About Art of Living, Art of Living Experiences, Art of Living Stories, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, The World Culture Festival, World Culture Festival.

India’s wildest and least explored state, isn’t just called the land of the rising sun for no reason. Arunachal Pradesh’s pristine beauty and lush greenery still remains beyond tourism’s reach. And this can only be a blessing in disguise. Especially with numerous rivers that bless this state with their abundance, it becomes essential to keep these rivers from the reach of miscreants.

The scenic Art of Living Ashram is situated along the bank of the river Jullang. Few river panoramas are as awe-inspiring as this one. Anyone who has sat on the banks of a river and gazed at the flowing water can testify to this. Given the serenity this can offer, its hardly surprising that Ashrams and other retreat centres are situated adjacent to a water body.



The sound of the flowing Jullang river, however, is not the only sound that emanates from the quiet surroundings of the Ashram. Even in the darkness one can hear noises that seem out of place in the setting – the sound of vehicles – trucks plying behind the Ashram in the river bed. One wonders what are city trucks doing in such a place. The reach of man can never be underestimated. Its common knowledge that river beds are the source of sand, gravel, and stones that are required for construction activity ranging from roads to bridges and buildings. Excessive quarrying for stones and gravel in the river bed can, however, have long term severe negative impact on the environment. This includes excessive erosion of the river banks leading to landslides and other damage to property. There is a sincere effort in other parts of the world to ensure economics and nature coexist. The Art of Living Foundation has been working incessantly for the last 35 years to serve mankind and nature alike.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has always championed the cause of the environment in today’s times. The 40 odd rivers that are rejuvenated in India today stand testimony to his and the organisation’s commitment, along with its teachers and volunteers who have contributed relentlessly to this cause.

One such champion is Swami Bhavyatej, who is currently in charge of the Arunachal Ashram. He had been observing the mining activity for some time. He had assumed that it was being done with the proper authority, since it was being done openly but started becoming concerned at the sheer scale of excavation. When the Ashram boundary wall was constructed a few years back there was more than thirty feet distance between the wall and the edge of the river. Over time, the Jullang river slowly ate away at the river edge to the point that it is now eroding the foundations of the boundary wall! Parts of the Ashram boundary have surrendered to the raging water in the last couple of years. Twice, sections of the boundary wall have been rebuilt at considerable cost. A stretch of about sixty metres of the boundary wall is currently damaged and is in need of repair. Is this just a natural phenomenon due to excess rains? Is it due to natural changes in the river flow due to landslides upstream? Arunachal Pradesh being a hilly region is prone to landslides and other such disturbances. Or is it due to the human activity in the river bed that was causing changes in the span of a few years that nature took millions of years to make.





Swamiji decided to inspect the activity himself. He politely talked to the truck drivers and other people engaged in the quarrying to be mindful of property near the river banks and how the boundary wall had been damaged in the past by the water. Of course, polite request fell on deaf ears. Subsequently, at a meeting with the Deputy Commissioner of Itanagar, Swamiji, requested a review of the mining in the area.




Officers visited the site to inspect the river and the surrounding area. They communicated that the quarrying activity was definitely excessive and illegal since the area in question was not “notified” for legal mining of river minerals. Coincidentally, while the review was being conducted, the Deputy Commissioner was transferred to Delhi. I assume it was a routine transfer but the timing did seem strange. Was it possible that invisible hands were at work?

A word here about how things run in Arunachal. The official writ is largely ignored in many matters. If a piece of land is unused, anyone who starts using is, for whatever purpose, since the owner doesn’t need it currently, becomes the unofficial owner of the land.

Finally in the face of determined enquiries by Swamiji and in light of the official review report, the district administration had no choice but to pass an order banning the illegal mining. The order was passed under section 144 of the criminal code. Once the order was communicated to the people engaged in the said mining, truck traffic greatly reduced, though it did not completely stop.

The river mining activity was being carried out by local politicians and thugs. Within days the Ashram was visited by people of various hues, explaining how the mining ban was affecting their livelihood, how people’s construction projects were on hold because the supply of raw materials had stopped and how poor labourers would lose their jobs. The visitors were accompanied by mining officers. It seemed as if the official machinery did not want to enforce the order at all.

Swamiji was handed a copy of a letter on their behalf saying that mining be allowed for personal use and that it would not affect the environment is any way and wanted his signature on it. Swami ji flatly refused. He explained that the order had been passed by the district administration, based on a review by their expert committee and that the Art of Living had nothing to do with it. He also suggested that they should petition the DC office to legalise and regulate the mining activity in the area and issue proper permits so that the activity could be carried out in a sustainable manner. Even after the order banning illegal mining was issued, enforcement was halfhearted at best. Activity continued in a distance. One day, Swami ji saw a truck parked in the river bed about half a mile away from the Ashram. The mining officer was called but initially did not answer the phone. Swami ji went up to the people loading the truck and explained the mining order. In the meantime, the officer had arrived as well. This happened a number of times in the first few days.

It seemed as if the Art of Living was in charge of enforcing the order also. Swami ji joked that the district administration should be paying the Art of Living for doing their job! Swami ji was told a number of times that he had to “live with the neighbours” and as long as mining did not happen immediately behind the Ashram it should not be a problem. This was by the district officer in charge of enforcing the order.  Swami ji said “The whole river is mine!”. Since the order mentions nothing about the Art of Living campus it needed to be enforced wherever illegal activity was happening



At a followup meeting with the Deputy Commissioner, Swamiji mentioned that the order had been partially enforced and some activity was still ongoing. The concerned officer was summoned but on questioning gave excuses saying that development work needs sand and gravel from the river. After the meeting, outside in the parking lot, things got a little heated. The said officer confronted Swamiji. “Why are you always complaining?!”, “Nothing will happen! I will not visit the area again to enforce the order” “You will have trouble with the local people!” Swamiji didn’t back down and told him that we will not be cowed down, that we were not afraid and that he should not threaten us. I personally felt a little scared by this exchange and also wondered why Swamiji had to make this matter so personal. Maybe it wasn’t personal and it just seemed that way to me. Or maybe it was : I said to Swamiji – “I have not felt afraid in a long time and have forgotten how it felt like”.

Swamiji smiled and said that “It is all a game”.

This exchange was communicated to the Deputy Commissioner who replied saying that he would resolve the matter peacefully. The next day, an official complaint was lodged with State officials regarding the concerned district officer. I realised that by this time my fear had vanished and I had started participating fully in the process. I wondered how this was going to unfold. Time will tell.

At this time when the Art of Living World Culture Festival is again in the news for “damaging the Yamuna flood plains”, and all the good work that the Art of Living has done to rejuvenate 27 rivers in the South of the country seems to have been forgotten, the Jullang river is an Art of Living story that is not making the news. But what is doing the rounds is the fiction that the NGT and the likes have made up. For me, it is absurd to even hear that a man and his organisation that has invested so much in creating a better world can be accused of something like this. As I witnessed this story unfold with my own eyes, I found it quite ironic that the Art of Living people were going out of their way to fight for nature here in Arunachal disregarding personal safety. The story of this Swamiji is only one amongst many. There are many champions like this around the world who mirror their leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s, vision and conviction to create harmony, inside out.

Dr Rajesh Kumar

Art of Living Happiness Teacher

B.Tech. Computer Science. (IIT Kharagpur 2002)

Ph.D. Computer Engineering. (Carnegie Mellon Univ, USA 2007)


About Art of Living, Art of Living Courses, Art of Living Experiences, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Yoga and Meditation.

Sakshi – Part-I 

During the morning session, Gurudev had told that everyone should write something. He said, unless you use your creativity, it will not blossom. You should write your experiences, write about knowledge. Guruji said how he had told one of his teachers to write about his experiences regarding ‘Art of Living’. That teacher had no experience of writing but his book turned out to be extremely popular. It got translated into many languages.

By evening many creative writers were born. Gurudev had to patiently bear with the new born creativity of the course participants. Some of the creations were extremely good but some were plain childish but Gurudev listened to everyone with the same attention and love.

Next day Gurudev himself conducted the morning Yoga and Sadhana session. Everyone was pleasantly surprised and happy. He came sharp at 6:00 am. The way he conducted Yoga was hilarious. It was an amazing experience. Short Sudarshan Kriya with Gurudev himself doing the kriya with participants was an experience beyond words.

During evening Satsang, Guruji again led everyone through another round of Sakshi meditation. Someone asked Guruji, “We can have inner peace by directing our awareness inside. How wonderful it would have been, if the outside problems would also disappear just by directing our attention to those problems.” Gurudev said, “Pahle andar to sab thik karlo; bahar ke problems to sirf Gabbarsing hai!” (First set right the things inside, the outside problems are just like an imaginary bogeyman).

On next day, Gurudev shared a beautiful story about the ‘night watchman’. When Gurudev was 23-24 years old, he was given enormous responsibility but there was no authority to get the things done. There were the numerous problems but things were not happening the way Gurudev wanted. When Gurudev used to bless others their problems were getting solved, but his own problems were not getting resolved. One day, due to so many unresolved problems, he was unable to sleep in the night. He decided to take a walk outside. He saw the night shift watchman standing at the entrance of the Ashram gate doing his duty. Gurudev stood behind a nearby tree and kept watching. The watchman was stopping each and every vehicle passing through the gate and patiently noting down the details. Gurudev thought, “Main bhi watchman ban jata hun….” (Let me also become like this watchman). The watchman was doing his job with total responsibility but at the same time he was not attached with any of the vehicles passing through the gate. He was just a witness to the events. Guruji told that, the next step beyond taking responsibility is to be a witness. Take total responsibility, put your 100% in whatever needs to be done but at the same time be a witness to all that is happening.

Taking ‘responsibility’ and being a ‘witness’ appear to be totally opposite things but in fact they complement each other. The burden of ‘doer-ship’ which comes with responsibility gets dissolved by ‘witness consciousness’ and one gets more energy for work. Witness consciousness also gives the sharpened awareness and intellect needed for skilfully executing the jobs.




Some of the precious pearls of wisdom shared by Gurudev during the course are –

  1. Gurudev said, “Save your mind and use your brain ….usually we save our brain and use our mind.”… Mind is full of likes, dislikes, desires and all the garbage. When our life is guided by mind rather than by intellect, we land into problems. When our decisions are based on intellect rather than our likes and dislikes, we become successful in life.
  2. The moments of disrespect are the moments where your true qualities shine forth. When someone insults you, just observe what is happening inside you. How you react at these moments of disrespect shows your true nature.
  3. Become angry only if it is going to give some good result. Use anger as a tool only if it is required. Don’t get consumed by anger.
  4. In meditation only three things bother you ….your ego, intellect and desires. If you are able to freeze these things you can meditate. If you are able to let go of your ego, intellect and desires while meditating, then only you can meditate.
  5. वैराग्य क्या है? जो देखे हुए सुने हुए बात की तरफ तृष्णा न हो तो वो वैराग्य है। (When you don’t have any aversion or craving towards anything seen or heard, then that is dispassion.)
  6. कमलनयन मने क्या? पुरे कमल जैसे आँख हो लेकिन कुछ अंदर ना ले। ( What is the meaning of Kamalnayan? One whose eyes are fully open like a lotus – one who is fully aware – but at the same time he is not attached with anything seen or heard.)

Those seven days with Gurudev were filled with lot of insights, meditations, wisdom, Satsang, fun and happiness. Finally the day to go back arrived. With a heavy heart I bid adieu to the Ashram. The course came to an end but this beautiful journey on the path shown by Gurudev continues.


II Jai Guru Dev II

-Sanjay Sabnis



About Art of Living, Art of Living Courses, Art of Living Experiences, Art of Living Wisdom, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Sudarshan Kriya, Yoga and Meditation.

One day my close friend called me to inform that Swamiji was at Ahmedabad and he had agreed to come over for dinner at his home. My friend invited me along with some others for dinner and knowledge session with Swamiji. I was delighted because I had tremendous respect for Swamiji.

I remembered the day when I first met Swamiji. It was way back in the year 2000. It was the last day of my first ‘Advance Course’ at Surat. Swamiji had graced that course as a guest of honor and gave a small talk to the participants. He told us how fortunate we were to be on this beautiful path shown by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji. He shared that, before coming to ‘Art of Living’, he had practiced many different types of Spiritual techniques (Sadhana). Some of those techniques were so tough that, it was like undergoing major surgery without anesthesia. In contrast, the path of ‘Art of Living’ was like operation under complete anesthesia. The patient doesn’t even realize that he is being operated. It is a path of smiles and laughter. It is a path of celebration. I was deeply moved by Swamiji’s words. Over the years I have realized the truth behind his words.

That day, the knowledge session with Swamiji was amazing. We were a small group of 8-10 people, so it was more like a one-to-one question-answer session. During discussions many of our doubts got cleared. Someone asked something regarding meditation. While explaining, Swamiji told that meditation is nothing but complete awareness. He said that many people lose their body awareness during meditation, their spine and head stoops down while meditating. According to Swamiji this was not meditation.



I was totally confused. I had seen many senior ‘Art of Living’ teachers meditating with their heads bent down. I vainly tried to argue with Swamiji that even Gurudev’s head bends down when he goes into meditation during Satsang. But Swamiji was very firm on his opinion. I was puzzled. I knew that Swamiji was a very learned, rational and down-to-earth person. He had many years of spiritual experience behind him.  He was a revered personality in ‘Art of Living’ circles as well as outside. He couldn’t be wrong. I also remembered Gurudev himself saying that, “A mind in the present moment is meditation.” Being in present moment is being totally aware. So, Gurudev’s statement was also corroborating with Swamiji’s views on meditation. However, this doubt about meditation kept nagging at the back of my mind for many days.


Advance Meditation Program 


After a few months, luckily I got an opportunity to attend 7-days ‘Advance Meditation Program’ (AMP) in presence of Gurudev at Bangalore Ashram. By that time, I had almost forgotten about Swamiji’s visit and my doubts about meditation. But by some strange coincidence (as usual?), Gurudev cleared all my doubts on the very first day of reporting at Bangalore Ashram. Being Sunday, the Satsang was in the open amphitheater. During Satsang, Gurudev led everyone into a very beautiful meditation with eyes partially open during the meditation. It was ‘eyes open’ meditation with complete awareness. Gurudev told that this was Sakshi meditation (witness meditation).



Gurudev said, in Sakshi meditation, you are simultaneously witnessing all that is happening inside and outside. Like a candle (diya) kept on the boundary wall, your awareness lights both inside and outside environment simultaneously. With the practice of Sakshi meditation your awareness sharpens. Your intellect sharpens. But if you keep on practicing only Sakshi meditation, you may become dry. You will not get the juice (ras) of life.


Laya Meditation


Gurudev then explained about Laya meditation In Laya meditation, one dissolves totally. It is like meditating while getting totally engrossed in the music of Satsang. Even Sahaj Samadhi meditation, as taught in ‘Art of Living’ courses is a Laya meditation. In this type of meditation, the mind becomes no mind. If you keep on practicing only Laya meditation you will definitely get happiness and peace of mind but you may not have that sharpness of intellect which is desired of a meditator. So we should have a combination of both Laya and Sakshi.

Gurudev said, “For a seeker it is essential that the mind is alert and awake, at the same time emotions are also alive.” I suddenly realised that, the combination of ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ followed by ‘Sahaj Samadhi Meditation’, as given by Gurudev, is a beautiful combination of ‘Sakshi’ and ‘Laya’. During ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ the awareness is effortlessly focussed on the breath. Breath is always going on in the present moment.  By following the breath, mind comes in present moment. So during ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ the consciousness automatically becomes ‘witness consciousness.’ On the other hand, ‘Sahaj Samadhi’ is an effortless Laya meditation. During ‘Sahaj Samadhi’ meditation, mind simply dissolves with the help of the ‘mantra’.

On that particular day, it was extremely hot outside. After the Sakshi meditation by Gurudev, many felt that the weather has suddenly become bearable. Gurudev said that a Yogi is not perturbed by hot or cold. For a Yogi hot weather or cold weather both are same.

In the evening miraculously there were clouds in the sky and there was thunder and rain. Temperatures fell by around 5-6 degrees. Weather became very pleasant. Next day, one of the participants thanked Guruji for rains. Guruji said, “The key was in acceptance. During Sakshi meditation, you accepted the extremely hot weather. As soon as you stopped resisting the hot weather, it changed.”

….to be continued

II Jai Guru Dev I|


Sanjay Sabnis