Category Archives: H H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Nachiketa and India

Nachiketa and India

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 14, 2003

Last Saturday, few of us were conferred the Nachiketa prize of journalism by the Prime Minister Vajpayee along with Deputy Prime Minister Advani. Because of time pressure, there was no space for individual speeches by the awardees. However, this is what I would have liked to say.

The story of Nachiketa is wonderful. Briefly, it runs thus: Nachiketa, on seeing his father, a Vedic Rishi, give daan (offerings) to the Gods asks: “What about me father? Who will you give me to?” The father answers, more in joke, “I will donate you to Yama (the God of Death).” But Nachiketa takes it seriously and goes to Yama, who is out roaming. When Yama returned after three days, he saw the youngster at his door and asked what he wanted. “I have been offered to you by my father.” “Impossible,” answers Yama, “your time has not come.” Then, to placate him, he offers one boon to him. This is what Nachiketa asks Yama: “Some say that when one dies, one is; and others that one is not. What is the truth?” Yama, the mighty God of Death, answers, “Ask me for anything: Riches, happiness, a hundred years, but not this question.” But Nachiketa refuses to relent. Yama’s answer constitutes India’s eternal truth, one which it alone holds today, and which has been repeated in many of India’s sacred texts, including the Gita: “Only the body dies, O Nachiketa, the soul is immortal and is reborn life after life, till ones reaches perfection.”

Thus Nachiketa stands for forthrightness, courage, and dedication to truth, which should be the hallmark of any journalist worth his salt. I would like to believe that my quest in India has been – even in a small degree – like Nachiketa’s: “What is the real India, behind the cliches? What does India stand for? What can I do to help this great country? I discovered India by living it from within. I was privileged to spend my first seven years at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, where I met many times the Mother and read Sri Aurobindo’s works. Sri Aurobindo, India’s great revolutionary, philosopher, poet and yogi, has been the visible and invisible guidance behind my work. Today, I am also indebted to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living, because he embodies the ancient rishi’s dedication to his country: His work is not only spirituality, but also to bring God into all realms of life, including politics, because in ancient India the rishis were also advisers to kings.

I nevertheless started my journalistic career with the usual cliches about India, which most foreign correspondents mouth: That only a “secular” government like that of the Congress can govern such a diverse country as India; that India’s minorities are “persecuted”; that Hindus could “also” be fundamentalists… But I was again lucky: I began doing photo features in the South. There I discovered that India’s genius, strength and soul lay in rural India; and not in its cities like Delhi where the intelligentsia is often totally cut-off from its roots. The truth I encountered in my travels and interaction with Indians was totally opposite of what I thought: The Congress had divided India along caste and religious lines to survive in power; India’s minorities had taken advantage of a secular Government by getting more privileges than the majority community; Hindus are probably the most tolerant people in the world, not only accepting that God manifests Himself as Krishna, but also as Christ, Buddha, or even Mohammed; Hindus have ironically been the target of one of the most horrible genocides ever perpetrated upon mankind in the name of religion. I also saw that even today they are falling prey to jihadis: Witness the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits, far more horrible than the one of the Bosnians; I saw too that Hindus have given shelter to all persecuted minorities in the world: Syrian Christians, Armenians, Parsis, Jews, in history, and the Tibetans today.

So at some point I realised that a marvellous majority like the Hindus, who have such a long tradition of tolerance, gentleness, spirituality and hospitality, needed a Government which reflected these qualities; not the successive governments which have come in since Independence, and have divided India along caste and religious lines, instituted corruption, statism and bureaucracy. And when Dr Murli Manohar Joshi went to Srinagar on August 15, 1990, to raise the Indian flag, I found this pretty courageous and I said so in my articles, although he was ridiculed by the entire Indian Press, particularly by Newstrack, the only news channel in those days. When Mr Advani began his Rath yatra, I thought it was a good idea, because it would rally the Hindus who tend to be politically amorphous, and I said it. At that time nobody – including me – believed that the BJP would ever come to power.

They have now. Nevertheless, it is lonely at the top. Of course, nobody from the French embassy was present at the award ceremony. Had it not been for Christopher Jaffrelot, the man who is most responsible for the bad image of India in France (he is THE world specialist on “Hindu fundamentalism”, something which does not even exist), and partly accountable too for the fact that France is only the 11th largest investor in India, after all the overtures that have been made towards France by the BJP Government in the last five years, the entire embassy would have been present. But I am considered an outcaste by the French embassy and my advice is never sought, even though I have lived here for 34 years.

This raises an important question: Why is it that amongst the 300-odd Western correspondents sitting in New Delhi, there is nobody (that I know) who comes to the same logical conclusion that Hinduism is what makes this country great and that an Indian Christian or an Indian Muslim is different because of the softening influence of Hinduism? After all, many of these correspondents arrive here meaning well, with an aspiration to understand this complex country. Why is it that not only most of them leave in five years, not knowing India better, but that very often they end up hating it (isn’t it, Miss Chipeaux?)? There is Mark Tully, of course, who genuinely likes India, but even he, maybe because he is British, is very muted and discreet when it comes to defending India. The only answer I can find is that it is only when the Indian English language press will become a little less negative, a little more proud of its roots, that the Western correspondents will be positively influenced. Because the first input they get when they open an Indian English language newspaper or switch on television news is negative: Everything is hopeless about this country, when India is a much better bet for the Western world than totalitarian China, or Islamic Pakistan.

Finally, I would like to say that I have donated the Nachiketa prize money to FACT (Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism), which is organising an exhibition on Hindu genocide through the ages, particularly the Kashmiri Pandits, with the backing of All-India Anti-Terrorism Front of Mr Maninderjit Singh Bitta – a courageous man who survived a most horrifying terrorism attack upon himself, to combat vigorously this international scourge.

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Bana Singh : a hero of our times

Bana Singh was born on 6 January 1949 and now lives in R.S.Pura near Jammu. He joined Indian Army’s Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI) on 6 January 1969 After training at the High Altitude Training School along with his battalion at Gulmarg, he was posted in Siachen in April 1987. Pakistan had already occupied a vantage point called Quaid Post named after Mohammad Ali Jinnah. This is the most important and highest post in the area. From the top of this post the entire Saltoro range is visible, including other posts like the Amar and Sonam which get food and other materials by Indian helicopters. On April 18, 1987, the Pakistan army at Quaid post began firing at the Indian troops. A Junior commissioned Officer and five soldiers were killed at Sonam. It became necessary to gain control over the post for the safety of the men and supporting helicopters. It was therefore decided to recapture Quaid Post.

On 26th June 1987, Bana Singh got the green light to lead his platoon up the 90° slope with iced walls, after two previous attempts failed with heavy casualties. This is how he remembers it: “Though it was day time, because of the heavy snowing we could not say if it was day or night. The Pakistanis must have been knowing that something was going on because our troops were firing at them from the base camp (to divert their attention). When we reached the top, there was a single bunker. We had been trained for such a fight. I threw a grenade inside and closed the door. At the end, a total of six Pakistanis were killed. We brought back their bodies which were later handed over to the Pakistanis authorities during a flag meeting in Kargil. Some must have escaped towards the Pakistani side, perhaps over the cliff. I think that I have bayoneted three or four persons, I don’t remember now.”

For this act of valor Bana Singh was awarded Param Vir Chakra.and was presented the Param Vir Chakra on January 26 1988.The Quaid Post was renamed as Bana Post after its liberation by Bana Singh. Today some twenty years after liberating Quiad Post and earning a PVC, Bana Singh is sad man, because of the indifferent attitude of the J&K government who pays him paltry Rs 166 per month whereas neighboring state of Panjab, HP and Haryana pay much higher amounts to PVC winners. (in Punjab a PVC winner gets Rs 12,500 every month, in Haryana it is Rs 10,400 and in Himachal Pradesh it is Rs 10,000).

How can a nation retain its independence if it does not reward its defenders suitably? Does it behove a great country like India to treat one of its greatest present day heroes, one of the three living PVC recipients, so shabbily? This is why we have decided to bestow our first Shivaji-FACT award of Courage to Captain Bana Singh and are trying to raise money to hand him over as well a substantial prize money.

The Shivaji-FACT award of Courage, which will be handed over by HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on 12th March 2008 in Mumbai on the occasion of the opening of the Shivaji exhibition (see below), ” A Hero for Modern India”.

SHIVAJI EXHIBITION
Venue P.L. Deshpande, Maharashtra Kala Academy, Prabhadevi, Mumbai
Date 12th March 2008.
Time: 4.30 pm.
PROGRAM SCHEDULE
4.30 pm – Arrival of Chief Guests His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Chief Minister Gujarat Shri Narendra Modiji, Shri Uddhav Thackerayji, Shri Gopinath Mundeji
4.40pm – His Holiness chants a mantra at the venue
4.45pm – His Holiness and Chief Minister Shri Narendra Modiji, Shri Uddhav Thackerayji and Shri Gopinath Mundeji light the lamp in turns to inaugurate the exhibition
4.45 to 5.00pm – the Chief guests view the exhibition.
5.00pm – Chief guests proceed to auditorium
5.05pm – Vande Mataram
5.10pm – Francois Gautier gives the welcome address
5.15pm- Film ‘Heros of Kargil’ to be screened
5.20 pm- All the Chief guests are requested to sit on the stage.
5.25pm- Shri Gopinath Munde will address the audience.
5.35pm – Shri Uddhav Thackerayji will address the audience
5.55pm- Hon Chief Minister Gujarat Shri Narendra Modiji will address the audience. Topic ” Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj- a Hero for Modern India”
6.10pm – His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji will address the audience Session will end with a guided meditation by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji

Religion of man

Religion of man

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 25, 2002

Famous French writer and politician Andre Malraux once said that “unless the 21st century is spiritual, then it will not be”. What he meant was that the world has now come to such a stage of unhappiness, of stress, of natural resources wastage, of religious and ethnic conflicts, that it seems doomed – ecologically, politically and socially. So unless the 21st century allows a new spiritual order to take over – not a religious order, mind you (because religion has often proved too narrow and dogmatic) – then we are all going towards self-destruction, Pralaya. And the September 11, 2001, tragedy has reminded us that time is pressing and that we are desperately and badly in need of spiritual regeneration.

As the founder of the Art of Living Movement, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, says: “I see a crisis facing the world today. It is fundamentally one of identification. People identify themselves with limited characteristics such as gender, race, religion and nationality, forgetting their basic identity as part of the universal spirit. These limited identifications lead to conflict. There are wars happening throughout the world today in the name of religion.”

What is the solution, then? I will quote again Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: “Every individual is much more than the sum of these limited identifications. The highest identification we can make is that we are part of Divinity, and second to that, we are human beings and members of the human family. In divine creation, the whole of the human race is united. Along with this proper identification of ourselves, the right vision of who we really are, we need to return to the values that are the essence of all major traditions. These shared values need to be reintroduced in society today.”

What the world needs today is to find a third way, which is neither of capitalism, nor of communism. Communism has long collapsed all over the world. China pays only lip service to it and it is only in India, Kerala, or Bengal, that we see leaders and intellectuals believing in its virtues. Capitalism is not the answer to all the world’s woes that the Americans think; with it comes a lot of inequality, selfishness, a disregard for the poorer sections of society and the forgetfulness of true spiritual values. It also engenders avarice and greed. No, what we are looking for now is a something we could call a “spiritualised socialism”, as envisioned by India’s revolutionary poet, philosopher and yogi, Sri Aurobindo.

A Hindu temple, a Christian church or a Muslim mosque, have no meaning unless they also act as social centres, helping the poor, giving away money, houses, imparting education and hygiene. Indeed the Art of Living foundation does just that with its volunteers going in thousands of villages all over the world and selflessly bringing Hygiene, Housing, Harmony and Human values. It is true that there are countless NGOs doing the same job wherever there is poverty and conflicts, but unless they pass on along with their material help some spiritual values, they are failing in their task.

How can the people of India contribute to this wonderful goal of spiritual regeneration and shared human values? Indians have always recognised unity in diversity through the concept of the avatar: God manifests himself at different times, in different countries and places , under so many different names.

Thus, they have always granted everybody the right to worship God under any form.

This is a very precious spiritual – not religious – knowledge, and which, even the most humble Hindu peasant spontaneously practices. Indeed, a recent report by the UNESCO pointed out that out of the 128 countries where Jews lived up to 1948, in only one country, India, they were not persecuted!

What India has therefore gifted to the world is not a religion but a living spirituality, of which we can even distinguish certain forms in the West at present: Hatha-yoga, copied and imitated by thousands of gymnastic and aerobic movements; meditation practiced by millions of Americans and Europeans, many of them Christians; or pranayama, which is taught by the Art of Living Foundation and can be practiced by anybody, whatever their nationality and religion. Indeed, for the past two decades, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has transformed the lives of millions of people around the globe with his Basic Course, a combination of simple yet extremely powerful breathing and relaxation techniques, that eliminate stress, handle negative emotions, improve health and help ordinary folks to enjoy life to its fullest.

But we can do much more than that: Let us all move away from political or religious ideologies to show our support for the revival of human values such as honoring one’s own traditions while respecting diversity, compassion, non-violence and honoring the wisdom of age-old traditions. Let us also move away from the rites and rituals of religions.

As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar again says: “Religion has three aspects – value, ritual and symbol. The moral and spiritual values are common to all traditions. The symbols and practices, those rituals and customs that form a way of life within a religion, are what distinguish one tradition from another and give each their charm. The symbols and practices are like the banana skin, and the spiritual values – the quest for truth and knowing deep within us that we are part of divinity – are the banana. People in every tradition have thrown away the banana and are holding on to the skin.”

May the 21st century herald then a new era in humanity, an era of accepting each other and understanding one another’s culture. May the spiritual regeneration of the world begin now. Let India show the way, by throwing away the banana skin and holding on to the banana only.

(Francois Gautier on India and the spiritual regeneration of the world)

Media school

Dear friends,

As you know one of the biggest problems today is that Indian journalists are not always proud of their own culture and roots and as result tend to have a very negative outlook on India, which in turn influences western correspondents posted in India. It is therefore very important that we train a new generation of Indian journalists. It is for this purpose that we have started a new school of journalism in Bangalore called the Sri Sri Center for Media studies. There, we teach the best of journalistic knowledge, both print and electronic, along with classes (which I take myself) on Indian history, the ideal of true journalism and a little bit coaching in pranayama and meditation these two ancient Indian sciences which impart a good and intuitive mind.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of competition both within India as well as Bangalore, and schools such as the Asian school of journalism, sponsored by the newspaper the Hindu and the BBC, which form journalists in the old secular/Marxist mould, have much more students and funds than we do. Now what we need is students – both from India as well as from the US – and this is where you can help. We see today that US correspondents based in India are often very hostile to our ideals. If you could send some of your children, whether they are first, second or third generation Americans, to our school, we would coach them and when they go back to the States they can enter mainstream newspapers and after acquired some experience, they could ask to be posted to India, having a natural advantage over White Americans, by being of an Indian origin and hopefully speaking Indian languages. In a few years time, the entire India coverage in the States could see a very important shift. At the moment we only offer a one year post graduation course, but eventually we will have a three years complete graduate course. Next session is end of September and we need 50 students. I must emphasize that a journalistic career is very rewarding not only in view that you get to travel a lot, meet interesting people, but also that it is one of the highest seva you can do for India, as journalists today are the most important people in the world – even the politicians are afraid of them ! It is time that all of you start thinking about other careers for your children than doctors or software engineers for being exported to the US and being lost to India forever!

For further information please go to http://www.sscms.org/.

We are also looking for donors to sponsor deserving students in India, whose parents do not have the means to pay the 100.000 rupees fees. Each sponsor will be put in touch with the students they sponsor and can monitor their progresses. cheques should be made in the name of FACT and sent to Francois Gautier, Auromodel, Auroville, 605101, Tamil Nadu (by Pondichery). Tel (91) 413 2622255. We have income tax exemption and you will all get a certificate. For those wishing to contribute in foreign exchange, please contact me.

Thanks to all and let’s keep up the good work

François Gautier
Convener FACT