Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is an extraordinarily busy man. In the two and a half days the Indian lifestyle guru spent in Pakistan, he visited three cities, spoke at two major events and inaugurated two Art of Living Centres. He also met with various religious figures and politicians, scores of devotees and left an indelible mark on many.
And yet, as he settled down for his exclusive interview with the Jang/Geo team, Sri Sri looked as though he had just emerged from a deep reverie or recently returned from an extended vacation. His clothes looked immaculately clean and freshly starched; his eyes sparkled and a slight smile played upon his lips. I was reminded of how once an Art of Living teacher described the Art of Living “sudarshan kriya” that Sri Sri developed as a form of “energy management”. Surely, there is method to his madness.
What was perhaps most striking about meeting Sri Sri was his simplicity. Barefoot and simply clad, the man whom his devotees affectionately call “Guru-ji” radiates affability and humour. Yet, his achievements are staggering: Sri Sri has been described as the fifth most powerful person in India. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, he founded the Art of Living Foundation in 1981, when he was just 25 years old. Now, the organisation boasts over almost 30 million followers, and has ashrams across the world.
Sri Sri travels to as many as 40 countries in a year, spreading his message of peace, unity, and the power of meditation. His philosophy and the techniques of ‘sudarshan kirya’ have found root in all corners of the world, cutting across religious, cultural and national boundaries. Breath is non-denominational, Sri Sri asserts, and the philosophy of love is common to all religions.
Having last visited in Pakistan in 2004, Sri Sri spoke of how happy he was to return. He talked about the natural affinity between Pakistanis and Indians, and the similarities in culture, music and food. “After all, between junta (the populace) of the two countries, there is no peace, no hatred, there’s a special kind of love.”
His trip to Pakistan, Sri Sri emphasised, was aimed at promoting peace between Pakistan and India. The approach? Improve trade relations between the two countries, promote cultural exchanges and start a religious dialogue, Sri Sri explained. “If we come together, we can become a major economic power.”
Sri Sri strongly praised Aman ki Asha, the Indo-Pak peace initiative jointly launched by the Times of India and the Jang Group of Pakistan, adding that he only wished it had been started sooner. He emphasised the importance of such initiatives to further people-to-people contacts.
Sri Sri shared how he was greeted with scepticism over two decades ago when he spoke of unity and peace while visiting divided Germany. Some people may be inclined to view his position about the Indo-Pak relations similarly, he added, but peace between the two countries is imminently attainable. “Look at France and Germany,” he exhorted. “After 400 years of conflict, they have come together.”
“It’s a long journey,” Sri Sri smiled. “It won’t be achieved pal bhar (immediately) but we need to take the first step.”
After all, that’s how a million mile journey begins.
— Laleh Habib