From Asia to America, the world seeks a remedy for terrorism; it is the need of the hour. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar offers a powerful solution in a simple form: multicultural education.
The key to interfaith harmony and to reducing terrorism, according to Gurudev, lies in education – a multicultural education that encourages pluralism. “Right education is that which creates a reverence for diversity in nature and a sense of belonging with the whole world,” says Gurudev. Opening up a child’s mind to respecting other religions, bringing up a child in a world that encourages human values like a sense of oneness with others, trust and compassion is the sustainable solution. When children understand that human values exist in all the great traditions; when children glimpse the humanity of believers of other faiths; and when children know that truth is expressed outside their own religion, then narrow-mindedness, the root of terrorism, will not survive.
“The only way to get rid of fanaticism in the world is through education that is broad-based, multi-cultural and multi-religious so that a child growing up does not think that only the Bible or only the Koran holds the truth.” –Gurudev. When multicultural education takes hold, especially amongst the young and religious leaders, then future harmony is assured.
Tackling the issue of terrorism and promoting interfaith harmony, Gurudev has taken his message of a multicultural education to concerned forums across the world – be it the 29th National Meeting of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (the largest Islamic Imam Association of India) or the 3rd World Congress of Rabbis and Imams for Peace in Europe. He has taken his message to members of every stratum of society – religious leaders, decision-makers, academicians, bearers of social responsibility and the common man.
Progressive times require a new indoctrination – one that raises human values above everything else and promotes the oneness of humanity. For almost three decades and with renewed emphasis in response to recent attacks, Gurudev has been advancing this sort of thinking amongst people of different religions.
Bridging communal divides
As the founder of The Art of Living, he has been directing the volunteers to reach out to people who need help. Bridging communal divides from Iraq to Pakistan, China to Canada, America, the African continent, and Europe – Gurudev has bound together people of 151 countries in a spirit of selfless service and love. Gurudev has often guided relief operations in regions which are rift with communal tensions. When an earthquake hit parts of Pakistan and Kashmir in 2005, Gurudev sent volunteers from India, many Hindus, to provide relief aid in Pakistan. Hindu teachers of The Art of Living have gone to Iraq to initiate the trauma relief operations and teach people stress-elimination breath techniques. Hindu-Muslim strains had long melted away in the people inspired by Gurudev.
During the Godhra riots in Gujarat (2002), Gurudev stood on a 4-feet high compound wall and addressed a crowd of Hindus and Muslims who were on the verge of attacking one another, all armed with sickles and knives. As Gurudev spoke about the need to come together to subside the ensuing crisis, he quelled the burning anger in the hearts of the crowd, and they dropped their arms, one by one.
These are few instances that pronounce the mission of a humanitarian and spiritual leader who carries the message of togetherness and human values wherever he goes.
During his tour of Iraq in 2007, Gurudev visited a village. The Shias had removed 8,000 Sunni families from there. Gurudev had a meeting with the Ulemas and important authorities of the Shia village and said: “Both Shias and Sunnis are like the two eyes of Islam. Both the eyes have only one vision, they can see the same view. Therefore, we have to stay united.” The message struck a chord in the hearts of the authorities. People welcomed the other families who returned back and began residing in the village.
In another instance, the communal tension between Hindus and Christians mounted following the killing of a Hindu leader and four others in the Kandhamal district in Orissa (India), on August 23, 2008. Gurudev appealed for peace in the region: “I appeal to the Hindu community to refrain from reacting and taking revenge, and I appeal to the Christian community as well to please adhere to the path of peace and come together. Both the communities have to live together and have to work together for a progressive state. Please come together for reconciliation.”
Through public meetings, satsangs, and stress-relief programs, Gurudev has inspired people of different faiths to unify in their commitment towards social responsibility. In his public addresses, he urges audiences to broaden their self-identification: “The present crisis is basically one of identification: limited and fragmented identification leads to hatred, violence, and war. People usually identify themselves with their profession, religion, race, culture, nationality, language, region or sex. Many are prepared to go to any lengths to protect this identity, even giving up their lives in the process. We need to bring about an understanding in all people that they are, firstly, part of the universal spirit, and, secondly, human beings.”
When people come together in an atmosphere of togetherness and love, preconceived notions disappear. “The program has brought us so close that I can't believe that Arabs and Israelis don't see eye-to-eye back home,” shared Yoav Yenon from Israel at The Art of Living International Centre, India. He was part of a group which comprised 16 Israelis, over 150 Arabs, (including Iranians, Jordanians, Bahraini, Lebanese, Omanis and Saudi Arabians), who took part in a special month-long training program.
The Art of Living programs and humanitarian initiatives inspire people of different castes and classes to work together, side-by-side. It doesn’t matter if one’s forefathers killed another’s ancestors in a riot. Or if people from different classes are put together in a group. Villages in India have been transformed when Upper and Lower-class Hindus have joined hands towards community building. Hundreds of Hindus adopted Gurudev’s 7-point action plan at the Truth & Reconciliation Conference in March 2007.
Gurudev brought together leaders of the Vedanta and Buddhist faiths to formulate a joint action for global peace at the ‘Vedanta-Buddhism conference’ in February 2008. A few months later, Hindu leaders gathered at The Art of Living International Center to join hands in galvanizing public awareness on HIV/AIDS.
One world family
How does Gurudev reach out to people of different mindsets? From intellectuals and experts representing the highest social echelons to poor, rural village laborers – everybody is uplifted by Gurudev’s message of human values and pluralism.
“It is admirable with what a gentle resoluteness, with what a calm dynamic, with what full concentration, with what incorruptible kindness, Gurudev makes people understand that they can only contribute to peace by overcoming their own inner fear and prejudices against others,” said Prof. Gesine Schwan, candidate for the 2009 German presidential elections and Dean of Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance, Berlin. The occasion was the 1st Culture in Balance award (Oct. 2009), conferred to Gurudev for his contribution in promoting intercultural dialogue.
The power of Gurudev’s solution lies in its spiritual foundation. Integrating people by reawakening the core of every religious teaching – universal brotherhood and love. “Spirituality unites people and promotes people into doing something constructive for the world. These inspirations that come from within will enable us to act better,” believes Gurudev.
Spirituality will pave the way for a refined way of thinking which is all-encompassing, uplifting and unifying. The most effective, and perhaps only, tool towards building long-lasting inter-faith harmony.