Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Meditation Magazine Interview

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  • Kevin: Thank you for being here, Gurudev. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to speak with you on the topic of peace in the world and how we can bring peace to this world for our upcoming peace issue of Meditation Magazine. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is one of the leading peace advocates, world-renowned for his work in resolving conflicts, national conflicts in Colombia and in India. What he did in Colombia is amazing, ending a 50-year conflict by coming in as a mediator. It’s really beautiful to see the work that you’ve done to bring peace into this world. Thank you for that, Gurudev. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and thank you for being here today to speak with us on how we can help to bring peace in the world in general.

    Gurudev: Wonderful, Kevin. Nice to be with you.

    Kevin: I want to ask you about nonviolence because nonviolence is really the core of the peace issue, how we can help resolve conflicts through nonviolence and ahimsa and compassion and understanding. So, I want to ask you, what is the core of your philosophy of resolving conflicts using nonviolence?

    Gurudev: You know, the cause for violence is misunderstanding, stress, and threat perception from the other. Nobody will be violent towards someone whom they don’t feel threatened by, right? So, here you need to change the perception. Second, we need to bring down the stress level. Third, trust building is essential. Then, you see, nonviolence will be natural to us.

    Kevin: Is there a spiritual component to your philosophy of nonviolence as well?

    Gurudev: Oh yeah, yeah. You know, if you have any type of rage or anger or violence in you, you can’t progress in the spiritual path. Meditation is impossible, or higher states of consciousness are not possible unless and until we take these steps of compassion, forgiveness, nonviolence. In the yoga philosophy, nonviolence is the first step one has to take in order to go into y.

    Kevin: Thank you, Gurudev. I want to ask you, what was it that you brought to the conversation in Colombia that you feel helped to resolve conflict there?

    Gurudev: You know, we have been working with the internally displaced refugees in Colombia. There was a lot of trauma, and meditation relieves people of their past traumas. We had taken care of a couple of million people there. So, for that, the Colombian government decided to give us their highest civilian award. At the time, we had a conversation with the president. It was supposed to be just a handshake, but then it lasted for about an hour or so. The president was very worried. He said, “We are left with only the military option because the FARC was not amicable to any solutions.” Every day, there used to be bomb blasts. They would bring down the telephone towers and television towers, and water supply was disrupted. So then, I asked the president, “How about I go and talk to them?” He said, “Any help is welcome, but I don’t think there is much hope. You know, 52 years is too much. We have had a lot of suffering.”

    So, I took a flight to Cuba, and they were there, 14 of them, the commanders. Initially, they were an arm’s distance from me. They said, “No, we don’t want to meet anyone spiritual or religious. Our bible is capital. We follow the communist principle, so we’re not interested.” But then, that evening, when I gave a talk at the University of Havana, they sent their feelers. Afterwards, they agreed to meet with me. They requested a meeting. So, I welcomed them in the hotel where I was staying. The talk went on. Initially, their intention was to convince me to talk to the Colombian government to stop atrocities against them. I told them, “Yeah, I understand. You are all victims as well, and I know you have a lot of heartburn, a lot of issues. I am also for social justice. But if you pursue the path of violence and come to the mainstream to place your demands, together we can all improve the situation.”

    Initially, they were not willing, but then they all meditated with me. After meditation, they said, “This is something we were lacking in our movement.” Then they followed me to the Indian Embassy. We had three days of deliberation and meditations with them. Interestingly, they took a three-day silence program also. Afterwards, they were all like children. They were so genuine, they were good people. Then we did a forgiveness exercise. We brought the victims of their violence from Colombia. We flew them in. They sat with them, they asked for forgiveness. “Will we be forgiven for our sins?” It was such a moving moment, Kevin. There was not one dry eye. Everybody had tears in their eyes. They embraced each other. Meditation has a big impact on the psyche of people.

    I’m glad you are taking meditation as the theme of your magazine. This is the language of the wise. When you have silence, when you practice meditation, you can give that. It happens from your presence. Like someone who is angry can trigger anger in everybody around them, when you have peace, you can influence that peace in others through your own vibration. You don’t even do it, it happens.

    Kevin: Thank you, Gurudev. It’s amazing to hear that it was meditation and the forgiveness exercise that really helped to bring peace in Colombia. It’s an amazing thing that a practice that we hold as a personal practice within ourselves can make such a huge impact in the world. I want to ask you about the philosophy of nonviolence. I think we all agree the ideal is nonviolence always. But the question that I often get asked when I advocate for pure nonviolence is, some people say, “Oh, if the United States had been nonviolent in World War II, then we’d all be speaking German right now,” as an example. People often justify the use of violence by saying that the nuclear bombs ended World War II. Do you believe that violence is always wrong and we should always choose nonviolence, or do you feel that sometimes violence is needed or justified?

    Gurudev: See, there is a difference between self-defense and violence. Violence is an action which comes out of rage, anger, and hatred. But self-defense is much different from violence. Here, you are making sense when you are acting that way. For example, I would say a police officer, when he is keeping law and order or keeping the calm of a city, and to keep that he has to take some action against some crazy people, you don’t call it violence unless the police is prejudiced. If the police has prejudice, then their action becomes violence. But their acting to keep law and order, to keep things safe, is not called violence. Similarly, the soldiers who defend a nation’s freedom, you don’t call them engaged in violent activity. You say they are there to protect nonviolence. They are the protector of compassion, the protector of peace from those elements who are disturbing the peace of others. There is a difference between having a fence to protect a garden and someone who is destroying the garden, right? In this sense, I wouldn’t call that violence, but an action which would prevent violence from affecting the whole community.

    Kevin: Thank you for that, Gurudev. I’m really trying to find what the limits are of these philosophies of nonviolence as much as I can and understand how it can be applied in real-life situations. Right now, we have a very difficult situation in the Middle East. Israel is trying to defend itself, and they’ve gone very far in that response toward trying to eliminate the terrorists. They have killed many, many innocent people as well. Where do you draw the line in terms of self-defense?

    Gurudev: War, I would say, is the worst act of reason. Whenever someone starts war, they will give you all the reasons, all the judgments. It will appear to you that they are doing the just thing, what is right. But to me, these are generated in the minds of people. If people who are in positions of responsibility meditate, I tell you, and if they tap the intuitive ability that they have, it will be a completely different story. Same with Ukraine and Russia. I would say you need better mediators here. Usually, mediators sit with problems. I would say, ask each party what the solution they have is, and you sit with the solution. You can find something. We did this for this 500-year-old conflict in India. You know about the Ayodhya Ram temple issue. Seventy-two wars have been fought on this one thing. But sitting across the table, sitting with people who are neutral or who have credibility can make a whole difference. The whole thing got resolved. Five acres was given to Muslims in another place. Actually, they were in possession of two and a half acres. Double the land was given, and this birthplace of Rama was given to the Hindus. In this one case, I would tell you, there was so much bloodshed that has happened. So many governments have fallen on this one particular issue in India. So, nobody asked for five acres of land. It was my initiative. Then I said, “Look, if not now, 100 years later, 200 years later, someone will come and say our land has been taken away.” That can be a cause of terrorism, or it can create a spark of hatred. So, nip the bud of hatred. Nip it at the bud. If you see there is a flame of hatred that might start in the future, nip it at the very beginning. That’s what we did by giving five acres and making the parties understand. With Israel and Palestine, I tell you, it’s not a very different situation from what India faced in 2006. India could have gone to war with Pakistan on this one issue. There were international people, there were Jewish people from Israel. They were being shot down. So many Indian businessmen were shot down. But India was very wise to act on that. What is needed is proper communication. Tit for tat will not work. Two wrongs cannot make one thing right. So, you have to really have patience and deal with it. In the year 2008, I tell you, Kevin, India faced such terrible terror attacks, one every month the whole year. So, people were angry, no doubt. But you have to restrain your anger and see what makes sense and then go and act on it. I’m not saying show the other cheek and get slapped from the other party and be compassionate. No, I’m saying you must take action, but make sure in your action you are not creating more adversities than what you find. Rather, in your action, you are supporting those actions, those things which you don’t want to happen. Here, in Israel and Palestine, I see the same thing happening. With the action that is happening, the party who had done the initial wrong things are getting more compassion or more sympathy. This is a very important thing. You should never allow the person whom you want to punish to gain sympathy.

    Kevin: Wow, thank you. Thank you for that very deep answer. I really appreciate it. Another thing that I deal with as a magazine owner and editor and publisher in general is, when I try to promote peace by taking the side of peace over war, many people do appreciate this approach. But many people also push back and say, “We can’t just take the side of humanity and peace. We must take a side in the conflict and call out the aggressor.”

    Gurudev: I would say they are partially correct. You cannot just sit and say, “Okay, I’ll meditate and send only positive vibrations.” You have to take some steps. But whatever steps you take, actions you take, should be well thought about. That intuitive action or intuitive decision can only come through meditation. So, they are not opposites. When you meditate, you get the right thought, you get the right intuition, because you are not impulsive. You are not coming out of rage to do an action which you end up regretting. Your keenness of awareness makes a difference. Also, Kevin, I’d like to tell you, we all emit vibrations. The whole universe is just vibrations. When we have positive vibrations, it impacts the whole atmosphere. For example, what was happening in Washington, DC in the last week of September and the first of October. The government was going to shut down, and there was a lot of chaos. The media was saying this is going to happen for sure, the government is going to shut down. But we had a program there. We had 1.1 million people sit in silence and meditate for 20 minutes. The three days we had the program, the government did not shut down. They came into some understanding. They signed the bill because we created such positive vibes. The police department said we have never seen a gathering which had no violence, no issues, no tiffs, or no conflict there. Another interesting thing, the survey says there was no homicide that whole week in Washington, DC. Every day there has been a homicide in DC, but that week, when people had assembled to meditate, no homicide. It’s not surprising for me, but for those who do not believe in meditation, it’s surprising. I have seen the same thing with hundreds and thousands of Naxalites or the guerrilla movement in India. When they took to meditation, their whole attitude changed. Where there used to be massacres every year, one or two in the state of Bihar, you will not hear of them anymore. Because we approached them, talked to them, made sure that they knew we understood them. We did the same thing in Denmark. Six thousand gang members, when they took to meditation, their lives totally changed. These people, who moved around with guns, are now doing social work. They’re helping people out.

    We also started a program called Cities for Peace in the United States, in several cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago. We brought together the police and the inner-city gang members to sit together, breathe together, meditate together. The atmosphere, I tell you, is so beautiful, so different. Meditation has the power not only to change an individual but also the vibrations. Everybody’s mind also works on the vibrations.

    Kevin: Thank you. Is it possible for me to just clarify my last question? When I say we need to find peace and understanding between both sides of conflicts, people say, “No, we need to take one side or the other.” Some people say we should take Israel’s side. Some people say we should take Palestine’s side. Some people say we should take Ukraine’s side. I don’t hear so much about that for Russia. Is it important to choose a side in that way that people are suggesting, or do you think it’s better to try to support all sides in peace and understanding?

    Gurudev: You take the side of peace. You take the side of humanity. Don’t label yourself. The moment you label yourself, you’ll be useless to bring peace. You’ll be useless to help people to come together. People who take the side of peace, the side of humanity, will say that everybody belongs to their side. If Israel is acting in a certain way, we understand why Israel is acting. If Palestine is acting, we understand what their issue is. You need to bridge the gap. A bridge will have to have a foot on both sides of the shore. It cannot be a bridge if it is only on one side.

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