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French Born Businessman who is now an Avadhuta (Naked Sadhu) and a CEO

A French man by birth and the CEO of $300 million Fashions International Company based in Chennai, Swami Pranavananda Brahmendra Avadhuta has made India his home since 1971 and lives in a hermitage in Kolli Hills, Tamil Nadu, India. An Avadhuta is one who has no possessions and roams around naked. Of course when you are a CEO, you have to respect social norms and therefore Swami Pranavananda when dealing with business in his office in Chennai wears a grab of Sanyasi otherwise he spends much of his time in the nude.

Before he was given Sanyas Diksha in 1988, Swami Pranavananda was Christian Fabre. He arrived in Madras in 1971 as an executive in a French trading house along with his wife and a young child. In the early 1980s, his marriage broke and soon business collapsed. Devastated, Christian Fabre, who once wished to be a Roman Catholic priest, stumbled on a man who despite crippling leprosy was full of joy.

Eric Ellis writes in The Sydney Morning Herald

Devastated, he started reading the Vedas, Hinduism's holy texts, after encountering a man who despite crippling leprosy was full of joy. "I wondered how this could be, what powerful force was at work here," he says.

And so began an ascetic decade of study at a swami's feet, the renunciation of worldly possessions and a permanent search for enlightenment as he took saffron himself.

During this period he also achieved business success that he longed for earlier. But now for this Avadhuta successfulness and unsuccessfulness was the same for him.

His business goal is progress with the people around him, "all as a team. How many more kilos of rice can I eat per day? How many more cars can I have? How can a man have millions of dollars? It's better to share it with everyone."

Though wielding a reputation as a tough negotiator and delivering ever-rising profits in booming India, he is paid less than his office assistant. "I receive 10,000 rupees (about $250) a month as a salary, just for pocket money," he says.

"It's not necessary to fill up my pocket. The point is that I do not force anyone to believe. I'm not affected if you don't believe me because I don't have anything to sell to you. It is as it is."

"What's the difference between a business crook, Mafiosi, and a mass murderer?" he asks, before answering himself. "Nothing, they all steal from other people, their lives and their money. They don't bother about human life. They are all rogues and murderers.

"Fairness makes for good business. A street cannot be always one way because sooner or later you will find yourself in front of a wall with nowhere else to go. You can not always take, take, take all the time. Business has to be an exchange, because a product is the sum total of all the work into it of so many people."

Though a full-time Swami, he divides his month between the office in Chennai, and the ashram retreat in Kolli Hills.

"I want to be able to spend most of my time in the ashram. They want to keep in touch with me at the office and I want to make sure that everything goes right there, so I have the internet provided and we communicate." The Swami travels on business at company expense.

To better understand an Avadhuta here are a few verses from Avadhuta Upanishad

  • The Avadhuta is so called because he is immortal; he is the greatest; he has discarded worldly ties; and he is the indicated meaning of the sentence 'Thou art That.'
  • He who rests constantly in himself, after crossing (the barrier of) castes and stages (of social position) and thus rises above varnas and asramas and is in union (with God) is said to be an Avadhuta.
  • His (the Avadhuta’s) worldly existence consists in moving about freely, with or without clothes. For them there is nothing righteous or unrighteous; nothing holy or unholy. Through all-consuming, correct knowledge, the Avadhuta performs Ashvamedha sacrifice within (himself). That is the greatest sacrifice and the great Yoga.