April 5, 2007

Spiritual Master Shares Visions of Global Peace

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Last night, His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, internationally renowned spiritual leader and founder of The Art of Living Foundation, spoke in Cornell’s Statler Auditorium. Many of the lecture’s attendees traveled from other states, and even countries, to hear him speak. As he passed down the aisle, people swarmed around to greet him thank him, and even to bow at his feet.
It was not the first time Shankar has inspired such devotion. Last year, his foundation’s 25th anniversary celebration attracted over two million attendees. As one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world, the Art of Living Foundation has worked all over the globe with various ethnicities, age groups and walks of life to inspire understanding and garner peace.
According to Michael Fishman, an Art of Living teacher who introduced Shankar, the Foundation specializes in programs that teach breathing exercises meant to help lower stress and help students live in the present moment. Shankar travels throughout the world to lecture and aid in humanitarian efforts, and he has also been involved in starting numerous other organizations for social transformation.
In his most recent U.S. tour, of which Ithaca was one of six stops, Shankar emphasized the need to create a violence-free, stress-free America. Shankar traveled to Washington D.C., Salt Lake City, Boise, Kansas City and New Orleans before coming to Ithaca. He will finish the tour today in New York City. Shankar cited several reasons for his decision to visit Ithaca.
“When I come [to the United States], I usually go to the same big cities where I am always invited. But this time I said I would like to go to places where I’d never been before,” Shankar said. “Many of the students insisted and requested that I should come and in June and July; it’s holiday time when I usually tour, and at that time the University is closed. [Coming here] also allows people from Canada and Boston to come.”
Shankar also said he believed that his message, and the Foundation’s programs, could be very useful for students.
“[The program] helps in retention and attention,” he said. “Students learn a lot but they are not able to retain. Also among the youth there are a lot of heartaches and heartburns in relationships … and [the program] helps with heartaches and mends hearts.”
Shankar began the lecture with a short musical piece performed by several musicians and singers. He then gave a short speech, answered questions and finally led a brief meditation session for the audience. Throughout the lecture, Shankar paused often to involve the audience, smile and breathe.
“The one aspect of our life that is completely ignored is our breath,” he said. “Quiver-free breathe, confusion-free mind.”
Shankar also talked about his views on the world and his thoughts on the importance of cross-cultural communication and education.
“Today the problems in the world are caused by prejudice,” he said. “Many parts of the world are adverse to diversity … and that’s the problem. Today we need to globalize wisdom. We have globalized McDonald’s, we have globalized Pepsi Coke and potato chips, but we need to globalize wisdom.”
Even as he spoke and answered questions, however, Shankar made it clear however that one’s presence is much more important than one’s words.
“We convey a lot through our presence, and less through our words,” he said. “If you don’t exude and radiate love, it’s of no use.”
Some of the audience members felt this concept very strongly while watching the lecture and commented on his presence and body language, as well as Shankar’s comfort while on stage.
“What struck me about Sri Sri was his unpretentiousness,” said Stacey Doan grad, president of the Society for Asian American Graduate Affairs and co-sponsor of the event. “He doesn’t pretend to know everything … and it’s not so much about the words that are being said … he’s not saying anything new, but his presence seems to have a really powerful impact on people.”
“I didn’t know what to expect, if we were going to receive some sort of instruction,” said Marianne Moore ’09. “But I liked the way he just kind of frolicked around.”
Along with the Society for Asian American Graduate Affairs, the event was also co-sponsored by The Cornell Art of Living Club, CUPB, GPSAFC, the CRESPCenter for Transformative Action, Office of the Dean of Students and Cornell United Religious Work.
“Most of us at the Art of Living Club have taken his workshops,” said Asma Hatoum grad, treasurer for the Cornell Art of Living Club. “They help improve clarity of mind and have wonderful benefits, coupled with the desire to do service.”