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.
(Below is the address given by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to the Lords, Ladies and MPs in the Speakers Chambers at the House of Commons, London on the 16th June 2016)
Thank you Mr. Mathew for inviting me to the House of Commons! It is such a pleasure to be with you all in this building, which has contributed to the whole world in more than one way.
Today, we are living in an age where boundaries don’t matter; it is a global village where connectivity has increased many folds compared to what it was several decades ago. In this era of technological advancement where we also face many challenges, we need to ask ourselves if we are empowered enough to face them. Even in a multi-cultural society like England, we find issues such as people living in isolation or interacting only within their communities, not reaching out to others.
Wherever I go, I ask myself, how can I contribute to society, how can I be of use? What can I do to improve the situation? As we were walking to this hall, I was exchanging views with Mathew to understand what we can do to unite the communities, bring down the barriers, and make people realize that we are all global citizens.
We need to attend to two things:
1. Improve communication between people.
2. Reduce frustration and stress levels. It is the high level of stress and frustration that brings intolerance, crime and violence in society. If crime is on the rise, it is because we have not attended to the root cause, i.e., the stress level of the individuals. This is where we offer techniques that help reduce stress levels.
Here in London, when we conducted programs at the Thameside Prison. The response from the inmates was so encouraging, they said that they had found freedom behind bars.
Human beings often find themselves being victims of their own negative emotions. Neither at school nor at home have we learnt how to handle our negative emotions. It is normal for feelings such as anger and jealousy to come up, but we have not been trained or taught to manage or overcome the impact of these emotions.
We conducted programs at the Thameside Prison London and the response from the inmates was so encouraging, they said that they had found freedom behind bars.
The Art of Living Foundation started programs 35 years ago, to reach out to people and teach them how to manage negative emotions, by using the breath to calm the mind and be at peace within. Once you feel the inner peace, you feel more confident, and when you are confident about yourself, then fear in life disappears. And when there is no fear, there is more freedom. When there is freedom, you are able to reach out to people; your communication, expression and perception are better. Improving the perception, observation and expression of an individual can make a big impact on one’s life -- this is what we found in our work around the world in 155 countries. The credit goes to all our well qualified teachers who have been working all these years with a passion to transform society and to create an ideal society that is free from crime. I really congratulate them. I am only taking credit on behalf of them, the real work is done by them; you should congratulate the hundreds and thousands of volunteers who have been doing all this work.
Having said that, I would say as Members of Parliament or leaders of the society in various fields, we all have the responsibility to bring responsibility to those who do not take it! We need to wake people up and educate them in peace, in facing challenges with enthusiasm, and in managing with a smile; it is very important! This would take our society a long way towards being a happier, peaceful, and prosperous society.
At the end of the day, everyone wants to be happy. Whatever one is doing, one is doing to be happy. You need to ask yourself if you are moving in the right direction. Many times the answer is no! What can we do to give an impetus to this cause of creating happiness around us? That is where we need to sit back and think -- what can we do, who are the stake holders, how can we improve society?
I have been pondering over these questions in a few exercises with many of our great minds here and in many other places, and we came up with 52 different workshops and courses, some for children, adolescents, and some for parents to know their children. We have programs to ‘Know Your Child’ and ‘Know Your Teen’. The increasing generation gap between parents and youth can be bridged with the right communication. We all see a breakdown of communication among generations, isn’t it? The stress and restlessness among the youth are big issues in many communities. It is shocking when you see what is happening with the young, highly educated people joining ISIS.
We need to drive people towards the vision of being a global family and global citizens. We need to learn something from every culture, from every part of the world. Broadening one’s awareness towards a multi-culture and a multi-religious society can prepare us and our children to live in harmony into the next century. Even if a small part of the world is left thinking that 'Only I go to heaven', everybody else is going to hell because that small group of people are going to create hell for everybody else, and they are already doing that today! We need to bring this broad vision of a global citizen.
I know there is a big debate going on here in Britain, whether to be in the EU or out of EU. To take any decision, what is important is to have confidence in ourselves. Fear and uncertainty can lead us in a direction that we may not like, or which may not be palatable to us. It is that confidence in ourselves and in our goodness that will give us the ability to take risks. And what is risk? Risk is where there is chance of profit and loss. This ability or intuition to take the right decision can also come when we start developing our inner faculties; meditation and breathing techniques are some of the tools that help enable these faculties.
We need to wake people up and educate them in peace, in facing challenges with enthusiasm, and in managing with a smile; it is very important!
As global citizens, we need to learn team work from Japan, precision from Germans, (you cannot find fault in German machines), marketing techniques from America (they can sell the moon on a new moon day), etiquette and decency from the British (they have shown the world how to accommodate various cultures), and human and spiritual values from India. If you go to the remotest part of India, to the poorest of the poor, they may just have one glass of butter milk with them, yet they would share it with you. I have seen that sense of giving and sharing in the villages of India. Of course, the urban cities have become the same world over today; you have the same increasing crime rate, problems with traffic and everything. However, the values that you will find in rural India are something that touch your heart. Thus, we can pick something from everywhere in the world. This is the reason we organized the World Culture Festival, where people from 155 countries exhibited their cultures on one stage that spanned 7 acres, with 36,000 artists performing on it. We were so pleased to have Mathew there to share a few thoughts and ideas with the whole world; otherwise it would not have been so complete.
In early July 2011, when we organized the World Culture Festival in Berlin, it was at a stadium that was built by Hitler 75 years ago; a place from where the World War was announced. I thought the place needed to be cleansed with a call for peace, which is why we celebrated the World Culture Festival there. We did a meditation there to cleanse the atmosphere, and to spread waves of peace and happiness. This year we celebrated it in India. After 5 years, we have an invitation to conduct the next World Culture Festival at Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia. In this way, I think multicultural activities can bring people together. People were so surprised to see the large number of Pakistanis who came to India for the festival; there was such a good feeling between India and Pakistan participating in a cultural program in such a big way. Apart from politics, when people-to-people contact increases, there is an increasing sense of trust and belongingness among communities. I think this can bring about a change in society in way. What do you think? Because thinking of people as ‘the other’ causes fear. Distance causes uncertainty and fear, and you cannot afford to have such an atmosphere within your own home. When members of a nation or society do not trust one another, or do not have a sense of connectivity to each other, then everyone suffers.
One last thing I would like to mention here is the immigration problem. When people come from different places to any one country, they need to be taught how to integrate with the society and the culture of the land. They cannot remain in their own isolated culture; they can have their religion and culture, but somewhere they need to feel connected to the ground and culture that they are living with. This needs a gentle orientation, a gentle reaching out to people. Being in England, everyone should learn English, it should be mandatory; they can speak their mother tongue at home, but they have to follow the etiquette of the society. Gender equality, equal opportunity to everybody, honoring diversity, all these common shared values need to be adopted. This shared education needs to be given to people. Without this we would be inviting problems on ourselves.
With these few words to all you decision makers, I would recommend that you take a few minutes every day to sit back, relax and reflect on your own mind. This is because you are very important to society, and when you have a happy, healthy, calm and focused state of mind, you can do a lot of good to society.