Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: Gurudev, I read somewhere that if a person commits the biggest of the biggest crimes, but does not feel guilty about it or regret it, his karma is not marked (meaning that the negative karma does not bind him). But if someone makes a small mistake, and instantly regrets it, his karma gets marked. Is that true?
Sri Sri: It is not just about regretting. There is something more to this. It is being aware of the non-doer spirit within you. There are 2 things within everyone. One is the doer, one is the non-doer. When your identity is completely with the non-doing aspect within you, then it doesn’t stick. For that you need to be hollow and empty.
Q: If ever a devotee has to ask something from the Divine or from the Master, what is the best thing he can ask for?
Sri Sri: Come on! Now do I also need to tell you also what you should ask? I don’t think there is any need of that. Your need is spontaneous. It just comes from within. You can’t but ask. You cannot force yourself to ask for something. Then, it will not be genuine.
Q: Gurudev, can you please talk about Sanyasa (referring to the act or intention of renouncing everything)? What does it mean to be a Sanyasi (a renunciate)?
Sri Sri: Sanyasa means being totally centered. It means to feel that ‘Everyone belongs to me, and I belong to everybody. I want nothing for myself and I’m ready to give everything’.
Q: Gurudev, it is said that the one who knows (the Truth) never says it and the one who speaks about it does not really know. Now that I know this, if somebody asks me whether I’m enlightened or not, what should I say? Or not say?
Sri Sri: It is easy to say ‘No’ rather than say ‘Yes’. So choose according to your time availability. Because, if a person cannot feel it without your saying yes or no, they are not going to feel it even after you say yes or no. If someone says, ‘Are the lights switched on here?’ that means they have not opened their eyes. So whether you say yes or no, it doesn’t make any difference to them. Right? If they are blind then even if you say, ‘Yes, the lights are on’, how does it matter to them? How does it make any impact on them? And if you say ‘No’ even then it doesn’t make any sense. So, in all these circumstances the golden principle is - Smile with Silence. Got it? If they can feel it, then even if you say no, they are going to feel it.
Once I was in Sweden and there was a meeting. There was a journalist in the audience who asked me ‘Are you enlightened? Don’t beat around the bush. Tell me. I want to ask you, are you enlightened?’ I just looked and smiled. I said to him, ‘I know you are very clever’. Then he said, ‘But, are you enlightened?’ It is better to say ‘No’. Then the whole conversation finishes. Why take the trouble to prove anything by saying ‘yes’? It is even more headache. And everyone who tried to prove this was in even more trouble. What is the point in saying ‘Yes’? So I said ‘No’. But then to this, the journalist said – ‘No, you are not telling me the truth. I don’t believe you’. Then you believe in yourself and believe what your heart is saying.
Q: Gurudev, today, while changing the sacred threads (during the Upanayanam ceremony) the pundits chanted the Rishi Vandana. Could you please explain the significance of this mantra?
Sri Sri: Today we remember the Rishis - the ancient sages and seers who have kept this knowledge alive and have brought this knowledge to you. They have given the great mantras of the Vedas. So, today when people change sacred thread they recite this Mantra. What does the sacred thread represent? It means to take responsibility by thought, word and deed. To remind you that you are shouldering the responsibility, they put a thread on. It is like saying, ‘I am shouldering this responsibility’. And feeling grateful is a part of the process.
Q: Gurudev, how can we go from the Saguna (Form) to the Nirguna (Formless)?
Sri Sri: Every form is a manifestation of the formless Divinity. The body is characterized by the Guna (meaning has form or attributes; also meaning the is influenced by the three Gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas); but the Atma (soul) is Nirguna or formless. Meditation is the answer for this. The Saguna has form, shape, name etc. but it comes from the formless.
Q: Gurudev, Kshama (mercy or forgiveness) has also been called as Daan (charity). Why is this so? It is called as Kshama-Daan (meaning to see forgiveness as an act of charity or altruism).
Sri Sri: Do not get entangled in this web of words. It is just a play of words. Different people use different words or different languages to convey the same thing. Forgiveness is simply forgiveness, that’s it.
Q: Gurudev, in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that ‘everyone is equally dear to Me’. But then a little later He tells Arjuna, ‘you are most dear to Me’. How is this contradiction possible?
Sri Sri: There is a lot of contradiction throughout the Bhagavad Gita at every step, in every chapter. That is why Arjuna at one point tells Lord Krishna, ‘O Lord! Tell me one way only (towards freedom from misery). Sometimes you suggest that Bhakti Yoga (the path of Devotional service) is the best; sometimes you say that Karma Yoga (the path of doing one’s action or duty) is supreme, and at other times you say that Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge of the Absolute) is the only way. I am very confused with all this, so please suggest one out of all these’.
So Arjuna too says the same thing in the Gita. But that is how the Truth is. Truth is multi-dimensional, and not just one-dimensional or one-faceted. This is why different ways and expressions are needed to say or express that multi-dimensional Truth. So, Lord Krishna asks Arjuna to step on one ladder, and then asks him to set foot on a different ladder and so on. He never tells Arjuna to stay fixed or rooted onto one ladder alone. The Bhagavad Gita reveals the unique art (of the Lord) of leading a person step by step from one ladder through another to the Divine. Now you might be tempted to ask, ‘If you wanted me to step onto some other ladder, why did you ask me to set foot on this one in the first place?’ This is exactly what Arjuna also tells Lord Krishna. But that is not the way. So Lord Krishna makes him step on one ladder, then move to another one.
This is the speciality of the Bhagavad Gita. This is how a mature and profound scripture should ideally be. It is only through one contradiction after another that the final Truth gets unveiled. Though wherever there is no contradiction or conflicting thought to be found, that is also fine; it is knowledge at a primary (basic) level only. In primary education one does not find any complexity or contradictions. For example, you will not find anything confusing or contradicting when you learn the alphabets A B C D etc. But you are sure to find confusion and contradictions in a profound scripture. Why is it so? It is because this world is multi-dimensional. The world is round, like a sphere.
Many years ago, a gentleman from Iran had come here. This must have been some 10-15 years ago. He was an Imam, and a close confidante of the Ayatollah Khomeini (a religious head of Iran), and was second-in-command to him. He was quite old, some 75-80 years in age. In those days I used to stay in the Shakti Kutir in the old Ashram. So, one has to climb the stairs to come up to the Kutir. When the gentleman climbed the stairs and came to me, he said, ‘Gurudev, you are known to be most merciful. You know that there is a question that has been troubling me since many years now. I want to ask you – ‘If there is but One Truth, then there should also be one and only one way to know it, isn’t it? There is only one right answer to a question. There cannot be four or five different correct answers to the same question. So if there is One Truth, then there should also be only one true religion for it. Why are there so many religions in the world? All the other religions should be false. There can be only one true way to the Truth’. I immediately understood what he was trying to convey. He was basically trying to say that Islam is the only true religion and the way to God, while all other religions are fake or false. So basically this is the question that he had in mind, but he was asking me in a different way. He said, ‘Gurudev, people often say that all religions are good and worth honouring, but that is just not possible. It is a common saying that there is One God, but there are different ways to reach Him. But that is not possible. There is only one genuine religion, the rest are all devised by man and are false’. I smiled to him and said, ‘Please have a seat first. Then I told him that to come to the Ashram, there can be different routes or directions. One direction can be to come straight from the Ashram gate and turn right at the end. Then, another way can be to go straight and then turn left and reach the Ashram. Yet another way can be to not turn anywhere but follow a straight road and come straight to the Ashram. Now what do you think? Are all these routes not correct in their own way? They are all correct. When someone is coming from the Bangalore city area towards the Ashram, they would be told to come straight and turn right for the Ashram. But if someone is coming from Kanakpura area, then they would be told to go straight and take a final left turn for the Ashram. So that route is also correct. And if someone is coming from the Bannerghatta area, they would be told to keep coming straight without taking turns anywhere. And that route is also true. So all routes are true. One has to see the way from where one stands in life. In the world, man has been at different stages in life, and different regions or cultures at different points in time. So, according to the position or place one was in, different ways have been shown to reach the Divine. That is what it is’.
Our ancestors, ancient seers and sages knew this very well and so they told all the possible ways (religions) one could take to reach the Divine. The Sanatan Dharma (another term for Hinduism) is so vast and elaborate that it confuses you a lot, but it also shows the way to the Truth. According to the Sanatan Dharma, this is right and that is also right. If there is a religion in which all ways of realizing the Divine are accommodated, it is this ancient tradition (of Sanatan Dharma). That is because it was not created or given by any one particular Rishi (wise sage or seer) or any person in particular. Thousands of wise sages and seers have contributed to this tradition and enriched it with their knowledge and experiences. So all their wisdom and knowledge has come together in this ancient tradition of the Sanatan Dharma. The Imam was very happy upon hearing this and liked it very much. He said, ‘Gurudev, today I have found my answer and I am very content’. Saying this, he took leave and left.
The point I want to say here is that wherever one finds contradiction or apparently conflicting thoughts and approaches, one also surely finds the light of Truth there as well.
Q: Does the Guru choose the devotee or does the devotee choose the Guru?
Sri Sri: It doesn’t matter! As long as they choose each other! (Laughter)
In Sanskrit, it is said that there are 2 ways for this: Whether the Divine chooses you or you choose the Divine. They say it is like the monkey and the kittens. The mother monkey just roams around and it is the young ones who are watchful and follow the mother. But on the other hand the kittens don’t worry about the mother, and they don’t even look at the mother. They simply play around and it is the mother cat that takes care of the kitten, and holds the kitten by its own jaw and takes them around.
Here the cat is concerned about its kittens. There, it is the baby monkey which is concerned about the mother. The mother monkey does not watch, the baby monkey goes and clings on to the mother. So there are 2 things: One is the way of the devotee. The devotee is like the kitten, allowing God to guide. And a philosopher or a yogi is like the baby monkey which holds on to the mother, which just latches on to the Divine. So one is a Karma Yogi (here meaning to know that every action is anyway being guided by the Divine), the other is a Bhakt-yogi (here meaning to be totally immersed in the devotion to the Divine for everything). You can choose to be either one or both also at times.
Q: Gurudev, Lord Shiva never took a body (physical form), and possibly even goddesses such as Goddess Durga, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Gayatri etc. also did not. So are all these different forms of the same energy? What is the difference among them?
Sri Sri: Yes, they are essentially one. All of them are different powers, and are different by virtue of their names, their forms and appearance; yet they are all one in essence.