Can We Help To Save The Art of Living?
By The Doctor
I want to start by saying that Art of Living has completely transformed my life. Since being taught Sudarshan Kriya, which I have found to be an incredibly powerful healing technique, and through taking various Advanced Courses, my health and general well-being have improved beyond all recognition from what they were before I discovered AoL. My relationships with my family and friends are now much deeper, as I am much happier, more alive and less egotistical than I have ever been before. I also feel a tremendous sense of belonging with everyone in the world, and a burning desire to spread joy and make everyone feel happy. I am very grateful to AoL for the wonderful changes it has made to my life. For this reason, I am very much pro AoL, or at least, I am pro all the good things I have had gained from AoL, and also pro whatever good things it is doing for people around the world.
So you can imagine how shocked I was when I accidentally stumbled upon these so-called “negative” blogs recently. Initially I was convinced that these were just hate blogs written by extremists pretending to be ex-AoL teachers, and unsurprisingly there is a lot of hatred and negativity contained within. I nearly gave up reading them, but due both to my curiosity and a strong desire to expose them as fraud’s, I persevered.
Given all the good things that I had received from AoL, I desperately wanted these bloggers to be proven wrong. But the more I read, the more I realised that I myself had experienced a great many of the things detailed within them to one extent or another. Things which by themselves seemed like small things at the time, but when looked at holistically they actually paint a rather dark picture of AoL.
Further to this, each time someone from AoL made any attempt to speak out against these blogs, they inadvertently ended up validating a great many things written within them. Worse still, when Swamiji Sadyojatha made his recent attack, which is clearly what it was, he showed me a whole different side to AoL which I never would have believed could ever exist in such an organisation had I not seen it with my own eyes. In doing this, he actually validated a great many things that were expressed in KLIM’s blog which I had until that point found difficult to accept.
I was really sickened by his remarks, and further I felt really saddened and disturbed by the many responses posted by AoL devotees, which were essentially praising him for attacking a woman who allegedly has a mental disorder and making her out to be a villain. It is obvious to anyone viewing these remarks objectively that this is completely out of order, especially coming from a representative of a purported spiritual organisation.
Now that I have gone through the entirety of these blogs and also all the arguments written against them, I am utterly convinced there is a large amount of truth contained within them, and that the many authors posting CRITICAL comments about AoL are sincere people who have had genuine experiences and want to make the world aware of these. And I am grateful to them for having opened up my eyes to these things.
So, on the one hand, I believe AoL has done a lot of good in the world, and that the world is a better place as a result of these things. On the other hand, there are a lot of things which AoL have done which are just unacceptable and which really need to be addressed.
The burning question that has been on my mind for some time now is: what should I now do as a result of discovering these blogs, given both my position on AoL and on these blogs?
At various times I thought about sending the links to these blogs to everyone I know in AoL, telling them how I feel about it but ultimately letting them decide for themselves. I also thought about posting my own experiences on these blogs to add strength to the things these bloggers have been saying. Both these things may yet happen, however part of me feels a desire to try to make the whole situation better for everyone, if this is at all possible.
Right now, I know a great many people whose lives have been transformed by AoL, my own included, and as such I don’t want to see any good, innocent people hurt if this can be avoided. Before I discovered these blogs, I was very much in that starry-eyed stated of bliss you see in a lot of devotees, as I was mostly ignorant of all these issues. They say ignorance is bliss, and I have never found this to be more true than I did then. But as I read through the blogs, I actually started to feel a lot of sadness and sorrow, and over time my reality completely changed and I suffered as a result. So many things I held to be true no longer seemed that way, and it wasn’t easy to accept this. I am over it now, but it took some time to heal. That state of bliss is no longer there, but I am no longer living in ignorance either, and this really is the most important thing for me.
This is actually one of the reasons why I haven’t circulated these blogs to everyone I know yet, because I don’t want to burst their bubbles and cause them to suffer as I did. Further there are many people I know who’s livelihoods depend on AoL, those full time teachers who draw a salary from AoL and who will most likely suffer more than anyone else should the organisation fall.
So I want to make a proposal, something which should help to ameliorate this situation, and this is aimed at those people in the Art of Living who are reading this and who can make a difference to the organisation. I know that at least BeaconOfReason will be reading this, and no doubt so too will other senior teachers, and most likely Sri Sri himself. Here is what I’d like to propose:
All attempts to counter these blogs have, so far so good, caused a great deal more damage to AoL than they have to the blogs and those writing them. All future attempts to discredit, defame and outright attack them, the authors, and any other former members of AoL will work against AoL, as has already happened in the past.
If you don’t believe me, let me tell you something about me. I am one such person who has been following these blogs for quite some time and who has seen everything that has been produced by both sides. Prior to discovering these blogs, Sri Sri himself told me to become a teacher, and I was well on my way to becoming one. All modesty to one side, I would have made an amazing teacher, and most people who knew me realised this, including Sri Sri himself. Now this will most likely never happen, and it’s all because of what I’ve read in these blogs and the numerous attempts to counter them. I am at least one person who has been saved by these blogs, and I’m sure there are many others now and there will be many others in the future who will follow.
It is obvious that these blogs are spreading across the internet like wild fire, and all attempts to silence them will ultimately fail. Painting them as “negative” and discouraging devotees from reading them is a really bad strategy since, although this may keep some people from reading them, a large number won’t be able to resist and as such will dive straight in like I did and come to similar conclusions as I did. You will be fighting a losing battle here.
Flooding the internet with blogs praising AoL can never silence the truth that is contained in these critical blogs either. Hey, I can even put up my own story about how AoL completely transformed my life and mean it sincerely, but it isn’t going to change a thing that these bloggers have written. These bloggers have never attacked the good things AoL have done, they have only highlighted the bad things.
All these attempts that AoL is currently making to counter these blogs or close them down are actually proving to me that they are very afraid of what is written in them, and are very desperate to silence the truth. As such they are actually pushing me, and others like me, even further away from AoL and towards the side of these bloggers. There is only one possible reason why AoL are doing this, and that is because they realise there is so much truth in them and that they don’t want the world to learn about these things.
Above all, as has been highlighted so many times by these bloggers, AoL have decided to ignore some of the key knowledge points taught in the Basic Course and Advanced Courses, most notably “Accept people and situations as they are”, and “Don’t be a football of other people’s opinions.” But there is one more knowledge point that really sticks in my mind more than any other, and that is something that was shared by Rishiji Nitya Pragya.
During one knowledge session, Rishiji mentioned that there were 6 vrittis, or flavours, of consciousness which we should try to avoid if they ever arose in us, and one of these was Defensiveness. He said that if someone criticises us, we should never defend ourselves, but instead thank this person for allowing us to see the world through their eyes. We should listen to what this person has said about us, and then take the opportunity to improve ourselves. Let me tell you, I wholeheartedly agree with everything he said here. And I recommend that you should listen to him too.
My advice to you right now is, instead of making any attempts to counter these blogs and defame their authors, which is nothing less than defending yourselves against criticism and thus going against what you teach, to take on board every single critical point that has been written in these blogs and use this as the basis to make fundamental changes in AoL. This will take a long time and effort, but in the long run I firmly believe this will pay off. In actual fact, right now I believe it is the only choice you have, since all other strategies you have tried so far have proven to be a failure. Doing this will also show that you are actually following your own knowledge points, instead preaching one thing and doing something completely different, which just opens you to more criticism.
This should be your starting point. A few other keys things:
Apologise to every single person who has ever suffered as a result of being involved with AoL in some way or other. Especially the teacher that was attacked in Swamiji’s blog, and look at withdrawing what was written there. People are far more forgiving when you make a mistake and admit to it than if you insist that it wasn’t a mistake and continue to shoot yourselves in the foot. If there are other things you need to apologise for, please take the time to do it. You will certainly gain my respect for it and I hope a great many other people, critics and devotees alike. Apologising is not a sign of weakness, as the weak only try to dig themselves deeper into lies, whereas it takes great strength to admit your mistakes and attempt to rectify them.
Always encourage people to be critical of the organisation, and to question each and every thing they are told instead of just following things blindly. This is one of the most fundamental things you can and should do, and it is something that is seriously lacking at the moment. In fact, it is due to this lack of any means to express criticism that these blogs exist in the first place. In most companies, there are processes in place for people to express grievances. In AoL, people were taught to “accept people and situations as they are” from early on, and this became such a part of their belief system that inevitably they also ended up suppressing a great many things as well. And as we all know, if something is suppressed, it will find a way to somehow get out in the end. If anything, these blogs are proof of that.
I also want to talk about the “magical thinking” in AoL, especially regarding the mysticism surrounding the Kriya Tape. When the link was posted on Skywalker’s blog, I couldn’t resist the urge to download it and try it out myself. And as anyone who has done the same thing has already discovered, it works perfectly well without a teacher being present. As was commented by the poster <a href=”https://aolfree.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/long-kriya-home-version/”>here</a>, this means that everything I had been told surrounding the Kriya Tape not working at home if I played it by myself was simply not true. It also means I never have to go to a Long Kriya session ever again in my life. And yes, it also means that all this talk of “grace of the guru” being transmitted through the teacher isn’t true. This is one of many things that has been highlighted in these blogs, not something with is negative or hateful, but something which is simply contrary to what people are taught in AoL.
This is going to be a very difficult one to explain to devotees and especially to current teachers, as it is one of the first things every participant learns, and over time so many people have come to accept it and believe it so strongly that they will doubtless feel cheated when they find out the truth. But you need to find a way to explain this, and you need to do it soon because the truth is coming out already. And more people who discover the truth before you tell them about it, the more people will leave AoL as I did.
The DSN course should be scrapped completely, as I have yet to meet a sincere seeker who genuinely got anything beneficial out of it. All I recall was several nights of sleep deprivation, handing out AoL flyers for an introductory talk on 2 afternoons, and of course the famous hot seat exercise, which actually turned into a bitching session in our group. I know one girl who was reduced to tears during this exercise, so I agree with the bloggers who have said that this is spiritual abuse. There was nothing spiritual whatsoever about this course, and more to the point it had nothing whatsoever to do with creating a divine society, which is what it was sold as. Nor did it have anything to do with overcoming personal limitations, which was the other thing that is constantly touted in all the promotional material. And as for the sleep deprivation, this is a classic brainwashing technique, and as such people should be warned against it. If I see this course advertised in my country ever, I will let people know exactly what goes on during it and discourage them from attending.
As far as the TTC is concerned, AoL should look at making this course completely free to all sincere seekers, charging them only for room and board. These people are going to spend a considerable amount of time and in some cases money doing service for the organisation by teaching courses and bringing in more money, they shouldn’t also have to pay several thousand dollars for the privilege of learning how to do this. Especially when some have to redo the course because they were deemed “not yet ready”. Also reduce the course requirements for having to do TTC, but make sure the candidates chosen are suitable. Find a way, just don’t make it “you have to do x courses first, spend y thousands of dollars first.”
I also find the publications are overpriced. Charging people around $700 for Ashtavakra Gita DVDs is criminal, and charging way over and above the market price for even normal books just makes AoL look like a greedy business or cult.
Please also stop the spreading of all these guru stories that allege that Guruji has special powers, is enlightened, is the reincarnation of Jesus and Krishna, can control the weather and so on. I myself have experienced many contradictions in these stories, and will happily circulate these accounts if need be. This is nothing short of brainwashing, and in fact such stories were told to me during the DSN after much sleep deprivation.
These are what I would consider to be some key suggestions. I would really appreciate it if other people writing critical comments on this blog can also chime in with their own suggestions in the hope those in AoL who are in any position to do anything about them can listen. I know that to some extent I am being naïve in asking what I have asked of AoL, and the chances are nothing will come of this, but it really is worth a try. Please humour me here, and if you can please add your suggestions below. Please kindly refrain from any mudslinging, derogatory terms, and anything else which will detract from what I would like to achieve here.
There was a time when I believed AoL was an organisation dedicated to making people happy, and in turn inspiring those people to spread this joy throughout the world and make other people happy. This is the AoL I really want to see in the world, not the AoL that these bloggers have helped me to see.
Love & Peace,