Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Prakirtee, Mauritius

Auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers

I was born in Mauritius, an island of an exquisite beauty in the Indian Ocean, where people of diverse religions and cultures live together in harmony. My immediate family consists of my exceptionally wonderful parents and my unique elder brother, who have been pillars in my life. I graduated in accounting and finance and I’m currently employed in the field of auditing by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Young and Inquisitve

At a very young age, I would ask my mom who we are, who created us, who created the universe and she would tell me, in her own wonder, that it’s the creator – but then I would again ask, who created the creator! I had that innate drive to know more about the purpose of life. Later, the illnesses and death of some close ones intensified those quests about existence.

Meeting Sri Sri in the Bangalore Ashram

My mom and brother had done the Part 1 course in 2001 and the difference was so vivid. Life for us all looked brighter but I barely knew anything about Art of Living or Guruji. August 2001, mom and I were on a trip to India and after lots of interesting circumstances we landed up in Bangalore Ashram. As I stepped in, it was the inimitable feeling of having come back home. A wave of comforting peace embraced me and that was when I first met Guruji. Love at first sight – I’ve known it. A single glance was more than enough to make me His. His smile, mischief, and way of grace moved me. The much love I lived in those two days was unparalleled. The pristine ashram, the sense of oneness among the devotees, the smile on every face, the ethereal magic of satsang and everything else welcomed me back home. No wonder I still am addicted to our Bangalore Ashram.

I was only 13 then. I have ever since lived and witnessed miracles in every sphere of life. Each of the Art of Living courses brought to me absolute gems to live a fuller life. Sudarshan Kriya is something I still can't fathom and its benefits surpass all possible expectations. The much I got from Guruji and His teachings is indescribable. He gave a new direction to my life.

Sudarshan Kriya keeps my mind clear and helps me focus

At primary school, I was lucky enough to always get A’s and regular Sadhana helped me keep up the standard at secondary and tertiary levels. The only difference was that I didn’t have to study for never-ending hours nor did I have to burn the midnight candle studying. Sudarshan Kriya cleared my mind and helped me focus better. My ability to understand any subject had improved tremendously. It all actually was nothing short of studying less, studying better and getting distinctions. Less time in studies meant that I had plenty of time to savor life.

Amazing health benefits from Sudarshan Kriya

As a child, I used to suffer from asthma and bronchitis. My heart beats would start racing and I would gasp after running a short distance only. I have been seriously ill twice and had to stay for weeks at the clinic. A fragile and volatile health I had and medicines, doctors were all very much part of my everyday life then. Sudarshan Kriya has set back the rhythm within me and I never thought that such dynamism could ever blossom back. It’s been years now since my health has known perfection.

My dad has got diabetes and the wonder of Kriya works here too, keeping the sugar levels much lower than what it used to be. More of a miracle was the days when he was suffering from the acute pains of calculus/kidney stone. Nothing could relieve him and we were waiting for the date to get it removed; but after the second scan, there was no sign of calculus. Blessings had then healed him!

On the map, our island is so tiny and at times almost invisible to the eyes of many but not to the divine eyes of our beloved master. Mauritius has been blessed by His presence and it is amazing to see how the grace is eliminating stress and how happiness is dawning in the lives of so many. Distance is no barrier. It’s another connection. He said we can turn Mauritius into a spiritual island; this is gradually happening with His guidance only.

Celebrating diversity in the Art of Living

Art of Living and His grace have been instrumental in bringing together people of various backgrounds, races, cultures, countries and here, we celebrate the differences. Art of Living Silver Jubilee celebration has been awe-inspiring. More than four years have elapsed but I still can’t properly fathom that I have been part of a crowd, as huge as 2.5 million people – each one of them bubbling with joy, dancing in gratitude, sitting in unison in meditation, helping each other so selflessly; all in one place, at one time! Truly a One World Family! I have met so many amazing people on this path, each one of them with their own life story – stories of grace are never lacking.

We might be millions in the Art of Living but the master is ever here, personally available for each one of us, taking care of us, our desires and problems – from the pettiest to the biggest. I gape in marvel every time I see Guruji meeting thousands of people and listening with such attention to each one of them, reassuring them that everything is being taken care of; and despite having crowds of people all around Him, barely giving Him any space to move, there’s never the slightest sign of annoyance. The care is ever present.

I can spend days and years writing about what all life with Him has been but it will still fall short. Words will never suffice to narrate the story of my life with Guruji; everyday is a gift, every moment is an experience, every little thing is part of this journey. Art of Living is a way of life, a gift of life and a life-long flow of joy, peace and love.

Jai Guru Dev

With love and gratitude,

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bidisha Sen, Kolkota, India

Software Consultant, Art of Living Teacher, Mom

I was born in Kolkata and grew up in the city. I completed engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur one of the premier engineering schools in India. It was when I was a second year student in IIT that I did the Art of Living course. This was 12 years ago. Since then life has been an amazing journey. I live in Kolkata now with my husband and children where I work as an analyst. I work, teach Art of Living courses, play with my kids and enjoy each and every moment of what I do.

My Introduction to Art of Living at IIT Kharagpur

When I was in my second year in IIT, I did the Art of Living course, the first one to be organised in IIT Kharagpur. I had no inclination towards spirituality or service back then, but the lady teaching the course was the most patient, loving and inspiring person I had ever met. The course left a lingering feeling in me, as if there was a part of life I had not yet explored, as if what I had been living was just a shadow of the full possibility that life could be. When I first meditated in my advanced course (Art of Silence Course), I knew for a fact that this was true. This was an experience more powerful than anything else in life. How come no one had taught me this before?

I went on to meet many wonderful people, before I met His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I was touched by the naturalness, the sensitivity, the dedication and love in these people. I young analytical, intellectually oriented and somewhat skeptical in my mind. Despite this, the attitude of my Art of Living teachers touched my heart. Today, I teach Art of Living courses and I am proud to say that the batch of IIT students who did the course with me are all teachers or volunteers for the organisation in some part of the world.

Spreading a smile on every face

After I met Guruji, my life took a complete turn. Till then, I was completely self centered. My interests were just around personal achievement and comfort. Then I met this Man, who would always put others needs before anything else. To whom, my smile, my happiness meant more than anything I could ever offer to the organisation, even after I became a teacher. A Man who would spend every waking moment in service, spreading a smile in every face. One who could look beyond my weaknesses and see a potential that I myself had never bothered to see.

I work as a consultant with a software firm in the US. I get many fold joy and satisfaction by sharing the joy I found myself than the dollars I earn as a software consultant. Today I conduct Art of Living workshops for colleges, university students and corporate organisations. At the end of the program when my students share the transformation they experienced and the freedom and the gratitude, I know it was not me who could ever make that difference in people's lives, if not for this one person who recognized this possibility. Most of my colleagues in the Art of Living family have the same miraculous story to share - we share a magic that is very difficult to express. This, in all probabilities, is a very feeble attempt to share something which is the most subtle and most precious experience that life could ever bring.

Benefits of Art of Living Course

On the tangible side, with my meditation and practice, I experienced immense benefits. I used to be dependent on a lot of medicines in my youth, slowly I no longer needed them and my health improved. My relationship with my husband and my friends and colleagues improved. I was able to manage my work and family effectively and also manage time for service activities with the Art of Living. Many friends who would struggle to just balance a job and family would wonder how I put in so much more in the same 24 hours. I started taking a lot of responsibility both in the home front and work. Previously I would crib and complain when overwhelmed with work, but now I look at every moment as an opportunity and a challenge. Every moment has truly become a celebration.

Spirit of Service

I was never ever into service. I still wonder how Guruji managed to instill in me the spirit of service! Since childhood I have stayed away from any kind of service projects, only looking for personal benefit in anything I did. Since the time I have been with Art of Living I have known how to work and give unconditionally. I have been a part of numerous service projects, working to provide free education in tribal schools in some of the most underdeveloped parts of the country, environmental initiatives such as mega tree plantation drives, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and awareness about the same, working in villages for our 5H and Youth Leadership Training Program. I firmly believe if I can be instrumental in contributing in many ways to the lives of others - each and every human being has that potential, but it takes someone like His Holiness Sri Sri Ravishankar to unleash it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Krishi Koellner

Art of Living Youth Program Teacher, Germany

I was born and grew up in a suburb in Hamburg, Germany. I went to school in a small town and also finished my education in Hamburg.
My Grandfather was building the Church in our town. I was fortunate to accompany my grandparents each Sunday for service. In my early days, I was introduced to the core human values. In the church lived an elderly sister, Sister Theodore. She reminded me a lot of Mother Theresa, kind and her full attitude was in service. Twice a week I found myself spending time with her and learning from her about life and service. Time passed and life went on. As a teenager, my mind was filled with different things, but somewhere the seed was there. During my education to become a printer, the urge to do service came strongly back and I decided to work after my education as a development aid volunteer in the developing world.

AOL Experience:
During my studies in school and later in my education I was always filled with questions and wonders about life. "What's the point?!" "What is life?" were constantly on my mind. I believed very strongly in God, that HE is always with me and felt HIS presents many times but I was not sure about the direction my life was headed.

After I finished school it became really strong. The quest started. Books over books were read and the search for a "REAL" Teacher, who not only teaches me mathematics, grammar, history...no. The realisation that I needed a teacher who could teach me and inspire me to discover what life is all about was becoming clearer. I went to different institutions, did different meditation techniques, different yoga paths, but somehow it was not fulfilling, something was missing.

One day in the subway in Hamburg a friend of mine showed me a poster. With a strong voice she told me to go to this event. She knew that I was looking for something and I guess she thought "The Art of Living - talk & meditation with H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar" would give me some sort of answers. Even though there were some obstacles, I managed to go to the talk. I was late and sat in the last row. We could write our questions on a piece of paper and send them to Sri Sri. I quickly wrote two questions down and gave it to the volunteers.

H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Guruji came in, it was extraordinary. Even in the last row you could feel something amazing. There was a unique introduction - which was very light and informal and made us feel comfortable. Then someone started to read the question out aloud. My two question were the third ones "What is life? And how do I become free?" Guruji answered them so beautifully - I had never heard or read before.

Not long after, I did the Art of Living course. In the course I was truly blessed to experience unique Sudarshan Kriya breathing technique. It was something what I have never experienced before in any other technique. After this, I did all other courses quite soon and also started volunteering. After some time, I started teaching the course. First Non-aggression-programs in schools, then big Yoga camps to Prison Programs and Youth Empowerment Seminars. It was and even still is the most beautiful journey to more joy, more depth and more service for me. It is a cycle, the more I give the more joy comes and the joyous I am the more I want to give.

I am so so grateful to that friend who saw the poster and brought me to a beautiful path of joy, fun, service and rocking action to change the world to a better place.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bhushan Deodhar's Experiences

About me:

I spent my childhood in Mumbai, India. I moved to Pune to do my undergraduate studies in Engineering and later to the US for graduate studies. I completed my masters in Computer Science from University of Texas, Arlington. I started my career as a member of scientific staff at Nortel Networks and then later joined Oracle Corporation in 1998. During my career at Oracle, I got the opportunity to change my role from technical to business side, which I enjoyed immensely. After working at Oracle in various management positions for 7 years, I joined a small software firm Sumeru as the president of their US operations. I am also involved in a Natural skincare company called Shankara as a senior executive for past 2 years. I currently live in Washington DC.

My Art of Living Experience:

Right from a young age, I found myself questioning many things in life. Reflecting back on my younger days, I would definitely consider myself to be a rebel! I always questioned what I was told by my elders and would never follow anything without proper explanation and understanding. My mother was actually quite concerned about me and my future. She would find herself helpless in many situations in dealing with me. My father was very kind and considerate and dealt with me with patience and love. He would always give hope to my mother that I will be ok once I became older. Though I was born in a traditional Hindu family, I didnt believe in any religion or god. For me, those things didnt make any sense at all. I would ask all kinds of questions to my elders but they wouldnt know how to answer them. When we, as a family would go to visit temples, I would wait outside the temple for my family as they would go in and do their prayers.

As I grew older, I became responsible but still my views on religion and God remained the same. I was a firm believer in Science and thought that if one cannot prove something with science, then it is not true. To me Science and Religion were in total conflict. I believed in myself and thought that I could do anything in life on my own might. I was also very averse to the idea of having a Guru and thought that it was a sign of weakness to have a Guru. I had thought that every Guru was out there for his own gain and to deceive and fraud others.

In the year 2000 and 2001, my life took some interesting turns. I found myself at crossroads where I questioned why I was on this planet and what was life all about. Though I was successful professionally, I felt empty and directionless inside. An inner call came that I should read about Swami Vivekanandas (A Hindu scholar who lived 100 years ago) books. Reading his books was an eye opener for me. If you ask me, Swami Vivekananda was more a scientist than a religious scholar. He explained so beautifully what religion and spirituality was all about and how it was complementary to Science. Suddenly life started making sense to me. I wanted to learn meditation and was looking for some technique. I searched in many places until my friend told me about the Art of Living (Part 1) Course. The first experience of Sudarshan kriya was mind blowing to say the least But I felt that I had already heard the knowledge points of the course and that part was nothing new. I also didnt feel any connection with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I only liked Sudarshan Kriya and was happy to practice it. A few months later, I decided to take the Art of Silence (Part 2) Course with Sri Sri in Austin, TX. I was very skeptical about Sri Sri and measured every single move of his once I got to the course what he was doing, what he was saying. Yet, there was something magical about those 4-5 days and something in me had shifted. It was like a light bulb going on all of a sudden. For the first time in my life, I was happy for no particular reason. It felt like was I was floating in an ocean of happiness and love It became clear to me that the source of my happiness was from within and not from the outside. I also realized that Guruji (Sri Sri had become Guruji for me something impossible had happened) was here just to bring a true smile on every face and spread the message of love and peace! I would have given everything I had for what I received in just those few days! Knowledge points from my Part 1 Course started making sense now and I could truly appreciate its value. It was a gift of lifetimes.

My life style changed overnight for the better, so much so that many couldnt believe (including my parents) that it was the same me. All I wanted was to share this knowledge with as many people as I could. I started organizing courses so I could bring my family and friends to the knowledge. My life had a purpose. My life was filled with love, joy, celebration, service, and gratitude!!! Everything has been abundant in my life ever since. I feel so blessed!

I have been working closely with the foundation for many years now. I have also had the good fortune of traveling with Guruji on many occasions. I have spent a lot of time with Gurujis family as well (Ajay, Madhushri, Ajays parents - Bhanu-didi and Appa). There are many things I would like to share about Guruji, his family and the organization. I will write more on this blog about all that later!

Ameya Dabli's Experience

About me:

I was born in Nagpur, also called as the 'Orange City' of India, however, soon after my birth, I moved to Mumbai and have been staying there ever since. A Chemical Engineer and an MBA in Marketing, I am currently working with HSBC bank. My immediate family comprises of my father, an educationist, who is currently working as the Director of YCMOU Open University in Mumbai, my mother who is a home maker and my wife Anuradha who is a cosmetologist and works for a leading German company.

Right from childhood, my parents had imbibed in me, a strong sense of religious beliefs and spiritual practices. My father would recite to me various 'stotras' (sanskrit chants) and help me by-heart and learn them. My mother too would share stories from ancient Indian scriptures like the Bhagavatam, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Exposure to these stories and scriptures since early childhood has really helped me a lot in shaping up my overall personality and my mental make up.

Introduction to Art of Living:

My entry into the Art of Living has been quite an experience in itself. I first hear about it during the last year of Chemical Engineering studies from a friend named, Alpa Teli. Despite my interest in spirituality, I would challenge Alpa as to why I should take the course with questions like: "should I have to pay for someone to teach me how to breathe?! Little did I know what I was missing at that time.

I completed my MBA and started working for a reputed Business House in India as a Management Trainee and life seemed to be perfect. (When one has a decent job, lovely parents, a caring girlfriend and no worries, life always seems that way). Sure enough, I started having some issues with my boss at work as also with my girlfriend. Despite being a top performer at work, my boss started treating me like just another fly in the pan and this started affecting my work and my self-esteem. My confidence was at an all time low and I was on the verge of a breakdown. Compound this with arguments between my girlfriend and me, and I was feeling like a complete wreck!

It was at this delicate time in my life that I finally embarked into Art of Living. I happened to hear of an Art of Living Course happening right next to my office and I decided to enroll in it. This was a life-transforming course for me. After performing the Sudarshan Kriya on the second day of the course, I felt a deep sense of joy and calm in my mind. I was seeing tangible improvements at my work place as a result. I regained confidence and in due course, got a promotion. At the same time, I became clear about my relationship with my girlfriend and we mutually decided to part ways. It was as though all the puzzles in my life were decoding themselves, on their own!!

Meeting Guruji:

Soon after my part 1 course, I enrolled for the Art of Silence (Part 2) Course in the Bangalore ashram with Guruji in October 2005. On the last day of the course, Guruji was meeting all the course participants and while meeting me, Guruji invited me to come over to Bangalore to attend the 'Silver Jubilee' celebrations of the Art of Living. It was the way things shaped up during silver jubilee and the numerous miraculous and mesmerizing events that took place at Bangalore during this time that strengthened my faith of this new path on which I was walking.

I had the most comfortable stay during the event, totally blissful. This instance and many such small yet significant instances during the event made me realize that Guruji was personally attending to not only my needs, but to that of the 10,000 Ashram guests with the same level of care and attention, despite his very packed schedule.

Living the "Art of Living":

My life defining moment came on 12th of March 2010. It was the eve of my Art of Silence Course with Guruji at Rishikesh. Having just arrived from Delhi, I went to Guruji's kutir for Darshan. It was quite late in the night, around 10.00 pm. The volunteers at the gate advised me that Guruji had already met everyone and had now retired to bed. Disappointed of having missed him, I hung around on the banks of the Ganges, hoping to get a glimpse. As I turned to walk back towards my room, the gate to Guruji's kutir opened and a volunteer called out to me saying Guruji is giving Darshan. I enthusiastically ran to see him. Considering the joy I felt just being there for a few minutes with Guruji, who emanates joy in his very presence, you could imagine how blessed I became when he unexpectedly invited me to go on tour with him. I found myself speechless and all I could say at that moment was, "thank you Guruji".

True to his word, in July this year, I traveled with Guruji on a 35-days tour, which included several cities throughout Hong Kong, Canada, USA, Germany and France. This journey was one of my most profound experiences in life. Being in the presence of the Guruji 24x7 and seeing him go about doing his routine activities was a profound learning experience for me. There was no difference between the way he was in public and the way he was in private. I realized he truly practices what he preaches, every day, every hour, every minute and every second of his life. Be it the humility with which he would answer the questions at each of the immigration checks at the airport when asked questions like "why are you visiting this country and what are you here for" by the immigration officials, or the compassion with which he untiringly met each of the 5500 plus devotees that had come to meet him during Guru Purnima at Hartford, or simply the regularity with which he performed his sadhana every day, all of his actions were simply inspirational and so very pure!

Sri Sri is truly an embodiment of care and compassion... It is in the seemingly small gestures that I came to recognize the grace and magnanimity of this benevolent being

Today, after being associated with Guruji and the Art of Living Foundation for over 5 years, I find my life is so much more rich and useful than before and I have begun to recognize that I myself am capable of contributing greatly towards the society through the inspiration of Guruji.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram - by Ignacio Escribano

I confess to have lived each day to the fullest with profound intensity: fervent joys, border suicide depressions, exquisite mundane pleasures, physical, mental or spiritual pains which at that time became nightmares (thank God, I would learn later on about the meaning of “Everything Changes”).

Through the years, and as autumn leaves, who knows how many trips around the world, conversations with people of all ages, race, color, beliefs, sex, religion have been condemned to remembrance; a sun going down in Patagonia, a never-ending kiss under the sullen sky in Boston, the submarine life in the South China Sea, a warm hug of infinite love in Bangalore…

It’s amazing how a lifetime can be reduced to ashes in one instant, to absolutely nothing!

* * *

Since I was a child, with a pain in my soul for feeling like a foreigner even in my hometown, I gave in to the path and distances travelling through innumerable places: Argentina, first; later the whole world.

My career as a medical doctor (I graduated in Medicine from Buenos Aires University when I was 24 years old) brought me face to face with disease, desolation and death at a very young age. In those times I dreamed with dedicating myself to Psychiatry once I had finished my residency in Internal Medicine. I felt I knew human suffering from very close and that I could, as a war veteran in those hidden paths of the soul, lend a helping hand to those who needed it the most. But utterly disappointed with the health system, after two years from graduation, I decided to step aside and get away from medical practice without hesitating or even looking back.

Not long after giving up my career I started dedicating myself to journalism and writing; noble and generous crafts that took me to extend the geography of the world I had known until then. And that also invited me to discover a mosaic of countless characters, many of them highly interesting, full of enriching and gripping stories.

With the written word I managed to reach people’s heart -life is a come and go, a round trip, its clear-, as with singing and the guitar.

Music, that insatiable lover I met in my late childhood, a passion that has never diminished, has been in the darkest days and nights of my life, the last drop of oxygen, the most vital breath and the ultimate reason to continue living.

* * *

In my 41 years of existence I have not ever met anyone like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

I remember it was the beginning of 2001, and that I had been plunged into a sea of confusion for various months: I was sad, I couldn’t find comfort and I felt abandoned; absolutely alone in the planet. My eyes could not see all the abundance I had; or any of the things that the nature were giving me at each instant.

Today I can say that there is not worse sensation than feeling ungrateful with life itself.

In that past period -in which I felt so much void in my soul- I worked as a free-lance writer for a few graphic, radio and television media. I remember receiving calls to cover different events or subjects, including travelling to dream places as a reporter. But I couldn’t cope with it; I just couldn’t find the strength to do it. Nothing motivated me anymore.

“I am sad, I can’t write”, I would tell the editors on the phone. Slowly, my few savings would get smaller and smaller.

Finally, in the beginnings of April 2001 I got a call from an editor of La Nacion newspaper, the most prestigious daily of Buenos Aires, offering me to interview “a spiritual and humanitarian leader from India”.

“Yes, I accept, I will interview him”, I said immediately, without knowing why I agreed, and even less, how that meeting would change the direction of my life radically for ever.

* * *

Meeting Guruji (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) has been the most precious gift I have received in my life. It would be in vain to try and pour in these lines the gratitude I feel for having found him. Or for him having found me, if it is that there is, when all is said and done, such thing as “you and me”.

What I for sure can assert today is that I feel truly blessed.

It makes me laugh now to think that ten years back I didn’t even imagine that one day I’d have a spiritual master... and from India! And not even that I would get to feel filled with infinite love and devotion towards him.

But life, Thank God, surprises us in every step...

I came to this world, like everyone else, without any form of instruction as to how to live.

Guruji’s spiritual guidance not only has saved my life from falling in the deep gaps of the path -and its even very likely that without him I would have ended up taking my life- but has also helped me mature, be stronger, understand that life is a celebration, cultivate my talents more and more (I´m currently recording my third music album), give myself to others without expecting anything in return, feel useful in this world, walk with less weight, feel happy without a reason, have come closer to my parents whom I love so much, live moments of indescribable appeasement, harmony and happiness, not to give up, move from the mind towards the heart...

There simply aren’t enough examples or words to enumerate all the changes that I’ve seen along these years in my own biography as in so many other souls.

When I started teaching Art of Living courses I finally felt that I had founded what I most longed as a doctor: become an instrument to bring back smiles to faces and to cure the most profound wounds of the hearts.

* * *

Since I met Guruji I have followed his solid work from close, which points, among many other things, to elevate the human values and to eradicate stress in society.

I feel extremely lucky for having shared so many moments with him: talks about the most profound issues, private and painful, to have laughed at his side like two old friends.

Once more, I can’t find the words to describe the magnitude of his knowledge, of his patience, of his immeasurable love, of his commitment with life itself...

Days ago I was surprised to read a blog dedicated entirely to the defamation of his person and Art of Living. Astonished, I dove myself in those slanderous posts, written, many of them, with great prose and astuteness, but not necessarily well intentioned.

The fact that someone could have expressed so violently and sarcastically against Guruji produced me immense pain, for he is the most pure, compassionate and kind person that my heart has known. It urged me to protect him and defend The Art of Living, the foundation that he, with so much love and dedication, has built for our own growth, and through where he has given life back to many other lives, including my own.

Without giving up, I understood that the least I could do about this was to honestly share my own experience and personal story, and feel, for those who anonymously defame, the compassion enclosed in the fragment of a poem, which reads: “I see the wounded dove, and the hunter hurts me”.

* * *

But let’s go back to the beginning of this story, to my first encounter with Guruji, in that interview for La NaciĆ³n.

I recall that what struck me the most on that Buenos Aires autumn noon was his lightness and, at the same time, his presence: for the first time I was in front of someone that, mysteriously, seemed both to be there and not to.

As we went further in our talk, his wisdom, depth and simplicity, his brilliant sense of humor and his intellectual wit and sharpness became more and more evident.

I can also remember that towards the end of the interview I asked him about God.

“God?”, he echoed, in a soft voice, looking at me with his child-prophet eyes.

“Yes -I replied-, God”.

And immediately, he answered in a whisper: “Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram”.

Today, ten years later, I find that those three words -truth, benevolence and beauty - appear too small, scarce, when vainly trying to portray the infinite greatness of the life and work of my beloved master, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Anandan Chinnarajan's Story

About myself: I am a General Manager of a Trading House in Chennai. I am a Post-graduate in Chemistry. Started my career as a college lecturer. Then jumped into industries and had been in R&D, Quality Assurance, etc. After a personal darshan of Guruji at Bangalore Ashram, I got my present assignment where I am very very peaceful. My son is a computer professional with Dell International at Hyderabad and my daughter is the C.E.O. of an advertising company in Chennai. My wife is a home-maker.

My experience in the Art of Living: in the year 2004 in the month of February, when I was without a job, my nephew (whose entire family too – that is, my sister’s family) who had done the basic course in the Art of Living suggested that I join the course. Well, reluctantly I joined, but by the time I completed the Part 1 course under the able guidance of my teacher Mr. Joseph Enoch, I was wondering why it didn’t occur to me to do the course much earlier. Well since then I used to regularly attend the follow-up classes in Anna Nagar Centre and joyfully participate in bhajans (singing) and meditation. Another interesting thing is that just after completing the basic course, I got a job as a General Manager of a leading industrial paint manufacturing company in Chennai.

Last year, again, I was out of job. Then came a call from Sumeru inviting me to get involved in a seva (service) project which involved content writing for an education website. That was the time when I was blessed to stay in the Bangalore Ashram (in July 2009). One day, my team leader, Ms. Resha Desai took our team members to have a personal introduction and chat with Guruji. Sri Sri talked to each of one of us. Blessed us with a silver medallion and prasadam. No wonder, after returning back to Chennai I got my present assignment!

Not that I only admire Guruji for having blessed me with nice jobs whenever I was in need. I admire him for much more. When I happened to do the content writing for the Educational activities of the International Centre, I was amazed by the number of schools and educational institutions that Guruji has founded for empowering the weakest of the weak in order to bring peace to the world and to alleviate poverty.

My hats off to Guruji for single-mindedly inspiring the numerous educational and charitable organizations around the globe!

Francois Gautier's Story

About myself

I was born in Paris. My father was a devout catholic and an extremely good man, who became quite famous an artist in his own field; my mother, who influenced me a lot, was an intellectual and a part time journalist, while looking full time after my father’s PR and finances. They remained faithful to one another during their lifetime.

Yet I had an unhappy childhood, not understanding who I was, where I was and what I was doing there. As a result I grew up as a rather rebellious and antisocial child, always looking for solitude and dreaming of ‘other’ things.

When I had just turned 19, I heard through a friend that a caravan of five cars was about to set out from Paris to Pondicherry to start an international city, based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, called Auroville. I had no knowledge about India, no interest in Indian spirituality, but I wanted to see the world and grow up a ‘man’. This seemed like a good opportunity.

After 5 weeks of adventurous travel (we had an accident in Iran, were waylaid in Afghanistan and had to pull the two vans which broke down), we drove from Lahore to Delhi and reached the Indian capital by early morning on a Sunday.

We stayed at the branch of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in Aurobindo Marg, which in these days was still amongst fields. In the evening as the sun was setting, I climbed on the roof of one of the vans with a book by Sri Aurobindo: the Life Divine. There, as farmers were coming home, birds singing and the sky turning a bright red, I read a few random lines. A wave of peace suddenly descended upon me and I had an intense spiritual experience, understanding in a flash concepts which I had never even thought about: karma, dharma, or avatar. It also dawned upon me that I had finally come HOME.

By the time we reached Pondicherry, I had decided that I would remain in India all my life and that I would devote myself to yoga.

The spiritual path resembles life: the first years are enthusiastic, effortless, but as time rolls by, routine can set in, tamas and sometimes even disillusion. The first four years of my stay in Pondicherry were thus extraordinary: the Mother was still in Her body and I had the privilege to meet Her several times. I felt as if I had entered my real childhood: everything was beautiful, and the sky was the limit. But then She left in November 1973 and things became more difficult thereafter.

My Art of Living experience

I broke my nose when I was a kid and two operations later, was still breathing badly. I knew about pranayama and in 1993 someone told me about AOL. We met Guruji with my wife Namrita on 24th December 1993, in Gyan Mandir. We did the basic course as directed by Guruji with Michael Fischman and then immediately, a number of advance courses with the most extraordinary teachers: Rajshree and Phillip, to whom we owe an eternal debt of gratitude, for they set us upon the path.

Those of you who run the marathon or the semi-marathon, know that often, as fatigue or lassitude sets in, you find a second breath which carries you all the way to the finish line. This meeting with Guruji was our second breath on this sacred land which is India.

Being a Frenchman and a journalist (both by ‘accident’, or by fate, whichever you want to call it), I still do believe that one should be able to observe within oneself the benefits of a spiritual life. What has Sri Sri Ravi Shankar brought to us?

He brought back enthusiasm, confidence, joy and drive in our lives and into whichever field we are in, whether writing, , Auroville or even sports. To know a living Guru during one’s lifetime, as intimately as we have been able to be with Guruji through our work, or writing the Guru of Joy, is an immense privilege which is given to very few. I have had even the extraordinary chance to meet two gurus in this lifetime, the Mother and HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

There is nothing sadder than an aging sadhak or sadhika, once in his or her spiritual prime, but which decrepitude overtakes. Once we pass 40, our physical endurance declines and henceforth our powers of concentration and endurance. After we started practicing Guruji’s pranayama and SK, our energy level has increased both at the mental and physical level - and still does.

Sri Sri has also taught us the wonderful concept of sewa (*). In the West, we practice charity, but charity always expects something in return. Mother Teresa, a Nobel Prize, was a great proponent of Charity, but she did insist on conversion. Guruji, whose work is so manifold and thus deserves so much more the Nobel Prize, not only expects nothing in return, but gives a little of Himself every time. His tireless 16 hours a day work, his relentless travelling across time zones, are bound to affect his body, in spite of his Divinity. This is the great mystery and sacrifice of avatarhood, something so immense, that it wrings your heart, every time you think about it.

I have had a fair amount of accolades and rewards (and also criticism) so far, but nothing tops teaching His Holiness’ courses. It is a privilege and a boon and when you take that seat in front of the class, you are elevated to a consciousness… which you are not always able to maintain in everyday’s life.

Finally, as some of you may know, I am an ardent defender of Hindus. Sri Sri, although he is a universal Guru, applying his love and energy to people of all ethnic origin and religion, with the help of teachers and volunteers belonging to all walks and beliefs, has embarked upon the revitalisation and modernization of the eternal spiritual values which stand behind and prop up what is called Hinduism.

To Him goes my gratitude. Fr

(*) We have embarked upon our biggest sewa project: a Museum of (true) Indian History in Pune, for which we need your support (see: fact-india.com)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Poonam C. Tandon's Experience

My Background:

I am an Indian girl made in America. Born in Queens, NY and raised in Los Angeles, CA, I would say that my life was filled with abundance growing up. I've had a good life- incredibly loving and supportive parents, sisters who took care of me as if I was their own child, relatives and cousins who were an extension of my nuclear family and deep friendships. At university, though I had a mind for science, as well as a deep interest in learning languages, I chose to pursue my artistic side with a degree in Sculpture. I later worked as Art Director and Project Manager in the world of digital media for some years. Currently I devote my full-time to service, teaching courses on meditation and empowerment and traveling around the country advocating for human values with Art of Living. My parents, three sisters & their husbands and my lovely niece & nephews live in Los Angeles. I live in New York City with Manish, my husband & life partner.

My Art of Living Experience:

Though my life has been seemingly picture perfect, as an adolescent and young adult, I found it to be painful. I didn't understand the purpose of it all and I wanted very deeply to know what I was here to do. I wasn't satisfied with the status quo and felt that there was more to life than eating, sleeping and working. I felt as though something deep inside was missing and I didn't even know what it was that was missing. This burning in me led me to seek high and low for answers and for meaning.

During my college years, I travelled, stopped going to school, restarted going to school, changed universities and most of all, I read and read countless books on life and spirituality. This process provided me doses of comfort for a short while, but when I was 24, my desperation to know life's purpose intensified even more, as the written word was no longer able to satisfy my thirst; I still felt that gnawing emptiness of something missing. I needed something real, a first-hand experience. I was looking for direction.

It was at that point that I literally stumbled upon Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Art of Living, almost like an answer to a prayer. I took my first Art of Living Course in Lake Tahoe, California during the summer of 1997 at a one-week retreat with Sri Sri.

I was amongst 700-800 other people participating in the programs and was in a state of intrigue and gratitude the whole week. I had been meditating since the age of 9 but the experience I had in Sudarshan Kriya (the flagship technique taught on the Art of Living Course) was like nothing I had ever experienced. I broke through my extreme shyness for the very first time during a special process on the course, which was liberating for me. Each process on the program was masterfully crafted. I remember thinking how artfully the wisdom from the ancient Vedas was woven into a teaching style that was so completely accessible, modern and relevant to here and now. I was also moved when I noticed that I wasn't the only one having such profound experiences, but that my 800 fellow participants were going through similar life-changing experiences at the same time. Since then, in the past thirteen years I have seen countless lives transformed at so many levels, including my very own.

To say that Art of Living has touched my life is an understatement. And at the heart of Art of Living is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Sri Sri is part and parcel to Art of Living and I must say, he is a true inspiration.

In watching Sri Sri in action over the years, a deep faith in the goodness of humanity and in the power of love has been kindled in me. I have observed that there is a person on this planet who sincerely cares for each and every person that he encounters regardless of where they came from or what they do; a person who takes full personal responsibility to aid the welfare of people from any and all nations; and a person who genuinely accepts people as they are and shines light on their potential rather than their flaws.

Though he travels from anywhere around 150 to 180 cities year after year and meets up to hundreds of thousands of people daily, I am fascinated by the fact that he continues to remember the people that he meets. He actually feels that the world is his family and that everyone is part of him so much that even in hustle and bustle of his daily schedule, the simple act of greeting an individual in a crowd will warrant his full undivided attention.

To know someone who is selfless and filled with wisdom and at the same time playful like a child and down-to-earth serves as a daily reminder to me that life's highest ideals of love, compassion, kindness and caring for others is actually possible right here in the flesh. I am inspired by Sri Sri to live those ideals myself and to believe in my own unlimited potential. I now know through my own experience that I am part of something far greater than myself and that I am not alone.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Darshana Mathur's Experience on the Path

About Me
I was born and raised in Mumbai. I graduated as a Commercial Artist and Graphics Designer from Rachana Sansad School of Art, Mumbai. While I was still in school, I completed the Art of Living Program. I worked in a Multimedia company for 4 years, designing for several media platforms. I quit working to start something on my own, and found myself developing a range of handbags and clothes, working with rare artisans in India.(www.krpaa.com). I now live with my husband, Dr. Manoj Mathur, in Washington DC. My husband's family lives in Maryland and are ardent followers of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. My mother and 2 sisters live in Bangalore at the Art of Living International Headquarters.

My Art of Living Story
It was a day that changed my life forever when I met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (whom we affectionately refer to as Guruji) in April 1998, one month before I undertook the Art of Living Program. He was standing on a stage, and there was a crowd of about 10,000 people...and He was meeting each and every person personally. It was such a pleasant surprise to see this one man greet everybody with so much love and attention. The moment I met Guruji, I saw my father in Him. My father passed a few years before I met Guruji and nothing seemed to replace the pain and loss I felt. Guruji gave me a secure feeling that, " Someone is always there to take care". And rightly so, after 12 years, He still takes care.

I underwent several programs offered by the Art of Living Foundation thereafter, only to find the meaning and relevance it brought into my life. My life is fuller and happier. The Sudarshan Kriya inculcated a different kind of confidence in me. I felt an immense change in my profession, my creativity found a higher platform. 

It has been my pride to have worked with Guruji's sister, Bhanu Didi on several Women's Conference Projects. She is a wonderful example of love, dignity and devotion. Under the guidance of Guruji, she has followed her passion of educating thousands of underprivileged children in India and several other countries . Her 'joie de vivre; and simplicity are hard to miss for anyone.

Guruji has created a beautiful family across the world. The one aspect that is strongly emanated in any of the Art of Living programs is a sense of service and belongingness. Anywhere I go, there is always someone to help me...or someone I can help . I feel as though I am part of a bigger picture...Guruji's vision of a 'One World Family' is not just a dream or an idea that we read about, it is a real and practical experience for several million people across the globe.

How often do you visit a new country and a sudden stranger is there to welcome you with open arms? How often do you meditate with thousands of people of different races and nationalities? How can one man bring a smile to millions of faces? How is it possible that one person can instill a sense of integrity, faith and dignity to people from all walks of life, from farmers in rural India to extremists, From businessman to religious leaders, from prisoners to scientists, from me to you. It is my life's honor to be a part of such a movement. We are truly "Under the sky of One GOD."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gopika Prabhu Life Story!

About me
Entrepreneur, Designer and Art of Living Teacher in Washington, DC.  I grew up in Baltimore, MD and attended George Washington University in DC where I received a BA in Visual Communications.

My experience on this path... so far
People come to the Art of Living course for a variety of reasons – looking for something new, a deeper meaning to life, stress-relief, etc. I was 8 years old when I was introduced to the course, and as you can imagine it wasn’t because I saw a flyer and shortly after signed up for a course. I was blessed with two parents who had the insight and wonder in them to approach a new, more holistic approach to life. They met Sri Sri (who I refer to as Guruji for the rest of this entry) in Washington, DC and shortly after participated in the Art of Living workshop. I didn’t know what they were up to. All I knew was that I got to spend the night out at a friends house while they were gone. My parents are both physicians and I remember growing up with a lot of amazing nannies because they spent long hours at the hospital and running their own practices. My childhood was pretty fantastic, went to some of the best schools, had amazing friends, and two older siblings that to this day inspire me to be who I am. 

As a little 8-year-old girl I didn’t realize that I was walking on a path of knowledge that would end up guiding me through some of the toughest and most magical moments of my life. Before there were any Art of Living youth programs, me and my sister would spend summer after summer up at the Art of Living Ashram in Quebec, Canada. This was when Guruji would spend a few weeks of the year there. My parents would meditate for what seemed like hours on end, and the kids would play. And, every once in a while, we got to meditate too. To be honest, I enjoyed swimming and mini-golfing more than meditating.

What I didn’t realize was that all of these meditations and breathing techniques, the knowledge, friendships and experiences at the ashram were setting a very clear path for me. When I was little bit older, and started high school I never got stressed out. Later in college, people resorted to all sorts of crazy drugs just to stay awake and concentrate, but those issues never fazed me. People told me they liked being around me, not because of what I said or did, but because they somehow felt more relaxed. I didn’t connect those summers learning how to meditate with what my friends were saying to me almost a decade later.

A lot of my friends did Teach for America after graduating. I wanted to do something similar, devote my time to helping people in whatever way I could.  I didn’t know how to do that or if I could actually accomplish anything of the sort. But I was very interested in diving deeper into the service component of the Art of Living and had just completed my teacher training to teach YES! – the Art of Living program for high school students. And so right after graduating from GW I moved back to Baltimore where I started the first YES! For high school program in Maryland. I worked with a small team of traveling and full time teachers and helped secure a grant that would enable 120 inner-city kids to take the program.

To be honest I had no idea what I was doing. Upon entering the school I was nervous, wondering how I could possibly get high school kids who were bigger, taller, and frankly much cooler than me, to meditate?! I walked into an auditorium of 400+ students from 9th – 12thgrades. It was the first day of school and they were “welcomed” by a police officer who threatened to arrest anyone who behaved badly. I was up next. I was 21 yrs old at the time, had never spoken in front of such a large (and seemingly tough) crowd before, and perhaps it’s too much tv watching, but I could have sworn that a tomato would fly out and smack in my in the face. 

But to my surprise, when I started speaking about my experience growing up, not being stressed, feeling happy no matter what came my way, I realized the room had come to pin-drop silence. They were listening. They wanted this magic for themselves. The school ended up giving us a classroom and we started teaching YES! as part of the health education curriculum. There’s so many experiences I would like to share about teaching in this one particular school, but I have to save some stories for later.

I’ll end with this. I never thought I could make an impact. I was used to being the quiet, youngest sibling who liked to follow her older brother and sister around.

Looking back at the past 20 years, I realize that I am the person I am today because of Guruji. He taught me how to be a leader in my own way, how to step out of all those barriers that used to hold me back – like shyness, fear, etc.. – and just go out there and serve.

We all have our heroes and for me it’s always been him.