BENGALURU: The Art of Living (AoL), which has been working to usher in a positive change in society by resolving conflicts and improving the quality of life, has touched millions of people in over 150 countries in last 38 years. In an interview with The New Indian Express, AoL founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaks about the prejudice they face, initiatives taken by the AoL to mainstream those in conflict with law and his efforts to resolve Ayodhya dispute through dialogue. Excerpts:
What is the biggest challenge we face today?
The biggest issue the world is facing today is prejudice. There is prejudice against culture, against religion, against gender. Class and generation prejudice, too, is there. We have to walk carefully between those prejudices. The moment we hear ‘Guru’, some people shut their mind off. Such prejudice we have been facing for a long time in the West. In America, we had done “Welcome Home troops” programme for veterans returning home after serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict areas. It made a big impact. Our programmes are very scientific and in spite of that there has always been prejudice against something that is coming from a third world country, India.
Is there more acceptance now?
Yes. But, still there are people with prejudice. In this country, there are people with so much prejudice. And in between, if something like the one in Haryana happens - people in the spiritual field or in the name of spirituality doing some wrong things - it fuels those prejudices. In spite of all that, truth always shines and truth always stands tall.
You have been making efforts to resolve conflicts in different parts of the world, including India. What are the common reasons or factor for those conflicts?
Actually, I have not gone to any place to research the cause for violence or terrorism. I only go there to see what solutions we can offer. When you are sincere to resolve conflict and bring peace, people lend their ears. When you do not have an ulterior motive or nothing to gain from it then people listen to you. What we speak makes so much sense to them. They come to the path of non-violence. That’s all you need to do. Conflict arises because of stress, misunderstanding, a lot of insecurities and lack of communication. When communication breaks down, people get into conflict. These things simply vaporize when you have honest communication and assure them that you understand them. Clarity dawns. Yoga and meditation helps calm the mind.
Will you continue ‘Paigam-e-Mohabbat’ to bring peace in Jammu and Kashmir?
Yes, we will. It has created such good energy and positive vibes among people. I will be travelling to Kashmir in the next couple of months.
How is the response to AoL’s programmes to reform prisoners?
Jail reform programmes have been going on very well. In Uruguay, the Ministry of Justice has given 20 percent reduction in a jail term for anyone who does the AoL programme. If they are convicted for five years, they will be let free in four years if they do AoL programme. Many concessions were given as they see inmates being transformed after they do the AoL programme. In Denmark, many researchers have published books on how prisoners’ lives changed after attending the programme. In India also we are doing our programmes in many prisons, including Bengaluru prison. I think, here also they (Prisons Department) should consider it (reducing prison term for those who do AoL programme).
Religion is being used by people to divide society. Isn’t it a dangerous trend?
I don’t think religion is the cause of the fight, it’s people who use religion as an excuse to fight.
Are you still continuing with your efforts to resolve the Ayodhya issue?
It is a long process and the conflict has been there for so long and the parties concerned have to understand. All those who spoke to me are in agreement and no one said anything different from what I have been saying. My whole contention is that whatever the court will decide will not bridge the gap between the communities. Instead of that if the communities come together and show goodwill, it will be resolved forever. Otherwise, anyone community will feel betrayed even after 50 years. Now, people will say we will accept whatever the court says, but down the line, maybe 50 years later, one community should not feel that the court has done injustice to them. How nice it would be if communities show goodwill to each other. There can celebrate together. It’s a win-win situation. I am continuing with my efforts in that direction.