Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is an Indian spiritual leader, mostly known for his humanitarian and global-peace initiatives. He is also famous for his holistic healing therapy ‘Sudarshan Kriya’. Ravishankar envisages a stress-free, violence-free society and millions of people across the nations have joined his mission through various service projects and Art of Living sessions.
Ravi Shankar or Ravishankar’s birth-date coincides with that of the great Indian philosopher, Adi Shankara; while he was named on the 11th day of his birth, which was coincidentally the birth anniversary of Ramanuja – another important theologian and Hindu philosopher.
As per the Gregorian calendar Ravi Shankar was born on 13 May 1956 at Papanasam, Tamil Nadu in India. He got the prefix ‘Ravi’ (a common Indian name meaning ‘sun’) because his birth was on a Sunday. As the village was famous for its Shiva and Vishnu temples, he acquired the name Ravi Shankar Narayana.
However, as the leader rose to fame, he began to be known as Ravishankar, with ‘Ravi’ and ‘Shankar’ clubbed together into a single word. He is also frequently referred to simply as ‘Sri Sri’ (honorific) or as Guruji or Gurudev. Someone once asked Ravishankar why Sri Sri comes twice in his name; to which he was reported to have twinkled, and replied, “…because 108 Sris would make it too long!”
A God-gifted child
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was born in an Iyer Brahmin family to R. S. Venkat Ratnam and Smt. Visalakshi Ratnam. His father was an established automobile businessman. Several events occurred in the early life of Ravishankar which indicated that he was indeed a special child and quite unlike his peer group.
In one such event, the young Ravishankar was rocking on a large swing, clinging on four chains of iron. Suddenly, all the chains, which were holding the cot, fell down. In a normal case, the chains would have collapsed at the center of the swing. But miraculously, the chains fell outward without hurting the young boy. The episode shocked all who were present there.
At the age of three, Ravishankar took his lesson from a teacher, who desired to commence her lessons with a sloka (passage) from the Bhagvad Gita, an ancient Sanskrit scripture. Incredibly, the young Ravishankar completed it for her outstandingly.
One day he observed his father offering puja (prayers), and intended to learn the entire ritual. His father then gifted him a picture of goddess Meenakshi, consort of Shiva, and without any further query Ravishankar received her as his personal god. He would not have his food without offering it to his personal god. Amusingly, being unable to pronounce the name ‘Meenakshi’ correctly, he addressed her as ‘Vicchini’.
While reminiscing about his childhood, Ravishankar was quoted as saying: “I would bunk the sports class and come home early. I would go to play football, and looking at my feet, I would say, these feet cannot kick anybody, let alone an inanimate ball.”
By the age of four, this god-gifted child was able to narrate chapters of Bhagavad Gita and was often found in meditation. By the age of nine, he already had mastered the Rig-Veda. Finally, in the year in 1973, at the age of seventeen, he graduated with degrees in both Vedic literature and Physics.
Guru of the Guru
At an early age, his father, R. S. Venkat Ratnam, sent him to the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a noted spiritual master. After getting a degree in science, Ravishankar conjoined Maharishi’s entourage, conducted spiritual classes for the Vedic pundits at Maharishi’s charities, and before long became Maharishi’s favorite disciple.
When Ravishankar traveled with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, he explored the whole world to propagate the values of Vedic science. While on his tour, he initiated several global conferences on the Vedas and science, and set up Ayurveda centers. Ravishankar was also present with the Maharishi at the inauguration of the first of Golden Domes at Maharishi International University.
During 1980s Ravishankar’s spiritual effulgence saw no boundaries whilst he initiated a string of practical and experiential courses in spirituality across the globe. He first took a halt at Rishikesh, and from there started for overseas, where he acquired a Doctorate degree in the studies of Vedas and science. Ravishankar traveled extensively and with all these years of experience he was all set to start off single handedly and achieve his mission in life.
In 1982, he went on the banks of the Bhadra River in Shimoga, Karnataka and entered ten days of utter silence and tranquility. This ten days of silence brought complete enlightenment to Ravishankar. It is considered that during this time he realized his trade-mark breathing technique ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ and emerged as one of the greatest spiritual masters of the modern times.
In order to spread the Sudarshan Kriya and other related knowledge, Ravishankar set up the Art of Living (AOL) Organization in 1982. The spiritual master has always maintained that he first learnt the Sudarshan Kriya, during his days of silence, and thereafter started teaching the world, the technique which is ‘like a poem, and an inspiration’ to him.
Contribution to the society
Inspiring Service and Globalizing Wisdom:
In times of social upheavals and political turmoil, Ravishankar’s spiritual programs have helped the society to a great extent. His programs are aimed at reaching the people from all backgrounds. Whether they are the victims of calamities, survivors of terrorist attacks, or marginalized population – his programs have relieved them all. Owing to ceaseless tenacity of a group of volunteers, Ravishankar’s projects have reached far-flung conflicted and poverty-stricken areas of the world.
Ravishankar has reignited the tradition of yoga and meditation which was lost amid industrialization and IT growth. He has ridden the wave of social change which has greatly affected people how they perceive fitness in the 21st century. His breathing technique Sudarshan Kriya is a major step towards achieving a stress-free, violence-free society. The kriya has helped million in unearthing their innermost peace and control. The technique involved in the Sudarshan Kriya emanates bountiful energy and tranquility in one’s daily life. In mere 29 years, his programs have brought valuable changes in the lives of millions across 151 countries.
An Ambassador of Peace:
Ravishankar’s crucial role in bringing the opposing parties to the negotiating table in Iraq, the Ivory Coast, and India (Kashmir and Bihar) had been highly applauded in the past. He was also elected Chairman of Reception Committee for the 500th anniversary celebrations of the Coronation of Krishnadevaraya (a Government initiative in Karnataka, India). He is also amongst the core members of the Amarnath Shrine Board and has been specially appointed by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to look into the public-admin clashes occurring every year during the pilgrimage. Ravishankar’s initiatives put humanity above social and political values. His programs emphasize on interfaith harmony and multi-cultural education indispensable to the reinforcement of ethical values and sustainable peace at a global level. His works rise above the religion, cast and creed to build a ‘One-World Family’ – the inner-outer peace; and assert that service to humanity can only reawake the lost human values.
Celebrating Love: Short discourses on violence, fear, anger, dispassion, service, spirituality, and God.
Celebrating Silence: Short discourses on situations and challenges on the spiritual path.
An Intimate Note to the Sincere Seeker: Applying ancient wisdom to modern life, Volumes 1-7.
Hinduism and Christianity: Understanding the common thread between these two religions.
Hinduism and Islam.
Narada Bhakti Sutra: Commentary on Narada’s 28 Bhakti Sutras, a classic Vedic scripture.
One God, One Truth, One World: Discussing the common ground for all religions and the Eighteen Laws of Spiritual Life.
Prayer – Call of the Soul: Spirituality and Science.
The Source of Life: Discourse on the Yamas (social ethics) and Niyamas (personal ethics), the first two steps/limbs of Yoga, and the mystery of science and spirituality beyond life and death.
Time: An investigation into the nature of space and time from both an ancient Vedic and modern scientific understanding.
Wisdom for the New Millennium: Practical knowledge on how to increase human values in children and society, defeat negative emotions, develop harmonious relationships, and live a happier and richer life.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s philosophy has greatly influenced the youth section of the society. The spiritual guru also travels extensively across the nations to inspire young people to work together for a common cause. To quote the master, “Religion is the banana skin and spirituality is the banana. The misery in the world is because we throw away the banana and are holding on to the skin.”
“That which you cannot express is Love.
That which you cannot reject/renounce is Beauty.
That which you cannot avoid is the Truth.”
Sri Sri Ravishankar
Art of Living Foundation:
Ravi Shankar founded Art of Living Foundation in the year 1981. Today, it is the world’s leading volunteer-based Non-governmental organization serving over 140 nations. Millions of people are benefiting from his seminars on yoga, meditation and Sudarshan Kriya. People from all walks participate in the foundation’s 5Hs program covering the domain of Health, Homes, Hygiene, Human Values and Harmony in Diversity.
The center-stage activities of the Art of Living Foundation are –
Meditation: The art of meditation has surpassed barriers dividing the society into the cast, creed and religion. The spirit of meditation see no boundaries and gives everyone one common identity of being a spiritual practitioner.
Meditation means mind-control. It sets the mind free of contamination in the surrounding world, and captures the essence of true living, i.e. the subliminal consciousness. In today’s world, people are striving more and more towards materialism and have become extremely prone to opting unethical modes of living. The unstable society is the outcome of its insecure individuals.
Meditation effectively helps in dispelling one’s negative emotions while filling the mind with beads of optimism. The stress-free mind and body bring out one’s hidden brilliance and dynamism. Meditation is thus called the social transformation tool of the modern era.
Yoga: More than acrobatics, yoga is a kind of alternative healing rejuvenating the body, mind and spirit. Yoga brings a harmonious balance within one’s system by synergizing the mind-body-soul complexities. The focus of Sri Sri Yoga practice is ‘balance’.
The yoga postures develop the elasticity of the muscles and articulations. Yoga postures also massage the organs, improving their functionality and longevity. Yoga heals stubborn and chronic illnesses in a simple and systematic manner by simultaneously mending the body’s immunity.
Sudarshan Kriya: Sudarshan Kriya helps creates reservoirs of energy in those who learn its method correctly. The art of breathing forms the basis of Sudarshan Kriya. It integrates natural breathing rhythms to synchronize the body, mind and emotions. In Sudarshan Kriya, ‘Su’ stands for ‘proper’, ‘darshan’ means ‘vision’, and ‘Kriya’ is a ‘purifying practice’. Therefore, Sudarshan a purifying practice through which one receives a proper vision of his inner-self.
Mainstream researchers in Europe have linked ‘breath’ to the ‘mind-body connectivity’. They have also established how distinctive emotions affect one’s breathing techniques; for instance, when a person is angry his breath gets short and quick while in a sad or upset person the breath becomes deep and elongated. A similar research conducted by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, has concluded that Sudarshan Kriya plays a significant role in combating stress, and fatigue. It dispels negative emotions such as annoyance, depression; and helps restore the lost vigor, awareness and mental harmony.
Sudarshan Kriya is performed by reversing this process i.e. creating positive emotions within oneself by breathing in subsequent patterns. Rather than getting overpowered by emotions; one can, in turn, alter his breathing techniques to get total control over his emotions. During Sudarshan Kriya, the mind brews positive emotions by subsequently erasing a slew of harmful negative emotions.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the Sudarshan Kriya: “I was already teaching meditation, and yoga. But I felt there was something that was lacking. Though people do their spiritual practices, their life is in a sort of a compartment. They do their prayers, meditation, and spiritual practices, but when they come out in life, they are very different people. So, I was thinking how can we bridge this gap – between inner silence, and outer expression of life. During a period of silence, the Sudarshan Kriya came like an inspiration. After I came out of the silence, I started teaching whatever I knew, and people had great experiences.”
Ayurveda: Sri Sri Ayurveda is an initiative of The Art of Living Foundation. It aims towards bringing the best of Ayurveda to the service of everyone. A string of ayurvedic services offered at the centre includes traditional Ayurvedic therapies; spa, beauty, and lifestyle treatments. The treatments combine ancient Ayurvedic sciences within a modern-day setting.
Ayurveda is the ancient science of natural and holistic healing. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means ‘the science of life’, where Ayur stands for ‘longevity’ or ‘life’ and veda for ‘science’. While allopathic medicines work on management and alleviation of the disease, Ayurveda works on prevention of the disease by eradicating its root cause.
Sri Sri Ayurveda’s treatments are completely based on ancient ayurvedic texts Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and the Ashtanga Hrudaya. Thus, the five elements of the cosmic system – earth, water, air, fire, and space – form the basis of ayurvedic treatment being offered at the centre.
International Association for Human Values:
In 1997, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar co-founded the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) to run sustainable development projects and nurture human values in association with The Art of Living Foundation. The Association collaborates with the state administration, educational establishments, grass-root NGOs, corporate etc. It acts in consultation with Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOC) for addressing health and conflict resolution issues. IAHV stresses on human development which is indispensable to social and economic progression for the developing nations.
Volunteer for a Better India:
Launched on December 5, 2012, the Campaign is a Citizen’s Action Plan encouraging citizens of the country to give ‘One Hour to the Nation’. The campaign believes that community service should be one’s way of life or second nature. VFABI is the brainchild of The Art of Living in affiliation with a number of stakeholders to address the social issues with the spirit of volunteerism and transformed human values.
Meri Dilli Meri Yamuna, Educators Meet, Yogathon, Meditate India, Clean Delhi-NCR Drive, Mega Art Competition are some of the campaigns conducted successfully by VFABI.
NONVIO is movement against violence started off by Ravishankar’s Art of Living Foundation in March 2013. It is a U.S. based program which intends to eliminate violence from the U.S. society.
NONVIO is an acronym for Nonviolence: No Higher Calling. To accomplish the mission against non-violence, NONVIO believes in using love and human conscience as only weapons. NONVIO says no to legislation and rhetoric, and instead embrace the course of love and affection to awaken people. The participants can volunteer from any part of the country. The concept is to perform 100 acts of nonviolence for every major act of violence reported in the U.S.
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