Abhishek Mande in Mumbai
Spiritual guru and Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar talks to rediff.com's Abhishek Mande about life, death, sex and the prospect of peace in the Indian subcontinent.
One of the things that struck me about Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is that he looked heck of a lot different than all the larger than life hoardings and photographs I have seen of him. The spiritual guru, as he walked into a plush apartment of one of his devotees in Mumbai's suburbs, came across as just another man in white robes.
For some reason, I couldn't get around to addressing him as 'Guruji' like all his devotees and was quite relieved when he said I could call him Ravi or Shankar or whatever I pleased.
The truth is that Ravi Shankar has a way of making you feel at ease. He will hug you, pat you on your back and make you feel like his chum. And while his sense of humour may not be as sparkling as, lets say, the Dalai Lama, Shankar does like to talk.
During his trip to Mumbai, the spiritual guru granted me 15 minutes of his time -- one of his devotees couldn't stop telling me how fortunate I was to get to speak with him even before doing one of his courses -- and spoke about various issues: from spirituality, to peace in the Indian subcontinent and sex.
He confessed that he doesn't watch a lot of television or movies nor does he get time to read books. How he manages to expand his knowledge however remains a mystery to me. Shankar says though that he watches people and reads his own mind.
One of the things you spoke about at the Press Club on Thursday was the fact that that the lack of spirituality more than religiosity was the root cause of corruption in India. Do you believe as a nation and a culture we are mixing up the two -- spiritualism and religion?
Every religion stems out of spirituality. Religion becomes rigid and restricts you but spirituality brings that expansion you crave for.
Would you say you are religious or spiritual?
I am spiritual, absolutely! At the same time I don't deny religion; I honour it.
What religion do you belong to?
My name suggests clearly what religion I belong to. By one's name you can know what religion you follow.
What does spirituality mean to you?
Spirituality is a connection with god, with the universal power and the spirit deep within you.
Why is Sudarshan Kriya a registered trademark?
We had to register the kriya because there were other people registering it and stopping us from teaching it.
Your website describes you as an ambassador for peace. You're the first Indian religious leader to go to Pakistan. You've recently been to China. What do you make of the tensions in the subcontinent? Do you see a resolution in sight?
(Long pause) There are many ways and ideas on how to bring the continent together. People-to-people contact is essential. When people-to-people relationship is strengthened then it makes a big difference to the government as well
You're talking like a diplomat. I haven't got my answer.
(Smiles) There are many plans and ideas you can't put things on the platter. You need to work them all out.
So you're saying it isn't as simple as we might hope it to be?
No it isn't
Do you believe that the policy of non-violence and non co-operation is still relevant?
The principle of non-violence has been relevant in all times, communities and ages. Truth and non-violence are principles that are time tested and stay for every generation.
On this subcontinent, we need to be a little more intelligent. The communists have made big blunders in Nepal. We too have not been taking good policies as far as subcontinent is concerned -- be it (vis- -vis) China, Burma or Sri Lanka, our policies can be better I feel something is lacking we could have done better in our foreign relations.
Also, we are keeping certain obsolete laws be in the parts like the northeastern states. Why should we (Indian citizens) need inner line permit to go there?
Why should we restrict other Indians to settle down in states with little populations? It is the population that secures the land for us. We are crying that China is taking Arunachal Pradesh when we are not putting our people there. These are some things that need drastic and bold steps.
You mentioned once that the only things you watch on television are news and documentaries. Has that changed?
That has reduced actually!
Do you watch television?
I watch people.
What would you say to people who use religion as a tool to kill people?
(Long pause) They are blind. They have to be blind. (Looks away)
Have you ever felt angry? Really angry? How do you deal with it?
When all these terror activities happen, I don't stand there smiling. I feel annoyed at that but I don't lose myself. I am not happy with what is happening. Then I feel we have more work to do and educate people -- be it Naxals or jihadis, it is all because of lack of spirituality.
You said you get annoyed but you didn't say anger. Do you feel anger?
There is no point in getting angry. Even when you find such a person before you, there is no point.
What do you think are the one most serious issue facing young Indians that we must address?
You said it in the beginning: lack of leadership and idealism.
What are the books you suggest we should read?
Yog Vashishta -- It is a book that is being printed and copyrighted by the New York University Press. It outlines the themes and ideas of dimensions of consciousness. Many movies have been based on this sacred book. Other than that, you can read your own mind.
What movies are you talking about?
Matrix and Inception
Have you watched them?
Just little clips
What do you read?
I seldom read books
Have you ever worn a pair of trousers?
You mean pants? Yes! It is easer to walk on the treadmill in pants than in a dhoti! (Laughs)
People have asked you the meaning of life and you have said its like me chewing a candy for you. So let me ask you what is death?
(Pauses) Final celebration
Do you believe in the afterlife?
What do you mean by believe in afterlife? I know that there is afterlife.
What about sex? Are you one who'd promote celibacy?
I don't see celibacy as a practice but as a happening, a result.
When the consciousness rises, celibacy happens in you spontaneously.
When every cell is scintillating with energy then you don't need an act to experience it. You feel it all the time with the serenity of the calmness.
Do you feel your time on earth has been successful?
Yes. Anything I've been taking up has been successful. In 30 years, the Art of Living has been in 152 countries. Millions of people have benefited. Projects are happening. It has given us success and makes us feel that we should take