M Rajaque Rahman
The sight of a 15,000-plus crowd joyously swaying to a Sanskrit song in far-off Rio de Jenerio during one of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s recent event was certainly exhilarating. But dismissing it as spiritual seekers getting mesmerized about their guru would be like missing the plot while writing a review of a Hollywood blockbuster!
Reports suggest the wave Sri Sri created during his recent 21-day, eight-nation tour of Latin America wasn’t just about meditation and breathing! It was more about a world in anxious need of amity seeing hopes and solace in India’s age-old repository of spiritual values and ahimsa.
Coming in the wake of his role in brokering the now-famed truce in Colombia, it’s not surprising to see key LatAm leaders seeking his advice on developing holistic approaches to alleviate the problems like drug abuse, violence, poverty and crime. They clearly see his teachings as a hope for resolving long-standing geo-political conflicts, reducing crimes, and spreading peace and happiness.
Heads of states to decision makers to businessmen and academicians and the public opened up to his vision for a violence-free world through spiritual awakening to such an extent that was described as "breathtakingly fresh in a region where no one wanted to look forward" by popular Paris-based publication Le Monde.
In signs that the countries in the region are taking his holistic model seriously, they feted him with honours that are reserved for the most distinguished personalities. From being invited to ‘Change the Rose of Peace’ at the Cultural Palace of Guatemala City to being given the rarest honour of opening the Miraflores Locks (Canal Gates) in Panama, he was raised to the level of a universal leader who can influence the mindset for positive social transformation. Incidentally, Sri Sri is the only spiritual leader other than the Pope to have been allowed to open the Bridge of the Americas, which connects North and South America.
For the record, Sri Sri was also honoured as "Distinguished Guest" by Governor of Panama and awarded highest civilian award in Recife, Brazil.
On his part, Sri Sri didn’t let down their aspirations. From pushing for reconciliation in Colombia along with President Juan Manuel Santos to signing an agreement with the Mexican government for rehabilitating slum children to pitching in for police reform in Brazil to joining hands with Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis for peace building, Sri Sri’s tour was packed with a holistic agenda that could strike at the very roots of what ails the regions.
Ongoing interventions by the Art of Living are reported to have led to drastic reduction in incidences of violence in two of Mexico's most dreaded prisons. His global NGO is also taking up de-addiction programs across the region.
Sri Sri also led many mass meditation programs including one outside the Colombian Parliament where famous Latin American band Aterciapelodas also joined in chanting and meditation. That people from all walks of life turned up in large numbers in every program of his in a region plagued by drugs mafias and violence only goes to prove that formula is freeing the mindset of destructive cycles. “My life after meditation has been a whole new world for me. I have experienced true joy and my mind is so free even though I am behind the bars.” This testimony of an inmate of one of the prisons of Mexico reaffirms that there is a magic in the ancient Indian wisdom that Sri Sri purveys.
It’s also said that FARC rebels came around to declaring a ceasefire in Colombia only after attending a series of meditation and breathing sessions of Sri Sri. One Mexican Senator was also quoted to have said “there is nothing more democratic than breathing in this world” after attending Sri Sri’s session at the Mexican Senate.
The region is badly in need of such inclusive philosophies to bridge the prevailing political divide that accentuates the cycle of crime and violence. In an indication that Sri Sri is on it, he also called on former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe whose strong opposition to the terms of the Colombian peace deal was responsible for the narrow rejection of the treaty in the October referendum. He emphasized the value of reconciliation not only in Colombia, but also during his address to the Mexican Senate.
What is more significant and relevant than LatAm getting enamored by Sri Sri’s charisma is the unfolding plot of India living up to its potentials of what President Pranab Mukherjee referred to as “a beacon to the world at a time of great danger”. During his address on the eve of last Republic Day, the President was straightforward in telling the nation that it’s her spiritual repository that would reclaim India’s glorious past.
Sri Sri is doing a commendable job of globalizing India’s model of peace and co-existence based on her rich spiritual ethos. With teachings which are universal and focused on something as ubiquitous as breath, Sri Sri is primed to be India's undisputed spiritual ambassador. Interestingly, Indian Ambassadors to LatAm countries were seen welcoming him. This is a welcome departure from the past when India’s ruling dispensation shied away from anything remotely spiritual.
This augurs well for the country. India has the “special genius” that can bring solace and the world is increasingly turning to her for moral guidance. Surely, LatAm lapping it up with gusto is the just the beginning!
(A former business journalist, the author is now on a journey to find the depth of the matter. His writings focus on adding spiritual aspects to things worldly.)