- The Washington Times
Friday, July 6, 2007

A planned meeting between former President Bill Clinton and a renowned Indian guru was canceled due to Mr. Clinton’s late arrival at a Washington event.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, known for his work toward world peace, had high hopes yesterday for a proposed meeting with the former president. A room had been set aside at the Washington Convention Center where the 51-year-old guru cooled his heels waiting to meet with Mr. Clinton.

Aides to the guru said the former president was slated to meet Mr. Shankar before giving a speech to the Telugu Association of North America, a large Indian-American organization of immigrants from the eastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

By the time the former president arrived — nearly an hour late — the guru only got to listen to Mr. Clinton’s speech before departing for another engagement.

The Hindu leader, who is not related to the sitar player of the same name, had already met several members of Congress in March during a 25th anniversary celebration at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts of his Art of Living Foundation (ALF), based in Bangalore.

The ALF program, which includes a course on calming breathing techniques that seeks to promote nonviolence by decreasing stress levels, credits itself with having reached 300 million people over a 25-year span. Its year-old center near Meridian Hill Park in Northwest charges $375 for six introductory sessions.

Word of the program spread to Iraq, which invited the guru there May 22-24, the first time the country has officially hosted a spiritual leader from India. After meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, he visited the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf and urged Shi’ite and Sunni leaders to give nonviolence a chance.

“I went on a mission of peace to bring together people of different groups,” he said. “I told them, ‘Violence hasn’t gotten you anywhere, so why don’t you try something different?’ ”

Since 2003, the Art of Living program has been active in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Karbala, Basra and Sulaimaniyah. Some 5,000 Iraqis — mainly women and children — have taken part in the foundation’s trauma relief program. The guru offered to expand the program to prisoners in Iraqi jails.

Muslims, he added, “are so angry about the past, they don’t know how to handle their rage.”

The visit was unusual in that Muslims typically scorn Hindus, believing they are idol worshippers, a practice forbidden by the Koran. The guru said he sidestepped this contentious point during his Iraq visit by speaking mainly on nonviolence.

Next month, he visits Afghanistan to start a prison program in Kabul. His secret, he said, is placing all the world’s religions on the same plane.

“A group that claims exclusive rights to heaven and everyone else is going to hell; they make hell for everyone else,” said the guru, who was swathed in long white silk robes embroidered with gold thread.

At one point he added, a key aide to Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visited him at his Bangalore ashram, asking if there was only one truth.

“I said, ‘Truth is not linear, it is spherical,’ ” the guru recalled. “It all depends on which point you’re coming from. Every religion has its individual spot on the planet.”

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