Is The Art of Living Org. Worth Saving?
Doctor’s sincere and thought provoking post “Can We Help To Save The Art of Living?” brought on many thoughtful responses and inevitably, as explained well by Abhilash, led to the question “Is AOL worth saving in the first place?”
Below are samples of the comments in this regard:
Before asking “Can We Help To Save The Art of Living?”, we need to ask “Is The Art of Living organization worth saving?” Note that the question is not about the teachings of AOL, about Yoga or Pranayama or Meditation or even “sadhana, sewa and satsang”. Those things have intrinsic value and have survived for centuries with or without organizations like AOL and often in spite of organizations like AOL. They will survive in future also. I think when well meaning people like Doctor get sentimental about saving AOL, they are essentially concerned about the values AOL represents (or claims to represent). Let us rest assured that the values AOL claims to represent are not in danger of extinction.
It is not that if tomorrow AOL crumbles, Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation or “sadhana, sewa and satsang” will disappear from the face of the earth. They will stay. May be in a different form. So the real question is not about the future of essential values AOL claims to represent – for these values are robust enough to stand on their own – the real question is about the organization of AOL – “Is the organization of AOL worth saving?”
As Svetana correctly pointed out that the organization of AOL is essentially a pyramid with SSRS at its top. The AOL organization derives its legitimacy not from the people it claims to help but from the Master at the top. Therefore the whole culture of the AOL organization is permeated with the ethos of aggrandizement of one person. Everyone from top to bottom is accountable to no one but SSRS. People occupy various organizational positions in AOL not due to their competence but at and till the pleasure of SSRS. Any good work coming out of AOL is only a by-product and is due to selfless dedication of idealistic volunteers who somehow get trapped in it. Given this, cynical manipulation of genuine spiritual thirst of innocent devotees should come as no surprise for that is not the real objective of the organization. The organization is designed for something else. The organization of AOL is only a tool in the hands of a megalomaniac to help him trap the unsuspecting victims in the name of spirituality. It is sick to the core and is beyond redemption.
We cannot expect an outcome from an organization that it is not designed for. Cosmetic changes cannot bring about any real change in AOL unless the fundamental structure changes. And the fundamental structure of the AOL is SSRS. The organization is nothing sans SSRS. The organization can change only if SSRS wants it to change. But is there any reason for SSRS to change the existing structure of AOL?
As Upton Sinclair famously declared: “It is very difficult to get a man to understand something, when his livelihood depends upon his not understanding it!”
……Look at any AOL token charitable project and tell whether the money is coming from Bangalore or from the funds raised by the volunteers. Whether it is free Tsunami courses or prison courses or Clean Delhi or blood donation camps, or any other project, no money ever comes from Bangalore. Is it not reasonable to ask where does the money collected from the course fee go? In my association with AOL, I have found that whatever money is collected from course fees, goes to a black box. You can see money going into the black box, but never coming out of it.
>> On businesses – I truly believe there is nothing wrong is growing businesses as long as they cater to a social empowering purpose …
I also do not believe that doing business or earning profit is wrong.Now all you have to do is to make an appointment with SSRS and convince him that there is nothing wrong in doing a business and hence he should drop the facade of charitable status and honestly pay the taxes applicable to a business.
……People are realizing that charity AOL -style means a photo op session with no real follow up commitment from the organization except for what a few volunteers do in their individual capacity.
AOL has and is operating like a cult.
The ones fooled the most by the whole AOL propaganda are roped in to become the teachers.Spending $5000 for TTC course and 2 weeks in an advanced DSN like course is ludricrous. And then after the TTC , the word “Seva” only means “Guruji’s work”
Now this is twisted and corrupt to think Seva only means propagating AOL agenda that is continually dictated with regards to most walks of your life. Now this is bondage.So you are fuXXXked for life, if you become a AOL teacher.A prisoner held hostage with all your thoughts and actions controlled directly by the AOL machinery.
That is contrary to the true doctrines of spirituality , enlightenment and nirvana.
Once upon a time I was very invested in what I thought AoL stood for, especially the concept of one world and seeing all of humanity as your brother or sister. Unfortunately I was shocked by the politics in the group and the heavy manipulation and pressure to get to courses. I also enjoyed the techniques and felt a lot of bliss from them. Other practices can also give you that harmony and bliss. Find what works for you. The financial nonsense and supposed charitable donations that were unaccounted for deeply disturbed me. Financial transparency is the key to any NGO’s success. It was missing or hidden. I was also surprised by the lack of awareness of the people promoting charity giving for AoL projects in the work of other NGOs doing the same work in the same area, NGOs with worldwide reputations in some cases. There is nothing wrong with meditation and breath work, with charity and caring. There is something very wrong with deception. When I decided to no longer participate in AoL activities, it was because of the dissonance between what was said and what was done by the organization. To support that level of deception in any way is to be a fraud, a thief, and a manipulator yourself. That is why I stopped going to satsang, kriya and courses. I trust they will get help for the abusers that are being sheltered by the organization in senior positions and help that poor swami regain his mental health and sense of balance.
The devotees who think that they are cocooned with a blanket of Guru grace need to be awakened. Your effort is compassionate towards them as you do not wish to hurt their feelings. You want that cocoon to provide fresh air which can only happen when the sleeping giant is awakened and come out of the Cocoon.
Now here is an approximate 400 million dollars (of course USD) question. How to provide fresh air without breaking the Cocoon (AOL). This can only happen with the support of the person holding the lifeline to that cocoon i.e. SSRS. The problem and solution both lies with him. As some old devotees say that he started with a pious aim but fallen in the FAME GAME (EGO) very fast. The financial malpractices and “Knowledge Trafficking” started as means to achieve the status of GOD re-incarnated.
You are proposing to change the leaves and branches whereas the problem lies with the ROOT. Is fallen yogi going to amend?
Saving AOL is not my concern (nor my business). IMO, AOL leadership is dishonest and corrupt and there is simply no way to fix things unless you fix that.
….I don’t care whether AOL saves itself. If it goes down, they would have learned their lesson the hard way. If they are smart, they will figure things out before that and will be able to rise to the challenge. My only concern is for the honest and sincere seekers who are caught in the trap. I hope they free themselves like our doctor, instead of hoping for AOL to fix itself.
we have to spiritualize politics, socialize business, secularize religion…. and monetize knowledge
Can We Help To Save The Art of Living? Wish someone can but If I look at objectively I have to say NO, the fact is no one can help until the people in AOL (including RS) realising these issues themselves.
These things are coming out to open forum since late 2009 (KLIMs blog) but few senior AOL teachers directly written to RS giving him chance to fix some of these issues long before it was out to open;
“in the words of Lord Acton (1887): “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. The power you are offered as a Guru, when devotees surrender their free will to you -that is absolute power. If you take it, you are lost, you have gone to the Dark Side.”
When a fame or money or arrogance got into someone even though he/she started with good heart and noble cause it would be really hard to make him/her see the truth. When you get all these things together (fame,money and arrogance) it would be probably impossible.
…..‘The Doctor’ comes from the premises that these issues are not brought to RS earlier as most devotees are shielded and discouraged from seeing anything negative, but the truth is “RS was part on parcel of these himself for very long – he may have instrumented some of these himself to get fame, money and power”
You reminded me of a time that I also wanted to save my “Art of Living”, the beautiful Art of Living that I had depicted in my mind and dedicated my life to it. Of course, with what I now know, that AOL was only the product of my imagination, my idealism, but a world apart from the reality of AOL. I now know how naive I was, but nevertheless at the time, I sincerely wanted to do all I could to save this beautiful AOL!! I was naive enough to think SriSri, my beloved Guru, whom I loved like God (yes, yes, I was well and truly brainwashed!), surely doesn’t know of all the wrongdoings and if he knew he would put everything right. Now, I can only laugh at my naivety back then, yet still with some deep sadness. Sadness at the gap between the level of my sincerity and devotion and the reality of AOL.
So like you, I voiced my concerns to the top boss myself. I told him about all the wrongdoings I knew. And be rest assured, I have not been the only one. Through out the years, there have been many like me, who fought for the AOL (the imaginary beautiful AOL in our heads!) and told SriSri about all the wrongdoings (e.g. money collected for charity projects and never reaching the projects, abuse of volunteers, disgraceful conducts of some senior teachers, extravagant lies and rumours and myths circulated in AOL about magical powers of SriSri/Kriya, etc, low morals of volunteers, lack of real seva projects in AOL, etc., etc.)
So it wasn’t like SriSri didn’t know what was going on in the organization. He knew perfectly well and it took me years to realize that he is indeed the source of all those misdeeds. That the organization’s flaws are only reflection of his flaws rippling down through all the levels of organization. That the spirituality and charity are just the cover for another business scam in the biggest scale(and the most conning way) that I have ever come across or read about. That AOL is another cult (yes with a sophisticated and extremely deceitful front) and SriSri is the cult leader. Ah, what an excruciatingly painful realization, but that is another story!
But back then I didn’t know all these things. From time to time I would even be heartened by the fact that SriSri would order “Independent evaluation” of Ashram or AOL organization. I even read some of these damning reports, explicitly stating about the culture of conflict, backstabbing, deceit, fraud, huge PR disaster, huge lacks in AOL services,unhappy customers, lack of financial transparency,etc.). I was naive enough to think SriSri genuinely wanted these reports so he could put things right. Alas, they all turned up to be part of his dirty politics and mind games, telling Ashramites and teachers to speak freely to the consultant! Of course , some of the reports suggestions were implemented, but only those that improved organization’s profitability. Otherwise the culture of fraud, deceit, abuse continued in AOL and indeed it got worse.
I was also heartened when Dean Harmison, introduced Oury Engolz, http://oneseminar.com/ to SriSri and he invited Oury to conduct courses for his teachers. SriSri asked Oury “what can you do for my teachers?”. I naively thought SriSri genuinely wants to address the culture of conflict, abuse, backstabbing, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, etc in AOL. Of course, now I know that this culture is exactly how SriSri controls his teachers and cult members , and he has his teachers exactly where he wants them to be so he can completely manipulate and control them. But bear with me, that is the gift of hindsight. Back then I still wanted to believe in SriSri and was hoping against hope that he would correct things in AOL.
Oury was a great teacher and to his credit he did an awesome job in his courses. Many communication courses were held in the USA and teachers and volunteers were encouraged to take part. SriSri even invited him to go to Ashram and made all his senior teachers, including Bhanu Didi and even our Swamiji to do the course with Oury.
Many of us thought this is the herald of a new beginning in AOL. There was the talk of SriSri wanting all his teachers and volunteers doing this course.
But before we knew these courses degenerated to another revenue generating exercise for SriSri, they were priced quite high and there were of course the captured clients (AOL members). Also these courses were geared to (or better to say that the AOL geared them to) an exercise in increasing enrolments for AOL courses and generating funds for AOL. So those attending these courses were expected to use skilled learned in Communications courses to enrol more people to AOL .
So sorry Oury, your courses are good, but they don’t work in the cult environments. They only make a cult a better cult for the benefit of the cult and cult leader! And thanks Dean for trying. (If the rumours are right and you have also left AOL, please do write and tell us your perspective on these courses and the outcome. Of course, please do so anonymously.)
Anyway, in no time, suddenly we didn’t hear a word about the communication courses and they went to oblivion, with no result whatsoever in changing the culture of abuse within AOL. And in the meantime Rajshree Patel learned all the tricks of the trade from Oury, by attending all his courses; few more gimmicks to add to her tool box!
So Doctor, even though I am very happy for you or indeed for anyone else, to continue doing your best to save AOL, I personally believe it is a waste of the effort. The foundation of this organization is faulty. It is a cult and it is geared for the benefit of the cult leader, SriSri, (to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for wealth, fame and power) and his family and his business partners and his henchmen. The beautiful AOL is only a figment of our imagination and our idealism. The best you could do would only make it to a better cult, more profitable and better in hiding it’s cult nature.
It is definitely not a service organization. Any one genuinely interested in service, please look into your own community or help one of many genuine charity/service organizations. It is also not a spiritual organization. All the so called knowledge are just taken from other paths, other organization and spirituality in AOL is only a front to suck people in. There are plenty good spiritual organizations and great books on every subject, and at much more reasonable prices too.
“The power you are offered as a Guru, when devotees surrender their free will to you -that is absolute power. If you take it, you are lost, you have gone to the Dark Side.”
it’s okay to exercise power wisely – but in RS’s case power became an obsession – yes it is very seductive – having tasted a little bit – he wanted more. Ostensibly he was using it to help the world, but in reality it was just to feed the beast. He became possessive of the power and began to demand devotees surrender, and manipulate people into working for him and worshipping him. The NPP obsession, PR stunts, the stay in 5 star hotels are just symptoms of the disease.
Old timers know it – AOL is an exercise in guru worship. A guru who is corrupt and manipulative. I hope people realize that he is not doing much good for the world, and does not deserve the surrender of the devotee who gives it out of sincerety and good faith.
As to the question: “Can we help to save the Art of Living?” I would ask: “Save Who?”
AOL is a pyramid and the worst of the kind, because it is topped by “God Himself”, who simply can’t make mistakes. So, in the manner of Luis XIV, who said, “I am the State”, we can say “AOL is Sri Sri”. Any failure or success of AOL depends entirely on the Head. Taking into account the magnitude of wrongdoings in the organization, Chinese saying ‘the fish rots from the head’ comes to mind. Can anything be done to the fish that smells so bad? I doubt it, but I like recommendations given in the comment of Anonymous August 27, 2010 12:48 pm under the post “DISGRUNTLED SWAMIJI speaks up for his Master, again!”
“I have no personal wish, actually, that anyone should be humiliated or go to jail, or anything of the like. I do hope, however, that the entirety of this crooked house of cards be dismantled, and the parties involved, making money off the innocence of others, should simply go to the Himalayas and meditate on their deeds. Consider what they have done. Revenue Department should raid all involved. The newspapers should be notified, and reporters should get very nosy about this (finally). Laundered monies should be donated back to the poor. The ashram should be donated back to the government to be run as an actual school totally, for the poor. Land robbed from villagers should be returned without any further delay. All businesses built for the family with laundered donation money should be disbanded. Taxes should be paid in full. SSRS, his family, his teachers, should all revert back to a very simple, humble life-style which most of them had before this enterprise. This would heal their souls and give peace to India and perhaps the world. It would be a bold step on SSRS’s part to do so.”
This sentence resonated with 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.”
I have immediate family involved in AOL and am also afraid to hurt them by pointing to these blogs. But here’s something to consider: If AOL is built on shaky foundations it probably will fall. At least eventually. I suspect that final fall will be much more painful to devotees than waking them up to the reality of the organization now.
Personally, I’m trying to slowly and incrementally point out flaws and inconsistencies in the organization to my loved ones. But as WhistleBlower seems to suggest, I think a honest, unapologetic, and unwavering approach is probably the best one. I know that’s what opened my eyes to problems in AOL. I don’t know if I have the courage to do that but the courage shown by so many in the stories shared these blogs is quite inspirational.
And as for redeeming AOL, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. The problems in the organization are at its core and not the edges. There would have to be a radical internal transformation if AOL is to be fixed.
I still practice the padma-sadhana we learnt in DSN, and the kriya every day, as it really does help keep my energy levels high and I’m better able to focus on my daily work. Straying from my usual critical comments on AOL let me say that kriya has been an immense benefit to me, and I can confirm it’s not the same as hyperventilation in the way many people claim. It cleans out the system. There’s something in it which keeps my metabolism balanced and active, and I can clearly see this if I stop kriya for 2-3 days.
Sadly, that was probably all that helped me. The remaining 97% of the org and the teachings came across as artificial, I just couldn’t take it after some years, though I tried and pretended to enjoy it.
I had the direct, horrible, one on one experiences with HHSSRS, which showed me that he was falling fast, and that if I did not agree to go along with his ideas, he would, as he told me “destroy” me. When I did leave, he did his best to do just that. I am still alive, well, still seeking God, and doing my sadhana.
God is bigger than any man, Doctor. Always remember that. The source of the Bliss was God, not one man. Yes, because of his previous sadhana, SSRS was able to be a conduit for many to receive some portion of the Bliss of God, at least for a little bit. Your practices are still there with you! Your sadhana need not be discontinued. God will never abandon a devotee, I’ve found, no matter how the “guru” has cursed that person. For me, that is no guru at all, who curses people and threatens them and shouts, when he fears exposure of the truth.
What you can save is your path to God, but you cannot save AOL or SSRS. That is up to him to do. The teachers cannot save him or his organization, nor should it be saved. The well-meaning teachers could just go on teaching the basic course for free! Why not? It contains many beautiful nuggets of wisdom. They can pray to God before teaching, to extend Grace to the students.
How do you save a tree when the root is rotten? This would be my question. SSRS’s own guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, said we must “water the root to enjoy the fruit”. But if the root is no longer any good? What to do?
If Ravi Shankar were to come to me and apologize personally, and send each of the senior teachers who defamed me and my family, and at least two others I know of (whose families were wrongly smeared because of him — outright lies told to do a pre-emptive strike, in case anyone should tell the truth about SSRS), I would still need to see him give up his position of power to be convinced. He really was not always as he is described in these blogs. He bacame this way as he became famous. Yes, the seeds of his tendencies were certainly there, but they sprouted into what AOL is now, only later. I watched, for a short time, his decline towards what he is now, and left.
You think that the money problems and perhaps some abuse of power on the part of some senior teachers are the only problems. You are very wrong. Ravi Shankar, and his family protecting him, have other grave secret problems. His personal problems have never, and I hope for his sake, never do completely come to light. They have only been hinted at. But those hints are all truth. Better he should humbly apologize, give all this ‘glory’ up, and go to meditate quietly somewhere.
You may see some of the posts as hateful. Some of the things seen here could be perceived as “hateful” to someone who never really knew Ravi Shankar. I have seen nothing posted here that is not true. (Yes, there are a couple of immature posts by frustrated people. These, I obviously ignore.) I have read all of Klim’s blog. In fact, much of what is wrong with Ravi Shankar and AOL is downplayed, with people who have been too close afraid that anything specific they might say would reveal their identities to the “master” and they would suffer worse hurt than he has already inflicted. And so it goes.
Unlike you, I do believe in “magic”. And Ravi Shankar is not above using whatever means he can to silence people. He has done so in the past. The only reason he would stop would be if his “power” has run out. Surely you must have some belief in the power that Ravana had? It was all used for bad, but because he had done so much Rudram, these boons had to be granted to him. Eventually, we all know what happened to him, but it took time, and someone greater than you or I to get rid of him! You may not subscribe to these things literally, as I do. My own experience is that Tantra is real. Ravi Shankar has, at least in the past, had access to power beyond the normal, and has used it to truly hurt others. I’m not talking just gossip or spoiled reputations. He would say “oh, these things just happen on their own, because subtle beings love me and protect me. I don’t wish anyone harm.” But I know this to be a lie. He screams. He shouts. He damns people. He curses people. He does not wish his detractors anything but harm. Only in public does he say such sweet words to the press “I forgive all my enemies”. This is simply untrue.
I saw a clip on this blog about a TV9 story about a sick snake found in a pipe, and how tenderly he took care of it, etc. All I could think was “I wish I had received even a fraction of the consideration that a snake received from him!” Instead he actively harmed me and others close to me, and now, as we see, so many posting on this blog.
When people start to breathe deeply, the healing will take place easily and naturally. Doing breathing, yoga and meditation—any of the practices—is indeed very helpful to mind and body. However, nobody should take the credit for it. The higher power is within, is never without.
In answer to your question “Is The Art of Living organization worth saving?”, prior to writing this post there was a part of me that believed this may be possible, or rather hoped it would be possible. And before I read these specific comments about SSRS posted by WhistleBlower, Svetana, anonymous and yourself, I thought that it would be something that he might be open to as well. Now I’m not so sure any more. And for this reason, my answer to your question is that very probably the organization isn’t worth saving after all.
What I really want to do is to find a way to help the people that are deeply rooted in AoL, especially good people I know, open their eyes and see what is really happening, and help to set them free of the spell. This is actually a tall order, and I haven’t really touched on it in this post at all but would love to discuss this at length in a future dedicated post.
…..The things I want to help to save are specifically: a) all the good work that Art of Living is doing around the world, and b) all the good people in the organization. When I wrote the post, I assumed the best way to do this was to save Art of Living as an organization. However after thinking about it some more, and taking on board some of the responses here which have given me some interesting perspectives, I realise now that both of these aims can be achieved without saving the organization. So it isn’t necessarily that I no longer want to save the organization, it is that it isn’t really necessary to do this in order to save the people in the organization and the good work the organization is doing around the world, which is actually being done by the people. Of course, saving Art of Living as an organization will certainly help this, but it isn’t strictly speaking necessary.
In truth, I know full well that I can’t do a thing here, and I would imagine the majority of these bloggers can’t and in most cases wouldn’t want to either. The only people that can actually save Art of Living are those in a position to make organizational changes, and by the sounds of things this is really down to Sri Sri himself.
Ask yourself why there is no financial accountability or transparency in AOL ?Don’t you think it’s strange that such a large and rich organization operates without financial accountability. Don’t you think that as a charity receiving crores of public money, the onus is on them to establish their credentials as an honest charity – instead of demanding people to trust them blindly ?
As these things go – where there is a lack of financial transparency there is fraud. I don’t expect this case to be any different. Couple this with the fact that in all our years in AOL, none of us saw any money being spent by AOL on projects. It was usually the volunteers own initiative. Add to this the fact that AOL business model is very much like TM, and the maharishi was kicked out of india for financial fraud. Also add to it the fact that RS’s father used to operate a chit fund scheme in the 70′s. It all points to a financial fraud – anybody who has some real world common sense will see it.
–AOL misleads people into telling them that course money goes to charity. In fact it does not – people pay high fees in the false belief that money goes to service projects. None of us, who have done service for AOL have ever seen AOL spend money on service projects. Usually we raise our own funds.
–You cannot use some charity work done by AOL to justify all the wrongdoing. The taliban is helping people in floods, does not mean it is kosher.
— On the topic of whether AOL is useful – I beg to differ from you. In the short run seems helpful – but it’s not useful in the long run. After you’ve paid money to do DSN and TTC, people just become tools at the hands of art of living. I would even call it being brainwashed into slavery – but that’s just my experience.
If you want to believe the earth is flat or that ravi shankar can perform miracles, you are free to do so. Almost anybody who has been in AOL long enough knows that AOL is a cult – but they are too ashamed to acknowledge, and too entangled in AOL to leave.
I see clearly now that AOL is beyond repair. The only way out is for the organization to implode or fragment, either after Ravi’s passing on, or by a huge series of scandals.
Pity, they had some good stuff. If they had just stuck to simple yoga and kriya, they could have done so much good. I guess money and power makes anyone greedy.
Oh it’s wishful thinking to assume AOL will die out or implode. A bad rep is usually not enough to stop a cult – TM and scientology for example are still active, despite having a bad reputation.
As long as there are people looking for a spiritual daddy, these cults will continue to exist. All one can do is free oneself and provide support to those who want to free themselves.