(Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (@SriSri) held a live town hall session on Sunday, February 23rd at the Art of Living Ashram in Bangalore to connect with followers real-time. From Bollywood celebrities to cricketers, Art of Living followers from all over the world tweeted their questions to get responses directly from @SriSri. Over 65,000 Tweets with the hashtag #AskSriSri were generated around the live event. Below is the transcript of Q&A session.)
Questions & Answers
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How does one cultivate maturity in life?
Sri Sri: Perception, observation and expression - these three things can bring you maturity. The way you perceive things and observe things all around you.
Wisdom doesn’t need time at all. You don’t need to become old to become mature. You simply need observation, of not just yourself but also of the lives of those around you.
When I look around, I see only misery, hate, anger, greed and meaningless violence. How do you know there is a higher power?
Sri Sri: See, the nature of our mind is when we see misery we magnify it.
If ten complements are given to you and one insult is given to you, what you usually do is, you catch hold of that one insult and blow it out of proportion.
My dear, I would like to tell you, there are a lot of good things also happening in the society. There is lot of service happening. There are a lot of good intended people around, and if you look into the eyes of these people, you will feel that there is compassion and love in most people’s hearts and minds. I agree there is hate, anger and greed. This is because we have not been able to educate them in human values.
I am a homosexual and I am comfortable with it. Some call me a criminal. My family and friends disown me. Does God still love me?
Sri Sri: God has no choice. God loves everybody on earth. So, don’t worry about it. Okay!
Different people have different notions of spirituality. Some think it is escapism, others think it is torturing oneself. What is spirituality according to you?
Sri Sri: Anything that uplifts the human spirit is spirituality. Anything that brings you peace, joy, love, comfort and motivates you to do service in society is spirituality.
We are made up of both matter and spirit. Our body is made up of Amino acids, carbohydrate, protein and all that stuff. Our spirit is made up of love, compassion, generosity, intelligence; all these values. So spirituality is not just sitting and doing something. It is something that invokes, that builds character in you.
With such a demanding lifestyle, how can one be a better parent and give quality time to children.
Sri Sri: You should never doubt your goodness because you can never be a bad parent at all. So just be yourself and if you happen to scold your children sometime, you should know it is necessary. Parents feel so guilty when they scold their children. There is no need for you to feel that because you need to make your children strong. Scolding them is like a vaccination for them.
If you children can’t even take any insult from someone else, or a harsh comment from someone outside, then that shows that you have not attended to your children. You have not given them the much needed vaccination, that dose of the stick. Sometimes that is necessary.
So no parent will be bad parent if they are normal, and if they don’t have stress and tension in them. So first of all, you have to relieve yourself from your tension and stress and give quality time to children.
How to get close to and help people we love who are closed down, and who have built barriers around themselves?
Sri Sri: With patience and perseverance.
You know, people who have built barriers around them are somewhere insecure inside. They have some prejudice and insecurity. And these are the two important things in society that we need to attend to: prejudice against culture, against gender, and against class.
Some people think a particular class of people are all bad. This sort of prejudice and stress and tension in the mindset of people must be attended to. And this we can do only with patience and perseverance.
With an alarming rise in the number of divorces is marriage necessary? Doesn’t it add baggage to love?
Sri Sri: See, marriage is an important institution. Even to ask this question, somebody got married and that is why you are here. Isn’t it?
I think you will see that you need some stability in life at some point of time. And marriage is a very sacred institution. We must have that. Growing in marriage is growing in responsibility. And love and responsibility go together.
How to become such a person that people listen to me when I speak.
Sri Sri: You should drop this idea that people should listen to you. You be authentic in your expression. You be natural and don’t worry about what others think of you. You will find that you have achieved what you wanted to achieve.
Did God create man or man created God?
Sri Sri: Both. God created man and man created God. Isn’t it funny? Man created different concepts of God, but again, what is God? Is He somebody sitting up there who just created something and went away? No, he is the summum bonum of creation. It is the one thing by which everything has happened, and in which everything is. You may call it God.
So according to the Vedanta, it is: Asti (existence), Bhati (consciousness), Preeti (love). It is, it shines and it is love, and that’s what the whole world is.
This also could become one of the concepts that you have in your mind, unless and until you start feeling it as an authentic reality in your life; as true as a pain you feel in your feet, when you have one.
What role can I play in the transformation of Ukraine. I want to stand up for peace and happiness, and remove corruption?
Sri Sri: All that we can do that is in our capacity to do, we must do. In fact we should do a little bit more than what we think we can do to bring peace.
Corruption is a very serious issue all over the world. Create more awareness among people, and together you all unite, (not with violence, not by burning buses and trucks and cars on the streets, not by throwing stones at people), with a peaceful, resolute revolution.
If we are engaging ourselves into it, we are sure to get success. It may take some time. We need patience and perseverance to fight against corruption.
Why are people into conversion? Do they have an identity crisis?
Sri Sri: You know, people leave one religion and go to another religion because they have not studied their own religion properly. This is a problem. They have not understood their faith, or the essence of it fully. This happens especially in the Hindu faith because we are simply going on with the rituals and we don’t understand it or study it. There are not many opportunities to study the Vedantic scriptures, or Yoga scriptures, or Yoga Vasistha, or books like this. So we know very little about our Vedas or Vedic heritage, especially in India. So people tend to convert.
I feel that they should first study their own faith in depth; whatever faith they are born in.
Do not denigrate the faith you are born in when you convert. Conversion is your free choice. But do not insult the faith or denigrate the faith.
Given that most citizens don’t know their local candidates, should we vote for the individuals or for the party?
Sri Sri: It should be a mix and match. When it comes to local governance, Municipal Corporation or even state, I would say, you should consider the local thing. But when it comes to national issues, you should broaden your vision and see what is good for the nation.
Can corruption ever be eliminated?
Sri Sri: We should think that we can do it and move in that direction. We should dream for it. We should dream for a corruption free society. It may not be possible 100% but we should aim at 100%, at least we can reach somewhere between 80-90%.
There are some pockets on our planet, in some countries where corruption is almost negligible. So, there are examples.
We can definitely make this country free from corruption, not just by some law, not just by passing a Jan Lokpal Bill, but it should come with the character of an individual, right from college and school days. We must infuse our kids, our youths with this idea of a corruption free, crime free society. It can only happen by social transformation.
With political parties having affairs and break up every other month, as a voter, how do I decide who to vote for so that I am not betrayed?
Sri Sri: You should be watchful. See the intention of the people who are asking for vote and look at their track records. Sometimes, you may have to choose a lesser corrupt person or party if you have two parties and both are corrupt. You should see who are less corrupt, when you have no choice.
Majority of the youth in India idealize Bollywood stars and cricketers. How do we help the serious damage that their alcohol promotions are creating?
Sri Sri: I think you also should think about ways in which we can arrest this. There are some good cricketers and some very aware Bollywood stars who are talking against such addictions too, while some others are promoting it for the sake of money.
I think our youths are becoming more intelligent and more mature. They won’t just fall prey. I at least hope they don’t fall prey.
What do you think about the Aam Admi Party?
Sri Sri: You know, the party started with a good intention, but I feel they have to learn a lot. They need to move carefully and not just in a hurry and take all the rifrafs and people who are not worthy of being in politics.
They should not become the same party like all criminal elements who have joined them. So I feel, they are still young with good intentions. They should take their time and not just jump into capturing power. They should gain more experience before they come to center, before the nation can trust them fully.
They need to have more experience. So I feel they should go step by step. They should first get experience in any one of the states, or several states, do some solid work and manage all the challenges and not run away from challenges, and then come to the center. Otherwise it will be a khichdi in the center with everybody trying to pull things in different directions. We want a very strong government in the center.
We have received hundreds of questions from Syria, Egypt, and Middle East? Do you have any message for them?
Sri Sri: The problem in Middle East is a huge problem and my heart pains when I see the amount of injustice, the amount of violence that is happening there. Again I would say, that let’s hold our breath and let’s pray, and let’s also continue to see if there is any way a peaceful revolution can happen in this place. We should keep thinking about it.
It is a humongous issue but we should not lose hope. We should still keep hoping that one day we will be able to bring some peace there. However insignificant it is, we should keep putting our effort in that direction.
Hearing so many incidences about Godmen, my faith is shaken. How do I know if a saint is authentic?
Sri Sri: It is a very genuine question that you have. There are people who bring disgrace to their field, and this happens in almost every field. Whether it is a medical doctor, a politician, a spiritual leader or a businessman. There are people who are not genuine. They are not doing what they are supposed to do. But we should not take this to heart and put everyone in the same basket.
There are so many good people who are working for the betterment of the society today. So we should not create a prejudice within us. There are people who do not follow the code of conduct of the field they are in, we simply have to pity them, that’s all.
I am a businessman and I want to know how you exported your product to so many countries?
Sri Sri: The product speaks for itself. When something is so good and effective and it brings peace and joy in one’s life, then intelligent people take to it. I have not made any effort to promote something. All this just kept happening on its own.
For the first ten years, it was just word of mouth. And then of course, we had many other books and printed material. Many people came up and they wanted to teach in their country, and so it happened.
Why do we have so many gods in Hinduism?
Sri Sri: Why don’t you ask me, ‘Why are there so many vegetables, so many flora and fauna, so many types of birds, so many types of people’.
The Divinity that loves diversity can appear in diverse forms as well. Do you see what I am saying?
The one who loves diversity in the creation can be adored in many different forms. So there is only one God but in many forms and with many names. That is the beauty of India. That is the beauty of Hinduism - all accommodating, all encompassing. There is freedom of worship, freedom of expression, and freedom of concepts. It is so diverse I tell you. But remember, it all adds up to one truth, one reality. One God in many forms.
Did you choose to be a Guru or are you a Guru by default?
Sri Sri: I think I am a Guru by default. I never wanted to be anybody for that matter. It kept happening, people started coming to me and started learning whatever little bit I knew and that’s how the whole thing continued.
Sri Sri do you take days off where nobody knows where you are?
Sri Sri: I don’t think even now people know where I am. Even though they see me around, they may not know where I am. I take day off every day few minutes when I go deep into myself in meditation. And of course, for five days I do take silence once in a year.
But at other times there are a lot of people around me too. I don’t need to run away from people because I never do anything which is not in my nature.
What has been the biggest risk you have ever taken in your life Sri Sri?
Sri Sri: Well, let me think. There is not one, in fact any challenging thing that comes in front of me, I simply jump into it, whether it is going to Iraq at the time of war. I like to go on adventures.
Why do you have 2 Sris in your name? That’s a tricky one.
Sri Sri: Oh, I thought three is too much.
Actually, my name was getting confused with the sitar player. Even big media channels, when Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away, had put my photograph. And all were thinking and saying that I am no more on this planet. I am still here.
So at a point of time, Pandit Ravi Shankar’s name was getting confused with mine. And if you put just one Sri Ravi Shankar, that would be common. So Sri Sri could make it a little bit more specific and clear a lot of confusions which were arising, because many times people think that I am playing sitar and come to my program.
Many times, our famous Sitar player got calls to inquire when he was conducting meditation classes. So to save both of us from this problem, we both agreed that I should keep it in this way.
People asked you so many questions. We’ve asked you so many questions here. Is there a question that you would like to ask us? And would you want to tweet that question to all of us?
Sri Sri: Just think what is that you would like to contribute to the society around you. How would you like to contribute to the world, to your nation? What would you like to do, or give back to the world? I would like you all to think on that and come up with some concrete programs and plans.