Excerpts from the book ‘Ignited Minds‘ Written By A.P.J. Abdul Kalamji

My journey started on 13 June 2001, when I met Pramukh Swami Maharaj of Swaminarayan Sanstha at Ahmedabad. My discussion with Swamiji on the fusion of science and spirituality, and the role it could play in national development, went on for an hour. I am tempted to reproduce verbatim the questions and answers with Swamiji. 

Abdul Kalam (AK): Swamiji, India had the vision, since 1857, to be an independent nation. It took ninety years for us as a nation to get freedom. During this time the whole nation–the young and old, rich and poor, educated and illiterate–was together in this aim. The goal was one, focussed, and well understood–to acquire independence. Swamiji, what is or what can be such a vision now? Since the last fifty years, India has been a developing country. It means economically it is not strong, socially it is not stable, in security aspects it is not self- reliant, and that is why it is called a developing country. Five hundred members of TIFAC (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council) have given thought to what should be the next vision for India. How do we transform a developing country into a developed country in the next twenty years? We have identified five important areas to transform India– education and healthcare, agriculture, information and communication, infrastructure and critical technology. Swamiji, our problem is that we may present this before the government, but how do we create people with values to carry out such a big vision? What we need is a cadre of value- based citizens. Otherwise resources will not be deployed effectively, as we are witnessing. For this, we need your suggestion, Swamiji. 


Swamiji: Along with these five, you needed a sixth one–faith in God and developing people through spirituality. This is very important. We need to first generate a moral and spiritual atmosphere. There has to be a change in today’s climate of crime and corruption. We need people who live by the laws of the scriptures and bear faith in God. For this we need to rekindle belief. This will make things easier. Our problems will be solved and we shall be able to achieve what we dream. 


AK: Swamiji, for carrying forward such a big vision of transforming India, should we first create a spiritual tradition–make people more spiritually inclined–and then embark upon our vision, or focus on one of the important areas like education or health? Or should we integrate everything and begin simultaneously? 


Swamiji: We must move ahead simultaneously. Work in the five fields that your team has identified for the country’s progress should be continued and this should be concurrently incorporated. Our culture teaches us to learn both Para (spiritual) and Apara (worldly) vidya (knowledge). Therefore, together with knowledge of the Apara, one should learn the Para as well. If one learns this then Apara vidya– worldly knowledge–will become founded on dharma and spirituality. One must remember that in God’s scheme of things, the whole purpose behind creation is the idea that every person–every soul–attains bliss. 


AK: To realize this great dream, three types of people are needed–punya atma (virtuous people), punya neta (virtuous leaders) and punya adhikari (virtuous officers). If the population of all the three were to increase in our society, then India would become the jagadguru (world leader). How can their numbers be increased? 


Swamiji: Together with your academic and scientific training, give spiritual training in our schools and colleges. Nowadays, spiritual education has been removed from the syllabi of schools and colleges. That which should be taught from infancy is being neglected and we continue to provide only academic knowledge. But from the beginning, right from birth, people should be taught values, only then will people become virtuous. Knowledge of our scriptures and great sadhus and sages should be included in the syllabus. The social, spiritual and political leaders whom we hold in respect imbibed the correct values from the very beginning. In the past, such values were taught in our gurukul system of education. Whether a prince or a pauper, everyone studied together. Along with academics, lessons such as satyam vada (speak the truth), dharmam chara (tread the path of righteousness), service towards others and faith in God were taught. 


AK: Swamiji, good citizens cannot be produced by the laws of the government. Can spiritual institutions do it? Can you ask parents to guide their children to learn the right values up to the age of fifteen? Similarly, in all elementary schools, teachers should also instil these in the students. But if we fail to do this, then the government cannot by itself produce good, honest citizens. Is my understanding correct, Swamiji? 


Swamiji: Yes, it’s true. It’s definitely true. We’ve been saying from the very beginning that values should be taught by parents at home, teachers at school, and the guru in later life. 


AK: Swamiji, when I first launched a rocket it failed, but strengthened by ISRO’s support, my team combated the failure to achieve success. This sentiment is also expressed by Tiruvalluvar in the Thirukkural –when failure occurs, challenge it with cheerful attitude. 


Swamiji: When one possesses such noble thoughts, patriotism is but natural. That’s why we say, if spiritual knowledge is given from the beginning, love and pride for one’s country, society and dharma is a natural result. However, spiritual values should form the foundation of life. 


AK: Spiritual strength is important. And along with this, we must have economic strength for strength is respected in the world. A combination of both is necessary. And to achieve both, there is only one answer–sweat! Hard work is a must. 


Swamiji: We often say, ‘Human effort and God’s grace.’ Even failure of the first rocket, which you faced, was for your good, it prodded you to make things better. God has ultimately given you success. 


AK: For India’s development, I wish to establish a trust–Vision 2020–with five like- minded individuals. I seek your blessings for this. 


Swamiji: God’s blessings are already upon you. I shall pray that your ideas are successfully realized. May India prosper both spiritually and economically. What I wish to say is that the stronger the spiritual wealth, the stronger will become all other forms of wealth. If you increase material wealth alone, man will be lost in luxury and worldly pleasures. Spirituality will guide him back, help him rise above mundane pleasures. In reality, we rarely provide what is really needed. We provide everything else, clothing, food, shelter, but with all this we should also provide spiritual wealth. One should remember that when man gains extra money and power, more than what is necessary, then he invites ruin, restlessness and destruction. He loses control. 


It’s good that you’ve come here today. It’s given us much joy. The rishis (sages) of the past have also given us science. You, too, are a rishi.