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.
Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, how can we make our kids spiritually strong?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Kids are naturally spiritual. Just keep them away from bad habits like smoking, drinking, and from violent activities and violent games, etc. If you do this, then they will naturally be spiritual.
Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, I am beginning to lose faith in you, what do I do?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
That is good. Faith is not that which can come to an end, this is the first thing. You are trying to run away from something in your life, and you are using God or your Guru as a pretext or reason for doing so. Faith that is built in such a way surely will shake at some point of time. Every time your faith shakes, your devotion will be renewed from within once again. Truth never fails or gets shaken. True faith remains unshaken regardless of everything that happens. That which shakes is just some small belief at a very superficial level. It is your own expectations and desires which shake you.
There was a lady who had approached me sometime earlier. She had fallen in love with a man younger than her. She told me, “Gurudev, you are God, and you can do anything. Please get me married to that man”. In this way she started questioning me. That young boy did not want to get married to her at all, and would run away at the very thought of it. I told her, “Let me ask the boy also, whether he wants to get married to you or not”. She said, “No Gurudev, he does not want to get married to me. But you can convince him and change his mind. I know you can do anything. Please use your power to influence his mind and make him agree to marry me”. I told her, “There is a healthy stocky guy who came to me asking me to do the same thing for you. He wants to get married to you, so he came to me and asked me to magically change your mind and convince you to marry him. He is in love with you. Now what do I do?” When she heard this, she said, “Oh Gurudev! I will die if I marry that other guy”. I said, “That young boy is telling the same thing about marrying you!” (Laughter) I asked her, “Is this truly your faith in me, or is it just your greed and desire that is making you believe such a thing?”
We often mistake our intense craving for our intense faith and try to manipulate the divine to fulfill our desires and get our work done. If you have faith in God only for the sake of having your desires fulfilled, then that will simply not work. Which is greater: God, or your desire? Just think about it. You want to use God like currency for transactions, and you want to do the same with your Guru. Faith and devotion are needed to help you rise higher in life and go deeper within yourself.
Difficulties and unpleasant times come in everyone’s life. Is there anyone who does not have problems in their life? Lord Krishna faced so many obstacles during his lifetime. Lord Rama also faced many problems in his life. Mahatma Gandhi also faced many hurdles in his life. So difficulties come and go in life. When your faith and devotion remain intact and unshaken during those turbulent times, then you do not feel the unpleasantness of those situations. Faith becomes your anchor during these difficult times and keeps you steady. On a completely dark night, even a flickering lamp can help you find your way and keep walking forward. But if you try to extinguish that very source of light, then it is no good. People who do this then try other ways to handle difficult situations, such as drinking alcohol, etc. Faith is a great wealth and gives you strength. Just because a few small things did not go in your favor, it does not mean that you should make your faith so fragile and delicate that it breaks every now and then. That is why I said that it is good that you feel your faith is becoming weak and failing because something you wanted did not happen. It is alright. Eventually you will put your faith into someone or something.
Q: Gurudev, Dear Gurudev, the food that we eat today have so much chemicals and the government policies promote these. How to tackle this? Please also talk about organic food and organic farming.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Organic farming is the future of Earth. If we want the earth to sustain itself, we have to go organic. There is no other way. There are people who are so greedy and selfish that they do not care for the planet, and so they promote these harmful things to the farmers. One or two crops come very good, and that tempts the famers and they take it. Once they take it, then from the third or fourth crop, everything goes down and even the land gets spoilt. The land becomes unfit for cultivation. This is the problem. That is why we have established an agricultural institute to teach farmers organic farming; the ancient type of farming.
In ancient days, they would put three crops together. So even if one crop dies the other two crops are there. So people were never starving. They never went bankrupt, or never went into loss. They would put, let us say, sugarcane along with some pulse, so that if one crop fails, the other two will be there. Usually all three crops would yield and it would fix the content of nitrogen in the soil all by itself, because of the variety. This is the kind of farming that one has to revert to.
We have to do Agnihotra (a Vedic yagna) and that will take care of harmful insects and pests. So you do not need to put pesticides.Then there are natural pesticides like cow urine, Neem leaves and several other things like that. So we need to revert to this type of farming which does not spoil the water, the Earth and the health of the people.
Q: Gurudev, Gurudev, how does one get over attachment?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Why do you want to get over attachment? It is because it gives you pain. If it did not bring you pain, you would never think of getting rid of attachment. Attachment gives pain because there is ignorance attached to it. Do not try to get out of attachment. Instead, I would say, learn to be centered. Expand your understanding of life and of this creation. Then you will see that you do not need to make an effort to get rid of attachment. It will automatically go away. How many of you have already had this experience, that you are able to spontaneously drop your attachments? Raise your hands. (Many in the audience raise their hands).
Young children are so attached to cotton candy. If you keep a sweet before them, they just want to grab and eat it. But when they grow older, the craving for sweets and toys drop off by itself. They did not have to make an effort to get detached from that. Detachment is a very natural happening. When maturity blossoms in you, an expansion begins to dawn within you; that is when you stop getting stuck and entangled in small petty things in life. Otherwise, earlier if someone ill-treated or insulted you, you would get so hurt and keep a grudge in your heart for a long time, sometimes even for months at a time. You would tell yourself, 'I am never going to forget how that person treated me'. Why do you want to harm yourself with such thoughts? We do this so often, and many time, we feel proud about keeping a grudge in our mind. This is foolishness. You should observe and accept that different people have different ways of talking, different behaviors, and different approaches to doing things and expressing themselves. Do not think that because of this they do not have any love in their heart. It is not so at all. It is just that you may not be able to see it, or that they may not be able to express it in a proper way. Just look at things from the other's perspective. No matter how much a mother in-law and a daughter in-law may quarrel, all their quarrels will ultimately come to an end. So see everything with a broad vision.
A few weeks back, a young girl came to me to discuss some of her family problems. She told me, 'Gurudev, my mother in-law is so strict and gets angry at me very often'. I asked her why it was so. She said, 'I do not know why she behaves that way. But she constantly tries to find fault in what I do'. I listened and then asked her, 'Tell me one thing, did your own mother not behave this way with you?' She replied, 'Yes Gurudev, she used to be that way too. Every now and then we would fight over something trivial'. Now, when you have a fight with your own mother, you do not take it to heart at all. No matter how many times you fight with your mother, the very next day you patch up and become normal and affectionate once again, isn’t it? Your mother in-law is from the same generation and age group as your mother. Then why is it that when she tells you something, you get so hurt? The girl said, 'Oh Gurudev, I never really thought of it this way'. So, bring a small shift in your way of thinking. Drop such petty things and just move ahead in life. What is the use of getting stuck in petty things and thinking, 'Oh! She said such a nasty thing to me. She did not treat me properly'.
See, when someone says something hurtful or mistreat you, they do it out of stress and ignorance. They are hurt somewhere within and that is why they behave like that. Why are you trying to hurt yourself because of the wounds they carry within? You need to expand your mind and see things from a broader perspective. You know, you can win over everyone and every situation with love. There is nothing in this world and in your life that you cannot win or overcome with love.
Now do not stretch this point too far and ask me, 'Gurudev, can we also win over the Taliban in the same way?' For them, we need to adopt the four ways of Persuation: 1. Sama (gentle persuasion) 2. Dana (earnestly requesting) 3. Bheda (threat) and 4. Danda (punishment)
At home, why do you want to get stuck with such trivial things and trouble yourself? What will you get by having such hatred for your mother in-law? At least first try to see things from a broader perspective yourself first. Those two ladies are now very happy with each other, after having followed this advise. The entire problem got solved, just like that, as if it was nothing. She was about to leave her home and move out to another place, but thankfully the family was saved from such a thing. This is not a story of only one particular house. There are thousands and thousands of homes across the country where such problems are present. This is predominantly more prevalent in Asia, and in countries like India.
The key to a happy life is based on how we handle our own mind. This is why we all must regularly practice our sadhana. We must learn how to calm our mind and relax, for a few moments every day. If each one of us can manage to broaden our vision just a little bit, I tell you, we can all bring such a great transformation in our lives. We will become happy and also bring happiness to the lives of others around us. We uselessly get caught up with small things happening to us and bring misery both to ourselves and to others around us. This is ignorance. You do not need to become a scholar or read a lot of scriptures in detail to understand all this. Just meditate for a while every day, and listen to knowledge. Implement and imbibe the knowledge in your life.