Thursday, 14 November 2013

The aura that radiates the highest wisdom

It’s all well known how the world is embracing his call for globalising wisdom. Yet it is mesmerizing to see how Sri Sri gets thousands of people from different cultures and religions seamlessly soak in themselves in spiritual practices without any fear of sacrilege.

M Rajaque Rahman

Seeing is believing! Nobody who has had an experience of being in the presence of Sri Sri will ever question his aura. The halo around him has always been captured, with or without the camera! The magic that his mere presence casts on people around is beyond any doubt. Yet it was mesmerizing to see the pictures of his aura and its all-compassing divinity as captured by an independent aura reader! Sometimes, the gross does seem to be more real than the subtle.

As the mind-blowing images of his aura flip, there was no doubt left about how harmony spreads like a wave in his presence! How healing takes place! How negatives turns to positives! How aggression and ager vanish. The story of a raging fanatic who stormed the stage to attack Sri Sri melting in his presence is almost legendary in the Art of Living circuit. For those who haven’t heard it before, it happened during a lecture abroad. When Sri Sri noticed the aggressor, he calmly waved back the volunteers to let him come. Approaching the dais, as the man looked into Sri Sri’s eyes; he suddenly broke down and wept, and instantly became a devotee.

For someone who understands the spiritual realm, this phenomenon may sound quite natural and routine. Yet one thing that is really unusual and intriguing about Sri Sri’s presence is his ability to communicate wisdom. Just hold your breath and give a look at the crowd that gathered for the recent Navratri celebrations at the Art of Living International Centre in Bengaluru. You could see people from over 70 countries, and from different cultures and religions, seamlessly soaking in themselves in those Vedic rituals. What does he do to make them understand the essence behind the yagyas and drop all their fears of religious sacrilege? Or how does he manage to draw over 100,000 people to meditate with him in predominantly Catholic Argentina? Or how does he make orthodox clerics in Iraq endorse yoga and meditation as a way to attain taqwa (Islamic term for God-consciousness)?

It’s in his aura! Sri Sri has always had the unique gift of presenting the deepest truths in the simplest of words. Once in a satsang a youth asks what liberation is. Pat came the reply that it’s the same feeling that a student goes through after the last examination! Even unfathomable concepts like karma are explained with analogies that will make even a child understands them. Take this mind-blowing but self-explaining analogy to demystify the balance between spiritual pursuit and pleasure-seeking with that of applying brake or accelerator to a speeding car. The mind is the speeding car, braking its outward drive is yoga! How often we end up stepping on both!

His natural approach of articulating ancient Indian wisdom in simple and pragmatic style has played a big role in making Indian spirituality more acceptable and appealing globally. With his teachings which are universal and focused on something as ubiquitous as breath, he has freed spirituality from dogmatic beliefs. His ability to convey the essence sans the orthodoxy is what makes people from all faiths and beliefs feel comfortable in his presence. Without doubt, he makes people come out of their limited understanding of their faith and see the unity of God. In my 13-year long association with Sri Sri, I have never felt any of his teachings conflicted with my religious beliefs. Interestingly, he has this unique ability to make everybody understands his teachings in the context of their own faiths. Often devotees talk how they see in Sri Sri a Jesus, Nanak or Krishna for that matter, depending on what faith they come from. Contrast this with the teachings of evangelists who make conversion to one particular faith or the other mandatory to get the wisdom. Sri Sri has shown the world that truth is universal.

And the world is responding to his call for globalising wisdom with vivacity. Just follow Sri Sri in one of his tours abroad. From Iraq to Pakistan to Kosovo to Argentina, he has proved that Indian spirituality transcends all barriers. He has been welcomed into mosques, has addressed churches and touched hearts. I recall a media report that quoted a Pakistani as saying he got a real experience of India after meeting Sri Sri during his maiden visit to the country in 2002. It will be no exaggeration to say Sri Sri has done to Indian spirituality what Swami Vivekananda did to sensitise the world to the Vedanta philosophy and Mahatma Gandhi to the ideal of ahimsa.

A Master’s life is his message. And in this age, none have embodied his message as eloquently as has Sri Sri. No wonder, his words have inspired millions to give up self-centeredness and live a life of service and philanthropy. True to the Sanskrit saying ‘rishinaam yath chittanaam vaacham arthaanu dhaavate’ which means when a Rishi whose mind is vast and uncluttered speaks, his words carry the experience itself with them, Sri Sri has given deep spiritual and miraculous experiences  to his devotes through his teachings. No wonder, Sri Sri is equally appealing to the common man as well as the highest spiritual seekers.

He gave a symbolic display of his all-compassing aura in his early days. It’s said that there were several instances when the young Master did not speak at all yet all those present in his courses were able to experience the teaching through his silence alone. Even today, the majority of the multitudes that turn to him are drawn by a glance, luminous gaze, a smile or just a Hmmm... And they always get what they need. 

What is it that makes Sri Sri so special, so unique and so popular? He fulfills the five criteria of a true Master mentioned in the sastras. In his presence, knowledge blossoms; sorrow diminishes; joy wells up without any reason; lack diminishes, abundance dawns and all talents manifest. Only one who is free can bring freedom. And this is so obvious in his presence.

The biggest magic of his aura is the way he brings comfort and solace to the world, cutting across all barriers of race, religion, nationality, language and culture. More I try to comprehend how his magic works, more confounded it becomes. And every time I give up convincing myself that some things are beyond the obvious. How can I logically explain or dismiss an incident that I witnessed way back in 2008 when I was travelling in Assam. One day when I was walking by in a village, an old lady, in her late 80s, walked up to me, hardly managing to balance her frail body. As I approached her she said, “Ask your guru to heal me. My head keeps spinning all the time and I can’t sleep in the night. I have no money and strength to see a doctor and buy medicines. If he is a true guru, he can heal me.” I was told she had been suffering from hypertension for the last many years. It was very touching and I was feeling lost as she was too weak for me to make her do anything. Suddenly an idea came to my mind. I made her sit with her eyes closed and I meditated on her behalf sitting next to her. When I asked her to open the eyes after the meditation, she got up and broke into a dance-like movement. I was amused, but soon I figured out she was just trying to confirm that her head was not spinning anymore! I continued to go to her house and meditated with her for the next five days. By then, her dizziness was totally gone and she was looking much more energetic. And when I again met her two months later and I was delighted to see her much healthier and happier.

When an old lady in an obscure village who has never seen or heard him can invoke it for her wellness, what are we waiting for? His presence is truly a blessing for the entire planet. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Why UPA's game-changer is anti-national?

The Food Security Act 2013 is fraught with danger for its propensity to invite large-scale illegal infiltration of poor labourers from Bangladesh. The track record of its elder sibling MGNREGA only reaffirms the thinking.

M Rajaque Rahman

In this era of competitive populism and blind polarisation, it will be hawkish to call Congress' tauted game-changer for 2014 anti-national. It's cruel to pick holes in a scheme whose stated objective is to mitigate hunger among the poorest of the poor. The possibility of fiscal deficit going awry or of India becoming lethargic is too small a price for ensuring that no Indian sleeps hungry. Yet the National Food Security Act 2013 is fraught with major risks for its propensity to abet large-scale infiltration from Bangladesh.

The fear isn't totally unfounded. The experience of its elder sibling proves the points. It's no more a secret that Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has resulted in an alarming squeeze in India's labour scenario. Sharad Pawar's run-ins with Jairam Ramesh is out in the open. The shortages are being made up by importing labourers from neighbouring areas. Unfortunately, in the case of Assam, more often than not that neighbouring place becomes some village somewhere across India's porous international border with Bangladesh.

And that has been the genesis of the continuing infiltration from Bangladesh. Historically, Assamese people had an easygoing approach to life to the extent that Assam earned the sobriquet of the land of lahe lahe (slow pace). Even today, Adivasis from Orissa and Jharkhand (earlier Bihar) plant its thriving tea industry. Outside the tea sector, the rising demand for labourers was serviced by migrants from across the border. It was a win-win situation then with poor labourers charming their employers with their enterprising and hard-working nature.

Not only this cross-border labour movement continued unabated but it also assumed social and communal dimensions. By the time actual impact of this seemingly harmless labour supply mechanism was recognised, migrants have infiltrated into every sphere of Assam's society, including the polity. It's no exaggeration to say that today they have enough clout to hold Assam to ransom politically, socially and economically. It's no joke that people joke around how Assam's vegetable supply line will be choked if Bangladeshis are driven out. Ditto for states like Arunachal Pradesh which depend on outside labour for menial work.

MGNREGA has only increased their indispensability. With a guaranteed income of Rs 100 a day for at least 100 days a year, the unemployed local populations don’t need to leave their home and work in farms and factories anymore. Talk to any entrepreneur, be it tea garden owners or prompters of hospitals or small garage owners, they all agree that finding labourers has become their biggest business challenge. The rampant corruption in the system has only escalated the shortage. In many places, MGNREGA beneficiaries get paid 60 days' wage without doing any work if they part with the remaining 40 days' wage with scrupulous officials.

Ironically, UPA's ambitious scheme to ensure rural employment has killed the need to work for a living. The Food Security Act will kill the need to work for food. If the Act is sincerely implemented, one will need to earn just Rs 75 a month to get 25 kg of rice. That's like just half a day's labour. The combined impact of the twin largesse will kill the need to work for a living, thus creating a huge shortage of labourers which in case of Assam will mean a red-carpet welcome to Bangladeshi labourers.

As labour supply becomes tight and expensive, desperate employers will not have the luxury to check and verify the nationality of job seekers. Even if they do, that's not going to be of much use. Again the corrupt system has made it so easy to obtain "genuine" documents to prove one's citizenship that such requirements are no longer a barrier or a deterrent.

This is where the equation turns anti-national. Many South Asian and West Asian countries import cheap labour from Bangladesh to great advantage. The problem here is that in Assam they come never to go back. They only multiply. Typically once a member of a family gets in, it's almost a natural progression for the entire family tree to follow. In no time, a new settlement of migrants would have come up on some wasteland. Aided by the corrupt system and sympathetic Muslim neighbourhood, they easily acquire land pattas, voter ID cards, ration cards and even Indian passports and “become” Indian citizens.

This nexus is dangerously altering Assam's demography, culture, polity and many other things. The spectre of being reduced to minority stares at the indigenous population of Assam. The Supreme Court of India gone on to term the influx an aggression on Assam. In 2005, it observed the presence of such a large number of illegal migrants from Bangaldesh has contributed significantly in causing serious "internal disturbances" making the life of people of Assam wholly insecure.

This “invasion” is also at the root of the rising ethnic and communal undercurrents in Assam. From the infamous Nellie massacre of 1983 to the recent riots in Bodoland, the provocation has been the simmering anger against unchecked infiltration from Bangladesh and the pinch the indigenous Asamese people are facing irrespective of their religions. Take the case of the last year's ethnic clashes in Bodoland. On the ground, there was no enmity between indigenous Muslims and Bodos. Even during the peak of the clashes when I was present for a month overseeing the Art of Living's relief operations, there was no communal overtones. It was vested elements who turned the riot, which began more like a petty fight between extremist elements, into a communal conflict between Bodos and Muslims, exploiting the undercurrent of mistrust arising out of the fast changing demographics and economic equations.

Hawkish elements often succeed in their agenda of polarising the population along communal lines and the real danger of growing illegal migrants gets sidetracked. The polarisation becomes so deep that even relief operations are not untouched by it. As a matter of fact, barring the Art of Living there was no other organisation which provided relief to the victims from both sides during the Bodoland riot last year. That our team which included both Bodo and Muslim volunteers could freely move into both Muslim and Bodo relief camps was a conclusive proof that there was no communal polarisation.

Unfortunately, polarisation seems to suit all political parties. The right-wing and nationalist groups too have played into the game of vote-banks. They too see the lingering resentment as their road to power and don't want to do anything to check the danger of infiltration.

The point is that Bangladeshi migrants has become a golden goose for the political parties. It will be too naive to expect them to kill it soon. They also form the crux of Assam's labour supply chain. The expected impact of the National Food Security Act will only make them more “wanted”.  But their unchecked infiltration is a big threat to the nation. National interest calls for an unbiased insight into the problem. Assam desperately and urgently needs that vision. Are we expecting too much?