(As a part of Namasté France festival, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar delivered a lecture to the members of the French Parliament at the India embassy. Below is the transcript of What Sri Sri Said…)
Good Evening everyone. I am glad to be at the residence of our Indian ambassador who has passionately spoken about you know, the concept of India. I am also privileged to be here along with our Minister of State for Defence.
You know, this morning I was speaking at the Parliament when something came to my mind - if you are moving in the periphery without knowing what exit you should take, you can keep going forever because the journey is continuous. You need to exit sometime somewhere. I thought, the human race is in a similar situation. We keep going round and round in circles of violence and stress, with an aimless purpose of life, not knowing where we are heading. When we just take a little time to reflect on what is it that we want, where are we heading towards - one thing becomes very clear, and that is, we all want happiness. Isn’t this so? Anything anybody does is to have happiness, either for oneself, for the community, for the country, or for the world.
I recently read a survey which said, 30% of the teachers in Europe are depressed. If teachers are depressed, what would they transmit to the kids in the classrooms? You only give what you have. If the teacher is joyful, they transfer the joy. If teachers are depressed, they can only give what they have. So in this scenario, the exit point I would say is to look towards those techniques which are proven to help mankind from centuries.
India is a land of tremendous potential; at the same time, it also faces many challenges. It has 600 dialects, 24 languages and a population that is three times the population of America with one-third the land mass of America. The challenges are many, but what has kept the smile on people’s face is something that is worth noticing. Even if you go to the poorest of slums, you will find people dancing with a smile. So we can share with the world something that we have had from centuries, and that is Harmony in Diversity -- Accommodating the viewpoints of others and keep the spirit high to face any challenges.
We can share with the world something that we have had from centuries, and that is Harmony in Diversity. Accommodating the viewpoints of others and keep the spirit high to face any challenges.
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I know Paris was under attack a few months back, maybe it’s already a year now. Brazil and Mumbai also went through such attacks. We had almost one terror attack every month in the year 2008. So in all these situations, what we need is resilience and confidence. We need something that can help us overcome trauma and keep our faith in humanity and human values. This is the Gandhian principle of non-violence.
As has been said, Mahatma Gandhi brought non-violence into our lives, though the concept was there for a long time. In Yoga, Ahimsa is one of the first rules. You need to abide by Ahimsa (non-violence) to practice yoga.
Now is it practical to have non-violence when there is so much violence happening all around us? When there are people who are senseless, who do not come to terms with anything that is humane. These are some of the very serious questions that we are posed with. But in my experience, I would say, yes. We can share something that we all have deep within us, and that is the human values.
Now there are practical tools and techniques which India can share with the world. One of them is Yoga. 35 years ago, when I would travel in Europe talking about Yoga, people would think that Yoga is only for those who are somewhere out there, normal people do not do Yoga. Yoga was through to be only for Sadhus with long hair and ash smeared all over their body. Weird people did Yoga. Over the years, this prejudice has reduced considerably and the understanding has come that Yoga means wellness – a healthy body and a healthy mind.
For this, we have to thank all those hundreds of Yoga teachers who have persistently kept spreading this wisdom to society.
Now, what can India do for the world? Of course, India can benefit from the modern defense technology that France has to offer. But India can offer the defense of soft power -- of mediation and of Yoga, which can transform the mind-sets of people. All around Paris, you will find many young people who are without jobs, and who are frustrated, angry and agitated. It is almost like we have created a volcano all around us (referring to the pent up emotions of the people). I am very sure that we can change this scenario of the youth of Paris by giving them a taste of inner peace, and a taste of what they can accomplish by being more creative and by getting rid of the stress and anger about the other that they harbor in their hearts and minds. I am confident that we can do this.
India can offer the defense of soft power -- of mediation and of Yoga, which can transform the mind-sets of people.
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We have started with a couple of pilot projects with the youth. I am sure you will be thrilled to see the experiences of these youths. Many of them have shared how they have been transformed with these simple breathing techniques, and with meditation, and how they have become more peaceful human beings.
See, peace and prosperity go hand in hand. When there is no peace, there is no prosperity.
Having said this, I would also like to share my experience with the FARC. We have seven million people in Columbia who have been victims of violence, and around two million people who have lost lives. Our volunteers have been working with many of these victims providing them with trauma relief. The government of Columbia decided to award me with the highest civilian award. When I went to receive the award, I had a formal meeting with the president, which was a normal protocol. This five-minute meeting ended up becoming a 50-minute meeting. The president was very concerned about the situation in Columbia, and he said, “This peace process is going nowhere. What appears to be the next course of action is military action”.
I could understand his pain. If he goes with military action, almost 40,000 lives would be lost.
He said, “I am very worried about this situation, but I don’t find any way out”.
So I told him, “Why don’t I take a chance. Let me speak to the FARC. There is no harm in trying”.
So with his consent I went to Cuba. You know, the FARC Guerrilla are believers of the Marxist philosophy, and so with my attire and my name, they would have liked to keep me at a distance. But they were gracious enough to sit with me and talk to me. First they came to attend a public talk that I had at a university there. They found the talk interesting and different, and so they came and we had a conference with 18 of their commandos. It was a three-day deliberation that I had with them, and they even meditated with me.
I asked them, “What is it that you want? You want social justice? We are all for social justice. We are all working towards social justice. But the path that you have chosen of violence is what I do not approve. If you drop the path of violence and you are only for social justice, then we are with you. India, Europe and the whole world will be with you.” First they said, “You go and talk to the government and tell them to stop. They should do the cease-fire first. It will be hypocritical for us to announce non-violence as our strategy”.
To cut short the story, on the last day of the conference, they came and much to our surprise they announced unilateral cease-fire. They said, “We will adopt the Gandhian principle of non-violence but we will stick to our principles, policies and demands.”
In the beginning, neither the government not the press believed them. They thought it was just another gimmick. But I tell you, they stood their commitment, and on the 9th of July when I was in Switzerland, I had a telephonic conversation with them, and finally cease-fire happened from both sides.
So I strongly believe that there is humanness in every individual. If you touch the human being deep inside, anything is possible.
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