organisations such as the Universal Yoga Center,
the Ramayana Sabha, and the Vedic Dharma Samaj that now
runs the Fremont Hindu Temple and Cultural center.
"Ours is a closely-nit community in the USA and
we have kept our Indian identity despite being part of
the big American society," he said, adding racial
incidents like "dotbusters" against Indian women
were confined to very small areas. "Otherwise, the
American meritocracy has a place for everyone."
But perhaps it was the cut-throat, mechanical competition
for proving merit in society that drove Dr. Prasad to
seek solace and new meaning of life in America. "Bhagavad-Gita
provided me all the answers I needed," he said,
"One should always remember the glory and greatness
of the Creator and do his or her duty efficiently without
being attached to or affected by the results even if that
duty may at times demand unavoidable violence. Some people
neglect or give up their duty for the sake of spiritual
life while others excuse themselves from spiritual practices
on the ground that they have no time. One should do one’s
duty as a service to the Lord (or humanity) and see God
alone in everything in a spiritual frame of mind and remember
that all works are being done by the energy of Mother
Nature, and that we are not the doer but only an instrument.
One must strive for excellence in all undertakings but
maintain equanimity in success and failure, gain and loss
and pleasure and pain," as he sermonised
the basic tenets of the Gita.
No wonder he is not at all bothered about his "Herculean"
task ahead. How will he be able to put the Gita in all
the remote places of the world? "It is the Lord’s
work; if He wills it, it will be done, but it is not one-man
one-life-time work. Our Christian brothers did not achieve
a similar objective overnight. I want to plant the seed,
let others take over, and help it grow," he said.
"I want to set up Gita study groups (Satsang) all
over the world. It has already been established in main
American, Canadian, and Malaysian cities. I want more
and more people to join me in this holy mission and share
the Grace of selfless se