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NZ Herald Journalist sees through Mr Rev Ravi Shankar!

September 27, 2010


Read the interveiw report by Michele Hewitson, NZ Herald Journalist. It is funny and reflects poorly on both AOLers and Ex AOLers that they are/were part of a cult which a journalist could make out in a single interview. Better late than never. Read, enjoy and ACT (runaway from both Guru and AOL as fast as you can!).

Michele Hewitson Interview: Ravi Shankar Auckland, New Zealand:

4:00 AM Saturday Apr 10, 2010

From the briefing notes from the PR company to the guru, His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: “It is really important that the interview is conducted as on time as possible and without unnecessary fuss.”

What good advice. His message is a stress-free life. He is about conflict resolution and happy, happy, joy, joy and who does not want that?

But of course there would be briefing notes. I suspected there might be a bit of fuss. He is a very famous guru, the fifth most powerful man in India, according to Forbes’ Power List of 2009. He has inspired more than 300 million people worldwide, according to his The Art of Living Foundation blurb.

He was in Auckland to give a talk which covered conflict resolution, women’s empowerment, how to achieve a stress-free mind and a disease-free body, what to do about problems with youth and more besides.

We were to meet in his hotel suite, which had been guru-fied by way of wrapping it in white sheets. I had an unspiritual thought: Do hotels charge gurus extra for the use of all of that linen? The guru was not in the suite. There were plates of nuts and fruit and an enormous box of expensive chocolates on the table beside the guru’s throne, an armchair draped in a sheet and an orange, embroidered cloth.

Please, sit down,” invited one of the many people in the suite. Not on the throne, obviously. I would later be mildly ticked off for calling the chair a throne. His Holiness said: “My sofa! I wouldn’t say throne. Thrones are very thorny these days.” I think he said thorny. He’s a bit of a mumbler. Whatever it was, it was funny. I know this because the chorus laughed, heartily.

That was later. While waiting for the guru I was introduced to the chorus, or entourage – I am not allowed to call them followers. An elegant English woman, “a former lawyer/teacher” for Sri Sri’s The Art of Living Foundation gave me a lesson: “It’s centered on the Indian guru who presents the ancient knowledge completely for the 21st century and it can be adapted for all the races and religions and creeds and cultures … It really gets inside the individual to transform them …” I was a bit distracted. I was interested in the bit of paper she had in her hand: Those briefing notes. There was a brief conflict resolved by her not letting me see them. I know what they said because the guru absent-mindedly, his mind no doubt on higher things, left the notes behind and I, my mind on nosiness, pinched them.

There were two fellows setting up a video camera. They were going to film the interview. No, they weren’t. A bit sulkily for spiritual fellows, I couldn’t help but feel, they took the thing away. You could call that conflict resolution. I wouldn’t call it stress – or fuss – free.

I thought: Where’s the guru when I need him? And there he was. He said, “Hello! Hello! How are you?” How should I address him. “Well, just usually Sri Sri.” He kindly explained that one Sri means Mr; two means Reverend. So, here is Mr Rev Ravi Shankar, looking very serene and smiley. He had bare feet and a soothing, sing-songy voice. He said, “Wonderful! Wonderful!” But he seemed a bit distracted. He was reading his briefing notes. Fair enough, if you are a guru to more than 300 million people worldwide, you need to know what’s what.

You might also be regarded as a good businessman. He said, “Not at all. Because I am not doing this as a business. You take more and give little, that is business. If we had good business sense we would have made millions … but, no, I don’t have. Because charity and business are opposite.”

There is no point talking to him about money, although it is a talking point on the internet. He doesn’t Google himself because, he says, he is of the wrong generation – he is 54. “No, I don’t Google. I don’t go into all that.” He does know what is written about him and his foundation because people tell him. Some of what is said is less than complimentary: that he and his family have become wealthy; that his breathing techniques are simply old yoga techniques repackaged into a commercial package.

When I asked whether these things were damaging, he smiled beatifically and said, “No, I don’t think opinions make any damage if there is no truth to it. If there is some truth to it, it helps you to correct yourself. If not, it is just prejudices and I feel sorry for them …”

There really is no point asking him about money. He never spends any. “People around me will take care of almost anything and I don’t need anything. But I keep some money in my wallet.” Goodness. He has a wallet? “Yes, yes. I do. I have $500.” What does he spend it on? “Oh, I don’t spend anything! Ha, ha! I’ve had [the $500] for many, many years. Perhaps once or twice I put $1 to take a trolley out of the trolley machine.” I’d imagined one of his followers would push his trolley.

If you ask how many followers he has he laughs and says: “I don’t make followers. I only make leaders. Ha, ha. When I am sitting there’s nobody behind me!” Well, no, his chair was up against a window. He gestured towards the non-followers, who were on the other side of the suite. The non-followers laughed like drones. We could move the chair, I suggested. Nobody laughed.

I asked, a tad grumpily, thinking about what it must be like being followed around by a laughing chorus, if he had any normal life. He said, “I feel I’m pretty normal!” He said, “I continue being a child.” As a 4-year-old he recited verses from the Bhagavad Gita, which he had never heard before. “Yeah, it came out like a poem.” What does he make of that? “Our consciousness is old; there must be some impressions from the past.”

He is given to gnomic guru-ish utterances, thankfully – otherwise he’d be a terrible disappointment. If you ask about his friends, he says: “Everyone is my friend.” But does he have close personal friends? “You know, anyone I speak to goes close to my heart.” I’m not sure he totally took me to his heart. I, honestly, tried to give him a chance to talk about what he was doing here, which is the free plug cue, and he got ever so slightly snippy. “Tell me why I shouldn’t come? Do you know the reason why I should not come?”

He said: “I like to say my family is all over the world.” Does he have a house? “I feel at home everywhere I go.” At the age of 8 he announced: “All over the world people are waiting for me. One day I will visit them.” That sounded a bit nutty. “My mother used to scold me. She said, ‘Why do you tell lies?”

It is fair to say I was more interested in the idea of what it’s like to be a guru than he was in talking about being a guru. Obviously while gurus are thin on the ground in New Zealand, in India they are 10 a rupee. A guru is merely a teacher, he says. Still, people come bearing gifts and sit at his feet. “You know, I play two roles. And one role is as a religious and spiritual leader and there are certain protocols that people follow. I personally don’t advocate any protocol. Not at all. It is in the tradition and the people come with flowers and all the food and I give them back! Yes, absolutely.” He swept his hand before the offerings on the table and said, “What do I do with all this for?”

A normal fellow then. He sometimes eats porridge with tabasco for breakfast, which sounds disgusting. “Ha, ha. Tastes are so different. Yes?” He travels first class, when he has a long trip and has a programme to deliver when he arrives. He doesn’t have a driver’s licence but did drive in either 1981, or 1982 (the memory of a guru is not infallible), in Switzerland. “On the wrong side of the road!” He is not very good at driving. “No, I don’t think so.” He said, “Well, I drive people crazy sometimes!” The chorus roared. They were driving me a bit crazy.

He won’t tell me what his indulgences are because he was once asked if he liked Pringles and he said, “‘Yes, of course I like Pringles,’ and then wherever I go, I tell you, hundreds of Pringles land up in my room! So I’d better keep what I like to myself! Especially to the newspapers!” The chorus cackled. He played to the house. “I will be on a diet of Pringles!”

What do people want from him: to tell them how to be happy? “You know, people are looking for ways to be happy. There are conflicts within themselves, with the family … And some come to have fun! Spirituality is all about making life light, bringing the energy and joy and happiness amongst life and you can’t take it too seriously!”

You couldn’t accuse him of that. He has been described as the hottest guru around. “I think I’m the coolest!” Is he a celebrity guru? “You mean: Am I a guru of the celebrities?” Is he? “I am a celebrating guru!” I said, “That’s a terrible joke,” but the chorus proved me wrong.

Having never met a guru before, I have no idea whether he is a pretty normal sort of one or not. I suppose it is entirely normal, for him, to be interviewed with an appreciative audience supplying the laugh track. This might be one of the perks of being a guru.

I was offered a perk: A free meditation class. Perhaps I should have taken it. I was feeling rather stressed. Perhaps I needed enlightenment, because conducting an interview with a guru, in the presence of an adoring, affirming audience was not exactly my idea of happy, happy, joy, joy.

  1. Manju permalink
    September 27, 2010 3:35 am

    Yes yes, the constant validation of a leader’s statements or jokes can get to you, especially if you are not one of the insiders.

    I too recall laughing along with the crowd at p/js (puns, childlike jokes) but after a point I could not any longer.

    Sometimes we go through a phase when we need to be part of a group, a sense of belonging. Then we can outgrow it.

    Guruji actually caters to many cadres of intellectual/emotional levels- and yes ,he can play to the gallery quite well. But honestly, with me he was quite serious and yet well-meaning. Always kept me at a distance, even aloof. Looking back, I respect him greatly for that. Perhaps he knew that I would move on. I also respect him for letting me go my direction which is a mark of maturity and Divine grace.

    And yes, I don’t think of him too much (busy with other commitments, enjoying life and what it brings me). But strangely, it is he who visits me in my dreams, always with a kind word. Strange? My own consciousness at work? Maybe a bit of both. But I’m not entirely convinced that it is a figment of my own imagination….rather, I’m convinced that there is something beyond which the eye cannot discern….

  2. impressed permalink
    September 27, 2010 5:50 am

    Can anyone verify the true numbers of people who attended to see him in New Zealand. Aol figures are 5000 but independent newspapers calculated 2000. Another exaggeration?

  3. Anonymous permalink
    September 27, 2010 10:37 am

    Jai Guru Dev

    Dear Ones

    As you know the Teachers’ Refresher Meet -2010 is starting from Sep-28th 2010, We need volunteers at Bangalore ashram for Kitchen seva only from 28th afternoon onwards till October 3rd 2010.

    We now request you to kindly send more volunteers.

    NOTE: Accommodation is not provided.

    With Warm Regards

    • Shallow waters permalink
      September 27, 2010 5:23 pm

      @ Anonymous

      Its absolutely normal. They have clearly specified that it is all india TRM for 3 days and no body apart from teachers is allowed to stay in ashram. even ashramites cant eat in the same kitchen where TRM people would eat. It helps to avoid any distraction. This has happened in my All india TRM too and i liked it. I dont see any thing wrong in it. We dont have to find flaw in every single thing they do.

      @ some one who said not all practices are suitable to everyone.

      I remember Guruji once mentioned that these practices are not universally applicable to everyone. So actually those who are ex.teachers they do know the suitability of techniques to people.

      eg. Some people dont have agile body, so for them yogasana might not work.
      For some breathing technique is too much and thus might not suite,
      but in general meditation was superior and was mentioned to be more suitable to majority of the people whom breathing technique or yogasana might not suit.

      • Anonymous permalink
        September 28, 2010 6:35 am

        @Shallow Waters … I didn’t criticize .. I just posted info…

  4. exaolfan permalink
    September 27, 2010 11:19 am

    Oh mein Gott, AOL is so comersialised, now all can to see online Navaratri from Bangalor Ashram, when they pay 60$…
    AOL can do only $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ not more…

    • freethinker permalink
      September 27, 2010 3:15 pm

      Looks like in AOL bunch of people dedicated only for finding new revenue sources and sure they do come up with so many unorthodox way to make money. Many corporations struggling in this bad economy, can learn a thing or two from AOL cult company.

  5. September 27, 2010 2:52 pm

    Just for the record – the above link is wrong. The correct one is

    Feel free to delete my comment once you have corrected the link.

    Huge thanks for posting!

  6. Researcher permalink
    September 27, 2010 3:45 pm

    When we were with SSRS a few years back at the Bali retreat, he broached the topic of the old Sanskrit phrase “mata, pita, guru, devam” which can be loosely translated into “mother, father, guru, god/liberation”.

    Ravi’s explanation was that it describes the order of importance. Once you, the chosen few, are in the guru’s flock, the guru’s presence and grace is so important, it’s more important than god himself. “Guru and god are one and the same, praying to guru is praying to god”. I realize this may be a technique some people use to focus, but pardon me, this is absolute rubbish when generalized and explained this way.

    I had to write about this today because I couldn’t stop periodically thinking about these statements of his. His explanation is amateurish and clueless at best, but it’s probably really twisted by him on purpose to brainwash more followers.

    Those masters with a real mastery over these scriptures will tell you a different story. “Mata, pita, guru, devam” is not the order of importance. It simply says you’re born of mata and pita, and with the guru’s guidance you reach the state of self awareness or god consciousness or liberation if you want to call it that.

    In this context Ravi’s teachings are quite the opposite of what some older masters taught. Ramana, for example, would always point the seeker inwards, ask him to find out the truth for himself and send him on his way, instead of asking anyone to pray to Him or do seva for him. Ramana never harped on “guru’s grace” being all-important, or used it as a magnet to attract people.

    People were automatically drawn to him because of the peace and bliss they experienced in his presence and continue to do so in the big hall even today.

    We shall know who the true master is, by the number of people drawn to his path many many years after his passing on. I wonder how many AOLites will remain 20-30 years after SSRS “kicks the bucket”, as he likes to say.

    • zhoro permalink
      September 27, 2010 8:09 pm

      I, too, actually felt closer to Ramana than to RS even during my involvement with AoL. True, I never witnessed Ramana’s dealings in person and there may be many things that have or have not made it into the records after his passing that may be viewed as controversial. That is possible. However, the depth of his exposition of nonduality and the practical methods to reach its realization is many orders of magnitude greater than anything RS has ever managed. That doesn’t prevent senior teachers from telling the flock that what AoL is doing is setting the tone for spiritual evolution over the next 5000 years. Ridiculous.

  7. dubhasa permalink
    September 27, 2010 5:45 pm

    10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases ( by Mariana Caplan, Ph.D.)

    This fits so well to AOL.

    1. Fast-Food Spirituality: Mix spirituality with a culture that celebrates speed, multitasking and instant gratification and the result is likely to be fast-food spirituality. Fast-food spirituality is a product of the common and understandable fantasy that relief from the suffering of our human condition can be quick and easy. One thing is clear, however: spiritual transformation cannot be had in a quick fix.

    2. Faux Spirituality: Faux spirituality is the tendency to talk, dress and act as we imagine a spiritual person would. It is a kind of imitation spirituality that mimics spiritual realization in the way that leopard-skin fabric imitates the genuine skin of a leopard.

    3. Confused Motivations: Although our desire to grow is genuine and pure, it often gets mixed with lesser motivations, including the wish to be loved, the desire to belong, the need to fill our internal emptiness, the belief that the spiritual path will remove our suffering and spiritual ambition, the wish to be special, to be better than, to be “the one.”

    4. Identifying with Spiritual Experiences: In this disease, the ego identifies with our spiritual experience and takes it as its own, and we begin to believe that we are embodying insights that have arisen within us at certain times. In most cases, it does not last indefinitely, although it tends to endure for longer periods of time in those who believe themselves to be enlightened and/or who function as spiritual teachers.

    5. The Spiritualized Ego: This disease occurs when the very structure of the egoic personality becomes deeply embedded with spiritual concepts and ideas. The result is an egoic structure that is “bullet-proof.” When the ego becomes spiritualized, we are invulnerable to help, new input, or constructive feedback. We become impenetrable human beings and are stunted in our spiritual growth, all in the name of spirituality.

    6. Mass Production of Spiritual Teachers: There are a number of current trendy spiritual traditions that produce people who believe themselves to be at a level of spiritual enlightenment, or mastery, that is far beyond their actual level. This disease functions like a spiritual conveyor belt: put on this glow, get that insight, and — bam! — you’re enlightened and ready to enlighten others in similar fashion. The problem is not that such teachers instruct but that they represent themselves as having achieved spiritual mastery.

    7. Spiritual Pride: Spiritual pride arises when the practitioner, through years of labored effort, has actually attained a certain level of wisdom and uses that attainment to justify shutting down to further experience. A feeling of “spiritual superiority” is another symptom of this spiritually transmitted disease. It manifests as a subtle feeling that “I am better, more wise and above others because I am spiritual.”

    8. Group Mind: Also described as groupthink, cultic mentality or ashram disease, group mind is an insidious virus that contains many elements of traditional co-dependence. A spiritual group makes subtle and unconscious agreements regarding the correct ways to think, talk, dress, and act. Individuals and groups infected with “group mind” reject individuals, attitudes, and circumstances that do not conform to the often unwritten rules of the group.

    9. The Chosen-People Complex: The chosen people complex is not limited to Jews. It is the belief that “Our group is more spiritually evolved, powerful, enlightened and, simply put, better than any other group.” There is an important distinction between the recognition that one has found the right path, teacher or community for themselves, and having found The One.

    10. The Deadly Virus: “I Have Arrived”: This disease is so potent that it has the capacity to be terminal and deadly to our spiritual evolution. This is the belief that “I have arrived” at the final goal of the spiritual path. Our spiritual progress ends at the point where this belief becomes crystallized in our psyche, for the moment we begin to believe that we have reached the end of the path, further growth ceases.

    • September 27, 2010 9:46 pm


      Thanks for the list of 10 spiritually transmitted disease. They rang true to my experience. I have been rehabbing from them for a while. I wish there was a sure fire vaccine against these contagions. The best medicines I have found are humility, patience, and honesty.

    • goneagain permalink
      September 27, 2010 11:42 pm

      Looks like the vaccine is right here, this and KLIM’s blogs.

      • Govindago! permalink
        September 28, 2010 10:58 am

        The “vaccine” is growing in spiritual maturity rather than obsessively trashing a spiritual movement that does not meet your egoic ideal. You lack discrimination because you insist that SSRS and the AOL is all bad just as strongly as you once claimed it was all good. Again, I’m not saying all your experiences and complaints are not without some sort of merit, but it is very hard to know what is a legitimate critique of this spiritual movement and what is the immature wailing of a wounded ego.

      • freethinker permalink
        September 28, 2010 3:25 pm


        You need to get some reality ‘shot’ to be cleared of the delusions you are in. When you get that you will know the difference between real spirituality and brainwashed zombie state that you are in. Keep reading here clouds will clear up in your head.

  8. Doreen permalink
    September 29, 2010 2:05 pm

    I personally have gotten value out of the AOL programs.
    At the same time I understand some of the concerns that people have raised about AOL.

    However, this blog feels purely like an anti-AOL pep rally as much as the AOL blogs are a pro-AOL pep rally.

    Can’t there be something in between? A real discussion?

    • Bling Bling permalink
      September 29, 2010 4:56 pm

      “Can’t there be something in between? A real discussion?”

      @Doreen. Start such a forum (with you as the moderator to filter out BS) and send us a link !

    • Shallow waters permalink
      September 29, 2010 5:55 pm

      @ Doreen,

      Dear, each and every one of us have found some value in the courses offered by AOL, thats the reason we have so much to write about our experiences. Had we not experienced goodies or lured by Sri Sri this blog wouldnt have starte at first place.

      There are over 1000 AOL Pro sites and just below 10 Con sites. As has been already mentioned. Our Questions were never published on those sites and we did not get the opportunity to be neutral and discuss. Actually we did try to let it go for few years while teaching. But now we are sure what to do.

      Take your time. And do whatever u could. May be people like you could bring some difference. Doctor did try that once. and indeed made a difference to atleast some of us. or atleast me.

    • anonymous permalink
      September 29, 2010 7:05 pm

      There are plenty of places you can see real conversation in great detail (link below). Please go through as many posts and comments that you can here/KLIM’s blog. Of course you need to ignore tone of some, especially lackeys tend to be very crude. They don’t like anything said about their great leader.

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