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.
All religions say that there is only one God. Judaism says there is only one God. Christianity speaks of only one God. Hinduism speaks of only one God. It is said, ‘Ekam Sat Vipra’, there is only one God but manifested in many forms. You can adore him in whatever form you want.
There is only one light, but light has seven colors. In the same way, Islam says that there is only one God, but 99 names. Hinduism speaks of the 108 names and 108 forms of God, because all forms belong to one God only. The same God is in every form.
Is God a Person?
God is space, he is not a person – he is not an object, it is energy. And what is that energy? Jesus called it love. Love is God. And that is what is said in the Upanishads, and in the ancient Vedic Scriptures – God is love, God is energy, He is in you as you, and He is in everybody.Somewhere He shines more, somewhere He is shining less.
In Spain, the sun shines more, and in Berlin it shines a little less. Like that, in some places he is more visible as love and in another place, he is more visible as something else. So, God is energy, and that is what we are all made up of, and everybody is made up of. There is only one God everywhere.
But the difficulty is when one says, ‘My God is the only God. Your God is a false God.’ This is the problem.
‘Only if you believe in this book of mine, you will go to heaven; otherwise you will go to hell.’ That is why this world is suffering today with terrorism because some people think only they have the key to heaven, and not the others. This is not correct.
Accepting Wisdom from all Sources
You have no difficulty in eating Danish pastry, no difficulty eating Chinese food. Just by eating Chinese food, you don’t become Chinese. Tomorrow you don’t start speaking Chinese. You eat Chinese food and you like it. In the same way, we should accept knowledge also. If it is Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Islam, Christianity or Judaism, anything that uplifts human life should be welcome.
Don’t think if you read Buddha’s scriptures or if you read Hinduism, then Jesus will be angry at you, or you have betrayed Jesus. Not at all! This narrow-minded division that people have created is out of ignorance, or fear, or wanting to control. Ignorance mainly.
So we need to bring that big awareness in people. It is so necessary.
I see so many heated arguments, fights, killing and inhuman behavior. That is why we don’t talk about any religion, just come and breathe. When they breathe, then they realize, ‘Oh, yes, I can feel very good inside’. When you become hollow and empty, you feel good.
The mind does not always get attracted to negativity! Let us understand what negativity is. When would you call something negative?
When it does not give you pleasure
When it gives you a lot of pain
When it appears to give you pleasure, but in fact it gives you pain
Let us take for example, smoking. Smoking appears to give you pleasure, but it does not really give you pleasure. Look at the face of all those people who smoke. Are they in bliss and serenity? Are they happy and content? No! There is stress and anger. Now, why is it that they are unable to give up? It is because it promises you pleasure but gives you pain – that is negativity.
So, what is the definition of negativity? It is that which appears to give you pleasure, but in fact gives you pain and suffering.
A gentleman went to a magic fare which has many magical things. There were magical flowers, a magical pond, etc. Amongst the different items, there was this magical conch, which was priced very high. The other items had low prices, but the attractive conch had a price tag of $50,000. You know, when things cost a lot of money, then people think – there must be something to it, otherwise why would someone pay $50,000 for a shell. So, this gentleman went and asked, “What is this?” The shopkeeper said, “This is a magical speaking conch. If you ask this conch for something, it will double it for you. That is why it is for $50,000.” Very greedy people go for such offers. And so, this man bought the conch and took it home.
At home, this man said to the conch, “Give me one million dollars”. The conch said, “Why ask for one million? Ask for two million dollars.” Then the man said, “Oh, okay, two million.” The conch said, “Why two million, ask for four million.” The man said, “Okay, give me four million.” The conch said, “Why four million, ask for eight million.” At this point, the man got frustrated and said, “Fine, give me eight million.” The conch said, “Why ask for eight million, ask for 16 million.” The man said, “Okay, give me 16 million.” The conch simply kept multiplying but did not give him anything.
So, negativity is like this – empty promises of giving some joy sometime, but it simply does not give you anything. That is why it is called negative things.
How Does Complaining Make You Feel?
You sit and gossip about somebody, it appears to give you some pleasure, but what does it leave you with? Have you noticed? Your body feels odd, and your mind feels awkward.
When you sit and just complain and complain, sometimes you find that it gives you some sort of pleasure, but in fact, it leads you to a state where you get so disgusted with yourself and your own mind. You feel like running away from your own mind. Running away is not going to help, because wherever you go, your mind is going to go along with you. It is like trying to run away from your shadow.
Why Does The Mind Tend to Cling to Negativity?
The nature of mind clinging to negativity is because it has moved away from its own true nature. A child does not do that – so it is not our innate born nature to cling towards negativity. It has become our second nature.
10 positive things and one negative thing – and the mind clings onto the negative. So, it is wrong to say that negativity is our innate nature, no! It appears as though it is our nature – it has become our second nature because of stress.
Mind craves for something and is aversed to something. That’s alright. But at least for some time, the pendulum of the mind can stop. When it stops, it feels so nice and that is why the practice of Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation is important. These practices change the tendency of the mind from clinging onto the negativity. The mind swings between craving and aversions, and it needs some rest sometimes, and doing all this will bring that calmness to the mind.
Also wisdom gradually helps one to get rid of all the cravings and aversions in the mind.
There is a beautiful story in the Upanishads which goes, “On the tree of this universe, there are two birds sitting – one is enjoying the fruit, the other is just watching, like a witness”.
This story indicates the two aspects in you, that is, the doer and the non-doer.
There is one aspect of you that is performing all actions
And there is another aspect in you that is not doing anything (the seer)
Now you might ask, “How?”
On one level, you find that you are changing. Your thoughts are changing, your emotions are changing, your body is changing. Yet at another, deeper level, there is something in you that is not changing at all, it is the same. That is how you know that you are changing. So, you are a combination of both, the change and the non-change, the tangible and the intangible. Similarly, you are both the doer and the non-doer.
When to Turn towards Non-doership
When you are in activity, you are a doer; when you are retiring, or when you are getting into meditation, you are a non-doer (a state in which you recognize that everything in this universe is happening through a higher power).
When guilt eats you up, or pride takes over your head, then you should understand that you are not the doer. Doing something good also makes you unhappy because you do so much and then you say that nobody recognizes you or nobody listens to you. So, not being recognized makes you miserable, and if you do something wrong, that too eats up your spirit and creates a sense of guilt. When such things happen, know that you are not the doer.
People who have committed the biggest crime on the planet, somewhere deep inside think, “Hey, I didn’t do it, how did this happen?”
They feel surprised, and they feel that they are not the doer, it just happened. If you talk to the biggest criminals on the planet, you will see that they find themselves being caught up in a criminal act.
In the same way, someone who has done some excellent work, they also feel that it just happened; everything just fell into place. This non-doership is an experience in itself.
When you must do things, then don't say, 'Oh, I am not the doer'. Don’t go into that mode. It will only tear you apart. If you must focus on some work, focus and just do it. “I am not a doer” is an experience, sometimes it just dawns on you. And it is also a reminder to you when you are reeling in guilt, or in arrogance.
It is a natural tendency of every human being to want to be free. Freedom is not luxury, it is a necessity. Not just human beings, but even animals want freedom.
Babies want freedom. If you tie a scarf on the neck of a baby, it just wants to remove it. You put a chain on a baby’s neck and the baby will want to pull it out. It is the adults who put jewelry around their neck, but children want freedom, they don’t want any restriction. That is why they throw their hands up and down… free! Wanting freedom is innate to human beings as well as animals. Every life wants freedom, and liberation or moksha is nothing but freedom.
Freedom is a natural desire in every human being but when the mind gets so muddled up in unnecessary day to day things, it forgets that it wants freedom. It is as good as someone who wants to sleep but has forgotten how to sleep.
Freedom is not running away from situations and circumstance. Sometimes a situation is stifling or unpleasant, and we run away from it and think this is what freedom is, but that is not so. Freedom means:
Being unphased by circumstances, situations and the people around you
Being free from your own emotional garbage
Being free from the jungle of your thoughts that bother you
Being free from all the entanglement that you harbor in your head
Being free from fear and anxiety
Anything that stifles you and makes you feel small, being free from that is what freedom is.
How to move towards freedom?
Let go of cravings and aversions Whether you accept it or not, watch it or not, life is an act of letting go. It started the moment you were born. You let go of the womb and came into this world. As soon as you came here, you started breathing in and breathing out and you are taking food in and letting it out. It is a constant exchange. You cannot hold on to anything here. As a child you were holding onto many toys, and as you grew up, you let go of all those toys. Are you still holding on to your little toys and bells? No! As you grow older, you obviously let go of many things. Similarly, let go of cravings and aversion. When you feel free from all the cravings and aversions, that is freedom.
Meditate Meditation is food for the soul, it nurtures the core of your existence. It keeps you physically fit, healthy and mentally focused. Intellectually, it brings you sharpness, keenness of attention, awareness and observation. Emotionally, you feel lighter, softer and purer and you feel able to let go of the past garbage. It creates positive vibrations around you, influencing your behavior with others, and others behavior towards you. There is nothing better than meditation to bring calmness to the mind!
Reduce your wants If you want freedom, your wants should be minimum. Minimum wants will give you more freedom. If the wants are too many, they go on and on and on. Now, when the wants arise in you, what do you do? You can't keep on wanting things. This is where wisdom comes to help. See life with a bigger context.
Develop a sense of contentment When the mind is not stuck in desires of either respect, money, position, and the mind goes beyond these things, then you can say you are free. Before you let go of the body, if a point comes when you are so fulfilled, and you are ready to let go of everything – that is the infinite freedom that you experience. You need not even physically let go of things. It may not be possible practically to let go of everything but at least in the mind if you let go of everything, you will find there is enormous freedom, and lots of happiness and connectivity towards everything will come.
Have Faith One very important thing we need is the faith that only the right thing will happen! There is a great power in the universe that has maintained this universe from billions of years. Have faith in that power. It will take care.
There is another story associated with Lord Nataraja. As the Lord was dancing merrily, one of his earrings became loose and fell on the ground. Then it is said that the Lord lifted that small earring by the toes of his foot. What is the meaning behind this? There is a great secret behind this. That is why this is also called as Chidambaram-rahasyam (the secret of the infinity). In South India, if someone tries to keep a secret, then others can ask him saying, “My dear! What are you trying to hide? Is it some sort of Chidambaram-rahasyam? ” People jokingly ask this to one another in the South. As the story goes, when the Lord effortlessly lifted the small earring merely by the toe of His foot, the entire creation was struck with wonder and amazement. Here, what it means is that we grow accustomed to whatever we are listening to around us. We do not find anything amazing or unique in that. It does not astonish us; it does not create a sense of wonder in us. But when that trivial small earring was lifted off the ground by the Lord, then one suddenly gets a glimpse of the subtle, the invisible infinity. Here, it shows that this mysterious creation does not operate the way you think it does. There is a deeper, hidden, miraculous Divine power at work behind everything. You must make space in your life for that miracle of the Divine to manifest. This is the deep meaning of the story. Otherwise, we usually go through life by our own limited understanding. We tend to think we understand how everything in creation operates, but it is not really so.
The possibility of the miracles that are hidden in every moment is what is represented by the Lord lifting off the small earring from the ground and effortlessly placing it back on his ear.
Who knows and who can really say? Anything can happen at any time! When we realize this, an altogether different dimension of possibilities opens before us. The possibility of the miracles that is hidden in every moment – is what is represented by the Lord lifting off the small earring from the ground by His toes and effortlessly placing it back on His ear.
It is said that whatever you read in the Vedas, the Puranas and the Upanishads is not superficial or shallow. It is literally the Truth and you can see and experience it all in this vast Creation, and in this very lifetime. This story is mentioned to illustrate and assure this fact.
There is consciousness present within our whole body, and it is divided in the upper and lower halves of the body. This divine force or consciousness is called as the Kundalini Shakti. The other meaning from this story is to elevate and raise this Kundalini Shakti from the lower centres to the higher centres of the being (From the Sanskrit word ‘Kundala’ literally meaning an earring). When this Kundalini Shakti is awakened and rises within us, then our entire life becomes a dance of joy and bliss. Then nothing in the world can trouble us, and the entire world becomes amazed in wonder when the power of consciousness gets awakened and enlivened within you. When the Lord Shiva seated deep within you rises and dances in absolute bliss, then the entire Creation is struck with amazement and wonder. This is what happened when Lord Nataraja lifted off the fallen earring from the ground even as He was engrossed in blissful dance. All the gods and goddesses were amazed to see this. It is said at that moment, huge waves of infinite love and bliss swept over the whole of creation and everyone was steeped in joy and happiness, even the gods themselves. And then, in that same state of wonder and bliss, each started dancing in joy. This is what it means.
When you awaken from within, you perceive this entire creation dancing with such joy and total bliss. Everywhere you go, you find the nectar of the Divine pouring. Even when a bird chirps, you find it so beautiful and divine. When the Sky takes on different colours in the day, then that scene also exhilarates you from within. It is that same kind of amazement and happiness that you feel when you meet your beloved. That inner experience brings forth a glimpse of beauty and deep love within you. You find sweetness in everything everywhere. Everything appears new, and fresh. If a baby is crying, then also you find sweetness behind it. If you see a man or a lady walking, or an animal – then such trivial things too fill you with sweetness and adoration. Every particle in this Creation then appears to shine with a different and unique Light; there is uniqueness in everything. You experience the real beauty of creation and this becomes revealed through Lord Shiva’s Tandava as Nataraja. This is the essence behind the story.
When you awaken from within, you perceive this entire creation dancing with such joy and total bliss. Everywhere you go, you find the nectar of the Divine pouring.
So, when you awaken from within, with knowledge and awareness – then you experience the cosmic dance happening every moment within you, and you are the very Lord of that dance. The soul within you, the Shiva Tattva within you unfolds and manifests. Here during Satsang anyway everyone is dancing happily. But usually it is the outside World that makes you dance (through desires or feverishness). The entire creation is the cosmic dance of Purusha and Prakriti. Every person in the world today is dancing to the tunes of one thing or another. So, at first it is Prakriti or the Mother Divine who makes you dance – to the tunes of anger, desire, lust, greed, egotism etc. What all kinds of actions people do when they are caught in this dance. Is it not a dance? Under the influence of these, people engage in all sorts of activities and drama. There is no dearth of such actions. Wherever you look, you will find people dancing to the tunes of anger, desire, etc. But when the spirit within you strives against these influences of Prakriti, then it rises above these lower urges born of desire and ignorance, and gets engrossed in a dance of bliss and joy – the Ananda Tandava. At that moment, Prakruti is struck with amazement and becomes enamoured to behold this divine dance. The Devi was not able to fathom and match what Lord Shiva was able to do. We often say that a strong and one-pointed mind can support a feeble body, but if the mind is weak and stuck in negativity, then even if the body is physically strong, it cannot support or take that body forward in life.
This is one of the depictions brought out from this story. The Devi or Prakriti danced and put forward a question to Lord Shiva to unravel. Through Her movements, the Devi says, “O Lord! I dance before you through the eightfold aspects of My divine nature. Would you be able to match my steps and dance along with Me?” That means, your body (as Prakriti) is asking the Soul (Lord Shiva), “Can You be one with me?” So, when the soul awakens, it rises in a blissful dance and proclaims, “O Devi! O Prakriti! You are mine and a part of me only. I am the Supreme Lord of all creation”. By way of this divine dance of bliss, the Shiva Tattva dwelling deep within us all establishes its sole lordship and presence as the Master of all Creation – being endowed with all divinity and beauty.
Have you noticed that there is a ring of fire all around Lord Nataraja? It means that this divine dance is not something that takes place at the gross material level of the World. It happens in the subtle world, which is the world permeated by Shakti, by the Divine primordial energy. This divine dance is a scene set within the subtle invisible realms of creation, and is happening at all times ceaselessly. There is a ring or large halo of flames around Lord Nataraja’s dance to show its inseparable and underlying connection with the Shakti or the primordial Energy.
What is the relation of this dance with Mahashivratri? On the occasion of Mahashivratri, when the entire atmosphere becomes so filled with positivity, when all the planets are favourably placed and aligned, then you are able to go deep into meditation very effortlessly, and are able to experience the blissful Shiva Tattva. You are able to connect with the Shiva Tattva and also feel the omnipresence of the primordial Energy (Shakti). This is the importance of Mahashivratri.
Gurudev, why do I have to take on so many responsibilities. I have the responsibility of my happiness, my husband’s happiness, family’s happiness, etc. Why all this when ultimately I have to die?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Well, that is because you are born! When you are born you have to take care of all this.
There are two ways of looking at life:
1. Either you take it as a burden and a drag and make your whole life a long drawn misery, or 2. You take it with enthusiasm, thinking, 'I have all these responsibilities and challenges, and I can do it'. And you move on with celebration.
When you are tired that is when you feel that all this is too much for you to handle. When this happens, I would say, sit back and relax. Think that you have no responsibility whatsoever. Find the deepest of the rest within you, and then you will get the strength you need to move on.
Just say one thing to yourself, 'I want nothing!' This wanting nothing gives you the deepest of the rests.
Rest is not just physically lying in bed, it is the mode of the mind which says, 'I am satisfied, I am content'. Its only contentment which can give you rest and this contentment is not going to come to you by doing something or by engaging in any activity. It will come to you only through knowledge. And the knowledge is:
1. Everything is impermanent
2. I am satisfied
3. I want nothing
This is the essence of the knowledge.
Often when you ask children what do they want, they will say, 'Nothing'.
The seed of wanting nothing is there in every child. They only don’t know that everything is impermanent because they have not fully caught on to anything around them.
Even for a few moments every day, if you say, 'Everything is impermanent, I want nothing', and you sit and take that deep rest, then you come up with the energy and enthusiasm with which you can take up a million jobs in the world, and you can make a million people happy. Then no work appears to be significant or insignificant.
This is the language of the Upanishad: it is neither significant nor insignificant.
You can’t call even small things as insignificant, nor do you have to give so much importance to something very significant. Instead, you can keep doing any work, any action, anywhere, and each and every one of them will be beneficial to the world.
Gurudev, when you see all this crowd that worships you, don’t you have the temptation to become a living God? How do you manage to keep a balance?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
The way people greet each other in India is different from the way people greet each other in the West, and in the Far East. In India and the Far East we bow down, we touch the feet. This is the normal way of greeting.
When we were kids we were supposed to bow down and touch our mother’s feet every day. We were all tuned to do it. If our grandmother came home or any elderly person came, all the children were asked to prostrate in front of them. This is a cultural thing. Don’t think that everyone has to do it. In fact, many times it’s a botheration! People come and fall at your feet, and while one is bending down the other bends over him and falls. It becomes difficult to manage a crowd.
Many times when I’m walking I get into different postures. I keep one foot behind because somebody is pulling it, wanting to touch my leg. It’s a tradition in the country and a way of showing reverence, what to do!
People praise, give adulation, but it is all going to that One source. Do you see what I’m saying? If someone says this painting is so beautiful, to whom does the credit go to? To the one who painted it, isn't it?
This is what we train our teachers for. It is not just me, all our teachers, wherever they are teaching, they get so much adulation and praise, yet they are all centered, it doesn’t disturb them.
In fact I say, if you have to praise someone, praise a fool. Then it is more useful. An intelligent person does his job, whether you praise them or not. But if you praise a fool it is of more value, as he may do something! Got it?
Gurudev, your Prime Minister has a reputation of being a Hindu ultra nationalist in France. What does it mean?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Newspapers say many things. One thing I know is, there is a right wing, left wing and the centre in politics. But what is important is that – once a person occupies a seat of responsibility, he has to care for everybody.
As far as I know the Prime Minister is a nice person. From being a tea seller he rose to the top most post of this country and he is for the development of the country. Let’s see and hope he does a good job; he seems to be taking things in the right direction.
As far as I know, he is not one of those right wing extremist type of person. He is very sensible and a dynamic person which he has proved by his administrative abilities for 15 years. He has shown to the world how he can take people away from poverty. So we hope he does a good job for the whole country and he contributes to the international community in a very positive way.
Gurudev, there are many inequalities in this world, one of them is between women and men. Women are suffering from different types of discrimination. Why is it so and what do you suggest for the countries both in the East and West? What do we do?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Three things: women empowerment, women empowerment and women empowerment! Women should feel empowered, they should never feel like a victim. When you feel like a victim, you lose energy, you lose enthusiasm and you lose power. The spiritual path is where you get rid of both, victim consciousness and culprit consciousness.
As a victim you remain in the small mind and you can never reach the self. As a culprit also the same thing happens, you come into doership and you can’t reach the self. So stop blaming yourself and start praising because praising is a divine quality. So stop being a victim. Don’t think that you being a lady are being discriminated against. Nobody can do anything if you stand up! You have all the power to stand up and ascertain your rights. Of course we need to bring a lot of change in the society. But you can do that without having to feel that you are a victim.