Q: Dear Gurudev, how and when did the twelve Jyotirlingas (literally meaning ‘pillar of light’, a sacred divine shrine of Lord Shiva) come into existence? Please shed some light on this. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: See, every Jyotirlingam has a different story behind how it came to be. There is a Sthala Purana (local folklore or legends) attached to each. For example, Lord Rama went to Rameshwaram and established the Jyotirlingam there by worshipping Lord Shiva.
When people undertake
pilgrimages together to
different parts to the country,
they establish bonds of
friendship with one another.
The intention behind doing
this in the olden times was to
bring a sense of national unity.
The aim was to unite all the people of India by one single thread of devotion.
Different people in India speak different languages. In Kashi (now Varanasi) there is a different language, in Rameshwaram there is a different language.
In ancient times, people were told to visit Rameshwaram, and then from there they were told to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi and bathe in the holy Ganges. After that they were told to bring back with them the holy water of the Ganges from Kashi to Rameshwaram and offer it to the Jyotirlingam there. And after that, they were told to take the offering back to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
The intention behind doing this in the olden times was to bring a sense of national unity (by visiting these holy shrines situated in different parts of the country).
It is not that Lord Shiva requires your offering of holy water. What would Lord Shiva do with it? All the water in creation belongs to Him.
Taking holy water of the Ganges from Kashi to Rameshwaram has no meaning or importance to Lord Shiva. Yes, but there is a certain significance in it for the country.
When people undertake pilgrimages together to different parts to the country, they establish bonds of friendship with one another.
See, people from South India go on a pilgrimage to the Amarnath Shrine in North India. So this pilgrimage becomes a medium to connect and unite the people from Kanyakumari in the south with the people from Kashmir in the North. The pilgrimages become a medium to do this.
And whenever we do anything with a sense of sacredness and purity, our entire consciousness starts blossoming. That is why all the twelve Jyotirlingas were never kept in one place or one state. Some were in the north, some in the south, some in the west – they were distributed all over.
And in those days, all those places were very difficult places to travel to. It used to be so difficult to reach there. One had to go through dense forests, dangerous valleys, city ruins; or on the top of high snow capped mountains, etc., to reach the shrines.
For example, Kedarnath shrine is situated deep in the Himalayan range.
In this way, by establishing Lord Shiva through His sacred shrines in different parts of the country, the holy sages and saints of those days built a unified nation.
Also, it is said, ‘Tatropajagmur bhuvanam punana mahanubhava munayah sa-sisyah prayena tirthabhigamapadesaih svayam hi tirthani punanti santah’
- Shrimad Bhagavatam (Canto 1, Chapter 19, Verse 8)
This means that wherever a holy saint sits, that place itself becomes a holy place of pilgrimage.
So many saints have visited these holy places, meditated there and have done Tapasya (penances), and that is how the sanctity and glory of these places has grown over time.
However, today you find that these places are unclean and mismanaged.
Nowadays, so much milk and other offerings are offered carelessly in a wasteful manner at these places, without the sense of devotion or faith. They just rush you through the rituals and the oblations. This is not Pooja. Worship which is done mindfully, with a sense of devotion and in a meditative state becomes Pooja in the true sense.
If you just do Pooja to fulfil your own selfish desire or appetite, or to fulfil some monetary obligation, then you are only fooling yourself. So one should not do that, you should do it with a feeling of devotion.
Wherever a holy saint sits,
that place itself becomes a
holy place of pilgrimage.
When the Rudram (a series of verses recited in praise of Lord Shiva) is being chanted and the Shivalingam is being bathed with water, we should simply close our eyes and sink within, into our own Self. We should go deep into meditation. Then that is meaningful.
We should experience that eternal vastness of the Shiva Tattva (Tattva means principle or element) which is manifest everywhere as the blissful Chidakasha (the Space of Supreme Consciousness).
Q: Gurudev, is it necessary to visit temples if one has a direct connection with the Guru? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Visiting temples is more of a cultural and sociological phenomenon. Of course there is a spiritual flavour to it also. But that is not essential.
You can sit at home and feel the temple where you are.
For the sake of keeping the culture and tradition alive, and to bring a sense of sacredness to our children and our youngsters, it is good to take yatras (spiritual pilgrimages), and go to temples also, once in a while. It is not because there alone you can seek God, but to keep traditions alive.
That is why we have celebrations, and pilgrimages are kept to unite people. So it is more for a social cause.
You can do your meditation and sing bhajans (devotional songs) at home, but when you come here, to the Ashram, and we meditate together, sing bhajans together, then there is a rise in the collective consciousness. Your collective energy rises, and it has a different flavour.
At the same time if someone asks, ‘Can we not just meditate at home?’ I say, definitely you can. You should sit and meditate at home as well, and sometimes you should come here as well. It is the same for temples also.
Q: Dear Gurudev, why is the path of spirituality so difficult and trying at times? Sometimes I feel life was much simpler when I was ignorant. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Spirituality is difficult? (Sri Sri smiles)
Who says so? If it is difficult, how could you be smiling?
Before you were insensitive, now you have become sensitive, that is it!
When you are thick skinned, nothing matters at all. You do not feel anything. You just simply carry on with your life. But when you become sensitive; when the cloth becomes pure and white, even a small stain or dot appears big, that is all.
Spirituality is not going to bring you misery at all.
It is said, ‘Heyam dukham anagatam’. It is the principle of Yoga, the goal of Yoga; the aim of Yoga is to stop the misery that is yet to come.
Visiting temples is more of a
cultural and sociological
phenomenon. Of course there is
a spiritual flavour to it also. But
that is not essential. You can sit
at home and feel the temple
where you are. For the sake of
keeping the culture and tradition
alive, and to bring a sense of
sacredness to our children, it
is good to take pilgrimages, and
go to temples once in a while.
Q: Dear Gurudev, can you please speak about bondage? Why does the soul feel trapped, and what are the causes of bondage? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Ignorance is the cause of bondage. And why there is ignorance? There is no answer to that.
Why has the Divine first created this ignorance and then the means to get out of it? That is why it is called Leela (a game or play of the Divine).
It is like asking, ‘Why do we have a football match? Why are there two courts with some coaches and some players on one side, and some on the other side, pushing the ball from this side to that side? Why do they not have their own balls and stay in their own courts?’ Then there is no play!
So because of ignorance there is a play, there is the game. That is why the whole world is called the Leela of the Parampurusha (the Supreme Divinity).
Q: Gurudev, there is a saying that a seeker should not mistake understanding for realization, and realization for liberation. Can you please explain this? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Who said this? I do not have the habit of commenting on someone else’s sayings.
Understanding is intellectual. Experience is subtler than that. And beyond experience is liberation – when you know you are not the experience but the experiencer.
That is why it is said in the Bhagavad Gita, ‘Nastibuddhi rayuktasya nacha yuktasya bhavana, Nacha bhavayata santihi asantasya kutah sukham’
(Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 66).
If your individual mind is not united with the Universal self that is deep within you, you will neither have intellectual sharpness, nor will you have emotional lightness and clarity.
Q: Gurudev, please talk about the sound vibrations and how do they operate through thoughts? Like how in meditation we take our Mantra. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: It works! That is it! How it works, we do not know.
See, nowadays there are sensors on different objects, and when you touch them, the light comes on. Just your touch can open the locks.
Your telephone works by a simple touch of yours. Your laptop and iPad works this way as well. All this happens just with a touch, isn’t that so?
So, all the five senses – touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound, they are nothing but electromagnetic vibrations. Science can explain this very well.
Q: Dearest Gurudev, I realized that I am but a small speck amongst your ocean of devotees. Yet I feel confident that you love me and are aware of my needs. Is that my ego that makes me feel that I am special to you? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: No, it is perfectly alright. You should feel special.
That is why it is said – Anupama (unparalleled, wonderful), Advitiya (unique, without a second), Aprameya (incomparable, immeasurable). These are the qualities of the Atman. The Self is incomparable.
So you can feel very special about yourself – no problem. But do not place any demands.
As long as it remains at the level of feelings within you, you are safe and everybody else is safe. But if you say, ‘I am very special, so give me this privilege’, then it will be very difficult.
I want you to feel special.
Q: Gurudev, sometimes what we fear the most is the very thing that can set us free. So why has God put this fear in us? There was no need for fear. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Fear is just love turned upside down. So when there is love, a little bit of fear also comes. Knowledge, Vairagya (dispassion), Wisdom – these are the things that can help transform the fear back into love again.
When love turns into attachment that is when fear pops up. So through dispassion and wisdom, keep love in its pure form.
If your individual mind is not
united with the Universal self
that is deep within you, you
will neither have intellectual
sharpness, nor will you have
emotional lightness and clarity.
Q: My dear Gurudev, is failure in worldly life important to get back the focus on the spiritual path? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: No. You do not need to fail in order to get the focus.
Do not put such a sankalpa (impression or resolve) in your mind. It is not a necessary thing.
Q: Gurudev, you are very generous. You have fulfilled all of my wishes, but I have not fulfilled all the commitments I made to you. I want to know whether, will you punish me, or will you keep fulfilling my further wishes. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: (Laughter) Why should I reveal it to you now? I will leave you guessing about it.
You better fulfil your commitments before you wish for something more. I do not want to make you a greedy person. Otherwise you will become so greedy.
When you know that your desires are getting fulfilled, you should desire for bigger things, not just things for yourself. Have desires for the nation, for the world, for humanity.
If your desires are for achieving something bigger, and bringing this knowledge to the people, then that is more meaningful. Then you are growing.
You should take a sankalpa, ‘Let the knowledge of Vedanta reach thousands of people; let Yoga reach thousands of people.’ You should cultivate such desires in you.
Actually you cannot cultivate a desire, but this is the right direction for desires.