Sometimes, the Universe grants you what you want, almost instantly!
Just out of the blue, it just occurred to me that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Guruji to many) is as much as an ENTREPRENEUR as he is a Guru, Spiritual leader, Yogi, Art of Living Founder, etc etc.
Now, if he IS an Entrepreneur, then WHY isn’t Rodinhood (me) interviewing him? So, I just mailed Sri Sri’s office with the pitch that said, “Let me interview Sri Sri as an Entrepreneur so that all the startup entrepreneurs understand what it takes to build an organisation like the Art of Living directly from the founder and take away many precious lessons!”
Believe it or not, in less than 24 hours, I got a “We like your idea” mail from HIS office.
I was on the plane the next day, and interviewed Sri Sri (Magical “daadiwala” to me) in the cute media cottage next to his operating office in Bangalore!
Enjoy the interview that includes Sri Sri’s secrets and failures and many other insights! The transcript with my favorite parts is produced just after the video!!
Photos from the Session:
The ‘Art of Winning’ Management Mantras …Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in conversation with Alok Kejriwal
Q: Sri Sri, everyone knows you as the CEO of AOL, spiritual master, global leader. But I would like to interview you on your incredible journey as an Entrepreneur-Guru.
SSRS: It was a very eventful and interesting journey. I started by taking responsibility of a sick school which had no funds. Promises made had not been fulfilled, therefore, the children were left without a teacher or a place to stay.
Neither had we ever asked anyone for money, nor did we have any experience of running a school. But I knew I had to do this. Soon, things fell into place and people came forward to help the school grow. Then I started teaching courses. The first course I taught in Shimoga was attended by 8 doctors and engineers. I never intended to start courses. My intention was just to share what I could.
Q:That is what all entrepreneurs say, but then it become so big…
SSRS: My passion was to do something for villages. I used to travel in villages, sleeping on the floor at their homes, talking to people, being with them, teaching them meditation.
Q: You are a science graduate. Why do entrepreneurs do the unusual? When you entered the realm of spirituality, why did you do the unusual? You could have been a tech guy, earning a lot of money, travelling everywhere.
SSRS: It was simply not my cup of tea. There was a calling, a feeling that there was something I needed to do. I had seen wealth and fame when I was with Maharishi. I spent most of my youth with elderly people, great poets, great entrepreneurs and people dedicated to a social cause. Their wisdom, simplicity and broad vision was so beautiful. We started very small, going from village to village. Then I started training people to be teachers.
Q:The famous story (in your life) of the train – one train going north and one south… that represents in entrepreneurial life one very critical decision, where there is nobody to tell you what to do. There is something intuitive, something from God. How do people make that one critical decision that can change their life?
SSRS: At Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s they wanted me to stay. On one hand I had all comforts. I had this comfort zone, but I chose to come out and do something that was more needed in society. Something essential.
Q. In startups that have succeeded, the first team members – 5 or 10 – they make or break a company. What did you do to form a team?
SSRS: I did not base this on anyone or on volunteers. I based it on knowledge and wisdom. There is one power that is going to take you through – Moving with passion and dispassion together. Praise, talent and adulation are things people aspire to see in their twenties, thirties and forties. I had seen all this in my teens. Time is only for caring and contributing. And then the path opens up.
Q: On Mondays people in organisations are crying, Tuesday they are frowning. How do so many of the people in the Ashram keep smiling?
SSRS: Moving with passion and dispassion together. That is the power of spiritual knowledge. It gives you centered-ness which recuperates your energy, keeps you enthusiastic, and brings the much-needed passion for work. You want nothing for yourself. That brings passion in work and dispassion in meditation.
Q: As you started up, I’m sure there were failures, hiccups and problems. Many good enterprises fail. Can you share…?
SSRS: Once I was invited to teach at the Vatican by the very powerful Priest’s training college. The Rector told me that people are forgetting what they taught them and requested me to train one of their people.
Then there was a de-addiction camp. There were 50-60 people there and the head was using fear of the outside world to keep them there. I taught those people and there was such a transformation in them. They had tears in their eyes and said they had found a new way of looking at life. The head of the camp became paranoid. On the third day the head said that this was not a good thing as people there had no fear in them now.
There was an ashram in London. They begged me to come and stay with them. Those days I travelled with one assistant. On the third day the person there saw everyone coming to me, and he told me I could not stay there. I had had just 6 dollars in my pocket. It was a cold winter. My assistant was worried, but I told him to relax. At that time a Punjabi man requested us to come and stay with him anytime that week. So I said,”Why some time, I’ll come right now.”
So where your intentions are pure and clear, nature will support you to go forward in unimaginable ways.
Q In entrepreneurship and spirituality we have a common problem. 5 in 10 IIM-IIT graduates want to start up and family members become cagey.
SSRS: They should do startups. 30 years ago there was so much prejudice against India. When we started the Prison-Smart Program in Boston they just gave us a small 10’ by 15’cell to do our Sudarshan Kriya. It was a dusty place with a small window. But when we started the course it created a big breakthrough in the prisoners’ lives, and the prison authorities said what they were seeing was a miracle. They then gave us a grant to do the course for 3000 people in another place.
So, wherever there is sincerity and talent there will be people who recognise it. It may take some time. You simply have to have patience and hold on.
Q. Sri Sri, we are talking about patience and time, but everyone wants to grow a rose-garden in a day. You are talking about 30 years (to build Art of Living). Lot of young people think startup means instant money. Nobody realizes the value of time and money. What is your advice to young people?
SSRS: You should not be feverish about it. When you are feverish about success you take wrong decisions. It is not difficult to climb up that ladder by hook or by crook, but then you fall down the ladder faster than when you climbed it. Realise that you have sown a seed and you have to let it grow.You have to have inner strength.
At every step you have to ask yourself, ”Am I doing the right thing or not?” If you sit and worry “What about me” all the time you miss out on ideas because you are self-centred. If your goal is clear, your aim is clear and you have the patience to move in that direction, nature is with you.
Q: On the power of intuition, a lot of us who are trying a new business, have not done that before. How do we cultivate intuition, how do we draw on it?
SSRS: That is what spirituality is all about – taking that inner rest.That restful alertness of mind, meditation and seeing life from a broader context. Then you will not be so feverish. You will let things unfold. You cannot force a flower to grow. You simply let it be there. Now “let it be there” does not mean inaction. People take it to the other extreme. Either they are complacent or they are too feverish.
Q. Sri Sri, a lot of us find it hard to get success. 99% of the time it is not easy to do a startup. Then we start comparing ourselves with other, wishing we could be like others, or saying “I wish I could get that funding.” A bit of Jealousy creeps in, and then it starts dominating our mind.
SSRS: That is because you don’t recognise your uniqueness. In this creation everyone is unique. Nature has made us very unique and if we recognise and we honour our uniqueness, there is no jealousy or competition.
Jealousy is there when we want to possess things. When you know you are here only to contribute, how can there be jealousy? Here spiritual knowledge becomes so relevant. Firstly, it helps you to overcome all these negative tendencies, and secondly, it improves your intuitive, innovative abilities and communication.
Q: If you were to price everything you give at market-price then you would be in the Fortune 500. How do you create this unbelievable business model of giving away the (wealthiest ) things for free and yet making your organisation run?
SSRS: Because I don’t know marketing! We have done some of the biggest mega-events. 1,100 sitarists on one stage, 30 pianos and 300 bagpipers on a single stage. 10 of our programs are mentioned in the Guinness World Records. We have not made any effort to market them. Not many people even know about them. Art of Living has grown by word-of mouth as the product speaks for itself.
Q: You have made a product that is popular in India and abroad. How did you globalize your product so fast and make it so popular?
SSRS: (laughs) Everyone is breathing ! Everyone wants to be in love, be happy and at peace. We just guide people what they already have in them. And I still feel it has not become as popular as a cellphone. Cellphones are useful as they help you in communication. In the same way, meditation is even more useful because it helps you communicate with yourself and with the universe.
Q; Many of us in India are taught from childhood not to fail. Parents drill this into us and entrepreneurs become defensive about failure.
SSRS: One of the failures was when I tried to stop the war in Sri Lanka. I made efforts to reach out to the LTTE’s Prabhakar and tried to bring sense into them. On the other side I also spoke to the President of Sri Lanka. I tried a lot and went there several times. Some of our Swamis were also working there. Today we have two orphanages in Sri Lanka. But somehow there was a prejudice against our dress, or how we look, how we are. This came in the way of our efforts and had a toll.
Similarly in Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was still alive, we tried to speak to them. We have not had Government backing. I have always felt that if we had had a little backing from the Government, we could have done a lot more work to bring peace.
All we needed was a simple recognition from them that this NGO is for peace and let’s involve them. You know, there is a hard power and a soft power, and this was a soft power which our country failed to utilize.
In fact they did the contrary. They tried to stop us so that we wouldn’t get the credit.
That was so unfortunate – the mindset of our bureaucrats and politicians. They should utilize India’s soft power to bridge people, to bring peace in the world, to resolve conflicts. We could offer a lot to the world. And this is a big failure on the part of our society.
Another time, in one of the South American countries they gave me the highest honour in the country and the Indian Ambassador refused to come saying I was a religious person. This has happened a couple of times. Once in Brazil they had a program. The Indian flag was to be hoisted, and the Indian Ambassador refused to come. So, there is prejudice at home and prejudice outside. But the Information Era has helped a lot. 30 years ago it was difficult. Those days yoga and meditation was not something people were doing. Today large companies make their people meditate for relaxation.
Q: This whole problem of competition becomes so serious that sometimes you feel like giving up. How do you keep yourself sane in in this competitive field?
SSRS: You should see the positive aspects of competition. Competition in business will help you be more innovative and alert. Every competitor can inspire you to do more, and if you look at it that way you will be more at ease, and it will not dampen your enthusiasm. Else you will burn with jealousy and depression and do unethical things.
If you go with this one principle that no one can take away my enthusiasm, happiness or disturb my state of peace, then you will see the difference.
Q; Seva, satsang and sadhana is the formula for spiritual success in Art of Living. Any formula for entrepreneurs to succeed?
SSRS: They should keep their mind open and not be too anxious about success. Put in your 100% effort and be open to new ideas instead of being stuck in old one. You never know what will work on this planet.
People should meditate at least twice a day, especially in a group. Then you will find the atmosphere is more humane. If there is a humane atmosphere, there is nothing you cannot do.
UPDATE JUNE 13, 2014: Excerpts of our interview were carried in ET Panache today!
First Published on: May 24, 2014