Gurudev’s emphasis on mental health has acquired all the more relevance in the ongoing pandemic. In today’s world torn with stress and conflict, edging towards a potential pandemic of mental health illnesses in the times to come by (as per the global estimates), the contribution of an Indian leader in bringing happiness and peace in the lives of millions of people is revolutionary and commendable.
A CHILD PRODIGY
Born in a small village called Papanasam, 25 kms from the city of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu on 13th May 1956, Gurudev was a prodigious child. At the age of 4, he astonished his teachers by seamlessly reciting verses from the ‘Bhagavad Gita,’ an ancient Hindu scripture. His Sanskrit teacher was Pandit Sudhakar Chaturvedi, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. His peaceful brilliance drew teachers and students alike, to him even at school, who would often seek his guidance and support. Owing to his academic performance, he received double promotions too. But sports and movies did not interest him much. From a young age, he would be found deep in meditation. He would often be seen resolving fights among children, who were sometimes several years older to him. Gurudev studied at St. Josephs College, Bengaluru. As a scholar in Vedic literature with a degree in modern science, he has always maintained that science and spirituality were never in conflict with each other in the orient.
COMMITTED TO WORLD PEACE
Gurudev’s commitment to peace and conflict resolution, a glimpse of which we see in his childhood, led to several meaningful interventions. Gurudev has endeavoured to foster peace and hold space for dialogue across nations, organizations and communities. He has lead conflict resolution and trauma-relief programmes in many countries, including Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mauritius, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United States of America. Gurudev emphasizes that “the first thing in a conflict is a communication breakdown. Second, there is a trust deficit. If we can bridge these somehow, then the process begins. Inside every culprit is a victim crying for help. If you heal the victim, the culprit disappears.”
MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
His teachings can be experientially integrated into life, working through exploration instead of imposition. This explains why they work well especially for those in the heart of a conflict. They have benefited the genocide facing Yezidi community in Syria, eased inter-communal tensions in Iraq, and stopped gang wars in Ivory Coast. Gurudev has found global acceptance across wide political spectrum, working continuously with people on all sides of a conflict, the victim and the perpetrator, the law enforcer and the outlawed. In Kashmir, Northeast India, Ivory-coast, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Colombia, Middle East among other places – Gurudev has created safe spaces for dialogue to flourish, in spite of stiff uncomfortable resistance. He is renowned for his caregiver approach to mediation which finds trust among stakeholders. To cite an example, when tension in Iraq soared in 2008, Gurudev met leaders on all sides (Shia, Sunni and Kurds among others). Peace observers say that he is one of the very few world leaders to have been able to do this at the time of conflict. “In any long-drawn conflict, the victim tends to turn an oppressor and the oppressor becomes a victim. A broader vision and spiritual understanding alone can break this vicious cycle,” he says. His efforts helped end a bloody 52-year-old conflict between the FARC and the Columbian establishment. He has hosted a series of trust enhancing interventions in J&K, providing all the stakeholders to voice their opinion in an effort to restore peace in the valley.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION OF GLOBAL WELLBEING
In 1981, Gurudev established the Art of Living along with the first free school ‘Ved Vignan Maha Vidya Peeth’ in Bengaluru. In 1982, after 10 days of silence, Gurudev cognized one of the most unique offering to the world – Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique that simplifies – mental, emotional and social wellbeing. He says, “In sleep, we get rid of fatigue, but the deeper stresses remain in our body. Sudarshan Kriya cleanses the system from the inside. The breath has a great secret to offer.” The first Art of Living program was conducted in Shimoga, Karnataka in 1982. Nurtured by his care and contribution, the Art of Living has rapidly grown in 156 countries, spreading peace and happiness to over 450 million people. He has designed 57 exclusive courses that empower individuals and cater to the social, material and spiritual needs of each social strata. To bring up a generation of peace-loving and well-educated individuals, Gurudev has worked towards bringing holistic education to every corner of the country. In the area of education, what started with reviving a single school has grown to a movement involving 702 free schools under ‘Gift a Smile’ program which provides free education and food to more than 80,000 children in remote, rural and tribal parts of India. 90% of these children are first generation learners.
BRACING THE WORLD FOR THE PANDEMIC
During the onset of an unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, thousands of people lost their loved ones. To help millions move through the trying times during the pandemic, Gurudev launched the World Meditates campaign and personally conducted online guided meditation twice daily touching the life of millions by bringing solace, helping people build mental resilience, find semblance of peace and keeping the hope alive. The Art of Living also pioneered the ‘I stand with humanity initiative’ – providing more than 80 million meals to the daily wage earners in over 170 cities across India. The service initiative during the pandemic included the distribution of 6000 tons of food to 5 million families. It helped set up 7 covid care hospitals and provided over 2000 PPE kits. Trauma relief programs were also conducted for more than 1 million migrant laborers and covid warriors to bring mental relief to combat stress and anxiety during such times.
He has received numerous awards from all over the globe including the highest civilian award of Columbia, Mongolia and Paraguay. He is also the recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards & 23 honorary doctorates globally.