Karan Bajaj is a bestselling author and striving Yogi, who was born and raised in the Indian Himalayas but who now lives in Brooklyn. A former banker who took a year long sabbatical from New York to travel, write, and practice yoga and meditation with his wife Kerry. Karan regularly blogs about writing and meditation. (Worth noting that we actually met through Kerry who works with our mutual friend, and attendee at the Where Are Our Food Heroes dinner, Dr. Frank Lipman.) In any case, when it came time to assemble guests for my first dinner to tackle the topic of Religion vs. Spirituality, Karan was an obvious choice not just because I knew he would have a unique perspective to share but also because I knew he would bring a compassionate heart. Here are few of his thoughts when asked to reflect back on dinner experience:
On why he was at the table:
More than anything else, just being a human who was very possessed by questions of “Who am I?”, “Does life have any objective purpose”, “Why was the world created” etc. after my mother’s death. A deeper exploration of this question led me to quit my corporate job in New York and take a year off to travel from Europe to India by road without any possessions and spend a year meditating in the Himalayas. I answered some of my questions in my year off, the rest I answer to myself through my writing and daily meditation practice and in rare occasions, through discussions with fellow seekers like the one David organized.
On what surprised him about some of his fellow guests:
I was deeply struck by the intensity of religious experiences that some of the fellow participants experienced. In my skepticism of experiences that originate from traditional religious structures, I’d closed myself off to the possibility of redemption and mystical realization from traditional faith.
On a new way of thinking about of fundamentalism:
One of the challenges we discussed at length was religious fundamentalism. Indeed, I found a very specific solution to that because openness begins with me—and post the dinner, I did realize that I was fundamentalist in my own way by rejecting traditional religious experiences as being fundamentalist.
On the book that deepened his regular practice of meditation:
Mindfulness by Joseph Goldstein. Buddhism and meditation has become so populist and simplistic in the West with mantras and chanting and "just let go" instructions that I was stunned to find this rare gem of the book which doesn't flinch away from the hardcore intellectual components of Buddhist philosophy. One of the few books that has greatly deepened my meditation practice. Something switched on in me after reading the book and I evolved from a concentration based meditation practice to an awareness-based practice by my own accord.
On his favorite image from the Yoga Sutras:
There is a metaphor in the Yoga Sutras that compares life to an eagle flapping its wings high, then bringing them down gracefully. First, you grow, pushing the boundaries of your experience in the world—travel, work, love, writing—in every dimension. Then, you pull away from the world of sights and sounds and experiences to find stillness and completion within yourself. I’ve loved this image because it’s helped me give myself fully to every phase without holding back. Now, for instance, I’m comfortable that our next vacation is going to be spending ten days in silence in the middle of a forest rather than seeing cathedrals in Germany.
On something that changed in him after the dinner:
Growing up in the Indian Himalayas, I’ve always thought of the quest for the soul as a solitary, independent pursuit, rejecting society and its superficiality and materialism as symbolized by the yogis who lived alone in the caves near my village. The dinner softened me. In others’ paths eg, Jane Newman a lady whose interpretation of spirituality is helping build school for kids, I saw much more compassion than mine and I think that’s opened my heart a lot. I have a more communal rather than solitary view on the spiritual pursuit now, in a large part due to the dinner and subsequent interactions with the participants.
On the most exciting thing coming down the pike for him:
Penguin Random House’s Riverhead imprint releases my first worldwide novel, The Yoga of Max's Discontent, in May’ 2016. I’m excited about it because this isn’t a novel for me as much as five years of walking on the path of purifying myself so I became just a medium for the story to tell itself. The initial reviews are heart-warmingly positive and in my heart, I hope the book opens doors to new worlds that I don’t even know exist.