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.
Gurudev, in the Subhashita (a scripture in Sanskrit containing short wise aphorisms for practical life) it is said, 'Sukharthi tyajate vidhyaam vidhyarthi tyajate sukham. Sukharthinah kuto vidhyaa kuto vidhyarthinah sukham'. (Verse 213)
(Meaning: a sincere student gives up all material comforts in the quest for knowledge).
Can the quest for knowledge and that of material comforts not go hand in hand?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
The meaning behind this verse is: What need does a sincere student of knowledge have for material comforts? And what use is knowledge to one who is only seeking material comforts?
You know, when you run feverishly after material gains, your attention is no longer directed towards gaining knowledge. Then you cannot learn.
This scripture, Subhashita, was written such a long time ago, yet every word of it is so true even today. When a person indulges in material comforts, his entire attention and brain function gets diverted to the posterior part of the brain.
So when you are enjoying something, the posterior part of the brain is more active and engaged at that time. But when you are studying or listening to knowledge, then the frontal lobe of the brain becomes more active.
So for those who are running behind wealth and material comforts, all their brain activity and energy gets channeled to the posterior part of the brain. They keep looking here and there and their mind is always restless. They do not have focus. That is why knowledge eludes one who is running behind material comforts all the time. A sincere student, whose mind is engaged in knowledge and studies all the time, will never run behind getting material comforts. All his focus would be directed towards gaining knowledge.
Suppose there is a very important function at home, and all your mind and attention is engaged in it. Then even if someone tells you, 'See we have made such wonderful dishes and savories for the day', you simply put it aside saying, 'Oh that’s fine', and quickly go back to focusing on the task at hand.
Even if you eat some sweet or savory at that time, you will not even know how tasty it is, because all your mind’s attention is diverted towards the function.
For example, suppose you are engrossed in watching the election results on the TV live. If someone comes and interrupts you, you say, 'Oh, don’t disturb me now. I am completely engrossed in watching and learning something'.
When your mind is engrossed in learning something, it directs all its attention away from such distractions and focuses its attention one-pointedly on learning. And the wise ones recorded and wrote about this scientific fact in our scriptures thousands of years back.
Gurudev, in the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna expresses grief and fear at the thought of waging battle against his own kin. Why is this grief that he expresses also called as Yoga?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
You need to understand what Yoga is. Yoga is not limited to Yogasanas (body postures), Pranayama and meditation. Mixing two herbs is also considered as Yoga in Ayurveda.
The conjunction of two or more particular planets is also called as Yoga. A particular combination of planets and constellations is also called as Yoga.
In the same way, Arjuna was so overcome with this grief that he became totally one with it; that is why it is considered as Yoga (here, meaning to unite with one’s sorrow).
So, when a person gets so immersed in Vishaada (grief or sorrow), it is called asVishaada Yoga.
When one receives and soaks himself completely in Sankhya (transcendental knowledge), then it is said to be Sankhya Yoga (referring to the second chapter of the Gita where Lord Krishna elaborates upon the transcendental nature of the Self). In the same way, when someone becomes totally one with his Karma (actions) and understands the depth of his Karma, then it is said to be Karma Yoga.
When one unites so totally with Jnana (knowledge), then it is said to be Jnana Yoga.
Yoga means to unite in totality.
So, you can unite and become one with knowledge, with your karma, or with meditation.
In the same way you can also unite and become one with your sorrow. In Arjuna’s case, it is his sorrow that he was so overcome with first, before he could hear the knowledge.
The first thing one must know is that there is misery in life. One should not deny this fact or be oblivious to it. One who denies that there is misery in life is foolish.
First, know and accept that there is misery in life. Then do what is needed to overcome.
Why is this so? It is because there is always some cause or reason behind sorrow or misery. Misery cannot exist without a cause. What can be the cause of misery? There are four Eshnas (attachments) a person may have that can lead him to misery.
1. Vitteshna (attachment to wealth and materialistic prosperity)
2. Putreshna (attachment to one’s children and progeny)
3. Jiveshna (attachment to one’s life and physical body) , and
4. Lokeshna (attachment to one’s reputation or fame) .
What does the word ‘Eshna’ mean? It means craving or greed towards something.
For example, a person is feverish and greedy for money and prestige. When he does not receive either, then he becomes miserable.
Similarly, the attachment one has towards one’s children and progeny is calledPutreshna.
Then, having a feverish desire to be famous in society is called Lokeshna. Jiveshna is the attachment and craving to live more and more (meaning to one’s life or the physical body).
Gurudev, what is liberation? Is it attained only after one’s death, or can a person be liberated while he is living? Can you please elaborate on this?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
You can be liberated right now, this very moment.
For example, today the general elections have come to an end in the country. Just ask the Chief Election Commissioner of the country as to how he is feeling (referring to the feeling of total relief). That is what liberation is. Now he can comfortably go on a holiday for the next six months.
And just ask those who have lost this election and whose government failed to get re-elected for a new term. They too are very relaxed and happy because they have been freed from all the responsibilities. Now they can go on a holiday to any country in the world for as many days as they may feel like.
They anyway do not attend the Parliament sessions regularly. In a span of five years, they would have barely shown up for around 100 days or so.
Liberation means, that you have finally found rest (and this happens when you are finally free from all your desires and cravings).
When the feeling dawns from deep within, 'I am content, I do not want anything', and you have fulfilled all your duties and responsibilities, then you are liberated.
Liberation is freedom from desires; liberation is the total contentment that you get when you fulfill all that you had to.
Liberation is soaking oneself completely in devotion to the Divine. When this realization dawns on you, 'I am not the body, I am the eternal spirit. This body will perish but I will remain here forever', then that is liberation.
In the Lalita Sahasranama (a sacred recital of the 1000 holy names of the Mother Divine), there is a verse, 'Rakta-varna mansanishta gudanna pritamanasa. Samsta bhakta sukhada lakinyamba svarupini'. (V. 103)
It mentions that the Devi is dressed in a blood-red sari and about Mansanishtha (references to non-vegetarian aspects of one’s body). I thought that the Goddess is vegetarian. They why are there such non-vegetarian references in the verses?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
No, it is not like that. These are references to the different Dhaatus (constitutional or fundamental elements that make the physical body).
There are seven Dhaatus in the body, and each Dhaatu has got a specific governing deity attached to it. That is, a specific divine energy is associated with it: such as Lakini, Dakini, etc.
So it is not referring or implying to non-vegetarian offerings.
It means that these divine deities are a part of you. Mansanishtha means that it resides in the muscles of the body. So a specific deity is present in the muscles. And then another deity resides in the skin, a particular deity is present in the blood and so on.
So the verse refers to the different aspects of Divinity present in different parts of the human body.
The phrase 'Gudanna pritamanasa' means that when that particular aspect is more dominant in you, what you would like more is sweet food. And if a different aspect is more dominant in you, then you will like sour foods more, such as curd rice.
This verse is actually an explanation for each of the chakras in the body (referring to the metaphysical centers of energy flow in the human body).
So when a particular chakra is opening up or active in you, then you will like a particular kind of food.
So when a particular chakra is active, or if you want to activate that chakra, then it is good to have curd rice, because it has a cooling effect. So in this way, different types of food, different colors and different parts of the human body are associated with different chakras.
There is a deeper science to all this. Do not take it literally to mean that some deity is really seated in a part of the body. This is all very scientific and is related to physiology also.