Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: What is the best way to dissolve our karma?
Sri Sri: Just keep acting. Don’t worry, karma is past. Knowledge, awareness, meditation and good action, these things erase the past karma.
Being aware and knowing that the past is past, that it happened for whatever reason; the awareness of this knowledge itself erases the past karma. Do good actions, do something good.
Q: When I see beauty and talent in others, my mind either starts putting them down or feels jealous. I am complete in myself then why does mind reel in lack?
Sri Sri: Perhaps you don’t realize that someday everybody is going to die. All those beautiful people, they are also going to die. All those living in the past were beautiful, and wars were fought and they all died. Those who you are jealous about, they are also going to die. Wake up and look, where is the jealousy? What is beauty? The so-called beauty that we think is only skin deep, is not beauty.
Beauty is the nature of our own spirit. When you are happy and content, the quality of consciousness or life that dawn inside you is the real beauty, not the outer appearance.
Q: I realize how attached I am to some of my desires and dreams, such as, having a family for example. Do I have to practice detachment to make it happen? Does the spiritual path involve detachment from all of our desires?
Sri Sri: Look, if you have too many desires that is a problem. it is too scattered. Focus on one desire at a time.
Do you really want to get married? Why didn’t you do it so far? Are you being too picky and choosy? When the time comes you don’t go ahead, and later on you think you cannot find anybody.
Once a gentleman who was in his 60’s came to me and said, ‘Gurudev, I am looking for a soul mate, but I haven't found one’.
I said, 'Wait for another 15 years, you’ll find her in heaven'.
You know, don’t be too fussy about it. Look for a good person and get married. Even if they’re not good, you can change them, make them better!
I want to tell you a story about the Shakespeare of India. Have you heard about him? His name was Kalidasa and he is called the Shakespeare of India because he wrote some of the most excellent work in Sanskrit literature.
If anyone wants to learn Sanskrit, they cannot miss Kalidasa. How he became Kalidasa is very interesting.
There was a great king, a very well known emperor of India. He had a daughter and his daughter was very beautiful. She was very intelligent, very smart and knew everything with perfection. So it was very difficult for the king to find a suitable match because she had to interview him.
See, in India, in the ancient times, women had all the power! It is the women who chose men, like Sita had her own Swayamvara. A Swayamvara is a ceremony where the woman can choose the person with whom she wants to get married.
So, the story goes, all the princes from the princely states were invited. Princes from many places flocked there because they had heard about her intelligence and her beauty. Some were very scared, as she would ask them a question and nobody could answer her questions.
So she rejected everybody, and year after year this kept happening. The king was a little worried but the prime minister was quite annoyed. She probably insulted him and the story goes that he was annoyed with her. The prime minister thought, ‘I have to teach this shrew a lesson, I have to tame her'.
So once he was passing by the forest and he saw a wood cutter who was sitting on the branch of a tree and cutting the head of the branch!. Suddenly an idea struck him and he said, ‘Hey come down!'
When he came down he said, 'You come with me'.
The woodcutter agreed and the minister asked him to be silent and only answer the questions with hand gestures. So he dressed the woodcutter up a little bit, and took him to the palace. He went to the princess and said, ‘I have brought a really brilliant guy for you’.
She said, ‘Okay, I will propose three questions to him’.
So she asked him, what is the truth of the world, he answered showing his index finger.
Then she asked, how the creation was created, and he answered by gesturing the number two with his hand.
The third question also passed in a similar fashion and she was very impressed. So she got married to him. When she got married, then she realized that he did not even know to write an alphabet. He was just a wood cutter in the forest. She felt cheated, but during those days in India, once you marry, that is it. You marry with all the five elements as a witness and then you are wedded for life.
Now she felt very cheated. She went to the temple and she cried before the Mother Divine. Then she realized how arrogant she was. She rejected so many people and caused pain to so many because she was trying to choose someone better, someone who could defeat her, but look what happened. She wanted to be defeated in a different sense, but she got defeated in another sense.
She does this and she goes into deep meditation.
It is said, at that time, the Mother Divine came and asked this man, who was sitting there completely bewildered, to stretch his tongue out. So he stretched his tongue and she wrote Om on it. With this experience he immediately started reciting a poem called Smalaya Tandegam, and from then on he was known as the Kalidasa.
Kalidasa wrote the most exquisite of literature and wonderful poetry; such deep description, such intelligence, and so much pun in it. It is considered very beautiful.
So if you get somebody who is not up to your mark, I tell you, you have the ability to change them! This is the reason why I said this story. Believe in it (ability) and move on. If it doesn't happen over a few years, you have your way and they have their way.
Q: How can I become free from the sense of doership?
Sri Sri: Just keep doing, don’t worry about it.
I think you have too much time to sit and think, 'Am I the doer or not'. Just do what you are suppose to do.
Every action has a reward; pleasant, unpleasant, or mixed. There are only three types of rewards. When you act, that action brings you some positive reward, or some negative reward, or some positive and negative reward. The effect of all these rewards stay only for some time. So the wise will not worry about it.
In every action there is something positive and there is something that is negative. An action cannot be 100% perfect. Focus on the positive things that develop out of an action. And don’t worry about the effect of the action, just keep moving.
If you have done a wrong action, that has taught you a lesson not to repeat it next time. If you have done the right action, it encourages you to do many more of the same right actions.
If you find that in the action you did, there are some things that you could improve, then you can always improve on that.
Just move on, don’t say, 'I am the doer', or, 'I am not the doer'. Anyway no one is a doer in one sense, and in another sense, yes, you are the doer, because inside of you there are two.
There is a beautiful story in the Upanishads which says, 'On the tree of this universe, there are two birds sitting, one is enjoying the fruit, the other is just watching, like a witness'.
So, there is one aspect of you that is not doing anything, that is much bigger. And there is one aspect in you that is doing everything. Both are present in you.
Now you might ask, 'How?'
On one level, you find that you are changing. Your thoughts are changing, your emotions are changing, your body is changing. Yet at another deeper level, there is something in you that is not changing at all; it is the same. So it is not one or the other, it is both together simultaneously.
When guilt eats you up, or pride takes over your head, then you should understand that you are not the doer. Do you get it?
When you do something very good and you say, 'Oh I did it, I did it', that too makes you unhappy. Doing something good also make you unhappy because you do so much and then you say that nobody recognizes you, nobody listens to you.
So not being recognized for your good work makes you miserable, and if you do something wrong, that too eats up your spirit and creates a sense of guilt. When such things happen, know that you are not the doer. Be a witness then.
People who have committed the biggest crime on the planet, somewhere deep inside, they think, 'Hey, I didn’t do it, how did this happen'.
They feel surprised and shocked, and they feel that they are not the doer, it just happened.
If you talk to the biggest criminals on the planet, you will see that they find themselves being caught by an (criminal) act. Same way, someone who has done some excellent work, they also feel that it just happened; everything fell into place. That non-doership is an experience in itself.
When you have to do things, then don't say, 'Oh, I am not the doer'. Don’t go into that mode. It will only tear you apart. If you have to focus on some work, focus and just do it.
I am not a doer, is an experience, sometimes it just dawns on you. And it is also a reminder to you when you are reeling in guilt, or in arrogance.
Q: It is said that one should keep their ancestors happy. Once people leave from this body and go to another world, do they still feel happy or sad?
Sri Sri: When you meditate and you are in knowledge, that knowledge can pass on to them as well.
There is a beautiful ceremony in India called Tarpan. Tarpan means fulfilling, satisfying. A son or daughter prays for their ancestors, who have passed across, to be content and fulfilled. They take sesame seeds with water and they say ‘Tripyati, Tripyati, Tripyati’.
Tripyati means be content.
The ceremony means, 'You might be having small desires in the mind, they’re like the sesame seeds. Just drop them and move on, be content. We are here to fulfill your desires, don’t worry about these little things'. This is what they say.
So reading Yoga Vasishta (an ancient Indian text), and being in knowledge itself spreads the subtle light to other realms of existence. So they get fulfilled by you being happy and content, by you being in devotion, and in wisdom. That positive vibration reaches to other planes and touches them too. You don’t have to do any special thing for it.
Sometimes people feel that they are not getting the benefit of their meditation. It is because a portion of the merits of their meditation is being reaped elsewhere. Someone else is enjoying that. So, that is okay.
Q: Dear Gurudev, what is the significance of focusing on our nose?
Sri Sri: Just above the nose is the agyachakra, the commanding center of consciousness. The center between the eyebrows is called the commanding center which brings wakefulness in your mind. So bringing your attention to the nostrils is a prelude, it helps the frontal cortex in your brain to balance and be active in a restful state.
When you have sensual or sensory experiences, the back of your head is mostly active. Also when you are not very alert, not very conscious then the back of your head is active.
When your frontal cortex is active then attention and focus are present and the quality of awareness shifts. This is an ancient technique.
We have 3 dimensions, body, breath, and mind. Each of them have their own rhythm but they are all linked. This attention can synchronize all three dimensions.
Q: Some people who are non-vegetarian say that vegetarian people also kill plants to eat. I tell them that the nervous system of an animal is not comparable to the nervous system of a plant. Is there anything else that can be said?
Sri Sri: I think you should go online to websites about why one should be vegetarian. There may be hundreds of sites on that. Just read it and tell me if you find something good in them.
This generation is so fortunate; you can get any wisdom from any corner of the world on your finger tips! In the previous generations, when we were going to school, we had to go to the library and search for that. You don’t need any libraries today.
There was no Google in those days, we had to physically search in all the catalogs, and not all the books were there in our library. The availability of knowledge was very limited 20-30 years ago. But now you are so lucky, this generation gets everything on the tips of their fingers.
Q: Yoga Vasistha talks a lot about self-effort and you tell us to relax. I am unable to figure out what to apply when. In spirituality, when to do self-effort and when to relax?
Sri Sri: There are two things, Pravritti and Nivritti (action and relaxation).
When you are in action, effort is needed and when you are in relaxation effortlessness is needed. They go hand in hand. But we do it the other way around. When we are relaxed, we keep thinking, wanting to act, and when we are in action we say, 'It’ll happen if God is willing'.
This is not what one should do.
When you are acting then give it your 100%, put self-effort. Once you have done that, then sit and let go. You make an effort to go to a clinic and lie down at the massage table. But once you’re on the table, then the masseur does the rest. In the same way, make an effort to come and sit for meditation, but once you sit for meditation, then no effort is required. Know that you’re being taken care of.
If you have a train to catch you need to make an effort, you cannot sit at home and keep saying that you have to catch the train. But once you are in the train, there is no point in running up and down the aisle, it is not going to take you any faster. Once you are in the train, you have to sit down and relax. So, both effort and effortlessness are required.
Q: Dear Gurudev, all our lives we seek for love in our relationships and yet this love is so temporary. What is ultimate love or the love that never goes away?
Sri Sri: You are made up of the stuff called love. What you are seeking here and there is what you are. Turn inward and repose. When you find that you don’t need love from anybody and you are the source of it, then you start giving. When you start giving in abundance, it comes back to you in abundance.
Q: You say when we are scared of something, we should face our fears. My question is where do I get the courage to face these fears?
Sri Sri: Know that you are not alone, and there is a universal power that loves you, and is with you. When you remember that you are being loved very dearly, fear vanishes. All your troubles begin because you don’t believe you are being loved very dearly. That is where the whole problem starts, and you start behaving in ways that pushes everybody away. You create a misery for yourself, because you doubt yourself; Am I good enough? Am I being loved? Does God love me or not? Do people love me or not? These sort of doubts.
Just take it for granted that you are loved and liked, even if you’re a buffoon. Even if you are a clown, you are loved and enjoyed. People like you however you are.
Just move on, don’t sit and spend too much time worrying about yourself, examining yourself, and re-examining. Just take up a commitment and do what you need to do, and take deep rest with dispassion.
Three things are essential, Passion, Dispassion and Compassion.
When you have passion, you don’t worry. When you don’t have passion, that is when you sit and worry. Hesitation comes when you lack passion. Without passion life loses all its charm and you slip into depression. Passion is essential; invoke the passion.
Not only passion, dispassion is also essential. People tell you that you should be passionate, but I say you should also have dispassion. Dispassion is often thought to be a depressed state of affairs. People look very depressed and think this is dispassion. This is a completely wrong understanding.
Dispassion makes you centered. It keeps your smile and equanimity. It keeps the intellect sane and emotions balanced. When you have dispassion you will stop complaining about anything to anybody. The world is the way it is, you won’t complain about people or situations, and you won’t complain about yourself. This is dispassion.
Many times we complain about others, including the ones we love the most. We make the other person defensive, or make them give explanations. It is such a headache!
Initially I used to get swayed by this. People would say, ‘You don’t look at me’, or ‘You don’t talk to me’, or ‘Are you angry with me’, my goodness! These days I do not answer such questions. If you think so, let it be. So be it. Never mind! When you get beaten up a little bit by your own emotions, that makes you strong somewhere.
It’s all just a matter of wanting attention. You give attention and they are alright. Just like babies – if you don’t attend to them they throw tantrums just to draw your attention. Have you noticed this? When you have guests at home and you are busy talking to them, that is when the children want to show you their paintings. They have already shown it to you ten times. But when you are having an important discussion, they come and disturb you! You wonder that this child was quiet, what happened all of a sudden!
We have not grown up from that stage, we always want attention from people. And for this attention we create tension for the others.
So with dispassion, you neither have attention deficiency, nor do you have any tension. You won’t sit and crave for attention. Dispassion is essential.
One more thing that is really beneficial is compassion. When you have compassion it propels you, it motivates you. When you have compassion for those who do wrong, you don’t feel hatred or bitterness towards them. Compassion greases passion and dispassion, and balances them out.