Tag Archives: art of living

Islam and the Bhagavad-Gita

In the last 30 years, I have spoken against Islam and Islamic fundamentalism numerous times in my books as well as in in my articles and conferences. Often thus, I have been often branded as an Islamophobe or a hard-line pro-Hindu…

Yet, when I came to India, I was innocent : I did not know the difference between a Muslim and a Hindu. And as a journalist I had the same prejudices and ideas about India as any other Western correspondent. In fact I embraced the same ideas: ‘secularism, the Congress is the only party that can unify India, Hindus too can be fundamentalists’, et cetera…

But then, I started covering Kashmir during the 90s, when separatism bloomed and violence set fire to the Valley. It is there that I saw the first Hindu leaders whom I had interviewed previously, assassinated in the most savage manner, such as doctors, lawyers, or All India radio broadcasters. And then, when Benazir Bhutto gave her famous speech of ‘Azad Kashmir’, every mosque in Srinagar and the Valley repeated that cry, telling Hindus: “Convert or die”. And in a few weeks, 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits left their ancestral houses and land, for no other crime than being Hindus – and that without firing a shot in self-defence – becoming refugees in their own country, a first in the world.

Thus my eyes were opened and I lost my innocence. Since then, covering many other countries, I witnessed the same phenomenon in Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan, of Hindus being the target of hatred, as Jews have been for centuries. This set me to study Indian history and I quickly realised that great Hindu heroes such as Shivaji Maharaj or Maha Rana Pratap, had been bypassed in Indian history books, to a single paragraph: Shivaji Maharaj who alone with his wits, extraordinary courage and a few hundred men, defeated the most powerful army of the world of his time, is a ‘plunderer’; and Maharana Pratap, is described as a small chieftain, although he is the only Rajput to have fought the Moghols and to have held Akbar’s army at bay the Hadilghati battle. The irony is that tyrants such as Aurangzeb, who were monsters not only towards Hindus but also with their own family – Aurangzeb poisoned his own father, beheaded his brother Dara Shikoh, imprisoned his son – are lauded in history books as ‘firm but just emperors under whom arts flourished’ (Aurangzeb actually banned music at his court, because it was un-Islamic)….

…It happens that my wife and myself are teachers of the pranayama and meditation techniques of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, which we have practicing for the last 25 years and which have changed our lives, giving us energy, enthusiasm and commitment. We do this free, as a sewa, to partake of this great gift to humanity that originates from India.

During the last Shivaratri celebrations, we taught in Sri Sri’s Bangalore ashram a pranayama course to a batch of Iranians. Our group, which had many girls and ladies, some of them who always covered their heads, was reserved at first, but as the course progressed, there grew a bond of affection and warmth between us all. We could perceive so much love and humanity in all of them. And by the end of the course, we all danced and hugged each other.

Now it is not because I have fought Islam that I did no know before this course that Muslims are as much as the others, decent human beings, warm, family oriented, hospitable. I remember when I drove to India by road from Paris, crossing many Muslim countries. My best friend was then a Muslim French Moroccan. He would say “AssalamoAlaikum », and doors would open, smiles were flashed, we would be dined, entertained, respected. This universal brotherhood of Islam does not exist in the Hindu world.

So this set me thinking: Islam was born in Iran and since Khomeini’s takeover, though it has a Shia majority, Iran has an image of a hard-core Islamic nation, where the Sharia reigns supreme and which is ready even to use a nuclear weapon to impose the supremacy of its faith. Yet these people we taught were the opposite and showed values of refinement and love that are today missing in the western Christian world….

I do understand even more now that most Muslims are good, witness the many human right organizations, journalists or intellectuals that fight for their rights as refugees, at the moment Yet the stumbling block remains the Koran, a wonderful scripture, no doubt, but which was written for people and mentalities of 1400 years ago, when realities were harsh, punishments even harsher and survival a matter of life and death. Nobody has read the Koran properly, except the Islamic terrorists of today: it does say that the Infidels should be slayed, that Islam must be the world religion, that women can be stoned if unfaithful, or that being gay is a crime punishable by death. Logic would say that Muslim scholars of international repute should get together and reform the Koran, as Christians have done, so that it becomes adapted to the 21st century world. Problem is that nobody dares touch it or question it for fear of death. Problem is that even within the most moderate, educated and enlightened Muslims, logic and good sense, stops when it comes to the Koran…

Thus, I will continue fighting Islam, in the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita: so many of my brothers and sisters are in the opposite camp. I have come to love them and respect them too… Yet, I know that willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, by accident or by karma, they are born in a religion that is harming the world, that is on the side of the anti-human and anti-divine forces. Therefore it must be challenged, even if it is with love in the heart – and not hatred.

Nevertheless, this course also opened my eyes: Sri Sri reminds us that we are one World family, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Let us not forget that…

François Gautier

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ARISE AGAIN O ANCIENT INDIA

Once again, a country, Italy, shows how little respect it has for India, this time by refusing to honor its word to send back the accused marines. Is it not then time to say: “Arise O India, be proud once more of Thyself”.

 This should be India’s motto for the Third Millennium, after five centuries of self-denial. For, in spite of its poverty, in spite of the false Aryan invasion, in spite of the Muslim holocaust, in spite of European colonialism, in spite of Macaulay’s children, in spite of the Partition, in spite of the Chinese threat, in spite of the westernised framework, India still has got tremendous potential. Everything is there, ready to be manifested again, ready to mould India in a new modern nation, a super power of the 21st century. Of course, India has to succeed its industrialisation, it has to liberalise, because unless you can compete economically with the West, no nation can become a super power. India has also to solve its political problems, settle its separatist troubles, get rid of corruption and bureaucracy. And lastly, it has to apply quickly its mind and genius to its ecological problems, because the environment in India is in a very bad way, near the point of no-return. Thus, if India can succeed into its industrialisation and liberalisation, become a force to be reckoned militarily, economically and socially, then the wonder that IS India could again manifest itself.

 And what is this Wonder ? Beyond the image of poverty, of backwardness, beyond even the wonder that is Hinduism, there is a Knowledge – spiritual, occult, esoteric, medical even – still alive today in India. This Knowledge was once roaming upon the shores of this world – in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece… – but it has now vanished to be replaced by religions, with their dogmas and rituals, do’s and don’t, hells and heavens. For we have lost the truth. we have lost the Great Sense, the meaning of our evolution, the meaning of why so much suffering, why dying, why getting born, why this earth, who are we, what is the soul, what is reincarnation, where is the ultimate truth about the world, the universe… But India has kept this truth, India has managed to preserve it through seven millenniums of pitfalls, of genocides and attempts at killing her santanam dharma.

 And this will be India’s gift to this planet during the next century: to restore to the world its true sense. to recharge humanity with the real meaning and spirit of life, to gift to this dolorous Planet That which is beyond mind : the Supra-Mental. India will become the spiritual leader of the world :

“It is this religion that I am raising-up before the world, it is this that I have perfected and developed through the Rishis, Saints, and Avatars, and now it is going forth to do my work among the nations. I am raising forth this nation to send forth my word…When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Santana Dharma that shall rise, it is the Santana Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Santana Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. It is for the Dharma and by the Dharma that India exists”. (IUttarpara speech)

 This knowledge does not necessarily reside in mystical realms, but in authentic Indian traditional forms of genius which can be very practical. Take for example ancient medical systems, like Ayurveda, or Siddha. Today, allopathic medecines are found even in India’s remotest villages, making people dependant on harmful drugs which are expensive and only serve to enrich the big foreign multinationals. It takes a Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, to remind the world that Ayurveda is one of the greatest medical systems ever devised; that 3000 years ago, when the rest of the planet lived in total medical ignorance, Indian doctors were already performing plastic surgery, knew that the origin of many diseases were psychosomatic, had found in Mother nature the cure for most of man’s ailments and realised that the five natural elements have to be made balanced in the human body for a perfect harmonious life. Not only that, but Indian doctors were also yogis. They perceived that beyond the human body was another divine reality, of which the soul was the vehicle on earth. Today, Western doctors (and many Indian ones) are totally ignorant of the different planes of consciousness which superimpose our terrestrial life. Hence these doctors and the psychiatrists of the West are, as Sri Aurobindo pointed out, « searching with a torch light in the dark caverns of man’s Unconscious ». This ancient knowledge is unfortunately now being neglected. As a result, American companies are attempting to patent medicines using the properties of neem or haldi, for instance, which were known 3000 years ago by India’s forefathers. As in the case of Sanskrit, the Indian Government should thus put its energies and resources towards the reviving of Ayurveda.

 Or take pranayama, the science of breathing. The effects of pranayama have been studied for thousands of years and Indian teachers know exactly what results will this type of exercise have on you and what kind of routine you should do to improve that particular problem, or develop this certain faculty in you. Pranayama, in Sanskrit, means breath  – and in India, it is known that prana circulates in the whole body and that one breathes not only trough the nose and mouth, of course, but through ANY part of the body, making thus prana flow everywhere. Thus, according to yogis, prana can revitalise all these parts of our body which do not receive enough energy – and which, as a consequence, become weak and lose their vitality, like the eyes for instance. Pranayama is in fact everywhere : in the air which surrounds us, of course, but also in animals, in Nature, in the mineral world even. It is also found in food : today, one speaks of vitamins, proteins, calories – but one does not understand that it is actually the prana in the food which gives us energy; and the quality of this prana depends on the sort of food we are partaking.

 Pranayama is probably the best suited Indian yogic discipline for the West, as His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Movement has shown. It is so down to earth, so scientific : there are no miracles, no levitation, no smoky mysticism, as everything can be explained in a rational way. And again, the U.S.A., always prompt to experience new techniques, is using this knowledge : quite a few American companies have included exercises of pranayama in the peps sessions of their executives; sportsmen too are experimenting with it to improve their performances, as the film « the Great Blue », has shown when the hero does a series of breathing exercises known in India as « Viloma », to store as much air as possible in his lungs, before breaking a world record in underwater diving without oxygen.

 And what about Kalaripayat, a very ancient multi-faceted martial art, which is still practised in the villages of Kerala ? In 522 A.D., an Indian Buddhist monk named Boddidharma, who had become a master of  Kalaripayat (Buddhist monks, who travelled a lot in Asia to propagate their religion, used bare-handed fighting and the bamboo stick they used for walking to defend themselves against attacks) and was the son of the king of Kancheepuram in the state of Tamil Nadu, arrived at the court of the Chinese Emperor Liang Nuti of the 6th dynasty. The Emperor granted him a, audience and gave him travel documents to walk to the Kingdom of Wei (now Junan province) at the foot of the Han Shan mountains, to a Buddhist monastery called the temple of Shaolin.

 Father and founder of Zen Buddhism (called C’han in China and Dhyana in India), Boddidharma taught the Chinese monks the barehanded fighting techniques of Kalaripayat, a very ancient Indian martial art, so that they could defend themselves against the frequent attacks of bandits. In time the monks became know all over China as skilled exponents of barehanded fighting, which came to be known as the Shaolin boxing art.

The Shaolin temple which was handed back a few years ago to the C ’han Buddhist monks by the Chinese Government, inheritors of Boddhidharma’s spiritual and martial teachings, is now open to visitors. On one of its walls, one can see a fresco depicting dark-skinned Indians teaching their lighter-skinned brothers the art of barehanded fighting. On the painting is inscribed : « Tenjiku Naranokaku », which means : « the fighting techniques to train the body (which come) from India.

 Kalaripayat, or Shaolin boxing as it is came to be known, passed from China to Japan, through the Ryukyu islands, landing in Okinawa to blossom in the art of the Empty Hand, or later, Karate. Later it manifested in the Japanese mainland as jiu-jiu-tso, judo, Shorinji Kempo, etc. Karate, the art of the Empty Hand, father of all Japanese martial arts, is a blend of Boddhidharma’s martial teachings and the local fighting techniques, which existed there before the advent of Zen Buddhism. All Asian martial arts, particularly those of China and Japan,  recognize their origin in the Shaolin Temple and honour Boddhidarma, (whom the Japanese call Dharuma). His portrait is often displayed in their dojos, where martial arts are practised.

 And what of meditation, queen of all the yogic sciences  ? That which is above everything, that without which any yogic discipline is impossible. That which interiorizes us, carries us within ourselves, to the discovery of our true soul and nature. There are hundreds of different mediation techniques, simple, cartesian, easy to experience, which have been devised by Indian sages since the dawn of Bharat. Each one has its own characteristics, each one gives particular results, which has been experienced by the billions of aspirants who have practised them since the dawn of Vedic times. Meditation is being practised more and more in the West and there have been numerous scientific studies, which have shown the positive effect of meditation on heart problems, psychological stress or blood circulation.

 The irony of it all is that not only most of the Indian upper class and intellectual elite does not practise meditation and pranayama, ignores what is Kalaripayat and does not gets treated for its problems with Ayurveda, but that none of these wonders are included in the schools and universities curriculum. So you have this wonderful knowledge, which has disappeared from the rest of the world, but if you go to cities like Delhi, or Bombay, you realise that most of the youth there have no idea about meditation, or have never heard of pranayama. They are totally cut off from their ancient culture, from the greatness of their tradition, and even look down on it.  So unless Indians start taking pride in their own culture, India will never be able to gift it to the world.

 Famous French writer Andre  Malraux had said that unless the 21 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 material dryness, of conflicts within itself, that it seems doomed and there appears no way that it can redeem Itself : it is just going towards self-destruction, – ecologically, socially, spiritually. So unless the 21st century allows a new spiritual order to take over – not a religious order, because religion has been a failure, all over the world – then the world is going towards pralaya. And India holds the key to the world’s future, for India is the only nation which still preserves in the darkness of Her Himalayan caves, on the luminous ghats of Benares, in the hearts of her countless yogis, or even in the minds of her ordinary folk, the key to the planetary evolution, its future and its hope.

 The 21st century then, will be the era of the East; this is where the sun is going to rise again, after centuries of decadence and submission to Western colonialism; this is where the focus of the world is going to shift. And as when India used to shine and send forth Her Dharma all over the Orient: to Japan, Thailand, China, Burma, or Cambodia and influence their civilisations and religions for centuries to come, once more She will emit Her light and radiate, Queen among nations: “India of the ages is not dead nor has She spoken Her last creative word; She lives and has still something to do for Herself and the human peoples. And that which She must seek now to awake, is not an anglicised oriental people, docile pupil of the West and doomed to repeat the cycle of the Occident’s success and failure, but still the ancient immemorial Shakti recovering Her deepest self, lifting Her head higher towards the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and vaster form of Her Dharma”.

 #FRANCOISGAUTIER

 

 

THE POWER OF THE RAIN

Berlin, 2. 6. 11. It was to be the biggest yoga camp ever. The place: Berlin, Germany, in the majestic Olympic stadium that can sit 70.000 people and which saw the fabulous Jesse Owens break 4 world records in a few hours, under the furious eyes of Adolf Hitler. The occasion: the 3O years celebrations of the Art of Living Foundation, led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of India’s 5 most influential people, according to Forbes magazine.

For months, volunteers of the Art of Living Foundation worked hard day and night, to produce a flawless show, involving hundreds of performers. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny all this while. On D Day, 2d July 2011, everything was ready.

But this was counting without the vagaries of Nature: that morning, the temperature dropped by 15° and it started to rain, hard and steady.

25.000 disciples of the Art of Living prayed silently to their Master so that the rain stopped before the performance. But a totally different miracle happened.

First 50 Indian singers smiled though the rain while reciting ancient Sanskrit Slokas. Then, 500 Polish dancers hopped, skipped and bowed in the water puddles. Next, 2000 Bulgarians had the stadium enthralled with a perfect display of folk dancing, which was like a challenge to the weather, a triumphant cry of joy. Later, the ancient Indian science of yoga came indeed alive with hundreds of adepts going harmoniously through asanas.

Mysteriously, all the Art of Living performers seemed oblivious of the weather: standing for a long time in flimsy clothing, by 13° centigrade, under sheets of rains, while quietly waiting for their turn.

The sheer joy, energy, enthusiasm, of not only the performers, but also of the nearly 40.000 spectators who had braved the rain, was something to behold. Nobody, even amongst the ministers, presidents and MP’s who sat with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the dais, could remain indifferent.

There is a also beauty in the rain: the water spraying-up from the drums under the beating of the sticks; drops of rains, like tears of joys, dripping from the face of ecstatic performers; sheets of water, in the glare of spotlights, descending in a slanted manner on dancers in formations…

There were moments of extreme grace: the tango dancers, who slipped with their high heels on the wet podium and spontaneously hopped on the grass, giving probably one of their most acrobatic and inspired performances; the solo prima donna of the Swan Lake, who pirouetted, jumped, bended and tiptoed, transcending the rain and the cold; the Argentinian singers, who electrified the stadium with their modern rendering of ancient Indian devotional hymns…

And finally, that was what the miracle was about: not a cheap stunt of the rain stopping, by some power, or just a freak chance, which would have had many in religious ecstasy. But thousands of performers transcending adversity -which that day took the shape of unexpected cold and rain – through their devotion, faith and love of their Master, and in the process, attaining heights of perfection, which they might not have achieved in ideal conditions.

And in this union of their minds and bodies, not only were they sublime, but different people from different countries, religions, cultures, some of them even hostile to each other, sang, danced and blended naturally. And the message which this gathering was to give, went through effortlessly: that the whole world can come together, while celebrating harmony in diversity.

This is the miracle of love, this is the miracle of the rain. And even the skeptics rose as one man, as the laser show and tens of thousands of cheering spectators ended the celebrations of the Art of Living Foundation, which for 30 years has been selflessly serving humanity and will do so in the future.

francoisgautier26@gmail.com

Ramachandra Guha and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

UNPUBLISHED

Ramachandra Guha represents the typical Indian intellectual: brilliant, totally westernized – and who looks down on anything Hindu – because he has inherited from the British colonization a gigantic inferiority complex about his own culture and spirituality. And like many of his brothers and sisters of India’s intelligentsia, he feels nowhere better than in the West. This can be gathered from his Oslo diary published in the Outlook magazine of 20th October, where he says, and I quote : “…After two weeks in Oslo, my hosts send me off to Svalbard, deep into the Arctic Circle … I spend four enchanting days in and around the little town of Longybein, located at 78° N. I have the privilege of sampling the northernmost bar, the northernmost cafe, the northernmost supermarket, and the northernmost souvenir store in the world “… Then he adds – and this shows that this Macaulayan fixation is transmitted since many generations from father to children: “The person most envious of my trip is my daughter, who has read evocative descriptions of Svalbard in the novels of Philip Pullman”.  Wow: I am a born Frenchman, brought up in some of the best European schools, I vaguely known of Philipp Pullman (do you?), but have never heard of that he wrote about the archipelago of Svalbard” (have you?).

Once he has proved his credentials of a connoisseur of western literature and lover of western atmospheres, Guha, because he is in Norway, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, chooses to attack Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living movement, who has been the most nominated Indian in the last three years: “After my talk, a lady comes up and introduces herself as a doctor, and an advisor to the Peace Institute. The names I had mentioned were all very good, she said, but surely it was time that the peace prize went to an Indian? She mentions the name of a fellow townsman of mine (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), a man who has grown long hair, given himself four fancy initials (HH/SS), and whose name is also that of a very great exponent of the sitar”. And of course, Guha tells her gleefully: “I suggested to the doctor that if not giving Gandhi the prize was a scandal, awarding it to my fellow townsman would be an even bigger scandal”. How typical of these Indian intellectuals, who are always spitting on their own culture, specially if it is Hindu-related.

Yet, there is no doubt that Guruji, as he is known to his followers, qualifies for the NPP – in fact he does tenfold time the work of a Mother Teresa or a R.K Pachauri: he not only performs charity work in many of India’s villages, he also promotes pesticide and fertilizer free farming, takes orphans from Kashmir or the North-East in his ashram, and his volunteers do relief work, both at the physical and psychological level, whether in Bihar during the floods, in  Iraq or in the US during the recent cyclone. Sri Sri is also trying to revive single handed, the ancient Vedic tradition by training young priests in a Gurukkul which blends ancient knowledge, with modern thought, while promoting Ayurveda as the medicine of the 21st century. He is attempting as well to mediate in many conflicts, in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, or between the Christians and Hindus. And lastly he has revived and modernized the ancient science of pranayama.

Of course, Guha is an unabashed admirer of the Norwegian Peace Committee: “The Nobel Peace Prize is itself a splendid example of Norwegian internationalism, in keeping with the country’s ethos of generous aid to poorer countries, not to mention its efforts to resolve ethnic conflicts around the world”. But not everybody in Europe would agree with him : Norwegians have sometimes the reputation of being staunch, left-leaning Protestants, who often have a condescending view of Asia. Thus, when they award prizes, they are necessarily influenced by a Christian vision of the world and an idealistic left-leaning sympathy. For, as most Europeans, they have been brought-up in the belief that democracy and philosophy started with Greece and that a Humane civilization, began with Jesus Christ. And of course, they have a covert – or at  best unconscious – suspicion, if not of India, at least of Hindus, who for them remain the heathen, the pagans which the missionaries of yesteryears, and unfortunately those of today too, have created in the minds of many westerners.

They can only agree with Mr Guha: how can they then, give their Peace Prize to a Hindu?

François Gautier

Toughness pays

Toughness pays
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 29, 2003
Have you ever taken an El Al flight from Mumbai? The security is drastic: You are asked a hundred questions by young men and women, Indians, but of Jewish origin, whose parents emigrated from the first century onwards after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, to find refuge in India where they prospered and lived in peace till many of them went back to Israel in 1948 (indeed, India is probably the only country in the world where Jews have not been persecuted).

Why did I visit Israel? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the 144 countries-wide Art of Living movement, had been invited by the Government of Israel, thanks to the efforts of Rabbi Cooper and Dr Balitzer from Wisenthal, US-based foundation. All along our trip Rabbi Cooper and Dr Balitzer proved invaluable. I was tagging along because I have always believed that India and Israel have to come together. For 40 years after Independence, India did not have relations with Israel. Yet, India and Israel have much in common – both can learn a lot from each other. Like Indians, Israelis are one of those “elected people of God” – of whom Sri Aurobindo speaks in his book the Hour of God – who have managed to keep their spirituality alive in spite of oppressions, invasions and genocides.

Indians and Israelis also share a serious problem with Muslim fundamentalists. And India could learn a few lessons from the way Israel handles this problem, however much it is criticised by the Western media. Unlike India, which since Independence has chosen to deal with this problem in the Gandhian spirit, that is, by compromising most of the time with Islamic intransigence (if not giving in); Israel has showed that toughness first, followed by negotiations, pays better. Basically, the concept of “land for money” is something that India could learn from: In 1967, Israel was under threat of getting engulfed by its fanatical neighbours, so it stole the initiative by crushing them in a lightning Six-Day War and kept some land which it used later as bargaining chips with Egypt and Syria.

FACT (Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism), which I launched this year, was taking to Israel an exhibition on Kashmiri Pandits, one of the biggest genocides of the 20th century at the hands of Islamic terrorism, to see how it could be put up at different places in Israel to create public awareness there. Because of the hostility of Arab countries to Israel, El Al cannot overfly any of them and a journey which should take four hours takes, instead, seven hours, nearly the same time as a flight to Europe. We landed in Tel Aviv early in the morning. Tel Aviv is a modern city on the Mediterranean coast. It is much more relaxed than Jerusalem, as it is less subject than the capital to suicide attacks. People there speak several languages, girls look gorgeous and the affable Indian ambassador, Mr Raminder Jassal, who has done so much to improve Israeli-relations, hosted for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a gracious meeting with the Indian community in Israel.

The drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is short, but the impressions are striking: The landscape is dry, rocky and arid and one wonders whether this land is worth fighting for. But Jerusalem is a beautiful city, perched on a hill, all constructed in white stone. As we arrived, the city was shining against the setting sun of a cool November evening. The King David Hotel, whe-re we stayed, is probably one of the most beautiful hotels in West Asia: Old world, stately and entirely furnished in mahogany. It also has a history of violence, as it once housed British troops and was bombed by Jewish activists. The rooms offer a view of the old city of Jerusalem and everything looked so peaceful.

Peaceful? Not really: As soon as you step out, you can feel fear: Suicide bombers can strike any time, anywhere and our security would not even allow our car to stop near a bus, for fear of it being blown up! It is Friday evening and we went to the Wailing Wall on this most holy Shabbat day. It is an impressive sight: Hundreds of young men and women, in ancient velvet black coats and funny fur hats, locks falling one each side, face the wall swaying back and forth while chanting an age old prayer that their forefathers have repeated for centuries. Sri Sri too touched the wall reverentially and concentrated for a few minutes: Two very ancient spiritualities met.

As in Ayodhya, Muslims have placed their mosque on the most sacred space of the Jews, exactly where their ancient temple was built. The golden mosque stands there as a perpetual taunt, as an unending expression of aggression. After the Seven-Day War, the Israelis control the entire area. But it remains very tense: As a mark of respect to Islam, we want to meditate in the mosque, but we are facing the wrong direction and the imam takes objection when he sees the rishi from India in a dhoti and kurta with long flowing beard and tells our security men that “Infidels” are not allowed to worship there. Luckily there are not many faithful at this time and an incident is avoided.

We met a number of dignitaries. The President of Israel, a soft-spoken gentleman, who is very worried about the Palestinians suicide bombers – “No religion condones that kind of barbaric act,” he told us; the mayor of Jerusalem, who proudly showed us the magnificent view of Jerusalem from his office terrace; Mr Shimon Peres, Nobel Prize winner and Israel’s best known face, who preaches tolerance – but even he condemns the suicide bombers; or the deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Sherenzki, a well-known dissenter from the erstwhile Soviet Union who is seen as a hawk by observers, but appears very gentle to us.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar talked about all the marvellous work his volunteers are doing amongst India’s poor villages: Bringing housing, hygiene, human values, and harmony in diversity. He also speaks about the stress and post-trauma Art of Living courses – a combination of pranayama, meditation and relaxing techniques – done to great success in Iraq and Bosnia, and how they could also be taught in Palestine and Israel. When asked about terrorism, Sri Sri said: “The problem is that children should be taught a little about each religion, so that they develop a broader perspective.” If the Taliban had known even a little about the Buddha, he added, they would not have destroyed the Bamian statues.

I was surprised to note that whenever I mentioned Kashmir, neither of our interlocutors blinked: Kashmir did not mean anything to them, although it faces more or less the same problem that Israel does at the hands of the Arabs. Even, Mr Sherenzki, the Deputy Prime Minister, looked blank. That is when I realised that an exhibition on Kashmiri Pandits had to come up and we arranged for two venues, one in Tel Aviv, with the possibility of it coming up also at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem. We thus left with a sense that so much more has to be done so that Indian and Israel, two ancient people sharing some of the same spiritual, cultural and contemporary problems, really start understanding each other.