In this “Live from New York Public Library” interview, NYU Professor John Sexton speaks with Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar about religion, spirituality, and globalizing wisdom to overcome prejudice. Read some of their conversation here:
Religion and spirituality
John Sexton: Does meditation taught in the schools violate the separation of church and state in our constitution?
Gurudev: Religion has three aspects: practices, belief systems, and symbols. The symbols and practices may be different across all religions, but the underlying values have common threads, like compassion, happiness, and freedom from stress.
Spiritual values are most vital. While religion divides, spirituality unites.
There was only one Jesus. Today, you have 72 denominations of Christianity. There was only one Prophet Mohammed, and there are 134 sects of Islam. There was only one Lord Gautam Buddha, and today you have 36 sects of Buddhism. In Hinduism, you can’t even count. It goes beyond the numbers.
Claiming one has the only way to heaven is the problem. The ecumenical view of religion is essential.
Practices work for everyone
Ayurveda and yoga have come out of Hinduism. But yoga will work on everybody. It doesn’t require a belief system.
From birth to age three, a baby does all the yoga postures and could be a great yoga teacher to you.
Yoga and meditation are very secular, although they stem from a religion. Your life, birth, naming, marriage, death ceremonies, etc., are part of religion.
But what about living life in its value or seeing your higher self, mind, and spirit? Are we moving in a happier direction toward potential ideals that we imagine or aspire to? That kind of spirituality will make a difference.
Spirituality is the banana, and religion is the banana skin. Though it comes with skin, you don’t eat the skin, right?
Unfortunately, people throw away the banana and eat the banana skin, and that’s why we see so much conflict around the world.
Fear, guilt, and prejudice
John Sexton: What causes humans to divide? Are they trying to have power or something more innate?
Gurudev: I think we grow prejudices. It’s one-upmanship. We get ingrained in fear, guilt, and prejudice.
Down the lane here, you have a Chinese restaurant. When you want Chinese food you go and have it. Just by eating it, you don’t become Chinese. You eat Danish cookies and Swiss chocolates.
We accept food from all over the world and clothes, too. You get fur coats from Scotland and dresses from Mexico. When it comes to food, music, clothing, and even politics, we accept things from everywhere.
In philosophy and religion, why close ourselves down? We’re losing broadmindedness. Someone misses a lot if they ignore the wisdom of Jesus Christ, Buddha, or Lao-Tzu.
We must globalize wisdom and follow our paths. If you’re Catholic, be Catholic. But you shouldn’t assume that reading something else will bring you hell. Have an open mind, especially for an intellectual pursuit. Drop the fear and guilt.
As ancient Rishis said, “Let knowledge flow to us from all sides.” There’s not one book in Hinduism per se. About a thousand sages sat in deep meditation and downloaded wisdom from the scriptures.
Then they said, “If your intellect accepts this, only then you take it.” They don’t say that because they say it, you must accept it. No!
The spirit of inquiry and scientific temper should be nurtured. If your logic and intellect approve it, only then can you adopt it.
Editor’s note: Watch the entire conversation where Gurudev and John discuss many other topics, including climate change, war, the pandemic, and more.
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