Youthful Minds, Dedicated Hearts Guide Vedanta’s Future


Joseph Emmett and Pravrajika Sitaprana at the Vedanta Society celebrations two weeks ago.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: At lunch served at the table in the lobby of the Vedanta Society of Greater Houston Joseph Emmett didn’t hesitate to start eating with his fingers, taking a piece of roti to scoop up a some sabzi. After over 16 years of exposure to Vedanta, India, its customs and philosophy had become second nature to him and even given a slight affectation to his American English.

After all, Emmett had made a choice to go to India in 1996 when he was 19 years old and was drawn to the Vedanta Academy nestled by the Indrayani River in the picturesque hills of Malavali in Lonavala, Maharashtra, between Pune and Mumbai, 108 miles away. He had studied there under Swami Parthasarathy (who founded the Academy in 1988) and graduated in 2001. Since then. he has become an ardent follower of Vedanta and divides his time between the Los Angeles Ashram and the Academy in India.

But Houston is also home for Emmett, where his parents Gwen and Ed, who is Judge of the Harris County Commissioners Court, live. And he happened to be in town as the VSGH celebrated Swami Vevakananda’s 150th Birthday on Saturday, January 12. He arrived in a white khadi kurta and lungi, with a mala and quietly sat in the back row as the morning speakers gave their presentations (see IAN, January 18, 2013).

It wasn’t till later that afternoon that he would help conduct the Youth Session, but for now, he had a few minutes to exchange ideas with Pravrajika Sitaprana, clad in saffron robes, who would co-host the session and had emceed the morning panelists session. A young woman who was born to Anglo family and raised in the Northeast, she was in Houston for the celebrations but is based out of the Vedanta Temple in Santa Barbara, California. She and Emmett both attributed their decision to join Vedanta as karma.

With his thick head of red hair and relaxed look, Emmett could easily pass for another young professional. And in fact, he was to do a round table discussion later in the week with the Houston Strategy Forum, an organization founded in March 2011 by Ravi Kathuria, president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting firm.

Corporate civic responsibility is a central tenet of what Swami Parthasarathy extols at the Academy which annually hosts many corporate retreats, including the Young Presidents Organization, a group founded by Ray Hickok in 1950 to foster networking among those who headed up businesses large and small. Its global conference in 2012 in Singapore was attended by 2,500 people, but every year a small contingent of 50 or 60 come to Lonavala for a management retreat, practicing pujas, eating vegetarian food and hearing discourses from Swamiji.

For Swami Parthasarathy, 86, is not only a philosopher and spiritual guide to thousands, he is a great proponent of integrating social responsibility into management styles. He comes from a well-off family and has multiple degrees in literature, science and law and completed a post graduation in international law from London University. He renounced a lucrative corporate career early in life to dedicate himself to the study and teaching of Vedanta.

And so, when Joseph’s father, Ed led a trade delegation to India some years ago, he started off with a retreat at the Academy in Lonavala. “Dad insisted that this was the best way to get acquainted with doing business with India,” smiled Joseph.