Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - Celebrating Life with Silence
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar lovingly called as Guruji, the founder of Art of Living Foundation through which He relieves the stress at individual levels, thus reducing violence, sufferings and conflicts and spreading the love, harmony, peace throughout the world in various societies.
One of the more recent and contemporary poets from Karnataka has composed a beautiful poem about Surrender, and whom should one seek refuge in. The verse says “Become a Sharanagati and take refuge in the fact that life is a great and deep secret”.
The more we come to know about life, we find that we do not know so much more about life. What increases is our realization that there is still so much we do not know at all. The more we know, the more we come to realize the vastness of the Unknown. We then realize we have not learnt much about life.
For example, for an infant, his world is small and limited. He does not know anything about the outside world. He just recognizes his toys, his parents and his few friends. That is all that his world is limited to. As he grows, he comes to understand more and more about the vast world outside, and then he realizes that there is so much more to be known and understood. So life is a great mystery; it is a secret. No one has been able to comprehend life completely, nor can anyone actually do so. Yet we should surrender ourselves to this very fact (about the vastness and mystery of life).
What should you surrender to? Take refuge in the Intellect. You do not know anything about your intellect. The intellect is deep and profound. Since time immemorial, we in India have given prime importance to the intellect which is the seat of logic and rationality. That is why in the Gayatri Mantra we pray that - may the Divine inspire and illumine everyone’s intellect.
See, one way of surrender is to surrender after being defeated. But when one gets amazed by seeing a mystery, an unfathomable secret; then the surrender that dawns out of that sense of wonder and amazement is a different kind of surrender. That surrender happens by surrender to the intellect. When you see or meet any great scientist, you will see that they always have an underlying sense of surrender and humility. They say, “This world is an amazing mystery”.
When one gets amazed by seeing a mystery, an unfathomable secret; then the surrender that dawns out of that sense of wonder and amazement is a different kind of surrender.
A great scientist had come to the Ashram and he told me, “Gurudev, I know that none of the objects has any actual existence as such. For example, I know that this chair does not really exist!”
Why did he say this? See, he is a Quantum Physicist. So when seen from the perspective of Quantum Physics, the object does not really exist. The scientist said that matter actually does not exist.
He said “Gurudev, when I say all this, people misunderstand me and think I am talking about the principles of Buddhism (referring to one of the core beliefs that everything is nothing). But I am only speaking from the experience of my life and what I have come to understand through Science”.
This is the surrender of the intellect. This is a different kind. The surrender that comes from acknowledging one’s weakness and defeat is different; while the surrender that dawns from within because of wonder and amazement is very different.
When can you feel that your life is like a fully blossomed fragrant flower? That can happen when there are no more cravings and aversions within, and there is no sense of separateness. When you feel a sense of total belongingness, and you exude love and compassion towards everyone and everything in Creation, when you become so natural and simple, then you feel life has blossomed. When you have cravings and aversions towards someone or something, your mind feels hardened like a stone. Life almost feels like a living hell. Life feels hard and miserable. It does not feel like a soft beautiful flower spreading its fragrance everywhere. So when you make efforts to transform your life into a fully blossomed flower, then take surrender in that noble effort as well, whether those efforts succeed or not.
You must have seen that people become very grim and serious when they are sad or miserable. They become so quiet and are not able to express their sorrow to someone else. So when they cannot express their feelings they grow very quiet and serious.
But this kind of silence is not born of deep peace and contentment from within. The silence that dawns when we become totally peaceful and serene from the inside is deep, beautiful and very comforting. So much joy springs from within with that silence, and instead of grim seriousness, a sense of dignified peace blossoms from oneself.
In that state, there is no more fear. There is no sense of separateness with anyone; instead total belongingness arises. In such a state one does not need any false pretence, one becomes so natural. The dignified calm and quiet solemnest that one acquires in such a state is of a different quality altogether. When you realize that the Creator of the Creation resides within oneself, then a great peace and sense of contentment dawns inside. So the verse says – take refuge in that deep sense of peacefulness.
When you realize that the Creator of the Creation resides within oneself, then a great peace and sense of contentment dawns inside.Take refuge in that deep sense of peacefulness.
Just as there is an Atma (soul) residing within every living being, so also all souls collectively become the Vishwatma (the Universal Soul or Universal Spirit). The verse says, "Take surrender and refuge in that vast infinite Vishwatma which pervades all of Creation". The end the verse says, “O my sweet foolish one! Why then do you not seek refuge and surrender to this?”
There is a poem in which the poet says “Everyone asks this question – ‘Who is God?’ The atheists have become tired of asking this question since the ages. So they tend to say that God does not exist”.
But our people have given a beautiful answer to this question by giving the definition of God. Who is God? God is Satchidananda. Now, an atheist will argue saying that there is no such thing as the truth. Well, then what he is saying is also not the truth! (Laughter) If someone claims that there is no such thing as the truth, then can what he is saying be true? Sri Adi Shankaracharya Ji expounded upon a very simple fact and made India what it is today. It is a great secret. In those days, following the principles of Lord Buddha, the Buddhist monks used to think “I searched for the soul everywhere and yet I could not find it. Hence the soul does not exist”. This is called Anatmavaad (meaning refuting the existence of the Soul). So, because they searched a lot for the soul everywhere and could not find it, they concluded that the soul does not really exist.
But just see how intelligent and profound Adi Shankaracharya Ji was. When he heard this, he said, “Oh! So you did not find the soul, is it? Tell me, who was it that went searching?” One of the monks replied, “I searched for the soul”.
To this Adi Shankaracharya Ji said, “That is the Soul, none other!” The ‘one’ who went about in search, the ‘one’ (who claimed) he could not find the Soul – that is the Soul itself! By resolving this question, and expounding the simple yet most profound truth, Adi Shankaracharya Ji heralded the revival of Vedic knowledge and Advaita and took India back to the roots, back to the Vedic tradition of pure knowledge.
Until Adi Shankaracharya Ji came, many people believed in Lord Buddha and His principles. Lord Buddha was called as Tathagata (one who has realized the ultimate principle, the ultimate reality). When Adi Shankaracharya Ji came, he said, “Yes, it is true indeed that everything is empty, everything is nothing. But this life is bliss and joy. Life is not misery”.
See, Lord Buddha said that life is misery and difficulty. Adi Shankaracharya Ji said, “Life is Joy”. Lord Buddha said “Everything is emptiness; it is nothing”. Adi Shankaracharya Ji said “Everything is fullness (of Consciousness)”.
Lord Buddha spoke of emptiness; Adi Shankaracharya Ji spoke about fullness. Lord Buddha spoke of Shuunyata (nothingness or not real), but Adi Shankaracharya Ji spoke aboutPurnata (fullness or totality of Consciousness everywhere). Knowledge is the beautiful confluence and combination of emptiness and fullness. This is the glory of India’s spiritual knowledge and India’s tradition.
Adi Shankaracharya Ji said, “Yes, it is correct that everything is nothing, it is all emptiness. It is because the totality of Fullness cannot be if it does not contain or encompass Nothingness as well”.
In emptiness or nothingness you cannot say there is fullness. But fullness becomes total and complete only when it includes and encompasses emptiness as well. So Adi Shankaracharya Ji very skilfully convinced every one of his philosophy (of Fullness) along with accepting the principle of Emptiness (rather than rejecting it). So here you see the greatest Truth expressed in the most wise and clever way.
Gurudev, when I see enthusiastic people, what comes to my mind is that they are showing off. What do you think?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Why do you want to judge them? Let them do what they want to do. It seems that you have too much time on your hands. Do not judge them. If they show off, let them show off. They have something to show off, let them be. If you have something to show off, then you also show off (Laughter). If you do not want to, then simply don’t show off. Why should someone showing off irritate you? Do you understand what I am saying? See, it is all a game. If someone wants to show off, let them be. If they show off too much, then they themselves will lose their charm. You should think more about yourself and reflect on - how much more natural have you become? Have you become more practical, more wise? Reflect on this instead.
Gurudev, in the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna says, “Sarva-sankalpa parityagi”. What does it mean?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
When you are about to go to sleep, and if you keep thinking “I have to do this, I have to do that”, then will you be able to get restful sleep? What do you do when you sleep? You keep everything aside. Only then will you are able to get sleep. There is a deeper meaning in this verse. Yoga will not happen until the mind is stuck in feverish thoughts like 'I want this' or 'I have to do this' or 'I need to do that'. How can you find deep rest when your mind is running behind acquiring 20 different things? Can you get any comfort in such a state? So for some time, you need to set everything aside. This is what is meant by the term “Sarva-sankalpa Sanyasi”.
'Yada hi nendriyartheshu na karmasv-anusajjate. Sarva-sankalpa-sanyasi yogarudastadochyate' (Bhagavad Gita, 6.4)
When one reaches a stage where he desires nothing for himself, then he becomes a Yogi, a Sanyasi. Such a wise and selfless person becomes useful to everyone around him. Whom do you really call a saint, a prophet, or an apostle? One who does not desire anything for himself, and one who only prays and works for the welfare and wellbeing of everyone else. Often one desires fame, or money, etc. It is desire that destroys a person and makes his vision and perspective in life very narrow and limited. So Lord Krishna says that until and unless a person drops all this (feverishness of desire) and becomes hollow and empty, he does not find peace. Once the mind becomes hollow and empty, one experiences such deep rest, and at the same time such deep joy arises from within. In such a state, one realizes the light of the Divine within and all around. This is what is meant here.
In Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna says, “Bow to Me, come take my refuge”. Will this not anger or offend the other gods and goddesses?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
No, there is nothing like that. It is all one, they are all the same One Divinity. God is addressed in three different ways – that is, in the first person, second person and third person (here meaning by way of language and grammar). When Lord Krishna says “Me”, it is not the individual or the physical body. Here it refers to the One Consciousness, the Divine Light present within. Everything in Creation is pervaded by the light of the Divine.
Draupadi had surrendered herself to Lord Krishna and was very devoted to Him. Then why was her life full of obstacles?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Well, it is when there are obstacles that you understand and appreciate miracles! See, whether you read the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, understand what you can and imbibe that in yourself. Implement the good things you read from these epics in your own life. Think about your own life and how you can improve it. See, there have been many great saints and noble souls in the past ages. It is good to read the epics, and you should learn from these great personalities.
At the same time. we should focus on the present and talk about what is happening now. What is the state of your mind now? Are you happy? Do you wish to take up some Seva projects and serve others? Think along these lines and discuss.
Gurudev, I feel I have never done enough for my parents and this bothers me. How do I deal with this feeling?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
When there is deep love, you always tend to feel that you have not done enough. If you ask any mother, “Have you done a lot for your child, or all that you had to?” She will say, “Oh, I don’t think so. I feel I have not done much”. In love one never thinks “I have done enough”. That only happens when you get very tired and exhausted. When you have this feeling, “I have to do more (for someone)” then that is a sign of love.
During times of teamwork, we often have to take decisions that everyone may not like. What should one do?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Well, that is correct. That is exactly why it is called teamwork. In a team there will be different people with different thoughts, approaches, style of working and varying ideologies. The sign of good teamwork is to integrate them all and take everyone together.
Gurudev, you often speak about Kripa (Grace). Should we all in The Art of Living become certain and confident about the presence of grace in our lives?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Yes, of course! There is no need to worry at all. Just relax and be confident at all times. But at the same time, also be wise and practical. You should not think, “Oh! I have abundance of Grace in my life”, and then put your hand in a burning fire. If you do so then naturally your hands will get burnt. Being confident (of Grace) does not in any way mean losing awareness and being impractical. Also, feeling secure and confident should not make you passive and lethargic in life such that you end up doing nothing. You should not become irresponsible. Do your job sincerely and attend to all your duties and responsibilities wholeheartedly. Leave the rest to God with faith.
My wife gets angry. Sometimes I fight back else I run away. How do I develop strength to face her and calm her down?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Sometime back, when I spoke about women empowerment initiatives in society, there are some associations for battered and distressed husbands also who approached me. They wrote a letter to me saying, “Gurudev, you seem to only talk about disadvantaged and distressed women in society. Please give some thought about the poor distressed husbands in society also. We have formed an association of such husbands to address issues”. I think some of these associations are there in Mumbai and Delhi. Usually these associations are present in bigger cities. There are very less chances of them being in villages and rural areas. I think maybe you should join one of those associations and become a member (Laughter).
Nowadays even young men are wary and cautious about marriage. They think, “Who knows what kind of wife I will have. She could either be like Goddess Lakshmi or even turn out to be wicked like Surpanakha! (a demoness in Ramayana and sister of the evil king Ravana)”. Some people met me in the past and said, “Gurudev, it has only been a few months for our marriage, and now my wife has gone and filed a court case citing demands for dowry or torture, etc.” The lady had dragged the boy’s parents too to court along with the boy and had them all arrested and put behind bars.
If you go to the jails in Delhi, you will be shocked to see so many elderly ladies behind bars. Some of them are 70 or 80 years old. During one of my visits there I met an old lady and asked her, “Mother, what happened? What did you do that brought you to this jail?” She told me, “Gurudev, what do I say? My own daughter-in-law filed a lawsuit and had me arrested here. I did not do anything to her”. There are many cases where a newlywed daughter-in-law has her in-laws sent off to Lord Krishna’s birth place (here meaning the prison). That is why many young men are distraught and worried seeing such incidents.
Gurudev, could you please speak about the Astral and Causal planes, and your role in these planes.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
There are three planes – the physical plane, the astral plane and the causal plane. These are all right here with us. Anything that we see in the material plane first takes place in the subtle planes. That is why people also experience Déjà vu. Do you know what Déjà vu is? It is a feeling that you have been somewhere before or had a certain experience before in the past. You feel “I have been here before” or “I have seen this sometime earlier”. Meditation is the first step to deepening your understanding of these planes.
See, from time to time people criticize and insult you. At other times they also appreciate you and encourage you. It keeps happening in life. So many people criticized and insulted Lord Krishna. He did not have any lesser share of troubles and difficulties in life. In the same way, all the saints and prophets of the world also had to go through pain and many difficulties in life. But the great thing is that they endured all the pain and suffering with an unshakeable smile. They would remain untouched by it from the inside. In the same way, we should also face pleasant and unpleasant times in life. Now that you are here, just drop all those problems and botherations right here in the Ashram. Do you all know the one rule of the Ashram? The rule is that you have to drop all your problems right here. You are not allowed to take them back with you. Got it?
See, we all are relaxed and sitting here in peace. But it saddens me to see the unfortunate state of violence in Kashmir (referring to the incidents of violence in Uri province). Kashmir is surrounded by so many problems. Many young people and women there are very troubled. We should all pray that peace is restored in Kashmir and that an atmosphere of harmony returns very soon.