Our interview begins with these words as Peter Burwash, author, tennis coach, motivational speaker, and president of Peter Burwash International (PBI), the world’s largest and most successful tennis management firm, attempts to explain his deep connection to India.
Burwash’s fascination with India began in college when he was exposed to Hindu philosophy and spirituality in a comparative religions course. He read the Bhagavad Gita and found himself resonating with its teachings. Then in the late 1960s he got an opportunity to go to India with a team of professional tennis players.
Burwash is something of a legend in the world of tennis. He rose to prominence in the 1970s as a young tennis professional and a Davis Cup star with 19 singles and doubles titles to his name. He is the author of Tennis for Life, one of the best-selling books in tennis history, and also is an international coach with a formidable reputation. He has taught tennis in 135 countries spanning five continents. His innovative teaching concepts, once branded as radical, are now considered essential to the game. In 1975 he founded PBI; today, the company’s tennis professionals manage cutting-edge tennis programs in clubs and resorts all over the world.
“I had this sense of déjà vu when I got off the plane in Bombay,” he recounts. “It was as if I had been there before. I immediately felt at home.” The young professionals were put up with host families and Burwash went to stay with a “wonderful” family in Juhu. And that was the beginning. He returned the same year to visit Calcutta where, he said, he was able to look beyond the poverty and see an opportunity to serve his fellow men. Since then he has been going back to India for professional purposes or for community service at least two or three times every year, for over 30 years.
Each successive visit has given Burwash greater insights into himself and his work. “Even today, when people ask me where they should go I always say, go to India, get below the surface and you will get an incredible grasp on life,” he declares. A vegetarian initially for health reasons, he now sees vegetarianism as a way of respecting all life. He talks about the Hindu tradition of revering the cow and how profoundly it has affected him. Both Burwash and his wife love Indian food with its emphasis on vegetables and grains. His book Total Health: The Next Level, a book-of-the- month nominee, demonstrates how lifestyle choices and the food we eat impact our health, happiness, and the planet.
Burwash also wrote Improving the Landscape of your Life and Dear Teenager: If You Only Knew, two books that emphasize the role of spiritual values and service in one’s life. Indians, especially women, he feels are spiritual by nature. “Unfortunately, when they come here to the U.S., they lose that spirituality,” he says and adds that everyone is steadily moving away from their roots towards material things. “However, as I always say in my seminars, it is good to remember that you will never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”
Earlier this year, Burwash attended the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) annual meeting in New Delhi with his 11-year-old daughter Kimberly. While there, Kimberly with the help of her father, fulfilled a dream that she had lived with for three years after watching a PBS special—to help feed the hungry children of India. Saving up $400 of her own money, and armed with clothes, utensils, pencils, erasers, and art supplies that she got through a donation drive in her school, Kimberly set off with Burwash to the Vrindavan area south of New Delhi. They traveled through several villages with the Food for Life program, giving food and supplies to the children, visiting homes and chatting with their families. It was a moving experience for Kimberly. Burwash notes with pride that she has vowed to return and continue to be of service. “Kimberly was amazing,” he continues. “In Vrindavan cows came and put their heads on my daughter’s shoulder.”
Apart from his pioneering work in tennis and his writing, Burwash is a featured speaker on a variety of topics from health and fitness, travel, tourism, and leadership. He follows a grueling schedule traveling up to 260 days a year, and barely has time to relax at his Carmel Valley home with his family.
How does he manage to stay focused on his goals after so many years on the road? He explains that it is simple. “I don’t set myself any goals. I believe I’m here to do service. All I need is an opportunity. I don’t set myself any goals except service. If some phrase, some word in your article inspires someone to call me and give me an opportunity to be of service, I’ll be happy.”