From Sales Executive to Spiritual Leader: Swami Tirtha Maharaj

From a smartly dressed Corporate Executive in gray trousers, a blue shirt, a red tie and a tweed jacket, Padmanabhan or ‘Paddy’ as he was known, became a Swami dressed in saffron coloured cotton. The turning point came in 1986 when he was about to start a new job with higher salary.

Presiding for a Lord Krishna dance ballet, Swami B S Tirtha Maharaj was seated on the stage in Navi Mumbai. One by one, local celebrities followed him on the stage, touched his feet for his blessings. They included billionaire real estate developers, senior police officers, top level bureaucrats, judges and political leaders. On his travels to Britain, he has met Prime Ministers, ministers, members of the House of Lords, and other celebrities; and has delivered discourses at Oxford and Cambridge universities. During his visits to the United States, he has been received by Senators, met mayors and delivered discourses in many leading universities.

Total Commitment Would he have inter-acted with all these people in this manner if he had continued as a Corporate Executive? At the most, he would have become the CEO or the Managing Director of a good sized corporation to promote its products. Now he has no worldly position or titles and he promotes Krishna Consciousnesses. Such is his total commitment to his devotion that he has all but forgotten his past life as a Corporate Executive.

A life long celibate, he was born in a Vadagil Iyengar Brahmin family in 1942. At a very early age, he learnt Sanskrit from his grandfather as he could recite up to 100 verses from a Sanskrit scripture. He passed high school and in 1960 was employed for about six years as a machine operator in Indian Telephone Industries Ltd, Bangalore. He wanted to become an engineer.

Not Happy But, he was not happy. So, he learned stenography and went to Bombay (now Mumbai) and got a job as a typist with Blowplast (P) Ltd in 1967 and soon became the Personal Assistant (PA) to the company chairman. Sitting next to the Chairman, he easily learnt all management techniques as a participant. He was amazed to note the deficiencies of highly educated, qualified executives. He was promoted on his merit, although he had studied up to Matric or high school. Gradually, he rose from a Depot Manager to a Branch Manager, to a Zonal Manager, then All India Sales Manager handling sales and managing many branches from 1967 to 1979.

Finally, as the Export Manager, he moved to Dubai to cover the West Asia Region between 1979 and 1983. Every month, within 18 days, he visited six countries. In 1983, during a recession in Middle East; he wound up his operations, according to the management directive from India. Mr Manu Chabria, the owner of the well-known Jumbo Electronics in Dubai, took him on from 1984 to 1986.

Well Dressed Smart Executive As ‘Paddy’ – the well dressed, smart executive – he enjoyed ‘the good life’. Taking his clients to five-star hotels, entertaining them, organizing dealers’ conferences, regional sales conferences, aassigning sales and collection targets to the branch managers and the field sales offices, and all activities of a typical sales executive. In 1986, he went to India on a visit and got a job offer from a company in Oman at a much higher salary and benefits. So he applied for a visa to go to Muscat.

Swami Tirtha Maharaj describes the fateful day in his own words: “One afternoon, after a hearty lunch in the Flora Fountain area in Mumbai, I was walking down to take a suburban train back home. At that time I saw ISKCON devotees selling Bhagavad Gita, so I picked up a copy, came home and finished the entire book of 700 verses of Gita in less than four hours. It made me sit up.

“When I read the Gita, especially the second chapter, Lord Krishna was stressing the point that you are not the body. I felt as if somebody hammered me a few times that you are not the body, then why am I running around? Then I understood that if I am not the body, then I should stop the bodily activities like my work on the material platform,” he remembers.

I Was a Spirit Soul “But as I also knew that I was a spirit soul, I was wondering what constitutes a spiritual function within this mundane world. The spiritual function is explained in the end of Gita in Chapter 18:

* For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. (18.68)

* There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear. (18.69)

Swami Tirtha recalls, “After reading these two verses, I was convinced that this is the function of a spirit soul in the human form of life. So, when I understood this, I had formed a definite conviction and decided that this is the job I must take up from now on. From then onwards, I really thought I was wasting my time and I had wasted my time all my life up to that moment. I could imagine myself travelling six countries a month was just like a dog jumping from one place to another. So, I stopped this jumping business and took to spreading Krishna Consciousness.

India’s Topmost Artistes From 1986 to 1996, he studied the scriptures in depth and contemplated on their deeper meanings and relevance to current situations and lifestyles. In 1997, he founded the Gaudiya Vaishnava Association (GVA) in Kolkata and a year later, shifted its headquarters to Mumbai. In 1999, he was invited to Johannesburg, South Africa, to address the Parliament of World Religions. He launched GVA publications at the beginning of the new century and started his regular tours to the West. In 2005, he moved the GVA headquarters to Parsik Hill, Navi Mumbai and envisioned Bhagavat Dham Temple Complex atop this hill. Swamiji travels the world most of the year on his spiritual mission to lecture on ancient Hindu scriptures and the GVA way of life to numerous communities of overseas Indians or NRIs in Britain, the United States and Europe.

Under his direction, GVA created history in Navi Mumbai by organising the first Kahna Megh Utsav lasting 40 days with India’s topmost artistes in devotion to Lord Krishna. In 2007, he laid the foundation for Bhagavat Dham complex and within a year, the temple took shape so that in 2009, GVA moved to this location on completion of its first phase to become a major landmark for Navi Mumbai. In 2010, his first book, ‘Actually There’s No Problem‘ was launched on Lord Krishna’s birthday celebrations attended by thousands of devotees to become an instant success.

With No Regrets Does he ever regret taking this major step moving from an executive to a swami? Swami Tirtha is very clear, “Since I was convinced thoroughly and I had a definite conviction that Krishna is God, He is the Supreme Person, there is a Spiritual world and we are basically spiritual entities not these physical bodies. It was also clear to me that in a human form, life offers an opportunity to get back to God to serve Him with love in His abode. Due to this conviction, I never, never, ever regretted. I had even stopped recollecting the fact that I was once a Corporate Executive. Those memories got completely obliterated without leaving a trace. I am now forced to revive my memory because of your question.”

“I can confidently say, that this path can be tried by any mundane worker today. One should not waste one’s time, but start on the spiritual task of spreading Krishna Consciousness all over the world and wake up the sleeping souls,” concludes Swami Tirtha, “This will also enable one to gain eternal abode in the transcendental realm of Gokula Vrindavan for rendering loving service to the Supreme Divine Couple, Radha-Krishna. Hare Krishna!”