Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: Since God, who resides in us is capable of doing anything, then are we also capable of doing anything? If so, then how does destiny and Divine will fit in?
Sri Sri: It fits in very well. When your thoughts are in alignment with the Divinity, then you call it free will. When your thoughts are aligned in a direction opposite to that of the Divinity, you call it destiny. Got it?
If you have not read the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, then you should read it. In that, this is the first thing that I have spoken about. It is about the five modulations of the mind. May be I shall speak on this sometime later. It is very important.
The five modulations are: Pramana (proof). We want proof for everything. We want proof of love, of truth, of someone’s honesty, of God. We want to prove everything.
The second modulation is Viparyaya (incorrect conclusions or wrong understanding). Viparyaya means the mind making up its own universe, which is very different from what actually is in reality. In the Yoga Sutras, it is said, ‘Viparyayaha mithya jnaanam atad rupa pratishtham.’ (Yoga Sutras, Ch.1, V.8)
Do you know, 30 years back, people used to use this word called ‘Viparyasa’ which means, that what you thought, was not what was actually happening in reality. It meant, you were having a wrong understanding of reality. Today, those words have gone into a basket and people have forgotten about them.
So Viparyaya means seeing the unreal as real, and the real as unreal. It means seeing that which is temporary, transient and perishable as permanent and imperishable.
It is like, sometimes others think something about you, but those people are gone, and that thought is gone as well, but you have held on to that thought in your mind and you are miserable. Got it? This is Viparyaya.
A simple example could be: you are going into someone’s house and they do not see you entering. There is a gust of wind, or maybe they see a lizard entering the house, so they shut the door, but you think that they have banged the door on your face.
It was simply a coincidence of your going towards the door and them banging the door shut. You thought they saw you coming because you saw them, and they shut the door. These are some simple examples of Viparyaya.
You sit and think, ‘Others are thinking badly about me’. But in fact if you ask them, they will tell you, ‘I never thought about you. I was busy with my own work’. Where do people have the time to think about you?
The third is Vikalpa (fantasy or imagination). It again means the mind thinking or galloping on that which is not there at all.
The next one is Nidra meaning sleep, and the last one is Smriti (memory), meaning dwelling upon something in the memory, or thinking all the time about something that happened in the past.
Q: Since we are ‘Om’ (the primordial sound of Creation), does ‘Om’ refer to the sound vibration, or the principle that ‘Om’ represents, or the effect of ‘Om’ after the vibration ceases? In other words, since ‘Om’ creates peace; so it is that peace that we are, or are we the creation (result) of that peace?
Sri Sri: All that is said, and all that is unsaid, is all ‘Om’. All that is clear and all that is confused (unclear) is also ‘Om’. Is it clear now, or is it still confusing? It is still all ‘Om’ (laughter).
Anything that you say or you don’t say is all ‘Om’. Whether it is vibration or no vibration, beginning or end, it is all ‘Om’.
So ‘Om’ is the beginning, the end and also the middle of all that is. And all that is beyond time – past, present and future – is also ‘Om’. This is what is said, and that is what is really true also. That is why for anything good, we say ‘Om’. And the elderly sages would chant ‘Om’ even when there is pain or some sort of ache in the body.
This reminds me of the story of an elderly sadhu (an ascetic or sage). I think I have narrated this story somewhere, perhaps in the commentary on the Ashtavakra Gita.
This happened in the early nineties or mid-eighties when our Ashram was very small.
I had given my room to an elderly Swami to stay, but he refused. He was around 85 years of age, but he never once fell sick in his life. He was very confident that he would be able to stay in the open.
Now it was December and there was a chill in the air. Yet he wanted to sleep outside out of his own choice. So he did, and in the morning we heard loud noises of chanting ‘Om, Om’ from him. We thought why he was saying ‘Om’ so many times. He was probably meditating or doing some japa (chanting). But the chanting continued for a long time. So we all went there and saw that he was frozen! His shoulders and legs were frozen from the cold and he could not move his body. His back was frozen stiff, and the only thing we could hear was the repeated chanting of ‘Om’.
So there is this generation of people who will say ‘Om’ for everything, and they will say it in different tones as per the emotion. A very sharp and loud ‘Om’ meant that Swamiji was angry, while a pleasant sounding ‘Om’ meant that he was calm and happy. So in those times, it was a sort of greeting that was exchanged, come what may. Even if they experienced pain, they would chant ‘Om’.
‘Om’ is not limited to Hindu Swamis alone. It is chanted in Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism and Shintoism. This is because all these religions have the practice of meditation and during deep meditation, they only heard this sound. So whether they are Jains, or Sikhs, or the Lao-Tzus (followers of Taoism), they chant Om and also practice one hand clapping. I feel that the word ‘Amen’ (So be it) is the distortion of the sound ‘Om’. Like in Islam, they say ‘Ameen’ (So be it), I suppose it is the same.
Q: Sri Sri, please tell us about forgiveness. How do we forgive?
Sri Sri: Don’t forgive, hold on to it! Who is at a loss?
An event that happened, it happened! Whether it was your mistake or somebody else’s mistake, it is over. However, if you are holding on to it, then you are suffering.
Imagine you are in that position, where a mistake happens through you. If someone else doesn’t forgive you, doesn’t understand you, and holds you responsible for all your life, how would you feel? You would feel very bad, isn’t it?
You forgive a person not for their sake, but for your own mind, so that you can save your mind. See, in life, some pleasant things happen, some unpleasant things happen. Some things we wish for them to happen, some things we don’t want in life to happen. Whatever happened, it happened; finished! You put it back, and move forward - that is very important. Do it only to save your own mind.
In fact, if you see from a wider angle, you will find that every culprit is a victim of ignorance in a situation. When you see things from this perspective, you will automatically feel compassion. We have seen this with those incarcerated, when we teach in prisons. These people who are being condemned in prisons, they are good people, but due to ignorance, due to lack of awareness, they made a mistake.
To make your life richer, I would suggest you spend five days in these different places:
1) In school with children.
2) In school, as a teacher. When you are teaching children, you understand what it is to teach. The role of a teacher makes you very rich.
3) In a mental hospital. When you are with crazy people, you realize it is the same thing as being in the outside world also. People just say anything they want. Once you have this experience, then nobody can upset you.
4) In a prison. When you are with those incarcerated, you will understand the pain and suffering of a victim.
5) On a farm. When you are with the farmers, digging soil, sowing seeds, working with mud, just being there enriches you in some unknown manner.
And one day, you should spend just by yourself, with nature.
Q: Gurudev, what is the meaning of Dakshinamurthy?
Sri Sri: Amurtha means that which has no form and cannot be expressed; that which cannot be seen. Lord Shiva, the formless manifestation of infinite space, cannot take a form. It is nearly impossible.
Murthy(literally meaning an idol) is that which has a form and can be seen, and Daksha means to be skilful and capable.
So when the Divinity which cannot be expressed, is expressed in a very skilful manner, then that is known as Dakshina.
See, we cannot express all the emotions that we have inside us. So many times, we express our emotions by offering a flower. Through the act offering a flower, we attempt to express our feeling, isn’t it? There is nothing we can give to entirely express what is deep within us, but we still make an effort to give something. That is known as Dakshina.
Dakshinamurthy is that which cannot be seen, yet it is being expressed. That which is beyond expression, yet is still being expressed through form. It is not visible, yet it is seen, and everything is made up of that only.
When that which is infinite and cannot be expressed or manifest, is expressed so skilfully through a form, then that is called Dakshinamurthy.
The Sun is so large and so many miles away from us, but if you see the Sun using a small mirror, you will see the reflection of the sun on the small piece of glass. Though in reality, the Sun is so big, even then you are skilfully able to capture the full reflection of the Sun on a mirror and bring inside your house. This is called Dakshata (skilfulness of intelligence), and that is what it is known as Dakshinamurthy.
Lord Shiva is called the Adi Guru (The Guru present from the beginning of time, and who is beyond time.) He is everything and everywhere, yet He comes in the form of a Guru. So when the infinite comes in the form of a Guru, He is known as Dakshinamurthy.
From ancient times, the main form of the Guru Tattva (divine element or principle) is called Dakshinamurthy. See, the Guru is not a person. It is an energy that is present in the body of a Guru; that energy is called Dakshinamurthy. It is the Divine, omnipresent, infinite, guiding wisdom, which is un-manifest and yet manifests.
So Lord Shiva is called Dakshinamurthy, the Adi Guru. This is how the story goes. Lord Shiva sat silently. He is portrayed as a young boy, with elderly disciples sitting before Him seeking knowledge. As soon as they sat before Him, in silence, they all received the knowledge, and all their questions disappeared. His discourse was in silence. That means their energy got uplifted. That is the Guru principle. The original Guru, from where all knowledge and wisdom began, is called Dakshinamurthy.
So, in a very skilful way, the inexpressible divinity is expressed. That is the whole essence of Dakshinamurthy.
Q: I want to be in love, but there seems to be a conflict between love and knowledge. How to integrate the two? With all my love!
Sri Sri: You have done it already! If you don’t have love for knowledge, why would you ask for it? And if you know it, how is it possible that you can’t be in love? Knowing brings love in you, and love in turn, creates that interest to know more.
Q: Dear Gurudev, my husband loves me a lot, and still he does not miss a single opportunity to count my negative qualities. My enthusiasm goes down. What should I do?
Sri Sri: You should behave differently. Give him a surprise.
If he counts your negative qualities, you shower a lot of love, affection, and praises on him!
Tell him, ‘Wow, you said it absolutely right! This is what I wanted to hear!’
Don’t react the same way all the time. You have a choice of acting the way you want to act, isn’t it?
Someday when he brings you flowers and compliments you, frown at him and say, ‘Why did you do this?’ When he scolds you, feel happy about it.
Remember one thing, you are responsible for your happiness. Come what may, whoever says whatsoever, you protect your mind, and keep yourself happy. You be determined, ‘I am not going to let my happiness be taken away by anybody! Even if God comes and yells at me, I will tell God, ‘Thank you, this is your gift to me.’’
Make this determination today.
Today is Vaisakhi. It is a gift to you. What is the gift? Come what may, I will not let my mind slip down in the maya; in this ever-changing relative world. I am responsible for my happiness. I will not let anybody bring down my happiness.
You go with this determination and see what happens. Anyway, this place is there for you to come back, again and again and again.
When clothes get dirty, we give it for washing, or dry-cleaning. This (ashram) is a good washing machine, it cleans everything.
Q: Gurudev, how to live life with absolute confidence that Guru or God is there to take care of me when I have surrendered?
Sri Sri: There is no way you can do it! You simply have to bear the cross. ‘Whatever happens, happens’, just say that and then see what happens.
If you're trying to bring in confidence, it doesn't work at all.
‘I want to keep my faith’, what faith do you want to keep? Throw your faith! You’re trying to keep your faith is such a burden I tell you. Instead say, ‘I don't care!’
If there is faith, it is there. If there is no faith, it is not there, what can you do? It is as simple as that. Even faith is a gift. You cannot try to force faith on your head or your heart.
Sometimes, even when your head, with all its chattering and all its negativity discards faith, still, something in you stirs and pulls you in that direction. Just recognise when this happens. And it does happen.
Someone says, ‘I don't believe in anything’, but still he sits and does his meditation. And if you ask him, ‘Why are you doing meditation?’ He says, ‘Well, something tells me to do it’.
A person says, ‘I don't believe in Guru!’ Yet, when Gurudev comes, he will say, ‘Since I have nothing to do, let me go there’, and he will be there. Something pulls the person, makes him come to the airport, or come to the satsang. What is that?
You decided that you don't have faith, and you tried hard to destroy your faith, or deny that you have any faith, and still, there is something that came along, that didn't allow you to let go. There you must recognise, ‘Yes, faith is there.’
So, faith cannot be imposed, it is there. Once it comes, it stays. If it goes, it makes you miserable. When you become miserable, know that, ‘Faith is gone, that is why I am miserable’. And you don't want to be miserable. So the moment you resolve that ‘I don’t want to be miserable’, then faith continues to stay back.
Faith was there anyway, it just re-surfaces again.
Your trying hard to keep faith, is such a difficult thing.
Sometimes, people feel that they are keeping their faith, just because of God or Guru. For God’s sake, you are keeping faith. Remember that if you don't have faith in God, he doesn't mind. He says, ‘Okay, don't have faith, so what? I am here! If you think I'm not here, you are free to think whatever you want to think.’
Many people say, ‘Oh, I believe so much in God’. So what if you believe so much? Whatever has to happen, will happen.
Our faith is so shallow. Our faith is for comfort, for little things to happen. Our faith, mainly, is to fulfil our own ambitions. If our ambitions are fulfilled, then we say, ‘Oh, I have faith’. If it is not fulfilled, we say, ‘My faith is shaken, I do not have faith’. I tell you, life is much more than ambitions. And faith is even more than life.
Faith remains, and it surfaces when sattva or purity or harmony happens in you. All that you can do is, keep the harmony, and keep your mind clear through proper exercise, food and knowledge. All this will help you grow in that direction.
Q: Gurudev, what is the significance of Kali standing on top of Shiva?
Sri Sri: Kali is symbolic of enormous transformative energy; energy of destruction. When that stood on the Shiva Tattva, it became Bhadrakali, which means, the energy which only brings benevolent results.
The whole thing is symbolic; it implies the energy that brings benevolent results only.
Shiva is the transcendental state; it means one who brings only benevolence and good to the world. So when Kali, an enormous, destructive power was in rage; in that moment, Shiva came and lay down. As soon as she stepped on him, Kali’s power got controlled, channelized and became benevolent. So, even if there is destruction, it should be benevolent.
See, when you want to bring down old buildings, what do you do? You put dynamite under the building, and then the building comes down, isn't it? One destroys something, to create something new. So to destroy for a good cause, for benevolence, is very much different from destruction out of anger, jealousy, hatred and ignorance.
It is like atomic energy that is produced when an atom is destroyed. However, if the energy is not channelized or utilised properly, it can be very destructive. When it is channelized, it is used to bring electricity, light, and many comforts.
It is the same with electricity, which as such is a destructive energy. Where high-power electricity is being generated, if you get come in contact with it, then you will be destroyed in no time. But, when electricity is used for a benevolent cause, through wires and transformers, it brings the energy down, and makes it available and useful for public.
Similarly, Kali’s energy was the energy of destruction; when it opened up to destroy evil things, it was so powerful. So Shiva lay down to channelize it and make it benevolent, to protect the universe.
Shiva always does that which is good for the whole world, the whole universe; he even drank poison. There is a mythological story. When the Devas (good forces) and Asuras (daemonic forces) were churning the Ocean of Milk, what came out first was poison. When the poison came up, it was Shiva who took it and drank it. As he drank the poison, his throat became blue. So, he is called Neelakanta; the beautiful one with the blue throat. That is how the story goes in Hindu mythology.
Kali also means knowledge; knowledge of transformation. When Kali stood on auspiciousness, on the benevolence of Shiva, it brought goodness to the world. Thus, the same energy became so benevolent, and Kali then became such a benevolent blesser that she blessed the universe with knowledge. So, she is also called Bhadrakali, one who always does good.
Q: Gurudev, please explain the relevance of covering the head in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Sri Sri: This is a tradition that has been prevailing from a long time.
There are five things that go with the Sikh tradition, uncut hair (covered in a turban), a comb, a dagger, a bracelet, and a specific style of clothes. These are all the five symbols of Sikh tradition. They should be respected because the Guru has asked you to do these things, to make an identity for you.
In those days, every family gave one boy, most probably, their first son, to the Guru, and the Guru trained them all. This is what happened to everybody’s son. So, they were all trained to act like soldiers, as well as go inwards. To pray and to act, and to protect the dharma.
Q: Dear Gurudev, if God and the Divine are not objects of perception, then what are you?
Sri Sri: You find that out. To know who I am, first you have to find out who you are. Start from where you are. If you know yourself, then you will know me. You can’t know me if you don’t know yourself.