Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: Gurudev, in the Yogasara Upanishad, you have said that thoughts arises when the mind stirs the memory. Does that mean that all thoughts are from the memory and no new thoughts arise?
Sri Sri: No, as I said earlier, perception (mind) and memory, both are responsible for the intellect to function. So, new thoughts are linked to old thoughts.
Sometimes, the intuitive thought which come need not be linked to anything, it can just come as a new thought.
Q: Gurudev, if the combination of all three, i.e., Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge) and Durga (the goddess of power and strength) was not possible, and if you had to choose only one, then which of the three forms should a woman choose in today’s day and age.
Sri Sri: Listen, the Indian mythology gave all the power to women. All the important ministries were assigned to womenfolk. The ministry of finance, defense and education were given to women. So a woman plays all these three roles.
With kids, she is playing the role of teacher. Sometimes with husband, she can play the role of Durga; or with neighbor, if the situation demands, a woman can become a defense minister. Of course, she holds the key to the wealth of the family.
You know, in ancient India, they used to have what is called Stree dhan. Every woman was given a certain amount and they would not touch that amount. That was the savings. She can hand it over to her daughter, or do whatever she wants to do with it. That was the ancient system here.
There are matriarchal families even today in India. Two states in India - one is in the North east, one is Kerala, when a boy gets married he goes and lives in the girl’s house. It is not the other way around. He goes and lives with his wife, and the woman inherits all the property, the boys don’t.
Q: Women will be playing a very important role in the next years as the new era progresses. So, how can they develop Shakti (strength) so that they can be more empowered to do a better job?
(Márcia De Luca: Specialist in Yoga and health from Brazil)
Sri Sri: First thing I would say is, they should watch their food. More healthy food, more organic food.
Second is, they should not stop singing. In this country, if you see in the villages, when women go for working in the fields, they keep humming and singing. So singing gives a lot of energy to do their work with enthusiasm. Men are more shy to sing than women. So women should not leave their habit of humming and singing. Singing can give them a lot of energy.
Third thing is, do some yoga and pranayama.
Q: Q: When I came here, as I entered the door, I had a lot of questions. But when I sat down I realized that this whole session is about finding your inner peace, and that was a beautiful realization.
My question, today, is about Africa. You had mentioned earlier that simply sending food is not a solution. I would like your guidance on how to further charity in Africa to a new level and make it a more sustainable solution. Africa is a forgotten continent. They are going through a lot of pain and I want your guidance to help them better.
(Her Excellency Sheikha Hind Khalid Khalid Al Qasimi: A designer and editor from UAE.)
Sri Sri: You know, I was also thinking on these lines: how we can help Africa more. There are 3 dimensions we all have to work for.
First is, we have to see that corruption doesn’t happen. Billions of dollars are being siphoned off into the pockets of just a few political leaders; if I’m right.
When I was in the European parliament, I met several people who informed me that many of these African leaders have stashed their money away in London. So the first thing we need to do is to create a sense of awareness in them that there is a need for a strong anti-corruption bill, or some such thing will have to happen. Such a moment has to come up there.
Second is, creating a sense of belongingness among the people. A lot of money is wasted in ethnic conflicts in Africa. People can just get together, and instead of getting into conflict, celebrate their diversity.
Africa is not one, there are so many diverse little sections, groups, and tribes. They should celebrate this difference together. For this India can be the best example, because in India, every 200 kilometers a different language is spoken! It’s almost like Europe.
Just take the whole of Europe, how many different languages are there; how many different countries are there, yet it is all in one country. Similarly, in some provinces in India, there are 10-15 tribes, but they all celebrate together, they remain together. There aren't such big ethnic conflicts.
So we need to teach people how to live harmoniously in spite of their differences. This can be inculcated in the education system. South Africa has done it to a very big extent. Botswana has done it to some extent. Rest of Africa should do this.
Just giving out charity is not enough. We need to teach them how to fish. We need to teach them how to stand on their feet. This is what I believe in.
Q: (Tanika Gray: News Editor at CNN)
Q: With the media reporting crime and negativity around the world, what do you think is their responsibility towards this violence that is happening? What do you think we should be doing differently?
Sri Sri: I think the media has two important roles to play. One is to place the facts in front of the people as they are. At the same time create hope in people for the future.
You know, the present scenario can be very depressing. The media has to take responsibility not to create more depression in society. They have to give people hope.
Suppose there is a riot, or a crisis, or a war, in that situation also there is hope; there are good people on the planet who are doing some very good work, this must be highlighted. Otherwise when you open the newspaper, all you see is bad news, which is depressing. The people feel that there is no hope in life because the world is so bad.
The citizen of this world will not label society as bad or hopeless. This can happen only when they are bombarded with negative news all the time. So, media will have to balance this out. Create hope, at the same time keep the reality in front of people.
Q: So, you say that for a good relationship, we have to pamper the husband’s ego. As a working woman, I find that my potential gets limited because I have to do the same for my male bosses and my male colleagues.
Sri Sri: Oh, you don’t have to do it all the time! You should have some fun in the office as well. Sometime poke their ego and see what happens. Have fun!
One thing is for sure, whether at home or at workplace, don’t sacrifice your smile for anything on the planet. Nothing is worth it.
Keep your smile. This does not mean that you have to keep smiling at others all the time, but your heart should be smiling. When you give a comment to your boss and he is boiling, you should smile and watch how he is boiling and changing his colors and expressions. See the blood shooting into his eyes. Just watch and have a good time.
If you have that much inner strength or peace; the inner smile then that is it, you become invincible. I tell you, you are invincible. Just wake up and recognize the huge potential you have. The ocean of love and compassion that you have. You recognizing your self is good enough to bring a change in the world. That is why Mahatma Gandhi has said, be the change you want to see in the world.
Q: Gurudev, you tell us to live in the moment, but you also say that we must have goals in life. Is this not contradictory? If one has to live in the moment, then why have goals in life?
Sri Sri: Life is so complex! It is not just simple. It is so complex and that is the beauty of it! That is why it is beautiful.
Our body has a form, color and shape, but our mind doesn’t have any of those. We are combination of the most obvious, and the completely abstract the mind. A combination of both. Something which is so tangible, and something which is so airy. You can’t put a finger and say, 'This is my mind'.
So, we are a combination of very complex and diverse principles of nature, that is why we are so complete. So you live in the present moment, but have a great vision for the future. You can do both. And we all possess this ability.
Q: Could you advise on what is the best way of going into meditation. And is there any kind of special music which can enable you to access that space better?
(Ritu Kumar: Fashion designer from India (Recipient of the Padmashree in 2013))
Sri Sri: Meditation is very simple, and it just takes a couple of days to learn. Once you learn it then you can do it on your own. Then you can do it anytime and anywhere you want. But only before meals, okay! What happens during meditation is our metabolism slows down; whereas after food our metabolism goes up. So it is better to meditate two to three hours before food, or after a good meal.
Meditation is good, it makes our body strong, health better, mind clear, and our emotions become softer and positive. It improves our intuitive ability, improves our vibrations, and brings such a positive energy around us. There are so many benefits to it.
Q: Gurudev, when the six layers of our existence become transparent, then we are able to perceive the seventh layer, the self. Could you please talk about how to make the intellect transparent?
Sri Sri: Let us understand what the intellect is.
Consciousness functions largely in four different modes, similar to the different modes or functions in a cell phone. The four different modes in the consciousness are:
1. The Mind - The Mode of Perception: Now you are looking at me, I am looking at you. It is the mind through which the eyes perceive, and the mind through which the ears hear. It is the mind through which the nose smells, if there is a good fragrance around; but if your mind is elsewhere, you would not even notice the fragrance.
So, this faculty through which we smell, taste, hear, see, touch, is the mind.
2. The Intellect – The Mode of Analysis: Once you perceive, then the mind goes on judging, whether this is good, not good. The understanding of the fragrance; the understanding of the site; the understanding of the sound falling on your ears. This is the intellect. The intellect categorizes, analyses things; saying this is right or wrong, or I like this and I don’t like that.
In order to analyze things, the intellect needs a third layer, called the memory.
3. The Memory - The Mode of Storage: The intellect is in between the memory and the mind. The mind and the memory together make the intellect function. If there is no memory, the intellect cannot function. The basis of the intellect is memory and perception.
The memory captures some deep impressions, that is the limitation of the memory. It captures the pleasant memories, and the unpleasant memories (the unwanted, deep impressions called trauma); all of these are stored in the memory.
4. The Ego – The Sense of Identification: Beyond the memory, the consciousness identifies with something, that is ego.
Then is the Self - it is beyond the four different functions. It is the reference point of all changes. If you say that everything is changing, you do notice that everything is changing, right? Your body is changing, your thoughts are changing; thoughts form part of the mind. Your concepts are changing, that is the intellect. The memory is changing, there are certain things you remember, and certain things you don’t remember. All this is changing. If you say that all this is changing, there must be something that doesn’t change; this is the logic.
How do you know something is changing? This is because there is something that is not changing. Now you don’t know what this something is! But there is something, some vague thing that is there, and you can feel the changes because of its presence.
If you look at your own picture, when you were 10 years old, you can’t say it is me, now. Your body is not the same, but what makes you say that it is you?
Every cell in your body changes in one year. The lining in your stomach changes every five days. Your blood changes every 24 hours. Your skin changes in one month. Scientists say that every cell in your body changes in one year. So, when everything is changing, how do you say that it is you, the same person who was 10 years ago or 15 years ago? Yes, there is something that is not changing. By the changes you infer that there is something that is not changing.
What is this something? Lord Buddha wanted to know this. He meditated and meditated, and he found that there is nothing! It is empty.
He said, ‘I searched and searched and searched for the Self, but I could not find it. There is nothing.’
He said, ‘Shunya (zero); everything is empty. There is only emptiness; I could not find anything’.
Adi Shankaracharya, from the Vedic tradition, came after Lord Buddha.
(Lord Buddha did not have a teacher. He had a very tough journey of finding himself. This was not the case with Adi Shankaracharya; he had a teacher, a mentor.)
When Adi Shankaracharya met Lord Buddha, he said, ‘Yes, I understand, this is all temporary, everything is changing'.
He asked Lord Buddha, ‘You said you could not find the Self, but who could not find the Self? There must be someone who was searching. Who was searching? Who could not find? That is the Self!’
With this one logic, Adi Shankaracharya turned around and brought the Vedic culture back into India. Otherwise, at one time, the whole of India was Buddhist.
The main flaw in Buddhism was the principle that everything is empty. There is sorrow, there is emptiness in everything. This was the main focus of Buddhism.
The Vedic principle is that everything is full; this is all consciousness. What we perceive as empty, is all bliss.
Adi Shankaracharya said that the one who could not find (the Self), the one who is searching for it, that one is Sat Chit Anand. It has three characteristics: Truth, Consciousness and Bliss.
It is Truth; nobody can say that I don’t exist. Even if someone says that they don’t exist, then how are they saying that they don’t exist? It needs someone to say it, that means they do exist; are you getting it?
It requires a very sharp intelligence; the intellect of Shankaracharya is unparalleled.
Today, scientists are amazed to see that what they are saying now in Quantum Mechanics is the same as what was said in the ancient times, in the Vedas.
What do the Vedas say? The whole world is made up of One thing. There is only One substance from which everything is made up of, and that is consciousness; that is Sat, Chit Ananda; it is bliss.
So he said that the whole world is bliss.
Now, how did the transition happen? Adi Shankaracharya did not say, 'This is bad, this is wrong, this is foolish', no, never. He respected Buddha. He said it was a necessary step, but not the final step. Buddha’s step was necessary to move your attention from that temporary, from the ephemeral to something that is permanent.
Adi Shankaracharya said, ‘Yes, we agree that everything is nothing, but nothing is also everything.’
This is how the spiritual revolution happened.
Lord Buddha never said that he was starting a new religion. He remained a Hindu monk, and he rebelled against some of the practices which people were doing at that time.
What were the people doing? They were doing only rituals, from morning till evening; they forgot the knowledge aspect.
When people had forgotten about meditation, Lord Buddha came and reminded them, ‘You have to meditate.’
He said, ‘You forgot that Lord Krishna said that you should meditate. You are not following that, you are only getting involved in doing so many rituals day and night.’
So he reversed that whole tendency.
When Adi Shankaracharya came, he established the knowledge of ancient truth. He lived like Jesus Christ, for 32 years only. He was born in Kerala, near the ocean, and he died in the Himalayas, on the mountainside. The places where he travelled to - East, West, North, South of India, became the boundary of India. He reestablished the ancient, Vedic knowledge in these places; that is the story. I think very few people in the world know about how this story of how the knowledge of Vedanta was reestablished in India.
Q: (Arpine Galfayan: Human rights activist from Armenia)
Q: Dear Gurudev, in almost all religious institutions and practices, women are not allowed to represent the word of god. Even if women are not considered something evil or secondary, still women cannot be priests and conduct poojas. So the question is, do you consider this to be an unfair practice? Do you see the need of changing it, and if so, how?
Sri Sri: You know, I am a rebel in this field. I say women have equal right as men, and here (in the Ashram), we say women can all do poojas. Women can participate in all rituals, and be priests as well. You have the right, you can do it.
Nowhere, at least in the scriptures, what I have learnt or whatever little I know, is there any discrimination on the basis of gender. So, women should come forward and take up their rightful place. Don’t ask someone to give it to you.