From India with Inner Peace

26 Aug 2011

Many escape from traumatic circumstances. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar sits on the first flight to the crisis, and recently he was in Oslo.

Since he was a young boy, the Indian peace worker Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been saying that the world is his family. In 1981 he started The Art of Living, which now operates in 151 countries. Humanitarian work is only one part of its activities. The Art of Living also conducts courses to overcome stress, depression and aggression. The foundation is non-religious and cultivates spiritual and humanitarian values among people.

After studying at the University of Bangalore, Gurudev travelled with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – the guru who was the spiritual mentor of the Beatles. At Lysebu hotel in Holmenkollen he walks around like a common guest. On the 2nd floor, he has placed some sheets on the floor in the colour of peace. He is a small man with a light and pleasant voice.

“When I heard about the bomb and shootings in Norway, I cancelled all other plans. If there a problem in one part of my family, it is my duty to come. I will try to give people peace of mind. I have been present after tsunamis, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks. It was shocking that such a thing could happen in Scandinavia. Now we understand that no place can call itself fully trained in peace. We must attend to the youth, and get non-violence and care into the education system,” said Gurudev.

Q:You have previously said that terrorists have no religion. Can you elaborate on that?

Gurudev: People who kill, do not believe in the values that religion is all about. Religion is about honouring life and love. If human values are missing, it cannot be called religion. Some people have a lot of accumulated anger and frustration. They do not know what to do with it. They have never learnt how to get rid of negative emotions. They can take out the aggression on people who are different, because they do not know them. For the world to be a safe place, people must learn how to achieve inner peace.

Many times, Gurudev has seen violent people change. The Art of Living works in a lot of prisons and has also given Al Qaeda supporters a new life. Mohammad Afroz was arrested at Mumbai Airport while the U.S. was hunting terrorists. He wanted to do terrorist attacks in India, UK and Australia. Later, he created headlines in Mumbai's local newspapers, because he refused to be released on bail. He wanted to stay in prison in order to complete an Advanced Course with The Art of Living. The teacher, Dinesh Ghodke, said that the student’s newly acquired calmness was due to meditation. He had overcome the past and had broadened his perspective.

“Everybody is wondering about how a terrorist can become a person who wants to serve mankind. Then I say that there are no bad people, only unconscious people. Inside the culprit is a victim crying for help. We cannot remove hate with hate. Only love can transform hate. Recently Norway has inspired the whole world to show love. Generally, we consider it a private matter. But love is the language the world should speak now, also in public. We must realize that love is more powerful than hatred,” said Gurudev.

“When I grew up, non-violence had a high status. All were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. If someone was aggressive in the classroom, it was looked down upon. But slowly the pride has become associated with aggression and violence. The aggressive has become the hero of the class, not the peaceful. We must reverse the trend, honouring non-violence and valuing care. We have approximately 70 years each on this planet. It is not even enough time to express love, so how can we have time for hate?”

“What can Norway learn from the catastrophe,” Gurudev asks himself. “Yes, to live with differences and disagreements. Not run away from it. People who make trouble must get to tell their side of the story. We must listen to how they view reality. A one-sided view on a case tells us nothing. It is only when we look at the situation from different angles that we are able to understand it.”

At the Oslo Convention Centre at Youngstorget Gurudev met a multicultural assembly the same evening. He gave a lecture along with the mayor of Oslo and several others. The politician Abid Raja spoke about the dialogue meetings he had held at the House of Literature. Here people with rabid opinions got a chance to speak too. Police and politicians listened to them. Youth who used to cause trouble, say that the meetings have given them a new attitude.

We were also at the Oslo Convention Centre, and we heard what a woman in the audience saw right after the 22nd of July. “A Romani man walked around with several bouquets of roses. I thought that he wanted to would sell them, but he didn’t. He placed them outside the church. That made an impression on me.”

Q: A male participant at the meeting asks Gurudev if he thinks it is possible to create a just world within today’s financial system. (He himself sounds doubtful.)

Gurudev: My short answer is yes. It is possible to combine business and ethics, usefulness and care. We who are working in Oslo already know it.