Sri Sri Ravi Shankar did not become famous because of his name. He took care of that long ago, by differentiating it from the already famous sitar player. He did not become famous because he had friends in high places. He did not have a headstart to reach where he is today. He started alone and all he did was share some of what he knew. You can argue that yoga, pranayam and meditation have always been known and there's nothing new in what he does. The bottom line is people liked what he had to offer and they kept coming to him. Like it or not, spirituality was not fashionable until Sri Sri.
Whatever it was that he did, he did it long enough and well enough to be known all over the world today. So far so good and things would have been fine if this was all it was. But the trouble is that he doesn't want to stop at that. He seems to want to be everywhere. It would've been fine if he had stuck to teaching breathing exercises, working in villages, reforming prisoners, teaching organic farming, planting trees etc. No problem. But when he wants to be active on political issues, mediate on issues he doesn't need to, voice opinions on matters that are not spiritual, well, that's a problem. Because then, he is encroaching, edging past people who had headstarts, who have the right surnames. And that is a serious breach of territory.
He can close his eyes today and put his finger on any city in India and gather lakhs of people there. Which politician today in India can do that? The strength of his popularity and connection with people, all these years, was visible only in the form of service projects like trauma relief. No matter where disaster strikes in the world, he is able to mobilize people and resources, even during the floods in Sindh last year. Good, more importantly, harmless.
But when that strength is moved from fringe issues, that affect a section of society, to core issues, that affect the bulk of the population, it starts shaking the seat of power. Suddenly, there is a fear that he may have political aspirations. Jesus, after all, was crucified on that very accusation. It starts showing up in remarks like "Swamiji, stick to spirituality, leave the politics to us." The condescension gives away that someone is rattled.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar embarked on a tour of Pakistan a few days ago. You don't agree with what he does, fine. You question his intentions, it's your right. But by any account, somebody as widely known as him, going from India on a peace mission to Pakistan is big news. Consider the ground work: He has managed to portray spirituality in a way that nobody finds it an infringement in a religiously orthodox atmosphere. His volunteers directed relief operations in a country where our government has no influence. He has been able to tap the significant but unexpressed sentiment - “Fine, whatever, let’s just be friends now”. He has created a demand for himself when nobody in Pakistan has a reason to welcome anything or anybody from India. The breakthrough is historic, at the very least. Nope, not to our media. Peace mission? Boring.
Our media likes to believe that people love watching them sit in their studios and argue over the day's developments in sophisticated vocabulary. These people reach millions of people on a daily basis. But they are so busy being full of themselves, that they fail to connect with common people. How many times have you heard anybody say anything nice about any of our news channels or newspapers? Nobody today has a kind word for the media and you have to say, they’ve worked very hard to get there.
Without any support from this media, Sri Sri connects with people on the ground, in millions. Why? He adds value to their life, in some way or the other. You can choose to remain skeptic, or unimpressed by what he says but you cannot deny that what he does requires extraordinary commitment. He may well be the most traveled human being in the world today, and since planes are still recent to our civilization, in all of history.
It was not easy going to Pakistan. Apart from those who regularly criticize him because they find him elementary, for this trip, he had to face opposition from the fundamentalists on both sides. "Who are you to interfere? Who asked you? Let the governments handle it." We have seen what the governments have achieved over the last 60 years. It is beyond them. This issue requires a large-heartedness impossible for politicians. Making policies or signing documents does not bring the hearts of people together.
People are very simple and they connect to his simplicity. What he is doing may not be sensational but it's solid. What is sensational is forgotten within days, what he is doing will be remembered much longer. This was an opportunity for our media to show some class. Skepticism is healthy, cynicism is not. Skepticism keeps windows open to find reality, cynicism closes them all and shuts you from reality. And the reality is that today, you cannot ignore Sri Sri. He IS everywhere.
These words from Mahatma Gandhi make a great quote, but nobody thought of them as a prophecy: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you
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