Rugmani Prabhakar: Always ready to Serve with a Smile!

“I used to live in Dubai with my family and in the summer of 1997, I came to Bangalore on holiday. I was staying with my sister who lived on Kanakapura road and one evening when we were taking a drive, we  saw a little board that said ‘The Art of Living’. Curious, we went inside.  At the reception we met this young boy (now Swami Pragyapad). We asked him about the place and he said that they conducted stress management courses with some breathing techniques. He suggested that we do the course. My children were very young then and I could not leave them alone, but my sister whispered to me, “look at his face, it is so peaceful.  I will take care of the kids and you go ahead and do the course.” 

“I joined the course and as soon as the course began, I realised that the teachers were talking the same things that were running as thoughts in my mind. I felt so connected. My experience of Sudarshan Kriya was deep and profound and I realised that this was something that I had been looking for my entire life.” Rugmani smiles reminiscing ‘the unforgettable day’ of her life!

From a journalist her life transformed to being a devotee, Art of Living teacher, Director for International Association of Human Values (IAHV) and she now heads the Art of Living Projects, managing social and developmental projects from her base at The Art of Living ashram in Bangalore. 

Let us traverse the journey as it unfolds.

“While in Dubai with my family, I looked around at the country that had so much material  abundance. During the time (this was almost 20 years ago), I was assigned an article by the editor of a magazine there on “happiness” and so when I interviewed people I would first ask them whether they were happy.  Interesting, most of the people I met then said: ‘Hmmm….we are satisfied but...we are content but... no one actually said that they were happy! That year when I came back to India on holiday, I asked some people here whether they were happy. In a blink they all said, “Of course we are happy. What kind of a question is that???” says Rugmani laughing and adding too that quality of life has changed considerably in Dubai since then.

For a journalist some stories reveal the wonderful secrets of life! While Rugmani Prabhakar was exploring the relationship between material abundance and  happiness, she stumbled upon the path that actually made her happy! A happy bee, busy & spreading the nectar of happiness all around!  

“Also, as a journalist when I would submit my articles, I worried all the time about what people would think. It was the nature of my mind.  I worried a lot.  I worried about people’s opinions, the future, just about everything. Amazingly after the first Art of Living course worry and anxiety dropped.” says Rugmani.

“Over the years now,” adds Rugmani. “I feel a deep acceptance of both myself and of people and situations in the world around me.  Even in the most difficult situations, I seldom misunderstand.  I realise that with acceptance also comes insight and understanding.”  

The Simplest and Wisest Person!

A month later Rugmani attended the Advanced Course where she came across the creator of Sudarshan Kriya and the man who impressed her the most!

“A month after I did the first Art of Living course I attended the Advanced Course when Gurudev was present. I was meeting a ‘holy man’ for the first time in my life. I didn’t know what to think about him then and so I just watched him from a distance when he would come into the course during meditations or for satsangs.  As a journalist I had interviewed all kinds of people from the heads of government to heads of the biggest institutions, and met a lot of people but I had never met a spiritual Guru before. 

As I studied him in silence those few days and I realised that this was the wisest and simplest person I had met in my whole life.   

...And Thus The Movement Starts!

Rugmani shares that when she went back to Dubai, she received a call that transformed her from a journalist to full-time activist! “Swami Pragyapad sent word saying that Gurudev has asked me to start The Art of Living Courses there and that’s how the movement started in the region,” she smiles!

Organising courses, meeting different people from all backgrounds and nationalities inspired Rugmani to work then with focus and commitment. “I was journalist and a social activist, the nature of my new role were so aligned to my natural fibre,” she says.

During the time, yoga and meditation was not really accepted in the community making it difficult for Rugmani to function! “I remember going to Gurudev and telling him that I thought that spirituality meant complete peace.  But ever since I came into The Art of Living, there has been so much turbulence.” Then Gurudev said something so beautiful that completely changed the way Rugmani has looked at life since.

He said: “So long as the water is flowing, it will continue to flow but when there is turbulence, dams will burst and flood the valleys.” Says Rugmani, she has had no fear of turbulence since.

Rugmani did not really ever want to leave India and move to the Gulf but the moment she realised the power of responsibility, she took responsibility for the state of her own mind as well  as that of  people around her.   Her adopted country, now became her canvas for service and celebration and she touched the  lives of thousands of people from all nationalities, religions and cultures.

“I was struck by a fascinating thought:   That mind was just mind.  Whether it was Indian mind,  Arab mind, American mind, African mind or Chinese mind.   Beyond mind, when hearts connected, barriers dissolved and we all became one,” says Rugmani.

He Gave Me the Entire Country!!

She worked mostly in Dubai raising her young children and understaking a lot of social projects with an amazing group of volunteers and teachers there.  As a teacher, she was teaching the Art of Living courses and later, as director of International Association for Human Values (IAHV) she, along with her husband Prabhakar Rao who headed IAHV there, did a tremdous amount of work with the support of the UAE government, UN agencies and corporate funding houses. 

Ever since I started the Art of Living there, I have not done much professional journalism since all my focus has been on Gurudev’s work. Honestly, I never wanted to become an Art of Living teacher because I was really a back-bencher who sat there judging and analysing the people all the time. One day, Gurudev said you should become a teacher. I said ‘yes’ simply because I did not know how to say ‘no’ to someone I loved and respected so much. I became a teacher and he made amazing work flow through me and I tell you there is  so much more we can do in the UAE,” she says with a concerned tone and the expression that speaks volumes of the need of every individual to volunteer for better society! 

“Probably that is the reason when I returned to India two years ago that Gurudev told  me to take over Projects Management Unit (PMU) of the Art of Living. I had not lived in India for almost twenty years, I had barely arrived and he told me to handle the entire country,” she laughs at the wonderment of how much the Master trusts his volunteers and teachers! 

He Gave the Course, Food and a Sari!!

“Once I was doing the Advance course in 1999, I was at the meditation hall in the Old Ashram where the Mahalakshmi Hall stands today. Normally, in those days, dinner was at 6.30 pm in the evening followed by Satsang at 7.30 pm. When I am at the Ashram, I eat small meals and walk a lot. So, by dinner time I am usually quite hungry. That day, when I came to the kitchen, they told me that a lot of people had suddenly come into the ashram and they had to cook again so dinner would be served after satsang.

Now, in silence, I was sitting at the back of the hall, missing my family, hungry, miserable. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my back and there was Bharat Bhaiya (Swami Brahmatej).  In his hands was a little steel glass which had a puran poli (a traditional type of sweet flatbread made in India) and a vada (a savoury fritter-type snack from South India).

Bharat Bhaiya said that he was with Gurudev. Gurudev was having his dinner when suddenly he said “Rugmani is hungry.” Bharat Bhaiya said to him, “but this is dinner time, Guruji!” Gurudev said, “No, no, she is hungry, take this for her immediately!” 

I was so deeply touched. My Master could feel even this ‘little’ pain of mine. The Master-Devotee relationship is so intimate.” She says with so much gratitude, devotion and love for the Master. 

“On my birthday last November, I was with Gurudev in Ganga Kutir when  casually from somewhere he picked up a sari and gave it to me saying, “Your favourite colour!” I was amazed that Gurudev even knew my favourite colour! And all day all I could think was that Gurudev knew me so so intimately.

The ‘Personal’ Guru!

According to her, her life has been a rocking rollercoaster! “My family had been going through a series of really unfortunate incidents at the point when I first did the course. My parents had died tragically and my world had crashed around me. But with Gurudev’s grace and knowledge, I found my peace again.”

What is that shift that happens in the person after the Art of Living course? “Well, it’s truly just the miracle of his grace. There isn’t one single formula for everybody. It happens so completely differently for each person,” she says. 

Her story with Gurudev goes from food to sarees, from projects to service to devotion! She says,  “The connection happened the first time I saw him, but the journey had probably began many lifetimes ago. It’s not about just one incident or one event. An association as deep as this could only be the cumulation of choices and experiences of many lifetimes. The journey inward begins and then the Guru finds you. 

Right now, when I look at my life, for everything that has happened, for all the highs and lows, for every moment, I am grateful. It has made me who I am. Today would I like to re-design my life? No! Everything that happened has been a learning no matter how traumatic or difficult the situation may have appeared at the time,” she says.

In the board room at her projects office, where we are sitting, is a white board that lists the names of various projects being implemented in states across the country along with status updates and team details.   From child rights advocacy to developing integrated developmental models for villages, from holistic farming and water management techniques to health, hygiene and conflict resolution in disturbed areas, the range of issues that she and her projects team deals with are wide and varied.  Says Rugmani, “we are completely inclusive. Working with the capabilities and strength of the entire Art of Living organisation we reach out to the country offering a holistic and sustainable model for addressing social, economic and cultural problems. We leave nothing or nobody out.”

All her thoughts these days, pretty much, revolve around her work, “My time is spent traveling, developing strategic partnerships for financial and technical support and coordinating with the Art of Living’s field teams for some really meaningful work to happen at the grassroots. For now, it’s all about my work and my body, mind and soul are aligned to make that difference. I don’t know about future! 

He is a very very personal Guru! Now, whenever I go to Gurudev, he says to me, ‘Just do it!’ There is so much encouragement and appreciation. Like a perfect boss! The thing, I realise, is not to think too hard. Just do it !

Writer: Monica Patel

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