Through a combination of technique, satsang, seva and celebration, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has made spiritual champions of his largely youthful following. On the eve of its silver jubilee, we take stock of Art of Living's popularity and success.
sitting in a vast room, surrounded by prasad and gift items from his lakhs of devotees, sri sri ravi shankar takes time off for a brief interview. excerpts:
How did all this happen? When you started out AOL did you know it would get so big?
One thing I felt is that the whole world is my family. Everybody is part of my family. I always felt a sense of belongingness to everyone.
What was your mission for AOL?
There was no particular mission. There was no ambition to start a particular movement. Everything unfolded naturally. It started with an intention to just share whatever we have. The movement did not happen because we wanted something. It happened as a part of sharing. Whatever we have, we shared with people and still more people wanted to have it and so it went on like this… through word of mouth.
What is your vision for people? How do you see them?
When I see people I see them as my own self. Like my own fingers, my own parts.
I don't get any feeling that "they are my people" or "they are not mine" and that is what we tell all our teachers and teach in all the teachings. Sense of belongingness.
Why the Silver Jubilee celebration?
The Silver Jubilee itself is a reason. It's 25 years. So people from everywhere wanted to come. So we need to cater to the crowd that comes.
It's a huge massive exercise!
Yes, it's a huge massive exercise. Very efficient volunteers are here. Everybody is coming together to do it. I am just inspiring them, being a guest there. Rest everybody is doing. That shows the enthusiasm in people, it fits with our logo of making life a celebration.
There always seems to be an expansion of projects, of activities...
You know, that's quite natural. When people are full of enthusiasm, love and compassion, they just want to share it and their intention to share it brings the compulsion to start the projects.
But they all say that the source is you.
(laughs) I simply take credit for all the work that the volunteers do, that the devotees do. Devotees do all the work.
Looking back, what is the achievement you are most proud of?
I don't consider these things as a big achievement. Actions, activities are not any achievement and what needs to be achieved is already present within everybody. More and more people wake up and see that the essence of truth is present as seed in everyone, in oneself. Then immense satisfaction comes. That self-realisation is coming to more and more people. The unshakeable, profound devotion is the worthwhile thing to achieve. In front of that nothing stands. Devotion to the Divine! And yet ironically it is our very nature. What we need for our highest achievement - happens to be in a very funny way our very nature.
What do you think is the most mportant quality that every human being must possess?
Nurture human values, compassion, love, caring, friendliness - many people are not friendly with those who they think are different. Basic tendency should be friendliness. In spite of differences, an attitude of friendliness with one and all, whatever their isms, philosophies, attitude may be, makes a big difference. From our side, having a friendly attitude even though the other person is not responding. If you keep your attitude instead of swaying to the other person's attitude then you come up.
People say you never ever write off or give up on any human being. So much compassion. Don't you ever get tired?
I never do anything that is not in my nature. You don't ask the wind whether it gets tired of blowing or the sun, are you tired of shining because they don't do anything that is not in their nature. And the thing here is, there is no pretension. Anybody here does a mistake, they come and say I have done a mistake and finishes it. There is no covering up of a mistake. There is no trying to show off something which you are not. These are the principles that make people very strong.
And when we lead through such examples, when it is coming from our own lives it becomes really effective in others' lives also. People are moved by people, not just by principles. Because there are theories and philosophies, tons of books are available in every library. People are not moved by that. Transformation happens by living examples. And that is what people here have become - the living example. It's a ripple effect.
So much of it seems to come from your own absolute faith in their potential which is not even glimpsed by them.
It's all in Divine hands. Perhaps only those who need to blossom come here.
How do you perceive the Divine?
Like the space permeates everything, Divine also permeates everything. It's the basic substratum of the universe. The basic difference between the West and East is that in the West, there's the Divine and the devil. In the West, devil is an entity. In the East, devil is not an entity. It's just the lack of divinity. Like darkness is not a substance, it's simply lack of light. Sometimes it's even perceived as dormant light. Light hasn't yet manifested, not active. Even inside the devil there is divinity, but it is sleeping. When it wakes up the devil simply disappears.
That seems to be the attitude that gives so much faith to your followers.
Yes. When we go prison and to naxalites and others, we don't consider them as bad people. We simply say they have beautiful hearts that have not come to light. We see goodness in them too but it's sleeping.
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