Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - Celebrating Life with Silence
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.
The word great warrior refers to a man with valor and is usually said to the people who fight in the world and win over their enemies. But, one who sits still, one who follows the path of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence totally, is also called a great warrior.
In the word Mahaveer, veer means warrior, and the word warrior comes from the Sanskrit root veera. Mahaveer (a great warrior) is a title given not only to people who fight, win and succeed, but also to people who are in deep meditation.
Mahaveer is a title given not only to people who fight, win and succeed, but also to people who are in deep meditation.
But, how can someone who is non-violent and who meditates be called a great warrior?
There is turmoil in the inner world (referring to the mind) as much as there is turmoil in the outer world. There are more conflicts inside you than what you can find outside in the world.
The world is made up of five elements and they are all in conflict; conflict is their nature. Fire and water are never friendly; fire evaporates water and water extinguishes fire. Similarly, air can put off fire and it is only because of air that fire can exist, and it is fire that can split air. And, Earth is affected by all the three elements; fire, water and air.
Similarly, there is conflict world over. Inside you, the heart and mind are in a conflict. The heart is compassionate but the mind is logical and reasons everything. When the mind says, "This is right to do", the heart doesn’t want to do it. When the heart wants to do something, the mind says, "This is no good". The fight between mind and heart, likes and dislikes bother you. These are storms that get created inside you and doesn’t let your mind be at peace.
If there is nothing for you to worry about, then you worry about your neighbors, friends and family. Worry, conflict, sadness, unhappiness, all these emotions pose a great challenge for meditation to happen and do not let you be at peace. When you are peaceful and happy for few moments, something comes up and it destroys your peace. There are hundred and one reasons for you to be miserable, and if you’re not intelligent, your mind makes up thousand and one reasons to be unhappy. Sometimes you are unhappy because there is conflict, and sometimes you are unhappy just because you have lost your peace of mind. This continues throughout life.
People in their eighties and nineties grumble and complain constantly knowing too well that this complaining is not going to give them any benefit, or solve any problem. People with enthusiasm and energy get fed up with these complaints because it is just the opposite for them! When you are enthusiastic and with lot of energy everything appears bright and you want to take up challenges; you feel like a warrior. But when somebody’s prana or energy is low, they complain and pull your energy down and that’s what you fight with. This is a challenge.
In the same way, in meditation a million things can come up, but if you raise your head above all these conflicts, and feel unmindful of it, not questioning why they have come, it makes you go deep in your meditation. By thinking why these bad thoughts are coming, you are being party to the conflict, and this makes you weak. Let them come and go. You think that you have nothing to do with it. This is the strategy to win over inner conflict.
In meditation a million things can come up, but if you raise your head above all these conflicts, and feel unmindful of it, it makes you go deep in your meditation.
When inner conflict arises, this strategy is there to remind you that you are much more powerful and much bigger than the conflict. Then you rise above it, flying above the clouds, piercing through them and reaching the clear sky.
Similarly, sit still in your inner space, unmindful of any conflict, any thought or emotion. If they come, let them come and go, and when you think, "I don’t care about how I feel", then that will give you the strength.
The previous generation of masters used to do this. When someone comes and says, "I don’t feel good", they would say, "You will have to bear your cross". They would never show compassion. They would say, "If you are suffering it is because of your karma. You have to go through your karma, suffer and finish it off. If you don’t go through it, you will have to carry that karma to the next life time".
You have to stand up against the inner conflict and fight it. The world doesn’t care how you feel; the world is only interested in what you have done and what you are doing. One day you may feel good and another day you may not feel so good. Feelings go up and down but the world will only ask you, "What good have you done, and how have you contributed to the world?"
When we get into this complex emotional turmoil, so much time and money is wasted. Not only do we waste our time, we waste someone else's money and time through phone calls. If people get over this emotional turbulence, if they don’t succumb to it and waste time, the world would be a much better place, and we can save trillions of dollars.
All the ancient wise men and women have asked, "When will we wake up from this maya? This is all an illusion. It appears to be something but in reality it is not that. And winning over maya is being a mahaveer (a great warrior). You can win over people outside, but when you can win over the turmoil inside and be still and keep a smile, then you are a great warrior, and that requires valor.
You have to stand up against the inner conflict and fight it.
If we run away from something, we are only running away from our self. People run here and there like headless chickens with likes and dislikes, and get nothing. Who cares what you like and dislike? How long does it take to dislike something you like, and if you dislike something how long does it take to start liking it again? We need to wake up from this slumber. That will bring inner strength.
Everyone likes someone who is strong. You want people to like you and love you, but how will people like or love you when you are so weak and wiggly inside? They have compassion, and they tolerate you for some time, and then they want to get out and have free time for themselves. They feel suffocated. This happens in all relationships and that is why people runaway from relationships. You suffocate them with your likes and dislikes, with your emotions; you put your emotions on their head and ask them to carry it when they already have enough of their own to carry. If you do this they will drop everything and runaway.
In any relationship, be a giver of strength. This you can do only when you are strong. When you are emotionally dependent on somebody and you keep asking them if they really love you, even if they had any love, it will just drain away.
Deep rest is the essence of sadhana. You have become so tired by doing something or the other all the time. Now just sit down for some time and to be with yourself. Do some meditation. When you meditate, you will start seeing a new world in front of you.
You get deep rest is meditation. You get rest when you are content, and this rest is what gives rise to Happiness.
Running behind happiness makes you tired. When you run behind happiness you get tired, but when you repose in the self, when you rest, you get energy, and that brings you strength, joy and happiness. So every once in a while, stop the rat race, and take some time out to be with yourself, and get some rest. This is what knowledge is and this is what spirituality is.
Many time, in the name of sadhana also, we start engaging ourselves in some activity, and once again we get tired. I tell you, the physical body does not make you as tired as the mind does. Work doesn’t make you as tired as much as your desires. Nothing else makes you more tired than your own desires, or greed. So what is important is for you to become content. Again and again, be content. This is an art and this is what meditation is. True sadhana is to being calm, contented, and rested.
Dear Gurudev, I want to surrender my ego, but I fear that in doing so, I will lose my self-respect. Please guide.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
If you find that there is ego, then let it be. Even ego belongs to the divine. Don’t try to surrender, don’t struggle. If you say that I have surrendered my ego, then it is bigger ego. It’s like saying, "I am the most humble person in this entire world!" That doesn’t show humility. Just be Natural.
The more you grow in knowledge, you see that ego goes away. You know, around the seed there is a membrane. When you soak it in water, the seed bulges, sprouts and automatically the membrane breaks away. But if you try to peel the skin, the seed itself will break. Same way, when you soak yourself in knowledge, in devotion, in love, and in wisdom, you automatically find the ego going away.
Gurudev, when we are in pain, we are centered. But when we are happy, we move away from this centeredness. How should we remain happy and centered at the same time?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Yes, this is a good question. When we are happy, we experience a sense of expansion; the mind expands, And when we are miserable, we experience a certain depth. That ,is why, whether you experience happiness or sorrow in life, treat both as equal, because happiness bring expansion and sorrow brings depth, and both make you stronger. And the way to go beyond both of these is meditation.
By meditating and being in knowledge, both centeredness and expansion start to co-exist within us. And that is because this is the nature of the self.
It is said (in the Upanishad), "Anor aniyan mahato mahiyan". Which means, smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest, that is what I am. This feeling starts coming up within you.
Gurudev, many times while doing seva, the sense of doership starts arising within me? Would I lose the merit of doing the seva if I feel this way?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
No! Don’t worry about it. Thinking whether you would lose the merit of doing seva is a bigger problem. Just be natural. Even if the ego comes, what’s wrong with it? Let it be! Keep it aside somewhere. You don’t need to show it others, just let it be.
I end up meeting the wrong people in my life. How can I solve this problem?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
It’s okay if you are meeting wrong people, they are waiting for you to make them right! What is important is that you should not become wrong. They are coming to you like sick people coming to a doctor. Just remember that you are the doctor and they are the patients. Instead of you joining their club, pull them toward you.
In Chapter 8, Lord Krishna begins by telling Arjuna, “I am the Supreme Lord and the governing deity of all Yajnas – whether they are material or spiritual in nature. I am the One who everyone wishes to know and attain in the last moments of their life. And I am the One into whom they all dissolve at the time of death”.
The moment Lord Krishna says this, Arjuna becomes even more thirsty to know. Arjuna then asks, “O Lord, what really is Brahman? What is Spirituality?” We all have also heard these words quite often – Brahman, Karma, Purusha (referring to the Cosmic all-pervading Being),Adhyatma (Spirituality), and Devta (demigods). What are all these, really?
When present in the battlefield, one remembers and thinks about his last moments of life. In the battlefield a person thinks, “Will I overcome Kaal (death) or will death overpower me?” This fear arises in the mind, and one suddenly becomes aware of the impermanence of life. So in such a situation it is natural for such questions to arise in the mind. In the same way, Arjuna too began to have these questions. So this intense curiosity arose in Arjuna to know what is Karma; what is Spirituality; what is Adidaivik, etc. Hearing this, Lord Krishna says:
What is the Brahman? That which is the highest, the supreme, the ultimate; beyond which there is nothing. It is that which is indestructible and can never be destroyed or diminished; that which is constant and unchanging; that all-pervading One Consciousness which is Satchidananda (the all-blissful one) from which everything in creation has come forth and into which everything ultimately dissolves – that is the Brahman.
What is Adhyatma (spirituality)? Spirituality is about being established in one’s true nature. It is returning to one’s very nature.What is your nature? Your nature is to run towards joy and happiness. The pace and the intensity with which we run towards the Brahman, towards happiness is what spirituality is, and that is your very nature. Being spiritual is in everyone’s nature.
What is Karma?
Many kinds of feelings arise within us. All these feelings propel or cause some action. So that feeling is also called Karma, and the (resultant) action is also called Karma. For example, when a desire to create arises from within you, then that desire or feeling is also Karma. The action has already begun. The moment there arises a desire in your mind, say, to build a new building, then that’s it – the work or the action has happened. It is called Sukshma Karma(action or karma at the subtle level). And then there is the Sthula Karma (action at the gross or material level), i.e., actually building .
You all have heard this so many times that one must remain detached and dispassionate while doing Karma. What does it mean? It means that definitely you must act, but do not attach yourself to it, and get stuck to it because whatever impression gets imprinted on the mind becomes Karma (that one must go through).
What is referred to as Adibhuta?
That which is perishable and ultimately gets destroyed or comes to an end is called asAdibhuta. It may exist today and not exist tomorrow.
What are the Devtas (divine deities or gods and goddesses)?
See, there is some humidity in the atmosphere. It means that there is some (proportion of) water element present in the air. We also see the water element in the form of ice. Then we also see the water element in the form of clouds.
When water evaporates from the oceans to form the clouds, then you cannot see it. But once the vapor accumulates to form the clouds, then you are able to see it. In the same way, there are special powers or spirits which you may call as angels or Devtas. Special manifestations (of the all-powerful one consciousness) having special attributes or qualities are given the title of Devtas.
(Here water represents God, and vapor, ice, clouds which have their specific qualities, even though they are all just water, represent the Devtas).
So what is the Adidhaiva?
It is the Purusha, the powerful One Consciousness that is present within us all. Even theBrahman is nothing but consciousness only, but it is present everywhere. In the realm and space of this omnipresent consciousness (Brahman), the special forms that can be seen or realized as a unique and concentrated manifestation of the same consciousness is called thePurusha.
When it (Purusha) gets even more concentrated just as when water as vapor gets even more concentrated; then it becomes Prakriti.
You can understand it this way: (water as) ice is Prakriti, and (liquid) water is the Purusha; and (water as) vapor is the Brahman. The Brahman is Space. Everything exists in Space.
What does Yajna mean?
Lord Krishna says, “It is I who experiences all these in the physical body. I am the Adiyajnaalso”. Yajna is that which unites and brings everything together, the one that sees and understands everything – the Seer. So Adiyajna is that which understand and brings all these three together - Adibhuta, Adidaiva and Adhyatma. The intention to unite and bring everything together arises only when one is able to see these as distinct and separate.
Lord Krishna says, “I am that divine principle that emerges and becomes visible when these three unite”. This is why Lord Krishna says that “All the demigods and goddesses reside within Me”. It means that the One Consciousness contains and holds both the Purusha and the Prakriti.
Lord Krishna says, “By this perspective, I reside within all beings and I sustain and run everything in this Creation. I uphold and bring everything together, and I am also the one who experiences everything. Everything in Creation is My divine play, a game created by Me. I am the ball, the player, the playground on which the game happens and I am also the audience, and I am also the umpire who stands and judges the game”.
This is Yajna. Yajna is a sacred process of honoring all these three.
We remain entangled in cravings and aversions for others. But when we have the essence of the Yajna - meaning when there is total unity and harmony within us, when everything within us comes together in a perfect balance; then the entire world feels like our own, and we feel everyone belongs to us.
"Anta-kale cha mam eva smaran muktva kalevaram. Yah prayati sa mad-bhavam yati nasti atra samshayah".
Lord Krishna further says, “It is alright to go about your life as you like, but in the last moments of life, you should remember Me and establish your mind and intellect totally in Me. There is no doubt that when you remember me with devotion, you will surely unite with Me”.
But the truth is that whatever we do throughout our lives is what we actually remember in the last moments of our life as well. In those dying moments too, the same things disturb the mind. That is why Lord Krishna, after having given so much knowledge, also says, “In your final moments, remember Me”.
"Yam yam vapi smaran bhaavam tyajaty ante kalevaram. Tam tam evaiti kaunteya sada tad-bhava-bhavitah".
It is an irrefutable truth of life that whatever we think of at the time of death, that is exactly how we become (in the next life). The impressions in the mind with which one leaves the physical body at the time of death, will need to be washed off, for which one then needs to take on another physical body. With whatever desires or state of mind you leave your present physical body, the same (desires or state of mind) determine the kind of physical body and state of mind you attain to in the next birth. That is why Lord Krishna says, “Always keep remembering Me”.
"Tasmat sarveshu kaleshu mam anusmara yudhya cha. Mayy-arpita-mano-buddhir mam evaishyasy asamshayah".
In the next verse Lord Krishna says, “Think of Me even as you struggle or battle in life".
When you give your 100% in anything that you do, then that is a battle. A battle does not always imply killing someone. A battle means, wherever you put all your efforts and everything at stake. So if life appears to be a struggle, then put in your 100%. But Lord Krishna says, “Do so by keeping Me in your mind at all times as you struggle. Surrender both your mind and your intellect to Me when you do this”.
It means to surrender totally – both by feeling and by understanding (logic).
Some people do not apply any understanding but are driven greatly by feelings only. Some people are able to understand and interpret things correctly but there are no feelings or emotions in them. That is why Lord Krishna has said many times in the Bhagavad Gita, “Be connected to Me both by your feelings and by your intellect”.
Krishna says, “Surrender unto Me and accept Me totally – both at the level of emotions and the intellect. By doing so you will surely attain Me and there is no doubt about this. You will attain that steadiness and equanimity; you will awaken into that true Self that is Me. I do not reside somewhere distant away from you. I reside within you".
Now how can one achieve this? To this, Lord Krishna replies, “You must do Abhyasa (regular practice)".
What is the nature of the mind? The tendency of the mind is to run off in different directions. Steady and regular practice (Abhyasa) prevents the mind from straying into different directions.
In any person in whom the Divinity is kindled and awakened, you will find that they have so much depth in them. When a person’s mind is scattered and strays in different directions, then you cannot see the Divinity in them. Such people are not able to achieve anything in life, even though they may be great scientists or great artists, you do not find something solid and admirable in their personality.
How can one nurture that steadiness and depth in one’s personality? It can happen when one’s Consciousness is one-pointed and fixed on one single goal, or in a single direction. Only then is a person able to do something, only then can one see the Divine qualities or the Divinity in a person.
Do you know what is the nature of Consciousness that gets distracted in different directions? Such a person always thinks of getting something or the other; something from here, or something from there and so on. This is a sign of lack and feeling like a beggar. When you become steady and established within yourself, then that is a sign of prosperity and abundance. It is a sign of being graceful and beautiful. When someone is very graceful and dignified, it means that their spirit or consciousness does not stray here and there, rather it is collected and firmly established in the Self. It means that there is a deep sense of contentment. Contentment is what makes you divine; happiness makes you divine; skillfulness makes you divine.
For all these divine qualities to blossom and manifest in you, Lord Krishna advises – You must engage in Abhyasa Yoga (regular practice).
Often people associate regular practice (Abhyasa) with something that is very boring, dull and lifeless. It is not so at all. Abhyasa here means to go towards the source of all joy. The moment one understands this fact, all the Abhyasa becomes very easy and joyful.
Now if you find this understanding too abstract and difficult to bring into practice as Arjuna claims also, then Lord Krishna says, “My dear, I am here before you. Just remember Me”. This is where the importance of the Guru lies.
Gurudev, what is better, doing one’s daily spiritual practices, or doing smarana (remembering God), or just observing the thoughts as they come and go?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
You shouldn’t split it like that. What we do when we sit for meditation is we keep thinking about work. And when we are working, we want to go and rest. When you’re working give your 100%, and when you sit for meditation, just relax and retire. When you work, don’t worry about what is happening in your mind.
When your meditation matures it transforms into a state where a depth of silence and peace continues to exist even in activity. It is not a practice, it is a by-product.
Dearest Gurudev, are there any correlations between Kato Upanishad and Bardo Thodol of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, or are they two different ways to approach death?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Kato Upanishad is an ancient text. And His Holiness Dalai Lama himself has said, "We consider Hinduism as the mother of Buddhism and it is through that that we have got our Tibetan Buddhism".
So, it is from Hinduism that Buddhism has branched out, and this knowledge is only a branch of Kato Upanishad.
How can true divine guidance be recognized from false guidance (of self proclaimed gurus and coaches)? Isn’t the Self your true guide?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
If your intention is to find the truth, you will find it. But if your intention is to get something quickly, then you can get trapped. Whenever such scandals come out, I only say one thing, "If you put water in a pot which is not baked, neither the pot remains, nor the water. Both fall apart". And this is what happens to people who proclaim to be gurus and try to teach some techniques to people.
For sometime people get something out of it, but then eventually everything falls apart.
If time is only a concept of the mind, then how do we fit more activities in our day?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Even this is a concept! Time and mind are connected. When you’re happy, time feels so short, and when you’re unhappy, a short time appears to be so long. If you have to wait alone in the plane, or in the train station, you look at the watch ten times. But if you have someone to chat with you, then you can’t feel time passing. When you meditate, you transcend time.
Dear Gurudev, my mind is very scared and not ready to accept the emptiness of the present moment. It constantly looks for something or someone to hold on to.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
This is the nature of the mind! Never mind! People who are fed up with the mind only say, ‘Never mind!’ The mind is like that, but you are not just the mind, you are much more than that.
Don’t try to repair the mind. Repairing the mind is like trying to stop the waves in the ocean. Can you stop the waves in the ocean? If you want to see an ocean without the waves, you have to dive a little deeper! When you dive deep inside of you, you will experience the stillness of the ocean. And if it all frozen, that is enlightenment!
When we don’t get to spend one-to-one time with you, how do we communicate with you on a day-to-day basis?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Twitter, Facebook, emails and meditation! Meditation is the best, but if you’re not satisfied with the communication through meditation and silence, then there is always email and twitter. Our SMS is silent message service!
There are problems in life but we have to collectively work towards them and overcome them. We are so fortunate that we have this knowledge. This organization is now 35 years, and this is what we have been doing, coming together and solving problems.
Many people cannot believe what happened in Cuba and Columbia (referring to the peace talks between the Columbian Government and rebel group (FARC) to end a more than 5 decades of armed conflict). They say that this is too good to be true that the rebel group (FARC) are now wanting peace. This war has been going on for the last 50 years. All the big powers (referring to America and Europe) tried to get them to cease fire, but it did not happen.
Today, the Spanish news channels are asking me, "How did you do this? What did you tell them? Everyone else tried and failed. How did you get them to agree to peace and non-violence?"
I said, "I don’t have any ulterior motive, or any other agenda. I went with a simple message of peace, and I was ready to listen to them. I understood their position. They are not bad people, they are also victims".
Usually what do we do is, we point the finger towards the other and say, "They are bad people, they are the culprits, and I am right". If you go with that attitude, nobody would want to listen to you.
The first thing I told them was, "I understand your position, you are not bad people", and that is when the communication began. They agreed and said, "You are the first person who understands that we too are victims. Everyone looks at us as culprits". This changed the atmosphere and they declared unilateral cease fire.
There are issues in the world today, and depression is one of them. Depression is going to be the biggest killer in the world. Every two seconds, seven people die out of stress, and what we are doing is helping people relieve their stress, and this is very significant. If more and more teachers work towards this, we will definitely make a better world.
Dear Gurudev, how to understand when to let things happen and when to put an effort to change it?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Be spontaneous. If you make mistakes learn from them, and when you do something right, feel good about it. When you do something right, share it with others. When you do something wrong share that also with others. Tell them, "I made this mistake, you better don’t do it!"
Two days back I had tweeted, "People hide their mistakes and money". I was told that these days even banks do not allow you to hide your money.
Nature of happiness is to share, but you cannot do it if you’re hiding your mistakes. By hiding your mistakes you are dampening your own progress. When you share your mistakes, people will appreciate it.
A politician in India made big blunders and everyone thought he would not win the elections because he had made so many mistakes. So, when he was standing for elections for the second time, he accepted all his mistakes and people elected him again. I said, "People have bigger hearts than you think".
So, when you place your mistakes in front of people, the society is so generous that it forgives you and accepts you.
In India, there is a saying that one must not hide anything from a doctor, lawyer and a guru. If you hide from the lawyer, then he cannot fight for you and you will lose the case. If you hide from a doctor then he cannot cure you. Similarly, if you hide from the guru, and don’t open your heart and share your mistakes then even if the guru wants to help you, he will not be able to help you. You should not put on a defense in front of the guru, you should be open. A guru is never judgmental, he is very accommodating, compassionate and only wants the best for you. Not even the second best, only the best!
The other day, I was in Columbia giving a public talk. A small girl who was 9 or 10 years old stands up and tells me, "My teacher hates me". The crowd was expecting me to show sympathy to the child or ask her to change her school or something like that. You know what I said? I said, "Why will your teacher hate you? What does a teacher get by hating you? No, it is impossible for a teacher to hate a student. If your teacher is being strict, she wants to bring out the best in you. She wants to make you tough and solid. If your teacher scolds you, it is because she wants you to progress faster and grow stronger".
After I said this, the whole atmosphere changed and the girl also agreed. We super-impose ourselves in some situation, create an imaginary world of it and then get sucked into it.
If you watch the world and the people in it, you don’t need any entertainment! But you should not get involved, step back and watch the whole fun!
Did Lord Ram and Devi Sita really exist?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Yes, I know that they did exist. It was seven and a half thousand years ago. Recently, scientists through some of their research have confirmed that it (Ramayana) really did happen.
You know, any story which is a lie cannot stay for a very long time. At one point of time, the entire world was very influenced by Ramayana. Not just in India, but in the entire Far East including Japan, South America, North America and in Europe there are places named after Rama. If you do a research, you will know that this was not just fiction but a happening long time ago.
This is why it is called itihasa (history). There are two things in the Vedic literature. One is Puranas, which is a story (fiction), and the other is itihasa (history). Iti means so andhasa means a happening. So, both the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharatha are itihasa.