As I had shared in one of my earlier posts, the hype preceding the year 2000 brought a widespread scare that the world was coming to an end on 31st December, 1999. A priest in Korea had predicted doomsday. Astrologers in India feared ‘pralaya’ – even chapters from the Puranas were cited to point at visible signs of the end of the world. There was panic all over America. People in California were selling their homes fearing a catastrophe. Many were storing milk powder and groceries in their basement. This mass hysteria meant that I had to travel a lot both in the USA and Canada to eliminate this unfounded fear.
There was no such fear in the volunteers of Art of Living though, who were preparing to celebrate the dawn of the new millennium in Milano, Italy. Thousands had arrived for a midnight meditation. The Italian organisers were all enthusiastic and matched the Indians in chaos!
Finally, midnight dawned. The celebrations which began with chaos became blissful and silent. The new millennium had arrived and the world was still safe.
A few months later, I was in New York to attend the UN Millennium Peace Summit. Religious and spiritual leaders from all over the world in different attires had descended at the United Nations. I was just about to get into a lift when I heard somebody call out my name. I turned back and saw that it was Satyanarayan Goenkaji, who was propagating the Vipassana system of meditation. The elderly gentleman called me to the side and said, “I don’t want people to think that you have stolen. Maharshi Patanjali and Adi Sankaracharya stole from Buddha. I don’t want you to be labelled like that. Stop using the name ‘Art of Living’. Call it whatever else you want.“ I nodded saying, “Pandit Ravi Shankar also says I have stolen his name.” He empathised with me, “No, no. Apna nam kyon change karega?” (Why will you change your name?) I had met Goenkaji once in Mumbai in 1988 and was meeting him after a long gap of 12 years. By now, Art of Living had become much more popular.
If at all the name “Art of Living” has any lineage, it can only be attributed to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who wrote a book, “The Science of Being and the Art of Living”, though I have not read it. When I shared this with Goenkaji, he said that it was he who promoted Maharishi all over the world, “Now he has become too big and forgotten me.”
I assured him that I would definitely talk to my organizers about his concern. That evening, I called our key organizers at the Waldorf Astoria to discuss changing my name and that of the organization. This was a grave matter and everybody had something to say. I easily dropped the Pandit from my name. A colleague who had been with me at Maharishi’s came up with the idea of Sri Sri. Everybody agreed that one Sri is very common, generic and confusing. My opinion on the matter was irrelevant in this animated discussion. I was just a silent witness. And so, I was rechristened at Waldorf. However, despite this exercise, MTV and Fox News still showed my photo when the legendary sitar maestro passed away.
In the meeting, I mentioned that there was an objection to the name of the organization as well by a very senior spiritual teacher from India. The organizers said the name ‘Art of Living’ had already been registered in many countries including the US. Many complications would ensue if we were to change it. They all said in one voice that the name could not be changed. I kept quiet.
Since then, the Art of Living has changed a lot, though it retained its name, while my name was changed but I remained the same.