By Sanjiv Kakar November 2000 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 appeal Fivefold service to the peopleSri 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. For 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. Science in Sudershan KiryaDr Vinod Kochupillai, head of the Cancer Centre at AIIMS, the premiere medical institute of India, explains the scientific aspect of sudarshan kriya: “In today’s society, psycho-neuroimmunology (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 breathing 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. Both sudarshan kriya and pranayama have been researched in Nimhans, Bangalore, India, where it was found successful with 70-80 per cent patients suffering from severe depression. 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 decreased, pain 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 tobacco.’ Make the divine your Valentine.Just be…and know that you are loved.That is Beloved.—God Loves Fun by Sri Sri Ravishankar When I 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, death, or 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. As 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 beyond 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 boundaries.’ Are social schisms really being healed? I questioned Stanislav, a Russian whose mother is an Art of Living teacher in Moscow. 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, Tamil Nadu, India, 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. 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
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