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 But, Sri Sri surely defies any outdated stereotyping!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!