Once someone asked Gurudev (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), if communists can be spiritual.
Gurudev said that, communism originally had three goals: to check greed among the rich, to check fanaticism in religion and to care and share. These goals can only be achieved with a big heart, this can happen only through spirituality. So only a spiritual person can be a true communist.
That, according to Swami Sadyojathah, who was born into the Kochi royal family, says it all. Swamiji, as he is known as, now trains teachers and teaches advanced meditation courses in the Art of Living Foundation.
"People have this concept that spirituality is for old people. But here, the specialty is that is we see people across ages, especially the youth getting attracted to spirituality. Only through spirituality can one experience real joy from inside. This is not just a concept, it's reality,” explains Swamiji, who found a strong resonance with communist ideology until he met Sri Sri in 1993.
"The idea that everyone is equal fascinated me.I strongly felt that there should be no poverty in the world. I read books about communism and we were taught in our communist classes that spirituality was fake," he recalls.
That was the time when a much-respected friend told him about the Sudarshan Kriya. Around the same time, in 1993, Sri Sri visited Thrissur.
"I was curious to see him. I went there with a lot of concepts about gurus who sit on a pedestal and give discourses. But Gurudev hardly said anything." Swamiji attended three days of satsangs with Sri Sri and soon did the Part-1 course."I found the knowledge simple, profound and practical. What was nice was that it wasn’t a dry philosophy."
Swamiji then found himself doing the advanced course a week later.
"Gurudev was meeting people in groups in his kutir. When my turn came, he looked at me and asked if I wanted to go to Russia. In those days Russia and China were heaven for communists. I was surprised because my communist leanings were personal. I had not even disclosed it to my parents," he recounts.
"I surprised myself even more by replying immediately, 'If that's what you wish, I'll go'. While walking back I was wondering what made me say those words to a man I did not even know."
Swamiji met Sri Sri five times that year.
"The fifth time, he asked me to come to the ashram the following month for a week and then leave for Russia. But I wanted to be with Gurudev, so I didn't even apply for a passport. When I went to ashram, he asked me if I liked the ashram. I said yes, so he told me to remain here."
Swamiji busied himself in administrative duties around the ashram, becoming a non-official in- charge of the administrative affairs.
"Then one day, Gurudev came to me and said that I should start teaching. So I did the ten-day TTC that was the norm then and I began teaching."
He had only been teaching for a few months in 1995 , when Sri Sri told him to start travelling to teach the advanced course.
Since then Swamiji has been instrumental in setting up and teaching courses in Russia, Japan, Singapore, Mongolia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and other parts of Europe.
When the 2004 tsunami hit the Southern coast of India, Swamiji was at the spot within a few hours, distributing essentials like food and water. Within a few days, Sri Sri went on his first visit to Sri Lanka, Swamiji was also part of the trip.
“By that time, volunteers were working in different tsunami affected areas in Sri Lanka. We were supposed to be there for two days to monitor the seva activities and then come back to Tamil Nadu. On the 2nd day, Gurudev told me to go to Jaffna to teach courses.”
At that time, Jaffna was an LTTE stronghold. Swamiji had no contacts there, so he had to start afresh.
“The next day, we went to Jaffna. It was clear that we could not do anything without the support or the permission of the LTTE. But then we happened to meet a senior LTTE leader. We told him that Gurudev had sent us there to help people, that we had an expertise with trauma relief and counseling.”
The LTTE leader offered his support and asked Swamiji to bring his team. Swamiji and his team then spent a few months teaching courses at various camps.
“Even if one builds a home, there is no point if one is not able to sleep in it. But people were able to come out of their trauma with just a few minutes of breathing.”
By the end of it, the team was able to bring a group of 100 youth to the Art of Living International Centre in Bangalore to undergo the Youth Leadership Training Programme (YLTP).
“98 of them were seeing Colombo for the first time. We arranged for passports, visas and tickets. They interacted with Gurudev at the ashram. When they came back, they said they found the experience fulfilling. They also said they realized there are other ways to peace than guns.”
Later due to unavoidable circumstances when the war between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE took place, Sri Sri visited the refugee camps where nearly 17,000 refugees had gathered.
“They had nothing but the clothes on their backs. Gurudev distributed sarees, dhotis and food. Now there are local teachers in Sri Lanka.”
Swamiji also taught the Art of Living Part-1 course to the Sri Lankan cricket team after the bombing incident in Lahore.
“The Sri Lankan cricket board was originally planning to get psychologists for trauma counseling. Then I got a call from the President’s office asking me to teach the course. Interestingly in those four days during the course, we didn’t even talk about the incident. When the media later questioned me about it, I said these techniques are so powerful that one is simply able to move ahead.”
Swamiji envisions a world where everybody is touched with the knowledge of these techniques.
“The quality of our actions depends on the state of mind. One always regrets any action done from a space of frustration. So it is important to have a calm, balanced and centered mind. I think everyone needs to learn these techniques and ways of handling the mind.”
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Writer: Harshini Vakkalanka, Graphics: Gurudatt Anvekar