Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, I am Christian and I don’t believe in reincarnation but is it possible that we were Indians in another life?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Now you are negating your own statement! You say you don’t believe in reincarnation and then ask if you had a birth in this country! Possible! I know for sure I have been here many times. And even you have been, but whether you were an Indian or not, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. The interpretation, religion and belief system all varies with time.
Once upon a time, the church did not believe the earth is round. They believed the earth is flat. So many scientists were persecuted because they were saying things which were against the religion, but then the church started adopting it. They said they don’t believe in the Darwin theory, but now the Pope is saying it is acceptable. When science says something, you agree. Similarly, the psychologist, psychiatrist, parapsychologist, scientist say there have been many lives, many mansions (bodies) that you have been in. When the scientists say you have been here, that your consciousness is imperishable, then you will have to agree.
Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, I have done courses and do my sadhana (spiritual practices) almost every day but I still don’t feel love for myself. What should I do?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Who said you don’t feel love for yourself. Don’t be hard, don’t pity yourself. You ARE love, my dear! You are made up of this stuff called love. Like our body is made up of amino acid, carbohydrate, protein, your spirit is made up of love, light and joy. This is in your nature. So just wake up.
Q: Gurudev, This is my first time in India and I am sometimes shocked by the poverty and dirtiness. It is a paradox how this country has so much knowledge and is still like that. Why?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Yes, India has a lot to learn from the West, and the West has to learn a lot from the East. We need to exchange whatever we are good at, because we are one global family. Definitely you are correct, that’s why the first thing our Prime Minister took up is the 'Clean India Campaign'. Of course we in The Art Of Living have been doing this (Cleanliness campaigns) from a long time.
In the urban areas, you will find a lot of littering which you don’t find in Europe or in America. But see, the population here is much more, and the people need an orientation so that it can learn cleanliness, hygiene, punctuality, and all that from the West. So when you are here, if you want to walk around in India and teach the people, you are most welcome to do so. You have both the responsibilities - not only learning but also teaching.
Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, I am a Muslim lady and I come from very far to listen to knowledge from you. The Koran is the base of our religion but I cannot identify myself with the Islam of today. But your words go deep into my being. Why?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Our soul always looks for the truth and wherever it finds the truth, it resonates. When something feels right in your heart just listen to that, and go with that. All other conditioning of the mind, of philosophy, of religion and customs, keep on one side. They have their value; I won’t say you should discard them. They all have their place, but the spirit in you longs for the truth and that resonates wherever there is truth. Accept it without any feeling or any guilt.
Sometimes you feel you are not being loyal to your religion or loyal to your teacher. This sort of conflict you should do away with because no religion wants you to suffer. Every Master, every paigambar (prophet), every saint who has walked this planet has always wished good, they have always wished elevation of the student, of the people, of mankind. When you are finding the truth, you are finding that spiritual elevation, that spiritual enrichment, so know that you have the blessings of everyone. All the prophets, all the Gurus, all the Masters are giving you their heartfelt blessings. You should know this for sure.
Teachers do say, 'Stay on one path, don’t waver, don’t go for spiritual shopping'. I agree with them. At one point of time when your mind is just being too greedy for experience, it tries to shop. It doesn't want to stay in one place and totally be there and absorb; the mind has a tendency to shop. When you go with that tendency of shopping, of acquiring little bit from here and there, then you are again self-focused, self-centered. You are not coming to the being. So the teachers in the past said, 'When you are here, be here'. If you are in one boat you have to be in that boat only. This is for an entrant or sadhak (practitioner) who has just gotten onto the path. But at some point of time when there is stagnation, the teacher himself or herself will guide you, the light itself will guide you to only the right place. So that is okay, it is fine. When you are here, be here 100% and you are! So it’s perfect don’t worry about it.
Q: Gurudev, Today, in society, money speaks. Those who have money, are given a lot of respect. Those who don't have money are not treated well.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Yes, that is true. Today those who are wealthy are given a lot of respect everywhere, whereas the poor and middle class people do not get that much respect and consideration. Many times it seems that people stick to the 'Might is Right' principle when they deal with others. Many countries in the world are going through the same situation. Our country is so large and the greatest democracy in the world, yet it does not get proper recognition in the International community. Why is this so? It is because they think of India as a poor and third-world country. So there is a disparity due to wealth everywhere.
There are two ways to eliminate this:
1. Awaken the self-confidence of the poor and marginalized sections of the society. The poor people should become self-reliant and be able to make a living for themselves
2. Kindle sympathy and compassion in the hearts of the rich people
We cannot make everyone completely equal in society so that there are no more poor or rich people at all. You know, the Communist nations of the world have experimented with that social model for 40 years. They found that that rich became poor and the poor remained poor. So that approach did not help in anyway. The whole experiment failed. China also tried to implement this approach but failed. A small island like Taiwan became so rich and prosperous, whereas China remained poor and was lagging behind. But soon after that China completely turned its foreign and economic policy around. It started giving importance to foreign trade, commerce and skill development of its people. This greatly helped the Chinese people become self-reliant, skillful and be able to earn money for themselves and their families.
So do not think that the poor people are always the exploited ones in society. Also, the rich people are not always the ones who exploit others for their gains. This is just a wrong notion that some people spread in the minds of others. They try to preach that the rich people are the ones who are dishonest and exploit the poor. All rich people do not have the need to be dishonest. It is a very wrong concept. By spreading such false notions, they create a sense of conflict and ill-will between the rich and the poor.
Such misleading people will tell others, “If so and so person is rich, take it for granted he must be exploiting others. He must be using dishonest means to earn money”.
They will say things like, “Oh! See, that person is travelling by his own car while you are travelling by the public bus. He surely will exploit common folk like you”, or they will say, “See! He is studying in such a good school or medical college, while you are not able to. So you will be surely exploited by rich people like him”.
This mindset is very dangerous. A person moves ahead in life as per his capabilities and the resources available to him.
If someone is able to be rich while being in the path of honesty, then he should have a sense of gratitude and contentment for that. Such a person can help other people also to become rich and can provide employment and earning opportunities to many others.
What is the reason that there is not one good industry or industrialist in Kerala today? It is this very reason. People have been told that if someone is a factory owner or a businessman, he will surely exploit others for his own selfish gains. The same is happening in West Bengal also. The government there is getting influenced in the same manner and framing laws that are making it difficult for people to set up new businesses and earn their livelihood. If someone cannot setup their own business, then how will he provide employment to others? So this whole concept that 'A rich person is one who exploits, a poor person is always the one who gets exploited' is wrong. People become poor because of their bad habits and their laziness.
For example, if there are 10 children studying in the same school, then why does it happen that a few really excel ahead in life while some of them lag behind and even drop out? Is this someone else’s doing? You know, a laborer in a city actually earns roughly the same amount that a white collar worker earns in the city after a day’s work. The salary that a clerk gets is approximately the same that the laborer gets. In some places it could be more also. But usually we see that one excels while the other sinks deeper in poverty. Why does this happen? It is because of alcohol. The poor person spends 60% of what he earns in drinking alcohol. Then how can one expect to eradicate poverty in this manner? This is a crime one does onto himself.
Alcohol has become the biggest problem in our country today. The sale of alcohol has increased by nearly three to four times than what it used to be in the earlier years. This is ruining the health and also not letting the poor and marginalized people rise above their poverty.
Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, after wandering and feeling lost for many years, I have found you. Please tell me where do I go ahead from here now.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
See, all that wandering around has gotten you tired. So now that you are here, just relax and be happy. Once you come to my school, then you are here for good, even after you have graduate. Usually in schools when you graduate, you move out. But my school is not like that. I will not make you run around from one grade to another. This is a school that takes you all the way to your (ultimate) goal and establishes you there, so that you can be content and at rest. Just by being here you will get all that you need to reach the goal. Once you have reached your home (here meaning one’s final destination), do you ever ask where you should go from there? So now that you are home, just relax.
Q: Gurudev, Dear Gurudev, it pains me a lot to ask this question to you. How can we eliminate the problem of casteism from our society?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Just look back in history at all the things that used to happen in the name of caste in our country and compare it with the situation that you see today. You will realize that the evils and problems that arose due to casteism have greatly reduced since those days. In earlier days, they would keep different tumblers and glasses in hotels for people from different castes. In fact, in those days people from different castes would not sit and share a meal together in a hotel. There used to be a lot of friction and hostility between people because of caste. If you see the hotels, cinema theatres, hospitals, etc., today, where is the discrimination due to caste anymore? Yes, during marriages the issue of caste is still given importance today, but people are overcoming this gradually with more and more inter-caste marriages happening all over our country. Secondly, we can eliminate this problem by imparting right education to our younger generation.
See, if someone wishes to adhere to and maintain the norms of his own caste, then it is alright. There is nothing wrong in doing that. But it is wrong to think of some caste as superior and some as inferior. No caste is superior or inferior to another. Now you might say that, in the Vedas it is said that the Shudras arose from the feet of the Divine Lord. Are the feet useless and of no importance? If you think that your feet are of no use at all, then you will not be able to walk around. Society is kept in motion by the labour class and hard workers. Shudra means those who toil and work hard. How will society run if there are no people who work hard? That is what is said in the Veda – that the society is run and kept in motion by the Shudras who arose from the feet of the Viraat Purusha (Cosmic Being). This is what is meant by the Veda but we have wrongly understood and interpreted it. We think of them as menial and useless, which is not the case at all.
When any guest comes to your house, do you worship their feet or their head? (Referring to a traditional Indian custom of welcoming a guest by washing his feet) When some elderly or respected person comes to your house, do you honour them by washing their feet or their head? It is called as Paad-puja and it is the best form of worship. There is nothing greater than the Paad-puja and the way we honour a guest by doing that. We must once again start doing the Paad-puja. But here, I do not mean the Paad-puja for any particular person. Rather it should be for the labour class of our society. It is the labour class that helps the society run smoothly. So they too should be honoured and worshipped. This is what is meant by the verse from the Vedas. We should honour and respect those whom we think belong to the lower castes or lower strata of our society.
You know, in the Rudrabhishekam (a set of verses chanted during the worship of Lord Shiva), in one of the verses, God is said to be untouchable and belonging to the lowest rung of society! Does that mean that God becomes lowly and useless? No, it is not so at all. This is a misunderstanding here. There have been so many wise sages and enlightened masters in the past who belonged to the lower strata of society. Very few of them were actually Brahmans (the class of society responsible for preservation and promotion of knowledge, as per the Vedic system of society). If you see the list or refer to the Rig Veda, you will be surprised to find that 17 of these wise sages were Rishikas (female sages). Many Rishis and Maharishis belong to the class of Dalits in our country today. They have written such great scriptures. Even the greatly revered Avatars like Lord Rama and Lord Krishna did not belong to the class of Brahmans. In fact, if you analyse, you will find that Lord Krishna belonged to the OBC class (Other Backward Castes). You need to explain this to people. Once people understand this, casteism will come to an end.
Q: Gurudev, Many times we see that an arrogant person earns a lot of fame and respect, while a humble person often goes unnoticed. Why is this so?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
This is purely your own concept. It is not that only arrogant people get respect. If that were the case, then Mahatma Gandhi would have never won the respect and support of the people of this country.
Did Acharya Vinoba Bhave not command great respect from the people? Was Mahatma Gandhi an arrogant person? Was Vinoba Bhave an egoistic person? What about Shri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa? All these are the concepts of your own mind. You should not have such prejudices in the mind.
If you are good by nature but people around you do not find you good, then that means that you are not expressing yourself correctly; you have not been able to fully express yourself the way you truly are. Do not simply blame other people for this. Do not hold society responsible for this. Society is essentially good. It is not as bad as you think. In fact, Society and its people are much better and nobler than what you think of it.
We often feel this way because we tend to generalize and eternalize the problem. Then we end up saying, “Oh! Everyone is so bad”. It is not so. Just see from my eyes. People are not bad. Do not blame the society or the people. In every society, there are some bad anti-social elements. But that does not mean that the entire society is bad. If you think that way, then you will either justify yourself or think that others are not righteous.
If you say that “Everyone is hopeless”, then you too may be one of them. Is it not so? This subtle understanding must come in our mind.
Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, you have said that in spirituality, faith comes first and then the experience, whereas for people with a scientific temper, it is the exact opposite. This feels a bit contradictory and I did not get it. Can you please explain?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
No, I feel you got it wrong somewhere. It is the difference between the oriental and the occidental way of looking at things. In the orient, we always say that first the experience must happen, only then do you fully understand and grasp the concept. But in the occident, first you must believe and understand the concept, and then you get the experience. These are two different ways. It is because the modus operandi is different in science and in spirituality in the occident that there are so many conflicts there. This is why when the Spanish Inquisition happened, so many scientists were killed and tortured. It was only because the modus operandi of the two differed so much. In India, not one scientist was ever executed or prosecuted. Why so? It is because the modus operandi was the same for both religion and science. Here in India we say, 'Tattva Jnaana', which means, first understand the underlying fundamental principle. So we first understand the nature of the five elements, i.e., Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Space. After that we go on to understand the mind, the intellect, the memory, the ego and then finally we go towards understanding God. Here we always say that one should experience first. You will understand this more when you read the Upanishads. The Upanishads take you step by step from one level to another. This is why science and spirituality were never in conflict in the East.
Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, how can I attain Moksha (salvation) and what does one get by meditation? All my friends ask me this same question many times.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Meditation makes your body stronger and brings vitality. It sharpens the intellect, and brings happiness to the mind. It helps improve and enhance your behaviour and the way you deal with the people around you. It eliminates stress. What else does one need? And apart from all these benefits, it helps you in realizing God. Meditation is the only way to realize and attain the divine. There is a saying, “Nanya pantha vidyate ayanaya” (Verse from the Purusha Sukta, Rig Veda). It means: there is no other path to the realization of God other than meditation. Meditation alone can help one unite with God.