Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living

An Encounter with a Guru

In his white robes and long black hair, he looks like a guru of yore and, indeed, he teaches a programme based on ancient yogic principles. But, though the basic principles are old, the routine he has put together is his own creation and is well suited to modern living.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, the world’s largest non-government organization, devoted to helping individuals live well and promoting global peace.The Foundation is best known for its basic Art of Living course, which is taught in 140 countries and teaches a daily routine of breathing exercises intended to keep the student healthy for life. It also aims to promote spiritual development and teach love and compassion.

Guruji, as he called by his followers, personally teaches some of the Art of Living courses, but many others are conducted by teachers trained by the Foundation, headquartered in Bangalore, India. Sri Sri teaches at the ashram when he is there; but he is often away, attempting to mediate peace in Sri Lanka, Iraq or whatever may be the latest troublespot.

Guruji himself exudes an aura of peace and gentleness. He smiles often, a slightly enigmatic smile, and speaks softly. Yet he has a commanding presence. At a seminar on happiness – a topic most people might consider rather difficult to address – he held the attention of hundreds of adults as he taught them to find the joy they had known as children.

In private, he was accessible, yet I felt there was an indefinable distance. Perhaps his serene expression and gentle, slightly other-wordly smile created an impression that he was in another realm, which was not accessible to me. At the same time, he was also very much in the room, with the rest of the small group, answering questions from a journalist.

He answered sincerely, explaining the goals of his foundation, yet retaining his sense of fun. Asked why he focuses so much on breathing techniques, he retorted: “Because no-one can tell me they are too busy to breathe.”

A light-hearted answer, but it showed how well he understands one of the greatest challenge most of us face today: managing time.

At the same time perhaps it was a hint that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. In public and in private, answering seriously or in jest, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar seemed to be a guru for our times, with a link to an ancient heritage. -- Philippine chapter

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