Women Empowerment drive got the real momentum across the globe, after this event was held at the Art of Living Foundation, Bangalore-India, on February 09, 2014. Everyone who sought answer to their query in this event is known for a strong following to the mission they aim, at the betterment of today’s women on earth.
Below is a transcript of an online interaction entitled ‘Dialogue with Sri Sri’, with His Holiness Sri Sri Ravishankar, as part of the Sixth International Women’s Conference.
From trauma relief, women safety, human rights, environmental care to fashion, media and film-making, the discussion is between women who have dedicated themselves to that field, and a spiritual master venerated world over, for his wisdom.
Mary Kom (World Boxing Champion from India and a recipient of the Padmabhushan: How can we end crime against Women, particularly in metropolitan cities of India?
Sri Sri: How did you catch my thought? I was also thinking the same thing, how can we help women in the metropolitan cities of India. As I said, first of all we need to create more support groups, and women watch. We have taken up one thing now, i.e., conducting happiness surveys. In this survey, volunteers go door to door and find out the main cause of problems in each home. Why people are not happy? If families are not happy, if communities are not happy, then violence increases in the society. That kind of social interaction, perhaps, will help.
Stringent laws and courts are needed to punish the guilty, but that happens only after a crime has happened. Before that we need to create a big wave of awareness campaigns, to stop crime against women. As I already mentioned, intoxicants are one of the main reasons. People who are addict create problems in society. Addiction is because they are not happy. A happy person does not go in for addiction. Addiction is because they are not happy inside. We need to bring that sense of comfort and care in the hearts of people, for the people around them. I think we can think about a million such plans of how we can change our society, how we can bring more togetherness, because we had this in this country, not too long ago. When we were kids, we grew up with ideals of Mahatma Gandhi.
If someone gets aggressive in the classroom, everyone would look at him, ‘Hey, you have lost it. You better get back to yourself’. This was the idea. Today if you are aggressive, you are a hero. Those days, if you were compassionate, then you were a hero, then you would be appreciated. So, the ego or pride getting attached to violence and aggression is one of the causes of violence in society.
I would say, the violent movies our kids see in this country and elsewhere in the world, also desensitizes them against crime. If they are shooting in their video games every day, they are shooting the ships, they are shooting the planes, they are shooting people, and it does not even register as a crime in their mind. They become thick skinned. That is why I would say, all these violent games should be done away with. How many of you agree with me on this? Violent games that the kids play should be done away with.
They should be given more sensitivity towards life, towards animals and towards people. Education and awareness can play a big role. Stringent laws on the political level are required. It will make a big difference if communities work together, without burdening the government entirely.
Vandana Shiva (Author and Environmentalist from India): Gurudev, what we have to do to make the stubborn mind shift from a mechanistic, reductionist, fragmented thought, that is the cause for so much of violence against the Earth, between people and against women. The violence against women is intimately connected to this division and separation.
Sri Sri: I would say, if people become scientists or physicists, they can see life from a bigger context. Then there is no way they will indulge in violence. It is lack of education, lack of scientific and spiritual education, that makes people so hard. Also I see that stress is the main cause of all crime. This is the first cause.
The second cause of crime is alcohol. If you see in India, the violence against women has all happened under the influence of intoxicants. When I visited Tihar Jail, the biggest jail in this country and while talking to people there, you know what? I came to know that 93 percent of the crimes against women were done under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
So what needs to change is that lifestyle. We see this here as well. Every day in the small villages, men drink in the evening and they beat up their wives. In the morning they fall at their feet and ask for pardon. Women, being naturally compassionate, pardon them. And again the same story continues. One or two days they are okay, then the third day again they start abusing the womenfolk.
So, women cannot be safe when the sale of intoxicants in the country has gone up three times, in just one year. That is why we need to put an end to this and change that whole attitude. Only then we can have a safe society.
Criselda Kananda (Radio Jockey from South Africa): People go to the Church. They know that there is God, they know that there is a higher calling. Yet, they are not able to access infinity and abundance. I believe that we have enough for all of us in the world, yet there is poverty. Where are we going wrong in our day to day teachings?
Sri Sri: I would like to bring your attention to one point. Greed is the result of insecurity. When you feel that there is not enough love, or not enough care on the planet, you become greedy because the only security that you can think of is money. If you do not know that there are people to take care of you, you think by holding on to something or possessing more things can help you.
I tell you, it is the greed of a few people, that is responsible for the poverty of many in this world. I’m sure many of you would agree with me. Just a few greedy people and corruption can destroy nations.
Second reason for poverty is laziness, like what is happening with Ethiopia. For seven years, Ethiopia was under famine and they got food from all over the world. In the seventh year, even though there was abundant rainfall, nobody wanted to work!
Freebies are not a solution for prosperity; you need to empower people. Empowering the poor, instilling self confidence in them, would help them out of poverty. We need to bring magnanimity and compassion in all those who have, so that they can go out and serve.
If that was happening, the government would not have to bring a law that every company should engage in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activity. Just see, there is so much work in so many fields. Here I must say, many religious and spiritual organizations, many churches and faith based organizations around the world are doing commendable work for the poor people of the world, but not enough.
Dr.Akrawi (An active member of the Women Union working with UNICEF from Kurdistan): What is your message to the leadership of the world, especially to the leadership of Middle East, to get people to live in harmony and peace? What is your vision for the Kurdish nation which is divided into four countries to live in peace and harmony?
Sri Sri: You know, the problem there is enormous. It is centuries old. There is not one solution. I think we will all have to collectively put our thoughts and our mind and see. Whatever works wherever, we should apply that. Basically I would say, keep connecting people. If all of us here start connecting with more people, and wherever you find there is a spark of misunderstanding, or there is some tension coming up, if we can do something to cool down the tension, then we would be contributing quite a bit. I remember, a few ladies from Israel and Palestine came to our German ashram once.
In the beginning they would not sit with each other, they would not look at each other. But just a few days of sitting together, playing some games and singing, brought them together and they became very good friends. I will give you another example. I am narrating this story which has happened in 2007. We had 50 youth who had come here from Baghdad, Iraq and 150 youth from rest of the Arab countries. It was not planned, but it so happened that at the same time, there were 22 people from Israel as well. The first day there were big fireworks because the Iraqis felt cheated, saying that if they had known there were Israelis they would have never come at that time.
Yet, they could not take the next flight and go, obviously. It so happened that by the time they left on the seventh day, there were tears in everyone’s eyes. That points towards the need to break down any artificial fear psychosis which has been created, unfortunately either by the political setup, or vested interests.
Annika Dopping (Swedish TV Presenter and Host): I recently interviewed Dr Fahri Saatcioglu from the University of Oslo, who is conducting research on what happens with the yogic breathing – The Sudarshan Kriya – at the genetic level. He has discovered some very exciting things, and has said that Sudarshan Kriya can actually affect the DNA. Previously we used to think that we are static beings, and not at all plastic. Do you think that this might even convince the most skeptical, resistant people, to see that we are affecting the very core of life? Is that a way to open up and reach out to people?
Sri Sri: Yes. You know, I’ve been seeing transformation happening in millions of people all these 32 years, who have been doing this program. It is most welcoming to see that science has proved what we see physically. Science is documenting logically and systematically what is really happening. So, Dr Fahri’s research work is really very interesting.
Similar work has been done by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, and by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. They found that meditation and breathing exercises can take people out of depression, and negative thought patterns that we tend to get into. It generates more positivity; one feels happier and more relaxed from within. This is definitely happening. In recent years, concepts like ‘the body-mind medicine’, ‘how thought influences biochemistry’ and ‘how biochemistry influences behavior’, are proved beyond any question by the scientific community.
Naida Glavish (Maori Party president from New Zealand): Your Holiness, at what stage of the nine month pregnancy does the soul enter the baby?
Sri Sri: I don’t know! But I can tell you, the ancient scriptures say there are three occasions when the soul enters the body; during conception, in the fifth month of pregnancy or at the time of birth.
Claire Agius (TV presenter from Malta): Namaste Gurudev! Maltese women in recent years undergo a lot pressure as their representation is least in EU workforce. They are burdened in the fronts of:
(1) Raising the family and be good wives,
(2) Work and earn to live.
This is causing a lot of pressure and stress to the Maltese women. I would like to ask for an empowering message from you to all these women who are balancing these many roles.
Sri Sri: Stress to me is, too much to do, too little time and too little energy. Now, either you increase your energy level, or reduce your workload. Reducing the workload does not seem to be possible these days. All that you have to do is increase your energy level. And that is possible when you see your life from a broader perspective.
You are faced with stressful situations every day. This is nothing new to you. Look back, you had similar situations, but you had the power to overcome those.
You just need to have that faith in yourself, so that you can overcome any stressful situation that you find yourself in right now. Looking back at your own experience, at your own life, you can draw the power to handle the present situation. Second thing is, do some breathing exercises. Do little bit of meditation, and know for sure it is going to change. The third thing I would say, just take a good walk and watch nature. That provides you the strength and courage, to overcome your crisis.
Q: I have been in The Art of Living for eight years. When I talk about The Art of Living, Yoga or Meditation to my people in Bahrain, they relate it to religion and argue that it is against our religion. How do you advise me to answer these people?
Sri Sri: Unfortunately in the world, there is no distinction between religion and spirituality. Spirituality is the value system which unites people of all religions. Only education will help.
Many parts of the world still do not think so. They think Yoga is related to Hinduism. No doubt it has come from a way of life from Hinduism, but it has universal benefit. Like Ayurveda, the science of herbs, it is universal. So universal values, wherever they come from, whichever tradition or religion it comes from, we need to accept those for human betterment. If it does some good, we must accept it. I know there is a lot of prejudice about this, but I see that it is fading away.
You know, in the beginning years, thirty years ago, when I started teaching breathing exercises, I had to face a lot of prejudice, but later on people started seeing the benefit of it. Anyway someone will object for something, even if what you say is good. Many people used to think that men and women should not even sit in the same room and talk. But now these are all obsolete ideas. So we need to be progressive and intelligent.
Q: Is there progress without prayers?
Sri Sri: Prayer happens when you are very grateful and say, ‘Thank God I got this, thank you so much!’
That is one aspect of prayer. The second aspect of prayer is when you are helpless. When you are utterly helpless, when you cannot manage something, when things are out of your hands, then either you get frustrated or you just pray to god, ‘Please see that this thing happens’.
So prayer is a very good tool to save our minds and our hearts. People who know how to pray will not have a nervous breakdown, perhaps. I would add perhaps there. So progress comes not just by prayer, but by your dynamic action.
Ritu Kumar (Fashion designer from India, recipient of the Padmashree in 2013: Could you advise on what is the best way of going into meditation. Is there any kind of special music, which can enable you to access that space better?
Sri Sri: Meditation is very simple and it just takes a couple of days to learn. Once you learn it then you can do it on your own. Then you can do it anytime and anywhere you want. But only before meals, okay! What happens during meditation is our metabolism slows down; whereas after food, our metabolism goes up. So it is better to meditate two to three hours before food, or after a good meal.
Meditation is good, it makes our body strong, health better, mind clear, and our emotions become softer and positive. It improves our intuitive ability, improves our vibrations, and brings such a positive energy around us. There are so many benefits to it.
Q: Gurudev, you tell us to live in the moment, but you also say that we must have goals in life. Is this not contradictory? If one has to live in the moment, then why have goals in life?
Sri Sri: Life is so complex! It is not just simple. It is so complex and that is the beauty of it! That is why it is beautiful. Our body has a form, color and shape, but our mind does not have any of those.
We are a combination of the most obvious and the completely abstract mind. A combination of both, something which is so tangible and something which is so airy. You cannot put a finger and say, ‘This is my mind’. So, we are a combination of very complex and diverse principles of nature. That is why we are so complete. So you live in the present moment, but have a great vision for the future. You can do both. And we all possess this ability.
Q: Gurudev, if the combination of Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge) and Durga (the goddess of power and strength) was not possible, and if you had to choose only one, then which of the three forms should a woman choose in today’s situation?
Sri Sri: Listen, the Indian mythology gave all the power to women. All the important ministries were assigned to womenfolk. The ministry of finance, defense and education were given to women. So a woman plays all these three roles.
With kids, she plays the role of a teacher. Sometimes with husband, she can play the role of Durga. In ancient India, every woman was given a certain amount called Stree Dhan. That was the savings. She can hand it over to her daughter, or do whatever she wants to do with it. That was the ancient system here.
There are matriarchal families even today in India. Two states in India – one is in the North east and the other in south west Kerala, when a boy gets married he goes and lives in the girl’s house. It is not the other way around. He goes and lives with his wife, woman inherits all the property and boys do not.
Q: It is said that for a good relationship, we have to pamper the husband’s ego. As a working woman, I find that my potential gets limited because I have to do the same for my male bosses, and my male colleagues.
Sri Sri: Oh, you don’t have to do it all the time! You should have some fun in the office as well. Sometime poke their ego and see what happens. Have fun!
One thing is for sure, whether at home or at workplace, don’t sacrifice your smile for anything on the planet. Nothing is worth it. Keep your smile. This does not mean that you have to keep smiling at others all the time, but your heart should be smiling. When you give a comment to your boss and he is boiling, you should smile and watch how he is boiling and changing his colors and expressions. See the blood shooting into his eyes. Just watch and have a good time.
If you have that much inner strength or peace, the inner smile, then that is it, you become invincible. I tell you, you are invincible. Just wake up and recognize the huge potential you have. The ocean of love, and compassion that you have. You recognizing yourself is good enough to bring a change in the world. That is why Mahatma Gandhi has said, be the change you want to see in the world.
Her Excellency Sheikha Hind Khalid Khalid Al Qasimi (A designer and editor from UAE): When I came here, as I entered the door, I had a lot of questions. But when I sat down, I visualized that this whole session is about finding our inner peace, it was a beautiful realization. Now it is about Africa. You had mentioned earlier that simply sending food is not a solution. I would like your guidance on how to further charity in Africa to a new level and make it a more sustainable solution. Africa is a forgotten continent. They are going through a lot of pain, and I want your guidance to help them better.
Sri Sri: I was also thinking on these lines, how we can help Africa more. There are three dimensions we all have to work for. First is, we must see that corruption does not happen. Billions of dollars are being siphoned off into the pockets of a few political leaders, if I am right. Many big African leaders have stashed their money away in London, as rumored in European parliament.
So the first thing we need to do is to create a sense of awareness in them that there is a need for a strong anti-corruption bill, or some such thing will have to happen. Such a moment has to come up there.
Second is, creating a sense of belongingness among the people. A lot of money is wasted in ethnic conflicts in Africa. People can just get together, and instead of getting into conflict, celebrate their diversity. Africa is not one; there are so many diverse little sections, groups, and tribes. They should celebrate this difference together.
For this India can be the best example, because in India, every 200 kilometers a different language is spoken! It’s almost like Europe. Just take the whole of Europe, how many different languages are there; how many different countries are there, yet it is all in one country. Similarly, in some provinces in India, there are 10-15 tribes, but they all celebrate together, they remain together. There aren’t such big ethnic conflicts.
So we need to teach people how to live harmoniously, in spite of their differences. This can be inculcated in the education system. South Africa has done it to a very big extent. Botswana has done it to some extent. Rest of Africa should do this. Just giving out charity is not enough. We need to teach them how to fish. We need to teach them how to stand on their feet. This is what I believe in.
Márcia De Luca (Specialist in Yoga and health from Brazil): Women will be playing a very important role in the next years as the new era progresses. So, how can they develop Shakti (strength) so that they can be more empowered to do a better job?
Sri Sri: First thing I would say is, they should watch their food. More healthy food, more organic food. Second is, they should not stop singing. In this country, if you see in the villages, when women go for working in the fields, they keep humming and singing.
So singing gives a lot of energy to do their work with enthusiasm. Men are more shy to sing than women. So women should not leave their habit of humming and singing. Singing can give them a lot of energy. Third thing is, do some yoga and pranayama.
Petra Friganovic (Supermodel from Croatia): Gurudev, I am very much aware that there is an enormous spiritual and practical power in women. I am also aware that this power is very much hidden. How can a modern woman awaken this power in her?
Sri Sri: First of all, let us understand that spirituality is not something out there, that is going to come into you. We are all made up of matter and spirit. Our body is made up of carbohydrate, protein, amino acids, etc. Our spirit is made up of compassion, care, commitment, love and distortions of it, like anger. All these qualities. Nurturing the human values, the qualities in you, is spirituality.
See life from a broader perspective, i.e., ‘I am not just flesh and bones, I am scintillating energy. I am a fountain of love. I am feelings. I am intelligence. I am thoughts’.
This identification, with our consciousness is what spirituality is. It doesn’t take a long time for you to invoke the spirituality inside you. You simply have to see your life from a bigger perspective. Look at this planet, it is huge; unfathomable. From billions of years it has been in existence.
And what’s our life of 70-80 years in comparison to this? See your life from the context of space and time, and you will see how tiny your life is. At the same time, go deep into it. Go deep into meditation and you will find, ‘Wow, there is so much energy. I am this beautiful energy. My thought has power, my emotions have power, and I am a part of everybody!’.
A feeling that you are part of all living species and a realization of your connectedness with entire universe, will strengthen you enormou
Marina Spadafora (fashion designer from Italy): Being a mother of three, I always ask myself, what is the best approach to teach my son to respect women, of every age. I request you to explain the best way for a mother to teach her boy to respect women always, take care of them, protect them and treat them the best way possible, so this boy will grow up as a good man and we would not have as much violence as we have in today’s society”.
Sri Sri: Well, I am not so qualified to answer this question, because I have no experience in that field (marriage and parenthood). But I have a suggestion. We see everywhere a mother can influence a child, only to some extent. She finds it as impossible to influence, when the kid becomes rebellious. But a good aunt can do it. So, if you want to be a good mother, you have to be a good aunt to the friends of your kids. You know, the friends of your kids will listen to you much more than your own children.
Do not throw stones directly at the mango, but throw it at the branch and the mango will fall. If you throw stones at the mango, you will not get the mango; you will only get the juice. To catch the mango, you have to get it indirectly. In the same way, if you want to influence your kids, you should influence his or her friends circle. If the friends circle is influenced, your kid will automatically get the lesson. You cannot just worry about your kid; you will have to worry about all the other kids in the society. Then you will get somewhere. Many people have been successful in doing it.
Honorable Zara Bin Sulaiman from Oman: Women in Oman have power and good energy. Still in some parts of Oman, people do not allow women to get ahead. How can women, despite this obstacle, get ahead and become more prosperous?
Sri Sri: I think women should talk amongst each other and arrive at a solution on how to empower and educate women.
First is education, and then a dialogue with the people who oppose freedom of women. It feels like next to impossible, but we should keep the dialogue going. There are a lot of people who would appreciate some women leaders taking the first step. As you carry on, I am sure; many others would come along and help you with it. I am not fully aware of the ground reality there, but I can only hope that the women’s group there grows bigger, and starts taking power.
Again, with religious education, I would say that our children should get a broad based education. Every child should know a little bit about all the different religions of the world, so that they don’t grow up thinking, ‘Only my religion is supreme, only I have the key to heaven’.
They must respect other faiths as well. They must respect women, they must respect differences. We need to celebrate the differences on this planet during the short span of time, what we call life. Don’t you think so?
Asha Bhonsle (Playback Singer from India): Gurudev, children today are so much into phones, ipads and computers. Not only children, adults as well. So much so that they cannot remember a phone number if their phone is taken away. They are so dependent. Everything is in the phone. If the phone fails, they also fail. If children do not move forward and do anything new, do not study hard, what is the use of iPhones and iPads? Nobody writes stories/lyrics and none sings. How life can go on like this?
Sri Sri: Yes Ashaji, you are right! People have forgotten how to count. I want to tell you something interesting. A few people were staying here and we gave them a combination lock for their room. They would always forget the combination and ask to be given some easy combination! What is so difficult about a combination lock? When we do not allow our brain to function, creativity to blossom, it will rust! You are right, it began to rust due to modern gadgets.
Yes, these gadgets are necessary, you also have it, but there should be something written, there should be some creativity; this should definitely be done. From time to time, we should, for one or two days, decide that we will not watch TV. One week should be No TV week. One week you tell kids, this week you will not watch any TV. At least they will start reflecting upon something.
Otherwise they are simply bombarding information and impressions into their little brains, and they are unable to use it in other ways. It is a cause of concern. Most of the Attention Deficiency Syndrome among teenagers is a result of the mother and father being busy and putting the kid in front of the television. If the little 3-4 year baby sits and watches the television for 3 hours then what will happen? Our brain needs some rest. Some relaxation, only then creativity can happen.
Arpine Galfayan (Human rights activist from Armenia): Dear Gurudev, in almost all religious institutions and practices, women are not allowed to represent the word of god. Even if women are not considered something evil or secondary, still women cannot be priests and conduct poojas. So the question is, do you consider this to be an unfair practice? Do you see the need of changing it, and if so, how?
Sri Sri: You know, I am a rebel in this field. I say women have equal right as men and here (in the Ashram), we say women can all do poojas. Women can participate in all rituals, and be priests as well. You have the right, you can do it. Nowhere, at least in the scriptures, what I have learnt or whatever little I know is there any discrimination on the basis of gender? So, women should come forward and take up their rightful place. Don’t ask someone to give it to you.
Tanika Gray (News Editor at CNN): With the media reporting crime and negativity around the world, what do you think is their responsibility towards violence that is happening? What you think we should do differently?
Sri Sri: I think the media has two important roles to play. One is to place the facts in front of the people as they are. At the same time create hope in people for the future. You know, the present scenario can be very depressing. The media has to take responsibility not to create more depression in society. They have to give people hope. Suppose there is a riot, or a crisis, or a war, in that situation also there is hope; there are good people on the planet who are doing some very good work, this must be highlighted.
Otherwise when you open the newspaper, all you see is bad news, which is depressing. The people feel that there is no hope in life because the world is so bad. The citizen of this world will not label society as bad or hopeless. This can happen only when they are bombarded with negative news all the time.
So, media will have to balance this out. Create hope, at the same time keep the reality in front of people.
Dr. Preetha Reddy (Operation Head of Apollo group of hospitals, India): Gurudev, we have been feeling of late that media, more may be the electronic media and the print media have not been as responsible as they should be for the greater good. It is right that we have to communicate the truth the way it is, but if the truth is sacrificed for just eye ball time because someone has invested into the media company, I am not sure that they are doing good for the nation. What is your advice to make media more responsible to work for the greater good, for the betterment of mankind, for the betterment of the environment, so that the world is a better place to live in.
Terrorism is reported a lot and that is fine, but people are dying more of health reasons and that is not reported. So I feel your advice and blessings on this matter is very important.
Sri Sri: Yes Preetha, you are right. We are stuck in a sort of virtual world. We are not coming into the real world. Many kids make friends on facebook, twitter and social media and in reality, people meeting each other and talking is much lesser now. This needs to change; we need to have more human interaction, not just in the virtual, but in the real world. That is necessary. I won’t put all the blame on media, no.
Media has a role to play, but the NGOs, the public sector, the government, the faith based organizations, all these different pillars of democracy have to work in unison. Only then can a society be healthy. So for the health of the society, we need doctors to do padayatras. Take a day or two in a month from your busy schedules, go to villages and do free medical health checkup camps. Of course, Apollo (hospital) is also doing this.
Recently in Tamilnadu, we had 500,000 youth singing Bharatiya (Indian) songs, after which they all took a pledge towards girl education. This effort brought people together to sing, and to interact with each other. Youngsters singing patriotic songs, or songs of wisdom inspires them to do something good in the society. It makes all the difference. So such mega cultural activities can also be a way to bring awareness in people. If people take up similar activities in society, in smaller groups in their localities, I think we can bring a big transformation.