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A spiritual journey

The Art of Living Foundation, founded by Sri Sri Ravishankarji, imparts spiritual training through the unique technique of Sudarshan Kriya, Sahaj Samadhi meditation and advanced in-residence spiritual retreats.

FOR SOME chosen ones life has become a celebration. Indeed they are living it up having mastered the ``Art of Living". Yes, you guessed it right. They belong to the ever-widening circle of followers of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder-Guru and inspiration behind the Art of Living Foundation spread over 135 countries. Accredited as an official NGO with the U.N. and run entirely by volunteers as a non-profit educational institution, the foundation is devoted to making human life a celebration on this planet. In India, the Vyakti Vikas Kendra as it is known, operates with its headquarters in Bangalore.

The foundation imparts spiritual wisdom through the unique healing breath technique, Sudarshan Kriya, Sahaj Samadhi meditation, advanced in-residence spiritual retreats with the Master and Satsanghs, and its service oriented programmes through its 5Hs (health, hygiene, harmony, home and human values) include projects for people suffering from HIV and cancer; rehabilitative training for prisoners; vocational training for rural women; food, clothing and schooling for children and a centre of media studies in Bangalore.

The sheer range of activities and reach of the organisation stumps the first time acquaintance. But the initial misgivings about how Sri Sri is able to keep such diverse activities going in tandem amidst his hectic schedule dissolve when ushered into his presence as he radiates calm and dynamism at once. The volunteers, Lata Manohar and Prerna Asrani, who arranged a tete-a-tete with their Guru for this Correspondent during his whistle-stop tour when he graced Chennai recently, enlighten me that every time he returns to this city, the initiates and the Satsangh participants swell, so much so, the venue for the public meeting this time had to be an indoor stadium. A crowd puller for sure. The paradox is palpable — expression of a global culture's faith?

You wonder whether he is a New Age phenomenon infusing new vigour to spirituality with his childlike joy, infectious enthusiasm and declaration, ``The only security that can be found in this world is in the very process of giving love.'' It is the sense of belonging he inspires and the transparency of his assertion, ``Perhaps I haven't grown up", when someone in the gathering wanted to know the secret of his bubbling joy, that emboldened this Correspondent to be candid with the questions.

Is your philosophy ``Art of Living'' a re-invention of the wheel — a new perspective of the age-old wisdom for this age?

You can say that.

"What the knowledge from ancient ages offers us today is a map on which we can do our own research. The path of inner awakening is an individual research, everyone has to walk the path and the ancient knowledge can give us guidance. The knowledge will be like lampposts, showing the way from time to time.'

Is Sudarshan Kriya you advocate a new breathing technique?

There is a rhythm in nature, which you can observe in the change of seasons. Similarly, there is a rhythm in the body, in the mind, in the emotions, in your very being. Kriya is restoring the harmony of all these rhythms through the breath.

"Breath contains the secret of life. Breath is linked to the vital energy (Prana). Sudarshan Kriya fully oxygenates the cells, recharging them with new energy and life. Negative emotions, stored as toxins in the body, are uprooted and flushed out. Tension, frustration and anger get released. Anxiety, depression and lethargy are washed away. The mind becomes calm and centred with a clearer vision of the world, our relationships and ourselves. The Sahaj Samadhi meditation is easy to learn and practise and helps to rediscover the contentment of your inner Self."

How do you relate yourself to your mass following — a Guru? A mentor? A friend?

Are you asking me whether I have a self-image?

Laughs...

I don't have any such image but I am comfortable with whatever way I am addressed.

You make a distinction between religion and spirituality in your book ``Wisdom for the New Millennium". Why? Is not spirituality the very basis of religion?

Right. It is so. But, today, what is considered as religion is seldom rooted in spirituality as it identifies only with the rituals, symbols and customs. The distinction will dissolve only when the values for which all religions stand for are grasped.

How do you explain the paradox of resurgence of spirituality and popular faith in an age wedded to a hedonistic culture?

Life is a combination of matter and spirit. Sometimes matter dominates and at other times spirit dominates. In every individual also each aspect will surface and prevail over the other at different phases in his life. You cannot deny either of these aspects. You have to give each its due place.

Why has religion become the concern of a secular institution like the U.N., which hosted a millennium meet of religious leaders? You are collaborating with the U.N. and addressed its 50th Anniversary celebrations...

It is part of human life. When it was denied in Russia for 50 years people did not stop being religious. You cannot deny something which is crucial to people. Like food, water and air, human beings need emotional comfort too. Religion has been providing this comfort over centuries. So secular institutions cannot overlook this fact as they are dealing with people.

SUDHAKSHINA RANGASWAMI

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