'Spirituality can reverse the decaying human being into a more fulfilling, wise human society' - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Monday morning at the sprawling, green Art of Living International Centre, Bangalore. One of the world’s largest volunteer-based non profits, the Art of Living is dedicated to creating a stress-free, violence-free society—a fact that is widely known and acknowledged. It is with a sense of anticipation that we await our tete-a-tete with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, world-renowned humanitarian, spiritual teacher and founder of the Art of Living. The arrangements of the room we sit in have been tweaked slightly by the helpful videographer.

A large armchair is the focus, while the other chairs have been moved back so as to remove all distractions in the frame. Time creeps lazily, when in a flurry of white, Gurudev, as he is fondly called, enters carrying his own watchful aura of calm. He blinks and suggests the blazing overhead lights—also courtesy the helpful videographer—be turned down a little. During the introductions, his eyes stop and dwell for a few seconds on each one of us, bringing a certain personal warmth to the encounter, even if it is possibly his billionth media interaction. He settles down and immediately gestures gracefully to us, ‘Come closer, please!’ There go the helpful videographer’s hopes of a clear frame! The formality ebbs, and we do like Gurudev suggests. Excerpts from the interaction...

You had earlier shared: ‘I have this crazy idea… a world without violence. If we could instil pride in being non-violent, in being compassionate, in being helpful to others, our lives will take a new direction.’ How much closer are we to achieving this objective?

If you see the recorded history of the planet, it’s only 263 years that the planet has seen peace. For the past 6000 years there have been wars somewhere or the other. Comparatively, we could say that there is more awareness in people about peace, the need for peace. The voice of peace is stronger on one side. But on the other side, there is violence also and the cause of violence which I would attribute to stress, mistrust and greed.

Both conflict and fear are even more of a reality across the world. Why is humankind still struggling to attain peace?

You’re right, life itself has become a struggle to people. Some are struggling to get their food, struggling to make ends meet. The others are struggling to get to power. Others are struggling to get wealthier, at the cost of others. And there are those who are seeking peace. So when you find such a situation on the planet, I see there is a great need to educate our people about the value of peace. When you value something, you want to achieve it. When you don’t value it, when you think conflict is the way of your life, then you don’t care for peace. As a result what happens—because that is unnatural to a human being, a human being wants peace, wants to have a peaceful sleep, a happy life—is some try to find that happiness in drugs, in alcohol, in things which are anti-social.

Is the desire for peace a universal concept, or do certain personalities and countries seem to seek it more?

There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ peace. Peace is peace, everybody wants to have peace. But they don’t know how. And outer peace can come only through inner peace. A peaceful individual only can make peaceful families. You can’t have a peaceful family when individuals are rattled inside, when they are upset, unhappy. Even one member of a family who is unhappy is good enough to destroy the peace of an entire family! So, individual peace, inner peace is the answer for peace of the community, peace of the nation. It is few disturbed people who disturb the peace of everyone else.

When it comes to avoiding war and hostility, how important is the value of compromise and generosity?

Generosity and compromise are part of a process. If your goal is for the higher good of society, which includes your own good as well, then you have to hear others’ point of view, you have to accommodate others, you have to take them along. There needs to be caring and sharing. Otherwise you cannot progress in life, you cannot survive even. So it is not a luxury; it is a need of human existence.

Psychological research shows that small gestures of generosity result in larger levels of reciprocal generosity. Do you believe benevolent selfless behaviour can eventually become a pattern improving relations between individuals and groups of people?

See, when the human mind is free from stresses, free from narrow fundamental selfish and fearful ideas, then it is spontaneously generous and compassionate. Compassion is inbuilt in our human nature. But that gets buried deep down because of stress and anxiety and lack of communication, lack of broader vision. So, we need to broaden our vision. When we broaden our vision and deepen our roots, then we see that all these good human qualities which are there in us, just start coming out! You don’t have to inculcate it from somewhere else; it’s already there, you simply have to allow it to come out and blossom. So compassion and friendliness, all these wonderful basic human qualities, are there in everybody—it just gets buried. It needs to be unearthed.

How important do you feel it is to focus on the youth in order to build long-lasting solutions for global peace?

Youth are the hope of the nation. It is the youth who are going to inherit this planet and they are going to build it and they are going to shape it for the younger generation. So, they play a very, very vital role. That’s why we have started many programmes for the youth to make them realise their potential. The generation of youth are the link between the older generation and the younger people. So, they can draw a lot from the previous generation, learn a lot, learn the positive things, great things, and also learn what they should not do, learn all the flaws, what they should avoid. For future generations, they will be the mentors, they can mould the future generation, the small kids. So they are very, very important not just from their point of view, though they are part of our society, it is also because they connect these two other generations, the older and the angel generation, the kids. They are the links so they can influence both.

India is said to have taught non-violence to the world, via Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of Satyagraha or non-violent resistance. How relevant would you say is Satyagraha in today’s world?

Satyagraha is a timeless concept. It has always some place wherever it is... As long as there are human beings on this planet, who are aware, sensitive and conscious, Satyagraha works as a tool. It doesn’t work when everybody behaves like a beast. It works when people behave like human beings. Ironically, we are becoming a very intolerant society when it comes to sports...

You know, sports should be played for sports’ sake—sports are played to express one’s joy, one’s contentment and to get more joy out of it. Instead, sports are being played like war today and wars are being played like games. That’s unfortunate. This trend has to reverse. Sports cannot be commercialised, should not be commercialised. It is the commercial aspect which corrupts sports. For the money’s sake people indulge in match-fixing, doping and all these things. Sports is an avenue to celebrate life! Instead, we are really spoiling even that.

Similarly, with spirituality... Humans have this great talent of spoiling every field that they can look upon! (laughs). I think it’s time that we become aware of the damages we create in our environment, our culture, our sports, generally our life... It is spirituality that can reverse this whole trend. It can reverse the decaying human being into a more blossoming and fulfilling and wise human society. So I would say spirituality is that which is most important in human evolution.

Yoga is a global phenomenon. You have done a lot to promote yoga and take it overseas. What is the next phenomenon from India that will probably go out to the world?

For the past 40 years, yes we have been bringing yoga everywhere, yoga has been successful but the next thing we need to bring is Ayurveda. Chinese medicine is accepted throughout the world, but not Ayurveda. Ayurveda, the ancient medicine system, has not found its rightful place, its due place, in the world of medicine. It’s an uphill task but I’m sure, with the support of the Government of India, we can bring the goodness of Ayurveda to the world. It is a safe medicine system with no side effects which can help millions of people around the world. It is cost effective, no side effects, a safe drug... I feel people across the world should not be deprived of the health benefits of Ayurveda.

In this era of increasing presence of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, how should we relearn our skills to adapt to it?

Learning should never stop. Artificial Intelligence is a challenge for the human mind to be more intelligent!

Now for some quick questions...

- Your favourite book: Life!

- Your hobbies: My hobby is meeting people

- Food you like: Food for thought is wisdom, food for soul is meditation, food for body is healthy vegetarian food!

- News via newspapers or online? I have my cell phone so my secretaries do a good job, sending me all the latest news.

- Music you enjoy: I enjoy all types of music; I have no preferences.

- Do you get tired: Umm...no!

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Art of Living - Initiating Peace:

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s unique approach, involving self-development programs, dialogue and rehabilitation, has had a positive effect in numerous conflict and post-conflict countries all over the world. Sri Sri played a key role in ending a bloody 53-year old war between FARC, one of the largest left wing guerilla movements, and the Colombian government. The armed conflict that had killed 200,000 people, ended with a peace treaty between the FARC and Colombian government on September 26, 2016 in the presence of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Sri Sri has played a key role in rebuilding post-conflict Iraq, including initiating Women’s Empowerment Programs. The Art of Living Foundation began conducting workshops for trauma relief, health and hygiene in Cote D’Ivoire, strengthened peace and harmony in Sri Lanka, and provided trauma relief in Kosovo. Besides addressing terrorism, militancy and violence in India, the AOL Foundation has been involved in transforming Naxalite militants and terrorists in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh and North East India, while also conducting Trauma Relief programs and Youth Leadership Training Programs for victims of the violence.

Art of Living with compassion

Gurudev leads a worldwide network of volunteers bringing immediate relief and long term rehabilitation to people affected by disasters. The Art of Living has implemented disaster management and trauma relief initiatives for affected people in the aftermath of almost every major disaster in the world, including most recently:♦ Kerala, India Flood Relief (August 2018) ♦ Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India Flood Relief (July 2017)♦ Chennai Flood Relief (December 2015) ♦ Nepal Earthquake Relief (April 2015) ♦ 26/11 attack in Mumbai ♦ Manila Floods (September 2009) ♦ West Bengal, India and Bangladesh Floods (2009) ♦ Bihar and Assam floods, India (September 2007) ♦ Virginia Tech Campus shootings, USA (April 2007) ♦ Vidarbha farmer suicides, India (2007) ♦ Surat floods, Gujarat, India (August 2006) ♦ Lebanon war (July 2006) ♦ Mumbai train blast, India (July 2006) ♦ Kashmir & Pakistan earthquake (October 2005) ♦ Hurricane Katrina, USA (August 2005) ♦ Mumbai floods, India (July 2005) ♦ London subway blast, United Kingdom (July 2005) ♦ Gujarat floods, India (June 2005) ♦Indian Ocean tsunami, India/Sri Lanka (December 2004)♦ Beslan school hostage crisis, Russia (September 2004) ♦ Madrid train attack, Spain (March 2004) ♦ Iraq War (ongoing, 2003) ♦ Bam earthquake, Iran (December 2003) ♦ Jakarta floods, Indonesia (February 2007 & January 2002) ♦ River Elbe floods, Germany (August 2002) ♦ Gujarat riots, India (2002) ♦ Kosovo conflict (2002) ♦ Afghanistan War (October 2001, ongoing) ♦ 9/11 terror attack, USA (September 2001) ♦ Gujarat earthquake, India (January 2001) ♦ Orissa cyclone, India (October 1999)