Sri Sri and the Art of Revolution
A thought on the recent proposal made by an Indian spiritual leader and his willingness to become a middleman and resolve the crisis between the armed groups of Manipur and the government of India
Last year (in June 2015), Sri Sri Ravi Shankar made news when he extended his hand to solve the chronic problem of militancy in Colombia. He had brokered between the government of this Latin American country and its antagonist, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army or the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo, which is more popularly known as the Farc.
A peace delegation from Colombia had praised Ravi Shankar and his ideas generously: ‘Without humanism, social projects fail. We agree. Human values should be elevated to the highest peaks of dignity and the crucial value is that of life. And for us to achieve decent living conditions for all, i.e. the full realisation of rights, we need peace. ...Hatred and revenge, the law of retaliation, should step aside so that Colombians can finish the talks with a new social contract founded on principles of humanity.’ (Source: Words from the Peace Delegation of the FARC–EP to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, The Art of Living)
Ravi Shankar has been showing his interests in conflict resolution in Pakistan, West Asia and elsewhere. In the latest development, he has preached that the militants of Manipur should come to the table and sort out the problems—that violence breeds more violence. He had advocated the essence of dialogue and peace in this frontier state during his three-day visit in mid-April 2016.
Spirituality for social change has been a recent phenomenon. A few advocates of this kind of ideology emphasise on transformation, based on moral strength, rather than social revolutions that incline more towards leftist ideologies, support the use of violence and are inspired by parochial nationalist ideas. Social revolutions, according to these preachers, survive on enmity, power contests and often bloody approaches that only make things more complicate and unsolvable.
So these people, who stand for spiritualism as a catalyst for social change, urge for a solution that would be comprehensive, mutually beneficial and significantly in a way that promotes humanity, love and peace. For supporters like Corinne McLaughlin and her husband Gordon Davidson: ‘Spiritual forces are moving deeply and powerfully behind the scenes of world events in ways that are not obvious on the evening news.’ (Source: Spiritual Politics: Changing the World from Inside Out by C McLaughlin and G Davidson).
However, if we take one step closer and see its underlying principles, we can say that the idea of spiritualism as a means of conflict resolution is riddled with flaws that are no different from the existential issues that are inherent in the problems, which it claims to get rid of. For centuries in humanities, one common observation about human beings is that we are one hell of a selfish and greedy animal. ‘To be stupid, selfish, and have good health,’ Gustave Flaubert wrote, ‘are the three requirements for happiness—though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.’
In this context, who is going to explain the imperfection of altruism, one of the main ingredients for spiritual transformation? How is spiritualism going to calm down the never ending desires of human beings? We are not even talking about the arm smugglers, contractors, bureaucrats and politicians who are benefitting from insurgency. In a world divided and ruled with no ‘absolute’, spiritualism is just one of the many streams flowing into the sea of absurdity.
The Farc was formed in 1964, the same year when Manipur’s United National Liberation Front (UNLF) was established to regain the erstwhile kingdom’s sovereignty that was obliterated by the Indian nation-state in 1949.
A few weeks ago, the self-styled peace ambassador had reportedly met the former chairman of the UNLF, RK Meghen aka Sanayaima, who is currently undergoing trial in Guwahati in the Special Court of National Investigation Agency. Prior to this meeting and his visit in Manipur Ravi Shankar had said: ‘Running in the forest will not solve problems.’
How practical and sincere is Ravi Shankar regarding his intention to mediate between the rebels and the government? And he wants to do it from an individual level and not as an ‘instrument of the government’. But why would a spiritual leader be concerned with mundane matters like that of an armed movement?
The UNLF has been firm on the demand for a plebiscite for more than a decade now—and even Okram Ibobi had expressed his approval though we know he did not have an iota of honesty in his consent. This proscribed organisation, with an armed wing Manipur’s People Army, had changed its game plan—from sole armed resistance to endorsement of a plebiscite—following the 2011 protest for territorial integrity and the murder of Thangjam Manorama in 2004. For talks to materialise, on one hand, a few other armed groups are also demanding for the inclusion of sovereignty agenda. On the other, the government of India cannot accept anything outside the framework of the Indian Constitution. What’s Ravi Shankar’s take on these issues?
On the other side of the globe, the Colombian conflict is far from over. The ruling government still calls the rebels Bacrims, a shortened form of criminal bands while the rebels believe they are a source for democracy and progress in their country. Besides, multiple articulations from the supporters of both sides have been only adding more noise into the cacophony and it is in this condition, Ravi Shankar has claimed to ‘successfully brokered’ a peace deal between them. In the same breath, it will be wonderful if peace prevails in Colombia for good.
The universality of Ravi Shankar’s soul had even transcended across the border of Pakistan too. Yet, last time, there was an unexpected diatribe hurled back that the spiritual leader was a threat to the national security of this India’s favourite country. That was the word on the street. Earlier, he had also received a death threat from the wild Islamic State when he expressed his desire to make a personal cosmic connection.
Instead of going further, we can say that spiritualism is too sophisticated to be a means of political solution, if not religion would have solve all the problems before the birth of Gautama Buddha. It is too politically correct and ironically too shallow to explain human psychology from the perspective of conflicts in a society. Above all, it is too idealistic.
In this mêlée, we might miss the fact that Ravi Shankar is the founder of a profitable and ‘international’ NGO called the Art of Living Foundation. Other people have also seen how the new-age Hindu missionaries and leaders are getting huge endorsement these days from the incumbent Hindu-based government in New Delhi.
Perhaps Ravi Shankar is inspired by Thích Nhất Hạnh, the Vietnamese monk-activist who popularised the concept of engaged Buddhism, a way of life that blends Buddhist meditation with social action. However, the difference between the two men is that Nhất Hạnh is fully committed to support peaceful ways to resolve conflicts and has no distractions of market or business and public relations management. Nowadays, here and there we hear as well about the concept of engaged spirituality but most of these merely demonstrate nothing beyond the dynamics of a human mind.
Maybe also, Ravi Shankar only intends to use his Sri Sri brand to play his part and there is nothing spiritual about his proposal to be a middleman.
When he was in Imphal, the peace ambassador was equally enthusiastic about his preaching as much as he was in declaring his plan to set up one of his quintessential Art of Living centres in the strife-torn valley, in addition to a few more schools and herbal collection centres. In the town, Sai Baba has been popular through word of mouth; however, Baba Ramdev and Ravi Shankar have reached a whole new level with their unique marketing strategies. Spirituality, let a hundred brands bloom!
PS Here’s an important note from a friend who frequents one of the AOL centres: If you are suffering from a chronic illness or some mental problems, you must visit the e-commerce site run by the Sri Sri Ayurveda (SSA) Trust. Mr Mr Ravi Shankar is a true messiah of the universe. But don’t even try the Patanjali stuffs—Baba Ramdev uses ancient hardened penises to crush spurious ingredients and make the concoctions.