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A non-believer in a herd of believers

If you are not one amongst them, it is difficult to understand the passion of the devotees, writes Shalini Narang.

india Updated: Jul 20, 2006 20:07 IST

If you are not one amongst them, then, it is difficult to understand the passion and purpose of the devotees at the sight and words of their spiritual masters and gurus.

The verve and vitality of the disciples at such events of discourses and satsangs is not something that non-believers can easily fathom.

Visits of famous spiritual masters from India to destinations with a substantial Indian Diaspora are a regular phenomenon.

Some of the common reasons quoted by devotees for their extreme dedication to their gurus include a feeling of compassion, peace, a sense of purpose etc. I will add a few more.

There is a milieu of camaraderie in such gatherings and involvement in such and similar social events are not only a welcome break from the routine but also a tryst of meeting like-minded people with a sense of service to a higher purpose.

As a reporter of one such event, I will try to do two tasks via my column today. One is to tell you what I saw and gathered from my interactions with the people there and then narrate my own experience.

Last week from July 9th through 13th, several hundreds of devotees came together from all over US and around the world to attend the myriad classes on yoga, meditation and to hear the discourses of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the San Mateo Expo Center in Northern California.

Besides the signature Art of Living Courses, there were programs for children and youth titled the Art Excel Program and the Youth Empowerment Seminar.

The curricula included myriad aspects of physical, mental and human values and exercises on self-acceptance, responsibility and efficiency in tackling everyday problems and issues like depression, lack of confidence, loneliness and lack of concentration.

The statistics on the courses and their reach are staggering and the promised impact is enticing.

Diane Schneider, a volunteer teacher of the courses said: "I joined the foundation about eleven years back. I feel a lot of love in my heart that I want to spread around."

In the similar vein, Neena Bhatnagar, a Partner Manager at Symantec and a five year veteran opined: "the courses have helped me change routine patterns in life. I am more at ease to approach people and talk to them rather than holding back. I feel an amazing degree of gratitude with greater awareness towards basic human values like kindness, compassion and love. The courses are a means of promoting spiritual enrichment and physical wellbeing."

Later, in his talk on the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai Sri Sri said: "We need more education in peace. The culture of violence needs to be nipped to spread the message that violence can never be a lasting solution."

In perspective of the prison reform program of the organization, he said: "In every culprit there is a victim crying for help. Breathing exercises and yoga help calm the mind, relieve stress and alter attitudes by enhancing awareness, a disease free body and a stress free mind."

A little later, I entered a room where hundreds of participants were seated on yoga mats waiting for the sessions to commence. Two accomplished teachers came unto the podium and started the program with basic yogic postures followed by meditation. In the second half, Sri Sri replied to queries of the attendees and initiated a satsang (chanting). He said: "The reason for agony and misery in life is nature's way of promoting compassion. Let's think about what we can do to halt violence in the world and reinstate goodness."

I found the words to be good but not awe-inspiring. Similarly, the yoga exercises were as good as any other yoga classes that I attend at my local gym but could not experience the special value add that is promoted by faithfuls as exclusive to the art of living courses.

Possibly the three days were too short for a newcomer like me to capture the full impact, but there is more to my experience. While the devotees were lapping up every word from the mouth of their master and in my opinion following the principle of deliberate suspension of disbelief, I missed the feeling of spiritual high. Though being in such a milieu, one can easily be swayed by the group passion; yet, I missed hearing a nouveau thought or a new dimension.

As an unbiased attendee, I felt Sri Sri left many questions unanswered or gave vague replies to the genuine queries of the attendees. I expected more.