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Harnessing Technology for Spiritual Growth

Hari Nair

“Thoughts are just brain farts.  Some of them are stinky. Don’t waste your time smelling them. Just leave them. The stinky brain farts will disappear” 

Emma, an anxiety and suicide survivor was giving me and my wife a life lesson at the Human Library, a unique library nested among the reading gardens in Copenhagen. In this library, one can lend a human, instead of a book, to read a story. 

Emma experienced a panic attack in her teens when she got lost while driving through a forest. In the days to follow, the panic attack triggered a string of recurrent anxiety that crept at unlikely moments. She stopped venturing outside her home, withdrew into a shell, and finally attempted a failed suicide. Admitted to a mental asylum, she was put on a heavy dose of antidepressants and lived a reluctant life of 30 years filled with anxiety.  

Doctors in Denmark were mostly trained only in cognitive therapy. Emma was sick of cognitive therapy, as she felt it laid excessive focus on the analysis and dissection of each thought. For her, many of her thoughts were akin to garbage and she felt it was futile to dissect the garbage. Through research on the internet, she found an online therapist, who specialized in meta-cognitive therapy, which focussed on overall thinking processes rather than individual thoughts. Within 13 sessions, Emma was finally cured of anxiety, which she silently suffered from for 30 years. She tapered off from medication and has now become a book at the Human Library to spread awareness.  To sustain the momentum, she uses an app – Universe of Emotions, which is an accountability app to track and measure her emotions. 

She is indebted to technology, which helped her to find an online therapist, a new mental model for curing her anxiety, and an app for keeping her steady on the ocean of life. 

Emma’s story validated my assumption that technology can be a guiding compass in our quest for physical and mental health.  Personally, technology has played a defining role in my quest for spirituality and religious practice. 

I hail from the Southern part of India, which is home to some of the ancient temples existing in our world. A visit to my hometown is incomplete without a visit to the Aranmula temple, which is purported to be consecrated in the BC era. As I enter the temple, I feel connected to an ancient world and forget the bustling world of the outside. Even in the midst of reverberating temple bells, a profound stillness envelopes me. The Sanctum Sanctorum behind the ornate doors opens to reveal the black stone deity of Lord Krishna, and I am transported to an ancient land. The priest anoints the deity with sandalwood and the choicest fragrances and I am able to carve my private space. The legion of devotees surrounding me does not interrupt my inner experience. 

As I moved to Denmark, I started missing the experience of visiting ancient Hindu temples. My son was growing up without a strong experience of divine immersion during his formative years. I did not wish him to grow up without a strong anchor of our culture and religion. 

It was an oasis of hope when Om Swami launched the Sadhana app. In line with Sanatana Dharma, it aims to revive the glory and the power of Vedas. It gives us access to the lives, thoughts and works of ancient seers and sages of ancient India. In fact, it lets us perform immersive and interactive rituals in 3D and 2D. 

Initially, I was reluctant and had reservations about taking recourse to a mobile app for my spiritual and religious requirements. However, when I opened the app, I was pleasantly surprised that the Sadhana app replicated the ergonomics of an ancient temple. Stepping into the mobile app is akin to stepping into the Aranmula temple in a distant era. 

Sri Hari

What I love most about the app is that it allows me to pray in the form of a Japa (mantra chanting), Yagna, (fire offering), Abhishekam (water offering), and Nitya Puja (Daily worship). I can navigate through a virtual world of 11 stunning digital temples dedicated to the key pantheon of gods and goddesses of Hindus.

Every time I open the app, I am amazed at the stunning perfection and realism of the craftsmanship of each temple and the deity nested within each temple. The ornate finishes to the architectural columns, the sculptures adorning the corners of the temple, the raised pedestal of the deity, the sublime lighting of the temple, and the golden hue of the lamp accompanied by the holy vedic mantras take me once again to the immersive ancient world of sages and seers of India, who lived a Vedic life. 

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Once I started using the app for my spiritual and religious growth, I thought I might be an anomaly.  But I was proved wrong. Globally, the successful funding of Christian prayer and meditation apps like  Hallow and Glorify, which have attracted investment from Peter Thiel and a16z, are also demonstrating that there is an increasing populace of people who are taking recourse to technology to cater to their spiritual and religious needs. 

In India, the faith-tech market will see exponential growth. The growth of apps like Sadhana, Vama, and Sri Mandir is proof point that a generation of Indians is slowly gravitating toward technology. Every app finds its audience.  I preferred the Sadhana app due to its immersive 2D and 3D experience, which was lacking in other apps.

Moreover, the Sadhana app allowed me to introduce my son to the rituals of Vedic India. He opened his account on the app and developed a liking for the elephant-headed God, Ganesha.  He was able to develop a connection with Lord Ganesha and soon brought himself a statue of Lord Ganesha, which now adorns his room. For a month, I found him doing Abhishekam (water offering) on the physical statue of Lord Ganesha. He has now stopped it and gravitated towards playing FIFA on PlayStation 5. But I am sure that the app has sown a seed in him, which will sprout at the right time. 

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As human beings, we need a strong anchor. A strong anchor can help us sail through life.  For some, it is the protection of their parents, for some, it is the security of their partner, for some, it is their love of their children and for some, it is the comfort of the shoulder of their friend. Swamiji says that all relationships are inherently transient, and the only permanent relationship that we have is with God.  Recently, I heard a quote that resonated with me. 

“If you don’t have God, everything in your life is a public relations campaign.” 

I grew up in a family where temple visits and mantra chanting were part of our daily lives. In my younger days, I was a passive participant, but I do not remember a birthday, an exam, a housewarming, a new car, a marriage, or any special occasion, which was not preceded by a customary visit to the temple. My father used to visit the neighboring temple every day without fail. The temples were our connection to our anchor – God. 

Emma found her anchor in the Emotional Quotient app, which is helping her to discover the path, which was lost for 30 years. Similarly I found my anchor in the Sadhana App. After moving from India to Denmark, I missed visiting temples. Though temples are being established even in Denmark, I miss the feeling of visiting traditional ancient temples. I never presumed that technology can be an aid for my spiritual growth. In the crisscross maze of juggling family and work responsibilities, the few minutes spent daily on the immersive technology of the Sadhana app is helping me to reconnect with my roots of ancient Vedic India. 

Finally, I came full circle, when I recently visited Kerala for my annual vacation and did a Japa on the Sadhana App at the holy  Mammiyoor Temple

The virtual and physical worship had merged into each other.





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