KARACHI: Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar wants Pakistan and India to have better relations because it would be beneficial for both. “They can become the largest economic powers in the world,” said the soft-spoken peace guru to his audience, who looked back at him in awe and with smiles on their faces.
“No country would sell arms to us, incite conflicts or make our people poor,” he went on, as applause broke out in the hall which was brimming with people. The peace ambassador, popularly called Guru ji, was in Karachi, while on a three-day visit to Pakistan. Shankar is known for his meditation practices and stress-management therapies in many countries and is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation.
Before Guru ji addressed his admirers at Sheraton Hotel late on Tuesday night, qawaal Fareed Ayaz made the people sway to the beat of Amir Khusro’s Chhaap Tilak, and later, to Lal Meri Pat.
When Shankar arrived, the bare-footed audience gave him a standing ovation, while chanting “Our Guru ji is here,” and welcomed him with garlands of fresh flowers. The Muttahida Qaumi Movment’s Farooq Sattar and adviser Sharmila Farooqi also came in just after Shankar.
As Guru ji settled on the stage, adorned heavily with roses, Fareed Ayaz greeted him by singing “Mera piya ghar aaya,” and then presented him with an Ajrak and a Sindhi topi.
A teacher, Shakeela Jabeen, had come from Norway just to see Shankar. “I got to know three days ago that he was coming to Pakistan,” said Jabeen, beaming. “He was coming to my homeland I had to be here.”
Finally, the wait was over and Shankar said that it was overwhelming to visit Karachi after eight years. Soon after, he began a session of serious and thought-provoking questions and answers, packed with humorous one-liners. He spoke in English and Hindi and kept asking the audience for Urdu equivalents during his one-and-a-half-hour-long talk.
Of love and onions
The first question was a predictable one: How to promote peace between Pakistan and India?
“There is real love between the masses,” he said. “But to increase it, there should be an increase in trade, exchange of culture, tourism, and, religious and political dialogue.”
When he entered Pakistan from the Wagah border, he saw onion-laden trucks coming here from India. “I wish that pyar (love) also arrived with piyaz (onions),” he said. “From the other end, I saw trucks with cement. Most of the buildings in India are made of Pakistani cement.”
He admitted that top intelligence personnel and others had tried to stop him from coming to Pakistan and told him that the country was ‘dangerous.’ “But I wanted to come,” he said pointing upwards. “My security is up there.”
He thought that Pakistan had not exploited its tourism potential properly and could also do with a yoga industry, citing the example of $29 billion industry in the US. He also said that Pakistanis should celebrate their differences. “Celebrating diversity should be the language of Pakistan.”
All about you
When the questions became related to personal well-being, Guru ji said that sympathising with others and helping the less privileged brought peace. When he was asked about self discipline, he said, “When you love something, you don’t need discipline. And I don’t agree that fear and greed instill a sense of discipline.”
To Shankar, a man’s worst enemy was his own mind and ego. “But, it is also his best friend,” he said, with a smile on his face. When asked about people who lust after money and power, the Guru simply said, “Smile at them. They are very poor.”
Equivalent of sex?
When a sex therapist asked him how important sex was for overall wellbeing, Shankar answered, “A moment of silence is equal to 1,000 units of sex. Meditation elevates you. You don’t need a body to rub against,” causing a ripple of laughter to go through the room.
After the questions were over, Shankar proposed, “Let’s meditate. That’s our specialty.”
The lights were dimmed, the cameras were turned off and eyes were closed. The Guru recited the three golden rules of meditation. “To want nothing, to do nothing, and, to be nothing.”
There was silence in the hall for a whole 15 minutes. At the end of the session Shankar poured drops of shakti (power/peace) on to the arms of the audience. The drops, he said, were made from special herbs.
Farooq Sattar who had actively participated in the meditating session, eagerly climbed the stage to get a few shakti drops. “Salman Khan ki tarhan ho-jaon to baat hai,” he joked, referring to the beefy Bollywood hearthrob. Shankar poured the drops on to Sattar’s outstretched arms which he then tried to lower but couldn’t.
It was then that the spiritual guru asked for the time and was told that the clock had struck 12:30 am. “This is enough for tonight,” he said, with his perpetual smile.
Art of living officially opens
Early on Wednesday morning, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also inaugurated Art of Living’s peace centre. He had inaugurated similar centres in Lahore and Islamabad before he made his way to Karachi.
“I hope this centre brings peace to the people. I hope thousands come here and find happiness,” he prayed, clad in white robes and an Ajrak around his neck.
Although the centre in Karachi has been offering courses for meditation, breathing and physical exercises for several years, Shankar officially launched it on Wednesday.
He asserted that similar peace centres should be set up all across Pakistan and announced that Indian doctors will be sent here to treat people for free. The Guru said that a clever man spends his time, indulging in music, poetry, jokes and wisdom, while the foolish man spends time fighting and arguing.
“Encourage tourism. You have homes everywhere. Invite people and go visit them,” he advised the volunteers while sitting with them after the ceremony.
While speaking to the media, Shankar said that it was important to reach out the extremists and criminals. “In jail, I have taught meditation to 0.3 million people,” he said. “We are not magicians and don’t change people overnight. We just try to help them.” Shankar added that his teachings were not class-restricted and poor people could get it for free too.
An elderly, Kalim Baakza, who had taken breathing courses at the centre three years ago, said, he had thoroughly enjoyed the session. “I do breathing and physical exercises every day. That course gave me a lot of energy and helped me to release my blocked emotions.” His sister Rani Farooq, with a tasbeeh (rosary) in her hand, chipped in, “Nothing can bring you happiness, until and unless you look inside yourself and meditate.”
Naushad Thariani, a full-time instructor at the Art of Living centre in Mumbai, was also happy to be in Karachi, finding it to be better and bigger than his last visit. Talking about his centre he said, “I wake up with a smile every morning. This place helps a person have a better and healthy life. It’s not for sad people.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2012.