News Americas, Weds. Jan. 21, 2015: Born in Guyana and raised in New York City, he embodies simplicity and humility and exhibits a refreshing open-mindedness that is the very antithesis of the mindsets of traditional religionists.
This may be partly because Acharya Arun Gossai did not come naturally to religious activism, in spite of having a father, the well-known Prakash Gossai, who was both his inspiration and exemplar. In fact, after completing his formal education at Stony Brook University, Arun worked in corporate America for three years before ‘the inner call’ sent him to India where he became immersed in the study of Hindu philosophy.
That was in 2011. Three rigorous years later, he returned to New York as an Acharya or teacher, associated with the Chinmaya Mission. The mission was established in India in 1953 by Swami Chinmayanand to disseminate Vedanta, or the teachings of the Vedas. It currently has 250 centers worldwide and Acharya Arun is the head of New York Center.
Arun was born in Georgetown, Guyana, to Leila and Prakash Gossai. His mother hailed from the Pomeroon in Essequibo and his dad from Handsome Tree, Mahaica, East Coast Demerara. His lineage from both parents is that of “educators in the field of Science and Spirituality”. At the age of six months, Arun migrated to the US along with his father, mother and sister.
He was raised in Brooklyn, New York City, where he gained ‘street smarts’ at a very early age, learning especially “who and who not to associate with” thereby making “growing up in Brooklyn easy”. As a matter of fact, Arun helped others from an early age to “make the same right choices in regards to company and work ethic that would pave the way for success in future life”. From Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, New York City to Stony Brook University and a degree in finance, Arun then entered the world of work as an Accounting Manager with HAVAS Worldwide, a global marketing firm.
Growing up under the guidance of his parents who instilled trust in him and his sister, from a very tender age, Arun says, “It’s because of the trust my parents had in me that I always thought about the consequences of my actions and acted accordingly to secure the good name of my family”. His father, a educator turned eminent priest, always ensured by way of “his community work both here in America and abroad”, that Arun had “a strong spiritual upbringing as well as a sense of the importance of selfless service in the world.”
And so realizing that his job was not fulfilling and therefore deciding to follow his inner calling, Arun left for Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Chinmaya Mission’s premier institute for Vedantic learning located in Mumbai, India, to pursue his philosophical studies via Vedantic texts and other Hindu philosophical scriptures and “to seek answers to life’s questions.”
Additional time was spent at ashrams in Delhi and Bombay. There his aim to serve society with love became a resolve, one that is informed by an understanding that he will grow and learn with his experiences. Thus, after being conferred with title of Acharya, he departed India, inspired by his gurus’ (teachers) – Swami Gopal Sharan Dev Acharyaji, Swami Tejomayanandaji, Swami Advayanandaji and Swami Sharadanandaji – who taught him the Upanishads, Ramayan, Bhagavad Gita and about 96 other texts of Hinduism.
Even as he now propounds on and propagates the lessons of Vedanta and Hinduism in general, Arun is quick to credit members of the Gossai family as his inspiration. His father, Prakash Gossai, “was the example of selflessness as he treated all children like his very own and tried his best to genuinely help others in needs with his many talents and knowledge of Spirituality”. His mother, Leila Gossai, “has always been a pillar of strength and determination showing that all things worth achieving in life come with hard work, taking risks and faith in the Higher Being.” Arun’s 94 year-old Aja (paternal grand father), “continues to be a reservoir of knowledge and guidance.”
His mission aside, Arun’s likes include “being in the company of good people and discussing topics that will better add to a fulfilled life”. Dislikes include “being in environments which foster toxic thought, words and objects.”
And hobbies include “talking to the youth of America and helping to shape their personalities by showing them the merit of the discovery of their SwaDharma or that which they were put on earth to do, to help not only themselves but the world in general.”
Quite clearly even these facets of his personality are inter-connected to his current pursuit.
So what then about challenges? Arun believes that “challenges come when there is no encouragement, no belief in one’s capabilities and no examples of greatness” to follow. Admitting that “I was blessed to have great people around me which brought about all three of these things.”
Arun explains, “The best way to surmount a challenge is to take a step back and think about the problem with guidance from someone who has surmounted the seeming insurmountable.”
Challenges, of course, are part and parcel of Arun’s mission, but he takes them in stride, fortified by his training, knowledge and outlook. His mission includes giving motivational speeches; personality building and mentoring 85 children, three to seventeen years old, every week in Manhattan, Queens and Long Island; as well as another set, 17 to 30 years old and a third set 35 to 50 years old. He also gives workshops on ‘Practical Means of Living a Spiritual Life’ to University level students at CUNY Baruch College and young professionals in Manhattan. Amidst this extremely busy schedule, Arun finds time to hold discussions at mandirs to which he’s invited as well as to officiate at religious ceremonies on a periodic basis.
Still quite a young person himself, with a baby face and a serene demeanor, Arun feels that, “We, as young Guyanese Americans, have to realize that the future and upkeep of our culture and religion is in our own hands. No one should rely on anyone else to be the leader or example. We, as young Guyanese Americans, must look, study and implement the righteous actions of our leaders of the past and try our best to make a change in society by being good examples to others in the community. Spirituality allows us to reach for and strive towards something that is larger than ourselves. If we, as youth and a community, can unite and work together towards common goals, then the individual mind is no longer possessed by selfish desires. A higher goal allows all to work together in unison utilizing all talents and capabilities of today’s youths.”
Towards this end Arun aspires “to be the best example he can be in society; to empower other youths to realize the fullest potential and to one day see a world of strong progressive youths who are united by a genuine urge to serve selflessly and strengthen their personalities and help others do so by being examples in their own right.” He emphasizes, “If the example is shown, the seed is planted in the individual’s mind for change for the better.
If the Individual changes then he has the power to change the world. Change one person’s mind and you are one step closer to changing the world for the better.”
In effect, Arun Gossai, who finds fulfillment in what he does, even though its voluntary, plans to “Continue to serve in whatever capacity I can, doing my best everyday, not wasting time…(to exemplify) Positive action with faith in God.” Currently he lives day to day and does not know whether his mission would be a life long endeavor. Meanwhile, Acharya Arun Gossai believes that mandirs must become institutions of learning and that man must ‘be simple, be a sample and be an example.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Annan Boodram is founder of The Caribbean Voice and is ardently putting the spotlight on suicide in Guyana. For more join the conversation atwww.facebook.com/groups/suicideepidemic/ or check out the group’s YouTube page.