“Meditation Is A Tool To Get The Broader Vision Of Life” - Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

In an exclusive conversation with BW Businessworld, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaks about meditation, the self, the journey of life and much more

How did the Art of Living come about? What factors led to it?

Initially I was not too keen on starting any organisation, but way back in 1981 Supreme Court Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer came to me to talk about this, that is when things started moving. Justice Bhagwati was a deep believer while Justice Krishna Iyer was a pronounced atheist. They came to me and asked me to start an organisation because they felt that for the knowledge that I was giving, I needed a framework. They were the first trustees of Art of Living. That is how the organisation started and grew by word of mouth and today we are in 180 countries.

You speak a lot about meditation and calmness. Is meditation the sole method to solve any problem?

Problems germinate in the minds of people. A war is also sprouted only in the minds of people. It does not happen naturally. Natural calamities are a different thing. Confusion, chaos and conflicts – all these 3 Cs begin in the minds of people. You need 3 things – context to life, commitment and compassion. These 3 Cs can counter the other 3 Cs. Meditation is a tool to get the broader vision of life and it invokes compassion and commitment in one’s self.

We have all been blessed with life. Lately what we are observing is that a lot of young people are taking their lives and are probably giving up on their lives. What do you think is happening? Where are we going wrong?

You are right. Every 40 seconds a person is committing suicide. This is something you can’t digest. It is so many people per day. We are living in a civilised world but this indicates that something is wrong. What is wrong is that we are not giving attention to mental health. Until the mind is robust and strong it cannot handle challenges and the fact is that life is full of challenges. We have to prepare our youngsters to face challenges and for that they need to be taught to handle their emotions. Emotions are so subtle and they cannot be handled physically. All that you can do is listen to some lecture, talks, undergo counselling – but that does not work. What really works is seeing the common link between the body and mind, which is breath. Learning breathing exercise techniques helps one very much to combat mental tensions.

We seem to have a tendency to be concerned about what other people think of us. This overpowers what we really want to do and what we believe about ourselves. What is your point of view on this?

We need to see life from a larger perspective  than seeing people’s opinions which actually keep changing. They change all the time. So why do you base your life on someone’s opinion which anyway keeps changing. There is no guarantee that someone will be thinking good about you all the time. There is no guarantee that someone thinks bad of you all the time. People’s opinions change and if you look at your own opinion and mind you will see that your judgements and opinion change, your idea about people changes so quickly and so observing your own mind you can also understand how others are. You will stop worrying. These are the principles we teach at Art of Living about other’s opinions.

I feel we are our own biggest enemy, because when we create bias in our mind against other people, we also create a bias for ourselves. How can we overcome this?

We think we know ourselves. First and foremost, we must acknowledge the fact that we do not know ourselves. We don’t know our state of mind, we don’t know ourselves and that opens a lot of possibilities for our growth.

Is there development taking place in our society? While this development is happening, is there also increased tranquility or are we losing that particular aspect around the globe?

Fortytwo years ago when I started the Art of Living institution we had to face many challenges. Hardly anyone wanted to practice yoga and meditation, because yoga and meditation are considered to be not for calm but for people out there – someone who has lost something. This was the idea in the world at that time. Today 2.5 billion people around the globe are practicing yoga. Vegetarianism has become a fashion. The world is changing and people recognise that there is a need for meditation. There are many apps for meditation and billions are spent on that. People have recognised their need for it. Post-pandemic I have seen that aggression and depression has increased manifold. People had to be inside or had to be with the same people – whatever the reason, it has taken a toll on the mental health of the population. You can’t feed any medicine to the whole population and even that stops working after a while. We need to take recourse to lifestyle changes and that is where wellness is very important today for someone to function normally. Earlier, wellness was considered a luxury. Only people who lived luxurious lifestyles could attend wellness programmes. Today, wellness has become a basic necessity of life. That is where meditation, yoga, Ayurveda, right food, matter. The right company matters; if you are around negative people it is not going to work. Soon you will feel down and depressed. And awareness is growing.

You believe in ‘One World Family’. Would you like to share why you so strongly believe in this?

We have one Sun, one Earth, one humanity. We have to recognise that we are a part of the human race. Skin colour, lifestyle, food, language, etc. shouldn’t come in the way. Diversity is there to celebrate. One doesn’t like to eat the same food again and again. You want to have many different dishes. The human nature is to love diversity. Nature has provided us with so much flora and fauna. Diversity is to be honoured. Accepting everyone as a part of yourself or family is key. Otherwise we will destroy the human race.

The new generation seems to have less patience. Also, there is a lot of anxiety and sadness in their lives. They seem to give up too fast. Is there a point of view you have on this?

Art of Living has special courses for this. We have seminars for them. Transformation in leadership is a course we have which is popular all over the world. Corporates do it for their employees. Many corporations are doing it and it helps people a lot. Meditation and breathing exercises are included. It gives tips for people to face challenges in life and emerge victorious.

I would like to say that a violence-free society, a disease-free body, a confusion-free mind, an inhibition-free intellect, a trauma-free memory and a happy soul is the birthright of every individual. Education and profession are supposed to bring this to people. If not, we need to see how to make changes by addressing it.

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