Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Speaks On Consciousness And Our Ecology
“We have always used the water of holy rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna to purify ourselves, but today we have reached a point where we have to purify this water.” — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
According to the ancient Vedic knowledge, human beings have five sheaths or layers to their existence — the environment, the physical body, the mind, the intuitive sheath, and the innermost blissful Self.
“The environment is our first body,” says Sri Sri (pronounced Shree Shree), “so environmental consciousness is built into the human system. Historically, nature, or prakriti, has always been adored in India. It is only when we start moving away from nature that we start polluting nature.”
For the last 30 years, Sri Sri has focused on both the individual and society. His core programs for individuals include a workshop that brings the mind into the present with special breathing techniques, knowledge, and advanced programs of silence and meditation. He also offers special workshops that help veterans, people with HIV, prisoners, business people, and children.
However, Sri Sri considers service a key aspect of personal growth, and something that has the effect of helping people go deeper in their meditation.
“When the love blossoms, it has to flow out and express,” he explains. “Otherwise, it is suffocating inside. Service is not a favor that one does for somebody. It is not work that one is doing. It is the expression of one’s inner being; it is love. It brings one totally into the present moment.”
Volunteers from Sri Sri’s nonprofit organ-izations are active in more than 150 countries and have brought trauma relief to areas of conflict and natural disaster on a massive scale. They have inspired parties at war to lay down their arms, fought corruption and female infanticide, and brought hygiene, housing, education, and other programs to more than 35,000 villages in rural India.
If you looked only at the worldwide environmental initiatives of Sri Sri’s main foundations, the Art of Living Foundation, and the International Association for Human Values, you could easily conclude that they must be purely environmental organizations. They are involved in a campaign against genetically modified seeds, rainwater-harvesting projects, zero-budget organic and chemical-free farming, animal and plant-species protection, sustainable-living education in the U.S. and Canada, Haiti reforestation, and environmental campaigns in Bahrain.
As part of the Art of Living’s Mission Green Earth, volunteers in 36 countries planted more than 55 million trees. Last year, more than 20,000 people joined Sri Sri at the Yamuna River, as part of an eight-day cleanup event and awareness campaign. Over half of the estimated 3.6 billion tons of sewage produced daily in Delhi, flows untreated into the Yamuna. The Art of Living initiated the Yamuna cleanup project and has since inspired major local involvement with dozens of other NGOs and companies joining as partners.
“Spirituality elevates one’s consciousness and checks the greed that leads to environmental degradation,” says Sri Sri. “If you are devoid of spirituality or ignore it, you cannot become environmentally conscious, it’s almost impossible. Because somewhere deep within you, your cravings, your aversions, and your anger will, directly or indirectly, start affecting your environment.”
The Earth as a Living Being
In Vedic times, in India, the five basic elements that are in human beings and the rest of creation were treated with honor: earth, water, fire, air, and space.“Water was worshipped as sacred,” explains Sri Sri. “Every river was considered sacred and pollutants were not allowed.
When you consider something sacred, you will never pollute it.” An attitude of treating the elements as though they were living beings is found in Native Americans and tribal people around the world.
Sri Sri suggests that only when someone is aware and respects the Earth will they stop polluting. “When one can respect living beings, then respect for animals comes, and after that, inanimate objects. But a certain level of awareness, a certain level of awakening is essential. It takes a greater heart.”
“Treating the trees, rivers, people, and the rest of the planet as sacred, and seeing God in nature and in people will foster sensitivity,” he says. “A sensitive person can’t but care for nature. It is insensitivity that makes a person act callously toward the environment. If a person is sensitive, he will nurture the environment, thereby eradicating pollution.”
The Inner Environment
Even in the face of war and terrorism, Sri Sri feels environmental issues cannot be ignored. “Of course,” he notes, “if there is a war and bombs are falling next door, you can’t think about planting new trees. In those situations, whether it is Gaza, Lebanon, Pakistan, or Afghanistan, the immediate concern is to put an end to terrorism and to stop the war. At the same time, I would say that even war is part of the environmental concern. Dropping tons of ammunition and bombs in a small area damages that area for a long, long time. Trees are damaged, earth gets damaged, and water is polluted.”
There is one influence on the environment he says we should be paying more attention to — the effect of the negative emotions and vibrations we carry with us.
“It’s quite natural for negative feelings and emotions to come into the mind,” he says. “It’s not unnatural, it’s natural.” Of these, “greed is the greatest pollutant,” he says; “Greed stops a person from sharing with others. Greed obstructs the preservation of the ecology. While being aware of methods to prevent pollution, a person may not act upon them because they cost in some way. This greed not only pollutes the gross physical environment, but also contaminates the subtle atmosphere. It stimulates negative emotions in the subtle mind and impacts the minds of the people around.”
Sri Sri states that the negative feelings of hatred, anger, and jealousy are the root of all disasters and misery in the world, whether they are economic, political, environmental, or social.
“All that we need to learn is how to clear them away so they don’t stay there, ferment, and become more negative,” he says cheerfully. “That is why these practices of meditation, Yoga, and breathing techniques are there. Through them, you can create such a positive and harmonious vibration within you and around you.” He says that awareness of how things are, right now, and awareness of the positive and negative emotions, also helps.
Service & The Shade-Giving Tree
“Seva (service) is your inner attitude, not the action,” says Sri Sri. It is that attitude of saying ‘I am available, I am here,’ to everybody, to everything, in all situations and all circumstances.
Sri Sri tells the story of a rich but miserable merchant during Buddha’s time. After meeting Buddha and meditating, he felt so wonderful that he wanted to help others find that. He found a beautiful area for an ashram, not far from the city, but discovered that it was the pleasure park of the prince. The prince wanted a lot of money for this land so the merchant paid for it, and the place became Buddha’s ashram. At one time, there were ten thousand people meditating there.
However, the merchant eventually lost his business and became a pauper. He was penniless, but he still wanted to keep giving something. In his backyard, he dug up some manure compost and put it under some of the ashram’s plants and trees.
Says Sri Sri: “Someone asked, ‘What is this? This is amazing! Even now, you are doing this service.’ The man says, ‘Yes. A handful of compost I put under this plant. This plant will become a shade-giving tree, and we don’t know how many people will sit under this tree and find that peace within their heart and get out of all their misery and problems.
Just sitting under the tree, how many people will gain meditation? For centuries to come, it can do a lot of miracles and benefit so many people.’
From that attitude, says Sri Sri, “‘This tree is not just a tree for today. The manure I am putting is not manure just for today. It’s for generations to come. This will grow bigger and bring shade and solace to many souls burned down in the heat of the world.’ That attitude of seva, that feeling that generates from within us; seva, is just an expression of our inner love.”
In the memoir, Stumbling Into Infinity: An Ordinary Man in the Sphere of Enlightenment, Michael Fischman tells about Sri Sri Ravi Shankar when he was in his twenties, seeking advice from a 300-year-old saint named Devraha Baba. This saint handed Sri Sri a big melon, saying, “Water is flowing. It has to flow.
If it stagnates, it will rot. So satsang should flow. Satsang is that force that allows the grace to flow in the world. Satsang is essential in the world so the world doesn’t rot. You have to carry on the satsang everywhere in the world.”
Jeffrey Ainis is a freelance writer, book editor, and an author of books on world music and composing. He also leads kirtan around the world.