The Purpose of These Blogs
At a time when a lot of things are being discussed on this blog and a lot of newcomers are arriving here for the first time, I want to take a moment to elaborate on exactly what it is we are trying to achieve here and ultimately what the purpose of these blogs is. Given the sheer volume of information contained within them, it is easy to be confused about where to begin, or for that matter why these blogs even exist. This post then should also serve as an introduction for anyone coming here for the first time.
To begin with, when we refer to “these blogs”, we are for the most part referring to two separate yet related blogs, created by ex-Art of Living teachers. Chronologically speaking, the first blog which appeared was called “Confessions of a Guruholic”, created by an individual who chose to remain anonymous for personal reasons, calling themselves KLIM. Hence you will often see that blog referred to as “KLIM’s blog”. The second is this blog you are now reading, which has the title “Beyond Art of Living: Critique of The Art of Living, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar”, which really captures the essence of what this blog is about. It was created by another ex-AoL teacher who has chosen to be identified as Skywalker. KLIM was actively updating their blog between November 2009 and June 2010, and hasn’t made any contributions subsequently. This blog, on the other hand, has been active since May 2010, and is being updated regularly, ongoing. There are also a number of other links listed under the “Con-AoL” section on the right hand side, a key one being the Guruphiliac blog, which deals with exposing false gurus across the globe, and which contains many posts related to Sri Sri and AoL.
The main purpose of both this and KLIM’s blog is to provide a critical perspective of both the Art of Living organization and of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, based on experiences that both the creators, and anyone else contributing, had during the time they spent with the organization. Above all the blogs are intended to raise awareness about these issues, so that both those people considering joining AoL and those who have been involved for any amount time, have a more balanced view than just that portrayed by the great many websites which only speak about the good things which AoL has done in the world. Many of the issues which are raised here will come as a complete surprise and in some cases seem shocking to people, mainly because most of the world is completely unaware of them, and for obvious reasons AoL doesn’t publicize them.
To go through each and every single post on both these blogs is a very arduous task (I know this from experience, having done it myself spending many hours over a period of a couple of months), so if you want a detailed summary of the main things being discussed here, I would strongly recommend you check out the post entitled The Prosecutor (link also available on the right hand side.) This lists the main things that SSRS and AoL are being accused of by various contributors on this blog, together with links to the original posts where these allegations are made.
The Prosecutor post is itself very long, so in case you don’t have time to go through that, I will do my best to provide an even more compact summary here, which will be especially useful for those who are discovering this blog for the first time. I would still encourage you to go through The Prosecutor post if you want to fully understand and participate in the ongoing discussions here. It will provide you with more than adequate background information and will answer a great many questions you may have.
So, to summarise. Art of Living is marketed as a not-for-profit, secular organization which teaches a number of courses aimed mostly at reducing stress in people. In these courses various useful points are taught on how to live your life, together with processes which improve health and wellbeing, including yoga and pranayamas (breathing exercises). AoL claim that all the proceeds from the courses go to charitable projects in various locations across the world, and that the whole organization is run by volunteers. They also claim that over 20-30 million people worldwide have done the Basic Course, and that they have a presence in 150-160 countries. On the surface, everything seems completely above board and the organization appear to be doing a lot of good in the world. This at least is a summary of how AoL describes itself, albeit in my own words.
What a great many of the critical posters on this blog are claiminig is that although AoL is doing some good in the world, they are also causing a great amount of harm as well. This harm includes damage to physical health of various practictioners of the techniques taught on the courses, for example bad side effects of kriya and bhastrika, as well as psychologic damage resulting not only from meditation and kriya, but also from spiritual abuse by senior members of the organization itself, including Sri Sri. This spiritual abuse can best be described as using spirituality to manipulate people or to scare them, for instance by making them believe that if they perform certain services for the organization that their karma will be reduced.
Regarding Sudarshan Kriya, AoL markets this technique as being unique to the organization, having being “revealed to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar whilst meditating in silence in a cave in 1982”. They try to convince people that it is a panacea for a great many illnesses including cancer and even AIDS. AoL teachers are taught to teach the technique to ever individual indiscriminantly. Some contributors here claim that the technique is just hyperventilation, whilst others believe it to be an ancient yogic breathing technique know to many yoga practioners and AoL have just tried to commercialize it and claim it is unique to them. Further many have stated that it is only suited to certain practicioners based on their ayurvedic constitution, and as such should not be taught to everyone. A great many people have reported ill effects from these practices, and when they do they are usually told something like it is just natural / cleansing / detoxing to feel these things. There is also a great deal of secrecy surrounding the technique, with claims made that it is actually the “grace of the guru” which is responsible for the positive effects rather than the technique itself.
There are further allegations that the majority of techniques in AoL have been plagiarized from other organizations and sold to course participants as originating from AoL. Further the participants are told never to discuss any of these techniques with anyone who has never done the courses, hence there is very little chance of this ever being discovered.
There are allegations of harm to local communities, for example the villages around Bangalore Ashram having their land snatched up by AoL to build the Ashram and associated accomodation.
One of the recurring themes throughout the forum is a question as to where the money from courses really goes. AoL claims it all goes to charitable projects around the world, however a great many people here who have been involved with AoL are all claiming that not a penny of these goes to any charitable projects but instead goes direclty into the pockets of Sri Sri, his immediate family, and a small group of people referred to throughout the blogs as Sri Sri’s Inner Circle, who include the various Swamis and Rishis of the Art of Living organization. They also claim that the charitable status of AoL is just to avoid paying taxes, at least in India, since only a token number of charity projects actually exist. There are many posts concerning misappropriation of funds throughout both blogs, and that Sri Sri travels first class and stays in 5-7 star hotels whenever he travels.
Many posts also highlight that AoL is commercializing a great many sacred Hindu practices and profiterring heavily from this venture. They claim that AoL is actually a for-profit corporation rather than a not-for-profit charity.
Another theme that is discussed at length is the accuracy of information provided by AoL, particularly with regards to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s personal history. Many people have observed that his history is being constantly revised, especially on his Wikipedia page, with certain key events of his life and the years in which they occurred being edited, whole sections simply disappearing at times and being replaced by “new” information. Along these lines there is also the question of who his guru was, and where he received the titles of “Sri Sri” and further “His Holiness”, which many claim he just gave himself.
There are also allegations that AoL just makes up any statistics which it quotes, for example the number of people worldwide who have attended Baisc Courses, the number of current teachers, the number of course attendees, the number of attendees in major events like the Silver Jubilee, the cost of expenses associated with courses, and a great many other things.
And of course, probably the most disturbing of all the allegations is that Art of Living is actually a cult masquerading as a humanitarian organization. That AoL uses various good things to draw people into the organization and then instils a dependency in these people on both the organization and on Sri Sri himself. Many posts discuss the fact that Sri Sri is deified by teachers and devotees, that this is something which is actually encouraged by Sri Sri himself, and that anyone who gets involved deeply with AoL eventually ends up believing he is God and so surrenders their time, money or both to Sri Sri and the organization, usually in the name of seva (selfless service.) Many posts relate the stories of family breakups because one member, usually the wife in a marriage, became so infatuated with either AoL or with a particular teacher that they abandoned their family to do seva for the organization.
These are just a few of the things that the contributors here have observed. There are a great many others all detailed in “The Prosecutor” post and ultimately across the blogs, and if you have the time and inclination I would strongly urge you to read these.
The blogs aren’t here to defame, to incite hatred or to vent frustrations. Rather, they are here to show another side to AoL, a side which was previously hidden at least to the public and to most members, but which is now being exposed. There is no forum at present available in AoL to provide criticism, and any criticism raised is usually either ignored or rationalized.
Please read the Disclaimer on the right hand side of this blog, which perfectly summarizes what the owner of the blog intended. It is really worth reiterating a key part of this here: what is contained in this blog is the opinions of those posting, based on experiences they had with AoL. As such, it is extremely difficult to moderate any information for accuracy. In fact, there is very little moderation which goes on, and most comments here are accepted. Free speech is actively encouraged here.
Comments from everyone and anyone who has something to say are greatly welcomed, and healthy and civilized discussions are greatly encouraged.
I have a couple of requests I’d like to make here.
On the subject of honesty, I would really appreciate it if anyone posting here refrained from out and out lying just to make AoL look either really bad or for that matter really good. It goes without saying there is absolutely no need to lie, and if anyone does it just reduces the overall message of these blogs. That said, from the great many things that have been alleged, so far so good no solid evidence has come to light that anything is untrue. Conversely, a great many of these are still allegations, so we need to wait until the truth comes out about them.
Now as far as mudslinging is concerned, it would be great if we could collectively refrain from mudslinging if it can possibly be avoided. This really detracts from the discussions here, and most things can be said without calling each other names.
I especially want to raise one issue I have, and that is that a great many people who are associated with AoL and who are defending the organization and SSRS on this blog are being referred to as “brainwashed lackeys”. There are two reasons I mention this, and they are both centered on the logical implications of the term. Firstly, if someone is truly brainwashed, they have no idea they are brainwashed and they believe they are acting of their own free will. Thus, if we refer to them as a brainwashed lackey, we are on the one hand pointing out that they have been manipulated to have a certain set of beliefs and as such are a victim of brainwashing, and then proceed to insult them about them about it!! This leads to the second reason I am concerned about this: by calling AoLers these things, we are actually creating more enmity between them and those people who are supporting these blogs. This is counterproductive to what we should aim to achieve here: to raise awareness about the issues in AoL in the hope that people will realize them and make a more informed decision about whether they wish to begin or continue their association with AoL or not. If we just call them “brainwashed” all the time, this is going to push them away from us and our message will have no effect on them whatsoever. This will also lead to calling these blogs “negative”, which again will work against us.
These are just my own personal opinions. I’m not going to go around telling people off or complain if I do see mudslinging. 😉 It would just be good if we all toned it down and concentrated our efforts on the main issues at hand.
Otherwise, please do contribute if you have anything to add to any of these discussions that can help to shed any more light on the various issues discussed. All input greatly welcomed.
Frequently Asked Questions
We should probably start a separate section for this, as I am certainly seeing a lot of recurring questions coming from both neutral observers and pro-AoLers. For now I’ll address so of these here.
Many newcomers have been commenting that what is written here is lacking in substance and there is no proof. What I would say to you is that we are expressing opinions here, and it is down to individuals to make up their own mind as to whether these resonate with any experiences they themselves have had. With a great many of these allegations, see them simply as allegations until the truth about them comes out, if it ever does. Above all, use your discrimination to determine whether these things should affect you or not. If you haven’t had any direct experience of them, then it is very difficult to accept them.
Now, a great many comments are being posted by pro-AoLers which go something along the lines of “Guruji has done so much good for the world, you shouldn’t write bad things about him / we shouldn’t listen to these bad things.” This is completely flawed as it is an attempt to make people see only one side of the coin whilst ignoring the other, pretending it doesn’t exist. This in fact goes against a major knowledge point in AoL itself which is to always see the good qualities and bad qualities in everything, at the same time. If Sri Sri or AoL have done anything which is questionable, people have to be made aware of these things. So people who have ever been involved with AoL that have had bad experiences should definitely share these with the rest of the world, on these blogs and anywhere else they can. Telling people not to make such comments here works against AoL and will just instil anger from the contributors. In fact it seems to me that the entire reason for the existence of the Art of Living Life Stories Blog (link on right under pro-AoL) is to try and deflect any attention from the bad qualities in AoL by highlighting only the good qualities.
As far as the identities of the various contributors is concerned, the majority of us have chosen to remain anonymous for our own reasons. This is no way makes us cowards, rather it is for our own protection. I for one do not want prospective employers finding my name associated with Art of Living at any time in the future, as this will just hamper my job prospects. Further, I didn’t previously believe the things that KLIM claimed AoL had done as far as threatening people was concerned until I saw both Swami Sadyojatha’s post, The Truth about the Negative Blogs, and subsequently Ewald Poeran’s vicious comments on this blog, which is included in the post Disgruntled President Speaks up for his CEO. If senior members of AoL are reacting in this way, I would naturally want to maintain my anonymity for the sake of my own personal safety, as would all other contributors.
The Choice is Yours to Make, and Yours Alone
No one here is telling you what to believe, or to take sides, although it may seem like that at times. Rather, if you are considering becoming involved with AoL at any level, or are already involved at some level, especially if you are about to become a teacher, it is important that you see both the good and the bad in AoL and then decide for yourself whether it is for you or not. In fact, these things should have been made clear by AoL from the ouset instead of being hidden in this way. Sooner or later these things were bound to get out, and in fact these blogs are a direct consquence of this.
Above all, I would ask you for your own sake to exercise critical thinking as much as possible as you read these posts, and then make as an informed decision as you possibly can given the data available.
Love & Peace,