Far away from the shores of Indias, a spiritual and wellness guru’s words have brought comfort and peace to an estimated 6000 prisoners, some of them hardened gang members, in a Scandinavian nation.
It happened in Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark in the presence of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the super boss of Bengaluru-based Art of Living (AOL) that was founded in 1982 to help spread the use of meditation to alleviate stress and societal problems and violence.
“I love members of such gangs,” said the wellness guru with a chuckle. “It shows you have the power to gang up, and you are powerful. It would be wonderful if you make those gangs to bring some joy and light into the society.”
According to information reaching the Indian Capital, everyone opened their hearts to the Indian guru.
Remarked one woman, battling drug addiction: “I want to punish myself but I do not know how to do it?”
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar replied: “The person who did wrong is not the person who is there (in front of me) today. That person is dead and gone. So the new person should not punish the new person.”
Earlier, the spiritual and wellness guru attended a special session at Asia House in Copenhagen, the show moderated by Indian ambassador to Denmark, Pooja Kapoor. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also addressed the Mental Health Conference at the Danish Parliament in the capital city of the Scandinavian nation.
And then, during his conversation with author and businessman Christian Stadil at the prestigious Folketeateret in Copenhagen. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar spoke his heart out to a captivated audience. “Enlightenment can neither be captured through words nor the mind, not even as an experience. When it is, it is and it is what it is,” he said.
But the interaction with prisoners turned out to be a game-clincher for the Indian spiritual and wellness guru.
For the records, Denmark has struggled for decades with how to integrate immigrants into its welfare state. Interestingly, the public debate intensified in 2015 with the arrival of large groups of refugees from conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. And then, the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party became the second-largest party in parliament in an election that year.
This March, Danish PM Lars Lokke Rasmussen of the Liberal Party announced a plan aimed at boosting the integration of immigrants and eliminating ghettos – a word that is the same in Danish – by 2030, Reuter reported. The news agency said measures include banning criminals from moving into the areas, giving double punishment for crimes committed in ghettos, and demolishing then rebuilding parts of the zones.
Some of the prisoners who attended the session with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar asked him to what extent meditation helps in freeing someone from sins of the past. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar replied: “When you come to Guru, your karma changes, you get a new life. So, when you get a new life, the past has shut down. You have a lot of strength, courage and guts. This is a great qualification to move on the spiritual path. It gives you a selfless attitude to serve.”
The Indian spiritual leader told the prisoners not to worry about what the world thinks about them.
“Let them think you are bad, do not let that bother you. You have many qualities which are needed for spiritual growth.”
The Indian spiritual leader repeatedly quoted from the holy Bhagavad Gita. “Keep the mind calm, serene and stable.”
Some of the questions were brutal. One person, not in the session with the spiritual and wellness leader, said he has been asked by his friend to ask Sri Sri Ravi Shankar how he should handle gangsters who shot his brother.
“My friend wants to take revenge but still wants to have an answer from you,” asked the person from the crowd.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar replied: “He should take revenge by keeping them – those who shot his brother – alive. Shooting them does not end the revenge. Your friend should make his rivals aware of what they did, this level of awareness will make his rivals understand what they did.”
Art of Living has worked and transformed millions of hardcore criminals across the world, including in the United States where AOL volunteers have conducted camps in high-security jails.
Encouraged by the Indian wellness and spiritual leader, AOL volunteers conducted special camps for people fleeing Ukraine to escape the deadly war with Russia. During the Ukraine conflict, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar did routine interactions with AOL members across the world and impressed upon them the need to stay calm and avoid the path of conflict. “You are not alone. Don’t lose your heart and courage in these trying times. Have hope and faith,” he said.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, India’s peace ambassador, had also worked tirelessly some years ago to end a five-decade-old bloody insurgency in Colombia. It was his initiative that triggered the peace accord on April 24, 2016, thereby ending one of the world’s longest-running conflicts that left an estimated 220,000 dead, about 5 million have been displaced.
The Indian guru’s efforts found headlines in all South American newspapers and television channels. Indian government representatives in Colombia and Cuba conveyed news of the success to their superiors in the Indian Capital where the Ministry of External Affairs noted the stupendous success of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Closer home, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar worked overtime to ensure peace between Tamil guerillas and Sinhalese army in Sri Lanka. His works have rarely triggered breaking headlines. Reams and reams of documents have been written on the bloody LTTE war in Sri Lanka, many have penned tomes on one of the worst wars in Asia. One fact remained hidden, the journey of a genial spiritual and wellness guru who walked through the killing fields to usher peace. It is the story of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who visited the strife torn island to ensure peace for the Tamils and Sinhalese population.
Swami Virupaksha, a senior member of the Art of Living who worked extensively in Sri Lanka penned a bare-all book, “The Tiger’s Pause”, to narrate the hitherto unknown story of the genial guru.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar took a spiritual path early on, and by age 4 was able to recite from the Bhagavad Gita. Interestingly, he was born on the same day of the year as the Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara and followed the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, developing a rhythmic breathing exercise to help relieve personal suffering. The technique came to him in 1982 “like an intuition” after a 10-day period of silence on the banks of a river in India. The technique, Sudarshan Kriya, has made it the core of his Art of Living courses.
(Shantanu Guha Ray is a Wharton-trained journalist and award-winning author. He lives in Delhi with his wife and two pets. He won the 2018 Crossword award for his book, Target, which probed the NSEL payment crisis.)