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.
(The Art of Living, UNICEF and the Kerala Government together organized a conference - “Faith in Action – Interfaith Response to Alcohol, Drugs & Violence against Women and Children”. The conference was attended by many spiritual and religious leaders who came together to stand against social ills in society. Below is the transcript of what Sri Sri said:)
I heard a story that I would like to share with you. Once, someone was asked, 'What are you doing?' The man said, 'I was just chasing the flies. If you want, I can tell you how many flies I chased. I chased five flies – three male and two female'.
Amazed, the person asked, 'How do you know whether the flies were male or female?'
The man said, 'Three were sitting on a liquor bottle, they were male flies. Two were sitting on a make-up kit, and so they were female flies'.
So when we have nothing much to do, the mind goes into addictions. You know, there is a proverb in English that goes, 'An empty mind is a devil's workshop'. It is a different type of emptiness – it's not the emptiness that Lord Buddha taught, 'Be hollow and empty'. That's a different type of emptiness.
Inside every culprit there is a victim crying for help.
You know, an idling mind goes into all sorts of addictions, and addiction is the root cause of crime in society.
I would say, we should spend one day with the victims in the jails. I call them "victims" even though they are culprits because inside every culprit there is a victim crying for help, and they are all victims of addiction. Violence, I have seen, happens because of addictions, because people are not normal when they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, and other substances.
The second point is that: stress is the root cause of all violence.
What is stress? It is when we have too much to do, too little time, and no energy. This is the definition of stress. Do you all agree? We all have a lot of things to do. When we have a lot of things to do and we have no energy and no time, then what happens to us? We get frustrated; we get questions that we cannot answer. When the unanswered questions get fermented in our minds, they turn into violence—domestic violence—on children, on women.
These days, you can't say that only women are victims of violence; men are also victims of violence. When we started this campaign for children and women, I got so many letters from men saying that they have an association called the Battered Husband's Club (laughter). I just came to know that such an association existed here in India!
They said, "Why do you discriminate based on gender? We are also suffering because of domestic violence." Domestic violence, societal violence, and even suicidal tendencies are all because we have not taught our children how to deal with their negative emotions.
I am so happy that Honorable Mister Babu said that we are going to introduce this into the education system. This is very important. Since Kerala has taken the first step by banning alcohol after so many years, it can become a model state for the country.
You know, Kerala is the only state that has 100% literacy, so it is easier for it to become a model state that is free from violence and that upholds the principle of non-violence because in this country, we have always taken pride in being non-violent.
So we must not lose that identity of togetherness that our country is known for – Vasudhiava Kutumbakam, that is, the whole world is one family.
Domestic violence, societal violence, and even suicidal tendencies are all because we have not taught our children how to deal with their negative emotions.
I am so glad that people of all faiths have gathered here together, because the men of faith are the motivational force of the society. People of religious eminence and scholarly disposition, they can always inspire and motivate people. In this sense, we can take up the responsibility to inspire people in every nook and corner of our country to be better citizens and better human beings.
This initiative of the Kerala government, 'Subodham' (project to end liquor abuse), is so heartwarming because this is what is needed today. During my last visit, I had expressed my concern about the alcohol consumption in this state, which had tripled in the past few years. See that concern has been addressed today by taking a proactive initiative. When all the four pillars of society, that is, the NGOs, the faith-based organizations, the government, and the media join hands, we can create wonders.
I thank the office bearers of UNISEF who have been inspiring these actions world over, and we assure them that we are with you. And we assure you, these goals have now been established and all the eminent people who have gathered here from all the major faith of our county, we will all work with you; we will all work together to make our society a better place.
Violence-free society, disease-free body, stress-free mind, inhibition-free intellect, trauma-free memory, and a sorrow-free soul is the birth right of every individual. And with this action of 'Subhodam', I am sure we can do a lot.
I want to share one more anecdote with you. Once, a gentleman said, "I have a terrible headache. I have been sitting in a conference from morning till evening with so many people talking, and everything they say just went above my head".
His neighbor, the one who was sitting next to him, told him, "Never mind, just go have a drink and it will go".
The gentleman said, "How would alcohol take away my headache?!"
The neighbor said, "What will not go with alcohol. With alcohol, I lost my job, my wife, my home, my money – everything is gone! Headache is not a big thing for it at all. It is a great remover of everything, including life from the planet!"
So we want to infuse life and enthusiasm in our youngsters and not some substances that take away life. We need to make life a celebration on this planet, and not a point of contention and conflict. Don't you agree with me?
We want to infuse life and enthusiasm in our youngsters and not some substances that take away life. We need to make life a celebration on this planet, and not a point of contention and conflict.
See, neither at home, nor at school does anyone teach us how to get rid of the negative feelings that come to us. See,feeling negative is normal. People feel frustration, anger, jealousy, greed, and all these things. But no one teaches us how to get rid of it. And this is where I appreciate the wonderful work of Art of Living volunteers here in Kerala, and in other parts of the country, and the world. These volunteers have been able to teach people how to handle and manage their own negative emotions and transform that into positive emotion of love, compassion, and a sense of belongingness.
This morning, I was visiting this small town in Kerala, and a group of young people came and said to me, "Gurudev, our lives have changed totally. We were caught up in addictions, and one teacher came and taught us, and we are so happy now. Our lives have been transformed. We did not know how to get rid of addictions, but now I am saved and my family is saved". He had tears in his eyes, and he was beaming with gratitude!
So I would encourage all the NGOs to take up the initiative, including the Art of Living, because you can inspire, you can do things that nobody else can. Also, the media should create such an awareness that it will discourage young people from getting into the habit of drinking, or taking any kind of substance abuse – even to try it.
So with these few words, I congratulate all of you!
There is a declaration of Faith in Action that I will read out now. There are many recommendations that many great minds have invested their time in preparing this. There are 7 declarations:
We will create greater awareness in our community about the impact of all forms of violence against women or children using our wide network and volunteer platform, to change the attitude of the perpetrators of violence.
We will speak out to condemn violence and we will not encourage acts of omission and denial of violence. We will not justify violence of any sort. Sometimes, we think we will be violent to teach the other person a lesson. Who are you to teach someone a lesson? A lesson cannot be taught through violence and punishment – lessons are taught through compassion and love.
We will promote women and children as persons with rights and dignity using our religious context. Every religion, as far as I know, has supported the rights of women and children. It has always stood behind the weaker sections of the society. We shouldn't even call them weaker section. Sometime in the past era, women were called the weaker section. No, we need to support women and children and their rights to education and good health, and use our faith in promoting this.
We have an important obligation to teach our children and train our parents and teachers against all forms of violence. Whether it is the children of our community, or any other community, they are all the same, and we must treat everyone as part of us. We can promote this through education, proper upbringing, and by protecting them from violent actions. Today, kids see a lot of violence in games. So when they see such violence in the virtual world, then when they come to the real world, they don't see the difference. In the USA, there are more gun stores than there are grocery stores, this is what I was told. And when we had the seminar there, to educate people, they pledged to have 1 billion acts of non-violence for every act of violence. There are 1 million acts of violence every year over there, and so they said that we are going to take a pledge to have 1,000 times more acts of non-violence. Violence should be countered by non-violence. In India, we need to have 100 billion acts of non-violence.
We are committed to inter-religious cooperation, and we will address violence and we will make use of synergies among our religious communities to promote methodologies, experiences, and practices in preventing violence against any human being, especially women and children.
We call upon our governments to support us in upholding the law and provide services in response to the victims of violence. Many times, the victims of violence don't get justice in their whole lifetimes – it takes ever so long.
We would appeal to our governments to be proactive in providing justice to the victims of violence.
In one year from now, all of us religious leaders can come back together and share our achievements of what all we could do in one year, because it's not just faith—there is action in society and there is faith. When faith and action merge together, wonders can happen! And I invite all the faith leaders to take this up as a priority action as a service to society and to God.