Covid-19 is a man-made disaster and its cycle will not be long, said Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Balance is the key to good living and India has always promoted free-thinking and encouraged re-examining of thoughts, he said in a conversation with Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, The New Indian Express and author and senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai on TNIE’s Expressions, a series of live webcasts with people who matter.
Do you think spirituality has become a business in India and that is not something you approve of?
I would not say spirituality has become a business... A part of it is service activity without which spirituality cannot be complete. Income is a part of any spiritual activity.
Is it akin to merchandising?
Merchandising is, you can get it only if you have the money. Here, we are teaching free programmes in prisons, villages, slums. It cannot be called entirely as merchandising, but definitely a portion of finances is attached to yoga. Yoga is a 32 billion dollar industry in America. I find nothing wrong on us encashing on it or we will leave it to others to encash.
So, it has to become an industry in India as well?
We think anything commercial is not good. This perspective should change. We haven’t owned yoga worldwide; we need to do that. The AYUSH ministry has started owning it.
Most of the yoga gurus are coming in proximity with the ruling establishment. They are seen with political leaders than ever before. For anything to grow, you need support of the State. Had yoga received the support of the State earlier, it could have perhaps covered more part of the globe. The recognition of yoga from the State is crucial. It is not politics.
Do you think yoga has got more recognition under Modi government than during earlier regimes?
The leadership understood the value of these ancient methods and why we should recognise it. Modiji has created a separate ministry. That needs to be lauded. Ayurveda was totally ignored.
Have your disciples come to you with issues of different nature during this period (of Covid and lockdown)?
Yes, every day we are counselling people... many suicidal tendencies. People have reported depression and domestic fights.
One of your greatest contributions is you have brought back playfulness to spirituality. Is it not particularly important in these dark times?
Spirituality has to lighten you up. Yoga should make you like a child again.
Do you feel there is an imbalance in terms of thinking and actions?
Imbalance is not a permanent state. It is a temporary state. People look for comfort...This is how yoga has become popular throughout the world.
Has there been an understanding that science and spirituality will take the world forward together, that they are not in opposition?
They are not opposite. In the times of Covid-19, people are anxious. So, one needs inner strength. Meditation and pranayama boost your immune system. The West has accepted yoga not just because of philosophy but because of its benefits on physiological and psychological levels. The WHO has expressed concern that the biggest post-pandemic issue is mental health. Yoga and meditation are the answers. There is no other way to go about it.
Have you seen a gradual change in the way the world looks at yoga?
Yes. Earlier, the West saw yoga differently. They thought it was only for the recluse. When I started teaching yoga abroad many years ago, the concept was different. Slowly it started changing. It’s more acceptable, in the mainstream now.