Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, 57, has millions of followers from all faiths around the world. Through his Art of Living Foundation and International Association for Human Values, he seeks to create a world free of stress and violence, alleviate human suffering, and foster shared global values. In an exclusive interview with Khabar South Asia, the "ambassador of peace" speaks about how to build a harmonious society and overcome hatred.
Khabar: How can peace, stability and brotherhood be promoted among people of all faiths in the world?
Sri Sri: There is need to impart and spread multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-celebratory education. Normally, community celebrations are exclusive, but if the same becomes a universal phenomenon, this will reduce the gap and bring people of different communities closer to each other. Prejudice and one-upmanship among religions should be done away with. This can happen when a child is educated to honour all traditions, customs and life in general.
Religious leaders have a great role to play in bridging the gaps between communities. They should stop condemning other faiths, which often happens. There needs to be a definite balance in taking pride in one's culture and religion [while] at the same time, not putting others down.
Khabar: Does religion provide a basis for terrorism? Who is responsible for disorder and turbulence and what factors play roles in it?
Sri Sri: There are two types of terrorism. One is the red terror, caused by the communist regime/thinking, and the other is religious terror.
Religion has definitely played a major role in conflicts and wars. From time immemorial there are diverse ways of worshiping on this planet. Intolerance and proselytization are some of the worst things for a harmonious co-existence. Wrong indoctrination of scriptures, allurement of life hereafter and forgetting human values are some of the major causes of terrorism. Repeated brainwashing in the name of God and heaven to eliminate evil is another cause.
Khabar: India is a multicultural, multi-religious country. What are the responsibilities of religious leaders?
Sri Sri: Tolerance to other traditions is in-built in the Indian ethos. India, where 80% of the population is Hindu, is fortunate, as respecting other religions is in-built in the very philosophy. Here, I would say, one has to evolve from being religious to being spiritual, which is the specialty of India.
Extremism of any sorts should be avoided at all costs and we should not allow politicians to play vote bank politics ... Religious leaders, especially, from the minority community, should be cautious of political designs.
Khabar: What is common between India's Hindus and Muslims??
Sri Sri: Hindus and Muslims in India share a common heritage and culture. Though fundamentally there are big differences in the religions as such, in India it is much blurred... Even the 'Ibaadat' (worship) in 'dargah's (shrines) has a lot of similarities with Hinduism. Hindus on the other hand respect prophets and saints. Sufism is also an outcome of such influences.
Khabar: What is the role of religion in politics? Should politics be part of religion anyway?
Sri Sri: Ideally, religion and politics should be separate, but the ground reality is that every political party in India-- irrespective of their tall claims of promoting secularism-- does not exhibit that spirit. … Broad-based education with a scientific temperament, vibrant and dedicated leadership can change this vitiated atmosphere.
Khabar: We are facing hatred, tumult and disorder in the name of religion, region and sectarianism. What is the solution to all these problems?
Sri Sri: We have several identities. Human nature is to cling to an identity for survival; it is language, religion or caste. Here, one has to take a look at oneself, and identify oneself first and foremost to the one divinity by which and of which the whole creation is made. And the second identity is that of being a human being. And the third place should be for the gender. The fourth for nationality, the fifth could be of religion and so on--in this order. If this is misplaced, then it will lead to a problem.
Khabar: What is the role of religion in day to day life?
Sri Sri: Religion is supposed to provide much-needed inner strength, hope, courage and an insight to the life hereafter. Also, religion is a binding force which cuts across geographical and racial boundaries.
Usually religion is by birth and continues to influence till the end. Your name and all the ceremonies until your burial or cremation are determined by your religion. The communist effort of keeping religion away has not worked well either. Religion by itself is not bad-- contrary to communist thinking. It is the fanaticism and extremism that religion has given birth to that is dangerous to human society. You cannot avoid religion, but in spirituality you rise above and become a good human being.
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Tolerance is part of the Indian ethos: spiritual leader