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.
If someone repeatedly insults or criticizes me, what should I do?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
I tell you, if someone insults you, criticizes you, let them be! How much harm can they do? Let them go ahead and insult as much as they can. Next time, tell them, “My dear, go ahead and insult me as much as you want. I will not change regardless of how much you want to criticize me”. Face it with courage. Be strong, do not run away from it. Stand tall before them and let them insult you as much as they can.
See, you should respond to an insult with a smile. A person of true patience and courage is one who can respond to any insult or criticism with an unshakeable smile. A real saint is one who responds to a gunfight with bouquets of flowers. The sign of an intelligent person is one who can respond to taunts and criticism with humour and wit. If you also get angry with someone who comments on you or taunts you, then that is not intelligent behaviour on your part. The sign of intelligence is to transform an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one. That is what the intelligent ones do. One who searches for pleasantness even in unpleasant or unfavourable situations is truly an intelligent person.
Gurudev, is there a difference between the Vedic Tradition and Science?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
See, our ancestors gave a lot of prime importance to the intellect. Our most important mantra is the Gayatri Mantra which is unparalleled. In the Gayatri Mantra it is said b> “Dhiyo yonaha prachodayaat”, which means, “May our intellect be illumined and inspired by the Divine”. It does not pray for just one person’s intellect, the mantra prays for everyone’s minds and intellect to be illumined and inspired by the Divine light. So, by the Gayatri Mantra, we pray that all our minds together are nurtured by the Divine, and may all our intellects blossom. This is the prayer we make through the Gayatri Mantra.
Science also gives importance to the intellect, to logic and rationality. Anything that does not agree with the intellect, or is not aligned with intelligence - cannot be called as Science. When you see things from this perspective, then you realize that both Science and Spirituality work along the same lines. Spirituality just goes one step further than Science and asserts that not only must we inquire “What is this?”, but also go deeper and inquire “Who am I?” This inquiry too is within the scope and boundaries of Science. Here it is not only the scenery that is important; rather the observer or the Seer is also equally important. The Seer too has a very prominent role here, and Spirituality, or Vedic tradition makes this aspect (of the Seer) more evident and clear.
Gurudev, when will I come to know Who am I?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
I tell you, first you think about who you are NOT. For the time being, drop the question, 'Who am I'? If you come and tell me, “Gurudev, I know who I really am”, then that would mean you still do not know. And if you say, “I still do not know who I am”, then that too is not entirely true. I would say, first you try to understand who you are NOT. Go on asking yourself, 'Who am I not'? When you find that everything that you are NOT disappears and drops off, then a deep silence shall dawn within you. Then you will realize that it is only YOU that really IS, and there is nothing else except YOU.
Gurudev, we can be happy when the people and the situations around us are pleasant. But how can we maintain our happiness when they become unpleasant?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Just look back at your life and see – how many times has this happened with you in the past. How many times have you been troubled and distressed by a person, an object, or a situation? And despite that you are still whole right now, total and complete. Isn’t it? The people who troubled you have moved on and may have even passed away; the situations that troubled you are over and no longer there. Yet life goes on. Examine your life closely. Look back in time and reflect on this, then you will find a great inner strength arises in you. You will realize that it is all Maya (illusion). That is why it is said that this entire world is Maya. Why so? It is because this world appears to be frightening, but it is not really so.
It is like how when you were young, your mother would just scare you to make you eat your food, otherwise some villain would come after you! It never used to happen but at least you used to eat your food then. So even from this false scare, something good happens. In this way, every situation in the world is like aGabbar Singh(a popular villain from Indian cinema). Do you know what that Gabbar Singh is for? (Here representing a difficult or fearful situation) It is to bring out the skilfulness in you, to enhance the good qualities in you. Just understand this. If you do not understand this true fact and keep getting stuck in situations, then of course you will remain miserable. Once you realize this then you will not be troubled by any situation in life.
See, there is some Karma that you will simply have to endure and undergo. And to be free of some other Karma you can always pray to the Divine. Both Self-effort and Prayer should go hand in hand in life. If either one is missing, then too you become miserable. They are like the two wheels of a bicycle – you cannot move through life if either one is not there. If you only keep praying without making any actual efforts, then you will not get any results. And if you only keep making efforts and struggle, without spending time in prayer, then also it will not help. When you do both effort and prayer, then you will be able to skilfully and happily sail through life. Your path will become easier.
If we are truly Space, or a part of Space, then why is it that we feel comfortable in some space and uncomfortable in some other space?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
It is because of ignorance. Or it is because of your body type and vibrations. You may have limited vibrations, or you may not be so centered that you feel comfortable and at ease with all kinds of people. You have limited range of vibrations and not the total range of vibrations. If you are strongly centered then you are comfortable with the entire 360 degree range of vibrations, because just like in a circle, every point becomes equidistant from the centre. But if you are on some chord of this circle, then you are not equidistant from everything. So you are not comfortable with every vibration.
Gurudev, how to keep the Prana (subtle life-force energy) level high even after the Vignana Bhairava Advanced Course?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
The key is Seva. I would suggest you keep doing some Seva, and stay engaged in knowledge. Tell others about this beautiful knowledge and inspire others about attending Satsang and doing Seva. All this will help to keep the energy levels high. And suppose, even if your energy goes a little low, do not be upset about it. Just know that it will come back again.
Where does Intuition come from, and what is the source of Intuition?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Well, I will tell you this intuitively! (Laughter) See, intuition definitely cannot come from the books. Intuition = In + tuition; it means that ‘tuition’ (knowledge) that comes from the inside.
Who is God? God is Satchitananda. ‘Sat’ means the Truth, the ultimate reality without a second. ‘Chit’
means the blissful Consciousness that is alive and complete with intelligence. It is not dead, inert or passive in any way. Consciousness is that which is constant, eternal and ever present. Consciousness is alive, it has intelligence and it alone has the ability to know and comprehend. ‘Ananda’ means that it is blissful.
We say, ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’. It means that like Lord Shiva, the Consciousness is benevolent and blissful, it is the Ultimate Truth, and the pinnacle of all beauty. It is peaceful and without a second, it alone is. That is Shiva.
It is only in India that beauty has been associated with God. In no other culture or tradition in the World has God been addressed as beautiful, or the source of all beauty. But in India, the Lord of all beauty and majesty is Lord Shiva, who is also titled as Sundaresa. Beauty is a quality, a sign of Lord Shiva. This is why this whole World is so beautiful. Wherever you see or find something beautiful, there is a deep and subtle energy that rises within you from your very core – and that is the Shiva Tattva. That is the Truth. There was a saint from Kashmir called Lakshman Ju Ji. I came to hear a story about his Guru. Once it so happened that a little girl dressed beautifully with ornaments and flowers came and sat before him. Lakshman Ju’s Guru, who was quite old and elderly, saw the girl and kept looking at the girl for two or three minutes. After that, he rose from his seat and went inside his room. There he went into deep meditation. After some time when he came out, he said “That little girl exuded so much beauty that I went into deep Samadhi upon seeing it”.
The blossoming of a lotus is compared to the full blossoming of one’s Consciousness.
Why do people adorn and decorate the idols of Devi Radha and Lord Krishna so beautifully? It is done so that by beholding such unequalled beauty, deep Truth and the Shiva Tattva gets kindled from within us. That is why temples are decorated so beautifully. If you visit the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, you will see that they decorate the temple so beautifully. Even the idol of the Goddess is decorated so beautifully, that just by looking at the beauty of the Mother Divine one cannot help but adore the beauty and also feel so meditative. By seeing such images deep waves of beauty arise from within us, and they kindle and awaken the Truth, and the Shiva Tattva within us. That is why Adi Shankaracharya Ji composed the Soundarya Lahiri along with the Shivananda Lahiri. We have never concealed beauty. We have always nurtured, adored and celebrated beauty. If you take any Stotra from our scriptures, you will see that God’s qualities and His beauty are sung about together. There is a hymn in Sanskrit –
Shuklam Brahmavichara Sara Parmamadyam Jagadvyapineem
Veena Pustaka Dharineem-abhayadam Jadyandhakaraapaham.
Haste Sphatikamalikam Vidadhateem Padmasane Samsthitam
Vande Tam Parmeshvareem Bhagwateem Buddhipradam Sharadam.
(Hymn of Adoration to Goddess Saraswati)
Dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the hymn says, “She is seated with a majestic Veena in Her hands; Your thoughts are the thoughts of purity of the Brahman, yet O Divine mother! You are seated adorned with beautiful flowers of all colours”.
While composing these verses and hymns, one would contemplate and imagine all kinds of beauty associated with the Divine. If someone saw the fully blossomed lotus, they would exclaim “Oh, how beautiful is this lotus!” But nowadays if someone were to make that same statement about a lotus flower, people would misinterpret it, thinking of the person’s political associations (here referring to the Lotus being the electoral symbol of a political party in India). So there is a slight danger of such harmless statements too being seen in a political light.
Maharishi Patanjali said, “Yoga chitta-vritti nirodhah”, meaning that Yoga is to silence the distortions of the Mind.
Dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the hymn says, “She is seated with a majestic Veena in Her hands; Your thoughts are the thoughts of purity of the Brahman, yet O Divine mother! You are seated adorned with beautiful flowers of all colours”. While composing these verses and hymns, one would contemplate and imagine all kinds of beauty associated with the Divine. If someone saw the fully blossomed lotus, they would exclaim “Oh, how beautiful is this lotus!” But nowadays if someone were to make that same statement about a lotus flower, people would misinterpret it, thinking of the person’s political associations (here referring to the Lotus being the electoral symbol of a political party in India). So there is a slight danger of such harmless statements too being seen in a political light.
The blossoming of a lotus is compared to the full blossoming of one’s Consciousness. The Mother Divine is called as Kamalatmika meaning that the Mother Divine is fully blossomed like a lotus flower in bloom. She is also the secret and the cause behind the full bloom of the lotus flower. She is also called as Kamaladharini – meaning that the Mother Divine holds a fully blossomed lotus flower in one of her hands. In this way we connect every aspect of beauty with the Divine. This has always been the tradition in India. Why? It is because beauty is always understood as an aspect of Divinity.
God is addressed as Satchidananda.
A scientist may say, “I do not believe in beauty, etc.”, that is alright. But would one not accept the fact that God is Satchitananda? The poet says that using these six colours or qualities: Satya, Shiva, Sundara, Sat, Chitda, Ananda – God has created these uncountable creatures and coloured this Creation. And you are the very reflection of these divine qualities. God Himself is the canvas or the backdrop, and He also encompasses all the colours from which has come this Creation of countless sceneries and wonders.
The deeper meaning here is that you should do away with an intellect that discriminates or divides on the basis of this multitude and diversity; and instead understand that everything in Creation is actually made of One thing only. Whether it appears red or blue, or of any colour and attributes, the entire Creation is made up of One all-powerful Consciousness. When you embed this profound truth in your heart, then you become established in Yoga and see the underlying unity of everything.
The poet also says that usually we get stuck in people’s opinions and what they think of us, or our mind gets entangled in petty politics happening before us. Our mind gets trapped with the conflicts and problems around us. But it is not real, actually.
How can you think or know what someone is thinking of you? But you think “This person thinks so-and-so about me; that person thinks like this about me”, etc.
We create such false impressions in our mind, and we keep nurturing our cravings and aversions. What will happen if we drop all the cravings and aversions and think of beauty and divine qualities in our mind? All these distortions drop off and dissolve by themselves and we get established in Yoga.
Maharishi Patanjali said, “Yoga chitta-vritti nirodhah”, meaning that Yoga is to silence the distortions of the Mind. One moves from the scenery to the Seer when we see that this entire Creation is a play of Consciousness and everything is made up of that One Consciousness only. The diversity of colours and scenery is only because of this One Consciousness.
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.