Huffington Post’s ARIANNA HUFFINGTON interacts with Art of Living founder GURUDEV SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR in Bangalore at his ashram on Saturday, December 6, 2014
Arianna Huffington: The Indian people will rediscover all this tradition you teach about – I love what you said earlier about the country being like a plane ready to take off with ministers as pilot -- do you see a real change?
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Let’s hope. Already things are moving in the right direction with dynamic people with more enthusiasm. I think they will be able to do it.
Q: Is there something in the spirit of the times that is ready to accelerate the change?
A: Yes you are right, the collective consciousness is changing, people are willing to take a step forward than being in the same routine thing; people are ready to plunge into action and that can make a difference.
Q: You have been talking about reducing stress and also about promoting peace -- do you see a connection between stress and violence?
A: Of course there is a connection. Violence happens on two occasions -- one is when there is wrong indoctrination, if they think they kill someone they can go to heaven, then they do it. Second is if people feel upset, stressed or are tense, they have an inner wound or scar, then they they engage in violence.
Q: As you are engaging people in India, including young people, to do service, to give an hour to service, to improve the country, what is the response?
A: See there is tremendous response; young people are coming in big numbers…
Q: You said that what creates depression is lack of idealism … and being of service helps find balance… Is this so?
A: Yes, service helps people. If you think only your problem is biggest problem then you get bogged down and depressed. But if you see you can be useful to many more people on the planet; that there are many more things you can do, then you engage in (constructive) activity.
Q: Even when you were in Iraq recently, you went to help people there in danger from ISIS and who are facing tremendous suffering -- through meditation and service. That’s very interesting as most people would not expect people in danger to be of service or meditate, isn’t it?
A: You can see that young people in those camps have started helping others in danger. Young women took to arms to protect themselves form and this is very stunning because ISIS believes one can never be killed by a woman for then, they would not go to heaven. When women yazidis and others took to guns then ISIS people ran away. We could help many women there who went through tremendous trauma because when they are in trauma meditation helps them come out of it and puts their life back on track rather than getting depressed and feeling the trauma always.
Q: How does meditation help one do that?
A: This I don’t know, but I know it does!
Q: You are also a scientist; you studied physics and now more scientific evidence is emerging of this connect between practicing meditation and staying calm.
A: I leave it to scientists to do the research. Many scientists have said that meditation helps. I see this on a day-to-day basis; thousands of people come here (Art of Living Foundation, Bangalore) to meditate.
Q: And breathing and yoga, too, the way you practice it here?
A: Yes, there are several sets of yoga practices and exercises, not one for everyone; it is designed according to age group –including for children.
Q: And therapeutic, too?
Q: You have spoken about how you came up with the breathing technique (Sudarshan Kriya) after ten days of silence and you said ‘silence is the mother of creativity’. So, in this very noisy world, how can we find silence?
A: We need silence to keep sane, so make it a priority. It is not necessary for there to be lot of silence; even three days (of silence) in six month is enough to rejuvenate your whole system and that’s what happens here and in other places like in even in USA we have people in North Carolina ashram where people come for the weekend or week long retreat and they go back rejuvenated.
Q: Where does sleep fit into that?
A: Sleep is essential because sleep gives different type of rest than meditation; both are necessary.
Q: So much of the modern world dismisses meditation as being not productive but you say it makes you more productive. How much do you sleep?
A: I can manage with three hours of sleep. One hour is good enough for meditation but when you practice, a stage comes when meditation is with you throughout -- you don’t have to sit and do it but the calmness is present throughout.
Q: That’s why you have the three day Art of Living course?
A: That is the first introduction when you learn about seven aspects of our life like body, breath, mind etc and you learn better techniques to deal with stress and relationship problems. You can express yourself better. Then practitioners come for advanced meditation classes, a five day programme that is usually residential and more experiential, more about connecting with yourself, understanding your own emotions and working through them. We have another programme for expressing the potential dynamically in your social situation; that is more on how you can overcome your limitations or you can enhance your abilities.
Q: I love how you are smiling and you are teaching us to smile a lot. You say even if you don’t feel like it, ‘fake it and make it’ and then little by little it becomes natural?
A: I don’t say fake your smile but it works when you smile in meditation, as it relaxes your muscles and the smile seeps into your system.
Q: Do you thing the new government, with its priority to revive traditions with a minister for yoga, will penetrate into villages to touch the people who are suffering?
A: Good to have separate ministry for yoga. We used to have a health ministry; all this would come into that and in the big scenario traditional systems got lost. People never got the priority they should have got. And this is economically more viable also. If a woman in a village is suffering from anemia and there are remedies that can be made available at one-tenth of the cost with traditional medicine, then why not?
Q: That’s why you have new products in your vedic school?
A: We have a research institution, so we do come up with new products, from time to time.
Q: As you said, we cannot just hear the body we have to hear the mind, too?
A: Yes, holistic approach is best.
Q: You have done so much in conflict resolution; is there a secret about conflict resolution that you can give us?
A: What works is being unbiased and not having an agenda – when you go and meet people with open heart and mind and understanding, when you project that you understand them from where they come from, then you are able to build a bridge between conflicting parties.
Q: What is the hardest conflict resolution you experienced?
A: Almost every one of them is difficult to handle. There were 23 million yazidis now reduced to one million people -- their untold, unspoken suffering… they were being forced to convert, ‘either you die or you convert’ or ‘either convert or become slaves’. You know about all this. It is painful to see that problem. And also in Sri Lanka when I was involved; that was tough, too.
Q: How do you deal personally with suffering?
A: We have so many good volunteers
Q: How do you deal with absorbing the pain and suffering you see personally?
A: In myself? No, it does not affect me at one level. I am not insensitive but I don’t get affected or drawn into it.
Q: Is it because you cannot see those people or understand?
A: Two things – seeing it from a broader perspective that there is a power in control of the whole world and something happening and another level this situation is there to show your compassion, your love, and your caring and so you should act on that.
Q: You talked a lot about death also and how death can help us find perspective on life. I am Greek and Socrates used to say said practice death daily and integrate it into your life (not in a morbid sense). What can we learn from bringing death into our lives, talking about it?
A: The awareness that we are all going to die one day suddenly opens up a different aspect of our consciousness that there is something in you that will never die. You don’t die. At the same time make life more vibrant and there is more presence remembering that one day you are going to die, you will not bicker over small things; mind will move away from negative impressions like anger, jealousy, hate and greed. You will see this is all so insignificant and nothing affects you then. Nothing, no event can make a dent in your consciousness. That’s why love, knowledge of death and meditation are all synonymous; all have similarity, connection. Knowledge of death, not death itself;am last person to condone suicide am totally against suicidal tendencies, because you are hankering after some desire and your inability to cope with life you want to commit suicide -- this is wrong. You need to understand death as inevitable in life and it will come at that time when it has to come and it only gives a larger dimension to your life.
Q: Was there a moment that you became sure that you are not going to die?
A: We all are not going to die; that something will survive the body – soul, consciousness – I never doubted that.
Q: Since you were four years old when you recited the Bhagwad Gita?
A: Yes, I know I have come here before.
Q: Is this your last life?
A: If I want to come back, I can come back!
Courtesy: Speaking tree.in