In the month of May in the garden city of Bangalore, over a decade ago, a cobbled winding pathway guarded by lush green trees in full bloom. The silver of the moonlight meandering and finding it’s way through the thick canopy. The cool breeze was bringing with it the smell of damp soil. About 50 people dressed in crisp whites standing on either side of the pathway holding candles. A sense of anticipation, peace, excitement and joy in the air. A smile on every face and a song on each lip. Even as my eyes feasted on this sight (something that even personalized private paid holidays cant always create) I saw a petite figure in flowing white robes glide along the path, we were standing. There was a smile for everyone, a pat, some flowers and love that was freely oozing for all to soak into. The whole event lasted no more than 2 minutes, but left a lasting and deep impression in my heart. The silence of the night was quickly broken as the group jolted to follow the man in white flowing robes, with a twinkle in his eyes and smile on his lips… I was in all senses an outsider (it was my first time at that place and with these people in white) but something inside me propelled me to join the group into the hall. It was the first time that I had stumbled across the phenomenon known as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and little did I know that I was soon to be swept off my feet straight into a whirlwind of knowledge, love and life.
From that first encounter with His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji (fondly known as Guruji) way back in 1999-2000 till today, I have had numerous opportunities to meet Him, spend time with Him, observe Him and most importantly learn from Him. If I have to trace my story with Guruji and The Art of Living, I would probably need to write at least a page for each day of my life… and so, I’ll just look behind me and talk about some milestones- a few landmark, some adorable and still some plain vanilla, but each of them significant nonetheless.
As a Guru and a saint, there is tremendous mystic surrounding Sri Sri. Many have made vain attempts at trying to capture that presence in words and pictures. Over the years I’ve realized that attempting to cage Him in anything material is both impossible and futile. In His presence miracles happen, realization dawns, peace prevails, love blossoms and life smiles. Miracles are many, healing experiences are in plenty. Talk to any devotee, they simply can’t stop attributing every realization, moment of truth and glory to Guruji. I’ve seen it happen before my very own eyes, a child who could barely stand due to a limb dysfunction, started walking after being blessed by Guruji. Aches and pains getting cured in His presence are taken for granted by His followers. I’ve had my share of miracles too, it was a terribly distressing time and I was in need of support and guidance. Confused as I was, I couldn’t decide on what needed to be done. Utterly helpless I decided to flip through a book by Guruji ‘Celebrating Silence’. The page I opened up, gave me my answer. Almost as if it were written only for me and just for the situation I was in.I had heard many people tell me about similar experiences and had always brushed them aside. But this time I couldn’t. A week or two later when I did get to see Guruji, with a mischievous smile on His face, he asked me, ‘Kyon? ho gaya na kaam? bata diya na maine kya karna hain…’ I’ve never questioned faith ever after.
Being a journalist, I’ve known and interacted with many multi-faceted people, extremely successful in their chosen fields, but Sri Sri is different. His depth in each dimension- as a guru, a master, a leader, a teacher, a globe trotter, a humanitarian, a visionary- is unfathomable.
Many years ago, when the new BIAL airport was not yet in the pipeline, many of us would go to the airport to receive Him every time He flew back in town. I remember distinctly, one such mid night, He was returning from a particularly long trip abroad. There were at least 30 of us standing at the airport arrival lounge and a much larger number standing outside the lounge. He arrived and greeted each one of us with such love and joy. There wasn’t a trace of tiredness/ jet lag. He received the flowers and the letters listing out worries and problems with the same smile. I realized only later, that it was 3 in the morning, He had just taken a 9 hour flight back home and here we were, jostling around Him, wanting a look of love and a smile from Him, falling at His feet and tugging at His robes, wanting to hold His hand, seeking His blessings without giving even a moment of thought to His comfort. It was like this, way back in the 90’s, it is the same even today- He smiles and gives, blesses and fulfils without a complaint, without a thought for himself. Another incident stands out vividly in my memory. It was February 2004, Gurudev was back from a whirlwind satsang tour of the country. The Bangalore ashram was packed with people who were longing to see Him and attend satsang with Him. He had been gone for a good 40 days or more. As He walked past us to get on to the stage, many of us noticed a blood clot in His left eye. Later that evening when we got an opportunity to ask Him what happened, He mentioned that at a satsang in Tamil Nadu people were throwing raw rice and flowers at Him and some of that hit Him straight in the eye. We were taken aback. Its a custom and tradition down south that people shower the Gods and gurus with raw rice and flowers, but didn’t they realize that throwing it from a distance of 5-10 ft on a person walking on stage can be painful? Looking at us staring aghast, He chuckled and said, ‘at least they are not throwing coconuts!‘ His compassion and understanding are truly mind boggling.
Today, the Art of Living Foundation has grown in leaps and bounds, its presence and service activities in over 155 countries across the world is commendable. From the last inhabited city of the world- Tera Delfargo in Argentina to small villages in India, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a household name. And the reason behind this growth, as much as He would like to humbly attribute it to the teachers and volunteers in the organization, is Him and only Him. His enthusiasm is infectious and His leadership is inspiring. I’ve been tremendously lucky to have worked at reasonably close quarters with Sri Sri. He isn’t just a multi-tasker, He is multi-tasking himself. I’ve personally seen Him start his work day at 7 am (and I know that He wakes up no later than 3:00/ 4:00 am and does his spiritual practices) and goes on till 1:00 am or 2:00 am. The only break He takes in the day is possibly a short power nap after lunch– and most of His lunches are working lunches mind you! I remember one evening, I got back from work and went straight to the ashram on Kanakpura Road, Bangalore. I reached late and so couldn’t attend the satsang, but it was Raksha Bandhan and I really wanted to meet Him and tied the sacred thread around His wrist. I sought some time with Him, flooded as He was with work, He still sent for me. It was past 10 pm when I met Him and tied the rakhi. He spoke to me for a bit while He answered His email, took some phone calls and attended to at least 10 more people in His kutir, besides me. Through this all, He kept a track of the news and even asked for someone to find out more about a particular news story. When all of us stepped out of his kutir, it was close to 11 pm. He had another meeting to finish before He could call it a day at His office, yet, He posed for pictures, gave everyone prasad and just as I was stepping out, He asked me how I had come to the ashram. When I told Him that I had taken public transport, He quickly arranged for someone from the ashram to drop me back home (over 25 kms from the ashram). Thankful, I surely was, but something really struck a chord inside me- here is a celebrity (in his own right), with millions of fan, followers and devotees but He makes time for everyone and takes care of everyone to the minutest detail. With a leader like that, at the helm of affairs, it isn’t a wonder that his followers are high on life and boast of unbridled enthusiasm to serve society for the better.
There is so much about Him that appeals to me and so much that I have learnt and continue to imbibe from Him that it would be practically impossible to pen it all. There is however, one thing that I’d still like to point out. I haven’t seen another who is so honest and transparent about himself. Guruji is the same person behind closed doors, when meeting dignitaries, at administration meetings or when He is out at public satsangs interacting hundred and thousands of people, spending time with slum dwellers, trauma hit or even in war zones. I’ve had the honor and privilege of interviewing Him a couple of times and I can vouch that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the same in front of the camera or behind it. I remember interviewing Him once around the election time in 2008. He was asked ‘you are asking people to vote, but do you vote?’. He replied, ‘Yes, of course! I voted this morning. I don’t ask anyone to do anything that I don’t do myself.’ After pausing for a few seconds, he added, ‘except marriage’. I was in peals of laughter as were the others who were with me… but He insisted that we keep that last part ‘because it is true’, He said.
Meeting Sri Sri is like coming in touch with that fragile, delicate part of our own selves that we’ve buried under layers of convoluted emotions and years of curdled stresses. There is a beautiful poem written by Guruji himself where he says:
If you are willing to walk into my arms,
If you are willing to live in my heart,
You will find the one you have waited forever….
You will meet yourself in my arms…
He lives that promise every moment.