Friday, 23 December 2016

India beeps as a beacon as Sri Sri wows LatAm

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.)

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Seriously, India is getting happiness-savvy!

India can draw a lot from Sri Sri’s reputation and philosophy of practically bringing happiness to millions across the globe. He has proven that happiness can actually be learnt.  

M Rajaque Rahman

India is suddenly getting happy savvy. A BJP-ruled state to a premier IIT…, there is a newfound rush to institutionalize the pursuit of happiness. The day seems not very far when our politicians will be dolling out coupons for free happiness retreats instead of free TVs, mobiles, etc! But Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s idea of having a ministry for happiness is no political gimmick. It represents a shift in paradigm from ‘money cannot buy happiness’ to ‘happiness can be delivered and administered’.

Having stolen a smart march over his counterparts in these days of competitive political positioning, Mr Chouhan now faces the real challenge of coming up with a mechanism that would deliver happiness to his subject which not so long ago led the demeaning BIMARU pack.

Devising a few good-feel schemes for the new ministry is one thing, but making his subject actually feel happy will be quite another. Unless he finds an effective mechanism of delivering happiness as a practical experience, the joy of pioneering the happiness ministry in the country will leave Mr Chouhan sooner than other mayas of the world!

Like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, happiness is in the mind. And like all things mental, happiness is very subtle and delicate. It's impossible to measure or quantify it. There is no Sensex to plot its rise or fall. The old-school model of linking happiness to material gratification and possessions has fallen flat with many of the world's most developed countries topping in suicide rate and depression.

Despite it being the ultimate motivation behind all actions we do in this world, very few people genuinely experience happiness in today’s hectic and fast-paced world. We slog to earn thinking money will make us comfortable and happy! We run behind good food thinking the taste will makes us happy... And the baits are endless.

Mr Chouhan’s challenge will be to engineer a paradigm of happiness away from these baits! Instead of good-feel populism, he should focus on making a plan for teaching happiness to the masses. The nature is on his side for learning to be happy is no rocket science and everyone would be an eligible candidate. For sure, no entrance test would be needed! Just a few lessons on the mechanics of life and happiness will do.

True happiness can come only from learning and understanding simple things about life. The logic is very straightforward. Anything we have knowledge about becomes easy to handle. For those who have the knowledge of cooking, even making an elaborate and lavish meal is a child’s play. But to the one who has no knowledge, even making a cup of tea is stressful. Those who know driving, drive any vehicle with ease. And, one who doesn't, gets goosebumps sitting in the backseat.

The new ministry must focus on sensitizing people to the subtlety of happiness. That will come from making people acquire a little understanding about life -- how its different layers interplay, what controls our mind, what nourishes our soul, etc. That science of holistically looking at life is what is generally and collectively referred to as spirituality. Nothing more, nothing less!

So far Mr Chouhan seems to be on the right track. By seeking advice of the likes of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, he has shown the ministry will have a right set of advisors. Apart from being the most sought-after spiritual guru in the world today, Sri Sri also has the reputation of practically bringing happiness to millions across the globe. Incidentally, the flagship programme of his globally popular Art of Living is christened Happiness Program! His just-concluded tour under the banner of GetHappyUS drew huge crowds of happiness seekers across the US. It augurs well that the new ministry will have the counsel of someone who knows the subject well.

So what should the syllabus for training in happiness be like? Here also, Sri Sri’s Happiness Program could be a good guide. This life-skill workshop comes packed with wisdom, techniques and processes that make the abstract concept of happiness look more real and attainable. The soul of any class in happiness must focus on mind management. The students must be sensitized to the tendencies of the mind that robe it of its happy nature, and factors that make us postpone our happiness to the future need to be understood and addressed.

Sri Sri’s philosophy of happiness includes subtle lessons like appreciating the contrasting realities of life, handling mistakes and criticism, etc and facing challenges of life with equanimity. It looks at the mechanics of happiness in its totality. Take for example his revolutionary equations that establish the link between happiness and one’s personal attitude to life. In a nutshell, it teaches wisdom about life.

By combining with powerful breathing techniques, the Art of Living makes happiness a tangible proposition. The Sudarshan Kriya, which is the centerpiece of the breathing techniques taught in the Happiness Program, is known to free the mind of stress, fatigue and negativity. They make the mind focused in the moment and stops its vacillation between the anger about past and anxiety of the future, making one primed to operate from a heightened state of awareness.

That’s what the happiness ministry should aim for. Schemes like Kanyadan Yojana, Teerth Darshan and Ladli Lakshmi can boost the happiness quotient only in the short term. It will take much more than just ensuring access to food, clothing, education and medical facilities to realize the vision “inculcating a happier lifestyle” and “infusing positivity” into the lives of its citizens.

A ministry for happiness, a centre at IIT-Kharagpur to teach and research on the science of happiness…, India’s emphatic bid for happiness is far deeper than just seeking to improve her dismal rank in the global happiness index. The natural byproducts of a happy personality like good health, uplifted spirit, compassion, intuition, creativity and intelligence could work as the rocket to propel India to new heights. Tathastu!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Yechury, will you be hosting an iftar party?

The chances of the CPM Boss daring to talk against the Xinjiang ban look as remote as him turning up for Yoda Day

M Rajaque Rahman

It isn’t a mere social media mock when one hears about Indian Communists opening their umbrellas when there is rain in Moscow or China. Indian Comrades still look up to their foreign mentors as much as they accuse BJP of looking up to Nagpur for ideological inspiration.

It’s only natural to emulate one’s mentors. With the Chinese government imposing a ban on fasting during Ramzan in mainly-Muslim Xinjiang region, I was curiously watching which way Indian Communists will go. Going by their penchant for things Chinese, one would have expected them to make some noise about Indian Muslims keeping fast! After all, ‘religion is the opium of people’ and Ramzan represents one of the most overt displays of masses getting high on that ‘opium’!

Frankly speaking, I didn’t expect them to barter their ideological cap for a skull cap so easily! But then in the days of vote-bank politics, who cares for ideological sincerity. Though Indian Comrades work overtime to show how they are against religion, they often give in to the lure of its political dividends.

They always find cheap ways to be seen as pro-Muslim while pretending to be anti-religion. Take the curious case of what happened when West Bengal CPM stalwart Abdur Rezzak Mollah wanted to go to Haj pilgrimage a few years ago. All ideological resistance evaporated when Mollah threatened to tell his constituency (read Muslim voters) of the ideological opposition of the party to Haj. He was allowed to go after a not-so pious manipulation of making it look like a fun-trip to Mecca rather than a pilgrimage.

The harsh fact is that Mollah not only performed Haj, but also openly proclaimed that his devotion to the faith he was born into and the almighty is always hundred per cent.

Does it signal a readiness to smoke the opium pipe? Or is it just another case of speaking in many voices for political expediency? Unfortunately, the later was the case. The keenness to relax the ‘no religion in the cadres’ norm seems to be driven by pure vote-bank politics. The intellectual hypocrisy was further exposed when a party senior from the same state was reprimanded for being seen around the Tirupati shrine!

Last year when the Left parties debated whether they should attend Sonia Gandhi’s iftar party, the contention was less over whether Comrades are ideologically allowed to be pro-religion and attend iftar parties, but more over whether they should seen as pro-Congress! Pro-Congress, they already are. Pro-religion, they don’t have the courage. Nor are they ready to pay the price of denouncing it totally. That explains why they are seen swinging between crying foul about Yoga Day or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s spiritual Olympics and putting on a skull cap for the next iftar party.

It will be foolish to expect CPM boss Sitaram Yechury’s much talked-about pragmatism to go much beyond ignoring the Beijing diktat for the sake of appeasing Indian Muslims. The chances of him daring to talk against the Xinjiang ban look as remote as him embracing Bharatyata by turning up for Yoda Day or chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. Looks like India Comrades take Leon Trotsky seriously, albeit with a twist. The end may justify the means as long as there is something to gain politically.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Satellite images confirm AoL did no damage

Sri Sri's NGO says it’s being penalized for tempering something that didn’t even exist on Yamuna floodplains

M Rajaque Rahman

The ongoing high-profile tussle between the Art of Living and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is set for an interesting turn with former alleging that it has been penalized for damaging something that didn’t even exist.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s NGO made a high-pitched presentation to media in New Delhi claiming it has scientific evidence that will vindicate its contention of causing no damage to air, water and soil to the site where it hosted the World Culture Festival in March 2016.

“All the allegations of damage to floodplains are scientifically mala fide. An analysis of available independent satellite images of the site taken in 2000 and 2016 clearly proves that the site had no water body or wetland,” said a statement from the organization issued after the presentation. It also added that a Survey of India’s map of Delhi dating 1986 confirms the site was no wetland. Claiming that Spot Google Images show the site as leveled and ploughed agricultural land with crops like sugarcane, it says vegetables are found to be grown there since 2005.

If these claims are true, the allegations of drastically tampering with water bodies and wetlands for which the Art of Living is being made to compensate will fall flat and will raise serious questions about the motives behind raking up the case. Does NGT really think the Art of Living process an unseen power to tamper with something that doesn’t even exist?

The Art of Living reiterated its contention that all conclusions on the issue so far have been reached without any scientific studies or investigations. “Ecology, environmental science and biodiversity being established disciplines of modern science with clearly defined scientific procedures, we demand that any conclusion on the same must be based on established scientific method(s),” the statement added.

It alleged that decisions with huge implications are being taken on the basis of ballpark calculations and by casually surveying acres of land in less than an hour. It also termed the allegations of destroying the natural flow of the Yamuna as outrageous, saying the only activity over the river was construction of three temporary pontoon bridges which were dismantled immediately after the event.

“The arguments against us that we destroyed natural vegetation also falls flat as there were no signs such biodiversity on the site in the images available with us. Instead native plants and crops like gobi and palak were spotted,” it added.

Responding to the allegations of harming aquatic life around Yamuna, the statement said the Yamuna had already sunk to a pit with toxic levels which has severely affects not only the aquatic life, but also the birds that feed on them. It alleged an attempt to put the blame for years of neglect of the Yamuna on three days of Art of Living event and make it pay for it.

It also denied constructing any ramp or paved road on any portion of the Yamuna floodplains. It cited satellite images that show the existence such road even in 2000.

Saying it is committed to restoration of the floodplains if damages are scientifically established, it expressed apprehension that the compensation amount collected from it could be used up in the guise of restoring damages which are yet to be established.

Alleging that process of natural justice has been severely violated, it demanded an independent panel of experts to assess the alleged damage as per fair and scientific parameters for damage assessment.

With the Art of Living pegging its stance on standing up for the sake of saving the principle of justice, no quick end seems to be in sight. Or is it time to give medi(t)ation a chance?  

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

It's unfair to deny Art of Living a fair treatment!

M Rajaque Rahman

With the National Green Tribunal (NGT) disallowing the Art of Living’s appeal to reconstitute a fresh panel to scientifically assess the alleged damage to the Yamuna floodplains due to its World Culture Festival (WCF) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar vowing “to fight till the end for justice”, the high-profile case seems set for a long-drawn legal battle.

Soon after the verdict, Sri Sri tweeted, “Since the Art of Living has not created any air, water or soil pollution, we will fight till the end for justice.” The latest development begs the vital question why a revered saint like Sri Sri is being compelled to talk of a fight-to-finish for justice. Ever since the NGT randomly imposed a Rs 5-crore environmental compensation on the eve of WCF in March, Sri Sri has always maintained that his battle wasn’t about the money, but about standing up for justice. “I have been exhorting people to stand up against injustice and I couldn’t just bow and take the unjust verdict. We will contest this till the end,” he recently wrote in a blog post.

What is making Sri Sri’s stance look justifiable is the series of glaring inconsistencies in the handling of the case, which has been shrouded in contradictions from the beginning. Initial media reports then suggested the first assessment by a member of the NGT Principal Committee perceived no visible damage to the floodplains from the proposed event.

Even before the dust could settle on the debate over the likely damage to the Yamuna ecosystems, the NGT committee suddenly came up with a figure of Rs 120 crore as compensation cost for restoring the damage. That a responsible committee comprising eminent members can arrive at a fine of this magnitude on the basis of a visual assessment belies all logics. But what was more baffling was that the figure suddenly came down to Rs 5 crore when NGT delivered its interim order. NGT itself has proved that its assessment for damage was just a wild guess and has no sanctity.

This inconsistency gives credence to the conspiracy theory that the NGT committee overstated the damage to sabotage the event which was set to be attended by a galaxy of national and international guests. From that perspective, the same committee assessing the damage after the event defeats the principle of fair-play. For the sake of its credibility, NGT should have acceded to the Art of Living’s plea for a fresh committee as it has repeatedly questioned the logic of some of the decisions of the existing committee. 

It’s reported that the NGT committee sent a team to the spot for assessment armed with a JCB even when the Art of Living was still cleaning up the ground to live up to its promise of returning it in a better condition. More than the haste, what’s making it look illogical isthat the committee needed a JCB to dig out damages. When the pre-event assessment was purely visual, what would be the reference point for the findings of the soil tests planed? If there were a scientific assessment before the event, it would have given a clear picture of the pathetic conditions of the floodplains. Such an assessment would have accounted the fact that the very venue where the WCF took place was rotting under construction debris(malba) and there are several unauthorized permanent constructions and settlements in its vicinity.

In the absence of a reference point, there is a risk of putting the blame for years of neglect on three days of Art of Living event. It’s no secret that the Yamuna and its floodplains have already been mercilessly ravaged well before the Art of Living appeared on the scene. The contamination in the Yamuna has long crossed the threshold not just for the humans, but also the aquatic life along the river bank. Findings published in the International Journal of Environmental Sciences as early as 2014 revealed that pollution has lowered the dissolved oxygen (DO) level of Yamuna waters to zero mg/l. The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) level was found to be in the range of 4 to 29 mg/l as against the desirable value of 3 mg/l.

The Art of Living has consistently insisted that it handed back the ground “in a better condition than they received it -- greener, cleaner and with no damage to the air, water or soil.” Given the track record of the organization which is credited for rejuvenating many water bodies across the country, and in the absence of any pre-event scientific assessment, it would be unfair to dismiss the Art of Living’s claim as mere propaganda.

The Art of Living also claims that it received all necessary permissions before hosting the event. If the authorities have granted the permission to host a huge event like the WCF and expected not even a blade of grass will be touched, then they are either totally out of sync or believed too much in the divine power of Sri Sri!!! That DDA granted permission implies that the Art of Living was permitted to clean up and make the filthy and stinky place fit to host a global event.

For a fair conclusion to the case, NGT should have not only gone for an independent panel to assess the actual damage and also set fair parameters for damage assessment. Blindly reaffirming a huge compensation without proper due diligence on a reputed organization will only hurt the image of a public institution like NGT. Already questions have been raised over its attitude of seeing any complainant as a messiah and the defendant as a criminal. 

Credibility, consistency and commonsense are the cornerstones of any justice system and when there is a digression, people’s faith in the system takes a beating. The emerging inside stories behind the Ishrat Jahan encounter and Samjhauta Express blast have already exposed that the process of law in the country is not totally aboveboard.  In this context, the green watchdog need to act fast and shows that it is above suspicion.

(A former business journalist, the author is now driven by a passion to find the depth of the matter. His writings focus on adding spiritual aspects to things worldly.)

Friday, 13 May 2016

The phenomenon of making people happy!

As Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji turns 60 today, one cannot miss the unique phenomena that every moment of his life has heralded for humanity

M Rajaque Rahman

When India was celebrating the 60th year of Independence, Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji wrote these beautiful lines, throwing lights on the significance of 60th anniversary in the Indian context. “Sixty years represent a special cycle. Like Chinese years are named after animals, Indian years are names after terrestrial and celestial phenomena. The first year is called Prabhava. In Sanskrit, it means the birth of the eternal or ever present. The last year in the cycle is the 60th year, which is called Akshaya, which means undying. In between, each year denotes a certain quality or phenomena. When one completes one such cycle (60 years), it is a new beginning again.”

And when millions of admirers across the globe today celebrate the 60th birthday of Gurudev, one can’t miss the numerous phenomena that every year, and for that matter every moment, of his life has heralded for humanity. It isn’t easy to zero in on one of them and write about it. Yet one phenomenon that never fails to amaze me every time I am in his presence is the number of people he makes happy. The magic that his mere presence casts on people around is beyond any doubt. The halo around him has always been captured, with or without the camera! I even once casually joked to him saying he deserves to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for “bringing happiness to maximum number of people in minimum time”!  

Jokes apart, he actually does that every moment.  And, he doesn’t have to do it by performing a miracle of manifesting a golden ring from thin air or like that. He does it by connecting people with the Ultimate Truth. And that’s the essence of a genuine Satguru! He instills wisdom and inspires people to live a life of depth. And above all, he teaches how to stay happy.
Apart from the mind-blowing experience of Sudarshan Kriya, what overwhelmed me when I did my first Art of Living course as a skeptic journalist desperately seeking a miracle cure for my migraine was the simple way in which the highest wisdom was communicated.
With teachings which are focused on something as practical and real as breath, Gurudev has freed spirituality from dogmatic beliefs and taken it to people of all class, creeds, religions, etc. But for his pragmatic approach, I wouldn’t have been able to see the universality of spiritual wisdom and embrace it to enhance the quality of my life. It is just mesmerizing to see how Gurudev gets thousands of people from different cultures and religions seamlessly soak in themselves in spiritual practices without any fear of religious sacrilege.

And, I am not alone! The world is embracing his call for globalising wisdom with gusto. The biggest testimony of his universal appeal was the recent World Culture Festival (WCF) that he hosted in Delhi. Nearly 3.7 million people from over 150 countries coming to Delhi on their own to share his vision of One World Family was no fluke. Wherever he goes, he inspires people to forget differences and unite in a common thread of wisdom. A few years ago, over 100,000 people gathered to meditate with him in predominantly Catholic Argentina! He even gets orthodox clerics in Iraq to endorse yoga and meditation as a way to attain taqwa (Islamic term for God-consciousness)!

For someone who hasn’t experienced the spiritual realm, it’s intriguing to see how Gurudev gets people from different cultures and religions seamlessly soak in spiritual wisdom. Without doubt, he makes people come out of their limited understanding of their faith and see the unity of God. Interestingly, he has this unique ability to make everybody understands his teachings in the context of their own faiths. Often devotees talk how they see in Gurudev a Jesus, Nanak or Krishna for that matter, depending on what faith they come from. Contrast this with the teachings of evangelists who make conversion to one particular faith or the other mandatory to get the wisdom.

Gurudev has shown the world that truth is universal. From Iraq to Pakistan to Kosovo to Argentina, he has proved that spirituality transcends all barriers. He has been welcomed into mosques, has addressed churches and touched hearts. I recall a media report that quoted a Pakistani as saying he got a real experience of India after meeting Gurudev during his maiden visit to the country in 2002. It will be no exaggeration to say Gurudev has done to Indian spirituality what Swami Vivekananda did to sensitise the world to the Vedanta philosophy and Mahatma Gandhi to the ideal of ahimsa.

A Master’s life is his message. And in this age, none have embodied his message as eloquently as has Gurudev. No wonder, his words have inspired millions to give up self-centeredness and live a life of service and philanthropy. His movement, the Art of Living, today champions several sustainable interventions in virtually every area that concerns the world. Be it global climate change, or education to underprivileged children or checking fanaticism, Gurudev always plays the role of a force-multiplier by inspiring millions to take responsibility of their society, nation and the humanity as a whole.

So what is it that makes Gurudev so special, so unique and so popular? More I try to comprehend how his magic works, more confounded it becomes. Yet there are obvious signs that he epitomizes a phenomenon that would be beyond the comprehension of worldly commentators and critics! He fulfills the five criteria of a true Master that are mentioned in the sastras. In his presence, knowledge blossoms; sorrow diminishes; joy wells up without any reason; lack diminishes, abundance dawns and all talents manifest. Only one who is free can bring freedom. And this is so obvious in his presence.

As he completes one cycle (60 years), it is a new beginning. And surely the world stands to immensely benefit from that new beginning!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Who says ‘un-guru like’ pursuits don’t deserve Nobel?

M Rajaque Rahman

The raging debate over a passing remark by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to an out-of-context question from a reporter is a sad commentary on the ebbing depth of discourse in the country. The critical issue of water scarcity in Maharashtra for which the press conference was held doesn’t seem to appeal to the national conscience. The point is we are rapidly becoming a society that revels in controversies and problems rather than one that cares for what’s going on in the country.

Even those who are indulging in a needless debate are also not interested in knowing whether Malala Yousafzai has actually done enough to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Or what it takes to win a Nobel! They are just hell-bent on venting out their prejudices against (or for) Sri Sri. Nobody seems interested to honestly judge him by what he really is or objectively look at his body of work which has been exceptionally multifaceted and multidimensional.

One columnist even went to the extent of suggesting that it’s sinful for a spiritual guru to take an interest in the worldly affairs. But, Sri Sri surely defies any outdated stereotyping! If galvanizing action to end perennial droughts or rushing food and relief supplies to women and children trapped in Iraq or speaking up against injustice and corruption is a mundane activity of the world, then Sri Sri would prefer to indulge in such ‘un-guru like behaviours.

Though he is the most venerated spiritual guru in the world today, he must also be equally credited for turning spirituality into a vehicle for changing the world.

By seamlessly combining ‘inner peace’ with ‘outer action’, he has managed to usher in visionary actions that give the hope that the ideal world we aspire for is still a realizable dream. He doesn’t see spirituality as a mere pursuit of an inner experience of peace and enlightenment. This paradigm shift partially explains how Sri Sri has managed to get a huge population of young people interested in spirituality.

This is critically significant for India at a time when "vectorless energy looking for guidance and direction," has been used as the main fodder for radicalization across the world. Sri Sri’s brand of spirituality which is pragmatic and action-oriented can effectively prevent “the urge to change the world” from turning into destructive pursuits.

In the last 35 years, his movement has also propelled several sustainable interventions in virtually every area that concerns the world. Be it global climate change, or education to underprivileged children or checking fanaticism, Sri Sri has played the role of a force-multiplier by inspiring millions to take responsibility of their society, nation and the humanity as a whole.

More than the range of activities, it’s their depth that makes it relevant for the masses. Take the example of the Art of Living’s river rejuvenation project that has so far restored 17 rivers in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, impacting over 6 lakh people. These mostly volunteer-driven initiatives have regenerated the water bodies with a budget that is nearly one-tenth of the government estimates.

Be it promoting organic farming or providing disaster relief or peace education, what makes Sri Sri’s interventions unique is his approach of “seeing things as they are” without any prejudice and addressing the root cause. This very philosophy has also helped him emerge as the most interesting peacemaker in the world who is willing to venture even into world’s most dreaded conflict zones like Iraq and Syria. He is reported to have even reached out to ISIS in an effort to help stop the violence and killing.

A firm believer in the power of dialogue, Sri Sri has been able to talk peace even those who take to violent means to fight injustice and oppression. That’s exactly what he managed to do in Columbia last year by getting the rebel group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) back to the negotiating table. The rebel group which has been waging a guerrilla war for five decades that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced over 7 million people was eventually convinced to announce a unilateral ceasefire.

Apart from the material achievements, Sri Sri has also immensely contributed as a brand ambassador of India by taking her geniuses to over 156 countries. By articulating the essence of ancient Indian wisdom sans the orthodoxy, he has opened up the world to the brighter side of India.

The recently concluded World Culture Festival that Sri Sri hosted in Delhi was another extension of his work in this direction. By bringing people from over 150 countries in an atmosphere of celebration, the festival served as the most powerful PR blitz for India.

It’s a different matter that a movement that harnesses inner peace for outer action towards global peace and co-existence hasn’t beeped on the Nobel radar. Paradoxically, it seems it takes a bullet to honour peace!