Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: How do you fan the fire of spirituality and not allow it to be inundated by day to day life. You don’t want to abdicate your responsibilities. What do you suggest, simple steps you as an enlightened person to keep spirituality alive in us. What I understood the way u expressed was very beautiful, to spread happiness, to be simple at the same time keep giving.
Sri Sri: I would give you 3 suggestions. One is spend 10-15 mins with yourself. What is it that you want? What is life all about? 50- 60 yrs ago, where I was and where I will be 50 years later? What is my origin? What is my definition? Just don’t look for an immediate answer. Even questioning yourself – ‘what is life all about?’ uplifts the spirit. This is what I would call as knowledge. Dwelling sometime with knowledge, you can read books like Yoga Vashista, Ashtavakra or even Geeta. Just few lines or any other uplifting knowledge books. And then 10-15 minutes of meditation. We will do a short meditation now. 10-15 minutes of meditation will give so much energy that it can refresh the brain, Refresh the spirit and energize the body. Fantastic! And the third thing is do some act of kindness, don’t have to be in the routine. Take some time out. Do some Random acts of kindness. Spend some time with music or art. These 3 things can bring you a lot of fulfillment and keep you away from stress.
You would’ve seen in the last month, a month ago, there was a program in News 24 channel about a village Kathewadi in Maharashtra, near Nanded. One of our teachers went there. He stayed there for 3 months in the village. Transformed the entire village. 700 families. In this village, everyone removed the locks from the door. And they have a shop without a shopkeeper. People go and put the money in a box and take whatever goods they want to take. And the village is so self sufficient. The entire village went organic. All the farmers went organic. Everyday they come together and sing, they removed all the caste boards. Here now in the country, they are contemplating about reintroducing caste census. In this village first thing is they removed all the caste boards, Dalit, Kshatriya, Brahmin. All the caste boards were removed. Govt of India also gave them an award. It is a crime free village. This was the most notorious village which had so many cases. Today in 3 years time this village has stood up to be most self sufficient. Everybody has water. Roads are there. Every home has a toilet. And they have smokeless chullahs. Most honest village. This village inspired 118 villages to follow.
Not one person smokes or drinks in the village. Everybody abandoned the tobacco, tambaku, alcohol and drugs. So it gave a new energy and enthusiasm to all our teachers and workers. It is possible what Mahatma Gandhi had dreamt - Ram rajya. Where there is no dacoity, no crime. Today it is possible.
You can see in the youtube. They have done a beautiful program about that. I wish we can do many such, if all different corporate could take 10 villages each. It doesn’t cost much. It is just a matter of educating people on hygiene, educating them to keep their homes clean. Every home got painted in pink.
Q: I joined the ‘Art of Living’ in the beginning of this year and my health improved. I feel much better doing the exercises. I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and treated myself with good results.
Sri Sri: You know what they have found through research is that we have 300 genes in the body, we have 300 DNA genes in the body which are responsible for heart problem, cancer, diabetes and all this, and when we do Sudarshan Kriya and pranayama, this suppresses those genes from being active.
The scientists have come out with this. Just before coming here, I went through an article that somebody has sent. In a hospital in New York, they have asked to chant ‘OM’. They’ll make you chant ‘OM’, make you relax and do some meditation before they treat anybody for heart problem.
Q: I have one classical question. When we put lots of passion in our work, we develop attachment to the result. But same attachment and clinging of result gives stress when we do not achieve it, and happiness when we achieve it. Going by my limited understanding of Bhagwad Geeta, they say do your work with dispassion. But if we do that we see that results can go haywire. How do we resolve this?
Sri Sri: Ya, I think it’s little bit different understanding of Geeta. Actually the understanding of Geeta should be, ‘you work hard, you put your 100%, you look for the goals, you look to achieve the goals. But at the same time you should have that faith, that confidence and relax’.
You know to achieve anything you need 3 type of confidence. First is confidence in yourself, Then you have no anxiety. It’s very easy for me to handle this issue. I can do this. Second is confidence in the society around, people around. If you know that your team is good and they will achieve it, or if you have faith in the system that the system is continual and justice will be done to you. You know, if you have done well then you will definitely get well.
But if you don’t have trust or faith in the system, if it’s very corrupt then you will not pass it. So, we have to have faith and trust in system. Third is trust in a power which is compassionate, higher power, the higher self, and this faith that it will always do best to people. These 3 types of trust can take us out of anxiety. For this, I would say take out few minutes for yourself. Relax and Look back. How many times in the past you got stressed? You got some failures? You went through some failures and you achieved something. So, in the same way, now also you will achieve. That gives you that inner strength which is more needed at the time.
I would say it’s like the cell phone. You know, for a cell phone you need to have the sim card. Correct? And you need the battery to be charged and you should be close to a tower. (Laughter) Should be within the range. If any of this is missing then you can go on dialing, say hello and nothing, there’ll be no response
Q: What do you find a source of inspiration?
Sri Sri: I see every child is inspiring.
Q: From the ‘Art of Living’ to the Art of giving, we hear that in arguably lesser spiritual society, people are giving more and more. We just heard what’s going on in the US where many billionaires can’t recall the number, giving away at least 50% of their wealth for the betterment of society. So that concept, that nature of giving, “more spiritual society” has still not seeped in. How do you reconcile that?
Sri Sri: I would say America is very spiritual. There is 500% increase in spiritual interest in past 10 yrs. If you go to California, there is a lot of awareness about spirituality, especially eastern spirituality. In India, there has been this tradition of giving from long back. All the hospitals are built by business families. Every dharamshalas, it was called dharamshala, talabs or the ponds are made by the business houses. Temples are built by business houses. Not by the government, but business houses. If at all Indian spirituality is sustaining, it is being sustained by the business rather than the state throughout the country. Yes, there has been a decline in giving in the past few years. It is lack of spirituality. Maybe they are going down in spiritual values.
Maybe in some places, they are becoming more religious than spiritual. That could be a reason also. But still even today if you go to villages, the amount of caring and sharing the people have is amazing. You go to any village, they may have just 1 glass of lassi but they will share half with you. They do value these values of sharing. It’s in the villages but is disappearing from the urban areas as you say. And it has to be brought back.
Q: We came to know that you are coming to Malaysia after 11 years? What made you come now to Malaysia?
Sri Sri: The love and affection of the people from Malaysia who have been coming to India all these years…and I had promised them that I will come this year and I had to keep my Promise.
Q: Do you find any changes here in Malaysia now since you are coming after 11 years?
Sri Sri: Lots of changes…infrastructural development…rest I have to find out, I have just arrived last night. I can’t form an opinion overnight, I have just arrived. Today I will be meeting people and we are having a meeting of all the teachers from all over south east Asia in Penang tomorrow, we have a workshop with all the teachers for four days and also a Silence Retreat meditation programmer.
Of course, lots of people from Malaysia have been regular visitors to our headquarters in Bangalore, India. I keep seeing them everywhere else in Europe, in America etc and they will always ask me “when are you coming to KL, when are you coming to Malaysia?’’, so this time I could squeeze in!
Q: What is the meaning of life? If we see in jungles, we see predators eating other animals. Birth and death seems so mechanical. No big meaning, whereas our pursuit of humanity is focused on stretching life and living longer. Is it really necessary?
Sri Sri: Ya, animals don’t violate their nature. They don’t violate the laws of nature. Their life is all programmed. They don’t have freedom. But human beings do have that freedom. It is because you have the intelligence that you have the freedom to violate.
That’s what makes us different from animals. Isn’t it? And so we have the ability to know more than what animals can grasp or comprehend. We know about the whole universe, we know about galaxies, the milky ways, we know about the atoms, we know about macrocosm. This ability to know, ability to create, ability to change is all embedded in our system. That is what is called as Viveka, the sense of discretion.
Q: In one's spiritual pursuit, if he goes after form, is it possible that in the long run he might learn that he went on the wrong track and miss the formless? For example in meditation, if one goes for mantra based meditation or form based meditation, is it possible that he might get the essence which might come through Vipassana or something else? He may waste his time or spend more time reaching there.
Sri Sri: See, there are all possibilities. It is not that people who go in through form never attain. We have instances of millions of people. Thousands of saints in this country, who went through form to formless. If you see Tulsi Ramayana, what Tulsidas says..he wouldn’t have written that without experience. 'Rama niranjan, arupa,' he said all that.
First he sees Rama as an individual person. But then he saw that the spirit behind Rama is formless. Same way Saint Francis of Assissi, he went through form and he became formless. Meera went into form and got to the formless. Guru Nanak Dev. We have many many examples in this country that when there is true seeking, you will never go wrong. That’s my contention. Because nature will guide you. Because, see the Intelligence, the Cosmic Being is such, it doesn’t let you down. So, it guides you into the right path. I don’t think it would be a waste of time or it is wrong. But you have to do that with proper viveka, wisdom.
So, should we do a short meditation now. How many of you think meditation is concentration? Nobody thinks it's concentration? That’s very good. So, you’ve passed the first thing. Often people think meditation is concentration, focusing the mind or controlling the thoughts. It is not. Meditation is deep relaxation. OK.
Three things are important for meditation. First is that for the next 10 minutes, we will be mediating. You have to know that we want nothing for the next ten minutes. Is it ok with everyone of you? Can you say I want nothing for the next 10 minutes. No you don’t have to say it loud (laughter). See, if you say, 'Oh! I have to drink a cup of water, I’m thirsty,' then your mind is stuck. Next 10 minutes I want nothing. Shall we take all our mobiles and press the red button. This is an essential ritual for meditation. So, you’ll all be here for next 10mins. You can’t get up in the middle and go and disturb others. So, first thing is I want nothing for next 10 minutes.
Second important thing that we need to do is ‘I do nothing’. We will say Om 3 times. Om is vibration. Om means love, unconditional love that is eternal. We’ll say Om 3 times. All the eastern religions, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Hinduism - they all have taken Om as sound that they’ve heard in the meditation. So, it is very much connected with yoga. So we say 3 times Om.
Third is ‘I am nothing’. If you think you are very intelligent forget about it, you can’t meditate. If you think you are a fool then also, impossible. If you think you are very rich, remember that quote in Bible? Rich men cannot pass..What is it? So, if you think you are rich, no way you will have meditation. If you think you are very poor then also no. If you think you are a sinner, impossible to meditate. If you think you are the holiest person then also no meditation. So, what you should be. I am nothing.
I want nothing. I do nothing. I am nothing. Can we take these 3 things? I’m not very intelligent nor I’m stupid person. I am neither rich nor poor. Not sinner nor holy saint. So, I am nothing. Nobody. OK. So we will have these 3 ideas. We don’t have to go on repeating these in our mind. Just an idea. Right? Idea is like that.
Q: How would you make Indian political leadership honest?
Sri Sri: You know a question has got a single answer. But certain questions should not be answered. It should be made as a path. A road can be tread many a times. Like this question, we will have to ask again and again in various circumstances. Why someone is not honest? Basically, it is lack of sense of belonging. You know what; corruption begins outside the purview of sense of belonging. No one can be corrupt with their own family, and if you extend it a little bit, to the near and dear ones. They’re not corrupt with their friend circle, but when they put a boundary beyond that friend circle, when one thinks that only these people belong to me, then the people are no longer mine. Then the corruption begins. We have to educate people to expand a sense of belonging. Second aspect of corruption is insecurity. People who don’t have friends try to find the security in money. Gosh, they don’t know money is not going to bring them security. It’s the company of right people who will bring more security in their life. You know if you go and ask a school boy or a girl how many friends he/she has, they will count on their fingers - 2,3,4,5. And I ask them, “hey, look you are spending 5 - 8 hours every day in a classroom of 50 - 100 kids, and you can’t be friendly with everybody? And how are you going to live your life when you come out of the schools and colleges with the billion people, 6 billion people in the world? So, the basic quality of being friendly is sort of foreign, sort of alien to our kids. Then what happens? Insecurity creeps in. And to manage this insecurity, the only idea one gets is ok I should have more money. So, then by somehow you amass money, be corrupt. So, first of all we have to spiritualize the politics, socialize the business and secularize the religions. If we can do these three things, society will be a better place to live in.
Every leader should see beyond his/her community and people. They should have a vision for the entire human race. You know, the Hindu priest, he should not only pray for Hindus. He should pray for every human being. Similarly a Muslim or Christian priest, he should feel for the entire humanity then we have achieved the purpose of religion.
So, I would say secularize the religion, socialize the business. If every business undertakes corporate social responsibility of investing 1, 2, 3, 10 or whatever 10 percent of their profit in developing rural areas, I tell you this planet will have no hunger, will have no disease, will have no illiteracy. Because governments alone cannot do this, it is a social partnership with the NGOs and business organizations. They can do much more. So, socialize the business, bring social corporate responsibility and then spiritualize the politics. Now politicians, they had such integrity in the time of Mahatma Gandhi, they were respected highly.Today the situation is completely opposite.
You Know, we need to spiritualize the politics. Politicians should care for people. I just want to share with you a particular story with my grandfather. You know, when my grandfather met Mahatma Gandhi, he went and stayed with him in sevagram for 20 years. My grandmother gave 10.5 kilos of gold. My grandmother was a beautiful lady. Those days the women used to don a lot of gold, dipped from head to toe is all gold. Except the mangalsutra and a set of bangles, she willingly gave all her gold and she said, “I will take care of the kids, you go and serve for the country”. So he went and stayed in Mahatma Gandhi ashram.
You know, that sense of contributing and giving, taking pride in giving is missing today. If that comes up, there will be a big difference. Pride in giving, pride in non-violence are two things which are missing in today’s education. If you see movies, one who is aggressive and loses his temper, is shown as hero. One who is calm, accepts everything and turns other cheek around, they are not considered heroes. This value shift has to happen. I’m just now coming from America where in Chicago we had a program for school district children.
That was the most notorious school, 268 crimes happened in the previous year. And when we introduced meditations, simple pranayama and simple values like making one new friend every day, and stand up and be compassionate, the crime incident rate this year dropped down to 60 from 268. They were amazed and the school district councilors came to thank me. 50 top officials of education said the techniques that we have introduced have brought real transformation. Otherwise, people there don’t feel safe, you don’t know what will happen there tomorrow, whether the child will come back with all the limbs intact. We need to bring this back. Sense of belonging, sense of caring and sharing, and pride in giving.