Q: Gurudev, what is the relevance of tapasya (penance or austerities) in Kali Yuga and how should we understand it? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:Tapa helps to purify all the organs of the body and rid them of impurities. The entire body gets cleansed and all the sense organs become stronger with tapa. Tapasya is not done to please God, or to attain self realization, but it is done to make the body and mind stronger.
You must have seen that so many saints do very austere penances (tapasya), especially among the Jains. The Jain saints are able to walk bare foot for long distances. They do not feel very cold in the winters, or too hot during the summers. They develop a resistance towards extreme climatic conditions because of their tapasya. So this is one of the benefits of doing tapasya.
But you should not stretch or overdo this at all. Doing too much tapasya and troubling your own body is not advisable at all. It is wrong to do that.
Being in a state of
equanimity, and enduring
whatever comes, whether
it is hot or cold, good or
bad, praise or criticism, is
tapasya. Can you listen to
an insult with the same
equanimity as when you
listen to compliments?
That is tapasya.
There are some people who sit with four fires burning all around them, and one on top of their head and do meditation. It is called Panchagni tapasya. All this is not necessary. Torturing the body like this is wrong and should not be done. But a little bit of tapasya is necessary.
It is said, ‘Tapovai dwandva sahanam’, which means forbearing the opposites is tapasya.
Suppose you are travelling somewhere in a bus, and it is a 12 hour long journey for which you have to sit. Then that also is a sort of tapasya.
Being in a state of equanimity, and enduring whatever come, whether it is hot or cold, good or bad, praise or criticism, is tapasya.
Can you listen to an insult with the same equanimity as when you listen to compliments? That is tapasya. When someone praises you, you listen to it with a smile. When someone criticizes you, can you listen to it with the same smile and equanimity, and watch what is happening inside you? That is tapasya.
When you do not like something but are able to undergo that, then that is tapasya.
If you can like something, can you be a witness to it and not be feverish about it, then that is tapasya.
Forbearing the opposites is called tapasya, and it is essential in life.
The extent to which we follow tapasya in life, to that extent we become stronger and stable.
Q: Gurudev, you have often said that knowledge should be used like soap. But if it needs to be washed off then how can it be symbolic of our true nature. So does it mean that knowledge is not our true nature? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: There are two types of knowledge.
One is the knowledge of the Self which is our true nature. And the other kind of knowledge is that which is used like soap.
Do you know why it is said to use knowledge as a soap? So that you do not become arrogant about having knowledge. You should not think, ‘I know so much; I know everything.' You should not become egoistic about knowledge. So to get rid of such an ego, it is said that knowledge should be used like a soap.
This is the actual meaning.
Q: Dear Gurudev, what is the power of the subconscious mind and how do I utilize it? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: The conscious mind is in fact only one-tenth of your subconscious mind. So the subconscious mind has a lot of power.
Suppose you are having a pyjama party and eight of you are sleeping and someone calls out your name, only you will respond. Others will continue to remain in deep sleep. Is it not so? Have you noticed this?
This indicates that even your name is ingrained in your subconscious mind. Meditation is the way to make the subconscious mind become more and more conscious.
Q: Dear Gurudev, how to leave the intellect and go back to innocence? By doing so, does it not become acting? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: When the intellect matures, you become innocent. Also even when emotions take over, then also you will move into innocence.
Innocence is one aspect of your life and everybody has it. What comes in the way is the concepts in the intellect, such as judgements, or thinking that ‘I know it all’, or ‘I know it better’, etc. That is what blocks the intellect from maturing fully.
Meditation and pranayama help you to reverse the journey back from the intellect to your innocence.
Also, when there are people who know much more than you and you feel, ‘Oh, I know very little’, then also innocence will simply come up in you.
When you make an assessment about yourself that is wrong, then that may cause you to feel out of touch with your innocence.
When the intellect
matures, you become
innocent. Also even when
emotions take over, then
also you will move into
innocence. Innocence is
one aspect of your life
and everybody has it.
Q: Gurudev, please talk about passion and the lack of passion. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Passion is essential in life but it cannot be constant.
There are always ups and downs in passion. The intensity of passion will go up sometimes and then come down, and then again go up, and that is healthy.
Usually what happens is that when your passion for something goes down, you feel so bad, as if you have lost something. You start feeling as if you lack something, and wonder what to do. I would say, just relax.
See, passion should also have a little bit of contentment. Sometimes, when contentment comes, passion does go down.
Contentment should also have a strain of passion, otherwise contentment can slip into lethargy and a sense of complacency. So to prevent contentment from slipping into inertia, you need a little passion. And for passion to not become too feverish and make you restless all the time, you need contentment. This will give you the right balance.
Q: Gurudev, there are too many changes happening in my life. Some of them are good and some are bad. How do I deal with change? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Changes are inevitable in life, and in the universe. The universe means changes. But there is something deep within you that is not changing, and you should anchor on to that. That is devotion.
Q: Gurudev, you have spoken much about food and the breath. Would you like to say something about clothes as well? Should we only wear traditional clothes? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Wear comfortable clothes, but I do not prefer wearing those torn clothes and jeans for which you pay so much money. It looks so shabby.
I have heard that if there are holes in the jeans, you have to pay more money for that! This you should not do.
Cotton is the best fabric. If it is mixed with a little bit of polyester, it is also okay, But only polyester should be avoided.
I would prefer that people avoid leather. Do you know just for leather, so many animals are slaughtered. All this should be done away with.
It is said, ‘Ahimsa paramo-dharma’, (Non-violence in all action is the supreme duty or Dharma). Everyone should walk the path of non-violence and be a vegetarian. This is very necessary. Only then will you be able to meditate well.
Q: Gurudev, in addition to the earlier question, I have two other questions. First is: should we wear silk sarees, since silk worms die in the making of the sarees? Is it a sin? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: If you see it in that sense, then when you cut a banana plant or part of it to make the fabric out of it, then also you may think it is a sin, because it is also a jeeva (living being).
What you really must strive for is to cause minimum amount of pain to other living beings. You cannot totally avoid it. So wearing silk is okay.
There are different types of silk. There is a certain type of silk that is made without causing harm to the silk worm. Ahimsa silk is also available (silk obtained without harming or killing insects or animals) in which they do not boil the silk cocoons, but rather extract the silk without disturbing the worms.