Shri Shri Ravishankar : A Profile
When an admirer asked Sri Sri Ravishankar: " How do you make everyone happy?"
Guruji said: "
Admirer: " How do we become you?"
Guruji: " What
stands between you and me is your self image. Your self-image restricts
you from being me. Self image whether good or bad causes misery. When
you think good about yourself in a very subtle manner you think bad
about others. Then anger, jealousy, hatred—everything follows."
The very sight of Guruji is enchanting. With a long and spotless white
robe encircling his slender frame, flowing hair and a trademark
disarming smile, the Guruji is as simple and natural as his prescription
for the art of living one's life to the fullest. Addressed as 'Guruji'
by millions of his devotees the world over; Sri Sri Ravishankar
presented the world with his
technique and the organization—The
Art of Living.
Guruji's ability to connect with people is perfectly effortless and his
spiritual appeal irresistible. To use the words of one of his ardent
followers, Sri Sri is as compassionate as Jesus, as playful as Lord
Krishna and as erudite as Adi Shankara. He has this uncanny ability of
helping people unburden their stress-filled minds. His invaluable
sayings act as balms for wounded souls. Here's a sample: " Life is a
ball in your hands to play with. Don't hold on to the ball."
Sri Sri Ravishankar is a unique combination of wit and wisdom,
seriousness and playfulness, who would provoke you to "celebrate while
you are alone, celebrate when you are with people, celebrate the silence
and celebrate the noise. Celebrate life and celebrate death." It is not
surprising then that, the Art of Living is all about accepting life in
its totality and its motto is to "only connect". To connect people
across all communities and countries with love, to turn the tides of
time by reviving human values and strengthening it to make our times
special. A South African member of the Art of Living teaching program
says, "After the Art of Living course, racial tolerance is no longer an
issue. We've moved beyond tolerance to unconditional acceptance and
love. Love has no dislikes, no boundaries."
Sparks of the
spiritual master's striking personality caught peoples' attention right
from his childhood, which was an extraordinary one by all accounts.
Ravishankar was born on May 13, 1956, in a spiritual family in Papanasam,
Tamil Nadu, India. His father R. S. V. Ratnam who is well versed in
Sanskrit, Tamil and English, is also a devout social worker besides
being very spiritually oriented. It is an interesting coincidence that
Ravishankar was born in a place named 'Papanasam', for it means—the
removal of all sins. To add to it all, he was born on
Shankara Jayanti, the birthday of Adi Shankara (the 8th century
Vedantic philosopher and founder of the Advaita theory of Truth)
and was christened on the 11th day of his birth, which also happened to
be the birthday of Ramanuja the renowned preacher of bhakti or
devotion. Certainly, an interesting combination of knowledge and
devotion, in the consciousness of the newborn!
At the age of four,
little Ravishankar was discovered chanting the shlokas of The
Bhagavad Gita, and by the age of 17 he had completed his graduation in
science as well as his mastery over the Vedas (Hindu scriptures). His
extreme spiritual bent of mind also caught the attention of Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement,
under whose tutelage Ravishankar blossomed into the spiritual figure we
know so well.
In fact, soon after
his college days, he came into contact with many renowned spiritual
teachers and leading intellectuals. The decision to embark on an ascetic
path instead of regular materialistic life was taken at this point of
his life. He remained in Rishikesh, India, with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
for several years, however, before going abroad to complete his doctoral
degree in the science of the Vedas.
Having completed his
research, Sri Sri Ravishankar presented the world with the
technique—a unique breathing process, which removes stress and negative
toxins from the body by rejuvenating each and every cell. The technique
is said to have been revealed to him during a spell of silent meditation
that he had gone into for 10 long days in 1982. It was the same year
that he started the Art of Living Foundation, which propagates his
programs in over a 100 countries. The Foundation aims at fostering
health at every conceivable human level-mental, physical, emotional as
well as spiritual. Sri Sri Ravishankar, also, started off a number of
educational and humanitarian organizations for the service and all-round
upliftment of society. Besides the
Art of Living Foundation,
Prison SMART Foundation, Inc.,
are all the outcome of this selfsame and wholehearted commitment towards
humanity. But modest soul that he is, Guruji perceives these programs to
be nothing more than, seva or services for fellow human beings
who are merely reflections of our own 'selves'.
According to Sri Sri Ravishankar, even though the world is a mixture of
happiness and sorrow, it shouldn't deter any one from seeking enjoyment
in whatever one does. He elucidates, "It is written in the Upanishads,
the Atman, soul, is Satchidanandamaya (complete bliss).
Spirituality is not boring. It is the Rasa (flavor) of life."
This blissful state
can only be attained when one follows the religion of humanity, or in
Guruji's term—Manav Dharma, by spreading love in each human soul.
Beloved Guruji has even unfolded the path to this state, simply follow
it: "How far to Heaven? Just open your eyes and look. You are in
Art of Living Foundation
Established in 1982, The Art of Living Foundation is an educational
and humanitarian foundation, registered in the US
as a tax-exempt and nonprofit organization. It is not a religious
organization, but as one adhering to the basic spiritual principles
of love, kindness and unconditional service to the world. It carries
out numerous charitable, educational and humanitarian programs
throughout the world on the basis of donations.
the activities of the foundation are based on the saying of its
founder teacher Sri Sri Ravishankar—"a truly religious person will
be secular in nature. Secular means one who thinks all human beings
are his or her own."
The Art of Living works in special consultative status with the
Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN, and as such it has
accredited representatives at the UN in New
York, Geneva and Vienna. It also works in formal consultation with
the World Health Organization (WHO).
From 1985, the Art of Living started supporting the Dollar-a-Day
service program, for rural children of India, which provides them
with the basic amenities of life and much more. This innovative
activity is pursued under Care for Children program where children
learn, other than the traditional courses, the fine art of living,
the skill of making friends, handling negative emotions and value of
service to the fellow beings. The children are taught to take the
studies as an enjoyable challenge, pick up the habit of hygienic
living and most importantly, develop the skill of community living,
a sense of belonging to each one of it.
THE 5H PROGRAM
One of its many commendable programs is the 5H Program, which
focuses on—Home, Health, Hygiene, Harmony in Diversity and Human
Values. It aims at bringing about a social transformation so that
the complete potential of each individual is expressed. Sri Sri
Ravishankar is the inspiration behind the program.
Art Excel program is perhaps the most popular program, which offers
courses for all round development of children and youth (8 to 21
years old). Through simple play-way techniques and awareness games
the participants learn how to develop their personal potential and
manage stress in their life. This highly admired program is
currently offered in major Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi and
Calcutta, and in countries like Canada
and the USA. The Art of Living program is working closely with
UNICEF to make this program available to the world community at
Prison SMART is another laudable program providing training on
stress management and rehabilitation for juvenile and adult
prisoners, prisoners on parole and probation, victims of crime,
at-risk youths, and even the law enforcement officers and probation
staff. The Prison SMART Foundation Inc. that carries out these
services was established in 1992. This unique foundation is the
first of its kind in the USA and now has gained national recognition
to offer services in the prisons and juvenile halls across the
country. The foundation provides vision, resources and a committed
corps of talented volunteers.
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR HUMAN VALUES
The International Association for Human Values is another nonprofit
outfit of the Foundation, which works for cultivating and supporting
basic human values in societies all over the world. The association
boasts of a network of well-trained and motivated personnel to carry
out its activities.
YOUTH TRAINING PROGRAM
The Youth Training Program (YTP) in India focuses on the education
of the rural youth and encourages them to work for the betterment of
their community. Arranging medical camps, distributing clothes to
the poor, creating sanitation facilities and setting up local
Working on the principles of love and essential human connectedness
as delineated by their founder member, Sri Sri Ravishankar, the Art
of Living tries to follow a holistic way of living coupled with
humanitarian values. It teaches a wide variety of courses including
a meditation course called
a natural and effortless meditative technique. It admits that all
its self-development courses and programs are a form of yoga, which
is nothing but a "union with the Self." The
and other related techniques, propounded by the Foundation, are all
based on the ancient yogic science of breathing, which explores the
connection between mind, body, the emotions and rhythms of breath.
Over a million people in more than 100 countries have taken Art of
Foundation has Vyakti Vikas Kendras all over India, to
teach people how to revive love among themselves, improve their
interpersonal interactions and to reach out to the world in a
positive manner. Corporate courses are offered to executives and
all, to enhance their efficiency and team spirit.
When Sri Sri Ravishankar addressed the August 2000 UN Millennium
World Peace Committee of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, his speech
was widely received as a path breaking one. The Art of Living, as
the instrument of Guruji's ideals, promotes the idea of preventive
diplomacy in the case of conflict situations in the global arena. An
idea that was proposed to the UN in its 1995 World Social Summit.
Above all, the Foundation endeavors to drive home Sri Sri
Ravishankar's message that—even though practices remain different,
all great religious traditions share the same common goals and
values, and mankind would do well to cut across these barriers and
anomalies to connect with each other through love.
The Art of Living Foundation is an international nonprofit
educational, charitable, and humanitarian foundation, dedicated to
serving society by strengthening the individual.
Art of Living's educational and self development programs offer
techniques to eliminate stress, improve health, expand awareness and
resolve conflict and have been enjoyed by millions of people in over
As a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), the
foundation works in special consultative status with the Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations, participating in
a variety of committees and activities relating to health and
Art of Living foundation is active in over 140 countries, run
almost exclusively by dedicated volunteers cutting across all
religious and cultural boundaries. To take an Art of Living Course
or participate in any of our service projects contact a center in
your corner of the world.
LESSONS IN LIVING
True laughter is true prayer, teaches Sri Sri Ravishankar—the guru whose
Art of Living courses gives lessons in living, which concentrate on
breathwork and self-awareness
"The language of the head is words. The language of the heart is love.
The language of the soul is silence."
Starting his discourse in a Delhi auditorium with these words, this man
with soft eyes, jet black flowing hair and beard and an artist's relaxed
hands disarms his audience by asking: "So, in which language do you want
me to speak?"
It's a rhetorical question. The tongue he continues to use is in words,
of course, but in a language that goes straight to the heart. The
precepts he speaks of run close to the soul.
Another time, you attend a satsang (communion) the guru has
graced in a devotee's home in north
India, expecting to sit through one more edifying discourse. But all you
do is wait as he sits on the dais with eyes shut, opening them
periodically but only to indicate to the singers to continue with yet
another bhajan (devotional song). Then, suddenly, he gets up and
starts to dance, with the ecstasy of a
You wait some more for the discourse to begin. He stops dancing, takes
an unhurried look at the expectant faces, smiles almost mirthfully. He's
done it again: not a word is spoken, but much is communicated by the
eyes. The satsang comes to an end.
This is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a new age guru with a mystique of
his own. Slipping in a moment from singing and showering rose petals on
his congregation to the deepest meditation, or from bantering with his
devotees to discussing eternal verities, he defies easy slotting. One of
his disciples has to summon three personages to convey what he is all
about: "Guruji has the compassion of
Jesus Christ, the playfulness of
Krishna and the erudition of
But what also attracts a growing number of people in India and other
countries to Ravi Shankar is that he is a thoroughly modern man
speaking ancient truths. In his person,
Vedic precepts become contemporary, eastern mystique sheds its
mystery. For the Indian generation alienated from its roots by
relentless westernization, he represents the acceptable face of
tradition. Not surprisingly, his following is, by and large, from the
urban middle class. In Mumbai, western India, his devotees include many
young professionals, IIT students, even socialites and film stars.
Their first introduction to the guru usually is the 14-hour Art of
Living course, which has so far drawn over half a million
participants the world over. Basic to this course is Sudarshan Kriya
that Ravi Shankar discovered in 1982, after emerging from a
10-day retreat into silence, an event that marked his ascendance into
Sudarshan Kriya is a cycle of breaths—long, medium and
short. Since the mind oscillates wildly between the past and the future,
the breath, which is by definition necessarily in the present, is used
to "rope in the wandering mind". Like
Zen masters who teach that the present moment is a chink opening
into eternity, Ravi Shankar also hauls his audience back to the
here and now with posers like, "Where are you?"
The Art of Living course combines the kriya with meditation and
teaches how to observe the mind, to live in gratitude and to discard
expectations. The workshop also provides a value-based framework to life
and tools with which to build the superstructure. The benefits of the
workshop include stress reduction, a resurgence of vitality, mental
clarity and joy of living. Those who attend the course routinely report
relief in respiratory and spinal disorders, diabetes and heart problems.
The program has been acclaimed by the World Health Organization. The
workshops are organized under the aegis of the Vyakti Vikas Kendra (VVK),
which has over 200 centers in
The centers are managed by 70-odd teachers trained by Ravi Shankar,
most working on an honorary basis.
Arun Madhavan quit his job as area manager with Standard Chartered Bank
to join VVK as chairman. The Art of Living workshop, Madhavan
says, brought him greater awareness, a deep sense of joy and virtually
obliterated his medical bills. His mission is to promote it in the
corporate world, where its benefits as a stress-reliever have already
led to wide acceptance. So far in
the workshop has been attended by over 15,000 professional managers. One
of them is S.B. Ganguly, the chairman and managing director of Exide
Industries. Says he: "I suddenly find myself a friend to everyone; my
attitude towards my family has improved. The rat race has ended and my
mind is at peace."
But how does Ravi Shankar view his mission? "We are trying to
bring back human values," replies the 40-year-old guru, attired in his
trademark off-white silk lungi-kurta, while lounging in the home
of one of his meditation teachers in Mumbai. "The purpose of The Art
of Living course is to retain innocence while increasing
intelligence. The innocence of the ignorant is not as precious as that
of those who have gone through knowledge to arrive at another level of
'I don't know'."
That is a beautiful 'I don't know'."
Advaitic, stressing the essential oneness of the Self and the
Absolute. But he has his own unique way of driving home the eternal
truths. Invited to speak at the United Nations' 50th anniversary
celebrations, he surprised those present by repudiating the possibility
of world unity, before adding that the word implied a duality.
asked about his idea of God, he says: "You believe what you don't know;
I don't believe in God. God is the very core of your being, it is like
peeling an onion and reaching that central nothingness, which is God.
The whole is God."
With a good measure of irony, Ravi Shankar employs the general
belief in God's omnipresence to resolve the free will versus determinism
debate: "When your thought is in alliance with what is happening, you
call it free will; when it is in opposition, you call it destiny. "
Non-duality presupposes non-doing, which is the understanding that life
lives itself, we don't live it; that feelings, thoughts, states of mind
happen, we don't create them. When a disciple asks him how to be
detached, he answers: "Don't try to do it. You are already that."
Answering another question about the value of celibacy, the master
replies: "Celibacy is not a practice. If it's a happening, then it's
authentic. Trying to stop yourself from having sex is unnatural and only
makes you think of it even more."
Simplicity, naturalness, effortlessness and spontaneity are spiritual
precepts for him. The ego, which is considered the chief foe of seekers
of enlightenment, simply arises from a short supply of "naturalness",
says Ravi Shankar. It is more difficult to be an atheist than a
believer. "Don't try to develop unconditional love," he advises,
"because you are love."
As for himself, he appears to be running his worldwide organization
absolutely effortlessly. Born in a prosperous business family in
Bangalore, southern India,
spiritual destiny manifested itself in his infancy, when as a child of
four, he recited the entire Bhagavad Gita. The atmosphere at home was
deeply religious. His father, a medical astrologer, divined his son's
unusual powers early, and has always supported his decisions. At eight,
in addition to conventional schooling, Ravi Shankar started
studying Vedic literature. By 18, he had earned a degree in science. His
background in science and the Vedas is what brought him to the notice of
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the transcendental meditation
movement. Ravi Shankar rose in the movement to become a close associate
of Maharishi before deciding to forge out on his own.
His younger sister Bhanu recalls him as the perfect brother, "very
friendly, very humorous, a guiding spirit. I copied him in everything".
Each of his disciples has his own favorite guru story. Khursheed
Batliwala, a VVK instructor from Mumbai, remembers the time "Guruji"
came running barefoot to him, clutching a wad of notes because he was
told that Batliwala didn't have any money for a journey he was about to
Nitin Limaye, from
western India, relates how a group of them were out walking with the
guru one sunny day. Suddenly, the guru stopped and advised them to run
for cover because it would rain shortly. There was no evidence to
support this sudden bit of meteorology, but they obeyed him and watched
the rain cascading down half-an-hour later from the safety of their
Accomplished at the veena (an Indian musical instrument) and the
Ravi Shankar's musical inclination filters down to
his devotees. Their satsangs are riotously joyous affairs,
bhajans sung with the gusto of school students at a picnic.
Starting with The Art of Living workshops (which are now
available for children, too), VVK's activities have been expanding. They
include a four-day advance course, taught by the guru himself, usually
in his sprawling
ashram, and teaching the mantra-based Sahaj Samadhi Meditation. VVK has
also set up the Ved Vignan Mahavidyapeeth, dedicated to the revival of
Vedic wisdom in education. The institute is working closely with 240
schools in Bangalore. A research body it has set up has been
commissioned by the government to reappraise the siddha and
ayurvedic systems of medicine.
All this is a creditable achievement for somebody who took up the mantle
of a preceptor only 10 years ago, but for Ravi Shankar "it is all
fun. Life is a game, a play. There is nothing worth taking so
Getting Back To Innocence
A talk with
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
is a spiritual master of extraordinary simplicity, wisdom and
unconditional love. As a boy resplendent with radiance, he was
recognized by the enlightened saints of the time as crowned with
During a lecture in Los Angeles, someone asked Sri Sri Ravi
Shankar to describe enlightenment. The following was his reply:
Enlightenment is like a joke! It’s like a fish
searching for the ocean. Once upon a time, there was a
congregation of fish who got together to discuss who had seen
the ocean. None of them could actually say they had seen the
ocean. Then, one fish said, “I think my great-grandfather had
seen the ocean!” A second fish said, “Yes, yes. I also heard
about this.” A third fish said, “Yes, certainly, his
great-grandfather had seen the ocean.” So they built a huge
temple and made a statue of the great-grand father of that
particular fish. They said, “He had seen the ocean. He had been
connected with the ocean.”
Enlightenment is the very core of our being; going
into the core of our self and living our life from there. We all
came into this world gifted with innocence, but gradually, as we
became more intelligent, we lost our innocence. We were born
with silence, and as we grew up, we lost the silence and were
filled with words. We lived in our hearts, and as time passed,
we moved into our heads. Now the reversal of this journey is
enlightenment. It is the journey from head back to the heart,
from words, back to silence; getting back to our innocence in
spite of our intelligence. Although very simple, this is a great
achievement. Knowledge should lead you to that beautiful point
of “I don’t know.”
The purpose of knowledge is ignorance. The
completion of knowledge will lead you to amazement and wonder.
It makes you aware of this existence. Mysteries are to be lived,
not understood. One can live life so fully in its completeness,
in its totality. Enlightenment is that state of being so mature
and unshakable by any circumstance. Come what may, nothing can
rob the smile from your heart. Not identifying with limited
boundaries and feeling “all that exists in this universe
belongs to me,” this is enlightenment. Enlightenment is that
state of being so mature and unshakable by any circumstance.
Come what may, nothing can rob the smile from your heart.
Unenlightenment is easy to define. It is limiting
yourself by saying, “I belong to this particular place,” or “I
am from that culture.” It’s like children saying, “My dad is
better than your dad,” or “My toy is better than your toy.” I
think most people around the world are stuck in that mental age
group. Just the toys have changed. Adults say, “My country is
better than your country.” A Christian will say, “The Bible is
truth,” and a Hindu will say, “The Vedas are truth. They are
very ancient.” Muslims will say, “The Koran is the last word of
God.” We attribute glory to something just because we are from
that culture, not for what it is. If one could take credit for
all that exists throughout the ages and feel as though “it
belongs to me,” then that is maturity. “This is my wealth
because I belong to the Divine.”
The Divine, according to time and space, gave
different knowledge in different places. One becomes the knower
of the whole universe and sees that, “all the beautiful flowers
are all from my garden.” The whole evolution of man is from
being somebody to being nobody, and from being nobody to being
everybody. Have you observed that young children have that sense
of belonging, that oneness, that innocence? As we grew up we
lost that innocence and became more cunning. The innocence of an
ignorant man has no value, and the cunningness of an intelligent
man also has no value. Enlightenment is a rare combination of
innocence and intelligence, with words to express and, at the
same time, being very silent. In that state, the mind is fully
in the present moment. Whatever is necessary is revealed to you
in such a natural and spontaneous way. You just sit and the song
flows through you.
Is enlightenment really possible for the average person?
answer is “Yes, a big YES.” Enlightenment is very possible for
the ordinary individual. Actually, it is easier than for someone
who thinks that they are special. You see, when someone thinks
they are special, their ego becomes involved. “I am a great
teacher or I am a great writer,” that is only ego. The ego wants
to be special and this may cause someone to get stuck for a long
Whenever someone is ordinary, simple, innocent and natural; that
is enlightenment. Enlightenment is your very nature. It is in
you already, as seed form. When you drop all the tensions and
hang-ups and become natural, then it is right in your hand. We
simply need to let go of the old patterns
that are in the mind, just drop them. Then you see that something in
you flowers and dawns. It is so beautiful.
In my teachings there is a lot of focus on the breath because
our breath plays a very important role. The breath is the
connecting link between the inner world of the mind and the
outer world of body and environment. You see, there are seven
levels of existence: body, breath, mind, intellect, memory, ego
and Being. Meditation works by bringing an effect from the level
of Being to the mind. With the breath we bring this effect to
the physical level as well.
You see, there is a rhythm in nature. Seasons come
and go. Everything in life has a particular pattern and order.
In your own body, there is a rhythm, too. You feel hungry at a
certain time and sleepy at a certain time. The body has a
particular rhythm. Life has a particular rhythm. Similarly, your
breath also goes in a particular pattern. Your emotions move in
a particular rhythm, as well as your thoughts. All these rhythms
arise from your Being, which has its own rhythm.
In Sudarshan Kriya, a breath technique I teach, we get into the
rhythm of our Being and see how Being is permeating our
emotions, our thoughts, our breath and our bodies. In a very
short amount of time, every cell of the body becomes so alive
and releases all the toxins and negative emotions it has stored
from times past. Once again, we are able to smile from our
hearts. It is very precious knowledge.
People who are trying to be what they are not become unnatural
and create much more tension and stress. That is why one must go
deep into the source of their nature, their Being, and come from
there. You see, I don’t say that you will never get upset again
in life. If someone promises you that you will never get upset .
. . it just is not true. You may still get upset, but the
quality of your life will not be the same. You will not get so
caught up in your emotions for long periods of time. People have
found that after they do Sudarshan Kriya, that they are able to
come back to themselves very quickly. Whatever mood comes up,
they are able to let go and come back and enjoy much, much more.
is the true meaning of life?
Ah . . . this you better find out for yourself. Don’t ask the
meaning from me. It’s like asking me to chew your candy for you.
It is not possible. I can put candy in your mouth, but I can’t
chew it for you. You have to chew your own candy.
Be with this question. I can tell you one thing, you are very
fortunate that this question arises in your mind. One in a
million people will get this question. It is a very sincere
question. it means you have started your journey toward the
light. You stopped just existing and started on to the beautiful
path. Be with this question, and don’t be in such a hurry for a
ready-made answer from somebody. Go deep into yourself and you
will find out.”
THE HEART OF LOVING
For him, creation is an infusion of love, love and only love. And he
tries to instill love in all hearts with his specially designed
Art of Living course. Meet Sri Sri Ravishankar, guru with a global
the divine your Valentine.
Just be…and know that you are loved.
That is Beloved.
—God Loves Fun by Sri Sri Ravishankar
first met Sri Sri Ravishankar, or Guruji, as he is popularly known, I
was impressed with the slender figure dressed in simple white robes, a
long black rosary around his neck. Engaged in a question and answer
session with a large congregation, there was a Vedic purity about him.
Dignified and refined, he smiled, his eyes twinkled, as he replied to
questions, in Hindi, in English, in Tamil, whatever the need of the
questioner. He was at ease sharing his knowledge of the shastras
(ancient Hindu texts), as well as answering personal questions on
relationships, marriage, birth,
karma. Nothing was trivial; no one was outside his reach.
Witty, he did not take offence even to the most offensive questions or
when somebody took him lightly. A chit in the question box said: "Can I
recommend to you a good barber?" Spontaneously Ravishankar pointed to
his flowing tresses and beard and smiled: "I don't need a barber,
because my hair is not entangled. Hair is like thoughts. Neither my hair
nor my thoughts are entangled, because I have the comb of knowledge."
The audience broke out into an appreciative applause, but it left me
perplexed. I was not used to this unique combination of wit and wisdom,
of seriousness and frolic. Much later I learned that this is the Art of
Living: to accept creation in its totality.
he got up (to leave, I imagined) there was an explosion of jostling as
the crowd surged forward. There was a smile on every face, some tears,
mostly laughter. What was going on? I asked my motherly neighbor, who
was using her elbow to maneuver herself towards the stage. She barely
had time to reply: "Divya Milan is about to begin." And then, you had to
witness the scene to believe it! Ravishankar hugged everyone. Some
touched his feet, others asked more questions. Four hours later, a new
lot arrived and Ravishankar waved and smiled to the newcomers also.
That was my introduction to the famous Art of Living course by Sri Sri
Ravishankar. It has traveled to 106 countries till date. An educational,
nonprofit charitable foundation, accredited as an NGO with the Economic
and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC), Art of Living has
representatives at the UN in New York, Geneva and Vienna.
Ravishankar's wide appeal cuts across religion, gender and class to make
Art of Living a global name. Moreover, people of all faiths practice it.
There are also specially designed courses for children, youth,
prisoners, corporates and social activists. And new courses are
regularly introduced, the most recent being Nav Chetna Shivirs, which
has been designed keeping the weaker sections of society in mind.
As one South African participant comments: "We are constantly
trying to forget the divisions in our country. But after the Art of
Living course, racial tolerance is no longer an issue. We've moved
tolerance to unconditional acceptance and love." Another one pipes
in: "Tolerance is a dirty word in Art of Living. Tolerance means putting
up with something you don't like. But love has no dislikes, no
Are social schisms really being healed? I questioned Stanislav, a
Russian whose mother is an Art of Living teacher in
He answers: "We have a lot of pain in our society, so a lot of healing
is needed. The Art of Living cleanses the mind, heals the
emotions, and the trauma just vanishes. It helps you to forgive and
begin life anew. Come to Irkutz in
Siberia, and see for yourself how the courses are
helping the prisoners."
Testimonials are aplenty. But what is this unconditional love that every
Art of Living student talks about? Says Rahul Nathan, an executive in
Delhi, India: "Love is our nature. It is infused in every particle of
creation. Just drop the
stress and you experience it for yourself. Then you reach out to the
whole world. This is what seva (unconditional service) is and the
Art of Living is all about seva." What is it about Ravishankar
that draws so many people into this course? His enigmatic charisma, his
wit or is it his song to a joyful life? Perhaps its the zest for life,
the encompassing of opposites, to move beyond duality to wholeness, to
express the inexpressible, to be both in time and outside it, to be in
the world and yet not in it.
Spirituality flows through Ravishankar's veins. Born on
May 13, 1956, in a spiritual family in Papanasam,
little Ravishankar showed devotional powers from a very young age. I
travel to Uragapura, a remote village in the Indian state of Karnataka
to meet his father, R.S.V. Ratnam, who works for the uplift of poor
girls through his Vista India Charitable trust. This includes a school
and a vocational training unit. Well versed in Sanskrit, Tamil and
English, he has passed on his extensive knowledge to his son.
FIVEFOLD SERVICE TO THE PEOPLE
Sri Sri Ravishankar's mission for the future is the 5H Program. This
means health, hygiene, housing, harmony in diversity and human values.
The aim: to bring about a social transformation so that the complete
potential of each individual is expressed. Ravishankar personally
supervises this program. He is also a founder member of the
International Association for Human Values, a nonprofit educational
organization committed to nurturing human values in society.
this purpose, he has a network of highly motivated, well-trained
personnel. The Youth Training Program (YTP) is perhaps the most
ambitious program to educate the rural community. There are specially
trained yuvacharyas (young teachers) for it. Most are volunteers,
inspired by Ravishankar to do service where it is most needed. Sarvodaya
Vidyalayas have already been started in some rural areas and more are
being set up in tribal areas. Another charitable trust, Sri Sri Vidya
Mandir, has also been founded to spread education.
Besides education, other activities include distribution of clothes to
the poor, setting up medical camps, formation of local cooperative
groups, and even creating sanitation facilities.
Pitaji, as Ratnam is popularly known with the Art of Living
clan, recounts: "It is such a beautiful thing that Ravishankar was born
where all sins are being removed." Papnasam means the removal of all
sins. There is a full spiritual legend to his name also.
Ravishankar was born on Shankara Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Adi
Shankara, the great Indian philosopher. He was named on the 11th day of
his birth, which was Ramanuja Jayanti, the day Ramanuja (another
important theologian and Hindu philosopher) was born. And as the village
was famous for its Shiva and Vishnu temples "we named him as Ravi
Shankar Narayana (Shankar and Narayana are respectively other names for
Lords" (It is only recently that 'Ravi'
and 'Shankar' have been clubbed together into one word. Someone once
asked, why Sri Sri comes twice; he is reported to have twinkled, and
replied, because 108 Sris would make it too long!).
From his early years, Pitaji tells, there were events, which indicated
that the child was special. As a baby, he was rocking on a large swing,
hanging from four iron chains.
"When I went to see the boy, all the chains which were holding the cot
fell down. Normally the chains would have fallen in the center of the
swing. But miraculously the chains fell outwards, not in the center."
At the age of three, he was sent to a teacher, who wanted to begin her
lessons with a shloka (passage) from the Bhagvad Gita, 'Praasthayam
Pratiboditaam'. Incredibly, the young Ravishankar completed it for
her by adding 'Bhagavatam Narayanena Svayum'.
One day he watched his father doing puja (praying), and
wanted to know all about it. Pitaji gave him a photo of Meenakshi,
consort of Shiva, and with an unquestionable faith he accepted her as
his personal God. He would not eat anything before offering it to his
personal God. Unable to pronounce 'Meenakshi', he called it 'Vicchini'.
Reminiscing about his childhood, Ravishankar says: "I would bunk the
sports class and come home early. I would go to play football, and
looking at my feet, I would say, these feet cannot kick anybody, let
alone an inanimate ball."
By the time he was nine years old, he had mastered the Rig-Veda. After
completing his college in English medium, he came into contact with many
renowned masters and leading intellectuals. One such was Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi, who wanted to take the budding seeker and scholar to
Rishikesh, India. But there was a tug of war within the extended family
as he was offered a manager's post with a bank. The spiritual quest won,
amidst a barrage of protests.
Ratnam was resolute. Ravishankar first went to Rishikesh, then overseas,
where he completed his Ph.D. in Vedas and science. The young master
traveled widely and finally, Ravishankar was all prepared to start on
his own. In 1982 he went into ten days of silence. When questioned about
this, he is reported to have said that he knew something was "coming
up". It is said that the Sudarshan Kriya was reveal to him around this
time. Others claim that this is the definitive period of Sri Sri
Ravishankar's enlightenment. And so Art of Living was born. The first
course was held in Shimoga, India, a unique experience, in which
Ravishankar communicated with the participants through silence. When he
began to speak, many felt that they had already heard what he had to
With time, these courses became more structured, and teachers were
groomed to carry the knowledge all over the world. Now many more courses
have been added. But the message of love remains. It stems from a
non-dualistic notion of creation, where everything is part of one
divinity. Our true nature is love, and love infuses this whole creation.
Once we drop the tensions and stress, we realize our true nature.
Knowledge is the means to become 'hollow and empty', to get rid of all
the impressions we have accumulated over lifetimes. These cloud our
minds, which are currently like a photographic plate over laden with
multiple exposures (hence the confusion and lack of clarity). Once we
attain this state of inner emptiness (our natural self), we experience
for ourselves the dynamic oneness of creation, whose very nature, like
out own, is love. Responsibility to our fellow human beings is not to be
taught, it is an intrinsic part of universal love. This appears to be
the core of Ravishankar's teachings.
Dr Vinod Kochupillai, head of the Cancer Centre at AIIMS, the premiere
medical institute of India, explains the scientific aspect of sudarshan
"In today's society,
(PNI), often referred to as of mind-body importance, is becoming very
popular. PNI shows how the mind and emotions influence both the nervous
and immune systems. For instance, happy people produce chemical
messengers, which travel from the nervous system to the immune system,
resulting in better health.
Sudarshan kriya is a unique
process, which removes stress from the body. Negative toxins are flushed
out and each cell flooded with new life to energize body and mind. This
experience of centeredness, freedom and fulfillment releases
neuropeptides, which influence the immune system positively and hence,
the whole physiology.
sudarshan kriya and
have been researched in Nimhans, Bangalore, India, where it was found
successful with 70-80 per cent patients suffering from severe
Abnormal brain wave patterns turned normal with regular practice.
Studies conducted at Harvard, USA, revealed that 70-80 per cent patients
suffering from AIDS benefited from this process. Lymph node swellings
was reduced, breathing and digestion improved, energy levels increased.
The Republic of Slovenia conducted a research on patients suffering from
multiple sclerosis. With sudarshan kriya, significant improvement was
found in the patient's mobility, endurance levels and lung capacity
while anxiety levels came down.
Ongoing studies at AIIMS suggest that these processes help cancer
patients also. It also helps in controlling the urge to consume
In fact, the foreign followers seem to be most impressed with
the Art of Living. John Osborne, Chairman of the USA Chapter of The Art
of Living Foundation, comments on a transformed attitude on the part of
the average American:
"Wherever I go people are asking me about
meditation, stress management, what they can do to give themselves
more energy and clarity of mind, more focus and harmonious
relationships. So the time has clearly come for the Art of Living in
Involved with Art of Living for the last 12 years, Osborne does regular
satsangs (communions), besides teaching basic and advanced
courses. There are as many as 150 teachers across the USA. Art Excel
courses for children are also gaining in popularity. Though the
authorities were initially hesitant about the prison programs, Osborne
says that now "there's a huge demand for our services".
According to Ravishankar, the organization should be the framework, the
bare scaffolding to present the knowledge. For this reason, his
headquarters nestle in an ashram on the outskirts of Bangalore. There
you find his other charitable foundation, Ved Vigyan Mahavidyapeeth,
which looks after rural education and development and seeks to revive
Vedic knowledge. The ashram also provides free
education to 600 children. A special attempt is made to locate
absolutely illiterate families and a monthly stipend is paid to the
girl's parents to encourage them to send her to school.
The ashram boasts of an
ayurvedic clinic. Regular Art of Living courses are held, which draw
participants from overseas as well. A large meditation hall is under
construction. A hilltop amphitheater, Sumeru, makes a wonderful backdrop
for moonlit satsangs with Sri Sri Ravishankar.
Visitors treat this ashram as the abode of the Divine.
There are rumors that an ancient Shiva temple lies beneath the waters of
the lake within the ashram. Others say that the ashram of the
Vedic sage Vashistha was on this very site.
Ravishankar himself lodges in a modest kutir (hut) in the ashram
premises. Visitors claim that merely entering the Shakti Kutir, as it is
called, immediately stills the mind, and they have no questions to ask!
Other ashrams are located in Bad Antogast, Black Forest, Germany,
and near Montreal, Canada.
During the Navratra festival of India, devotees from all over the
world join their Indian brethren in celebration and worship at the
Bangalore ashram. And the five S's prevail: sadhana
(devoted practice), seva (unconditional service), satsang
(communion), celebration and smile. During the Dussehra (a major
festival of India) celebrations (Ravishankar maintains silence during
this period), a yajna (a Vedic fire ritual) is performed to
purify the environment. Another special occasion is Shivratri (an
occasion special to Lord Shiva), in which Ravishankar spontaneously,
almost without volition, performs tandav, the dance of Shiva. A
devotee at this year's Dussehra celebration recounts:
"The kalash (urn) of water seems to have a life of its own when
it is ceremoniously carried around at the end of the puja. Sri
Sri Ravishankar glows with divine light, and the flow of Grace is so
marked that none can miss it. But what touched me more than these
miracles was Guruji's love for each one of us, his concern that we were
happy and comfortable. Something flowered inside each one of us, we were
What endears him more to his devotees is the ever-joyful
composure. At a farmhouse in
India, a satsang heralds the presence of Sri Sri Ravishankar. He
is talking, answering questions, singing, leading the evening
meditation. Few know that his mother, Vishalakshi or Amma as she was
popularly known, passed away two days earlier. Only at the end of the
program does he reminisce about it, briefly. He was installing the idol
at the Vishalakshi temple in Varanasi, India, when he received news of
his mother's demise. This was the very spot where his maternal
grandfather had prayed for a child, and his mother was born to him. He
was not physically present at his mother's funeral ceremony, though
everyone claims that his presence was palpable.
what enlightenment is all about?
own words: "Mysteries are there not to understand but to live. Living
the mystery of life is joy. Enlightenment is that state of being mature
and unshakable in any circumstance. Come what may, nothing can rob the
smile from your heart. Enlightenment is a rare combination of innocence
and intelligence, having words for expression and, at the same time,
being very silent. In that state, the mind is fully in the present
moment. You just sit and the song flows through you."
SRI SRI RAVISHANKAR
Sri Ravishankar talks about his mission in an exclusive interview
with Parveen Chopra
did you want to be when you were growing up?
Hum chote thay, hum chote hain, hum bade huay kahan. (I was a
child, I am a child, when did I grow up?)
is your mission? What is most needed in today's world?
Human values. Bringing back the human values.
is your blueprint for the future?
Nothing specific. We are always ready to do whatever the moment, the
circumstances ask us to do.
What is your focus right now?
Presently our focus is on village development. For this we have
the 5H (health, hygiene, housing, harmony in diversity and human
What is special about Indian spiritual knowledge considering
there are many other spiritual traditions?
Every place has its own specialty. The Swiss have cheese.
Germany has marzipan. India has spirituality (laughter).
What is special about this present age, where we see signs of
revival of spirituality and meditation everywhere?
Every period is special whenever values come up. Human values make
the time special. Celebrations make a time special. What is special
about celebration… it is celebration, which makes everything
So, are you optimistic about the upsurge of values?
Spread values, strengthen values, and the time automatically becomes
better. We can turn the times by reviving values.
you happy with the world as it is now?
There are problems... but if you see the progress going on in human
values, and people's interest in spirituality, you are happy. The
world is a mixture.
Do you ever get depressed or angry? For example, if there is a
problem in your organization?
(Laughter) We have kept the organization to the minimum, just
what is needed to spread the knowledge. The organization is the
frame to hold the picture. It has to be proper. If the frame eats
away the picture, then it doesn't serve the purpose. At the same
time, the picture cannot be hung without a frame.
Is it a conscious decision on your part to focus on youth? They
are attracted to you in large numbers.
We are not trying to influence anyone, or to specifically attract
youth, or anyone else. I am just what I am. If you get inspired by
me, well and good. If you are not, then you inspire me! So either
you get inspired or you inspire me. This is our attitude, and that
of all those who come to us; they also catch on. Smile, or make me
smile. Inspire, or get inspired.
Enjoyment and celebration are a part of your personality. Fun,
joy of life…
It is written in the Upanishads, the atman, soul, is
satchitanandmayi (complete bliss). Spirituality is not boring.
It is the rasa (flavor) of life. Don't make it a serious
topic, or it will become just another compartment. Spirituality
should be like gossip—casual and intimate.
is your message for
readers and for India?
A truly religious person will be secular in nature. Secular means
one who thinks all human beings are his or her own. Each religion
looks after its sect, not the whole of humanity. If a hundred people
are killed in Kashmir, the Pope should also condemn that just like
he condemns killings of Christians. This has not happened. All our
religious leaders are compartmentalizing humanity, and taking
responsibility on a limited scale. Spirituality is taking
responsibility for all the people in the world. We need to create
this awareness. All the maulvis, bishops, pandas,
priests and mahants must come together and only then manav
dharma, human values will be upheld.
Selected quotes from
His Holiness Sri Sri
the current social crisis in the world:
"There are millions of young boys and girls who are misled and who are
on the path of self-destruction.We have got to work very much
now.Everybody has to go on their toes and teach people the very basis of
living, how to live life.This we have not taught. We have not given them
an anchor, a place to offer their devotion, to show their respect, to
show their devotion.To be in love and to be loved - this they have not
found.That's why we are here.We are here to make the whole world,
everyone, aware of what could be the possibilities of life, where they
can reach, how joyful they can be.It's not too late.Get on your feet and
help people and you'll definitely find some success."
– His Holiness Sri Sri
From a 1994 open forum discussion with educators and parents in the
is sacred. Celebrate life. Care for others and share whatever you have
with those less fortunate than you. Broaden your vision, for the whole
world belongs to you."
– His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
From an article in the New York Times
the spiritual life:
"Spiritual life is marked by effective and dynamic activity. It is not
an escape from hard work or from taking sincere action."
– His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Excerpted from the booklet, "You are
the blue sky"
Published by Art of Living Foundation,
values that enhance life are confidence, cooperation, compassion and
love, enthusiasm, faith and knowledge. These values come only through
spirit. We think we can find happiness or comfort through the material,
yet we know that material comfort alone is not sufficient or complete.
Happiness is a quality of consciousness. It does depend on matter, but
to a far greater degree, it depends on attitude and understanding…
Living the spiritual values makes your personality solid and strong."
– His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Excerpted from the booklet, "You are
the blue sky"
Published by Art of Living Foundation,
“Basic human values need to be encouraged in the classroom. Basically, a
child is born with these values, and the teacher needs to uncover them –
children have these values within them. What are human values?
Compassion, cooperation, friendliness, smiling, laughter, lightness,
wanting to help, a sense of belonging and caring for each other – all of
these qualities are there within the child and they need to be brought
– His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
from the book, “Wisdom for the New
published by the Art of Living
stress and health:
need to do a cleansing process within ourselves. In sleep we get rid of
the deeper stresses remain in our body. Some meditation and Sudarshan
whole system. From inside, a flowering happens, and you become so
centered. Otherwise, our peace is disturbed by small things."
– His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
what the world needs today:
intelligence and innocence go together, a beauty dawns - very profound,
very essential. Today what our world needs is not intelligence. There is
enough intelligence in this country, in every country. What the world is
missing is innocence. The value of innocence is being destroyed. And
that innocence is egolessness, naturalness. …That is what is needed
today - innocence. And that is love."
– His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
From public talks given during his 1989
and 1990 USA tour
Various sister organisations are affiliated with the Art
of Living Foundation and work together to promote
development programs for communities and individuals.
Disclaimer - Copyright - Privacy
Edited, Presented and Published for the
life and faith, faith in life