His “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga” was said to have helped alleviate stress in those who practiced it and made them less prone to illnesses and chronic diseases; he discovered the breathing technique after meditating and being on his own for ten consecutive days. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is regarded by Forbes as one of the five most influential people in India; so vast is his influence that even politicians hang on his every word. For the sake of good publicity, they better be on good terms with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
It’s not only his wisdom and teachings that make him well-loved among his countrymen; it is his heart for service that draws people to listen to what he has to say and truly believe in him. Sri Sri has also established many schools and helped those stricken by calamities get back on their feet through the “Art of Living Foundation.” The organization has become so big that it is said to have offices in over 150 countries and reach millions of people every year.
What makes Sri Sri even more appealing is his integrity. Soft-spoken and always smiling, it’s almost impossible to dislike this genial-bearded man. His gentle eyes reflect nothing but love and sincerity, and he’s got a sense of humor. Perhaps that’s one thing that sets him apart from most spiritual leaders: he’s witty and never afraid to impart wisdom through amusing remarks.
Young Ravi Shankar finds Meditation
Ravi Shankar was born to a business couple, Smt. Visalakshi Ratnam and R. S. Venkat Ratnam, on 13 May 1956. He was raised in Papanasam, Tamil Nadu into a family belonging to the Iyer Brahmin community. His parents named him Ravi, which is “sun” in English, because he was born on a Sunday. Shankar was taken from Adi Shankara, an eighth-century Hindu saint. He was born on “Shankara Jayanti,” Adi Shankara’s birthday (hence the name) and “Papanasam” means “removal of sins” in English. Indians also have a custom of christening infants on their 11th day, which in his case fell on the birthday of Ramanuja, a devotion preacher.
Sri Sri first saw his father meditating when he was three years old, and earnestly asked him if he could do the same. Instead of shushing the boy, his father allowed him to sit beside him and meditate. After quite some time of silence, he was surprised that his son seemed really lost in concentration. It was quite a sight to behold. When the session was over, he asked his son what he asked in prayer. Without pausing, Ravi blurted out, “I demanded God that there be no beggars in this world.” His father couldn’t believe his ears, and asked why his son used such a strong word as “demand” when talking to God. Ravi explained that, since his father told him God is just like his father, he felt entitled to make demands. Dumbfounded, his father then realized what a gifted son he had.
Meditation became a way of life for Ravi. He began doing serious meditation at four years old and was also quite eloquent in reciting Bhagavad Gita scriptures. He was an above-average student, and his high school teachers were often surprised by his understanding of complex theories. Little did they know that the unassuming boy would later become one of India’s most influential spiritual leaders.
But is he really so different? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar dispels the notion that only divine persons can reach the utmost level of spirituality. He is also regarded as non-denominational, despite being raised in the Hindu faith. Sri Sri highly values his spirituality, and always allots an hour or more for his quiet time.
Life after School
At 17 years old, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had already completed his Physics degree and his Vedic literature studies with Sudhakar Chaturvedi. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi soon recognized the skill of the promising student and took him under his wing. The Maharishi happened to be the founder of “Transcendental Meditation,” which became a hit all over the world, even to celebrities.
As soon as he was out of college, he began associating with erudite spiritual leaders and remained under the Maharishi’s tutelage. Also, he temporarily left India for overseas studies of the Veda.
Discovering “Sudarshan Kriya” and Starting the “Art of Living Foundation”
Fresh from studying abroad, Sri Sri decided to go to Shimoga in Karnataka, India, for alone time. His 10-day meditation led to the creation of the “Sudarshan Kriya,” which became the cornerstone of his “Art of Living” courses. In essence, the Sudarshan Kriya is a breathing technique that is said to help a person relax and stay calm in spite of intense emotions he/she may be feeling.
Research has been conducted to validate their claim; so far, a study has yet to disprove Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s “Sudarshan Kriya.” In line with his newly-discovered breathing exercise, he established the “Art of Living Foundation.” According to their website:
"The Art of Living movement has spread peace across communities through diverse humanitarian projects, including conflict resolution, disaster relief, sustainable rural development, empowerment of women, prisoner rehabilitation, education for all, and environmental sustainability." (The Art of Living)
The organization soon grew bigger and was able to establish offices in over 150 countries. It is said to have reached millions of people and transformed the lives of those who follow his teachings. Apart from the organization, he was also behind “Prison SMART Foundation, Inc.,” “Dollar-a-Day,” “Art Excel” and the “5H Program,” which are all aligned with the mission of the “Art of Living Foundation.” His foundation also inspired the creation of the “Ved Vignan Maha Vidya Peeth,” which “is the umbrella organization under which various service projects of The Art of Living foundation in India operate (source: Ved Vignan Maha Vidhya Peeth).”
“The International Association for Human Values”
In 1997, along with the 14th Dali Lama, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar established the “International Association for Human Values,” an avenue which aims to create a platform to uplift human values and serve as a channel of help when disaster strikes. Through their concentrated efforts, they have brought relief to the many victims of Hurricane Katrina and the major earthquake in Haiti.
One of the key roles that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar plays, not only in India but throughout the world, is a figure of peace. Because of his involvement in peacekeeping treaties and mediation, he has received international accolades from just about everywhere.
He is so charismatic that it’s no longer surprising to see warring countries attend his talks. Sri Sri believes that people only have a good side, and that the belief that we have both a good and bad side is borne out of negativity. If you let the mind believe that you are capable of doing something bad, then that’s where you’ll be headed.
When asked what it takes for someone to succeed, he writes his answer in his blog – the first on the list is, of course, peace:
There are five ingredients for success:
1. Establishing a congenial atmosphere: Peace and prosperity are interlinked. Prosperity cannot flourish in a disturbed atmosphere. While working with others, you need to function as a team. Have a sense of respect for your team members, and do not indulge in blame games. As a team leader, you need to create an atmosphere of trust, cooperation, a sense of belonging, and celebration. Nothing can last if the focus is only on productivity and net result. (Source: The Huffington Post)
He also pleads people to start looking within, rather than outside. By doing so, we’ll be focused on growing our own spirituality and become less judgmental. People are drawn to him because of this resolute energy that can make someone relax:
"Just relax. See, to catch a train, you have to hurry up, pack your things, go to the train station and get onto the train or go to the airport and catch a plane. But once you are on the plane, relax. Running between aisles holding your luggage will not get you to your destination any faster! Once you are on the path, relax." (SOURCE: Wisdom from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Amarnath Shrine Board
- The Art of Living Foundation
- International Association for Human Values
- Prison SMART Foundation, Inc.
- Art Excel
- 5H Program
- Ved Vignan Maha Vidya Peeth
- Board of World Religious Leaders for the Elijah Interfaith Institute
- Volunteer For a Better India (VFABI)
- Indian Medical Association
- Sri Sri RaviShankar Vidya Mandir (SSRVM)
- Vyakti Vikas Kendra India (VVKI)
- Sri Sri Rural Development Program (SSRDP)
- Sri Sri Institute of Agricultural Sciences & Technology Trust (SSIAST)
- International Alliance against Hunger
- UN Mental Health Committee and UN Committee on Aging, New York
- International Union for Health Promotion and Education, Paris
- NGO Forum for Health, Geneva
- CONGO (Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the United Nations)
Awards and Achievements
- 1981: Founded “The Art of Living Foundation”
- 1981: Inspired the creation of the “Ved Vignan Maha Vidya Peeth”
- 1986: Given the “Title of Yoga Shiromani” (Supreme Jewel of Yoga) by the President of India
- 1990: Nominated to the Advisory Board of Yale Divinity School
- 1992: Started a prison program
- 1997: Created the International Association for Human Values and received the “Guru Mahatmya Award” from the Government of Maharashtra
- 2002: Received the “Phoenix Award”
- 2004: Received the “Bharat Shiromani Award” and the “Illustrious Visitors Award”
- 2005: Received the “Global Humanitarian Award,” the “Dara Shikoh National Award for Harmony” and the “Mahavir-Mahatma Award”
- 2006: Received Honorary Citizenship from the City of Baltimore and named an Honorary Citizen of the city of Calgary
- 2006: Received the “Centennial 2006 Medallion” from the Legislative Assembly of Calgary and “The Humanitarian Award” from the city of Brampton
- 2006: Received the “Order of the Pole Star,” the “Peter the Great First Grade Award,” the “Mongolian Prime Minister’s Award,” the “Alberta Legislative Centennial 2006 Medallion” and “The 2006 International Peace Award” from “For the Love of Children Society of Alberta, Canada”
- 2007: Honored by United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC) for his contributions to the “Millennium Development Goals”
- 2007: Honored by the city of Washington DC by proclaiming the week of his visit as “Human Values Week”
- 2007: Received the “Leadership Award for Extraordinary Promotion of World Peace and Harmony,” the “National Veterans Foundation Award” and the “Sant Shri Dnyaneshwara World Peace Prize”
- 2008: Received the “Phoenix Award,” the “Honorary Citizenship and Goodwill Ambassador,” the “Proclamation of Commendation,” the “Architect of World Peace Award” and the “Light of East National Award”
- 2009: Named by Forbes Magazine as the fifth most powerful leader in India
- 2009: Received “The Ball of Peace” from The Peace Doves and the “Culture in Balance Award”
- 2010: Received the “Atmajyoti Award”
- 2011: Received the “Crans Montana Forum Award,” the “Vishwa Chetana Award” and the “Human of the World Award” (bestowed by the Academy of National Security of Russia)
- 2012: Received the “Most Illustrious Guest Award” from the Mayor of Lima and the “National Order of Merito de Comuneros”
- 2012: Named “Illustrious Citizen” by the Paraguayan Municipality and “Illustrious Guest” of the city of Asuncion
- 2012: Received “Tiradentes Medal in Rio,” the highest honor from Rio de Janeiro State
- 2012: Received the “Sir M. Visvesvaraya Memorial Award,” the “Sivananda World Peace Award” and the “Award for Peace and Harmony” by Al-Mustafa University
- 2013: Received “One World Family Award” at the first “One World Family Days Conference” and the “Siddha Shri Award”
- 2013: Received the “Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders Prize” from the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel, Morehouse College
- 2013: Launched “NONVIO”
- Appointed the Chairman of Reception Committee for the 500th anniversary celebrations of the Coronation of Krishnadevaraya (by Government of Karnataka, India)
- Created “Sudarshan Kriya”
- 2004: Honorary Doctorate from Kuvempu University, India
- 2006: Doctor of Philosophy (Holistic Medicine) from Open International University for Complementary Medicine in Sri Lanka
- 2007: Doctor of Science from Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, India
- 2007: Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa from Maharaja Sayajirao University, India
- 2008: Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa from Nagarjuna University, India
- 2009: Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa from Bangalore University, India
- 2009: Professor Honoris Causa from Szent Istvan University, Budapest (Hungary)
- 2012: Diploma of Honour from Buenos Aires University
- 2012: Honoris Causa Doctor from Siglo XXI University Campus, Cordoba, Argentina
- 2012: Honorary Doctorate from Suresh Gyan Vihar University, Rajasthan, India
- 2013: Honorary Doctorate from Desh Bhagat University, Punjab, India
- 2013: Doctorate of Literature (Honoris Causa) from Utkal University, Orissa, India
- 2013: Doctorate of Literature (Honoris Causa) from Gujarat Technological University, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
- An Intimate Note to the Sincere Seeker
- Buddha: Manifestation of Silence
- Be a Witness: The Wisdom of the Upanishads
- God Loves Fun
- Celebrating Silence: Excerpts from Five Years of Weekly Knowledge
- Celebrating Love
- Narada Bhakti Sutra
- Hinduism & Islam, the Common Thread
SriSriRaviShankar.org (Honors & Awards)
Wikipedia (Ravi Shankar - spiritual leader)
Forbes (Editor's Picks: The Seven Most Powerful People In India)
The Washington Post (Take a Deep Breath)
The Huffington Post (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)
Los Angeles Magazine (No Higher Calling: His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Challenges The World To Commit One Billion Acts of Non-Violence)
The Art of Living (Biography: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)
The Art of Living (Art of Living - Overview)
The Huffington Post (Five Secrets of Success)
The Famous People (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)
Wisdom from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (When knowledge lodges itself firmly in your heart, then it is wisdom)
LifePositive.com (Biography of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)
Ved Vignan Maha Vidhya Peeth