“Karuna” is a Sanskrit word that means the compassionate and selfless desire to remove suffering. Buddha, after his enlightenment, preached that karuna was one of the key ingredients in not only removing the suffering of others but also the pain and anguish we feel ourselves. In other words, the simple acts of compassion for others and the self have the power to remove suffering from this world. It is this central concept that is the heartbeat of our social enterprise. karuna is a movement whose ultimate goal is to make this world a happier place by breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and abuse by empowering children, youth, and women who have suffered unspeakable abuse, abandonment, neglect, trafficking, and other tragedies in their lives.
What led Arun Sardana—the inspiration behind karuna—to start this social enterprise is a long story, one that spans his entire life and perhaps several lifetimes before this one. karuna was born out of his personal existential crisis. Arun arrived in the United States as an immigrant in 1988 after the traumatic death of his father to suicide. Despite complicated early years of life riddled with sexual abuse and trauma as a child, he was blessed with a beautiful loving family, a successful career, and all the ingredients of a “happy” life that are typically referred to as the “American Dream.” At his core, however, Arun was very unhappy and hollow, lacking the ability to feel anything deeply. He struggled with existential questions about the meaning of life, his purpose and contribution to society, and how to balance it all with his beautiful family, whom he adores. These questions became more pronounced after the death of his mother and the unexpected loss of his job in early 2008.
In order to “run away” from his life, Arun decided to volunteer at an orphanage in Costa Rica in April 2014. On the third day, he discovered that this compound was not an orphanage. It was a safe house for sexually and physically abused girls. That knowledge totally broke Arun. He could not understand the injustice between these innocent souls and his own daughters. His heart truly ached perhaps because this realization triggered the trauma of his own childhood sexual abuse. He decided that week that something had to be done.
Arun then started a three-year project with an organization called SOS Children’s Villages in Costa Rica. There were about 300 children in three different villages. Ninety-seven percent of them had been physically or sexually abused. The results of this program over the three years were mind-blowing. Children and their caregivers were flourishing like never before in the 40-year history of this organization. The big question, then, was what to do with this. How could this be scaled? This is where Arun decided he needed to study the science behind the brain—what happens to a child’s psyche during chronic abuse and whether the disastrous effects of these traumas could be reversed durably.
Arun enrolled in the Master’s of Clinical Psychology program at the Spirituality, Mind, Body Institute (SMBI) at Teachers College, Columbia University. While learning about the science of positive psychology, he had a personal transformational experience during a meditation led by an energy healer who was a visiting scholar. He met his father in this meditation. Six months later, in another meditation, his father’s “messengers,” dressed in the same white shirt he was wearing when he died, left him with the most profound message—that his life had to be dedicated to helping heal children who were suffering. That was it. karuna was born in that meditation.
By building one of the biggest compassion movements this world has ever witnessed, we can change the world. The time is now. The world is ready for karuna. Your happiness lives here. Welcome home.