Question: Can you talk about how not to see intention behind others’ actions?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Yes. I say don’t see intention behind others’ mistakes. When somebody does something wrong often we say they intentionally did this wrong to me. So when we see from a broader perspective, every culprit is also a victim. Inside every culprit there is a victim crying for help. They may be a victim of lack of education or lack of information, stress, narrow-mindedness. All these would cause someone to become a culprit. And we are simply looking at the culprit part of them. We don’t see that the person is also a victim.
Every child should study a little bit about different religions and cultures. If people knew just a little bit about what Jesus said, what the Upanishads say, what the Vedas say, what Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam say, there would not be a single terrorist in the world. Today’s terrorism is a result of Puritanism: i.e. when people say, “Only my religion is pure. I should keep away from other religious books or I should not be educated in those things. Only this is the way.” That type of religious indoctrination in children has given rise to Taliban sort of movements in the world. We have lost so many people to terrorism.
We have globalized Pepsi, Coke and potato chips but we have not globalized wisdom! It should be compulsory for every nation to give a multi-religious, multi-cultural education to all children. Then not one terrorist will be there in the world.
Question: How can we bring this knowledge, of breathing & meditation that is taught through the Art of Living programs, to low-income families and communities?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You know, the Art of Living Courses are around $200-$300. This is a very small amount and students and seniors, anyways, pay a reduced fee. There are expenses when courses are organized. The volunteers have to hire a hall, get supplies and pay rent. Nearly 60-70 percent of the course fee is spent on course expenses. Remaining funds go to support service projects in places like post-Katrina New Orleans.
Also, if you offer the course free, people don’t value it. People don’t take responsibility to sit and learn. You can’t do charity from an empty bowl. And there is no point in taking charity to do charity. So our teachers teach these courses for a fee.
Of course anyone who wants to donate to a charitable cause is most welcome, but our donations are only about 15 percent of our total income. Mostly, all our expenses are covered by course fees. And, in case someone says they cannot afford to pay the fee, we never stop them from attending the course. There is always 10-15 percent scholarship in every course. If some of you want to sponsor a course for street kids, we would definitely love to organize that. We have so it in many places across the world.
Question: What would you say to Osama Bin Laden if you were having breakfast with him?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I would bring him in a plane to America and tell him, “Look there are so many beautiful people here in America, what are you doing?” At that moment I’m not sure exactly what I would say to him, but I am sure I would make an impact on him.
Question: How do we increase willpower?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Meditation and breathing enhance the inner power. These practices get us in touch with ourselves. You know, willpower comes to you with three things.
First, when you love something then you follow through with it. The commitment is there.
Second, where there is some fear there is commitment. If someone says that if you don’t follow this diet you have to have an operation, then you will follow.
Third is greed. If someone tells you, “You do this for a month then you will get a million dollars,” I tell you, you will not miss a single day!
Either through greed or fear or love you follow your commitment. And I feel the last one is better than the other two.
Question: You spoke about education and how it can better the world. Where does God fit into this equation?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You don’t need to fit God in anywhere because He is everywhere! Please don’t try to find a place for Him. He is omnipresent. If you think you are going to find a place for Him, He will laugh at you. God is the sum of creation. God is that energy in which we all are. We cannot escape from that energy. God is not someone who is sitting up there in Heaven who punishes you when you do something wrong. He keeps quiet when you do a mistake and then comes with a stick. This idea of God may be there in books, yet to me, God is love. And love is permeating this whole creation in every way, everyone and everything. When you relax and take your mind inwards, you take this power. That is the basis of creation.
Question: If happiness is already inside us, what is the role of a spiritual teacher or teaching?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You want an answer for this question? You have answered your own question my dear! You want an answer. You want someone who answers. Anyone who answers this question for you becomes a teacher! If the question is not there, then no need of an answer. The moment you have come with a question, you are looking for an answer and anyone who gives the answer becomes a teacher. Right? Oh and you can say, “I have a question but I am not a student,” and a teacher can say, “I will give you an answer but I am not a teacher.” Then I would say both are not sincere. It’s like a doctor saying, “I give you medicine but I’m not a doctor, don’t call me a doctor.” It is like a patient saying, “I want medicine but I’m not a patient.”
Question: Can you talk to us about realizing our purpose in life?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: This is something everyone has to find for themselves. What is the purpose of our life? You can ask this question but don’t take an answer from anybody. One who knows will not give you an answer and anyone who tries to give you, does not know. That’s the criteria. The very question “What’s the purpose of life?” is very precious. It means a lot to you. If this question has arisen in your mind you can give a big pat to your back because this question can remove the cobwebs from your mind, your confusion. It can remove all those unnecessary things and put you on track again and again and again. There is no single answer. It is a path on which we need to travel. “Who am I, what do I want, what is the purpose of my life?” It will move you forward in life. So give a big pat on your back, “Oh I am so lucky this question came to my mind.” What’s the purpose of life? You know, many don’t even think about this question. They simply exist. They eat, sleep, watch television and then they die.
Question: What is the most important thing a person can do to realize God in their life?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Smile and serve. Smile at yourself. Smile at your own mind and how it vacillates. Watch your mind and smile at your mind. Don’t be swayed by the mind but smile at it and serve the people around you in whatever capacity you can. You don’t have to do things that you cannot do. The world does not expect you to do that which you cannot do. See, if you are not a doctor, nobody expects you to give them medicine. Right? If you are not an engineer, nobody expects you to repair anything. The world expects from you that which you are able to do. And doing what we can is service. We need to do a little bit of service. Whatever we do, a portion of it should go back to society. Everyone should do this. My grandfather took all the gold that was in the house and gave it to Mahatma Gandhi. He sent his family to his in-laws house and stayed in Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram (seva gram) for twenty years serving Mahatma Gandhi. When we came to Bangalore, my grandfather introduced my father to Mahatma Gandhi. My father happened to have his gold chain on his neck. Mahatma Gandhi looked at it and asked “Is this necessary for you?” That gold chain, which was only fifteen grams, was all that was left. Immediately, my father said, “No, not necessary, you can take it. You are doing something for a big cause. You are doing the non-violence movement. This is for the country, for the nation, for the continent.” He immediately gave it to him.
When I was in school, pride was attached to simplicity, to equanimity. When you are equanimous, you are smiling and compassionate. The compassionate person was considered a hero. One who would never lose his temper was considered normal. Today, unfortunately, pride gets attached to aggression and violence. Every hero is very aggressive. So, if a college student is more macho and beats up everybody, he becomes a hero, a role model. This shift in role model is a problem all over the world. We need to bring back spirituality, the spirituality we all grew up with. Have an equanimous and balanced mind. Show compassion to everybody.
Question: How should we confront fraud and corruption?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Lack of a sense of belongingness creates corruption. A lack of friendliness creates frauds. If you have friends, you cannot commit fraud. If you don’t have friends, you feel afraid and then you become a fraud. You cheat others. Would anyone cheat someone whom you really think of as a friend? No. That sense of friendliness has to die away. So the show of friendliness is not true friendship. Isn’t it so? Will you ever cheat a sincere friend of yours? No way! You would give your life to save a friend, but not cheat them. When you don’t really feel the friendliness and sense of belongingness, it is then you will cheat others. So the fear in a person and the ambition to amass for oneself creates fraudulent people and attitudes. Corruption is again through fear. So, I would say we should spiritualize politics, socialize business and secularize religion.
Question: Do you really need to have purpose for life or can you just be happy?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: No, you have made that as the purpose of your life. You have made being happy your purpose. Correct? You’ve already have a purpose.
Can you be happy if your family is not happy? Can you really be happy if your environment is not happy and people around you are not happy? You know when you expand your vision and awareness, you see that you are a part of everybody. If people around you are suffering you cannot simply shut your eyes and say, ‘I’ll be really happy’. The subtler you go, the more refined you are. The more sensitive you become, you feel for everyone in the world. Not just people, for trees, animals and plants as well. You begin to care for the environment.
Question: How do I learn not to be selfish? Can I learn to act without a lot of self-doubt?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You are already not selfish! You are already out of it, my dear. Just know that you are not selfish. That’s it. Why? Because when you feel you are selfish, something irritates you, you don’t feel comfortable. You feel comfortable when you are at home and in your element. And that is already being generous. You can never cultivate virtues. You simply have them. You have to assume that you have them; then virtues will grow.
You know what is doubt? Doubt is always about something that is positive. Isn’t it? If someone tells you, ‘I love you so much’, you say, “Really?” Yet someone says, ‘I hate you’ and you don’t say this. We never doubt when someone says, ‘I dislike you.’ ‘I too dislike you’, immediately it comes. ‘If you dislike me, I hate you more!’ But if someone says, ‘I love you,’ we say, “Really?” We doubt someone’s integrity. We question someone’s honesty. We never question their dishonesty. We doubt our capabilities. We never doubt our incapabilities or weaknesses. We take our weaknesses as the gospel truth. Similarly when someone asks if we are happy, we say we are not sure! We are never sure about unhappiness but this is never said in regard to depression. If someone asks you if you you depressed, will you say, ‘Well, I am not sure I am depressed.’ No? So sure about your depression! We are certain.
We doubt love. We doubt someone’s honesty. We doubt sincerity. Someone may be sincere all their life and be insincere in one incident. We believe in that insincerity more than their sincerity. Isn’t it? It’s the nature of doubt. That’s why we doubt the existence of God also. God is all truth so we doubt. He may be there or not. When we know the nature of doubt and go through the doubt, something starts to wake up within you. That is what I would call trust.
Trust in yourself. Trust in people around you and the law of nature. This will keep you healthy. Otherwise paranoia takes over the mind. If you can’t believe anybody, you can’t believe your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your friends, your brother. You will find everybody is a cheat and out to get you. Everybody wants something from you. This sort of paranoia shrinks our personality. Peace and spirituality ,I say, are the AC. Just as this room is air-conditioned so that you can feel comfortable sitting here, the spirit and mind function similarly and absolute comfort is called spirituality. AC for the spirit!