Friday, 13 May 2016

The phenomenon of making people happy!

As Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji turns 60 today, one cannot miss the unique phenomena that every moment of his life has heralded for humanity

M Rajaque Rahman

When India was celebrating the 60th year of Independence, Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji wrote these beautiful lines, throwing lights on the significance of 60th anniversary in the Indian context. “Sixty years represent a special cycle. Like Chinese years are named after animals, Indian years are names after terrestrial and celestial phenomena. The first year is called Prabhava. In Sanskrit, it means the birth of the eternal or ever present. The last year in the cycle is the 60th year, which is called Akshaya, which means undying. In between, each year denotes a certain quality or phenomena. When one completes one such cycle (60 years), it is a new beginning again.”

And when millions of admirers across the globe today celebrate the 60th birthday of Gurudev, one can’t miss the numerous phenomena that every year, and for that matter every moment, of his life has heralded for humanity. It isn’t easy to zero in on one of them and write about it. Yet one phenomenon that never fails to amaze me every time I am in his presence is the number of people he makes happy. The magic that his mere presence casts on people around is beyond any doubt. The halo around him has always been captured, with or without the camera! I even once casually joked to him saying he deserves to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for “bringing happiness to maximum number of people in minimum time”!  

Jokes apart, he actually does that every moment.  And, he doesn’t have to do it by performing a miracle of manifesting a golden ring from thin air or like that. He does it by connecting people with the Ultimate Truth. And that’s the essence of a genuine Satguru! He instills wisdom and inspires people to live a life of depth. And above all, he teaches how to stay happy.
Apart from the mind-blowing experience of Sudarshan Kriya, what overwhelmed me when I did my first Art of Living course as a skeptic journalist desperately seeking a miracle cure for my migraine was the simple way in which the highest wisdom was communicated.
With teachings which are focused on something as practical and real as breath, Gurudev has freed spirituality from dogmatic beliefs and taken it to people of all class, creeds, religions, etc. But for his pragmatic approach, I wouldn’t have been able to see the universality of spiritual wisdom and embrace it to enhance the quality of my life. It is just mesmerizing to see how Gurudev gets thousands of people from different cultures and religions seamlessly soak in themselves in spiritual practices without any fear of religious sacrilege.

And, I am not alone! The world is embracing his call for globalising wisdom with gusto. The biggest testimony of his universal appeal was the recent World Culture Festival (WCF) that he hosted in Delhi. Nearly 3.7 million people from over 150 countries coming to Delhi on their own to share his vision of One World Family was no fluke. Wherever he goes, he inspires people to forget differences and unite in a common thread of wisdom. A few years ago, over 100,000 people gathered to meditate with him in predominantly Catholic Argentina! He even gets orthodox clerics in Iraq to endorse yoga and meditation as a way to attain taqwa (Islamic term for God-consciousness)!

For someone who hasn’t experienced the spiritual realm, it’s intriguing to see how Gurudev gets people from different cultures and religions seamlessly soak in spiritual wisdom. Without doubt, he makes people come out of their limited understanding of their faith and see the unity of God. 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 Gurudev 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.

Gurudev has shown the world that truth is universal. From Iraq to Pakistan to Kosovo to Argentina, he has proved that 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 Gurudev during his maiden visit to the country in 2002. It will be no exaggeration to say Gurudev 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 Gurudev. No wonder, his words have inspired millions to give up self-centeredness and live a life of service and philanthropy. His movement, the Art of Living, today champions several sustainable interventions in virtually every area that concerns the world. Be it global climate change, or education to underprivileged children or checking fanaticism, Gurudev always plays the role of a force-multiplier by inspiring millions to take responsibility of their society, nation and the humanity as a whole.

So what is it that makes Gurudev so special, so unique and so popular? More I try to comprehend how his magic works, more confounded it becomes. Yet there are obvious signs that he epitomizes a phenomenon that would be beyond the comprehension of worldly commentators and critics! He fulfills the five criteria of a true Master that are 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.

As he completes one cycle (60 years), it is a new beginning. And surely the world stands to immensely benefit from that new beginning!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Who says ‘un-guru like’ pursuits don’t deserve Nobel?

M Rajaque Rahman

The raging debate over a passing remark by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to an out-of-context question from a reporter is a sad commentary on the ebbing depth of discourse in the country. The critical issue of water scarcity in Maharashtra for which the press conference was held doesn’t seem to appeal to the national conscience. The point is we are rapidly becoming a society that revels in controversies and problems rather than one that cares for what’s going on in the country.

Even those who are indulging in a needless debate are also not interested in knowing whether Malala Yousafzai has actually done enough to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Or what it takes to win a Nobel! They are just hell-bent on venting out their prejudices against (or for) Sri Sri. Nobody seems interested to honestly judge him by what he really is or objectively look at his body of work which has been exceptionally multifaceted and multidimensional.

One columnist even went to the extent of suggesting that it’s sinful for a spiritual guru to take an interest in the worldly affairs. But, Sri Sri surely defies any outdated stereotyping! If galvanizing action to end perennial droughts or rushing food and relief supplies to women and children trapped in Iraq or speaking up against injustice and corruption is a mundane activity of the world, then Sri Sri would prefer to indulge in such ‘un-guru like behaviours.

Though he is the most venerated spiritual guru in the world today, he must also be equally credited for turning spirituality into a vehicle for changing the world.

By seamlessly combining ‘inner peace’ with ‘outer action’, he has managed to usher in visionary actions that give the hope that the ideal world we aspire for is still a realizable dream. He doesn’t see spirituality as a mere pursuit of an inner experience of peace and enlightenment. This paradigm shift partially explains how Sri Sri has managed to get a huge population of young people interested in spirituality.

This is critically significant for India at a time when "vectorless energy looking for guidance and direction," has been used as the main fodder for radicalization across the world. Sri Sri’s brand of spirituality which is pragmatic and action-oriented can effectively prevent “the urge to change the world” from turning into destructive pursuits.

In the last 35 years, his movement has also propelled several sustainable interventions in virtually every area that concerns the world. Be it global climate change, or education to underprivileged children or checking fanaticism, Sri Sri has played the role of a force-multiplier by inspiring millions to take responsibility of their society, nation and the humanity as a whole.

More than the range of activities, it’s their depth that makes it relevant for the masses. Take the example of the Art of Living’s river rejuvenation project that has so far restored 17 rivers in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, impacting over 6 lakh people. These mostly volunteer-driven initiatives have regenerated the water bodies with a budget that is nearly one-tenth of the government estimates.

Be it promoting organic farming or providing disaster relief or peace education, what makes Sri Sri’s interventions unique is his approach of “seeing things as they are” without any prejudice and addressing the root cause. This very philosophy has also helped him emerge as the most interesting peacemaker in the world who is willing to venture even into world’s most dreaded conflict zones like Iraq and Syria. He is reported to have even reached out to ISIS in an effort to help stop the violence and killing.

A firm believer in the power of dialogue, Sri Sri has been able to talk peace even those who take to violent means to fight injustice and oppression. That’s exactly what he managed to do in Columbia last year by getting the rebel group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) back to the negotiating table. The rebel group which has been waging a guerrilla war for five decades that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced over 7 million people was eventually convinced to announce a unilateral ceasefire.

Apart from the material achievements, Sri Sri has also immensely contributed as a brand ambassador of India by taking her geniuses to over 156 countries. By articulating the essence of ancient Indian wisdom sans the orthodoxy, he has opened up the world to the brighter side of India.

The recently concluded World Culture Festival that Sri Sri hosted in Delhi was another extension of his work in this direction. By bringing people from over 150 countries in an atmosphere of celebration, the festival served as the most powerful PR blitz for India.

It’s a different matter that a movement that harnesses inner peace for outer action towards global peace and co-existence hasn’t beeped on the Nobel radar. Paradoxically, it seems it takes a bullet to honour peace!