Art of Living founder says some fears about CAA, NRC have not been addressed.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living (AoL), is widely revered as a spiritual leader who intervenes on social issues as well from time to time. Though spirituality has been his forte, he has played a key role in conflict resolution around the world. Born in 1956 in Papanasam in Tamil Nadu, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was a gifted child. By the age of four, he was able to recite parts of the Bhagavad Gita. By the age of 17, Sri Sri had graduated with degrees in both Vedic literature and physics. He founded the AoL whose educational and self-development programmes have helped a large number of people eliminate stress and foster a feeling of happiness. Besides reviving India’s ancient wisdom, Sri Sri has created “Sudarshan Kriya”, a new technique for personal and social transformation. Regarded as a neutral figure with the sole agenda of peace, he represents hope to people in conflict. He has received particular credit for bringing opposing parties to the negotiating table in Colombia, Iraq, the Ivory Coast, Kashmir and Bihar.
Sri Sri was part of the mediation panel, constituted by the Supreme Court, to resolve the vexed Ayodhya-Ram Janambhoomi title case. Since the mediation effort failed, the Supreme Court finally delivered judgment on the matter last month. In the first-ever e-mail interview to any newspaper after the judgment, he, however, told The Sunday Guardian that the mediation did not fail. According to him, the settlement was reached between the “main” parties, but “some of them” felt they can win the case. On the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), he said that there was lack of preparedness. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: You were part of the mediation panel on the Ayodhya-Ram Janambhoomi title case. What, in your view, was the reason that the efforts failed? Do you think an out-of-court settlement would have been a better option?
A: Definitely, an out-of-court settlement would have been the best option. But there were 25 parties and some of them thought they will win because their case was very strong. Though the settlement was reached between the main parties, since all the 25 could not sign it, it had to go through the court judgment. So I would consider it as a combination of judgment and settlement which was reached between the parties. Nobody can say that the mediation failed. There were too many parties involved, too many divergent views. We had met some 1,200 institutional leaders who had agreed for an amicable settlement. Perhaps that could be the reason that after the judgment, there was no violence at all.
Q: Do you think the Hindutva issue will be put to rest by the political parties after the Supreme Court delivered a final judgment on the issue?
A: This you have to ask the political parties. I think this issue is behind us. I can’t speak for all political forces, what they intend to do or what their politics is, but this burning issue (Ayodhya matter) that has been going on for the last 500 years has definitely been put to rest.
Q: What is you view on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC)? Do you think these will correct the mistakes of the past?
A: To bring about any reform or correct anything in society, what is needed is to educate people and alleviate their fears and concerns. I think such exercise is needed before any such sensitive issue. Like what we did in Ayodhya, where for a year and a half, we had been sensitising people about the gravity of the case and the possible solutions that would emerge. So there is preparedness. With this NRC and CAA, there are a lot of rumours, misunderstandings and lack of communication and there are some fears that have not been addressed. I feel that could have been addressed better.
Q: You are a spiritual leader, but you are also involved in political issues. How fair is it to club the two?
A: Actually, that is not true. I am not involved in all political issues but I am definitely involved in issues concerning people. Every single day, we meet thousands of people, spiritual leaders, who come to us with their grievances. We care for the society. Spirituality is not apathy towards social issues. We are definitely connected with social issues, whether it is reviving rivers, or talking against the caste system or any type of gender inequality and discrimination; we always stand up for justice. So we all have to work towards resolving those issues.
Q: How grave is the threat of terrorism spreading its tentacles all over the world? Do you agree with the term “Islamic terrorism”?
A: Unfortunately, terrorism is seen through the prism of two colours by the public—the red terror (Maoism and Naxalism) and the other is Islamic terror. It is wrong to say that terrorists are practicing any spirituality or religion per se. We need to de-radicalise religions and philosophies. When the human values and common good of the people are overlooked and any philosophy looks at violence as a means to an end, it is deplorable, and should be shunned.
Q: Is there any difference between being a “religious” person and a “spiritual” person?
A: Yes, I always give the analogy that religion is the banana skin and spirituality is the banana. Spirituality verily is the inner experience of connection with the universal divinity and truth, whereas religion is about traditions, customs and belief systems.
Q: The ancient spiritual wisdom, provided by the Indian rishis and munis, seems to be on the wane in India. Western ideas are taking over Indians’ minds. Social values are diminishing. How can the Indian, Vedic knowledge be revived again? What is going to be India’s role in the world in the coming years?
A: I would say it is the other way around. People around the world are appreciating the gifts of Vedic knowledge from India. For example, Yoga, which was considered weird in the West, is today being practiced by more than one third of the world population. The popularity of Vedic chanting and kirtans around the world is at an all-time high. Today, people are fascinated by meditation and it is even being recommended by doctors. From South America to Mongolia, people are practicing meditation. All the spiritual programmes at hundreds of institutions are filled with young people. At the same time, the knowledge has to be scientifically attested and appeal to the intellect.
Q: Do you believe in the concept of India being a Hindu nation?
A: Hinduism means all inclusive. The Hindu philosophy is to include everyone as part of you. There is no alien in Hindu Dharma.