BY VEENA RAO
“The Art of Living Foundation, an educational and humanitarian nonprofit, hosted a meditation and yoga seminar ‘MY2008” with the organization’s founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at AmericasMart in downtown Atlanta on Oct. 25-26 .
The seminar was part of Sri Sri’s six-city tour to promote a “Violence-Free, Stress-Free America.”
The spacious exhibit hall at AmericasMart’s newly opened Building Two West Wing was filled with ardent Art of Living followers and curious first timers who wanted to meet Sri Sri and adopt his pranayama, yoga and meditation techniques.
Sri Sri got the participants acquainted with his rhythmic breathing techniques like aalom vilom, bhramari and kapal bhati. He then guided them into Yoga nidra, which he said, is a useful tool in bringing relaxation to the mind and body.
“Remember the three sutras of meditation,” he said. “I am nothing, I want nothing, and I am not going to do anything.”
“Meditation is the food for the soul. When you meditate, you become aware of your intellect, and a new life begins,” he added.
The highlight of the first day’s program was the Q&A session with the spiritual master. Participants wrote their question on a flash card, which was then dropped into a basket. Out of the hundreds of questions, Sri Sri picked out a few interesting ones, which he then proceeded to answer with his trademark wit and depth of wisdom.
To the question- what is the purpose of life- he replied: “The one who knows will not tell you. The one who tells you does not know. He said basic questions like where am I going, what is the purpose of my life can be answered through meditation.”
With characteristic humor, he said enlightenment is easier than the US presidential elections: “No money or talent is required. It is within the reach of anyone with focus.”
His advice to an American born teenager: “Deepen your roots and broaden your vision.”
To a question on how to fix the corrupt and corrupting political system, he said: “Spiritualize politics, socialize business and secularize religion.”
The reason for the world’s financial crisis: “Greed, greed and greed. America’s greed has taken over the world.”
To a question on the efficacy of Vedanta, he said: “Vedanta and science are parallel. The Art of Living is open to scientific understanding. Both Vedanta and Science stress on experiencing first, believing later. Religion, on the other hand, expects you to believe first- then you might, some day, experience.”
“Knowledge of “what it is” is Science. Knowledge of “who I am” is spirituality,” he added.
To a question on overcoming short temper, Sri Sri said: “Leave a little room for imperfection.”
Sri Sri even took up a question on whether he liked being treated by his followers like god. He said, seeing god in each other is a cultural thing. “In India, the mother, father, teacher and guests are treated like God. It is common to touch your parents’ feet or the teacher’s feet as greeting.”
“But many times I tell my followers to greet me with folded hands,” he added.
The morning session began with Michael Fischman, who leads the foundation in the US. He got the participants to break the ice with each other, to make for a more informal, relaxed atmosphere. Each participant had to partner with a complete stranger and talk about himself. Then the group was expanded to include another pair. Each person had to then introduce his partner to the new pair with details he had just learned about him.
The fun game made way to an intense yoga and breathing exercise with Gaurav. The afternoon session started with fun games conducted by Poonam, before Sri Sri took over.
The seminar was a place to recharge and reinvigorate. For many, it was the compelling presence of Sri Sri and his words of wisdom that was the main draw. Many curious first timers said they would continue to practice the yoga and breathing techniques they had learned. The ocean of prana (energy), as Sri Sri would say, was certainly a vibrant one!