Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has founded courses that provide techniques and tools to live a deeper, more joyous life. He has established nonprofit organizations that recognize a common human identity above the boundaries of race, nationality and religion. His goal is to uplift people around the globe, to reduce stress, and to develop leaders so that human values can flourish in people and communities.

Gurudev has inspired a wave of volunteerism and service, resulting in one of the largest volunteer-based organizations in the world, with more than 30,000 teachers and over one million volunteers engaged in service projects in 156 countries.

Global challenges & the way forward

Leadership & Ethics

Global challenges & the way forward

Friday, April 24, 2015

I think three things are important in life: Education, Education, and Education. Three things that make a difference in anyone’s life is, again Education, Education, and Education. Now here, education should not be confused for collecting information. To me, education is building personalities, developing holistic personalities.

We live in a diverse world. If the nature or God wanted the world to be without diversity, there would be just one type of fish, one type of flower, one type of fruit or vegetable. This universe, this world has so many varieties. It is a bouquet of flowers. The fauna and flora of this beautiful universe give us the message that we live in a multi-verse, in a planet where there are differences; and differences make life beautiful.

Somehow I don’t like this word ‘tolerance’. Do you know why? It has a negative connotation to it. Usually in interfaith programs world over we say ‘tolerance, we should have tolerance’. I think it is a word of bygone error. You tolerate something which you do not like it. Now the time has come to appreciate life and celebrate diversity, not just tolerate them. This is something we really need to look into.

A universe with so many varieties, we need to learn to live with it, appreciate it, enjoy and celebrate it, turn it to a celebration. I usually ask this question to people: see, we accept food from every part of the world, we accept music from every part of the world, we accept technology from every part of the world, we do not ask ‘where this technology was discovered?’ But when it comes to wisdom, there seems to be some sort of resistance. We put up a wall, say ‘this is mine, this is east, this is west, this is north, this is south, this is Jewish, this is Hindu, this is Buddhist.’ So we try to bring in some prejudice, some concepts in our mind and stay away from it. As long as this strain continues, the world cannot be a peaceful place. Even if a small part of the world remains thinking only they have the key for heaven and everybody else is going to hell, they are bound to create hell for everyone else.

So here comes all our collective responsibility to provide everyone a multi-cultural, multi-religious education. Thanks to the technology today, through internet, this has been made available; but there is still a large population which remains in ignorance, thinking only they have the key to the heaven.

Gurudev at UNESCO April 24, 2015

So we can categorize the problem in the world as two major issues:

  1. Prejudice
    There is racial prejudice, gender prejudice, religious prejudice, and class prejudice. These prejudices have to be done away with; only then, I would say that, we have reached a level of education, and we are well-cultured and civilized people.
  2. Stress
    The other aspect of human life is, in such a busy society, a busy world, we have a lot to do; too much to do in fact. And, too little time, and no energy. And this is the definition of stress. I would say formula of stress is: too much to do, too little time, and no energy.

    Time is only 24 hours for everybody. Whether it is a clerk or a prime minister, it is only 24 hours. Now, it looks almost impossible to reduce whatever you need to do. You are left with only one option: to increase our energy level.

So you need to increase the energy level, for that there has been techniques in different parts of the world from ancient times which was more or less a highly guarded secret, which was given to royalties, the princes and people of high caliber who would benefit from that, and who would in turn be able to develop quite a lot. But these years we thought these techniques of meditation or breathing should be open to common people, to everyone. See, neither in school nor at home does anyone teach us how to get rid of stress when we are stressed. No one teaches us how to handle our emotions. It is normal, it is natural to get upset, but to carry that emotion all through the day or all through the weeks and sometimes all through the months is not an intelligent thing to do. It is like your garment got dirty and you do not know how to get out of it. So you are carrying it throughout. So we need to teach them techniques to relieve stress. This I would call it as mental hygiene. We teach dental hygiene to our kids but we have not taught them mental hygiene – how not to carry hatred against anybody.

Mahatma Gandhi used to have eleven vows that he used to give to people in his ashram. One of those vows is to have a control over your anger and to be compassionate, non-violent. Importance of non-violence in life, this need to be stressed. Don’t you think so?

It is not our world becoming more and more violent, we are sort of getting immune to violence. When I was growing up, if any student in the class gets upset or throws a tantrum, everyone would look down upon that student, ‘Oh what is wrong with this guy or this girl? There is something wrong with them because they have lost the balance.’ So losing the balance or the equanimity of mind, we were put to shame. Today, pride got itself attached with aggression, not with non-violence, not with peace. We need to do this change in role model, for people of attaching the pride with compassion, non-violence, rather than with aggression and violence.

I would say media has also played a role in it. When kids start playing video games and they keep shooting, that is one of the main thing I was told about playing video games, in the mindset they become sort of immune to shooting or violence. So it is no longer a crime or a sensitive thing, but it is a game. Today, even sports are played like wars, and wars are fought like games. Here again we need peace education.

As I said, one thing we need to educate ourselves is how to handle our own negative emotions. Now, emotions being so intangible, abstract, you need a way, a methodology or a technique to handle it. One of the grandmothers’ techniques all over worldwide used to be, if you are upset go to a corner and count ten. Today even count ten does not work, and even a hundred will not work. They would count it in a computer, with a calculator; no need to even say it. So, having said that, are there any methods, are there any techniques that can help to control the emotions, transform the negative emotion into positive? I would say, yes. Breath has that secret.

If you have observed the support groups, they teach you to breath fast in order to express certain emotions. If you have to express anger, you have to breath a little faster, otherwise you cannot express that emotion. Similarly if you have to express a sense of pleasure or joy, they tell you to take long slow deep breaths. So, breath is connected with our emotions, with the thought patterns. And believe me, we have not taught anything about our breath for our kids all over the world. We know nothing about our breath. The first thing we do coming into this planet is to take a deep breath in, and the last thing we will be doing is breathing out, and that is it. So throughout life we keep breathing, and we know very little about our breath. Here, breath is half tangible, half concrete. That is, it is a link between emotions on one hand, and the sensation we feel in our physical body on the other. So learning a little bit about breath, a person is able to feel stability in emotions, and is able to switch over the negative emotions that everyone comes up with.

Third thing is breath also helps you to relieve stresses, different types of stresses. So stress is one cause of tension in the society which makes our communications break down; it affects our perception and our expression. Our social dealings can be broadly classified as two things that you do: by how you perceive, and how you express yourself. Both our perception and expression change when our stress level changes in the system.

Now there have been many number of research studies about benefits of meditation. As I said there are four sources of energy.

  • First is food, proper food. In ancient India, a few years back and even a few decades ago, if someone is behaving funny, people will ask ‘what did you feed him?’ or ‘What did you eat?’ instead of asking ‘Why are you behaving like this?’ This is true in some way. Attending to food is the first source of energy.
  • Second is sleep. Any sane person if you do not let him sleep for two days, he would not be normal. There will be drastic change in his or her behavior. So sleep or proper rest.
  • Third is breath, it is the third source of energy. Few minutes of breathing, of yoga can energize our body and mind, and uplift the spirit.
  • And the fourth is a happy mind. Few moments of happy and comfortable mind which is much more calm and collected. So, few minutes of meditation.

These are four sources of energy, of which for the first two, people know to some extent, though they may not have paid much attention; the other two, they need to be known or told to people. They should be part of the education system.

Gurudev at UNESCO April 24, 2015

Now there is one more aspect that we all have to pay our attention. When it comes to interfaith, inter-religious or intercultural dialogue in the world, I would say there are ten major religions in the world. Six hundred or more branches of all the religion. If our children know a little bit about all these other religions and they grow up seeing all these are part of one divinity, don’t you think the world will be such a better place?

It is not through elimination that we can make a better world. It is through assimilation we can make the world a better place. I heard a nice story from a Catholic priest. Once he told me a story that God needed some ideas. When Ireland was burning, he did not know how to settle it. So he asked a Catholic priest ‘what we should do?’ He said, ‘Oh it is very easy. Remove all Protestants from Ireland. Ireland will be peaceful.’ God did not find it a very good idea, so He came to a Protestant priest and asked, ‘What do you say? What is the idea you want to give?’ He said, ‘Oh it is very simple. You remove all Catholics from Ireland.’ But then God said, ‘You both are parties, let me go to a Jewish rabbi.’ He went to a Jewish rabbi and said, ‘Tell me, what is the solution?’ and he said, ‘ Remove both of them from there, then Ireland will be peaceful.’ God became very upset, He said, ‘What is that we should do now?’ Of course, He put good thoughts and technologies in the minds of people. A scientific temperament and to come together. So the process of elimination should stop. Whatever is the belief system that is prevalent in the world, except if it is a superstitious thing which is harmful for society, cultures have got their own beauty, their uniqueness. And we need to celebrate multicultural, multi-religious events more and more.

Every child, if he learns a little bit about all these ten different religions, even a couple of pages from each one, then they know that we live in a very diverse world, and we should honor, love and learn to appreciate these differences. And they grow up with this tendency, I think we can put an end to terrorism, which is taking over the world today. Don’t you think so? This has been my dream from long time, that I would like the UNESCO to take up this one subject of multi-religious education to the whole population of the world. So, every kid learns a little bit about all the traditions in the world and appreciate them, love them, celebrate them.

Similarly, multicultural festival. In India, we have this ancient saying Vasudeva Kutumbakam, – the world is one family. When you are well-educated, when your heart is larger, the world becomes your family. Technology has shrunk this globe into a village. Distance is no longer a matter of concern. I think it is the humanness or humanity that is the spirit of human education, and human values that can make this world into a family.

Gurudev at UNESCO April 24, 2015