“Technology has shrunk the world into a global village and it is spirituality that will bind us as a family. Though information is now available on fingertips, a human touch is indispensable for education,” spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar said at a recent FICCI meet on education. Sri Sri Ravishankar is 20th in our list of Bangalore's Global Icons.
Living close to the Art of Living Ashram on Kanakapura Road in Bangalore, I have frequently got to meet Sri Sri Ravishankar or Gurudev as he is known to his followers. Always smiling, he is ready with a wave and good word, no matter how many people are surrounding him. Being outside the Sri Sri fold, it has been wonderful to observe how one man has created a presence abroad by promoting India’s message of peace through Yoga, Ayurveda and his signature programme Sudarshana Kriya which teaches a stylised form of meditation based on ancient Indian meditation techniques.
Many of us who have heard him know that it is not as much about what he says as his very evident charisma and the work that he does which draws people to him. Bharat Iyer, a schoolmate, gave up a plush job at IBM a few years ago to work on AOL’s corporate outreach programme. He says that Sri Sri’s mediation abroad has got him as much acclaim as his role in the recent Ayodhya verdict.
Apart from the political role that he has played, AOL is responsible for planting 10,000,000 trees around the world, 5,688,000 people have been benefited through free stress-relief workshops, through the prisoner rehabilitation programme 200,000 inmates have been transformed, 40,000 villages reached with the health program, 6,000 farmers trained in in organic farming, and 2,582,500 people benefited through hygiene and medical camps.
Bharat took us on a tour of the AOL campus recently. Things that are not very well known struck us, like the number of free schools started across India. Over 53,361 students receive free education in 422 schools across 20 states of India.
The Ved Vignan Maha Vidhya Peeth (VVMVP) was the first rural school started by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 1981. One of the students was a young girl called Priyanka. She studied from 8th to 10th standard, topped the school 10th standard exams, went on to do a diploma course in Electrical & Electronics and then got a job in Bengaluru Metro Rail Cooperation Ltd. She piloted the 1st Bangalore Metro as its train operator.
Bharat then takes us to the Ayurveda ‘laboratory’ just outside the Ashram. Apart from all the products produced at AOL, the doctors practicing there have the greatest reverence for the ancient science of Ayurveda.
Elizabeth Herman has had a long time interest in Yoga and Ayurveda, and has recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training with the Sri Sri School of Yoga. She has shared a podcast on the AOL website of an interview with world renowned master Ayurvedic physician, Vaidya R K Mishra, who was born into a 5000-year-old family tradition of Ayurvedic doctors dating back to the time of Lord Krishna. “His in-depth theoretical knowledge of this ancient science was accompanied by unparalleled compassionate and practical healing skills,” says Herman.
Sri Sri Ayurveda centers are spread across the globe. The main headquarters are located across Bangalore, India; Montreal, Canada; and Bad Antogast/Oppenau, Germany. Centers are also established in London, Hamburg and Taraska, Poland.
Life and teachings:
Born in 1956 in Southern India, Ravishankar was a gifted child. By the age of four, he was able to recite the Bhagavad Gita, and was often seen lost in thought and meditating. His first teacher was Sudhakar Chaturvedi, a scholar, who had a long-standing association with Mahatma Gandhi.
Ravishankar entered a ten-day period of silence in Shimoga in Karnataka as a teen and it is believed the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique, was born, out of this silence. With time, the Sudarshan Kriya became the center-piece of the Art of Living programs.
He started The Art of Living foundation as an international, non-profit, educational, humanitarian organization. Its educational and self-development programs offer powerful tools to eliminate stress and foster a sense of well-being.
In 1997, he also founded the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) to coordinate sustainable development projects, nurture human values and coordinate conflict resolution in association with The Art of Living. In India, Africa and South America, the two sister organizations' volunteers are spearheading sustainable growth in rural communities, and have already reached out to 40,212 villages.
A noted humanitarian leader, Ravishankar’s programs have provided assistance to people from a wide range of backgrounds – victims of natural disasters, survivors of terror attacks and war, children from marginalized populations and communities in conflict, among others. The strength of his message has inspired a wave of service based on spirituality through a huge body of volunteers, who are driving these projects forward in critical areas around the globe.
In 34 years, his programs and initiatives have touched the lives of over 370 million people in 154 countries.
In a recent interview with me and Sridhar K Chari, Ravishankar answered a few questions on the role of the Guru:
Who is a Guru?
A Guru walks the talk. Guru is leading by one’s own life and example. And Guru understands where the student is and understands what is needed when and where he should tighten him and where he should uplift him. The guru understands the student more than the student can understand himself or herself. And a student should not try to make the Guru know about themselves. When you try to make the Guru understand who you are then you don’t believe that he knows about you. He knows about you, you don’t need to make him understand.
Who is a shishya?
A shishya should not rely on his or her feelings. Feelings change and are ephemeral. They are impermanent. The Guru connects you with things that are deeper and far more permanent. Your feelings may go up and down. You should bundle them and keep them aside and just go with commitment. The disciple should sail through those moment of frustration. That is when the shaping is really happening. When you get over that hump you will find that growth is there. Then you definitely end up being happy.
How can one balance material life with spiritual aspirations?
They don't oppose but complement each other. Spirituality helps you achieve goals in material life. If you find success, it keeps you centered. If not, it gives you strength to move on.