Sri Sri on Youth, Terrorism, Ayodhya
A quarter of a century after he initiated the 'Art of Living' programme from his small village in Tamil Nadu on `divine direction following a 10-day retreat into silence, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's proprietary system of breathing, Sudarshan Kriya, has adherents in over 130 countries.
Kamlendra Kanwar caught up with this charismatic messiah of love, peace and healthy living while he was on a mission to Chennai.
Question: Guruji, is there a supernatural being above us who guides our destiny? Are you an incarnation of the Almighty sent to the world to spread love and good cheer?
Answer: You know Almighty is everything. The whole creation is the play and display of one divine consciousness. So in my eyes there is nothing that is not divine.
Q. Is there a sense of mission with which you have come to this world?
A. Well, that is natural. Everybody has certain missions. Nature takes you on that course.
Q Is your charismatic personality a product of your sadhana and purity of thought?
A. I have never analysed about any of those things. I never do anything that is not natural--that is not in my nature. When you do something that is not in your nature, that's when you get tired. I just remain in my nature. I don't have any pretensions or I don't hide anything or try to impress anybody at all. When I am natural myself then I am connected to the source of energy the whole time.
Q. What is it that gives you this glow which is out of the ordinary?
A. No, every baby has it. As people grow they lose it, I have maintained it. That's it.
Q. What are your earliest childhood memories? In what ways did your parents influence your thinking and action?
A. Bhagwad Gita has been my influence. My parents were very devoted and music was part of the family tradition. Mother used to play Veena. My teacher who taught me vedic hymns was closely associated with Gandhiji. He used to inspire with all Gandhi stories.
Q. Is there anything that you recall with nostalgia today about your parent's influence?
A. Nothing in particular. I keep my mind free of opinions and impressions.
Q. It is said that by the age of four you could recite verses from the Gita and at nine you had mastered the Rig Veda. Was it from your previous birth that you had memories of these
A. It is obvious. Scientific manner also it is proved. You see at it psychologically and scientifically and philosophically, in any angle you see, rebirth is a confirmed phenomenon. There is no question about it at all.
Q. The West doesn't believe in it.
A. No. West believes in it now. Almost every psychiatric clinic today they use regression as a therapy. They call it regression not reincarnation. That's all.
Q. It there is something that one carries forward from one birth to another.
A. No doubt. This is being used as a therapy. They take patients and take them back, regress them into previous lives and then they speak about it. All psychiatrists are using it.
Q. There are so many cases of little children remembering what they were in previous birth. It gets wiped off as they grow older.
A. That true. That's the nature's safety valve. Nature helps you to live in the present.
Q. Or is it because we get corrupted by all kinds of thoughts as we move along?
A. Yes, a bit of this and a bit of that.
Q. Legend has it that you attained enlightenment after a 10-day period of silence in 1981.
A. No it's not that I attained enlightenment. After 10 days I came up with this. I always had this feeling that something is going to come which is going to benefit the world.
Q. You had that vision at that stage that you are going to help the suffering and the people all around.
A. That was there from the very beginning. After 10 days of silence the present kriya came up. Then I knew that this is going to help the people.
Q. What were your first thoughts when you came out of that 10 day silence period?
A. Very natural. I had about 30 people in my room that day and they all wanted me to speak and I started speaking. Two days it went on. They all felt exuberant. Then it all happened by word of mouth. For nearly 10 years I did not allow people to put my pictures and I wanted them to go deep into themselves.
Q. You were with your parents at that time?
A. Yeah, yeah, my father also had done the course. They also enjoyed.
Q. So there was a sudden transformation in your personality and you became a guru.
A. No, nothing changed in my persona. That's when I formed this organisation. Before that I was teaching meditation, giving spiritual talks.
Q. What imprint did Maharishi Mahesh Yogi leave on your mind? Do you regard him as your spiritual guru?
A. Sudhakar Chaturvedi was the one who taught me. He is the one who taught Mahatma Gandhi Bhagwad Gita when he came back from South Africa. He was with him till three days before his demise. And then Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, he liked my oration and invited me to speak at his vedic science forum. But he was a very wonderful person. I was 17 years and was with all elderly people including Shankaracharya.
Q. How do you derive the wealth of knowledge that you have and the spontaneity with which you respond to situations?
A. Because there are no impressions (laughs). If you have impressions you will sleep through them. When you are hollow and empty whatever comes you say it.
Q. Is Sudershan Kriya a panacea for all stress and health problems?
A. Most of them yes. I wouldn't say everything.
Q. Do you still practice it several times? How long in a day do you practice it?
A. No, I don't need to practice it. Few minutes I would say, but I don't really need.
Q. But for us lesser mortals what is the kind of regimen you would suggest.
A. I would suggest to people to do it once or twice a day for half an hour. That keeps one energetic. If someone practices for over a period of time, then that awareness is always there. You don't have to sit and do.
Q. A lot of people find it extremely useful but they are not regular. They don't do it. It is said that it has to be done for at least six months to derive some benefit from it.
A. No, benefits you can see in the very first week itself. We would usually suggest 40 days time. Then they would find a noticeable change. But you know the thing it is good to have healthy foods every day. But not everybody eats healthy food everyday. They go to junk food. Same way, some people drop out. But whenever they get stressed they do it, they come back. People who have not been practicing for quite some time, suddenly they come back again.
Q. Does it have to be done under a guru?
A. One instructor is needed for just the first four or six days. After that they can do it on their own.
Q. You have helped millions of people across the world achieve health and happiness. How do you deal with skeptics and non-believers?
A. No, no, they gain it. You know believer comes with a concept. But a skeptic has no escape because he will experience it. Like, whether you are a believer or skeptic when you put your hand on the electric line, you are going to get a shock. When you get into hot water, it does not say whether you believe me or not, it is an experience. Similarly, cynical people are worst. They don't do anything. Skeptics do it. When they do it they experience it. It is good to start anything with certain skepticism because then you are experiencing something genuine.
In fact, when we started Art of Living 25 years ago, the world was so much prejudiced against Indian spirituality. That is when exactly there were problems with the different spiritual movements in India. They would suspect anything.
Q. Is that less now?
A. Far less, from the last 10 years. In different spiritual movements that went from India everything was suspected. They had to work through prejudice. Make them understand. Our Vedanta is absolutely scientific.
Q. Are you happy with the general sense of direction of youth in this country? Is the future of the country secure in their hands?
A. I am worried whether the country will reach in its proper shape into youth's hands at all. The way it is being now divided by very divisive forces, we need to bring awareness to see that. Empower the youth to give them a broad vision and ethos. You know without roots youth will not be able to carry on. They will be very flaky. And without broadening their vision nothing will come. So I have a slogan for youth - "Broaden your vision and deepen your roots."
Q. Where do the youth stand today? This country's youth, do they inspire confidence in the future of the country?
A. In my understanding, I have seen that there is lot of aggression. There is pride in violence. If someone is aggressive and violent, they are considered heroic. The sense of aggression, how many people you afflict that becomes the value of your leadership. That is changing fast. Youth are becoming spiritual. We have a programme called YES ---Youth Empowerment Seminar. This is taking off very well in universities.
Q. Are the energies of the youth being channelised in the right direction by their parents and peers?
A. I think India has woken up very fast to this ills affecting society. I see a bright future.
Q. You are on record as having said that the biggest challenge in the world today is terrorism. Can terror be combated with love? Is Gandhism relevant in today's environment?
A. Only through love it can be combated. Only through love and understanding. If you see what has happened to the mighty superpowers-- all pounced in Iraq, they couldn't contain. See what's happening there today.
Q. A lot of hardened terrorists did Art of Living in Kashmir and they were completely transformed by that experience. Do you see a future for resolution of the Kashmir problem?
A. Yes, I think it all has to done whether it has to do with Kashmir, North East or the Sri Lanka problem, conflicts arise in the minds of the people. If the leaders talk sense, if they leave aside their vested interests and really think globally issues can be resolved. I think it is small minds, the small narrow ideology that has caused all these problems.
Q. This kind of understanding is required from politicians.But the way they behave doesn't inspire hope at all.
A. Yes, but we need to keep our hopes.
Q. India has, in recent years, been developing fast but while winning the battle against poverty we are losing our ethical values? What is the ideal way ahead for the country?
A. That is why we need to have more and more of this youth development programmes, moral and ethics, and spiritualism to be introduced. In the name of secularism we have also thrown out the spirituality and heritage of the country. That needs to be reintroduced. Though people are very religious today-- lots of people go to temple, churches, mosque and all, but the dimension of spirituality experience needs to be tuned. I have seen that it is happening. In the past few years, there is an upward trend.
Q. Do you subscribe to the view that there is pseudo secularism? It's not really secularism in the true sense that the politicians are practicing.
A. Using religion for vote bank, you can't call it secularism. One has to have a broader vision. Politicians should think of broader long-term interests of the country. Not just worry about their party, their seats, chairs. That's why I am saying, spiritualise the politics, secularise the religion and socialise the business. That's the way to go about it. Business houses have to support the society.
Q. Is there a way out of the Ayodhya tangle?
A. Temple is already there now. That cannot be removed at any cost. So that should be just allowed to be there, that's it.
Q. But, that is not a solution that would be acceptable to the minority community.
A. But removing the temple which is existing may not be acceptable to the majority community.
Q. Yes, but there was a mosque that existed there, so where does justice lie?
A. No, you can say that there was a mosque that existed, then one can say that there was a temple which existed before that. You know this can go on in history. But seeing the present situation, I would say keep the same yardsticks. Suppose it were the birthplace of Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed, what would the world say if people had a temple there. They would say come on take it away, keep it at another place because it is a sacred place for the community. We should use the same yardstick, which is a just yardstick when it comes to Ayodhya. Because it is the birthplace of Ram and it is sacred to millions of people who have their emotions attached to it. Okay even if a mosque is built there is it going to be honoured like Mecca? Will it be a sacred place where everybody will go? No. So, in this standard of point of view, third person is not involved, you would say this is justice. What is maximum good for maximum number of people is what justice is. Millions of people want a temple.
Q. You had some meetings with some Muslim leaders there.
A. The Muslims generally have no problem. It is only a few fundamentalists who have a problem. It is the same people who do not want women to have their rights, the same people who support Osama Bin Laden, the same people who support that kind of extremism. These are the people who are really opposed (to the temple). General Muslims are really not opposed.
Q. Swamiji, how do you look upon the media in the country? Is it discharging its role of a watchdog effectively? What is your advice to us?
A. I would say that spiritual people and media should not affiliate themselves with any political party. Because whomsoever they affiliate, they would not be doing justice to them. Because then they cannot show the real picture to them. So, if media want to be friend to any political party, they need to be neutral. And media in this country, I believe is doing fairly well. But there is always room for changes.
Q. There is a trend towards sensationalism particularly in the electronic media. Don't you think it needs to be curbed?
A. Well definitely. I think they are becoming more responsible.
Q. Should Sudershan Kriya be a compulsory part of education in schools? How does breathing control our thoughts and actions?
A. Breath is linked to our emotions and thoughts. I would say yoga and pranayam--need not be particularly Sudershan Kriya, but some form of spiritual exercises should be taught to children by which they know how to learn about themselves.
Q. What is the true meaning of life? Why is your course called the 'Art of Living'?
A. You know you keep any name the same question will come "why that name." People started calling it 'Art of Living' because it's really secular, it appeals to everybody and it just definitely makes an impact.
Q. What is your special message and advice to the people of Tamil Nadu? I am asking this in the context of the Mullaiperiyar controversy.
A. I haven't studied that problem. My message is Progress and protect your heritage.
Q. Finally, Swamiji, have you ever thought of marriage? Is married life an impediment to sadhana?
A. Not yet. I haven't grown up. I don't think it is an impediment. There are many people who are married and doing sadhana.