May 3, 2016

Famous Indian guru says he rejected a Nobel, and Malala did nothing to deserve hers

Max Bearak
The Washington Post
May 3, 2016

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
For many years, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of the world's most prominent spiritual leaders and the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, went about his work without much controversy. He wrote a dozen best-selling books, opened thousands of meditation centers and amassed an international following in the millions, many in the United States. But in the past two months, the Indian guru has found his statements being replayed on television and trending on Twitter more than he probably ever wanted.

In March, he came under fire (some say undeservedly) for sanctioning the construction of a gigantic tent city along the fragile riverbank of the Yamuna, which flows through New Delhi, for the Art of Living Foundation's 35th anniversary. Activists said the project, which the foundation claims accommodated millions of people, caused damage that would take years to undo. India's president canceled his plans to attend the event, and the foundation was fined $750,000 by the country's National Green Tribunal. Many Delhiites viewed the controversy with cynicism, if only because the Yamuna has long been polluted with sewage and industrial waste such that its brown water barely flows.

Then in April, the guru, who has sought to extend his teachings on inner peace, stress relief and mindfulness to those in conflict zones, inadvertently ended up calling for war against the Islamic State after the militant group rebuffed his entreaties for peace talks. He told Indian media that in response to his overture, the Islamic State sent him a photo of a beheaded man — a clear enough signal that his message was unwelcome in Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militant group, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL. "I think the ISIS does not want any peace talks," he said. "Hence, they should be dealt with militarily."

And finally, this weekend, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, when asked by a journalist whether he would accept the Nobel Peace Prize should it be offered to him, claimed that he had already rejected it at least once and expressed particular distaste for the "political" decision to award the Nobel to then-17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani national, who was shot by the Taliban for her advocacy for girls' education.

“I was in the past offered the Nobel Peace Prize, but I had rejected it as I only believe in working and not in being honored for my work. We should always honor only to those who deserve it, and I am totally against honoring Malala Yousafzai with the prize and it is of no use,” he was quoted as saying in the Deccan Chronicle, a reputed Indian newspaper.

It does appear that Shankar has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize — by a New York Democrat in the House of Representatives in 2006 — though it is unclear whether he was ever formally offered the honor, which would have given him the chance to reject it.

He went on to say that Yousafzai had done nothing to merit the Nobel and that awards generally were not his concern, especially the Nobel.

A quick perusal of the Art of Living Foundation's website shows that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who is commonly conferred with the double honorific in front of his given name, has been the recipient of countless awards. They include this year's Padma Vibhushan, India's second-highest civilian honor, and Mongolia's Order of the Pole Star, that country's highest recognition. He has earned 15 honorary doctorates, and the list of bestowed titles requires some scrolling to get through. More than 20 American cities have designated particular one-off days as "Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Days." Washington has done it twice.

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