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.
When you engage other world leaders and talk about your agenda of peace, what do you talk about? I am just curious about what goes on in your negotiations and what do you ask of world leaders?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
First of all, when I meet anybody, I meet them as human beings. Just remember, even though somebody is a world leader, they are human, so they have their own issues. So I meet them on a human level. If the leaders are stressed, you can imagine the consequences – whatever decisions they make will always be erroneous. The first thing is that they should be able to handle their energy and stress, and that is what they usually come to me for – their personal problems or how they can better handle their situations. They all require intuition.
Secondly, when we meet, there may be some issues. They may come from a land of conflicts, and we sit together and see how we can help to resolve those conflicts through our communication skills. I should mention here how our volunteers have really mastered the skill of how to reach out, how to communicate, and how to handle people and certain situations.
I'll give you an example: in Argentina, we were able to transform the biggest prison, which had so much crime that people literally had to separate each individual because they would pounce and punch each other at the drop of a hat. So if we could bring in a sense of non-violence there, I would think it is a big achievement. The authorities and the judges of the Supreme Court of Argentina said, 'We would like to come to the prison and see what has made these people change so much'. So such social activities have also helped.
We have also taken some troubled areas; for example, in Ivory Coast, we had taken up a project in two villages that had clashes based on religion. They had cleansed each from the other's religion – one was all Muslim and one was all Christian. One of our volunteers, a girl from Mumbai who could speak French, went to the groups, spoke to them, did some programs with both of them separately, and brought them together in peace. The Muslims built toilets in the Christian village and the Christians built a school in the Muslim village. Recognizing our efforts in bringing together these two villages, the Ivory Coast government gave an award to the Art of Living for achieving social harmony.
So, these are the projects I would take up; however, I usually don’t go with any agenda, as though wanting anything from any world leader. Believe me, I haven’t asked anything or any favor from anybody! I am only here to contribute. If at all I go to them, it is only to see what we can do to resolve the conflict in their societies. And when they come to me, they come with problems and issues, and I feel that they go back happy and much lighter.
Do you know what is the sign of a good friend? There is a criteria to judge if someone is a real friend or not. Do you know it?
When you go to a friend with a problem and if you walk away from them feeling lighter, then they are a good friend. If you go back from them thinking that, Oh my God, I thought it was a small problem, but it is so big, and you feel heavier, then they are not good friends.
The same thing applies to you. When someone comes to you with a problem, do you magnify the problem and tell them it is insurmountable, you will be doomed, and make them feel more miserable? Or do you make them feel lighter and more confident so that they walk away with a smile? This is the criteria of a friend. Have any of you thought about this before? If not, today you've learned something new to think about. Just test it and do a trial run.
It was delightful to hear you say we need to nurture diversity and pluralism. However, I have an honest confusion. One of the most potent levers in society to move towards diversity and pluralism is politics. I struggle with some of the political preferences that you have chosen in the recent past and how they sit with the goal of promoting diversity, pluralism, and tolerance.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
First of all, let me clarify to you, I don’t have any particular political preference at all. If you ask a newspaper which political party they are aligned to, they would say none, that is, if they are a good, ethical newspaper. A judge, a spiritual leader, a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist, or a teacher cannot belong to any particular party or ideology. They have to be available for the entire population, otherwise they are not doing justice to the role they play. I believe in this idea – a spiritual leader or a social worker cannot belong to a particular party or ideology.
Having said that, you would ask, 'Why did you stand up against corruption in India?'
Well, I would say, any individual with even a little common sense would not tolerate this – scandals coming up day after day after day. I was not against the ruling party in the past, but I was against the corruption in the past. The corruption had reached the ultimate! Shameless corruption! So I had to stand up and speak against corruption and crime. Don’t you think I should have done that? And that’s all I did. And there was a lethargy and complacence in the people. They believed that everybody is like this, corrupt, so they didn’t want to vote. I said, 'You must vote for a decisive Government. We need a change'.
And I would repeat the same thing if any party did this. I would inspire people to vote; what is wrong in it? We got an award from the Election Commissioner of India and he would not do that if we were partisan.
People sometimes ask me, "Why do some corrupt people come on to your stage when you travel and go for programs? You should keep them away."
I tell them, that would be like opening a hospital and saying that sick people are not allowed in. If these corrupt people don’t come to me, then where can they go? So, I would say, bring all the corrupt people to me and let me talk to them. I would like to have a dialog with them and see whether I am successful. I would like to take a chance. It has worked in the past many a times. I wouldn’t say all the time, but many a times (laughter from the crowd). I would like to keep working on this, so I would like all the corrupt politicians to come to me.
To conclude, let me say this, we need to spiritualize politics. Today, politics has become a business, not a service. It has become a career, not concern for people. If something becomes your career, then that career becomes important and you lose concern for the people of the society. So, if politics has to be compassionate, caring, and genuinely concerned for people, then politicians should be spiritual. Like Mahatma Gandhi or that generation of politics.
Here, in this society too, like Lee Kuan Yew, there were many great leaders. At the start, the leaders put their heart and soul into this country. That is how Singapore could come up. Malaysia thought Singapore would sink – they are totally dependent and they would come back to Malaysia. But no, they stood their ground because of the dedication of political leaders. This is what I mean by we should spiritualize politics. Politics should not be a business or career, it should be a service to society. Do you agree with me? (huge yes from the crowd)
The second is secularizing religion. Every religious leader should pray for all the people in the world, not just my folks or only for Hindus or Buddhists or Christians or Catholics. This is not good.
Anyone who says, 'Only I will go to heaven and everyone else will go to hell', are dangerous people. They create hell for everyone else. So this is secularizing religion.
And the third point is socialize business. In essence, every businessman should do corporate social work. They should engage in some corporate social responsibility projects. What do you think? Five to ten percent of their earning, they should give back to society. In fact, it is sort of an investment. If there is no buying power in people, you will also go down! Business cannot survive without the buying power of the people. If you impoverish society by doing business through unethical means, soon, you will be doomed.
So secularize religion, spiritualize politics, and socialize business for a better world and a better tomorrow. All the best.
On spirituality and science, what do you think should change about science as we have it today, and the education in science?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Prejudice. If prejudice clogs science, then it dies very soon. Open-mindedness to possibilities is the basis of science! History has told us, when scientists were prejudiced, when they were blind or deaf to other researcher’s words, they suffered defeat. Their students took over and proved what their professors had taught was wrong. Hasn’t this happened in history? Yes! So prejudice should be done away with and there should be openness to all possibilities for a scientific mind.
Second is enthusiasm and intuition. What is the use of all the studies you do if you don’t are not inspired to do anything? You have all this knowledge and if you sit at home, just drinking tea and watching television all day, what is the use? If you have education, you should have inspiration along with it to do.
Intuition, innovation, and inspiration are essential characteristics of a scientist (with a twinkle in his eyes) and also an artist.
Why do we have so many Gods in Hinduism. Is there any scientific reason behind that?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Do you know how many chromosomes there are in your body in total? Have you ever wondered how one cell develops into this very complex body? It is because it is programmed to do so, but it is just one cell.
If you go to a pastry shop, how many types of pastries are available there? Many, or is there just one pastry? Why? It is because the nature of the spirit is to love diversity. If God wanted you to have only one kind of fruit, he would have made only bananas and asked everyone to eat and go bananas! But no, the Divine loves diversity. Consciousness loves diversity.
With the same wheat, we make so many types of pastries. Similarly, there are so many types of pizzas and pastas. With rice, we make rice cakes, dim sums, pulao, and so many things. Why? Because nature loves diversity!
Do you think God, who loves diversity, will come in just one form every day? That God would also love to express himself or herself in diverse ways. This is what the ancient people in the Vedic times, the Hindus, thought. God loves diversity, so he can express himself in as many forms as he could, so 108 names and 108 forms or 1008 names and 1008 forms were expressed, but there is only one material – Divinity.
So, just like that, is the sun's rays one or many? There is only one sun, but when its rays passes through the prism, it splits into seven colors – VIBGYOR. Similarly, they say, there is one Param Atma, or Para Brahman, one divinity, but it expresses itself in many different ways.
If you go to a Catholic church, there is an altar for mercy, and an altar for healing, isn’t it? It is the same Mother Mary and the same Jesus Christ, but are there not many altars? This is present in old churches. Why have they kept so many. For different purposes!
Similarly, in this room, the chairs, tables, doors, and podium are all made of wood. But you cannot use the podium as the floor and nor can you use the door as a chair. So, for functional usage, they are different. In the same way, in Hindu tradition, it is said, 'Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti' – there is only one God, but it is perceived in many forms for different purposes. So, if you find obstacles, you go to Ganesha, the elephant God. You know, elephants never change their route if there are any obstacles. It never deviates from its path – never walks like a chicken. It walks with strength, so if you have obstacles, you go to Ganesha because that energy will help you in the difficulty you are currently having.
You know, one single human DNA strand contains the genetic code of all the other animals on the planet. With one human DNA strand, you can create any animal on the planet, but not vice-versa (laughter). That means, inside you, all these vibes are already present.
So, our ancients, I tell you, were tremendously intelligent. I have made a small booklet on the symbolism of all these Gods and Goddesses. Just read it. It is mind-boggling and fascinating. How could they put such a big elephant on a small rat? (Lord Ganesha and his vahana – the mouse) Any child would ask this question. And what does a rat symbolize? It symbolizes logic. The job of a rat is to cut the net – this is logic. On logic rides the power of knowledge, which is the elephant.
Similarly, Mother Divine is riding on the tiger. The tiger is the most brutal animal, so its cruelty on one hand, and the softness of the Mother on the other hand that are seen together for us to appreciate how opposite values complement each other. When compassion reigns over cruelty—when compassion is in control of the beast tendency—what reigns is motherhood. You can conquer cruelty not with another cruelty but with motherhood, with patience, with love. That’s the symbolism of Mother Divine riding on the tiger or lion.
Lion is the most powerful. Whenever society seems powerful and cruel, remember there is a compassionate element that is much more powerful and which rides on top of it. This is what the goddess being carried by a lion or tiger signifies.
So, if you go to the depth of it, you find each of the symbolisms startling and greatly beneficial.