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.
My children have gone abroad for higher studies and I am now alone at home. I often do not know what to do, and feel a sense of emptiness.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
See, until now, your whole world was limited to your children and their wellbeing, isn’t it? Your world was restricted to a small boundary. You only thought about 'My children; me, mine”, etc. Now that you have more time on your hands, I would suggest you to involve your neighbours and dear ones and conduct satsang regularly. Get engaged in some social service projects, and work for the society. There is so much you can do.
If you know children who are in need of a loving parent or grandparent – then make yourself available for them and take care of them. Engage yourself in some service project. Or, you can sit and read the scriptures and other books. You can take up writing as well. Today you need not even go anywhere, just by being at home and writing, you can reach out to so many people. You should always share knowledge with others.
This kind of social arrangement or framework has been in existence in India since many ages. This stage of life is called the Vanaprastha Ashrama (the third phase of the Vedic Ashrama system which starts when a person hands over household responsibilities to the next generation, takes an advisory role, and gradually withdraws from the world).
Once your children have grown and become independent, hand over the keys and responsibilities of the household to them. This is the way to be happy. If you cling onto the keys of the house till your last breath, then you will become miserable and also make others miserable around you. You should not do this. As time progresses, you should hand over the responsibilities to the next generation and let them lead their lives independently. Do not become like the Queen of England. Her son has turned 65 years old, yet he is still a prince, he has not become king and taken the throne. He often thinks whether or not will he ever become king. The mother has turned 85 or 87 years of age, but she still hangs on to the throne instead of letting her children take up the throne and come forward. People feel quite disturbed by seeing this.
There are many industrialists who are like this. They have grown so old, they have become hard of hearing, they are not able to see properly, their mind is no longer as sharp as it used to be, but they still do not pass on the reins and responsibility of their business to their children. The children keep waiting and thinking, “When will I be able to take charge of the family business and contribute?” The concept of Vanaprastha Ashramais such a good arrangement for life. After reaching a certain age, one should simply hand over everything to the children to take forward and lead their life freely thereafter. Often the children live in fear or insecurity that they will have to constantly remain dependent and accountable to their parents. This is the greatest insecurity prevalent in society today. Even after becoming grandparents, people have this constant fear whether or not to give the charge of the house and business to the children. They fear whether the children will look after them in the old age after handing over the property to them. And we have seen many incidents like this in the society. This is one side.
On the other side, there are also some children who turn out to be so irresponsible and unworthy even when they grow up. Why does this happen? It is because they never had to care for much, other than food, shelter and clothing. They never got any spiritual knowledge and understanding of human values and so they become so irresponsible. When people see such kind of incidents happening around them, then they also reserve some things for themselves till the very end (instead of letting go and handing over to the children). In recent times, we have seen an increase in the number of such unfortunate incidents. Children go to any length to wrongly acquire their parental or ancestral property by wrong means. Some children wrongly accuse their parents of mental imbalance or insanity to claim their property. I tell you, if you call your parents mad, are you also not behaving equally mad by trying to hoard their property in this manner? Often the children produce false certificates to prove their parents are of unsound mind.
Such incidents have been on the rise on society today. Why is this so? It is because we have not inculcated right values in children and have not educated them properly. It also happens because we have not led our lives as per the cultural values and norms of our society.
The essence of the Vanaprastha Ashrama is that after reaching a certain ripe age, one must share all that one has received in life with others. Whatever wisdom you have learnt in life till that age, you must share it with others. So after reaching the age of 50 or 60 years, one should act in accordance with the Vanaprastha Ashrama. By this age, you have had enough running after “Me; mine; my life”, etc. Now you must dedicate your life to helping and uplifting others. You must now expand your boundaries of care and concern for others, rather than limiting it further. This entire framework of the Ashrama System has been so intelligently conceived and put in place in our society.
Who should one honour or worship first – God, or the Guru?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
We just now sang a bhajan about this which says –“Do not see any difference between God and the Guru”. You should not see any difference between God, Guru and your soul. Despite knowing this, in our country, whenever we start any good work or do any Puja, the first thing that we chant is “Sri Gurubhyo Namaha, Hari Om!”
One cannot truly worship God without first honouring and worshipping the Guru. This is how the tradition has been since the ages.
Do you know how the Vedic mantras are chanted? Even before we start the chanting, we first recite, “Sri Gurubhyo Namaha, Hari Om!” Only after properly honouring the Guru and Lord Ganesha can one proceed to start anything. The Guru comes even before Lord Ganapati. Lord Ganapati is worshipped before all the other deities at the start of any ritual. But even before one can worship Lord Ganapati, one has to remember the Guru with honour and devotion. This is how the tradition has been woven in our culture since time immemorial. After this comes Atma Puja, which is honouring the divinity within. It means to deeply remember that the divine dwells within oneself. Remembering that all the divine gods and goddesses reside within you is to be in a truly meditative state. Meditation is the pinnacle or the ultimate state of any Puja. After honouring the Guru and the various deities, you should sit in a meditative state. And after that, take your attention to different parts of the body and remember that all gods and goddesses reside in different parts of the body. Then you can go deep into meditation and experience the joy within.
Gurudev, when you were addressing the students at Sri Sri University, you mentioned that a student should have three qualities: aashishta, balishta and driddhishta. Can we nurture these three qualities while in school?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Yes. Aashishta means having complete faith. Driddhishta means to have stability, and to have firm determination. Many people have desires, but they do not always have the determination to work for and fulfil those desires. If someone’s personality lacks stability and determination, then they become unsteady and succumb to the ups and downs in life. You may tend to go into extremes – either you may go very low or you may suddenly soar high into the skies. So you need stability to remain steady and equanimous. Balishta means to be strong. It means to develop strength in all aspects of personality. There are different kinds of strength. Knowledge is a strength. Love is a strength. Compassion and a sense of belongingness is also a strength. Forgiveness is a strength. Strength does not only mean having a lot of money. All the virtues and positive qualities within you are your strengths.
Whether you imbibe these in playschool, or school or college; you must definitely acquire and imbibe these qualities. And first you must take this sankalpa for yourself that you will definitely inculcate and nurture these qualities. First sow the seed (of sankalpa), then it will definitely grow into a tree.
In the Upanishads it is said that knowledge liberates you and brings moksha, while in the Shiva Sutras you have mentioned that “Jnanam bandhaha” (knowledge can bring bondage). What knowledge can bring bondage and what is that knowledge that can bring liberation?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Different knowledge points are spoken at different times and in different contexts. There is a different context to every knowledge. You need to understand that and see it in totality, rather than understanding each in isolation.
Whatever knowledge has been given, as per the time and context, you must understand it in that context rather than generalize. Listen to the complete Shiva Sutrasand you will understand what is being said. If you randomly pick up a few knowledge points from Shiva Sutras and put those in the context of the Bhagavad Gita, then you are bound to get confused and deluded. You have to listen and understand that knowledge in the context of that particular knowledge talk or series rather than mixing up any two together.
To reach a destination, someone may say, “Go straight and take the last left turn”.
Someone else may say, “Go straight and then take the last right turn”.
Yet again someone else may say, “Just go straight, do not turn left or right”.
If you mix up all three instructions, or try following all of them together, you are bound to be confused and lose your way. The directions or instructions are given depending upon where you are at present. At least become wise enough to understand this intelligently.
No doubt there is no greater purifier than knowledge. But if you get stuck in knowledge only at an intellectual, or literal manner rather than assimilating it deep within, then the same knowledge becomes a source of bondage rather than liberation.
There are three different types of knowledge:
1. Indriya-janya Jnana: knowledge which is received from the senses. 2. Buddhi-janya Jnana: knowledge that comes through the intellect. 3. A kind of knowledge that is more subtle and deep, and is beyond the intellect.
Being stuck at the lower levels of knowledge can become a bondage or obstacle in rising to the higher and more subtle knowledge. You should sit and listen to knowledge again and again with attention.
Gurudev, yesterday you spoke at length about Lord Ganesha. It is said that Lord Ganesha has two wives or consorts: Riddhi and Siddhi. What is the significance behind this?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
In our country, we see this with a great deal of symbolism. Riddhi (intelligence) and Siddhi (extraordinary abilities) always go hand in hand with knowledge. A wife is one who is always with you in every aspect. So Riddhi and Siddhi were represented as wives of Lord Ganesha and always shown along with Him.
This is just a symbolic representation. There are no celestial or divine ladies by the name of Riddhi and Siddhi as such. Do not misunderstand this.
The wife of Lord Surya is called as Chhaya Devi (“Chhaya” in Hindi means shadow). This does not mean that there is some Goddess by this name seated high up in the Heavens. We have interpreted this all so foolishly, that we have not been able to grasp the deep and hidden meaning behind all this symbolism.
People construct a Sun temple for Lord Surya and then install the idol of a goddess alongside Him. They have started having a marriage ritual for the two as well (laughter). Wherever there is sunlight, there is shadow. They go hand in hand, isn’t it? Whenever light falls on an object, it also casts a shadow as well, isn’t it? When the sun rises and there is sunlight, do not all objects cast their own shadow? In order to represent this symbolically, they have depicted Chhaya Devi as the consort of Lord Surya.
Lord Ganesha is said to be the Lord of Wisdom. So the representation of two goddesses on His sides is only to depict that both Riddhi (intelligence) and Siddhi(enhanced abilities) go together with wisdom. We have forgotten this deeper meaning and instead have started keeping two lady idols carrying rice or flowers on each side of Lord Ganesha. When you do not understand the deeper meaning, then you become foolish and this does not bring you any Siddhi also!
You mindlessly perform Puja of the idols without knowing the significance. I tell you, there is no use.
Adi Shankaracharya says so beautifully, "Atma tvam Girijamatihi sahachara prana shariram griham. Puja te vishayopabhoga rachana nidra samadhi sthithihi. Samchara padayoha pradakshina vidhi stotram sarvagiro. Yadyat karma karomi tat-tad-akhilam Shambho tavaradhanam" (Concluding verse, Para Puja by Adi Shankaracharya)
It means that Lord Shiva is your very soul, and Goddess Parvati is your intelligence, your intellect. The Prana (subtle life force) or the Pancha-Prana (five types of subtle airs or life energies) constantly circulates within your body. Your body is like the temple that houses the Divine. This is what has been said. Lord Ganesha is a Shakti (divine force or power), and Riddhi and Siddhi go hand in hand with that Shakti.