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Student who felt cheated after taking Art of Living Course

February 10, 2011

Posted by Chamiyaar, taken from http://www.cornellsun.com/section/opinion/content/2011/02/07/how-i-was-scammed-phys-ed-class

The Art of Living Foundation is one of the world’s largest non-profit organizations led by the spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The foundation is active in more than 140 countries and has reached out to hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The goal of the foundation is to create a happier and more stress-free society by uplifting individuals at the grassroots level through empowerment and breathing exercises. Apart from its international development projects, the main “service” of the Art of Living Foundation is its Art of Living courses. These courses span for a total of 24 to 28 hours during five to six consecutive days and cost anywhere from between $200 to $700, depending on the instructor and level of the course. The clientele of Art of Living courses are typically adults who suffer from personal issues and are looking to improve their lives.

Here at Cornell University, an Art of Living course, titled the Art of Living YES+ workshop: Yoga, Empowerment, Service Plus, is offered for Physical Education credit. The course description highlights that this “six-session seminar provides you with powerful techniques for deep relaxation and meditation.” Apart from students who know about the purpose and mission of the Art of Living Foundation, this course attracts students — like me — who want to get their physical education requirement over and done with at the beginning of the semester. The course was held on campus in Teagle Hall and cost $225 to take. We were told on the day before the course took place that if we did not drop the course 24 hours before the first session took place, we would automatically fail and lose the $225 course fee.

I entered the Teagle Multipurpose room in exercise gear the day the class began with an open-mind. I was ready to learn some yoga and meditation exercises and, most importantly, get the Physical Education credit I needed in order to graduate in the May. While I didn’t have very many expectations for the course, I did have a few, and let’s just say that the course was not at all what I had intended to sign up for. I left it six days later — after 28 very long hours — confused and shocked as to why Cornell University allows students to take the Art of Living for P.E. credit.

The very first thing we were told by the instructors was that in order to successfully complete and pass the course, we needed to follow several rules. These rules included eating a complete vegetarian diet, abstaining from consuming caffeine or alcohol and practicing the breathing exercises we learned in class each morning when we woke up. Immediately, I thought to myself, “Now, this was not in the course description.” The entire course consisted of extremely awkward, soul-exposing activities and discussions. In order to introduce ourselves to other people in the class, we had to go around, shake hands, tell them our name, look into their eyes directly and exclaim, “I belong to you!” Other course highlights involved revealing our deepest, darkest secret to someone in the class (awkward), sitting knee-to-knee with fellow members of the class and silently looking into their eyes for several minutes (awkward) and group discussions about topics ranging from dealing with anger to having responsible sex (awkward). One particularly memorable discussion dealt with loving everyone for who they are, regardless of what they do and how they treat you. One student asked, “What if someone is emotionally and physically abusive to you? Do you still have to love them?” The response of our instructors was “yes.”

The instructors assigned us daily homework, such as “make three friends tomorrow,” “do something nice for your parents” and “complete three random acts of kindness.” But when someone couldn’t complete the homework, for whatever reason (didn’t have the time, didn’t want to put in the effort or thought the homework was stupid and defeated the whole purpose of doing nice things for others, my reason) the instructors made us feel incredibly guilty. They wanted to present examples of how people fail to live life to its fullest or tend to put things off, but did so by making us feel as though we were terrible, selfish people, who needed to restructure our entire lives. When students of the course appeared to be unenthusiastic about the course’s ideals and activities, the instructors threatened to fail them on several occasions.

Another aspect of the course that was uncomfortable for me and other members was that the $225 course fee was going towards contributing to the work of the Art of Living foundation. Though I was initially confused as to why I was paying $225 to learn how to breathe, I am especially angry as to why it was not mentioned in the course description that the course fee was essentially a donation to a non-profit organization. Donations are typically voluntary contributions, and honestly, if I had $225 to donate to any organization of my choice, the organization would NOT be the Art of Living Foundation.

During the last session, the instructors (one of who was a full-time, paid employee of the Art of Living foundation) strongly advertised the next level of the course called the Art of Silence. The Art of Silence involves retreating for three days to an Art of Living Center and living in complete silence for a period of 72 hours straight. To quote my instructor, “the only reason you would even take the first course is so that you can move on to the more advanced courses.” Of course, they failed to mention that this advanced course is significantly more expensive than the introductory course.

Although I have gotten my P.E. credit out of the way (contingent on them not failing me, which I realize is a definite possibility considering I am writing this article and also was involved in an outspoken revolt that took place during the 22nd hour of the course), I am very confused as to why Cornell allows the Art of Living course to function as a course that fulfills a mandatory graduation requirement for all undergraduate students. As an Art of Living graduate, I failed to become more relaxed, but rather, I am incredibly disturbed about the inclusion of the Art of Living Yes+ Workshop in Cornell University’s course offerings.

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29 Comments
  1. Anon permalink
    February 10, 2011 7:23 am

    According to SSRS, one of greatest human values is HYPOCRISY….

    HYPOCRISY is the state of pretending to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie.

    Sri Sri Ravi Shankar seeks corruption watchdog

    2011-01-12 23:50:00

    Mumbai, Jan 12 (IANS) Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Wednesday said there was a need to set up an ‘independent body’ to keep a check on corruption and financial scams.

    ‘Agencies that are supposed to check the scams are also involved in the same scams. We need to have people of character and honesty to check corruption. Such a body must be positioned independent from the government,’ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar told reporters.

    ‘It should be set up to check the wrong doings in all spheres of public life,’ the spiritual leader said.

    Talking about the government, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that it must concentrate more on ‘gross domestic happiness’ rather than ‘gross domestic product’.

    ‘There should be prosperity with happiness. Greed comes because of insecurity…lack of religiousness has resulted in corruption,’ he said.

    The spiritual guru lauded the role of media in exposing the scams and said that without the media acting as a public watchdog, such ills would have been buried unnoticed.

  2. Prakash permalink
    February 10, 2011 8:57 am

    “Of course, they failed to mention that this advanced course is significantly more expensive than the introductory course.”

    This significant piece of information is invariably omitted during their sales push.

    “I am very confused as to why Cornell allows the Art of Living course to function as a course that fulfills a mandatory graduation requirement for all undergraduate students.”

    Ignorance, stupidity and most importantly a desire to show off their “non-conventional” attitude.

  3. freeagaiin permalink
    February 11, 2011 5:20 am

    And most likely someone at Corrnell has a strong affiliation with AOL. A new trend is doing courses at hospital venues.

  4. Chamiyaar permalink
    February 11, 2011 2:54 pm

    “One student asked, “What if someone is emotionally and physically abusive to you? Do you still have to love them?” The response of our instructors was “yes.”

    Yay, that means SSRS loves the people behind this blog!!

    • Peaceful Warrior permalink
      February 11, 2011 4:20 pm

      Gawd no – we are hardly abusing SSRS – either emotionally or physically. We are just asking some obvious questions …everyone in AOL thinks about, but hardly talks about.

  5. Observer II permalink
    February 11, 2011 4:35 pm

    “One student asked, “What if someone is emotionally and physically abusive to you? Do you still have to love them?” The response of our instructors was “yes.”

    That explains why people can so easily get stuck in any cult, not just AOL. If you believe suffering is always for good or “bringing you closer to God,” then it can be very dangerous. I’m not implying all suffering is bad, but certainly an organization can abuse this statement and use it to their advantage.

  6. belle permalink
    February 11, 2011 5:56 pm

    ” I am incredibly disturbed about the inclusion of the Art of Living Yes+ Workshop in Cornell University’s course offerings.”

    That is as irresponsible of this University as it can get!
    To not be aware of the existence of cults and advertise it to its own unsuspecting students.

    I think someone should write to this “university” to let them know that the “courses” they are offering is a “course for cult life”.

  7. belle permalink
    February 11, 2011 6:01 pm

    “there was a need to set up an ‘independent body’ to keep a check on corruption and financial scams.”

    not really, but what we do need is an independent body set up to keep a check on money grubbing cults!

  8. excultie permalink
    February 13, 2011 11:32 pm

    AOL should be studied by the big business schools. This is a good example of a tried and trusted system of brainwashing gullible and often extremely intelligent people and squeezing them dry, while perpetuating the unshakable belief that there’s no way but the AOL way, and there’s no family but the AOL family.

    Oh, and nearly everything is tax-free, paid in hard currency, and rarely accounted for. How much better can it get?

    • Pandarinathan Vaidyanathan permalink
      March 7, 2011 6:51 am

      I have heard several people talk about this – ‘AOL should be studied by business schools’. Study what. Study how to make grandioise promises and steal charity money. They use multilevel pyramid schedme marketing to sell their wares. There are lot of people who make money in the holy business, especially using their non-profit and tax exempt status. These ashrams are havens of black money racketing.
      If you are running a legetimate, ethical business you can learn nothing from these criminals.In fact many AOL business enterprises started from the stolen charity money like Inwinex and Sri Sri Ayurveda are under loss. Check out the P&L statement of Inwinex – http://www.moneycontrol.com/financials/inwinexpharmaceuticals/profit-loss/IP06. Their net profit across the last five years is negative. Some learnings for business this.

      • Anonymous permalink
        March 7, 2011 10:11 pm

        If a company is into laundering money, loosing money is no problem. I am not saying that is what is happening here, I do not have any knowledge to determine one way or the other.

  9. OASCS permalink
    February 17, 2011 11:57 am

    There are problems in the Aol . . but what this student has experienced is just lack of participation. Had he participated completely he wouldn’t have had to face what he experienced. This post is just seeing too much into nothing.

    The above post only shows that spirituality cannot be forced down anyone’s throat and you can take a horse to the water but you can’t make him drink it. Its a similar situation in this post. The horse was forced to drink thats why he didn’t enjoy the water.

    Usually real problems people face when they become old in the organization and full timers, and fully dependent on the organization. The real issues have not been addressed properly in this post.

  10. Fischmanjew permalink
    February 17, 2011 4:31 pm

    Yes, I agree that taking a basic AOL course for a physical education requirement is silly. AOL is a course on learning various new and old yogic practices. That being said, I had to laugh at the posters criteria for judging whether something was appropriate or not. Basically, if he felt awkward, it must be bad. Silly boy. Go see the doctor.

    • February 18, 2011 8:11 am

      Good one Fischmanjew- But I think The Doctor is tripping the light fantastic on his self medicated stuff… Somewhere over the rainbow!

  11. belle permalink
    February 26, 2011 3:01 pm

    @OASCS
    “There are problems in the Aol . . but what this student has experienced is just lack of participation. Had he participated completely he wouldn’t have had to face what he experienced. This post is just seeing too much into nothing.”

    Why should he have “participated fully” when he had gone in for a Physical Education course?

  12. Anon permalink
    March 8, 2011 8:48 am

    Apparently, there are many more who feel cheated. Take a look at the following comment at:

    http://vivekbarunrai.blogspot.com/2009/04/art-of-living-blogs.html

    +++++++++
    Varsha December 21, 2010 4:59 PM

    hi. Its been a long time since i’ve wanted to send this mail. i have grievances against art of living and would be happy to voice them.

    one, i attended a level one 5 day course in pune, near sadhu vaswani chowk last year and really did not like it one bit. the course instructor was horrible and literally fell asleep in class several times while trying to teach us. there was absolutely nothing that i took back from the class in terms of peace, happiness or learning… only a bad taste.

    next, i was urged into registering for a maths class to be conducted by ‘bawa’. someone came to my house to collect the fees!!! on the day i went to the center and waited for two hours, only to find out that ‘bawa’ hadn’t even left from mumbai!! was this a money-making scam? there was no refund, no apology. i tried to talk to people and there has been no redressal.

    i really want to see what an organisation like art of living can do to fix this.

    varsha Shinde
    EDIT: PHONE NO. DELETED. PLEASE DO NOT POST PERSONAL CONTACT DETAILS ON THIS BLOG.

    • The Doctor permalink
      March 8, 2011 8:24 pm

      If you look at the blog now, you’ll see under Varsha’s post – “This post has been removed by a blog administrator.”

      • Anon permalink
        March 9, 2011 3:57 am

        Grievance redress. AOL style.

      • John permalink
        March 9, 2011 8:13 am

        It’s amazing how quickly the complaint was removed after it was posted here. Looks like lots of AOL folks read this aolfree site everyday :)
        The admin probably thought that the post would get removed without any trace but it did leave a trace to his surprise :)
        These pro-AOL sites are worse than China’s state controlled media. They do everything possible to keep the devotees hooked on AOL stupor.

      • John permalink
        March 9, 2011 8:16 am

        All is well in the AOL world again – one publicly visible complaint has been removed :)

      • Chamiyaar permalink
        March 9, 2011 2:43 pm

        someone came to my house to collect the fees!!!

        Ravi says in the news item seen below cricket has become commercialized. Somebody should show him his face in the mirror.

        Ravishankar also wished the Team India luck for tomorrow’s match with Ireland, but said the sport has become too “commercial”.

        http://www.zeenews.com/news691509.html

      • Prakash permalink
        March 10, 2011 1:49 am

        This complainant had actually published her personal number in her post in the hope that some one from AOL might contact her and redress her grievance. Instead what she got was removal of her complaint from public view. This is how AOL deals with complaints.

  13. March 10, 2011 7:20 am

    Stay away from AOL. Its disease. Run away from it as far as possible.

    In one shocking incident, a person who was going to his home after AOL program, conducted by none other than Guru Ravi Shankar, died in accident. . In this program, Ravi said, now the program is over, you go home. This man went to his nearby friends home for few minutes, then proceeded for his home and died in road accident. The shameless AOL volunteers and teachers, have no regrets for it. They are taking advantage of this, claiming that everyone was asked to go home. This person went to his friend to meet his for few time was his mistake. He disobeyed The God and hence died.
    Where else you will find such blind and crazy people? They are taking advantage of death of a persons.
    God is there, who will show Ravi his level. Just wait for some time.

    • Jacob permalink
      June 29, 2011 3:29 pm

      Berry Berry Good Yarrrrr…

      You are internationally famous Yarrrrrr

      Such a brilliant writer yarrrrrrr

      L-O-S-E-R

  14. June 30, 2011 9:13 am

    @ME Obviously he knew that, as it was the first thing on the explanatory link he included. durr.

  15. December 23, 2011 7:27 am

    This is something typical with the Art of Living. My mom is deeply INSPIRED by the program and has such sessions conducted in our house also. However, the trainers who conduct such programs are just as hypocrites. They behave nicely with you until you do something they do not agree with, and that’s when they end up showing their true colours…

    Dammit, this program is just a f***ing farce…

  16. P.Gopalan permalink
    December 30, 2011 8:09 am

    Any art or knowledge can never be bad or wrong by itself. If the teacher is dishonest, what ever he teaches will go wrong. If a teacher in a programme delivery centre has slept off, it doesn’t mean that the programme content itself is wrong. You are registering for any programme with a view to learn. Do learn if you feel what is taught is good & applicable to you. Forget it as a bad dream if for any reason you do not like it! Why creat a chain of arguments & bother yourself & others?

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