Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: Gurudev, what is the relation between God and Truth? And what should be the relationship between a master and a disciple?
Sri Sri: God is not somebody sitting in the heaven trying to give you a little finger which you want to go and catch, but he flies away. No! God is not some man or woman or somebody sitting somewhere. God is the summum bonum of the whole creation.
What is God? God is truth, beauty and benevolence.
In the world, there is an underlying truth that everything is One, and that One is so benevolent, so beautiful. That is satyam shivam sundaram! That is divinity, and it is blissful.
What is the relationship between a master and a student? It should be one of ease.
What is your relationship with yourself? You are honest with yourself, you are truthful to yourself, you are at ease with yourself. I feel that should be your relationship with not just the master, but with everybody. You should feel at home with everyone. Doesn’t matter if they feel or not. It is their problem. From your side you should be natural.
That is what I have believed and practiced. I am at home with anybody, anywhere in the world. I don’t judge people, I am home with them.
If you can’ be at home with everybody, at least start with the master. With the master, be sincere, feel like you are at home, feel free. That’s it.
I would say, just relax and don’t worry. Don’t try to behave in a way which you are not. You don’t have to cultivate a behavior, ‘Oh, how I should behave with my parents, how I should be with my mother, how I should behave with my friends.’
This cosmetic behavior is not going to work. You be free from all stress. If you are free from stress, if you are true to yourself, you are natural and you are sensitive, that is good enough. Any interaction of yours with anyone will be of harmony and pleasantness.
Q: Gurudev, I am 28 years old and I feel very depressed and sad when guys reject me from a marriage point of view. Nobody sees my inner beauty, and spirituality is becoming beautiful on the inside. What is the point in becoming beautiful inside when people judge from outside?
Sri Sri: Never mind, they’re not a match for you. They’re at a much lower level, just judging you from the outside. You’ll find someone really good who can understand you. You shouldn't be depressed about it. No. If you know your worth, someone who will recognize your worth will show up. Don’t worry.
Q: Gurudev, I remember the story of a movie I saw ten years back. Yet I forget the knowledge I heard yesterday. How come?
Sri Sri: Never mind. Knowledge will come from time to time when it is needed, and then you forget it also. Forgetfulness is also bliss. You should not carry all the knowledge; it is too heavy on the head.
You know, knowledge is also like soap. In the Bhagavad Gita, it is said, 'Na hi jnanena sadrusham pavitram iha vidyate. Tat svayam yoga-samsiddhah kalenatmani vindati'. (4.38)
You put on the soap and then you wash it away. So, take the knowledge, use it and then become hollow and empty. You become free from it. And when it is needed, it will surely come to you.
Q: Gurudev, in Brazil a lot of people are looking for the meaning to life. But most of them don’t know the difference between religion and spirituality, and many a times, it creates a resistance. What to say to these people so as to not to create a resistance and bring them to love?
Sri Sri: That is why we have kept the name The Art of Living. It is very neutral, very acceptable to everybody. We are not talking about God unless someone asks.
The prejudice in the world is what is eating up the cohesive culture in the world. The cohesiveness of all cultures is being destroyed by prejudice and fanaticism. Some religious people think, 'My religion is the only religion on Earth. Only this will take me to heaven. Everybody else is in hell'.
If they think that only their religion takes one to heaven and everybody else will be going to hell, they create hell for everybody. You don’t need to find another hell anywhere else.
It is man's mind, it’s expression and behavior that creates hell on the planet. This is unfortunate. Unfortunately in many major religions of the world, many people think that way and behave that way. They are fearful.
If religion is based on guilt and fear, I tell you people are not going to blossom.
You are made to feel guilty, you are repenting all the time, and you’re always afraid, ‘Oh, God is going to punish me. If I sit with a man of another religion next to me, I don’t know what will happen. Satan is going to enter my head'.
Satan is already sitting as fear inside you, he doesn’t have to enter you. He is already there.
Same with thoughts like, ‘I cannot stand with women', or 'I cannot stand with men. They are different. They look different. They dress different'. Or 'That person believes in many Gods, or another God’.
Things like this are destroying the fabric of the planet Earth. It’s destroying the human fabric. Isn’t it?
In this country, there are many people who are coming and converting people. In this country, Hinduism was only a way of life. It was never called a religion.
In earlier days, people had their way of life, and it was so diverse. Some people honored the trees, and thought of God in the form of tree. Some think God is in the Moon, or in the Sun.
In Arunachal Pradesh (in the North-East of India, bordering China and Tibet), that province, they have a religion called Donyi-Polo.
Donyi-Polo means the Sun and Moon are their Gods. They honor the Sun and the Moon. They honor the mountains and the rivers. People go there (to Arunachal Pradesh) and convert them saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You’re worshipping nature. This is no good. You should worship my God.’
They impose it on them. For centuries they have been following a particular religion, and they tell them their religion is bad and try to convert them, and say, ‘You have to believe only in this book and only then you can go to heaven otherwise God is angry at you’.
They instill guilt in the hearts and the minds of these people. Families are broken, I tell you. These people who try to convert, they get a lot of money from abroad. They put conditions for medical, for education, everything. If you convert then you get all this. And these poor people are brainwashed and they pulled away from their traditions, and their religion.
If there are no good things in a religion, that should be done away with. Things that are not good should be dropped. But if there are good things, then why to destroy that culture?
Honoring nature or respecting nature is a beautiful thing to do.
Here in the Hindu tradition, there is this belief that if you want to cut a tree, first you have to ask permission from the tree. Then promise the tree that you are going to plant five of the same kind elsewhere.
People would say, 'I have to cut you because I have to build my home here'. They would talk to trees. They would talk with feelings and promise to plan five of the same kind.
So they would bring five small saplings, and keep it there and ask the tree permission and then cut it. This is such a good tradition. Shouldn’t this be honored and welcomed?
People who are educated in Harvard come and say, ‘You are foolish, you are talking to trees. These are all superstitions. You should not do all this. What is this ceremony? Why do you want to do this?’ And the village man is completely at loss. He’s been believing for so many years and suddenly someone comes and says you’re superstitious.
That is why I would say, we must respect some of the old traditions. This converting of people and saying, ‘Only my God will take you to heaven and other things will take you to hell’, this sort of fear psychosis in this country is increasing.
Even yesterday a gentleman was telling me how this sort of induction is happening. It is so sad. We should convert from religion to spirituality. Graduate from being stuck in the religious mindset to spirituality, where you recognize good things from everywhere and honor them all.
We need to see how we can break this ice of the fanatic mindset. I am sure slowly and surely we will succeed.
Q: What is hell? Why was it created? When the creator gives so much love, why would He create, or allow the creation of something like hell?
Sri Sri: I have never seen hell, so I can’t say that He has created one!
Let us see this from a knowledge perspective.
There are two types of knowledge; one is based on Chemistry, and the other on Quantum Physics.
Chemistry, is based on the study of different elements, which have different atomic and molecular structures, and different characteristics.
In Quantum Physics, everything is considered to be just one wave function, it is all atoms only. It says, forget about the Periodic Table (the tabular arrangement of chemicals based on their atomic, molecular structure, and nature); there is no iron, copper, zinc; everything is just one wave function.
To say it simply, we can say, all this is wood. The floor is wood, chairs are wood, doors are wood, windows are wood, roof is wood, the whole building is wood; everything is wood - this is Quantum Physics. Chemistry is: the chair is not the table, the table is not the door, the door is not the roof, and the roof is not the floor; they are all different - this is Chemistry.
These are two different sets of knowledge needed in life. The knowledge of differences, diversities, definite objects and their qualities, and the knowledge of oneness.
Diamond and charcoal are virtually made of the same substance, but people wear diamonds on their ears, and not charcoal. In life, there is one aspect in which you see diversity, and there is another aspect where you see only the oneness; both are essential.
When you see that everything is one, meditation happens and that is samadhi; there is no two.
There is air inside the body, and outside the body. Every cell of our body is porous, and it is all space. Our skin is like a mosquito net, do you know that? If you take a piece of skin, and see it under the microscope, it is like a mosquito net. There is a lot of space in between.
How is a mosquito net made? It is made up of several holes put together; it is all empty space. Similarly, our body is full of the space element. You cannot say space is different, it is all the same, it is one. (There are three qualities of space, but we will come to that later, it is a higher knowledge.)
Recognizing that everything is one is Vedanta, meditation, samadhi.
What is the use of this knowledge? It helps you come to the present moment. You are lively in the moment, now!
What does not allow you to experience the oneness, the truth of Quantum Physics? It is the mind or the memory that clouds our vision, and does not allow us to see the vast sky.
How does that happen? Whatever has happened till this moment, it does not exist right now! In the flow of time, events happen, and they move away. No event stays. E.g., as we sit now, this is an event. It will finish in half an hour, we will go to our room, and this event will be gone. What stays is the impression of the events on the mind, in the memory.
As an event happens, the mind holds on to its impression. Thus, even as a new event comes, the mind is unable to see that afresh, because something is already written on it. It is similar to writing something on a blackboard. If some things are written on it and not completely rubbed off, then you cannot write new things. Even if you do, nothing makes any sense; similar things happen to our mind.
So how can we bring our mind to the total present moment? By understanding how the memory works.
What is the memory? The memory is like a dream. Every dream is nothing but a memory, an impression in the mind.
When you wake up from a dream, what do you say? ‘Oh, it was a dream’, and you put it behind, whether it was a pleasant dream or a nightmare. When you wake up, you say it is gone. Similarly, in any moment when you wake up (to the reality of the Oneness or absolute), the life force gushes in, and you see that whatever happened till yesterday is like a dream. The shift in your alertness, awareness, consciousness happens right away, and then you reach Quantum Physics. You switch from the Chemistry of Periodic Tables to the Physics of Quantum Nature. You realize, ‘Oh, everything, all events are just a dream! The whole world is a dream.’
What is this world? This world is an experience of the five senses.
Your experience of the world is through sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. All the knowledge that you hear is through sound. All that you read, you take it in through your eye sight. As this realization happens, no trauma can stay in you. Immediately energy gushes in and you realize, ‘Wow, this is so beautiful!’ A new dimension comes to life!
This is an exercise for you to practice.
For some time, suddenly wake up and see that everything that has happened till this moment is like a dream. Drop it! Have this doubt, this could be a dream; I am going to wake up from this dream in a few minutes.
When you recognize this whole thing is a dream, then suddenly all that anxiety, anger, sadness and sorrow, which is a result of hanging on to unpleasant events, disappear. Everything disappears and you become so free. When you surrender from inside you feel, ‘Wow, I am so free!’
To experience that ultimate freedom, what do you need to do? One day just shake your head and say, ‘This whole thing is a dream!’
This is only to kindle your awareness. As you are going into the dining hall, don’t tell me, ‘If this is all a dream, why should I eat?’ No, you have to do that!
Once, one of the great masters of our holy tradition, Adi Shankaracharya was telling his disciples that this whole thing is a dream. As he was walking, a mad elephant started coming behind him; so, Adi Shankaracharya started running.
Somebody later told Adi Shankaracharya, ‘You say that everything is a dream. The elephant was a dream, then why did you run?’
He said, ‘My running was also a dream!’
If you have a dream cake, you need a dream knife to cut it. You can’t take a real knife and cut a dream cake.
So, there are different levels of existence; this is truth. It is called the Principle of Duality.
This is also true but there are different things. A cannot be B, B cannot be C, C cannot be D. However, all of them are letters. If you say letters, A is a letter, B is a letter, C is a letter; all are letters in that category. If we recognize these two dimensions in life, our life becomes stable.
Q: Gurudev, what actually is prayaschit? How can one become free of one’s sins? Can one ever become free of guilt, or is one doomed to live with that?
Sri Sri: ‘Prayas’ means getting back to the original state; ‘chitta’ means consciousness.
We were all born innocent. How is the mind when you are a baby? Fresh, alive, innocent. Prayaschitta means, that act which takes you back to your innocence; makes your mind as pure as it was when you came into this planet.
Rejuvenating the chitta, or making it younger and getting it back to its original state is Prayaschitta. It is not exactly repenting. There is no appropriate word in English for it. It means getting back into one's original state.
Krishna said this in the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. Look, you can’t get rid of your sins. I will take care of it for you. I will rid you of all your sins. You just come to me, that’s all.
Jesus also said that, in more or less the same words. All prophets and Gurus say that, 'You don’t worry about sins. If you take refuge, if you are devoted, then devotion removes all the sins'.
If you have any problem in life, don’t blame others. Basically, all problems that we face in life have something to do with us only. So a good saadhak (seeker) or student understands this and does not complain. If your experience is bad, who is responsible? You are responsible. Why? Because it is your karma that brings these bad experiences to you.
So a good sadhak (seeker) never complains. This was the ancient tradition, where you could not go to a teacher saying, 'This is not okay and that is not okay. That person said this to me. This person treated me badly'.
If someone treated you badly, it is your karma. You must have treated someone badly sometime. You could not complain to the Guru and saints of the earlier generation because they would say that it is your karma. You could only go to them with good news of wonderful things that happened.
But I listen to everybody’s complaints just so that they find some relief. If they don’t download it with me, they will do it with somebody else. But these days, I am also following the olden tradition. If someone complains, I tell them to deal with it themselves.
Q: Gurudev, what is the importance of sacrifice in the life?
Sri Sri: You get strength from sacrifice. It increases your valor.
Sacrifice brings you so much peace, and you feel that your life is fruitful. You never get as much happiness by craving or acquiring things, as much as you get by sacrificing them.
When we give something to someone, don't we get happiness? What pleasure you get in giving is more than the pleasure you get in receiving. Of course there is happiness in getting the things you have desired for, but the happiness which you get by giving and sharing is double.
Only those who have something can give something. That is why, sacrifice, the pleasure of giving is one level higher than the pleasure you get in receiving.
Q: Gurdev, why is Ekadashi very dear to Lord Krishna? Today is Vaikunth Ekadashi. Today after celebrating it with you, are the doors of Vaikunth (Paradise) open for us?
Sri Sri: You should first understand what 'Vaikunth' (in Indian mythology, referring to the abode of Lord Vishnu) means. It is a place where there is no lack, or shortage; there is only abundance.
It is written in the Srimad Bhagawatam, that everyone in Vaikunth is Lord Narayana Himself (meaning that in such a divine abode, every soul is elevated to Divinity and appears as Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Consciousness that permeates all of Creation). You cannot distinguish who is the Lord (Narayan) and who is the devoted sevak (servant or devotee).
The word kuntha in Hindi means shortage. And a place where there is no lack, or shortage of anything, that is what Vaikuntha is. It is said that everyone in Vaikunth (Paradise) is in the form of Lord Narayana Himself. There is no inferiority complex, no superiority complex.
Do you feel that there is any scarcity here?
When you come close to the Guru, you will find (Mount) Kailasha (the abode of Lord Shiva, also signifying the abode of total bliss), and Vaikuntha also there.
You know, the Guru is a Tattva (the most fundamental element or principle). We often chant: 'Guru Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha', isn’t it? The Guru Tattva has all three powers and qualities: Guru Brahma (referring to the power of the Guru as Lord Brahma. the Creator), Guru Vishnu (referring to the power of the Guru as Lord Vishnu, the preserver and protector of Creation), and Guru Maheshwara (referring to the power of the Guru as Lord Shiva, the great transformer and destroyer of all negativity).
So the Guru Tattva has all the three. So where all these three are present, that is where Vaikuntha will also be.
What is Kailasha? A place where there is only joy and bliss, where there is only celebration; there is only love everywhere. That is what Kailasha is. Vaikunth (Paradise) means that place where there is no shortage, there is only abundance.
Today is Vaikunth Ekadashi, so you can fast and remain hungry, even though here there is no scarcity (laughter). If there is shortage and you have to go hungry, then that is poverty. Here there is no shortage of anything, everything is in abundance, and still you are fasting. This is Vaikunth Ekadashi.
It is said that on this day Lord Krishna gave the Bhagavad Gita. So today is celebrated as Gita Jayanti (celebrating the day the Gita was delivered to the World) also.
Today it is called Devotthana Ekadashi also. All the Gods and Goddesses (implying the Divinity within oneself) are said to be asleep till today. Today they wake up and once again engage themselves in the welfare and upliftment of people.
So the message for today is to wake up the Divinity which is within each one of you. Commit yourself to the welfare of the nation.
Q: Gurudev, can destiny be changed by changing the name? Or by changing the spelling of the name?
Sri Sri: Some numerologists do say this. But listen, you are beyond the name. With small things like changing the name, or wearing some stone, can our destiny be changed? No. Your sentiment can change your destiny. If your feelings are pure, your heart is filled with love and prayer, there is meditation, and you do seva, that can definitely change your destiny.
Q: Gurudev, are you Lord Krishna?
Sri Sri: Why? Are you going to bring some problems for me?
Read Bhagavad Gita. Lord Krishna says, one who sees me in everything and in everyone, is really the intelligent one.
'Yo mam pashyati sarvatra sarvam cha mayi pashyati tasyaham na pranashyami sa cha me na pranashyati'. (6.30)
One who sees me in everybody and me in everybody are the intelligent ones. That is why it is said, 'Sarvam Vasudevam iti sa-mahatma sa-durlabhaha' (Rare are those holy souls who see Me in everything and everything in Me). Such great people are very difficult to find, who say that everything is Vasudeva (God).