Saturday, July 26, 2008

Guruji in New York, 2002

An anonymous article of 2002, Gurujis visit to New York, US

To see for myself what it was all about, to find out why this frail, young man with the deep, dark eyes was so popular, I decided to go to one of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s talks in New York.

The huge synagogue on Manhattan’s west side was already filled to the rafters when I arrived. An enthusiastic group of young people sang bhajans and the audience swayed and sang along as though they were at a rock concert. There were people of every nationality, color and age group, dressed in a variety of clothes from blue jeans to silk saris and kurtas.

Many had already done the Art of Living course, a program of breathing, meditation and yoga that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has put together to “relieve stress, improve communication, develop leadership skills, increase vitality, expand awareness and increase enjoyment of life.”
Very soon, the guruji bounded up the steps to the stage, dressed in gleaming white silk, his long, dark hair forming a halo around his face. The resemblance to images of Jesus Christ was evident to more than a few in the audience.

“What should we talk about today?” he asked his audience. The suggestions were many and varied: “Peace,” “guilt,” “miracles,” “trust,” “who am I?” One woman, almost in tears, asked “Why is there so much evil? Why Sept. 11? Why? Why?” Another said, “Tell us a joke.” Guruji took them all in his stride.

In life, began Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, strength comes along with challenges. If we focus on the strength instead of the problems, we will become stronger. All the problems of the world are due to narrow-mindedness — a lack of a broad world vision and stress or lack of personal peace. A truly stress-free person will never harm anybody.

Even a small pocket of ignorance can endanger the world, the guru told his rapt audience. For instance, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan was a prelude to the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar exhorted his audience to accept wisdom from every part of the world. The only true religion is love, he said.

The guru is given to long pauses. One of his books is called ‘Celebrating Silence.’ In the midst of his peroration, he stops for long intervals, gazes soulfully at the audience as though to draw strength from them and then goes on with his theory for a stress-free world. A stress-free mind and a disease-free body are the birthright of every human being. “People should learn how to handle their emotions,” he said. A lot of domestic violence is because people have not been taught, either at home or in school, to handle negative emotions or rid themselves of unwanted stress. Breath is the link between our emotions, our thoughts and our bodies. But, we must learn to control our breath.

Guruji went on to speak about rebirth, karma, and what he called “coffee karma” and “Hagen Daaz karma.” “Come back to your innocence,” he advised his audience. “We need to nourish the child within us.”

The event had been billed as ‘An Evening of Wisdom, Music and Deep Meditation,’ and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar answered questions from the audience with wit and humor, before leading them into a spell of meditation. There was a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips.

“What is the art of living?” someone asked. To appreciate life and to accept people as they are. His answers were short and to the point.

“When will you get married and start a family?” another asked, perhaps not aware that gurus are normally celibate. “The whole world is my family,” he replied, without missing a beat. “I don’t need to get married to raise a family.”

And to a questioner just about to get married, his advice was: “Don’t question the love of your spouse — do not demand proof of love from someone who loves you.”

This guru does not fit into the stereotypical mould. There was lots of laughter and lots of audience participation, but he did manage to get some serious points across.

In a subsequent interview at the luxury apartment of a devotee, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar amplified his philosophy. The essence of his message was simple, he said. “Keep smiling — even in tough times,” he told Desi Talk.

And times have certainly been tough after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Within days, volunteers from the guru’s Art of Living Foundation were in New York offering their healing powers and their stress-management techniques to fire-fighters, policemen and traumatized citizens.
Over 1,000 people have done the course in New York since 9/11, learning the deep relaxation techniques that bring relief from stress and anxiety.

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