About Art of Living, Art of Living Experiences, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

A chance encounter with Dr. Janaki Sinha, an octogenarian, in The Art of Living International Centre, Bangalore, reinforced the faith in me that age is only a number if you have the passion and commitment to serve.  Altruism requires giving back to society all the good, and more.  Dr. Sinha struck me as a perfect example of altruism. A retired professor from S.B.L.N.T.M College (Vinoba Bhave University, previously known as Ranchi University), Jharkhand, Dr. Sinha exudes warmth and friendliness with a steely resolve to complete her mission of uplifting the people of  Deogarh, the 5th largest city in Jharkhand.

 

Deogarh district has a large tribal population known for its folk art, music, drama, dance, culture, temples, and medicinal herbs. Various species of medicinal plants are present in  Dumka, Hazaribag and Gumla districts of Jharkhand. Deogarh is the main city of Deogarh district in the Santhal Parganas division of the state of Jharkhand. It is an important Hindu pilgrimage centre with the Baidyanath Temple being one of the 12 Shiva Jyothirlingas and also one of the 51 Shakthi Peethas in India. Also known as Baidyanath Dham, Deogarh has a remarkable history. It goes back to the times of Lord Rama in Treta Yuga. In the 8th Century A. D. the last Gupta emperor, Aditya Sena Gupta, ruled this region. The Baidyanath Dham temple is famous since then.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, the founder of one of the world’s largest NGOs, the Art of Living Foundation, travels extensively  in India and abroad for the up-liftment of the society with the single most motto ‘to see a smile on every face’. People around the world and in India eagerly await his visit to their homeland. Gurudev  will be visiting Baba Baidyadham Teerth in Deogarh on 1st March 2017 for the darshan of the Jyothirlinga.

 

 

Dr. Sinha who is going ahead of Gurudev to Deoghar to prepare some youth to become leaders and to seek blessings of Gurudev says, “It’s my sankalpa (resolve) that Gurudev meets the tribals of the area who are waiting for Him since a long time”.

There is a history of 30+ years of hard work of Dr. Sinha for the betterment of the tribal community and yet much is left to be done. Stoic in her countenance, wisdom that comes with age, Dr. Sinha has been patiently waiting for the time Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji blesses Deoghar with His presence and guides the people there. Her frail body belies the strong person that she is.

Her eyes sparkle as she recounts the story of her journey.

Let us hear in her own words –

“The Centre for Women’s Studies was registered in 1985/86 in Bihar. The idea was given by Smt. Phulrenu Guna, then MP from West Bengal 1984-89, in one of the conferences of Women’s Association at Kanpur. She made us understand that when society has given us so much love, affection, and everything, we have to also contribute something good to the society. Dr Vina Mazumdar, the founding Director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), an autonomous organisation established in 1980, was my teacher in the university. Thus we started the work along with Smt. Sulekha Dua. I was the Director and Sulekha was the Deputy Director. I was assigned by the Chairman to work in the tribal fields santhal parganas. We were concerned about the up-liftment of the Santhal tribal society on the whole. Our area of work was from Deogarh extending to a few villages in remote areas. The people of these villages belong to Paharia tribe who live in the mountains and their main source of livelihood being forest produce. “Now, their race is fast diminishing”, says Dr. Sinha with wistful eyes that look far away.

“Why is it diminishing?” I ask her with curiosity.

“There are about 30 tribal groups in Jharkhand. Paharia forms 1% of the tribal population. Paharias live in more interior pockets which are generally inaccessible and with declining sources of sustenance they become more vulnerable to hunger, starvation,  malnutrition and ill-health. Some of them are even on the verge of extinction”, says Sinha with pain in her voice.

“As a result of unrest, naxalism and alcoholism is also on the rise which needs to be curbed.”

Dr. Sinha wants to address 3 main issues – to preserve the race; to preserve the culture; and to preserve the cultivation of medicinal herbs.

It is interesting to note that the area was once known for traditional folk art, music, dance, drama. Dr. Sinha added that the tribals were experts in making stone pottery, bronze sculpture, carpets from rags and exquisite paintings on the walls. “Every home was painted by the family and it was a feast to the eyes.”

Because of difficulty in finances and marketing, this rich heritage is in the danger of becoming obsolete. The present youth needs education and awareness to value, revive and sustain their culture. They have to learn to take pride in what their ancestors handed down to them. Dr. Sinha hopes to accomplish this through the help of the volunteers of the Art of Living. She is a great believer in YLTP program that brings out the leadership abilities in the youth who will in turn take responsibility for their community.

“We worked in Paharia villages of Dumka district. They were famous as centre of culture because they were experts in the field of traditional music, dance and drama. Since forestry and agriculture was the main occupation, people including children were very innovative with the available resources. Once I happened to see a bunch of children picking and carrying home huge bundles of grass. I asked them what they intended to do with it. They said they would use them to make musical instruments! The culture of music was so predominant” says Dr. Sinha with amusement and amazement.

I found it intriguing that the children in the area practised the art of making musical instruments such as violin using grass!!! How I wish to see one such instrument!

The third issue is the use of medicinal herbs for the welfare of community at large. Dr. Sinha  relents the fact that the medicinal herbs grown in the area is utilised for personal use, to treat illness in the family. A large variety of herbs that grow abundantly which can be formulated into herbal medicines does not happen. The tribals use medicinal plants by traditional knowledge. Traditional medicinal practitioners known as vaidays or kaviraj are the primary health care providers in rural Jharkhand. The knowledge of medicinal plants has mainly been gathered by the people in the form of tradition and experiences and inherited over the centuries to the future generation. It is extremely important to save this traditional knowledge of biological heritage and explore new resources.

“I was fortunate to get encouragement for tribal welfare by The Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji. A Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) was conducted for the tribal youth. The youths who underwent the program are very happy and have developed deep love and faith (shraddha) for Guruji. They are willing to take responsibility for the up-liftment of their community. One of the Yuvacharyas of the Art of Living is now a Mukhiya (Leader) of village Panchayat. She is working diligently for the welfare of the community. However, I am pained to say that because of lack of support from volunteers and follow-up, progress is blocked. I am now hoping and praying that with Guruji’s visit to Deogarh on March 1, work will resume in full swing. It is my dream to see a flourishing Deogarh reveling in its rich culture and tradition”.

Concluding Dr. Sinha shared that the Government has sanctioned 50 -60 acres of land to Mahila Samiti for plantation. “A Dhyan Mandir for the Santhals can be built in the land” says she with a ray of hope and faith.

We join hands with her mission and hope to hear success stories from the inhabitants of Deoghar.

For when Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ji steps in, Can there be anything else?!

Leela Ramesh

Art of Living Stories, Gurus, Saints & Sages.

With his presence in form of a statue at the end of every street and sometimes in middle of a traffic island, Hanuman is the most popular God across the length and breadth of India. Hanuman’s popularity is wide in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bali, Fiji and the Caribbean. He is known with the name Sang Kera Pemuja Dewa Rama in South East Asia and there is an 85 ft Hanuman statue in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

The first impression which comes to our mind when we think of Hanuman; is courage, which comes out of sheer dedication and commitment to the goal of his Master, Lord Ram. The dedication and commitment takes birth from the immense Bhakti he has for Lord Ram. Often Hanuman as a God symbolises – Shakti (strength and power), Yukti (trick and logic) and Bhakti (love and devotion). Hanuman has immense love for Lord Ram.

It was so immense that when Lord Ram would say something everybody would think twice before doing it but he wouldn’t even wait for a jiffy. He didn’t wait when he had to carry the ring of Ram to Sita in the Lanka crossing the vast Hindu Mahasamudra (Mahasagar). He didn’t wait to jump into the fire and smoke of the Paataal Loka (the world under the earth) to kill Mahiravana. He didn’t think a moment to jump across the Dandakaranya to fetch the Sanjeevini medicine to cure the wounded Laxmana.

 

 

To accomplish a task of this scale and magnitude, one needs unflinching commitment and strength. Undoubtedly, Hanuman was blessed by all the Gods with abundance of that. But the secret catalyst to Hanuman’s recipe was Bhakti! The Bhakti manifested dedication in him to work with a single mind towards  Lord Ram’s goal.

Every word of Lord Ram was a rule for Hanuman. Lord Ram’s smile – a blessing, his love – an ocean of contentment, his anger – war conch, his compassion – a rain of abundance! Hanuman would often say – “When I am the body, I am Lord Ram’s servant. When I am the Soul, there is no difference between me and him.” The love was so intense. For him duty meant Lord Ram’s work, happiness meant Lord Ram’s company and peace meant Lord Ram’s worship.

When Hanuman was a kid, one day he went to his mother Anjana Devi and asked her the purpose of his life. To which Anjana Devi smiled and replied – “One day you will meet a person. When you meet him, all your sorrows and thoughts will disappear. When you meet him, you will find yourself in middle of bliss and experience unconditional happiness. And you heart will say – Are you that magic beyond the realms of the dreams which I waited all this while to meet and longed for you eternally?” Serving him and living the message and spirit of service will be the purpose of your life”. He found Lord Ram, one day in midst of the dreaded Dandakaranya frantically searching for his abducted wife, Sita. That longing seamlessly transformed into love for his Master.

 

 

One of the Sanskrit verses from Hanuman Chalisa, an ancient 40 couplet song written by Saint Tulasi Das which translates to

“Wherever the glory of Raghunatha (Lord Rama) is being sung, Maruthi, the antidote to all the demons in this world shall be present there with folded hands and tears in his eyes.”

Hanuman proved that a devotee is supreme; devotion is Supreme and, a tad bigger than the Divine.

A less known story about Hanuman epitomises the power of his devotion.

Once upon a time, the kingdom of Kashi was ruled by a pious king. One day he goes to River Ganga to have a bath during the dawn. Due to the darkness, he accidentally stepped on Sage Vishwamitra who was also taking bath in Ganga. He is cursed by Sage Vishwamitra that he would die for insult caused to him in Kashi. Vishwamitra also curses  Hanuman that he would order his disciple Ram to kill him. On Vishwamitra’s instructions, Ram vows to kill the King of Kashi in 3 days. The King of Kashi respects and admires Ram and decides to surrender to Ram so that he can die in hands of the Divine. When he begins the journey towards Ayodhya, his journey is stopped by his Rajaguru Narada who refutes his claim that he committed a mistake. Narada convinces The King of Kashi to seek refuge from Anjana Devi, mother of Hanuman, who is the dearest to Ram. The King goes and seeks protection from Anjana Devi as Narada feels Hanuman is the only person who can save him from the crisis. The King of Kashi narrates the entire story to Anjana Devi, surrenders to her and prays for protection. Anjana Devi mollifies him and blesses him as  “Chiranjeeva! (which means may you be blessed with a long life” and calls out to her son. Hanuman arrives instantly. The King of Kashi narrates the entire story to him. Anjana Devi passes on the formidable responsibility of protecting the King to Hanuman. Hanuman assures protection saying that “Ramo Vigrahavan Dharamaha” which is “Ram is the towering edifice of Dharma” and Ram would never commit anything which is out of Dharma.

Hanuman goes to meet Ram. He is surprised as Ram is inured to his words as he has already made up his mind to attack Kashi and is briskly preparing for the war. Moreover, he resists to what Hanuman says as he treats it as an insult to his guru Vishwamitra. In the heat of the argument, a conflict breaks out between Ram and Hanuman. Hanuman feels that King of Kashi is innocent while Ram feels that he is guilty. Hanuman, bound by the promise given to his mother, thereby announces to confront Ram in the battle of war and protect the King. The war conch is blown and battle lines are drawn. Ram and his army arrive in Kishkinda and start raining arrows on King of Kashi. Hanuman starts singing Ram Naam (chants of the name of Ram) to which all the arrows start falling. The best of the Astras including the Bramhastra fail before the chants of Hanuman. The chants of Ram Naam by Hanuman are so powerful that they form a protective hemisphere around the Gandhamadhana Mountain in Kishkinda where Hanuman was sitting with the King of Kashi. The war intensifies as Ram tries a diverse range of Astras and Mantras to kill the King. Hanuman’s Bhakti also intensifies as he starts singing even more loudly and even start dancing and jumping in the intoxication of Ram Kirtan. Ram himself is surprised at this sheer failure and decides to kill himself to save himself from the defeat of war. Vishwamitra, then walks in and tells Ram and others present there that it was a drama hatched by him to send out a strong message that – A devotee and his/her devotion are greater than the Divine himself.

Everybody played their part well in the drama but the hero of the drama Hanuman innocently was soaked in the ocean of devotion and became an example for generation. Hanuman proved that a devotee is infallible.

 

 

 

More stories to follow …

In Service,

Surya Tej Borra

Art of Living Courses, Art of Living Experiences, Art of Living Stories, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

It was indeed a thrilling moment for me when it was announced that Pujya Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar would be teaching Special Part2 course pan India and we, His instruments are blessed to facilitate HIS course. I was asked whether I was willing to travel out of state and I jumped at the opportunity. A few choices came my way and I chose Jaipur. There was no rhyme or reason for my choice because I did not know any one there nor I had any clue where in Jaipur I would be facilitating.

Research began. I saw photos of Jaipur ashram on the website and enquired whether course would happen in the ashram. Answer was in affirmative.

I had visited Jaipur 35 years ago as a north India tourist with family but frankly had forgotten the experience. I believe ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’ so, subconsciously I must have chosen the place, pink city, for its sheer beauty!

Clean and wide roads sans maddening traffic took us to the Sri Sri Ashram on Nov 8 .

Food came from the kitchen to my room in serving bowls, Serving spoons and plates with the sevak telling me rather curtly, ‘Do not waste food. Take as much as you eat”. Amused I said “yes Bhaiya, I will serve myself as much as I need and send back the rest untouched. You can use it”. I was happy about the instruction I got from the Sevak. It showed concern about wastage and honour for Annabrahma.

Thick and warm Jaipuri blanket of grace comforted me to the core and I rested with a smile on my face.

The next morning I was requested to lead long kriya follow up and it was filled with humorous warm up followed by calming long Kriya. A group Sankalpa was taken to bring maximum people to the course with Gurudev. There was still a good 24 hours before the course began and we all agreed with firm sankalpa, even mountains could be moved.

The day passed checking connections, deciding on the menu and other details ensuring there would be no obstruction in the flow of the course.

Satsang in the evening was again to bring people together in celebration and service. The young singers sang bhajans in a mesmerizing way that we all felt the energy of Silence Course had already set in. Demonetization that coincided with the course date did have an impact on the numbers yet the organizers succeeded in registering 63 people, many first timers.

It would be a futile attempt to describe the course as no words can justify the beauty of the Master’s presence or His knowledge. Long meditations,  joyful, soulful satsangs,  question and answers, He urging the devotees to follow Him  on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, share creative ideas and  invitation to writers to come together saw a flurry of activity in the hall with brimming  faces!

For the nth time I wondered how one being can have such a huge positive impact on thousands of people at a time! But then, He always says His secret is, He does not do anything that is not in His nature.

Simple, honest, down to earth… The factors that pull people to Him like a magnet. Needless to mention, course was wonderful, beautiful, amazing, boundless grace …goes without saying.

Lets us look at behind the scenes action.

 

Gurudev always supports scientific research about the processes we do in our courses. Benefits are tangible but validation is necessary.

Doctors from Rajasthan University of Health Sciences associated Medical College and Hospital, Jaipur, took initiative to conduct a study before and after the course. Dr Mohit shared the Abstacts with me.  Please have a look.

 

 

RUHS-CMS (Rajasthan University of health sciences associated medical college & hospital, Jaipur)

(Doctors in the Pic: Dr. Sudhanshu Kacker (HOD Physiology RUHS-CMS), Dr. Mohit Sharma (Asst Professor Dept of Cardiovascular & Thorasic Surgery SMS Medical College), Dr Mahima Sharma (Senior Demonstrator Dept of Physiology RUHS-CMS), Dr Neha Saboo (Asst Professor Dept of Physiology RUHS-CMS)

The kitchen has one main cook and an assistant. Prior to the course, I kept urging that we need lot more hands in the kitchen during the course.  As per the menu directed by me, main breakfast item on the first day of course was semolina upma with lot of vegetables.  After Long Kriya , I walked up to the kitchen and witnessed our Cook pouring packet after packet of semolina into a big pot of boiling water. Is this the way upma made here? I wondered. When we all sat down to eat, there was upma that looked more like thin porridge! No one complained. I offered to teach him how to make proper upma and told him to stick to his poha upma and Dalia (Broken wheat upma) which he was adept at making.

We south Indians take our dishes for granted believing that everyone knows how to make such a simple but wholesome items. But in the north it is as alien to them as making a perfect kachori or samosa for us.

Remembered Gurudev’s observation about how varied our cuisine is in India. It varies not only from state to state but within the state too. He has mentioned varieties of food as one of the seven wonders of India.

By lunch time kitchen was buzzing with several AOL teachers and volunteers pottering around with pots and pans!  I breathed easy! Things were under control.

Our participants, enthusiastic seva warriors, joined hands to roll out rotis and cut vegetables beyond their allocated seva time in the morning.  It looked like seva was their breath! I had to pass by kitchen every time I was going to the course venue and signal to them to move to the session.

Whether it is cleaning ashram campus, Course Hall, or cleaning the rooms, the participants gave their 100%. The result was shining faces, supple body and deeper meditations.

Another challenge appeared by evening. Course time was announced 7am to 7pm. Now, Gurudev’s satsang ended after 8pm. Nonresident participants, who were not ready, began to panic. It would be well over 9pm by the time they could set off homewards to their waiting family.

Love, care and dedication of kitchen sevaks ensured dinner was available to nonresident participants before satsang. We saw smiling faces again.

That is the beauty of this path! We are ready to smile through changed plans, uncertainty and discomfort for long term joy.

It was a cake walk there on. Seamless flow of the course was only possible because of excellent technical support from the Bangalore ashram team. . Our volunteers had zero problems accessing the network.

I had to do something which is not normally done while teaching a course.  I was on WhatsApp most of the time! Because that’s where we got updates from NTC regarding Gurudev’s arrival to the course and other information. One local  Swamiji who was attending the course remarked to STC, Abhishek ji, after silence was broken, that the teacher was always on the phone while the course was going on! Abhishek ji had to explain to him why.

Now that things were under control from the 2nd day of the course, it was time to spend some precious moments with volunteers by bonding over the dining table. It never fails to amaze me how we connect in an instant. There are no strangers in this global family. One thread binds all the pearls together.

Well, I am sure readers already know what conversations took place during breaks. GURU STORIES!

Hours of toiling in the kitchen hardly tired them. Each one with a glowing face shared their story.

A story that left me speechless yet again is about Chappan Bhog when Gurudev visited Jaipur ashram.

250+ dishes were lovingly made by devotees for their Master. There were 2 glasses of lassi (thick buttermilk), one sweet and another salty standing on the table side by side. No one knew which one was sweet and which was salty. Gurudev asked for the salty one. “But, Gurudev, we do not know which glass holds salty lassi” said devotees in unison. “Give me the right glass. That has salt lassi” said gurudev calmly and it sure was the salty one! Has anyone fathomed the depth of the Master? We can only wonder!

Tears of joy and gratitude flowed at the end of the course. I am especially touched and admire young couples, to be married who choose to attend the course to celebrate togetherness. May this tribe increase!

I read in a knowledge post of Gurudev, that one of the vows couples who get married according to Hindu tradition take during Sapta padi is, that they will serve together for the up-liftment of the society.  Gurudev’s idea of starting Sri Sri Matrimony is to facilitate such ideal marriages. What a blessing!

By the way, I am married according to Hindu tradition 40 years ago, but I never knew such a clause existed in sapta padi.  Today I am blissed out to realize that because of Gurudev, we are able to fulfill this divine vow by doing our bit for the humanity.  Ever grateful to my husband who walks the path with me lending great support. His selfless attitude has enabled me to walk smoothly in my quest to find myself.

Are you ready for another great Guru story? I know you have said ‘yes’!

As I was taking a walk around Ashram campus feeling so very content, two yuvacharyas joined me and said Jai Gurudev  Didi.

They recounted a Guru story that again made my hairs stand stiff on my hands!

A huge YLTP course had taken place in August at Jaipur ashram this year. It was monsoon time and the course was outdoors without any roof. One evening there was thunder and lightening.  The participants saw a shaft of light slowly descending and feared it would fall on them.  Instead, it changed its course and cut through a cement umbrella made on top of Gurudev’s room!  Later on, a participant shared that he had seen lightening descending on them while doing Hari Om meditation. Because he was in meditation, he could not share what he saw with others at that time.  A Master would go to any length to protect His devotees.

The next morning we went up to the terrace to take a snapshot of broken umbrella that is symbolic of His promise to protect us, come what may.

After a fulfilling day of sadhana, seva and satsang, it is always sheer bliss to slip into the blanket of grace, placing our head at the feet of the divine in the form of pillow and sleep like a baby.

After the course, I had another day to explore the beautiful pink city,  Jaipur, all the splendor it offers.

 

 

I hope to write my travelogue on Rajasthan in the coming episodes.

Leela Ramesh