Peace and prosperity go together. If there is peace, there is more prosperity. The whole world today is interested in having peace in the Middle East. But we know that the problem that the world faces is terrorism, which is not going to vanish so quickly.
There are two major communities in the world which are struck by terrorism – one is India and the other is Israel. No other country is affected by terrorism as much as these two countries are, especially India. Every month in the last year there has been a terror attack. This is due to fanaticism and fundamentalism, which I feel can be quelled through educating children in a multicultural and multi-religious manner. When a child grows up thinking, “Only I go to heaven. Everybody else is going to hell,” they create a hell for everybody else.
So we need to change the mindset among children to embrace everyone with love. This is the effort we have been making irrespective of their religious and cultural backgrounds so the mind can become calm. The mind vacillates between the past and the future all the time. We need to bring this mind to the present moment, where it is able to move forward forgetting about the past and not being anxious about the future. I would say that we have all taught people everything other than how to learn to manage the mind. From childhood, children have anger, jealousy and hatred. We tell them don’t get angry, don’t get jealous, don’t be greedy, don’t feel depressed. But we don’t tell them how not to get depressed, how not to undergo all these negative emotions.
This is where I thought we have to use the power of the breath because the breath is the link between the mind and the body. With the power of the breath, we are able to calm the mind and improve our perception, observation and expression. Breathing has helped millions of people cleanse their own mind. Though some yoga techniques have been there since the last 5000 years, they were not shared with everybody, but kept to a few. They were very precious and only to be given to the right person. I thought that today we should open up and give this – which is so useful to people, to everybody, irrespective of their religious background, cultural identity – something that is useful to calm the mind and to feel happy from within. I felt that it is the property of the whole world, so we must share it with everybody.
Since then we started sharing this knowledge and we have got a very good response from the people getting rid of anger, hatred and also fear. Here also, in Israel, all along the border fence, people have had so much fear that they couldn’t sleep at all because anytime, at any moment, there could be an explosion, a bomb attack, or terror attack. These people also could get over those anxieties and become calm and have that endurance. This type of work is happening.
More relevant to the business world, as you know how business markets have crashed: It took nearly 10 years for communism to go from the world. It took less than 10 months for capitalism to collapse, just less than 10 months. It’s just the greed of a few people that has made millions of people suffer. This is unfortunate.
So we have this conference, Corporate Culture and Spirituality, where we have to sit and think how we can overcome this. There are many examples among you who have done your job with integrity, truthfulness, but your example has to come in front of people. They should see this company has been very responsible or this company has been doing business with integrity and honesty. That would inspire the young business people in the world. With this idea we have been doing this Corporate Culture and Spirituality conference where people realize that trust is the backbone of business and that if trust is lost then everything is lost. This idea is being promoted more and more so that young people have an opportunity to be inspired.
When we were all children we used to hear so many stories of Mahatma Gandhi and get so inspired by him. But today, leading examples are needed in the field of business for young people to do business with honesty and integrity. So we have started this project called Corporate Culture and Spirituality. Spirituality, to me, means that which uplifts the spirit – anything that brings up that joy, enthusiasm and harmony and creates more compassion and a sense of belongingness with everybody.
Today the Jewish community is so strong in America and very well organized. I have been a keynote speaker at their century celebrations two years ago, I think. They were so well organized and they contribute to the growth of the American economy. In India as well, we have the Jewish community. It’s a very small, but very powerful and strong community. There’s been an old Jewish community in Kerala for thousands of years and in Mumbai also. The two streams of thought, Torah and Vedas are the most ancient on the planet. The oldest of all the religions is Judaism on one hand and on the other hand the Hindu way of life, Hinduism.
There are a lot of similarities, we both say one thing: you say, “Shalom,” and we say, “Om Shanti, Om Shanti”— “Let there be peace!” Let us all be united. The world is one beautiful family. This message we need to take everywhere, to every doorstep. One is individual peace – peace is not just absence of conflict. It is a positive inner emotion. When we feel happy, only then would I consider that we are peaceful. That happiness has to be rekindled.
In Israel, among the youth, there is lot of frustration. Quite a few suicidal attempts are also happening. These youth need to be guided to inner peace, and this can happen just with the breath. I usually say we need to secularize religion, socialize business and spiritualize politics. Secularize religion means any religious leader cannot say I care for only my people. He should care for all the people in the world. An Imam cannot say my responsibility is only to Muslims. He should say my responsibility is to see that all the people in the world are happy. Similarly, a Christian priest or a Rabbi, they can only say I care for all. In Sanskrit we say, “Sarvejanah Sukhino Bhavantu,” – “Let all the people on the planet be happy.” This is what I mean by secularize religion. Then fanaticism and terrorism will disappear.
The second is to spiritualize politics. If politicians are spiritual, then they care for people. Corruption and nepotism will disappear from politics. We will get back to the era of Mahatma Gandhi where politicians really cared for people. Then socialize business, which means to say every business takes some social responsibility: helps out institutions, helps out women and children – not just gives them money, but also cares for their well being. If all your employees are happy, if they are integrated, then they will have integrity and commitment. If not, call them and sit with them, talk to them. If you don't have time for it, we can do it for you in what we call the APEX program for which four days are needed. Two to three hundred business companies have used this APEX Program where the youngsters who are the employees are given commitment and happiness from within because happiness is something that comes from within.
Q: Let’s take one idea - that the Imam will say, “we take care for all believers, not only the Muslims”, and the Rabbi will say not only the Jews, but for everyone. So what actually do we have to do to evolve because at the moment the extremists dictate the course of events?
H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: First of all, inter-faith dialogues and education for those people is essential.
Second is that the people of the same community will have to identify the extremists and isolate them. For this, a neutral person needs to be there. A third party will have to come and facilitate the dialogue, re-orient them and bring them together. As you saw, we worked in Kashmir. There were 1500 Hezbollah Mohadin group terrorists who were transformed. These people came and shared, “We were doing something that was wrong. We were killing people.” They were caught in a prison in India with whom we worked.
So the first step tomorrow, I would say, is to work in the prisons with those terrorists. Through them contact other terrorists who are out there in the world. Bring them this education, this spiritual experience, a transformation in their mindset. I know it is not an immediate work; it gives results in the long term. In 2001 nobody could go into Kashmir. Businesses were shut. There were no electoral processes. The state of Kashmir was in a mess. Then, with our work till 2004, a big shift has happened. Today 69% of the people voted in Kashmir, and businesses have started though it took between 5 to 7 years. Drop by drop we would bring some difference, some transformation.
Similarly, if we can have 100 youth working for this cause in Israel and Palestine and train these people to think from a different perspective, I’m sure we can find greater peace, because I have seen this work in Iraq. I would like to give you an example of Iraq. You know, in Iraq we started the work between the Shias and Sunnis. There was such a big animosity between them. 8000 Sunnis were driven away from the Shia village. When we met one of the Sunni people, we took them to the Shia village and made them understand. Eventually they [the Shias] said that they [the Sunnis] may all come back. This is just one example.
I know there is so much more to be done. I know we have not achieved total peace in Iraq, but we have moved significantly. We invited about 50 youth from Morocco and 50 from Iraq to India. These people were so fanatical. They would not accept us because we are Hindus. Hindu means idol worshippers. But just in a matter of 3 weeks they started shaking hands and started dancing with us. There was such a harmonious atmosphere.
We had 22 people from Israel and about 150 from other Arab countries. When they first arrived in Bangalore, the Iranians, Iraqis, Arabs were so furious. They said, “Why didn’t you tell us that you brought Israelis also!” It was as though we had committed a very big crime. They said, “You have cheated us.” But just in three days there was a difference – they started liking each other and honoring each other. We had 150 Arab youth singing Shalom and Om Shanti. That gave us big hope that we can do something.
Q: A lot of our youth in Israel are leaving the country seeking opportunities elsewhere. Wouldn’t this adversely affect our economy? Please comment.
H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: If it is just 25% of the people going outside, I would say it is good. They will create a sense of belongingness to their country, to the place of their origin. It is good that people go and spread this everywhere. At the same time, if it is draining the economy of a university, of a state – like suppose you support a child to get educated, but then the child goes elsewhere and does not contribute to the government or system – that drain has to be addressed. This is a universal problem. It is not just confined to Israel. It is there in Asia, Japan, everywhere. I would say it is the sense of responsibility to the university, to the government, to whosoever has given you education, to pay them back. That has to come into people.
Spirituality is uplifting the spirit, the consciousness. Money is for your comfort. It brings you comfort on the material level. We spend half our health gaining wealth and then spend half our wealth gaining our health back, and usually it doesn’t work. So take care of your health because your health is your wealth. It is part of spirituality. Money should be kept in the pocket, not in the mind. If you keep thinking about money all the time, you can’t even enjoy the money that you have produced. So money is needed, but something which is more necessary than money is that humaneness and that happiness that money cannot buy.
The present generation doesn’t worry what others think of them. They are not interested in showing off as much as the previous generation used to. Wealth is a status symbol, a symbol of respect, but that is no longer so in the younger generation. This is something very good. They earn money just for themselves and not to show their status, not to show it to others. And the younger generation, I would say, has become much more intelligent because they see that many people have a lot of money, but no happiness. They are not friendly, not happy, and they are always stuck. The younger generation feels that they need to get the maximum out of their lives. That difference is there. The only thing is that the generation gap needs to be bridged. This can happen with understanding, through education. I would say that youth are very brilliant these days, very thoughtful and useful, if they don’t fall into the trap of alcohol and drug addiction. This is the danger for them – if they are deluded into all sorts of intoxication, which is a sorry state.
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