I’m being sued by a religious cult.
I’m being sued by a religious cult.
I’m being sued by a religious cult that I used to be a member of, because they want to stop me and other ex-members from revealing their dirty secrets on this blog.
I, together with a handful of other ex-members, have been blogging about our experiences with being in and leaving The Art of Living, a spiritual organization founded in the 1980s by the Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
On paper, The Art of Living offers courses in yoga, meditation and breathing techniques and performs humanitarian work in the third world. In reality, we believe they are more like a religious cult.
I used to be a teacher in the Art of Living so I know many of the secrets they would prefer to hide. These include:
- The organization says it does humanitarian work, but it’s mostly focused on making money.
- People working for the organization are being paid next to nothing while the guru flies all over the world on business class and stays in the biggest suites in the most expensive hotels.
- They keep claiming that Ravi Shankar has supernatural powers, including healing the sick and seeing the future.
- They claim that the breathing techniques they teach can cure diseases like HIV/AIDS.
- All critical thinking about the AoL is described as a sign of weakness or lack of faith in the guru and is actively discouraged.
Most of the contributors to this blog are ex-members or even former employees in The Art of living. Now that we have left, we think more people should know what is really going on behind the curtains. We write anonymously, and we allow our readers to comment anonymously. We have also made some internal Art of Living documents available here, to help expose the difference between how the organization portrays itself and what it’s really like.
Since the blog started in May 2010, it’s had a stunning quarter million page views. What is even more astounding is the amount of comments: 4000 comments to about 100 posts. That is an average of 40 comments per post!
From the start, we have had a policy of free debate and open speech. We do not just want to put our view forward, we want people to make up their own minds about the Art of Living. That is why we link to pro-AOL sites, as well as con-AOL sites. That is why we publish every comment, even the ones from pro-AOL’ers (and there are lots, believe me) thrashing us for critizicing their guru.
Now they’re trying to sue us, to make us stop. In fact, they have a history of this kind of behavior.
- They previously tried to force Wordpress to stop hosting our blog – but WordPress fortunately turned them down.
- In another case, they circulated a letter viciously defaming people they suspected could be the bloggers. Fortunately, their guesses were wrong. That did not stop the organization from launching a smear campaign, calling several of them mentally ill and revealing details from their personal life and health histories that they had probably disclosed while being members.
In short, The Art of Living doesn’t deal well with dissent and with having their methods exposed. They have thousands of devoted members and almost unlimited funds and resources to hire lawyers – and a strong desire to stop us.
We’ve been using a gmail address to enable people to contact us and now the American chapter of The Art of Living has hired the law firm Kronenberger Burgoyne, LLP in San Francisco to use that to try and find out who we are. They have subpoenaed Google to reveal our identities, in order for them to prosecute us for defamation, copyright breaches and for revealing ”trade secrets”. We have until January 18th to quash this subpoena, otherwise Google will most likely tell them who’s behind the gmail address and our anonymity is lost.
If you sympathize with our cause, we could really use your help. Here’s what you can do:
- Please consider donating whatever amount you can spare to our legal defence fund.
- Pass on this story to more people – help us increase awareness.
- You could write a polite(!) email to The Art of Living, maybe the local chapter closest to you, telling them that they should accept dissent and criticism and respect free speech.
- Send us an email of support if you like what we do.
- Feel free to comment on any of the posts here.
And finally none of us are legal or free-speech experts. If you have any experience in this area or any advice to offer us, we would be most grateful. Send us an email at email@example.com.
All the best,