Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: Gurudev, often in meditation I find that I go to places I have never been to and meet people I have never met. I often also get the Déjà vu effect (the feeling or experience of having been in a place or event before in time). What do I do?
Sri Sri: Yes, all this is fine and it is correct. There is nothing wrong about it. These are all the latent impressions in your mind. Do not worry too much about all this. It is possible that during meditation, the latent impressions may come out.
Q: Why are the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer? How is God taking care of poor people when they are struggling to get a full square meal?
Sri Sri: My observation about poor people is that they are poor not because God has punished them to be poor; it is liquor that has kept people poor.
A laborer earns almost the same as the average white collared job person in the city, but he spends two-thirds of his earnings on liquor, so he remains poor.
The second reason for poverty is laziness. Even today if you see a poor boy or girl, if they strive hard, they can really come up. There are many examples of people from the bottom of the pyramid really rising to the top. You need that zeal, will, and enthusiasm to do it; many times people lack this.
When we first came here to this place in Bangalore, the Ashram was just a barren land, nobody wanted this land. Nothing grew here; no grass, no trees. There was only one tree in 60 acres of land. Just imagine! There were no other trees! There was nothing here, it was rocky, uncultivated land, with no water.
In those days, Philip, Pramila, Kiran, Vinod Menon and many others who were here, planted all these trees. In the initial days, they would pour buckets of water to the trees.
All around the Ashram, people lived in thatched roof hutments. If I remember correctly, there was only one tiled roof home in the neighboring village, belonging to the Sarpanch (head of the village). Every other house was a thatched roof that would leak in the rain, and blow away if there was strong wind. This was the case, not only in this village, but all around here.
Moreover, on this Kanakpura road, there were only two buses - one in the morning, and another in the evening. And there would be trucks that would carry sand from the river below to the city. (You can hear the sound of trucks even in the Sudarshan Kriya tapes!)
At that time, to come from Jayanagar to the ashram, you had to catch two buses.
When we came to this place, it was a totally rural area. We got all the children together from the neighboring 20 villages and opened a school for them. The people around were very poor. We, at The Art of Living, also had limited resources. Often we would take a little overdraft from the bank for the Ashram, and after two-three months we would pay them back.
Sometime in the nineties, maybe, I called all the poor unemployed youth from around this area; they must have between in the age group of 20 to 35. I told them that I wanted them to have some employment. They were simply a burden on their families doing nothing, whole day sitting around, listening to the radio, playing cards or cricket. And in the evening, they would go and drink.
We made schools for children, but the youth were unemployed. They had passed their tenth standard, and did not want to go to field and work, or do any agriculture. Their attitude was that agriculture is done by those who never went to school, or those who had studied only till primary school. Why would they do agriculture? They did not want to work in the fields.
I called the Director of Small Scale Industries from the Government of Karnataka and asked him to present all the projects that he could to these 200 unemployed boys. I wanted them to do something. (Even we had a thatched roof hall where we used to give Ashtavakra discourses; in the same place, I called these boys and this Director.)
The Director came very enthusiastically; with painstaking efforts he tried to explain nearly 225 hundred projects for three to four hours. And the boys had an excuse to say how this will not work, and that will not work! Every project that the director would explain, they would say, ‘Gurudev, it is not possible!’ Finally I asked them, 'What will work?'
They said, ‘Please get us a job in the Police department or make me a bus conductor.’
How many jobs you can get with the Police, or as Conductors in the government? No one wants to be an entrepreneur, no one wants to make any effort.
These people want to remain poor, what can you do?
This is when we started the Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP). We put all of them through three months of vigorous training; made them exercise in the morning to get them out of their lethargy. When they started doing kriya and meditation, we gave them employment for three months. However, we told them that you have to do something. Today, many of them have become entrepreneurs.
Now, can you see any thatched roofs around the ashram? No! People have built homes; not only in this village, but all the villages around are now flourishing. The economy is booming; now you don’t get laborers from this area, they come from other areas.
Similarly, there was one boy who used to be our gatekeeper here. Today, he has 400 employees working under him. This boy’s story is very interesting. As a child, he was a trouble maker in school, he would fight with every other boy, and no school would accept him. His parents were sick and tired of him, so they came and left him here. They told us to do whatever we wanted with him, they did not want him in the house as he would beat everybody, break everything, and create so much trouble all around.
So he would just sit outside Shakti Kutir, and stop people from coming to my room. Those days we never had any other security guard, he was the only person! He would stop everybody, even my mother! Many times, she had to fight with him to come with the food.
You see, just being here, there was such a big change in him. Then he went back, and got married. He started a big business; he has not studied much, yet he has around 300-400 employees.
This is the case with many other people; there are many other examples, not one; the lethargy has to go away.
One of the Ministerial candidates of this country used to be a tea vendor at one time. He came from a very poor background; today, he is a State Chief Minister.
Another example would be Ramnath Goenkaji, he started The Indian Express, a newspaper that even took (the late Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi head on! He had studied only up to the second standard. He used to sell fruits and vegetables in a trolley in the streets of Mumbai. Today he has built an empire, even though he came from a very poor background.
You need to bring that spiritual force, confidence, and willingness to come out of poverty; this is what we need to do. Just doling out food and things for the poor is not going to work.
Ethiopia is another example; there was a famine in Ethiopia for seven years. Since the country went through a famine for so long, people did not work. In the eighth year, even when there was rain, nobody wanted to work! This is because they got used to getting aid from other countries. They expected someone else to give them aid, food and material. Even today, Ethiopia has such huge masses of land but it is the Chinese and Indians that are buying and cultivating the land in Ethiopia, because that zeal in the people to do something is gone.
There is another very strange thing in Ethiopia. For six months in a year, people don’t use any dairy products due to some religious belief. So now, no one wants to set up a dairy products business because for six months the product will not be sold.
Perhaps in the ancient days, they might have said that one should not take cold milk in the cold season, or there may have been some other logical conclusion. However, people not drinking milk for six months or using any dairy products as a religious belief makes the whole industry suffer a lot.
One needs to have a proper mindset to come out of poverty. And I tell you, it is more self-inflicted, rather than someone getting into it with a victim conscious. People say, ‘I am a victim, somebody has money, I don’t have it!’
Why you don't have it? It is because you have not worked for it.
Of course, there are other sides to the picture where people are being exploited, and that is also not correct!
Q: Gurudev, how do you accept a person who is addicted to drugs, continues to hurt himself and others? How do you draw a line between his passion, valor and surrender?
Sri Sri: You have to do all that you can to get him out of it. Yukti (skill), Shakti (strength), priti (love); with love, skill and through some force, somehow, you must help him to get out of it.
The best thing is to put them in a rehabilitation home. We have one in Kolkata, and there are many other rehabilitation centers all over. Take him to such a center, make him do the Sudarshan Kriya. If he learns the kriya and pranayama, it makes a big difference. Many people have left drugs and alcohol when practicing the Sudarshan Kriya.
Q: When the purpose of life is to realize that we are part of the Supreme Consciousness and to ultimately merge with the Divine, then why did God divide Himself into many souls at the beginning?
Sri Sri: Well, God has His own logic and His own ways. What is the point of you asking this question now? It is too late! (Laughter)
You know, you can think about it this way: if only air had different colours.
In the olden days, you had these Shantaram movies that were made. So in these movies, when the music would play, different colours would be thrown in the air. So if the oxygen and carbon-dioxide had colours, then you would see everyone’s nose turn red while inhaling and become blue while exhaling air. Why did God make this air so colourless? Air has no colour. Suppose he had made different gases different colours, then everybody’s nose would be glowing with a different mix of colours! (Laughter)
This is a very interesting thought!
Suppose you had one eye in the front and one in the back of your head, then no one would have to turn to see the other person and talk! There are so many ideas, isn’t it. I think you should keep all these ideas for the next Creation.
Q: Gurudev, these days a lot of people are suffering from cancer. How can one curb this disease? What should the patient and his family members do to reduce the suffering?
Sri Sri: A change of life style will be helpful. When you go to bed, make sure you put off all your electronic devices, your iPhone, iPads, WiFi, put everything off when you go to sleep. It is not good to have so much of electronic vibrations all around.
Often, you eat things which are not correct. If you don’t meditate enough, then the body takes its toll. Eat proper food, at the proper time. Take TriphalaChyawanprash. Use turmeric; all these are antioxidants that should go into the body.
Q: Gurudev, my in-laws force me to wash my hands after I touch cooked rice. During my menses cycle, they don’t allow me to enter the prayer room, kitchen or touch clothes. Why do they follow these customs? Is there any scientific reason behind it?
Sri Sri: You need scientific experiments to be conducted to prove or disprove any custom. Unless an experiment is done, you can’t say whether a custom is wrong or right! For example, in traditional homes, before going to the toilet, people would tie the sacred thread around their ear; many times this looked absurd. The explanation given was that maybe the sacred thread is long, hanging down too much, tie it on the ear, so it does not get caught anywhere. However, a scientist in New York published a study which stated that the back of the ears and the ear lobes are connected to the bowels. So when the ears are squeezed, the blood pressure comes down and the bowel movement is better.
So the custom does have an impact on the system. This is why you cannot say that it is superstition; although at one level it was a superstition, on another level, there was a scientific validation to the practice.
Similarly, people thought the use of turmeric in food, and washing vessels was also a superstition. In a lot of the food preparations, they would put a Tulsi (basil) leaf on top of the food after it was cooked. Scientists in the eighties targeted turmeric for a long time, saying, ‘Oh this is just color, pigmentation; it has no big value, there is nothing sacred about turmeric, it does not add any value to the food.’
By the nineties, scientists discovered that turmeric is the best antioxidant.
The Ayurvedic Vaidyas (physicians) said that turmeric acts as a vayasthapan, i.e., a process that stops aging; but nobody believed them. MBBS doctors would say all this is nonsense. Later, scientists proved that turmeric is very good for health; it even stops cancer. So, you cannot discard any practice unless it is proven wrong.
Again, I am saying that we have to keep an open mind; maybe it is proven right at one time and disproved later on.
There was a big wave in this country that peanut oil is very bad. In South Indian homes, they would use only peanut oil and gingelly oil (sesame oil). A company that wanted to promote palm oil said coconut oil is bad; these other oils are bad; palm oil is the best oil. Suddenly everyone started using palm oil.
Now research has disproved that, and found that groundnut oil, i.e., peanut oil is very good, it is the best; they sing the glory of peanut oil. In fact, people used groundnut oil here for centuries, millennium! In Tamil Nadu, gingelly oil is called Nalla ennai, i.e., very good oil. It is supposed to do so much good to our system.
Since the oil market had to import all that Malaysian palm oil to India, some researchers made these sorts of stories. The research was funded by the company, and it created a wrong impression. So, the research conducted should be authentic, and we should keep our mind open for further research.
In the future, if another research comes up and says this is wrong, we should not hold on to it, we should be ready to embrace it.
The beauty with the ancient Ayurvedic System is that it is time tested for 5,000 years! That is why tradition cannot be overlooked. Having said that, many times tradition has been interpolated; a lot of things have been kept in the name of tradition.
For example, people say you should apply hot kheer (rice pudding) on the body of a small baby, then the child will grow well; or dangle the child upside down for a few minutes, maybe some God will be pleased or something; these are all stupid things. These practices are very remote; maybe some people follow these practices in the name of religion in some villages; it is ridiculous.
I am not saying that we should follow all that tradition is saying; simultaneously, you cannot totally discard tradition; the middle path has to be chosen.
If someone has passed away or a child is born in the house, they have sutak, i.e., they are untouchable for ten days. This would be practiced by very close relatives. They won’t celebrate anything or go to anyone’s house; no one will take or eat food from their house. What is the reason behind this?
Whenever someone dies, people are overcome with such grief that the vibration of their grief is in their homes, in their atmosphere, so they are free from all obligations, that is all. It is not that if you touch somebody, something will happen to you. It is just the vibration for ten days is like that, filled with grief.
Suppose someone has no grief! If someone was sick in the family for a long time, when they die, the family is happy. They say, ‘Okay, well he got liberated, I am happy for him and I am happy for myself.’ Then there are no negative, depressive, sad vibrations, because they are happy for them! Everybody has to go some day!
Similarly, when a child is born people are very excited, too happy; even then the vibrations are not calming. So people say at such times also one is free from all obligations. But, people stretch it to such an extent that it does not appeal to your intellect.
When the menstrual cycle happens a woman is supposed to take good rest. So, it is just to keep that barrier, to tell women not to get involved in any work, that this tradition is maintained. It is to let women just rest, sleep, relax, read, do some knitting or whatever. Otherwise, when women start working, they do too much work.
About the rice and cooked food; in the ancient days, cooked starchy food was sticky. It would usually overflow from the pot. You touched the pot and then touched anything else, everything would become sticky. If you touched the food, it would stick to your hands, so it would be better to wash your hands; this is the reason. Today you don’t touch it by hand, you use spoons.
In those days, the hygiene consciousness was so good; so when you touched starchy foods, you have to wash your hands. They would even keep fruits separately. However, someone should do research on these customs.
Even the Jews have a similar tradition; if you touch milk, then you don’t touch meat; they have certain rules.
The Japanese also have such customs; orthodox Japanese people keep separate set of cups and vessels for guests; they have a separate cupboard in which the guests’ washed vessels are kept. They don’t use the guests’ vessels and they don’t let anybody else use their vessels either. I was very surprised to see this in Japan. Even in India, some people used to follow this tradition of keeping their cups and plates separate. In Japan, this is very prevalent in the traditional family homes and in monasteries.
Many of these habits do not have a scientific background, or reason for it, then we should stop practicing them. If some practices are there, we should see if it is good, or at least do some experiment in that direction.
Q: Dearest Gurudev, most of the times I am conscious not to hurt anybody when I am working in a team. But often, I end up hurting people. It looks like I am a very dominating and aggressive person. What should I do? Should I take a back seat or be focused on my goal? Or do I maintain harmony by dropping my ambitions?
Sri Sri: Be focused on your goals but also improve your people skills. It may not happen overnight, but slowly and gradually you will be able to do that.
Q: Gurudev, I have a deep rooted secret that I can’t speak about. If I say it, I will lose everything and everyone. I am in a materialistic world, I cannot surrender completely, and I am afraid of failure. What should I do?
Sri Sri: You see the consequences, then why do you do something when you are not going to get anything out of it?
There is something called confession. Now, you can’t go and confess to any Tom, Dick or Harry, but you can confess to a wise person who keeps things in confidentiality. This is maintained in churches also; there is a cabin in the Church where you can go and make confessions, so even the priest does not see who is talking to him. When you go and confess, then from that little window, the priest gives you a remedy, so that you feel uplifted.
That is also why you are here, to become hollow and empty. You write your botheration, put it in the basket, and feel free.
Whatever unpleasant event has happened in the past, is finished, it is gone. Why do you cling on to it, and make your present and future miserable? So write, and let go!
If you feel that there is some benefit in saying, or if by not speaking out, it is going to harm other innocent people, then speak up, with compassion towards others, so they don’t get into a trap.
But if saying it is not good for anybody, then there is no point in raising such issues and dwelling on it. Confess to a wise person, just one person, or write it and give it away to the Divine, and be free!
Q: Gurudev, if a person feels hurt by the divine where does one go?
Sri Sri: There is nowhere to go! It is impossible that the Divine hurts you!
There is a beautiful couplet in Kannada that we used to learn in school. It says, the more you squeeze sugarcane, sweeter is the juice that comes. The more you cut a diamond, the more it shines. The more gold is hammered, put in fire, the more it shines. The more you grind sandalwood, the more its fragrance spreads.
Nature puts you through many different tasks and tests, and you come out shining from it all. You must remember that nature will not give you a burden which you cannot carry.
God first measures the tail and then puts it on the animal, so it can easily wag its tail. Just imagine if a rat had the tail of an elephant, which it cannot even lift!
Nature is very intelligent, it only gives you that problem which you can handle.
Q: Gurudev, many books have been written about positive thinking. What is the difference between positive thinking and Sankalpa (a firm resolve or pledge)?
Sri Sri: Sankalpa is a thought or wish, with which there is no feverishness attached. When you desire without feverishness for something, then it becomes a Sankalpa.