Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: What is the greatest value of diversity?
Sri Sri: “We no longer live in an isolated world. Our knowledge and communication are expanding, while our world is shrinking. Therefore, to survive, businesses cannot be territorial. We have no other choice than to honor diversity. It is now a necessity, not an option.
It is in our nature, and it is a sign of intelligence and evolution when we feel that all the cultures, all the civilizations, all the different schools of philosophy, all belong to us. Unfortunately, prejudice based on ignorance is the greatest impediment to embracing diversity. For example, 25 years ago when we spoke about yoga, breathing and meditation in Europe, it was regarded as an oddity over here. There was so much prejudice towards Eastern influences. But now people realize that yoga is beneficial to their health, and they are accepting it. Similarly today, there is prejudice in some Islamic countries towards yoga and meditation. All these prejudice must be eradicated.
Q: Shouldn’t diversity within companies involve more than discussing the percentage of women at the top?
Sri Sri: “In many places, the first discrepancy and discrimination one sees is gender-based. Gender is the most visible; the most obvious today. So, gender and religion, followed by nationality or cultural differences, these all should be sidelined.
However, I am not saying that you have to force yourself to find a person who is from a particular category, when they may not be as talented. That is also wrong. Talent must come first, and diversity should be secondary. In the name of diversity, we bring in people who are not capable or qualified to do the job. The business suffers as a result. So the diversity value should not come as a rule imposed on someone but it should come from within oneself. It should come from the transformation of our outlook rather than an imposition of a rule or government regulations”.
Q: What is the starting point for leaders?
Sri Sri: “I believe the starting point for leaders is the boardroom; the office. To create an atmosphere of celebration, you need the right attitude and you have to bring in that attitude. This may require some form of teamwork, others need to instill it. An atmosphere of celebration, of trust, cooperation and a sense of belonging, all have to come. I have no doubt that there is a willingness among people to refresh themselves, they just need to have it put in front of them in an effective, viable way. They need to be given the opportunity.
A business won’t last if it focuses only on productivity and net result. The company ultimately suffers because the creativity, the strength and the sense of belonging will ebb away. Similarly, the ‘command and control’ system-the military system-no longer works. Only inspiration and motivation are effective tools. For that, one can apply some of the ancient principle from different parts of the world in the workplace, to make the work more enjoyable.”
Q: You talked about the body. I want to know what the connection is between the body and the five elements.
Sri Sri: Earth, water, fire, air, ether - the five elements. If any one of this element is missing, this body cannot stay or sustain. Isn’t it? Earth element - food, water element, then you need fire element or heat. Without heat, this body cannot survive. Then is air – impossible for body to exist without it, and space or ether. The five elements have been the cause or reason for the body’s existence and what happens to this body? It has come out of the five elements and will go back to the five elements, this is science.
There are five elements in the dead body also. So what is the difference between a living and a dead body? In a living body, there is life and what is this life?
When the question begins then you see oh, ‘PRANA’ - there is life force, and then you go deeper into the study of ‘PRANA’ and you see there is something more than ‘PRANA’.
What is that, that is the mind! Oh, then what is the mind? How many types of mind are there? How many functions of the mind are there? This curiosity takes you to the 'Art of Living'.
Q: In order for people to feel better, is it a simple case of breathing, meditation and embracing intuition?
Sri Sri: “Correct!. We are not taught at school or at home how to manage negative emotions, like feeling unhappy, sad, jealous or angry. This knowledge has not been provided. But if you are taught how to manage your anger and your own emotions using your own breath, then it does a lot of good. Acquiring that knowledge is possible with the help of breathing and meditation.
I have been in Buddhist and Hindu traditions for centuries, in China, Japan and India, through breathing and meditation. But the difference between our techniques and these old techniques is that ours suit modern-day people who have less time. This technique is so handy, useful and accessible in today’s modern society”.
Q: Should one never get angry?
Sri Sri: Don’t think you should all be without anger all the time. You should use anger as a tool when it is necessary. I tried to do it but I was not too successful. Often sometimes I try to show anger but it doesn’t work because very soon I start laughing and everybody else will start laughing along, also people don’t believe me getting angry. But sometimes anger is good. You know, especially in a world when there is corruption, when there is injustice and when there are all sorts of people who do all sorts of wrong things, who take advantage of you in all situations, it is necessary that you raise your eyebrows or sometime show anger, it would be good. But see that you show anger and it doesn’t affect you or get into your heart and make you upset.
Look, that doesn’t happen in a day and that is where all these practices can be of help. Yeah, I’m not saying be like a vegetable all the time or like a mentally retarded person, smiling or not getting upset at all, you should get angry when things don’t go well, right! But don’t ever let that anger ferment in your mind and turn into hatred. It could be momentary.
You know what is a healthy anger? When you draw a line on the surface of water, how long does it stay for? Only that much time anger should stay, then it is healthy anger. If your anger stays only for that much time and when you have a control over it then it is healthy and you are okay. You can get angry but anger should not get you. What happens usually, anger comes and gets you, and then we are in trouble. Knowledge and wisdom is the reverse of it. Got it! You can use the knife but the knife doesn’t use you.
Q: I have a very nice family, a lovely and caring husband and three lovely daughters, no financial problem, but on and off I have disturbed moods and emotions without reason! Is this problem inherited from my father as he is a major depression patient? And my grandfather committed suicide long long ago; my father hated my grandfather so much!
Sri Sri: Listen, everything changes! Every cell in your body changes in one year and when you are on the spiritual path, this is accelerated. However the past has been, you simply dump it, drop it, okay!
Yeah, people didn’t know how to handle their mind in those days, but now you know, okay!
The concept, ‘Because of my hereditary problem I am having this mood swing’ will not let your mind be free.
It can all change and it is changing. With the practice of pranayama, you must have already noticed a change. It will continue to improve. Few more advanced courses and little more meditation will also help.
Q: How can the workplace be improved?
Sri Sri: “One of our programme components is entitled ‘Let out the steam and get into the team’ - that is our slogan. In other words, take off your management shoes and sit with others in your company. Sit and talk to them and share your point of view. This type of interaction is an education. It empowers people and facilitates cooperation. We combine this with breathing techniques and exercises, where participants independently eradicate feelings of stress and take a fresh look at the situation.
For any business, you need intuition-and successful business is directly proportional to the intuition of the boss. Greater intuition translates into greater business success, if your intuition is wrong, you cannot be successful. Our programme is aimed at lessening the stress and enhancing intuition-this also brings out creativity and enthusiasm in the workplace.
In today’s hectic world, people are often exhausted, and there is so much illness. Mental ill health costs the European Union an estimated 3 to 4% of its GDP, and this cost runs into hundreds of billions of euros. According to the World Health Organization, mental ill health accounts for 20% of the burden of disease in Europe, and mental health problems, including depression, affect one in four individuals at some time in their life. These techniques, taught in the course, of lifestyle change can help people enormously to overcome their illness”.
Q: Will the business world be organized differently in 20 to 30 years from now?
Sri Sri: “We have already stated. In the past, the business world ran on economic pressure, because people had no other means. But today, the global market is so open and the choices are many and varied. People are more aware than it was a few years ago, so now they want to move around. If not here, they will find job advancement; it has turned the business view completely upside-down. Before, it was regionally oriented because you had to do a job and availability was limited”.
Q: Your organization has touched more than 30 million people in 25 years, yet you have undergone tremendous growth. How did you achieve and organize that?
Sri Sri: “I never organized anything; I just let it grow organically. I was not a stumbling block. The organization is run by volunteers and we have leaders. I lend my name to the projects, and everyone else does the work!
On a serious note, the product that we offer is very useful to people, and we organize a wide range of activities. Our intuition works and any project we take on is a success. We now operate in 151 countries, with 41 main centers, and many local city centers. We also have 100 fee-paying schools and 108 tuition-free schools for the poorest people”.
“The prerequisites for such an organic growth are patience, perseverance and clear intention! This includes clarity of purpose, flexibility to accommodate errors and a long-term vision with good intentions. For any business to grow organically, the leaders must also put a check on any feverishness and not indulge in blame games. This means that they must learn! Learn from the past, have a vision for the future and sustain enthusiasm. They must also have a sense of respect for all, performers and non-performers”.