Internationally acclaimed spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder, The Art of Living Foundation, who is fondly called Gurudev has been providing solace to hundreds and thousands of people during this Covid-19 pandemic times, which is largely affecting their mental and emotional state of mind. The corporate world too has been shaken up as the apple cart has toppled in many ways. In an exclusive interview with Corporate Citizen, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gives an insight into the various aspects of the Covid-19 impact and ways to counter it. Read on…
"If the wellness of human resources, which forms the backbone of any business, takes a backseat, no business can flourish. At last, corporates have realised this"
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had stated in one of his articles that “The coronavirus pandemic has created a global crisis with far-reaching social, economic and spiritual repercussions. Our resilience during these challenging times is at test, by not only how we combat the spread of the virus but also how we make the best out of the circumstance. While it is important to take this pandemic seriously and act responsibly, it is definitely not the time to panic.’’ What is required he said is high standards of hygiene and making yoga an integral part of one’s life.
Visualising hope for humanity Sri Sri stated, “The Coronavirus is definitely a catastrophe for the world but it does not have to mean the Apocalypse. Despite the dark clouds of gloom, positive aspects are emerging bright enough to bring hope. This is what we need to focus on. The stories of birds chirping again in the skies and water bodies clearing up as people stay indoors or people opening up their hearts to provide solace to those who are in need might not immediately compensate the losses brought about by the novel pandemic but they do come as lasting reassurances of the good for the human race.’’
Corporate Citizen: With the Corona pandemic, the world has changed for each one of us. Philosophically speaking, what is the pandemic trying to teach us and what is its objective?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Trying times such as the one we are going through bring out our ability to endure, prevail and emerge stronger, kinder, and wiser. This is the time to invoke the valour in us, stand together and overcome this crisis.
Various epidemics, wars, pandemics and natural disasters have challenged the human race before and they keep coming, testing our ability to survive. There was the 1897 plague that took many lives. Or you can look at the Kalinga War that left many people dead, which transformed Ashoka’s life and made him disinterested in war and violence. Similarly, when Buddha encountered an old person and a dead body, many questions about the truth of life arose in his mind.
CC: So, how must professionals and others handle the situation?
Spiritual contemplation increases inner power. When we see death all around, our mind is forced to rise above the small worries that keep it occupied every day. It brings our attention to the truth of life. What is the truth of life? There is something inside us that never changes, which never disappears, which never perishes. It is eternal. We need to pay attention to that element. When we do that, we will get the strength to handle the problem that we are seeing all around. Otherwise, when the mind and heart are broken, then the person is unable to do anything. Inner strength can be attained through meditation, knowledge, and knowing the truth of life.
"In tough times like these, corporate leaders cannot sit and complain but must innovate and find new ways to meet the challenges. They must be dynamic. While taking responsibility, leaders also have to be resilient. Then, aim for prosperity but not at the cost of one’s peace of mind"
CC: Due to the series of lockdowns, people who could not do without so many materialistic acquisitions, lifestyle and entertainment have come to terms with simplicity. How do you look at this scenario? Please elaborate on its connotation.
Strangely, the pandemic has united the people of the world in various ways. Nature has taken a stick and said ‘Don’t forget your human values’ through this epidemic. However, panic is not the answer. This is the time given by Nature for cleansing of the mind, heart and soul of society. It is nudging to help people who are suffering, like daily wage workers for example. So far, we were giving importance to accessories of life, and we were lost in trying to acquire them but now we are learning to give importance to life itself. Nature has given us time to sit back and reflect. Nature is telling you to value the life you have been given. It is like a warning bell from Nature. Now we have to make the best use of this time. Now is the time to look at your creative side.
CC: Do you think the simplicity which man has adopted is due to compulsion and it would be a temporary phase or do you think it could be ‘lessons learned’ and a new life forward?
Learning is a continuous process. You cannot put a tag on it. As time places different situations and issues in front of us, we keep evolving, growing and learning from them.
CC: The corporate world too has had to change its culture from being target-oriented in terms of profits to giving priority to employee well-being. How do you see this change and what advice would you give to corporate leaders on this?
If the wellness of human resources, which forms the backbone of any business, takes a backseat, no business can flourish. At last, corporates have realised this.
CC: In this changed Covid-19 scenario, what are the leadership changes that a corporate leader needs to do?
In tough times like these, corporate leaders cannot sit and complain but must innovate and find new ways to meet the challenges. They must be dynamic. Secondly, no doubt, one has to focus on productivity but one also needs to be compassionate. Productivity has to go hand in hand with compassion. While taking responsibility, leaders also have to be resilient. Then, aim for prosperity but not at the cost of one’s peace of mind.
"Just as to drive a car we have to learn how to operate the steering wheel, the clutch, the brake, and so on; to move towards the stability of the mind, we must know the basic principles about our life force energy. This is the whole science of pranayama"
CC: In this changed Covid-19 scenario, what should be the approach and attitude of an employee, no matter which sector?
An employee cannot exist in his/her own cocoon. One must stretch out his/her arms to reach out to the others. Helping each other and cooperation should be the new mode of operating rather than competition and conflict. In these times, consideration and understanding from the larger perspective of the company should be borne in mind rather than only insisting on one’s own demands.
CC: Depression and boredom are the two factors that have hit people of various ages and strata of society due to the lockdowns. Please advice on how to counter them.
Protocols need to be followed, though lockdowns are being lifted. Look at this time as an opportunity to slow down and go inward. This time offers you space and time to focus on yourself, to reflect and reset your roles and goals. It is also an excuse to break the monotonous pattern of a fast-paced life and indulge in some creative activities like writing, cooking, music, painting or learning a language. It is the time to move beyond the outer scenery and go inside to find the seer. It is also the time to strike a balance between rest and activity. One who is always at rest does not progress in life and one who is always in activity misses the bliss of deep rest.
Silence and solitude are potent means for personal growth and self-renewal. Many great works of the world have emerged out of silence. Meditate more and use this time to improve your mental strength, creativity, empathy and productivity. Now that you are getting to spend more time with your family members, listen to them. Talk less and avoid arguments.
Now, as we are adjusting to these changes around us, it will help to take out time to meditate every day. Anybody can do it. You can use mobile phone apps to do a guided meditation. At this time, we need spiritual strength and it can come from meditation and chanting. Chants like Vishnu Sahasranamam and Hanuman Chalisa bring enormous inner strength.
CC: Your Sudarshan Kriya is being practised by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Practitioners say it is a life-changing experience. What is the gist of this course? Is it a panacea for the present times? Please elaborate on why.
Most of our problems today originate in our minds. There is little use of a machine that cannot be operated without a manual. Spiritual knowledge is like the manual for life. Just as to drive a car we have to learn how to operate the steering wheel, the clutch, the brake, and so on; to move towards the stability of the mind, we must know the basic principles about our life force energy. This is the whole science of pranayama. When our prana or life force keeps fluctuating, our mind also goes up and down through the roller coaster of emotions. A strong mind can carry a weak body but a weak mind cannot carry even a strong body.
One cannot handle the mind from the level of the mind. Breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya stabilise our life force and consequently the mind. The inner dimension unveiled by the practice of Sudarshan Kriya deeply enriches us and its impact slowly spills over to all aspects of life. As the prana or life force rises in the body, one starts to feel a transformation as a direct experience and not as a forced mental exercise. One starts becoming happier, creative and more in command of one’s mind and emotions. Then you find you have a smile that no person or situation can take away from you.
The Art of Living programmes offer numerous spiritual tools and techniques to manage the mind and emotions, bring about happiness and peace from within. Never in our schools or colleges are we taught how to handle our emotions, or manage this mind, which shapes much of our existence and how we perceive life.
"One of the biggest challenges the world is currently facing is mental health. There is a sense of anxiety, depression and uncertainty in society. Though we will inch closer to finding a solution for Covid-19, there is fear among people"
CC: You have a wonderful bouquet of meditations that bring solace and peace of mind. Could you elaborate on the effects of meditation and a bit about some of your mediations?
Meditation is the art of doing nothing. It is not concentration. It is in fact de-concentration. We are so used to ‘doing’ something all the time. Have you observed what is happening in your mind every moment? It vacillates between the past and the future. It is either in the past occupied with what has happened or in the future thinking about what you have to do.
Knowledge is being aware of this phenomenon of the mind-of what is happening right now in your mind as you are reading this. There is another tendency of the mind-it clings onto the negative. If 10 positive events are followed by one negative event, the mind will cling to the negative. It will simply forget the 10 positive events. With meditation, however, you can become aware of these two tendencies of the mind and bring them to the present. Happiness, joy, enthusiasm, efficiency and effectiveness are all in the present.
The human mind is very complex. It has its delicate and tough aspects. If you have had a misunderstanding with a friend or colleague at work, you can become stiff inside and this can distort your emotions leading to negativity and you carry this negativity wherever you go. However, when you culture your mind with meditation, its tendency of holding on to negative emotions simply disappears. You gain the ability to start living in the present moment and are able to let go of the past.
In your day-to-day life, you come across all kinds of situations that can be challenging and demanding a degree of alertness to be able to make good choices. These situations give rise to different states of mind and neither life nor the states of mind occur with our permission. In fact, they often occur in direct defiance to our wishes. Sahaj Samadhi Meditation taught in our programmes can bring about a balance between the different states of the mind. You can learn to switch from the tough aspect to the delicate aspect within you. You can stand up when needed and let go when needed.
One of the biggest deterrents for people not being able to meditate is that they do not have enough time. Yet when they start to meditate, they find they have more time because they are able to focus and get more done. Not only that, the regular practice of meditation also leads to greater intuition. It sharpens the mind through focus and expands it through relaxation.
CC: How can youngsters benefit from the Art of Living course and your meditations in terms of success in their academics/careers and happiness and joy in their lives?
They definitely can. In fact, a study from the Yale University shows that college students who practised the Sudarshan Kriya breathing technique reported improvements in many areas of well-being: depression, stress, mental health, mindfulness, positive affect and social connectedness. These techniques also help them focus better and give them the energy to get a lot done in very little time, without stressing themselves out.
CC: How do you manage to keep yourself fit and cheerful? What advice would you give to all of us to maintain such a disposition?
I am always in my nature. Just be natural, have clarity in mind, purity in heart and sincerity in action-this is the formula for happiness.
CC: What is the urgent need in the world today, which every human being should adopt and adapt?
One of the biggest challenges the world is currently facing is mental health. There is a sense of anxiety, depression and uncertainty in society. Though we will inch closer to finding a solution for Covid-19, there is fear among people. We need to envision a new world that is physically, mentally and emotionally healthy and spiritually blossomed. Yoga, breathing techniques, spiritual wisdom, creative pursuits and meditation will give us the immense inner strength to sail through these times, and help us know the truth of life. We need to pay attention to that imperishable element in us. When we do that, we will get the strength to handle the problem at hand. We need to create waves of happiness in society. We need to remember that we are part of one human family as the ancient people in India said-Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the globe is one family) and that we are not alone.