“In this two-month process, my batchmates and I became a family bound together by the unity of self-consciousness freely expressing itself. Now I aspire to apply that unity in my community, a nation, even the world.”
-Avanika Khanna

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Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed”. During a two-month dive into practical spirituality, I began to truly identify with this quote. In the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP), I realized my desire to bring out excellence and a higher purpose within myself. Sponsored by Chinmaya Mission, this course has reflected my potential for growth and provided a stable medium of self-reflection through the discipline of rigorous study.

Self-Unfoldment is the vision Swami Chinmayananda, founder of Chinmaya Mission, had in mind through YEP. By channeling untapped dynamism in youth, Chinmayananda designed a curriculum to equip our batch with clear vision and compassion to bring positive changes to our communities. YEP has challenged me personally to face indulgences like caffeine. By removing myself from the habit, I focused on the present moment rather than the next cup of green tea. In addition to clarity, YEP brought out the orator in me. I transformed from a person unable to speak publicly to one handling deep concepts with presence. In one of our activities, my batchmates and I spontaneously spoke on a subject given only seconds before. Although my speech was substantial, I realized my delivery was not inclusive. The YEP director and National Director of Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (CHYK) West, Swami Sarveshananda, then instructed us to prepare for next week, and I brought out genuine quality by using “we” to include the audience and increased my focus on small topics. Not only was my audience grinning, but also Sarveshanandaji lauded my significant improvement. The joy I received from my speech only grew with discipline. Through technical advice and confidence in improvisation, I was able to perform my best that the situation demanded.

Above all else, YEP encourages self-development through three pillars: Learn, Serve, and Grow. As Swami Sarveshananda says, “One must first understand, respect, and strengthen oneself in order to genuinely understand and serve others.” At YEP, I learned to appreciate even five minutes and effectively spend that time reading Vedanta commentaries or studying for an exam. Additionally, I realized my responsibility of seva—selfless service—towards the community that raised me. Together, our group worked to paint dorms, reshelf Gurudev’s personal collection of books, and clean out the barn. By cultivating discipline and making every precious day productive, I have learned about myself and sharpened my body, mind, and intellect in order to become a dynamic contributor to society.

In one activity, my batchmates and I were blindfolded to freely dance. Being a dancer, I had no qualms about dancing. Still, I realized the liberation felt with nobody looking. If something has to be done for the greater good, it must be done. The judgmental opinions of others melt away into a clearly defined selfless purpose. I look forward to applying this purpose in Dental School and serving communities, which up until today, have been ignored. In this two-month process, my batchmates and I became a family bound together by the unity of self-consciousness freely expressing itself. Now I aspire to apply that unity in my community, a nation, even the world.

Avanika graduated from Washington University in St Louis (Biology Major and a Public Health minor) and now is attending the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas. She is teaching Kindergarten in Session 5 Saaket. She is working with National Seva Project this year.