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.
It is easy to be a dreamer, it is easy to be a critical realist, how to drop all illusions and expectations and still have a flame in life?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
It is easy to be in extremes in anything in life, but it takes wisdom to take the middle path and that is what spirituality and yoga is all about. The whole thing is about being centered. Once you are centered, then whatever has to happen will happen, and things will happen through the cosmic law.
All his life, Lord Buddha said only one thing, "Take the middle path". The essence of the Bhagavad Gita is the same. Lord Krishna said, "One who works too much and one who is lazy, both cannot reach the height of yoga. Only those who walk the path of moderation can get out of misery".
I want to give you one practical example from your own lives. Have you noticed that you have done all that you could do for a friend or someone close to you, and for no fault of yours they became your enemy, or they went away from you? You poured your heart and still they were not satisfied and they went away. How many of you have had this experience? (People in the audience raise their hands). You wonder, "Why did this person move away from me? I did so much for this person", isn’t this so?
Similarly, there are people for whom you have done nothing, or they may have been your enemies, but at the time of need they became your best friends, or they might have helped you. How many of you have had this experience? (People in the audience raise their hands). This is strange! You wonder, "I have not done anything for them, but they helped me so much". This is where you must believe in the law of karma.
People come together and they move apart in strange situations and circumstances. It is all a play of karma. So, whether friends or enemies, keep your equanimity. You don’t know when your friend will turn into an enemy and when your enemy may become your friend. Be centered and keep your balance. This is the whole message.
How to come out of the cycle of karma?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
By not reacting, and through wisdom and meditation. All this takes you out of karma.
I’ll tell you a story. Lord Buddha had a devotee who was also his cousin. He was a brilliant man, and very devoted. In the beginning, Buddha’s sangha or communion was quite small, but in time it became bigger. So, the devotees close to Buddha became more possessive, and his cousin felt that he owned Buddha, but Buddha can't be owned by anybody. You cannot say you own the ocean. So, because of this there were some misunderstandings and this cousin turned against Buddha.
When some people have their own opinions or some negativity, there are a few more people who will join them. This cousin of Buddha and a few people become a group, and one day when Buddha was giving a sermon, he went up the hill pushed a boulder from there towards Buddha. The boulder stopped just few centimeters away from Buddha, otherwise it would have killed him.
The other loyal disciples got so angry and upset. They said, "We have to punish him and teach him a lesson", but Buddha stopped them and just smiled. He said, "It is karma. You don’t do anything. We will not react".
Once, in the 90's, I was in Washington D.C. I was giving a talk and there were 300 hundred people there. Suddenly, one tall hefty man came from the back to attack me. He said, "This is Satan and devilish".
Everyone froze to their seats because nobody knew what to do. He could have lifted me in one hand, he was so big! I just looked into his eyes and said, "Wait!" It is not yet time for me to go. I have come here to do some work, let me complete my work. I didn’t tell him this, I just said, "Wait", but in my mind I said, "I am not ready to go". And then that guy looked at me and sat down in front of me and started crying. He came with so much anger and anguish, but then he just sat down and tears flowed from his eyes. To make the story short, he then joined a course and everything changed for him.
Why I am saying this is, every phenomenon that happens in and around us happens due to some karma. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that if something is fatalistic, you simply accept that everything is karma and you can’t do anything about it. No, that is a wrong understanding of karma. Karma is a phenomenon, and you have the power to change it in the future because life is a combination of freewill and destiny.
Your height is your destiny but your weight is your freewill. If you weigh 100 kilos, you can’t say, "Well this is my fate". No, get onto the treadmill and do some exercise. When a phenomenon happens and you react, then the cycle keeps going on. Don’t react but act.
When someone pushed the boulder at Buddha, what the people did was they reacted, but Buddha asked them not to react and then he smiled, that is an action. When someone is against you, if you show love and compassion and if you turn the other cheek when they hit you on one cheek then they cannot hit you back. That is a bigger weapon! The principle of non-violence is also an action, a more intelligent and wise action, and not just a reaction.
Last year when we were in Cuba, this is what I said to the rebels. I told them, "All that you want is prosperity for your people, and it is not going to come to you through violence. For 50 years you have been exercising violence. You bombed the railway stations, the water sources, telephone towers and you just got more misery. If you work with non-violence as your principle, the whole world is with you".
First they said, "No, this is not possible because it will be hypocritical to adopt the Gandhian non-violent principle".
It took them three days to understand, digest and look from this angle, and on the last day they announced on their own that they will adopt non-violence as the means to achieve their ends. 50 years of war came to an end!
The South American newspapers and media asked me, "What did you say to them that they agreed to be non-violent. They didn’t agree to the Americans, to the Norwegians and the other people who tried".
I said, "It is not what I said, but it is who said it that makes a difference".
Where does the good go? We have done so much good for people still we have to suffer sometimes, for no reason. Why?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Remember one thing, if you have done something good, bad will never come as the result of it. If you have sown a mango tree, you will only get mango fruit, you will not get cherries. So, if you are suffering, there are two reasons:
1. Either you are not being intelligent and are being foolish or
2. It is some past karma
In the past you have taken a loan from the bank. Now when you are depositing some money, naturally they will minus all that you have deposited towards the repayment of your loan. Then you can’t say, "I have deposited so much money but you’re showing me nil balance".
You have some debt and you are clearing that out. You deposited money in the bank but you forgot that you had already withdrawn through your credit card.
Also, bad things happen to good people not because of their goodness but because they are foolish! You can’t say, "I am very good but I put my hand in the fire and it got burnt". Nature has given you intelligence and so, you must understand the situation around you and use it.
Why do we have guilt?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
It is good to have a little bit of guilt, not too much. That little guilt can prevent you from committing the same mistake again.
What is guilt? Intellectually you know an action to be bad, but you have a temptation to do that action because it promises you some pleasure or joy. Your hearts wants something, but the mind says, 'It is wrong'. Between the mind and the heart, the heart wins most of the time and this is when guilt comes up in you. And little bit of that guilt can prevent you from derailing further, but it should not be too much.
How to get over it? It s simple -- listen to knowledge like Ashtavakra Gita, or Yoga Vasishta, this will help you rise up. Pranayama and meditation are also one of the best ways to get rid of guilt. When you do pranayama it removes guilt, uplifts the energy and brings a change at a very concrete level.
It is like, when you wash dishes, you need to put a little acid as that makes the vessels shine, but if the acid is too much it will eat the vessel. So, little guilt is okay, but too much of it will put you in a dark place.
In Christianity, confession is given a lot of importance. You confess to the priest of the wrong that you have done. When you offer all the wrongs that you have done, you leave it to the divine to take care of it.
In the Hindu and Buddhist tradition, people do ‘Kshama prardhana’, which means asking God for forgiveness. You say, "Knowingly and unknowingly I have done some wrong, please forgive me". Asking for forgiveness will take you out of guilt.
In the Jain tradition, there is one day in the month of September where they ask each other for forgiveness. They say, "Knowingly or unknowingly if I have hurt you or if anything wrong has happened through me, please forgive me". It is such a beautiful concept.
Ego doesn’t let you ask for forgiveness. It will say, "What I did is correct and that is what I will continue doing". All the wars and problems in the world have started because of this. If people can understand this one act -- asking for forgiveness for mistakes done knowingly or unknowingly -- you will find such harmony in the world. Don’t you think so? It makes you so humble and human, and creates a sense of connectivity with everybody. Distance creates ego and ego creates distance.
How can I overcome social anxiety and memories of embarrassing thoughts?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Just embrace the thoughts. If you fight with them you are giving life to them, but if you just hug them, they will disappear. Remember your mind is like fire.