Ravi Shankar (born 13 May 1956) is an Indian spiritual leader. He is frequently referred to simply as "Sri Sri" (honorific) or as Guruji or Gurudev. He is a spiritual leader and founder of the Art of Living Foundation created in 1981, which aims to relieve individual stress, societal problems, and violence. In 1997, he established a Geneva-based charity, the International Association for Human Values, an NGO that engages in relief work and rural development and aims to foster shared global values. For his service, he has received some of the highest awards of several countries including India, Peru, Colombia, and Paraguay. In January 2016, he was awarded the "Padma Vibhushan" by the Government of India.
Ravi Shankar was born in Papanasam, Tamil Nadu, to Visalakshi Ratnam and R. S. Venkat Ratnam. He was named "Ravi" (a common Indian name meaning "sun") because his birth was on a Sunday, and "Shankar" after the eighth-century Hindu saint, Adi Shankara, because it was also Shankara's birthday. Ravi Shankar's first teacher was Sudhakar Chaturvedi, an Indian Vedic Scholar and a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the St Joseph's College of Bangalore University. After graduation, Shankar travelled with his second teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, giving talks and arranging conferences on Vedic science, and setting up Transcendental Meditation and Ayurveda centres.
In the 1980s, Shankar initiated a series of practical and experiential courses in spirituality around the globe. He says that his rhythmic breathing practice, Sudarshan Kriya, came to him in 1982, "like a poem, an inspiration," after a ten-day period of silence on the banks of the Bhadra River in Shimoga, in the state of Karnataka, adding, "I learned it and started teaching it".
Shankar says that every emotion has a corresponding rhythm in the breath and that regulating the breath can help elevate the individual and help relieve personal suffering.
In 1983, Shankar held the first Art of Living course in Switzerland. In 1986, he travelled to Apple Valley, California in the US to conduct the first course to be held in North America.
Philosophy and teachings
Shankar teaches that spirituality is that which enhances human values such as love, compassion and enthusiasm. It is not limited to any one religion or culture. Hence it is open to all people. He feels the spiritual bond we share as part of the human family is more prominent than nationality, gender, religion, profession, or other identities that separate us.
In Shankar's view, "Violence-free society, disease-free body, quiver-free breath, confusion-free mind, inhibition-free intellect, trauma-free memory, and sorrow-free soul is the birthright of every human being."
According to him, science and spirituality are linked and compatible, both springing from the urge to know. The question, "Who am I?" leads to spirituality; the question, "What is this?" leads to science. Emphasizing that joy is only available in the present moment, his stated vision is to create a world free of stress and violence. His programs are said to offer practical tools to help accomplish this. He sees breath as the link between body and mind, and a tool to relax the mind, emphasising the importance of both meditation/spiritual practice and service to others. In his view, "Truth is spherical rather than linear; so it has to be contradictory."
Sudarshan Kriya (Sanskrit: सुदर्शन क्रिया sudarśana-kriyā) is a breathing-based technique that is a core component of the Art of Living courses and "the cornerstone of . . . Art of Living Foundation's trauma relief programs". It involves Ujjayi breathing and bhastrika in vajrasana followed by rhythmic breathing in sukhasana.
A number of medical studies on its preparatory practices have been published in international peer-reviewed journals. A range of mental and physical benefits are reported in these studies, including reduced levels of stress (reduced cortisol—the "stress" hormone), improved immune system, relief from anxiety and depression (mild, moderate, and severe), increased antioxidant protection, and enhanced brain function (increased mental focus, calmness, and recovery from stressful stimuli), among other findings.
Peace and humanitarian work
He visited Pakistan in 2004 on a "goodwill mission" and again in 2012 when he inaugurated Art of Living centers in Islamabad and Karachi. The Islamabad centre was burned down by armed men in March 2014.
During his visits to Iraq, at the invitation of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, in 2007 and again in 2008, he met with political and religious leaders to promote global peace. In November 2014, Ravi Shankar visited the relief camps in Erbil, Iraq. He also hosted a conference to address the dire condition of Yazidis and other non-Muslims in the region.
Colombia & FARC
Ravi Shankar "brokered" the peace deal between the Colombian government and the guerrilla movement FARC during his visit to Cuba in June 2015. The FARC agreed to follow the Gandhian principle of non-violence to attain its political objectives & social justice.
The South Asian Forum for Peace was launched in November 2016 at a conference titled "Kashmir Back to Paradise" in Jammu. According to Ravi Shankar, 90% of people in Kashmir want peace but are neglected. He added, “The solution to the Kashmir problem can only come from the Kashmiris". This forum would bring together eight South Asian countries to cooperate and work in areas such as entrepreneurship, skill development, cultural exchange, educational partnerships and women empowerment initiatives among others.
68 militants from 11 militant outfits surrendered to the government in Manipur on the eve of India's 71st Independence Day in August 2017. The Chief Minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh, lauded Ravi Shankar for his efforts in making this happen & "bringing peace in troubled areas". Ravi Shankar's organization has been working in Manipur for the last 15 years.
In September 2017, at the “Strength in Diversity - North East Indigenous People’s Conference”, Ravi Shankar claimed that another 500 militants were waiting to "lay down weapons and join the peace process". The conference was attended by representatives from 67 rebel outfits from the Northeast. Expressing his willingness to facilitate the peaceful transition of any rebel group wanting to join the mainstream, Ravi Shankar claimed that his organization has been working for this for the last 10–12 years and "will continue to work until the last gun is laid down". Former ULFA General Secretary, Anup Chetia, who was also the convenor of the conference, appreciated Ravi Shankar's interest and efforts for peace in the region.
Ayodhya Ram Temple Dispute, India
Ravi Shankar's efforts at mediation in the Ayodhya dispute in 2017 received a mixed response from both Hindu and Muslim leaders. Based on Supreme Court of India's suggestion for an out-of-court settlement, he proposed a mutual compromise where both communities "gift" neighbouring pieces of land to each other. This proposal was met with a lot of skepticism and resistance.
Ravi Shankar is involved in interfaith dialogue and currently sits on the Board of World Religious Leaders for the Elijah Interfaith Institute. Through interfaith summits in 2008 and 2010, he has been engaging faith-based leaders for collective action against HIV. In July 2013 at a meeting in UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva, issues including HIV prevention, gender based violence, stigma and discrimination were discussed.
In 1992, he started a prison programme to rehabilitate prison inmates and help them reintegrate into society.
His volunteers assisted the 2004 tsunami victims, Hurricane Katrina victims, in Haiti, and many other regions of conflict and natural disaster.
Volunteer For a Better India
VFABI is involved in many activities, including protest against the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, free health camps, and voter awareness and registrations in India.
NONVIO was launched as a nationwide movement by Shankar's foundation in March 2013 with the aim of eliminating violence. It encourages individuals to pledge one act of non-violence through different social and online media and adopt nonviolent principles in government, public health, and media.
India Against Corruption
He was involved in the movement demanding a strong lokpal bill and was also one of the founders of the "India Against Corruption" movement.
World Forum for Ethics in Business
In 2003, he initiated the Ethics in Business - Corporate Culture & Spirituality dialogue with an aim of strengthening human values and ethics in business. This evolved later on in the formation of the World Forum for Ethics in Business which convenes international conferences on ethics. World Summit on Ethics in Sports, a one-day event held in September 2014 at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, focused on "morality and openness" in sports.
Sri Sri University
Sri Sri University in Odisha was established in 2009 on the initiative of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The school won a Best Innovative University Award at the 2017 National Education Excellence Awards.
Awards and recognition
- Padma Vibhushan, India's Second Highest Civilian Award, January 2016
- Dr Nagendra Singh International Peace Award, India, November 2016
- Peru's Highest Award, "Medalla de la Integracion en el Grado de Gran Oficial (Grand Officer)"
- Colombia's highest civilian award, "Orden de la Democracia Simon Bolivar"
- Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders Prize
- Highest civilian award 'National Order of Merito de Comuneros, Paraguay, 13 September 2012
- Illustrious citizen by the Paraguayan Municipality, 12 September 2012
- Illustrious guest of the city of Asuncion, Paraguay, 12 September 2012
- Tiradentes Medal, the highest honour from Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil, 3 September 2012
- The Sivananda World Peace award, Sivananda Foundation, South Africa, 26 August 2012
- Crans Montana Forum Award, Brussels, 24 June 2011
- Culture in Balance Award, World Culture Forum, Dresden Germany, 10 October 2009
- Phoenix Award, Atlanta, USA, 2008
- Honorary Citizenship and Goodwill Ambassador, Houston, USA, 2008
- Proclamation of Commendation, New Jersey, USA 2008
- Sant Shri Dnyaneshwara World Peace Prize, Pune, India, 11 January 2007
- Order of the Pole Star, Mongolia, 2006
- Bharat Shiromani Award, New Delhi, India, 2005
- Doctorate – Universidad Autónoma de Asunción of Paraguay, Buenos Aires University, Argentina; Siglo XXI University Campus, Cordoba, Argentina; Nyenrode University, Netherlands; Gyan Vihar University, Jaipur; Kuvempu University, India
In 2009, Shankar was named by Forbes Magazine as the fifth most powerful leader in India.
In 2012, Ravi Shankar, while attending a function in Jaipur, claimed that some Indian government schools are breeding grounds for Naxalism, a movement of militant communist groups in India declared to be terrorist organisations. "All government schools and colleges should be privatised. The government should not run any school. It's often found that children from government schools get into Naxalism and violence. Children from private schools don't get into this," he was quoted as saying by media reports. Later, Shankar issued a clarification that he didn't mean that all government schools breed Naxalism. More clarification followed on his Twitter account: "I specifically referred to sick government schools in Naxal affected areas. Many who have turned to Naxalism have come from these schools. I did not say all Govt schools (where lakhs study) breed Naxalism. Great talents have emerged from these schools & I would never generalize."
Ravi Shankar has authored the following books:
- An Intimate Note to the Sincere Seeker; Vol. 1: ISBN 1-885289-29-4, Vol. 2: ISBN 1-885289-30-8, Vol. 3: ISBN 1-885289-33-2, Vol. 4: ISBN 1-885289-36-7, Vol. 5: ISBN 1-885289-38-3, Vol. 6: ISBN 1-885289-40-5, Vol. 7: ISBN 1-885289-41-3
- Buddha: manifestation of silence, ISBN 81-89291-91-2
- 1999 – Be A Witness: The Wisdom of the Upanishads, 106 pp. ISBN 81-7621-063-3
- 2000 – God Loves Fun, 138 pp. ISBN 1-885289-05-7
- 2001 – Celebrating Silence: Excerpts from Five Years of Weekly Knowledge 1995–2000, 206 pp. ISBN 1-885289-39-1
- Celebrating Love ISBN 1-885289-42-1
- 2005 – Narada Bhakti Sutra, 129 pp. ISBN 81-7811-029-6
- Hinduism & Islam, the common thread, 34 pp, 2002
- Secrets of Relationships, Arktos, 2014
- Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Arktos, 2014
- Ashtavakra Gita, 2010, ISBN 9380592833
- Management Mantras, Arktos, 2014
- Know Your Child: The Art of Raising Children, Arktos, 2014
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- ^ Recipients list
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- Gautier, François, The Guru of Joy. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar & the Art of Living, Carlsbad, California, Hay House, Inc., 2008. ISBN 978-1-4019-1761-6 (First edition: India, Books Today, 2002. ISBN 81-87478-42-X)
- Michael Fischman, Stumbling into Infinity. ISBN 978-1-6003-7648-1
- Frederique Lebelley Walking the Path [Narrative of Experience with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar](1st edition: March 2010. ISBN 978-9077840764)