Being Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Published on Sun, Feb 26, 2006 at 23:30, Updated at Mon, Feb 27, 2006 in Entertainment section
Anuradha SenGupta: The Art of Living turns 25 this week and followers are trickling from all aver the world. There is a sense of expectation in the air and a sense of belonging. We are going to try and cut through this haze of feel good and find out what is like being Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Who is the man behind the Guru?
Anuradha SenGupta: I know we are doing a longer interview, but on the eve of the Silver Jubilee celebrations, the three days, all the world leaders, 2.5 million people, to what purpose?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: What purpose? To reinstate the faith in human values and to dedicate our self to doing good in the society.
Anuradha SenGupta:You have explained why people need a Guru and why they need to look up to somebody, to the philosophy. How do you keep the philosophy going when the charisma and the personality of the Guru have passed?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You should go beyond the personality and charisma and go deep within to the silent corner of your heart, that’s the main purpose.
Anuradha SenGupta:Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, this is such a wonderful week to be meeting you. 25 years of the Art of Living foundation, everything, the entire philosophy that you have given to so many people all over the world, how are you feeling right now?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Before I used to feel very shy when people used to compliment me and adore me but now I don’t, that’s the only difference.
Anuradha SenGupta: Sir people like me, when we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, 25 years, 50 years, there is a sense of it being a personal land mark or a milestone?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: No, not for me, not at all. It doesn’t mean any thing to me, be it 25 years or 30 years at all. But just an occasion for every one to come together, people are looking for some excuse to celebrate.
Anuradha SenGupta:And you are giving it to them this week. For me it would be a chance to take stock, to introspect and to plan for the future?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Every day we introspect, one need not wait for 25 years to reflect what one should do in the next 25 years also.
Anuradha SenGupta: May not be this week, but this year, you also turn 50, am I right?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I feel I am still five.
Anuradha SenGupta:That’s a very diplomatic way of evading my question.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Correct, you’re right, I am turning 50 no doubt.
Anuradha SenGupta:So, is that another landmark which doesn’t again mean anything?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Correct, I feel the same, I have refused to grow up at all.
Anuradha SenGupta:: Is the man we know today as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is he still there an individual or is he sort of completely subsumed or consumed by the Guruji?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: No Guruji is a relationship that others have. For me, it doesn’t have any sense. I am just what I am. Like the tree, the stones, the nature is there, like that I am here. To me, I am not playing a role all the time or any time. Are you understanding what I am saying?
Anuradha SenGupta: I think so.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: It is very difficult to put in words and make you understand. It is like you know you have a pain in your leg and you can’t tell others what the pain is. You can’t make them understand what the pain is, so it is very personal. Knowledge, that’s why I say the knowledge takes you from being some body to being nobody, and from being nobody to being every body.
Anuradha SenGupta: In this week, Bangalore has a sense of celebration which is emanating from this place all through the city, you get into the Airport and you have people there to receive International delegates coming in. Why do you think that close to 25 million people are making their way here? What is it that has captured the people’s imagination?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You know it’s the work that has happening by all the teachers and the volunteers. And the benefit that the people have found in their lives, doing their practices, meditation, sudarshan kriya and involving themselves in Seva (service) activities. And this is one opportunity for everyone to contribute together, meditate together, sing together and know each other.
Anuradha SenGupta: It was in 1982-83, when you had been on 10 days of silence and meditation. And after that you shared Sudarshan Kriya with the world. Do you want to do a flashback?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You know before that also I was teaching meditation, Yoga and everything. But I think that there is something that is lacking. Though I think that people do their spiritual practices, there life is in a sort of a compartment.
They do their puja (prayer), they do their meditation, they do their spiritual practices, but when they come out in life, they are very different people. So, I was thinking how we can bridge this gap – between inner silence and outer expression of life, social life and activities. And after the silence, it was like an inspiration, I thought.
And then came Sudarshan Kriya, it was like a gift. So, I didn’t sit and think and manipulate, do something. But when I came out of the silence, I started speaking to people and teaching whatever I knew and they all had a great experience. And then they said that to their friends. And by the word of mouth, it spread to many places. For nearly a decade, we did not print any materials. All by word of mouth.
Anuradha SenGupta: I read that you were a disciple of Maharishi Mahayogi at that time.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I have traveled with him, stayed there conducting the Veda science programmes and he was doing at that time. It was beautiful to be traveling there with him.
Anuradha SenGupta: When you gave us the sudarshan kriya, did you come into your own as a spiritual leader or do this things not cross your mind at all? Because my questions are there where I am.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I didn’t intend to become a leader or to do something. I just let the nature take its course. I never had any ambition that I had to make organisation or build something. Not at all. Everything just simply kept happening. Thats quite satisfied and fulfilled in myself.
Anuradha SenGupta: You have said that religion is like the skin of the banana, spirituality is like the banana and we all left holding the skin. Why does that happen, why do we get so caught in the trappings of customs, rituals and symbols?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Its a good question that every one should ponder on. The very pondering on these questions can make us lift our eyes to the truth. The quest for truth is very individual. It cannot be a mass quest. Like there is nothing called mass hunger. Hunger is an individual phenomenon.
Anuradha SenGupta: It is like that ache in the leg?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Correct. When the quest arises, the journey begins.
Anuradha SenGupta: As human beings, we seem to be, it is like a manufacturing defect.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I don’t think that it is a manufacturing defect. The nature has manufactured us perfectly. I think the maintanence department needs to take care.
Anuradha SenGupta: There is this conflict of not being able to grasp what you have said – the values that all the religions preach are the same. And yet we do not seem to grasp this and civilisations seem to an end?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You know, there are many people who do understand this. The thing is that they are very passive and the few who do not understand are very aggressive. That’s how it all appears that the entire mass is not understanding and they are all fighting, everybody is in conflict. I don’t see it that way. You speak to anybody from any religious background and they are all peace-loving, wonderful, good people. But it is just that there are fringe elements in every religion.
Anuradha SenGupta: I feel that what you have just said is very interesting – the mass is silent. So, do you think that the mass is sort of shirking it’s responsibility?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: It needs to be a little more proactive. The so-called ‘good people’. I don’t think that there are any bad people. I think that everybody is good. But the so called pious or good people need to be more dynamic. They are, there are people who are doing good work in the society, but they need to be more involved in bringing people together, bringing communities together.
And the basic problem is stress and the lack of spirituality. It is because of the stress and the lack of spirituality that even the families are breaking up. Tension between husband and wife, tension between brothers; in a household if there are so many problems and court cases, what do you talk about communities who don’t meet and keep themselves so apart. I feel that it is quite natural.
Anuradha SenGupta: You have studied Christianity deeply. Today, if you pick up any newspaper, you can’t miss the fact that there is all this factual information as well as analysis and this great debate about – If and is Islam on a collision course with the rest of the world i.e the Western world. What are your thoughts on this?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: India can stand as an example. In India, we have lived with many religious traditions for centuries in peace.
Anuradha SenGupta: But not without moments of tumult?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: That is very minimal when you compare it to the conflicts that the world has faced. We have always lived together and this the world needs to understand. In the rest of the world there is this conflict – only I will go top heaven and the rest of us will go to hell. Only my way is the correct way and if you believe in this set of principles, only then will you go to heaven, otherwise you will go to hell.
This sort of philosophy or indoctrinisation has caused intolerance in the world. And they always think that when I am good, then there must be somebody who is evil. In India we say – tat tu samanvayat – coordinate them all. Find the common thread in between different philosophy, different ways of thinking, practices. That is why we have so many sampradayas. Hinduism is also not one religion. It is an amalgamation of many philosophies, many schools of thoughts and yet it is moving.
It is the same with Buddhism, Jainism. It is the tolerance, I would say, the harmony in diversity that India can teach the rest of the world. And that can happen only when we find a common thread, which I would say is spirituality. Spirituality gives you an experience first, there are mainly two streams of thought in the world.
First you believe and then you will experience and come to know the truth, this is the ‘occidental’ way of thinking. The ‘orient’ is the other way around – first you experience and then comes the belief system. The second, orient type is very akin to science. Science also says, let me first know it, experience it and then I will believe it.
So, that is why science and spirituality were never in conflict in the East. Their modes and methodology have been the same all the time. The yoga, the meditation and breathing is a step further, beyond the rituals. There it can unite. Not only that, your understanding of the religion that you are following becomes deeper and better.
Anuradha SenGupta: There is a science conference coming up later in a couple of months. You have always stressed on giving spirituality a rational basis, isn’t it?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: That has been our path of the vedanta, of the ancient darshanas. They were always rational and they always went step by step. Whether your knowledge is erroneous or correct, there is a whole shashtra about it. You see the sun setting, but is it really setting or not? Is your eye deceiving you? Is it an optical illusion or is it a reality? What is real? What is unreal?
This whole thing is dealt in our scriptures, in our vedanta. So, it is free from dogma, it is a scientific, logical understanding of what truth is. And that scientific temper or enquiry must be encouraged. Unfortunately, that is not done as much as it should in our country. When they make movies like Matrix, based on the same principle of yoga vashishtha, people are watching them.
But they need to know that all this knowledge is present in the ancient books. One of the most amazing books is yoga vashistha and people read that book and understand it with a certain silence, with meditation. That broad avenue of understanding will open right away.
Anuradha SenGupta: You have said that we need not be afraid of death because sleep and death are very similar. Like sleep energizes you, invigorates you and gives you another day that starts again, death does the same thing. So, do you believe and accept rebirth?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: It is not just me, today it is proved beyond doubt and almost all psychiatrists use regression as a therapy. Past life regression is used all over the world. I think that time has gone when people used to wonder whether it is true or not, whether it is there or not there? For West it is a new discovery, but in the East it has always been there.
Anuradha SenGupta: While you do believe in this, you do not subscribe to the fact that you do poonya (good deeds) in this life, in the next life, you evolve to a higher caste. That is not connected to the way you see the concept of rebirth?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: No. Rebirth simply depends on the strongest impression on the mind. Even here, in the aashram, there is a boy who is just eight years old and he speaks four languages. He has never gone to school. He is a boy of a farmer. He speaks Sanskrit, Hindi, Oriya and English. He just closes his eyes and he starts talking. He talks deep knowledge and philosophy. I myself had this experience. I know Gita from when I was very young.
Anuradha SenGupta: And you graduated in Physics?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Yeah. Physics is very fascinating. In our Vashishta Priyadarshana, it said, Padarthanand moksha. Even if you know one particle thoroughly in the creation, you are liberated. The wealth we have is amazing.
But unfortunately, we have ignored it and nobody knows it, nobody studies that. They are more interested in following the ritual without even understanding the ritual properly. But understanding them makes your life so much richer.
Anuradha SenGupta: I was reading what you have said, there are different points. Some of the things that you say are so lucid and yet they are like motherhoods, they are like axioms, they are like home truths. Why is it that we need to find a Guru before we can understand any of this?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Why do you want the answer for this question? You want the answer, right? When you want the answer, whoever gives the answer and you accept it, they become a Guru. If there is no need, then the question does not arise at all.
Anuradha SenGupta: I was talking to a few people who have had an opportunity to hear you and all of them say that when you speak, then they feel that you are speaking only to them, no matter how large the audience. So, you are a master communicator, isn’t it? Isn’t that the key skill? I want the key skill to propound your philosophy.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I don’t know whether it is a skill, I think that it is just my nature. I can’t do any other way.
Anuradha SenGupta: You are just being very modest.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: No. I think that I am just myself. I’ll never do anything that is not in my nature.
Anuradha SenGupta: When you hold discourses, is it completely free
flowing like water?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Absolutely, I never prepare my speech. I don’t prepare at all and I don’t read at all. I just sit and sometimes I feel that there is nothing big in talking of what you have read and known. To talk something that you don’t know is really beautiful. If you are talking from that intuitive level of yourself, your speak own mind. Speaking from your memories is one thing, but when you speak from that no-whereness, it is where you are.
Anuradha SenGupta: So, you are saying that acquired knowledge is
nowhere close to where experience is?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: This is a secondary thing. But that which comes from your soul, from your heart, you also learn. It is spontaneous and it is invigourating.
Anuradha SenGupta: When I came here, I saw all the preparations, I have been hearing about all the variety of people who are going to be there over the next few days. I asked one of your volunteers that it must be very stressful, isn’t the Guruji stressful? And he started laughing and he could not relate to it at all. How could you not be stressed?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Yeah, I understand that it is difficult to understand the situation. When you know that the power behind all that is happening in the world and you know that it is taking care of everything, there is no stress.
Anuradha SenGupta: Stress of all these interviews, all the people,
of the organisation, of time?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Nothing stays.
Anuradha SenGupta: I mentioned that when I came into Bangalore, at the airport, I saw delegates waiting. You reminded me that it is at the train stations, at the bus stops. Why is it that the Art of Living is only for the elite or the upper strata?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I think that it is a wrong perception. If there are 25 lakh people, who were only the rich and famous in this country, the shape of this country would have been very different. It is not so. We have so much more in villages, in every nook and corner, in tribal areas. It is a perception of the media.
Perhaps they think that only celebrities come here. In fact, media follows celebrities. Of all the funds that we have received, we have not taken any donation from any industries. It is all coming from the grass root levels. All our finances are taken care of by the local chapters. I think when we kindle the spirit in them, the true spirit in them, the people are able to take responsibility for their own lives and they make things work.
Anuradha SenGupta: I have heard from people who have been to the courses say that sudarshan kriya has changed my life. What I cannot connect with is the satsangs, bowing to the portrait of Guruji. Do you see this as your thoughts getting corrupted by people as it gets disseminated?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Everywhere in the world, hero worship is a common thing. However, you tell them that you don’t have to do that. In fact, you simply have to go deep into your meditation. It is a big problem for me when I go somewhere and everyone wants to come and touch the feet and bow down. People who are behind them cannot see them and then they fall and it becomes to manage.
But this reverence to elders, for the Gurus has been in our tradition. Whether it is a veena Guru or a violin Guru, this tradition has its value and beauty. I remember I used to touch the feet of my mother everyday. Sometimes I used to fight with her, argue with her, then also I used to do pranam and run to school.
So, there is a sense of connection, same they do for any other religious leader anywhere else in the world. But unfortunately, our journalists only question only when it is done to Indian teachers or Indian Gurus. Because, you call Indian Gurus as godman and you put a tag and look at them as something fishy.
In every area, there are some who are not genuine and there are some who are authentically working and who are people have great reverence for their work. But this prejudice against India spirituality has become much less now. Ten, twenty years ago, there was a lot of prejudice about Indian spirituality around the world.
Anuradha SenGupta: Even with the Indian middle class, isn’t it?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: The only so called educated people.
Anuradha SenGupta: You have changed that?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I hope so. The lack of spirituality brings two extreme types of problems. One is domestic and societal violence, other side is the suicidal tendencies. Anyone who has a Guru, there is no way they can get into suicidal tendencies. That shift happens. That is why they say – Guru bina gati nahin hai. (There is no speed without the Guru) That is a common saying throughout India. More so in the North – Punjab, Haryana – than in the South.
Anuradha SenGupta: I think we are going to let you go into the satsang, just one second. In the week of the 25th anniversary, I want you to leave us with something really special.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Know that you are very special and be a very ordinary person.