This is an interview with Dr. Srikumar Rao for my book #UnthinkableBook, about success and fulfillment.
Marcel Kuhn: Who are you, and what do you do?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: I run a program called Creativity and Personal Mastery. I’ve taught it at many of the world’s top business schools, and it became hugely successful and popular. So now, I spun it off, and I’m teaching it privately in New York, London, and San Francisco. I built some other courses and workshops that I teach around the world. Workshops are on the topics of how to be a better leader, on how to reduce stress and on how to become more resilient. The courses are related to business, personal development, and personal growth.
Marcel Kuhn: How do you define success?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: I would define success as a deep feeling you have that you are doing what you are put on earth to do. In other words, you are fulfilling your purpose in life. In this way, you are radiantly alive and brimming with good cheer. You are a success.
Marcel Kuhn: What person comes to mind when you think of success?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: If I had to pick a person whom I admire, I would pick people who are renowned as sages and as realized beings. The person I have the utmost respect for is an Indian Sage called Ramana Maharshi. He passed away in 1950.
Marcel Kuhn: How do you define fulfillment?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: Fulfillment is a deep feeling of joy and the knowledge that there is nothing you need, to make yourself complete. There is no ache in you, and you are completely content. Of course, you have preferences, and if you get more, you don’t mind. But you are complete in yourself. You are only successful if you are fulfilled.
Marcel Kuhn: What is your vision or your dream for the next five to ten years?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: I do not have a dream or vision. I’m perfectly happy doing what I want. And I just want to continue doing more of that. I wish for example to broaden the scope of my work and reach more people. I’m coming up with an online version, and I’m forming joint alliances with other individuals and organizations. If it works, or it doesn’t, either way, it is wonderful. I’m teaching my courses because it seems to be the right way, but I don’t need it to happen.
Marcel Kuhn: What are your core beliefs?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: One of my core beliefs is that we are complete in and of ourselves. We are part of the greater whole which comprises everything in the universe. Our purpose in life is to be established in the underlying unity. In other words, you don’t decide to become enlightened. Enlightenment happens. I also believe that the reality we live in is not an absolute. It is something that we have created, by using our mental chatter and the mental models we hold. In my program, I stress that it’s not so important what you do, but rather who you are being.
Marcel Kuhn: What are your core values?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: The reason you’re on the earth is to be of service to others. Whatever your greatest skills are, whatever your talents are, figure out some way you can use that to the benefit of the wider community. While serving, it’s essential to recognize that this contribution is coming through you, not by you. If you think that it is about what you did, then you become egoistic. Aim for being the best instrument that you are capable of being. You’re always the instrument of a higher power whether you recognize it or not.
Marcel Kuhn: What were your challenges and your key decisions?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: In my early twenties, I had a profound experience of oneness. I became one with everything and everybody. When different sages talk about unity and an altered state of consciousness, I could relate. This was not a moment that inspired me directly because I didn’t recognize what was happening to me. Only much later, when I studied the lives and teachings of the great mystics, did I begin to understand what had happened to me. It let me know beyond and shadow or doubt that what they were talking about existed and was attainable. It has been a background to my life ever since.
I’ve had the ideas that I’m sharing in my courses for a long time in my head. Living it didn’t happen for a long time. I was confused, driven by ambition, going through peaks of happiness, elation, and despair until I had reached my present state. Now I’m striving, but I’m okay with whatever happens. The challenge was actualizing what I believed. It wasn’t any thing that I did, it just happened. I was constantly thinking about the purpose of life.
Another key moment was when I created my course, creativity, and personal mastery, and I thought nobody would be interested because I was doing it for myself. It turned out to be hugely successful and popular. Masses of people came to me because they resonated with the syllabus. That was a reaffirmation for me that I have chosen the right path.
I overcame my biggest challenges by reading and thinking about the lessons of the Sages, and it gradually transformed my old life.
Marcel Kuhn: What are your references, people that inspired you in your life and your career?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: Adi Sankara lived in the 8th or 9th Century AD, and established four centers. Those centers are now even occupied by highly realized and learned sages. One of them is my guru,the Sankaracharya of Sringeri. He is a person who inspired me. Then there is a Roman Catholic priest called Anthony De Mello who inspired me.
There is Ram Dass, who is not a saint or a mystic. He is communicating his beliefs and experiences powerfully. He is the author of “Be Here Now” and became famous. He influenced me a great deal.
Marcel Kuhn: What is your superpower?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: My superpower is that I can take the insights and teachings of the great masters and I can adapt them so that they’re acceptable to intelligent people in a post-industrial society to transform their lives.
I would like to do more and do it to a bigger audience. As I said, that is beyond my control. Either it happens or it doesn’t. Either way, I’m fine with it.
Marcel Kuhn: What are the questions that you ask yourself on a daily basis?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: I don’t have a daily question, but I often think about “Is this a journey I want to take? “Does this get me to a place where I want to spend time?” When we go through life, there is one big journey, from being born until the last day, which is broken down into smaller ones; the conversation you have, the people you meet, the books you read, the movies you go to, they all change if you sincerely ask yourself that question.
Marcel Kuhn: What are your daily rituals, practices, and tools?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: I don’t have any fixed daily routines. I travel a great deal. When I travel, sometimes I have to get up early in the morning. Sometimes, I have to rush to the airport. I do meditate but not regularly. I spend a lot of time thinking about altered states of consciousness. I’m thinking about how I can take the exercises that I know, to address specific problems that people who participate in my programs have. In a way, that is a meditation that I do all the time.
Marcel Kuhn: Do you have a physical practice?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: I need to be more disciplined in doing more. I have started a yoga practice, and it’s dropped off. I plan to restart it after my extended trip to India. It will be the New Year, and that’s when I plan to restart.
Marcel Kuhn: How do you meditate?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: Free form, focusing on breath and focusing on my guru, Ramana Maharshi, and his teachings.
Marcel Kuhn: Do you read a text about him?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: I’ve read practically everything that he has written. Every time I read it, my understanding becomes deeper.
Marcel Kuhn: What is your emotional state that you are in most of the time?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: Calm. Serene. Peaceful. It’s not that I don’t try to have more money, bigger followership and so on. Underneath is a great sense of calm. Succeeding, or failing does not affect my well-being.
Marcel Kuhn: And before that happened, you wanted to have a different kind of career?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: I was striving for a job with more body, more power, progression, and hierarchy.
Marcel Kuhn: Who are three people that you would include in the book?
Dr. Srikumar Rao: There is a person called Nipun Mehta. Nipun Mehta runs a volunteer organization called charityfocus.org. And I think it would be worth your while to talk to him. He is originally from India, but he got in degree from engineering from Berkley. And he’s also a terrific Tennis player. For a while, he was debating whether he wanted to be a professional tennis player. He decided against it and founded an all-volunteer charity organization called charityfocus.org.