The boy, who recited Bhagavad Gita from the age of four, today combines deep spiritualism with an insistence on dialogue to end strife across the world
“We all have the responsibility of bringing peace to every nook and corner of the world. Unless every member of our global family is peaceful, our peace is incomplete,” says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on why he has voluntarily taken up so many initiatives to bring peace across the world.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is one of the busiest men in the country today. Flying in and flying out to try and work for globalpeace, talking to different warring groups, at home he has also been a catalyst in working towards solving the Ayodhya issue.
Even as the Supreme Court began hearing the Ayodhya dispute case, a delegation from Lucknow met Sri Sri in Bengaluru to find an “amicable solution” to the issue.
The six-member delegation — executive member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Salman Husaini Nadwi, UP Sunni Central Waqf Board chairperson Zufar Farooqui, former IAS officer Anis Ansari, advocate Imran Ahmed, Maulana Wasif Hasan Waizi of Teeli Wali Masjid and director of Objective Research and Development Athar Husain — had a three-hour meeting with the Art of Living founder.
“We discussed various aspects of the dispute and how a consensus can be reached between Hindus and Muslims. Another round of meeting can be held in Ayodhya in March where seers and clerics will discuss the issue,” Athar Husain said.
Farooqui said, “The waqf board is ready for all kinds of negotiations, provided people from both sides are present at the table.”
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s motive is to end the issue as soon as possible and do so amicably.
According to Sri Sri, an out-of-court settlement would be the best solution to the dispute in Ayodhya and that he would talk to all stakeholders in this regard.
What one can achieve through friendship can never be done through conflicts, the spiritual leader has been stressing throughout in recent times.
With strong belief in the power of dialogue, he has brought to the table opposing parties in Iraq, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Northeast India and the Naxal groups.
This spiritual leader has the unique reputation of being able to engage with all sides of a conflict leaders, victims and rebels.
‘My vision is a violence-free, stress-free world’, says this humanitarian ambassador. He doesn’t mind taking risks and does not hesitate going to dangerous places to tame the lions in their own dens.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of the ‘Art of Living Foundation’, one of world’s largest humanitarian, non-governmental organisations.
He propagates his ideologies through the countless ‘ashrams’ and Art of Living institutes all around the world. Ravi Shankar is a multi-faceted social activist and his humanitarian initiatives include conflict resolution, trauma relief and poverty eradication.
He feels that deep meditation and a breathing technique known as the ‘Sudarshan Kriya’, once directly integrated in one’s daily life, will calm the mind and bring about positivity and vigour. He reaches out to over 370 million people around the world through personal teachings, social interactions, public events and Art of Living workshops.It has been a fascinating journey.
Born in a small town Papanasam in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, to Visalakshmi Ratnam and RSVenkat Ratnamhe was able to recite verses from the Bhagwad Geeta, an ancient Sanskrit text and also started practicing meditation with his parents by the age of four.
He began studying Vedic literature with Sudhakar Chaturvedi and simultaneously attended the school at MES in Bangalore. In 1973, at the age of 17, he graduated with degrees in both Physics and Vedic Literature.
After graduation, he travelled with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, under whose tutelage he started giving sermons on Vedic science in Ayurveda centres. During this period, he became the Maharishi’s close friend and confidante.
Through the 1980s, he travelled around the world and preached spirituality. He established the Art of Living Foundation in 1982 and in 1983 he held the first Art of Living course in Switzerland. In 1986, he travelled to California for an Art of Living workshop and soon became popular in America.
Towards the end of the 80s, he introduced a series of effective breathing exercises, the ‘Sudarshan-Kriya’. It is said that the inspiration to come up with a new breathing technique came to him while he was meditating on the banks of the Bhadra River in Shimoga, Karnataka.
Sudarshan Kriya facilitates physical, mental and emotional well-being. Independent medical research from reputed medical institutions is said to have documented the impact of these techniques on the alleviation of depression, reduced cortisol (stress hormone) and strengthened immune system.
In 1997, he founded the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), a humanitarian organisation that aims to bring sustainable development to rural areas and revive human values and morals
In India, he has started 435 schools offering free education to the underprivileged, benefitting over 58,000 children.
Sri Sri has been conferred with various international awards including the highest civilian award of Colombia, Mongolia, and Paraguay. Back home, he has been conferred Padma Vibhushan, the country’s highest award for exceptional and distinguished service. He has been conferred 16 Honorary Doctorates globally and he travels to nearly 40 countries a year.
Sri Sri’s one message has always been that the world is one family, and that diverse religions, cultures, and traditions are rooted in the same human values of love, compassion, peace, and non-violence.
He convened the World Culture Festival in 2016 on the banks of Yamuna which brought together over 3.75 million people from 155 countries with spectacular performances on a breath-taking 7-acre stage by 36,602 dancers and musicians from around the globe, celebrating the diversity of all faiths and cultures.
Sri Sri has been engaging with all sections of society in Jammu & Kashmir since 2004. From separatist leaders to those who are resorting to stone pelting, to Sufi saints and intellectuals, there have been continuous dialogue with all stakeholders in Jammu &Kashmir for over a decade.
“I’m very grateful to Gurudev for coming here to the Valley. I request him to bring peace to the world and to Jammu &Kashmir. We bestow this responsibility on him because he has a heart that feels and truly understands human values.” Syed Ali Shah Geelani had said welcoming Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference organised by The Art of Living in the valley in 2007.
From meeting with Hurriyat leaders, including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, to ensuring smooth passage of ShriAmarnathYatra to promoting communal harmony, he has effectively worked for establishing peace in the Valley.
He has also inspired over 5,000 misguided youth who were caught in the web of armed insurgency to shun the path of violence and become useful members of society through the Youth Leadership Training Programs.
In 2017, The Art of Living organised Paigam e Mohabbat - A moving event of reconciliation and forgiveness that brought together 200 families of slain militants & 40 families of soldiers who sacrificed their lives. They came together to give a clarion call to the youth of Kashmir to walk the path of non-violence.
It was a heart-touching moment for everyone to see the families share the pain they have gone through and renounce the culture of militancy, which has claimed their dear ones.
A softening of hearts was very apparent when a former militant Abdul Majeed said, “Youth must drop their guns and follow the path of peace. We have come here because Gurudev (Sri Sri) is a big personality who does big work. We hope that he will get us a solution through talks.”
“We have come with a lot of hope. We didn’t expect that we would have the chance to come to a space like this. We have lost a lot. Now we want to spread a message of love to the nation,” added Ajaz Ahmad Mir from Ganderbal. “People of both sides have been killed whether they are from the Army or the other side. We are unable to sleep at night, can’t go out in the day. We want peace. We have come to Gurudev with the hope for peace,” added GhulamHussain, a former militant.
Sri Sri has been spending a lot of time in guiding leaders from the Northeast region to shun violence. His strategy paid off in 2017 with the homecoming of 68 militants in Manipur. The Art of Living played a major role in changing the hearts and minds of these cadres.
In 2010 also in Manipur, 128 militants laid down their arms and were subsequently rehabilitated by the Art of Living. The group underwent a 90-day intensive behavioral, spiritual and vocational rehabilitation training conducted by the organisation.
Several former underground leaders led by General Secretary of ULFA Anup Chetia embraced the idea of finding strength in diversity through continued dialogue.
Sri Sri travelled to Rajasthan in June 2008 to diffuse the violence and tension that had engulfed the state following an agitation by the Gujjar community demanding recognition as a backward community (scheduled tribe status) and reservation benefits.
On his advice, the agitators agreed to hold negotiations with the government. Within a few days of starting negotiations, an amicable solution was reached between the agitators and government bringing to an end the 19-day imbroglio.
Significantly, it was the first time, since the agitation began that the Gujjars were willing to listen to a mediator.
To provide solace to the protesting Gujjars, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar met 50,000 members of the community on the rail tracks of Pilukapura, where they were sitting in protest and blocking rail traffic. Sri Sri urged them to shun their violent protest and hold dialogue in a peaceful manner:
One of the earliest cases of conflict resolution taken up by The Art of Living was in Bihar in the beginning of the 21st century.
Caste conflict between upper caste group RanvirSena and Communist Party of India, Marxist-Leninist (CPIML) had taken the ugliest form in Bihar during the 1990s. Violence was rampant in the form of arson, mass killings, extortions and other ways.
In 2001, Sri Sri visited Masaudhi, a conflict-ridden region, and appealed to the audience of 50,000 people to give non-violence a chance. Through dialogue and by uniting groups in community and in solidarity, Gurudev made inroads to peace between the warring factions of Bihar and other Naxalite areas of India. These leaders were then separately invited to The Art of Living centre in Rishikesh to meet Sri Sriin person.
Once the warring groups reached Rishikesh and became aware of each other’s presence in the same place, conflict began to boil again. With skilful intervention, they were made to sit together for the programme, where they learned breathing and meditation techniques. By the end of the course they voluntarily swore to give up their arms and channel their efforts toward community service.
• 71 million trees planted in 36 countries and 26 Indian states
• Over 20 lakh Lakshmitaru saplings planted across India.
• 9 million trees planted under the initiative of Mission Green Earth.
• Generating awareness about natural farming through seminars, training workshops, model farm visits, awareness programs and KrishiMelas (farmer meets).
• Over 2.2 million people trained in Sri Sri Natural Farming, a sustainable solution to address the challenge of ensuring food security for a growing population.
• 2 million acres have been brought under cultivation through natural farming.
• 115,000 farmers in suicide prone areas empowered through leadership workshops.
• Seed banks set up across the country to promote preservation of indigenous seed varieties.
Water conservation & River rejuvenation
• Water Conservation and River Rejuvenation is going on in 35 rivers and its tributaries across Maharashtra, Karnataka , Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Yamuna cleaning campaign ‘MeriDilliMeri Yamuna’
• Around 512 tons of clothes, plastic, garbage removed during the“Clean Yamuna Campaign”
As a part of the Pampa River Cleaning Campaign:
• 600 tons of garbage removed
• 68,800 volunteer hours spent on the project
• 30 lakh people sensitized through direct interaction
• 377 school children and staff from 8 Sri Sri Ravi Shankar VidyaMandirSchools participated in the initiative.
Light a home
• Over 65,000 people across 18,500 households benefitted from solar lighting under ‘The Light a Home’ project in the tribal areas of Arunachal Pradesh,Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu among others.
• 8 Solar Micro Grids in India set up for the Integrated Rural Energy Access Model Village Program.
• Solar Grids provided in nine schools in the rural belts of Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan.
• 1,033 Yuvacharyas (Youth Leaders) trained as Renewable Energy Technicians to install Renewable Energy Products.
Purified drinking water:
• Trained 60 Rural Youths as JalSevaks to manufacture low cost Bio Sand Water Filters.
• Provided safe drinking water to more than 45,000 individuals in 267 villages by setting up four community water filters, distributing individual water filters and making 78 bore-wells in the states of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha.
• Installation of seven Community RO and Bio Sand Filters in Karnataka and West Bengal.
One of Art of Living’s unique programmes is rehabilitating prisoners and has reached out to over 7,00,000 prisoners globally. For instance, in Uruguay, the Ministry of Interior has reduced the prison sentence for those prisoners who have taken the Art of Living Prison Program.
The AoL volunteersabroad mobilizetrauma and disaster relief for affected people in Mexico, Haiti, USA, Germany, Canada, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Japan.
Brokering peace deal between Colombia& FARC
One of the major achievements of Sri Sri has been the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas after 52 years of civil war. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who supported Sri Sri in reaching out to the FARC, went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his efforts to bring peace in the country.
FARC leadership underwent a complete change of heart after meeting Sri Sri. They declared ceasefire, vowed to adopt the Gandhian principle of non-violence to achieve their goals, sought forgiveness for their crimes and have reborn as a political party.
Ivan Marquez, former FARC commander and chief negotiator in the peace talks, says, “The teachings of The Art of Living are essential to achieve a stable, and long lasting peace. We hope that the peace in Colombia serves as an inspiration for the world.”
The Art of Living is one of the few non-governmental agencies still operating in Baghdad. In collaboration with the IAHV, the organization’s initiatives including holistic medical care program and women’s empowerment projects as well as trauma relief programs, have benefited over 50,000 Iraqi citizens. Sri Srihimself has visited the country three times. The Art of Living is now working with special focus on war survivors camping in Northern Iraq.
Over 6000 women have been provided vocational training in tailoring and computer literacy. Several prison programs have been conducted in Iraq’s correctional homes. Over 100 Iraqi citizens, mostly women from Baghdad, Basra, Suleimania and Karbala have undergone rigorous training to become Art of Living teachers and are working to alleviate the suffering of fellow Iraqis.
The Art of Living and IAHV are also working in the wake of the humanitarian crisis unleashed by the ISIS to bring material and spiritual relief to the 1.5 million internally displaced men, women and children in Iraq. Relief materials have been distributed to more than 8,000 families and orphaned children in Erbil, Duhok and Khazir.
Trauma Care in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan
The organisation is also actively working to help Syrian refugees and war survivors in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq cope with the trauma of the prolonged conflict in the region. The stress relief, trauma healing and resilience workshops of The Art of Living have been provided to over 20,000 survivors. Since children are the most vulnerable group in any conflict, The Art of Living has launched its programs to help children release their trauma and tendencies of self-harm and prevent the terrorism recruitment machinery that preys on their vulnerability.
A social worker in the Zatari camp said, “We are working in an environment that is in dire need of psychosocial activities. I have never seen such an effective stress relief as in this workshop. This will heavily reflect on the type of work that I do, and will allow me to truly benefit the Syrian refugees that I work with.”
Today, the Art of Living Foundation is present in over 152 countries, with over a million followers. There are a number of other institutes and ashrams, such as, ‘VedVignanMahavidyapeeth’, ‘Sri Sri Ayurveda’, and ‘The Sri Sri School for Performing Arts and Fine Arts’ and ‘Sri Sri Pre-University College’ which carry forward his legacy
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is also the Chancellor of Sri Sri University and the Chairman of the Quality Control of India Yoga Certification Committee. He is also a member of the Amarnath Shrine Board (appointed by Government of Jammu & Kashmir, India). Gurudevwas the Chairman of Reception Committee for the 500th anniversary celebrations of the Coronation of Krishnadevaraya (by Government of Karnataka, India).
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