Tag Archives: H H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

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

26/11: A Taj survivor’s untold story

February 27, 2009

There is not much to smile about post-26/11: the Indian government has got caught up in its strategy of exclusively pinning the whole blame on Pakistan, while ignoring the local jihadi support which had to be there in Mumbai [Images] (including inside the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels).

It also missed the chance to carry out quick surgical strikes against camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (thus giving itself a good chance to win the next general election).

The shame of a few terrorists holding to ransom an entire nation, its police, army and special forces has created too huge a gap in India’s self-confidence.

Finally, the whole tale of 26/11 was never told: How many terrorists were there and how many escaped with the hostages?

Yet, here is a story about statistics that will not only make you feel better and positive again, but it is also the saga of a courageous woman whose gallantry has been unsung, post the Taj hostage drama.

Her name is Erika Mann, she is a member of the European Parliament from the Social Democratic Party of Germany [Images] and she was in Mumbai to conduct negotiations on trade relations.

When the first shots were heard, Erika Mann was having dinner on the ground floor restaurant of the Taj lobby with some Indian friends.

Everybody thought the first shots heard were crackers — but not Erika, who had some knowledge about terrorism: “I thought perhaps this is the gun salute for a wedding,” she recalls today. But what happened next, says Mann, was “pure horror”, as she heard the terrorists burst into the lobby “shooting at everything that moved”.

What we saw on television during the Mumbai attacks — and subsequently heard — was all about lack of leadership: the Maharashtra government was slow to react, the special commandos took nearly 12 hours to reach Mumbai, and nobody properly coordinated the action.

But inside the Taj Mahal hotel [Images], it was a different story: “We were 40 in the group that managed to run from the restaurant to the kitchen, and within 10 minutes four people had emerged as leaders,” smiles Erika.

What is it to be a leader in such a stressed occasion? “Actually, in this situation one has to think — collect information and then think again.” Erika thus spent a lot of time on her Blackberry, trying to gather maximum info.

There was no gender or race discrimination in the group, which comprised about 40 percent Westerners, 60 percent Indians and had a 50:50 ratio of men and women.

“All listened as attentively to me as to the other leaders, whether they were Indian or Westerner.”

And even among the other 36 people, it was not total inaction: “At least 15 were willing to be active, soldiers if you wish. Some even started searching for weapons and found the iron sticks used to grill kebabs quite handy.”

So here are good statistics: 40 people in mortal danger, four emerged leaders, with 15 soldiers to implement ideas. And even among the remaining 21 people, “at least 10 were trying to get information by sms-ing their relatives or the hotel staff. And they were sharing this info with us.”

Is that the natural ratio which occurs when you have a good government which creates a system whereby people feel free to express themselves? “Maybe,” smiles Erika.

What about the Taj Mahal staff? “There were 10 staff among our group,” replies Erika. “Out of these, seven were efficient and did not seem to care for their own safety but only for our welfare.” That’s 70 pc, another good statistic. There was only one black sheep: “We had an MP in our group, whom I shall not name. He spoke later, as we had moved to the Chambers, to some TV reporter on the phone and gave our location — we could all have been killed.”

Under the supervision of the Taj Mahal staff, Erika and her group moved from the kitchen to the corridor that leads to the Taj Chambers and their group swelled with other hostages, thus becoming 100. Again the statistics were good: “Maybe only 10 percent of these,” recalls Erika, “Were like frozen and had to be protected. The others were collecting information from relatives and others.”

Yet, it was a very tricky situation: “We could have been shot any time.”

Erika noticed a smaller group of about eight Arabic-looking people who were keeping to themselves: “I pinched myself, because immediately I felt suspicious of them. But I could see I was not the only one who looked at them strangely, although I am sure they were innocent.”

Erika, as many other hostages, also felt that some of the Taj Mahal staff looked suspicious: “Some members of my group felt that an assistant, who acted as if nothing untoward had happened, was hiding something and whispered to the others not to tell him anything.”

It is then that Erika noticed an exit door which had escaped the attention of others. With another leader of her group, a gentleman from Tyrol (Austria), they gingerly opened it, found a second door and suddenly they were outside.

“Our first reaction was ‘let’s check, can we take such a risk?'” They did not. But later Erika said: “Get out, think only of getting out. I made a mistake. If you see 9/11 in New York, it is only those who decided immediately to try to get out who made it alive. The others died.”

They went back to the corridor and waited in a Chambers room till the soldiers came around 3 am. Here the statistics worsen: “There were about 32 soldiers, they were badly equipped, overburdened and nobody seemed really in charge.”

>Erika was one of the last to escape from her group: “I helped an old woman who could not walk well and was afraid, and as I exited the door, a bullet ricocheted off the wall just above my head and plaster fell in my eyes. It still hurts today. I believe that most of the people left behind and many of these young soldiers got killed.”

What does Erika say today? “I have been thinking so much about these 72 hours since then. What baffles me still is the youth element in this attack. True, they were manipulated, but how could they do this? I have no sympathy for them, neither before or after.”

She also has her doubts: “I am sure there were more than three terrorists in the Taj — we ourselves saw quite a few.” Also she feels that there may have been more victims than the government allows: “We saw so many bodies taken out.”

Will Erika Mann come back to India? She already did. “I attended the International Women’s Conference of His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in his Bangalore ashram and I had a wonderful time there. India is in my heart.”

Francois Gautier

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

Ramachandra Guha and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

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 CircleI 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?). <!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>

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

Marxism and the Saffron wave

Marxism and the Saffron wave

The other day I visited a tribal village, which was only 20 kms away from Bhubaneswar. The poverty I witnessed there was appalling: no drinking water, no proper housing, the children to whom we distributed food packets were sickly looking, undernourished, dirty and badly clothed.

The whole village was in a kind of wasteland, where one could not see a single tree, or any newly planted sapling. Paresh Nayak of Odisha International told me that thousands of crores had been sanctioned by the government in this area, for housing, development, or afforestation, but every single paisa goes in the pockets of corrupt officials, from top to bottom.

In fact the only organisation which is trying to do something — and which was responsible for the food distribution as well as the sole tribal school in the whole area — is the much maligned Washington-based IDRF, which is supposed, according to the Western and Indian press, to only ‘fund Hindu fundamentalism.’

Nevertheless, when one witnesses such awful and unfair poverty just a few minutes away from the nouveau riche glitter of Indian arrogant cities, one cannot but think that all the Arundhati Roys, Praful Bidwais, N Rams, Shabana Azmis, Prannoy Roys and other die hard Marxists are right: only a revolution will bring fairness and justice to the poor and downtrodden of India.

In fact, one can even go further: when people like myself, who keep defending a certain spiritual idea of India, the greatness of Hindu culture and ethos, are suddenly confronted by that ‘other’ reality of this country, our lofty drawing-room idealism is blown away by what we see, whether in Bhubaneswar, in Uttar Pradesh, or Tamil Nadu. If I were born an untouchable or a downtrodden, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have become a Naxalite — given my militant propensities!

And if tomorrow missionaries descend upon the village I just visited in Orissa and open a dispensary, a school, then a church, why shouldn’t these poor tribals convert to Christianity, when their own more fortunate Hindu brothers and sisters not only never cared after them for centuries, but stole the money which was meant for them?

Yet, all my years in India have taught me that there is a third way, which is neither of capitalism nor of communism. One could call it ‘spiritualised socialism,’ as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and today practiced by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living. A Hindu temple or a Hindu organisation has no meaning unless it also acts as a social centre, helps the poor, gives away money, houses, imparts education and hygiene.

Indeed the Art of Living foundation does just that with its volunteers going in thousands of villages all over India and selflessly bringing hygiene, housing, harmony and human values. It is true that there are countless NGOs all over India doing the same job, but unless they pass on along with their material help some spiritual values pertaining to India’s ancient culture, they are failing in their task.

Finally, I would like to tell my Marxist friends that instead of crying themselves hoarse over the BJP’s victory in Gujarat, of screaming about the ‘saffronisation of India,’ or the ‘fascist trend set by these results,’ they should look at it in a different manner. If this is a Nazi trend, then the millions of Gujarati Hindus: upper and middle class, low castes and tribals, who voted for Narendra Modi, are all Nazis.

Yet the Indian voter has always shown that he is smart and that he usually casts his ballot in a certain way because he wants to put across a message. What if Gujarat was the first sign that tolerant, peace-loving Hindus who for centuries have accepted other religions and ethnicities and allowed them to practice and prosper in peace (UNESCO recently released a report saying that out of 128 countries where the Jews lived up to 1948, in only one — India — were they not persecuted), are fed-up of being made fun off, sullied, harassed, killed, their temples sprayed with bullets and grenades, their train burnt, their Parliament attacked, their markets blown up, their women raped?

What if it was a warning to the Muslims of India that the majority community of this country will no more allow the burning of innocent children and women, for the only crime that they are Hindus? What, however reprehensible their acts was, if peace-loving Hindus have shown, for the first time, that they can retaliate in kind and that Islam doesn’t have a copyright on hatred, bloodshed and mad violence? At a time when India’s government is the laughing stock of the world — as shown by the contempt that much smaller countries such as Malaysia, Portugal or Saudi Arabia have shown to India by refusing to extradite criminals — the common Hindu is telling his government, his countrymen, whether they are Hindus, Christians or Muslims, and the world, that he has had it…