Modern Day Shaman: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
By Niharika Kapadia
Shamanism is defined as set of beliefs and practices which help communicate with the spiritual world. It has been practised for centuries and has been part of the life and cultures of communities throughout the world. It has found a particular niche in indigenous communities. There is now increasing interest in Shamanism in the West (Bevir, 1994). Its practitioner, called a Shaman is able to enter into an altered state of consciousness through various behaviours, such as breathing exercises, use of drugs, fasting, meditation, vision questions, exercise, drumming and ecstatic dance and music (Townsend, 1997) There are many variations of Shamans, the most common are identified as healers, mystics, psychotics, visionaries, priests and magicians (Townsend, 1997). Most commonly they live at the edge of reality and society. Their aim is to restore harmony and balance into the world, a balance between good and evil, illness and health, joy and sorrow (Winkelmen, 1997). One practitioner who represents the interaction with the spiritual world in the modern age is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a prominent spiritual leader whose mission is to seek global peace. He was born in 1956 in Tamil Nadu, a state in Southern India. Today, he can be seen as a modern-day shaman, a spiritual community leader or a medicine man who is a median between the visible and spiritual worlds (The Office of His Holiness, 2009). Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a believer of inner peace. He has spoken of the communication and the link between the body and the mind. He makes a case for the importance and the need for meditation. By positively affecting both body and mind it can help to find mental relaxation, inner peace and joy (The Office of His Holiness, 2009). He hopes for a world at peace where people are relaxed, free of stress, anger and violence. Hi goal is to help create a world where these values reign supreme. He also has ways and guidelines of practical methods to help achieve these goals (India Times, 2009).
In the year 1982, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar retreated into silence. On the tenth day he became Enlightened, he experienced an altered state of consciousness. This is where he was given the knowledge about the rhythmic breathing exercise known as the Sudarshan Kriya. This process causes the mind to relax to such an extent that apparently positive chemicals can be produced. These can have a good effect on various aspects of body function.
In order to share and spread his knowledge, Sri Sri set up the organization known as the Art of Living. It is an international non-profit educational and humanitarian organization which is active in more than 140 countries. These programs help in reducing stress and guide individuals to a better sense of well-being. He has initiated and helped an increasing number of people down the spiritual path. He is greatly respected and looked up to by many followers around the world (The Office of His Holiness, 2009). Uma Ajmera states, that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar philosophy and practice is such that they have an appeal to the objective assessment make by educated individuals of today. He is a modern-day master of the “power of how.” (India Times, 2009).
The Art of Living Foundation is based around inspiring, uplifting and empowering individuals to live life to its fullest potential. After the course every participant comes away light, with new ways for releasing mental and physical stress and increasing his or her health, energy, peace, self-knowledge, awareness and joy (The Office of His Holiness, 2009). It has been enjoyed and benefited by all traditions, religions and walks of life. Religious circles and educational institutions have also accepted the philosophy behind the Art of Living Foundation (Burge, 1996). It has also been popular with administrative bodies.
The basis of the foundation is the Sudarshan Kriya, a type of a powerful Yogic breathing technique. Every mental process is connected with the rhythm of breathing. Sri Sri has found different rhythms of breathing which have a positive effect on stress and which uplift and can also enlighten the mind (The Office of His Holiness, 2009). This helps to create a peaceful coordination between the physical mental and spiritual dimensions of the self. As a result of this exercise there is a sense of peace and satisfaction which is felt by people. This can lead to a sensation of bliss and happiness. A clearer conception of the universe can then be achieved (Burge, 1996). This can also lead to greater clarity in thinking, creating less stress and a happier and more creative frame of mind. These practices allow for individuals and followers to be taken into higher states of consciousness (Eliade, 2004).
Another technique used by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the Sahaj Samadhi Meditation. It is an effortless process which at the same time is graceful, taking the individual to a peaceful and open space, leading the individual to a state of deep rest (The Office of His Holiness, 2009). The process involves the conscious mind to settle into itself. As this occurs the mind is able to enter into the present moment and experience natural joy and true happiness. It is said that even after just a few sessions the individual is able to enter into the depths of one’s own nature (The Office of His Holiness, 2009). This can be a life changing experience.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has also established Youth Programs which emphasize morals and values mutual to all religions and traditions, such as non-violence, compassion, caring for the planet, enthusiasm for life and service towards others (Burge, 1996).
Sri Sri founded the International Association for Human Values in 1997. This was a humanitarian non-profit organization. Its aim was to advance human values in all spheres of life (Burge, 1996). The Association has helped with many development programs that have reached a very large number of people in communities throughout the world.
His self development programs have uplifted the mind and the soul. On the other hand he has also been aware of the material problems individuals and communities face. He has tried to address these and help those affected by disasters and conflicts (Burge, 1996). He has also tried to find ways to better education, empowering women and looking at improving the lives of the poor. He has tried to see that wars and the suffering that they cause can be a thing of the past (Burge, 1996). Sri Sri travels to more than 40 countries a year to share his message of social responsibility, and that all great spiritual traditions share common goals and values. His teachings of love, practical wisdom, and service promote harmony among people, and encourage individuals to follow a spiritual path while honouring other paths (The Office of His Holiness, 2009). His message, work and practices come into the domain of Shamanism. It is, however, a message from the past adjusted for the modern age. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a worthy representative of a modern day Shaman.
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