September 28, 2005
Is there still a prejudice in Western society against Hindus?
Amongst the front runners for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Guruji, as he is known amongst his disciples, truly deserves the Nobel Prize because he is a universal man of peace. His Art of Living courses taught in 144 countries provide tools that improve over-all health, wellness and increase enthusiasm and mental focus.
His Prison SMART programme (Prison Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training), has helped prisoners throughout the world in rehabilitation and in reducing violence and drug dependency. It also teaches the inmates skills that enable them to accept responsibility for their past actions and handle future conflict and stressful situations successfully.
His post-traumatic stress alleviation courses have helped to bring peace to victims of war in Kosovo (80 per cent of Kosovo’s population suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Harvard Medical Group), in Israel, the Balkans, Sudan, Afghanistan, the United States, Iraq and Pakistan.
Yet, it is an uphill task for a Hindu leader to get the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yes, Mother Teresa got it, but she was a Christian and not a natural born Indian. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s teachers and volunteers are from all religions — Hindus, also Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, Sikhs etc.
He himself teaches that breath, the main vehicle of his practices, has no religion or nationality and hence his disciples come from all countries. And though he is a Hindu leader, he could be truly called a universal soldier of peace.
When Vivekananda went to the West and addressed ‘my brothers and sisters of America’, at the Chicago Parliament of world religions, the West suddenly took note of this spirituality beyond religion which is true Hinduism and its acceptance of all other religions and all other spiritual leaders.
But since then there has been a relapse. As a Frenchman and a Westerner, I have been privileged to have met the Mother of Pondicherry, herself a French by birth. Her association with Sri Aurobindo and her deep knowledge of Indian spirituality helped bring a certain understanding of Hinduism, but that was only limited to France.
It is true that there is untouchability in India, and that it has harmed her image. For instance, by refusing access to Westerners in certain temples, such as in Banaras, Hindus have not created the right picture.
But is also true that Hindus have been made untouchables by a certain section of Western intellectuals (with the help of Indian academic residing in the West), whereas Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalaï Lama, who practice a religion which is derived from Hinduism, are fashionable in the West.
Take for instance, the special issue Time magazine did on meditation and another one on yoga, the word ‘Hindu’ was not even pronounced once. But are not mediation, yoga and pranayama Hinduism’s gift to the world?
Yet, compared to Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has done more work and his peace movement is phenomenal, from Argentina to Siberia, from South Africa to Fiji.
His efforts, for instance, for those that have been traumatised by natural calamities, such as the recent tsunami in Asia, are outstanding. About 5,000 Art of Living volunteers have been involved in tsunami relief efforts and courses to help people overcome post-traumatic stress disorders were conducted for over 3,500 people.
Hurricane Katrina has blazed a trail of devastation throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Victims are not only in need of immediate medical care, food and water, but also of the most urgent trauma care, which the Art of Living Trauma course is providing.
Mother Teresa mostly catered to Calcutta, but Sri Sri’s social programmes in India are making a difference everywhere through service and spirituality. The aim of this program is to uplift individuals and communities so that they become self-reliant socially and economically.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s soldiers of peace have adopted 25,300 Indian villages in 25 states, trained 25,710 village youth in youth leadership training programme and conducted over 75,000 villages courses benefiting more than 2.3 million people.
I was watching Bono, another front runner for the Nobel Peace Prize on CNN the other day, along with Bill Clinton and Klaus Schwab, chairman of the Davos Economic Forum. True, Bono has done good work raising money for poor countries through concerts, but I thought that it pales when compared to the scope, universality and breadth of Sri Sri Ravi.
There has also been talk of a thousand women getting the Nobel Peace Prize. But this is would only be a face-saving gesture, which would dilute the dignity of the Nobel Peace Prize
And this again raises the question: Will His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, an apostle of peace for all, not get the Nobel Peace Prize, just because he is a Hindu? That would be a sad day for India and for the world.
Francois Gautier is the South Asia correspondent for Marianne, the largest selling French magazine and the editor of La Revue de l’Inde, a Paris-based magazine solely devoted to India.