A dialogue between H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and activists of the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI)

Posted on: Monday, August 13, 2012 | Posted by: Art of Living Universe

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One wonders what is the psyche of a fundamentalist? What is it that spurs them on their mission of hatred? How should one deal with such a person? We were lucky to witness an interaction between a handful of SIMI activists and His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a couple of years ago. We felt that the same would be of relevance and could serve as an eye-opener in the current scenario. The backdrop for this article is one of Sri Sri’s tours of Kerala in the first week of December 2000. A series of Anandotsavams had been planned in various cities of Kerala to coincide with Sri Sri’s visit to those cities. Sri Sri ‘s visit was expected to attract huge crowds running into several hundred thousands and the local organizers spared no effort in ensuring the smooth conduct of such public meetings. The planning for these functions began several months before the actual event and drew upon the efforts of hundreds of enthusiastic Art of Living volunteers. A week before the tour commenced, towards the end of November there was a surprise in store. The newspapers announced that SIMI – Student Islamic Movement of India had called for a general strike (hartal) all over Kerala on December 6th, being the Babri Masjid demolition day. Coincidentally, an Anandotsavam had been planned on December 6th at Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala. The police also warned that they had received bomb threats. However, when contacted. Sri Sri assured Xavier, the president of the organizing committee that "Satsang will happen". On December 6th, though the newspapers had announced that the function was cancelled and the police had withdrawn their permission due to the bomb scare, more than a lakh of people attended the satsang. The following day, Sri Sri gave an audience to the SIMI leaders. Four leaders from SIMI came to meet Sri Sri at the residence of one of the organizers. Following their entry, an air of tension enveloped the hall where hundreds were waiting to meet with Sri Sri. Naseeb, one of the devotees, guided them to the room where Sri Sri was sitting with a few of us. They (the SIMI leaders), were dashing youths in their mid 20’s. One of them was carrying the holy Koran. They were little stern and stiff. Their eyes were fixed and seemed to reflect an inner fire. They looked prepared to repulse anything that Sri Sri would tell them and most unlikely to listen to reason.

Sri Sri was His usual smiling self.

The stage was set. It had all the signs of a classic confrontation. On one side were the brash youth – intemperate, impatient, driven by ideology and out to prove their superiority. On the other was a youthful, realized sage, unperturbed, offering sane explanations that echoed an uncommon depth and breadth of understanding. Those of us in the room, were eager to see how Sri Sri would deal with these firebrands. Sri Sri embraced them and offered them chairs to sit. There was not an iota of difference in His attitude. Any casual onlooker could be forgiven for thinking that Sri Sri considered these gentlemen as amongst His most ardent devotees. Perhaps the only difference that we could see was that they were seated on chairs while the rest of us were on the floor! For us, it was yet another opportunity to witness the unconditional love that Sri Sri exemplifies.

The leader of the group spoke first. He asked

SIMI: You had wanted to meet with us.

SRI SRI: Yes. I wanted to understand why your organization was opposed to the Anandotsavam.

SIMI: We thought that holding an Anandotsavam (celebration) on December 6th was a deliberate move to insult our religious sentiments. Do you know about our religion?. Do you believe in the Koran at all?

SRI SRI: Yes of course.

SIMI: (Not expecting this answer, pointing to the Koran, they shot the next question) We believe that Koran is the only knowledge. What about you?

SRI SRI: This is one amongst the various knowledge revealed to man from time to time.

SIMI: But God has said this is the only knowledge. The way of the Koran is the only way. There is no other way.

SRI SRI: This message can be found in scriptures of all religions. In the Vedas it is said "Naanyah Panthaah Ayanaaya Vidyate" meaning "There is no other way but the way of Truth!" The same is said in the Bible, Jesus says, "To go to my father, you have to go through me. I am the only way".

SIMI: But our scripture says worshipping any form or idol is evil, it is blasphemy.

SRI SRI: What is Good and Evil after all? It is relative. Relative existence is not the complete picture For example: Milk is good, but too much milk can kill you. Poison is harmful, but a drop of poison can save your life. Most lifesaving medicines have poison written on them! These are neither absolutely good nor bad they are just there. Truth transcends duality, and God is the Absolute and only Truth. So, where is the place for evil?

SIMI: Yet you Hindus worship many Gods, whereas our ideal is there is only one God and His message is what is required to go to heaven.

SRI SRI: There is only one god in many forms…

SIMI: (Restless and unwilling to listen to any explanation, they interrupted Sri Sri.) But the Koran says you should only worship Allah who is formless whereas the Hindus worship idols which are only stones.

SRI SRI: At this, Sri Sri suddenly asked them: Do you honour the Koran?

SIMI: (They seemed a little taken aback at this question from Sri Sri and with a righteous air answered). Yes, it is God’s word!

SRI SRI: Do you honor the Mecca?

SIMI: Yes, of course! That is our sacred place.

SRI SRI: So also, Hindu’s honour God’s creation as God. Just like sound (Koran), the crescent moon, Kaaba and the month of Ramadan are sacred for you, Hindus consider the River Ganges, the Himalayas, Saints as sacred. See, a picture of your daughter is not your daughter, but you still adore the daughter’s picture. When you see the picture aren’t you reminded of your daughter?

(They nodded a yes)

SRI SRI: So also, a symbol is not God but is honoured as God. This sense of honouring and sacredness makes you awake and alive. That is why the ancient Rishis said to feel the entire creation and your whole life as sacred. They considered God as omnipresent, as inseparable from His creation; like the dance and the dancer.

Sri Sri elaborated further – Spirit loves diversity. Is there only one type of vegetable or fruit? God created many type of fruits and vegetables. There is not just one type of tree, not just one type of snake, cloud, mosquito….Even you change your dress for different occasions. So how could this consciousness that manifested this whole creation be monotonous? There is only one God in many forms. Only one God is advocated. When you accept the variety of Divinity, you cease to be a fanatic and fundamentalist. A pregnant silence filled the room as they looked at each other expecting the other to speak. Then as a face saving measure, the SIMI leader replied, "I will need to go and consult my higher scholars." With a compassionate expression on His face, Sri Sri said: Never mind, (with a wave of His hand) forget about religion. We are all human beings. Let us have a peaceful society. Let us focus on development.

SIMI: No No No! What are you saying? You are talking about this world. What we do here is immaterial. The Koran tells us that what matters is what you get in eternal life and not to worry about material life. By doing service to the society you will simply remain here. You have to obey Allah. Allah is the only God and Mohammed is the last prophet.

SRI SRI: At this Sri Sri stopped them and after a pause asked them: Do you think the Sikh Gurus are not prophets. Isn’t Mirabai a prophet? What about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu?

Once again, there was silence. Their expressions had changed. The rigidity had weakened and in its place was some confusion/uncertainty. Sri Sri seemed totally at ease unmindful of the challenges posed at Him.

SIMI: No! You can go to heaven only if you believe in Allah and the Koran.

SRI SRI: No my dear – there was Buddha, Mahavira, Nanak, Jesus, Shankara… Do you think they are not in heaven? If not, then I would rather be with them!

SIMI: You are such a nice person, but we pity you because you cannot get the truth. You can’t go to Allah. You can’t be rewarded by Allah. God will never show mercy on you.

SRI SRI: Never mind. (with a mischievous smile ) I will be with these people (Shankara, Jesus, etc.)

(Even as we were admiring Sri Sri’s patience and objectivity, we were concerned at the wrong indoctrination that these youths had been subjected to. We also observed a few others who were in the room were getting a little restive, possibly wondering why Sri Sri was spending so much time with these people who were obviously not at all receptive and that too when hundreds were waiting outside just for a glimpse of Sri Sri.)

SIMI: Do you know, that over 1400 years ago, in the middle of the desert, God revealed the secrets of creation. Even when there was no science, God said that the Atom is the smallest particle!

SRI SRI smiled and said: Yes, the same is there in the shaastras too which were known more than 10,000 years ago. In the shaastras it is said that the Earth is over 19 billion years old! Truth is beyond time and space. It is not confined to one time or one place One needs to have a scientific spirituality.

As if to conclude the conversation Sri Sri gave them Ladoo as prasad. By now there were traces of a smile on their faces. When they were about to leave He gave them a hug. They definitely seemed to be less stern than earlier. Could their attitude have changed? We wondered whether this (‘changed attitude’) would persist or would they go back to their old fanatic ways. But one thing was for sure, Sri Sri had made an impression that they would not forget!

Later, while Sri Sri was having His lunch, someone asked Him, "Why is that Islam is producing so many terrorists all over the world? No other religion has given rise to so many terrorists in the world. What is the reason?"

SRI SRI: Look at the commitment and the fire in them. Take the good from them and learn what you should not be doing. Don’t label them as bad people. They have not been imparted the knowledge of Vedanta. (Then as He was adding ghee to the chilli powder) He smiled and said "In this creation, there is a place for everything."

by Swami Sadyojathah & Shri Harish Ramachandran