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Support for “Art of Living Illegally” article and a challenge to AoL devotees

September 9, 2011

The following comment was made by an anonymous contributor on this blog in response to another comment left on this blog questioning the reliability of the article The Art of Living Illegally by Imran Khan of Tehelka.

by anonymous

I agree partly with the way you have looked at the article. You do not want to see it with a biased anti AOL pair of eyes. That is applaudable. However, by the same weight-age you also what if Imran Khan was right. We cannot be sure that he is Zakir Naik’s buddy…and even if he is….he may have his own views about things.

Given that all that is said about Imran Khan may be potentially true. Maybe he is even prejudiced against Sri Sri. However, what has any of that got anything to do with the correctness of content ?.

1. Tehelka was amongst India’s first newspapers that has some track record of doing sting ops.

2. His title at the bottom of the article says Sr Correspondent (So at the very minimum the man has some experience and the risk of irresponsible reporting are lower as he would have done some background work).

3. A whistleblowers name. picture, title is on display. If the information is wrong, Tehelka can be sued. Unless there isn’t any ACICM convenor M Lakshmana. Google his position and name and I found a few instances where is creating awareness and campaigning for the public on issues that are important for them. On the face of it seems to be a people’s fellow. We could equally argue that he is a publicity hungry animal.

4. There is a clear table, with name of places (locations) and current assessment of land value. No newspaper editor would allow publishing such data unless it is backed by serious documentation.

5. They have mentioned dates. 2002 acquisition. Names (Raghu). Dec 20th letter. Fines…..a lot of specifics. And this is not a simple we need more space… ashram expansion, this is 5 Acres in Mysore. Any preliminary research on the land would tell you this was once earmarked by the govt for housing for the poor. These are the basics. Before you buy such land one always seeks legal opinion. AOL should have had one. Did AOL’s land acquisition team not forewarn SriSri ? OR did not matter …because there were other relationships that would negate all other regulatory or legal requirements. I have heard of an NRI lady who was closely related to SM Krishna (Congress party and earlier CM of Karnataka till 2004) who had land near the Ashram which she lost to land grabbing by AOL around 2008/9. Being connected, she attempted to exercise political pressure and get it back. After fruitless wandering around for a year plus she was finally told by Yeddy to go direct to Sri Sri and that he would compensate her for something like 15% of market value for the land. This information came to me from a friend and well wisher who I have known for many decades now. He had some business dealings with the lady and was aware of this particular case as this was turning out to be a drag on their deal. In my eyes, this information makes me lean more towards the authenticity of the article. BTW I have personally met some business people who claimed that they used the same Goondas as SriSri to acquire land. I have taken the trouble to meet poor villagers around the AOL Ashram and have been told what they feel about the Swami who owns the Ashram. At the time I did this I had a lot to lose. For more than a decade I had gone out on a limb professing and claiming that AOL was a clean organisation. I had recruited participants, raised funds, contributed to many seva schemes, had strongly and forcefully converted a large part of my family and friends into AOL, become a teacher, helped many others become teachers. The reason I say this, is because, at the time this information started to come my way, I so desperately wanted it to be wrong. My world was crumbling under my very nose. However, the fact is, since that time that this happened to me, I have not seen a shred of evidence (even remote) that points to anything other than what is insinuated in the Tehelka article.

AOL in many instances represents India and what comes from India. As a regular strategy they cultivate the High Commissioners of all the Indian Posts abroad and use these offices to contact and present to in country dignitaries. I have personally made use of this myself when I was on the inside. Due to their spread, presence and a very strong cultural message (just as they attempted in the recent Berlin Festival) they need to be very cautious about what they say and do. They impact brand India and the perception of an average Indian way more than others.

Hence as far as I am concerned….I need to see clear facts and documents emerge from AOL that prove the situation otherwise. Also, AOL is a leading spiritual organisation that carries a far bigger responsibility to the people when compared to a regular realtor. They also have to manage perceptions of the people they set out to serve. In AOL’s case the whole world. They are an acclaimed NGO…. NO ? what is the need to even go close to such wild real estate schemes ? Anyone with common sense will know that for an NGO reputation is everything. So, why play with it. Unless, you are an NGO under disguise ? In which case its time they declared their REAL(Estate) agenda.

To start with I challenge all AOL devotees to do the following. Get a consolidated statement from the Ashram as to how much land is actually there under the name of all the trusts that operate under the AOL framework ? (Ayurveda (factory), Ayurveda College, SriSri University, SriSri Inst for Media studies, Sumeru (Travel, software, real estate), SSRVM, Inwinex Pharma……there are many).

One thing I am sure off….the minute you ask for this above…..you will be looked at as if you are vermin and the lowest scum on the planet. They talk about belongingness……well if you are a close contributing member/volunteer that is asking for some basic information, you are entitled to it. Isn’t it SriSri that asks all of you to develop a sense of belongingness. Well it starts in your own home and Ashram. Do pay heed to your own truth and experience when you do this. Forget about everything else said on this blog. This experience alone will show you where you stand with respect to the truth. If you are an AOL devotee and are reading this….Its worth some leg/brain work now, compared to your serious pain later when AOL self destructs the same way it has happened to Nithi, Ramdev, Kalki, The Sathya Sai group…and others that were not who they claimed they were.

This is not as much as to whether AOL will survive as much as it is about defining what your relationship should be with AOL. An organisation that has packaged some useful spiritual truths around a breathing exercise, showcases to the unsuspecting public a lot of entertainment and pseudo seva and continue to OPENLY coverup some serious hanky panky business from the back office.

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16 Comments
  1. anonymous permalink
    September 9, 2011 12:29 pm

    And please, AOL members, ask for proof of what the original land parcel was gifted to Ravi Shankar’s father for. What was the original purpose of that land? How did they get it changed over from “poor village childrens’ school” to “ashram buildings for the elite middle classes, and rich and famous to attend pujas and lectures” and “computer buildings”, etc. The entire gift was supposed to be to benefit the surrounding poor village people by providing a school. Did the gift allow that only a tiny fraction of the acreage originally given should be for the school? Anyone with access to the land records and government gifting of land, please find out.

  2. anonymous permalink
    September 9, 2011 12:36 pm

    Article in Times of India, Bangalore section:

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bangalore/Land-grab-may-be-cognizable-offence/articleshow/9918909.cms

    And don’t miss the end, where it says that religious organization gifts will not be exempt from these inspections/prosecutions……..

  3. Anonymous permalink
    September 10, 2011 3:07 am

    I posted the comment on Imran Khan, and your article is well written and your words carry weight, even though you did not quote much of statistics and figures, but still reading your words one can see that you are speaking from your own experience and one can say that you are speaking the truth.

    Although in the article the Art of Living’s Karthik has defended the organization well and the land could have been falsely notified in order to extract a bribe. After all Art of Living took down the Congress Government just before Silver Jubilee. And we all know the reputation of the Congress.

    I do feel(feel and I don’t know that for sure) that Art of Living does not use the donation money for their charity projects and its not an exception. But still Land grabbing is a serious charge. And as law in India says innocent until proven guilty. So if I were a judge I still won’t pass the judgement until there is irrefutable proof that the organization is into land grabbing.

    Also regarding the money not being utilized properly, for all I know they may not be able to spend money on the projects because of lack of volunteers who are willing to tread into the lower sections of the society and the backward areas of the country.

    I am open to listen to criticism of the Art of Living, but I need to see it backed by documentary proof. For example the stake holding of Narsimha’s in some pharma companies was good proof, but it is not sufficient enough in the court of law to prove somebody guilty. We need to prove that the money has come from the charity money which was meant for Gift a Smile or say Tribal schools.

    I am not against this blog or the articles. I see this blog as a freedom of expression. But if the guilty has to be punished then somebody would need to take a step further and take the matter to the court of law.

    • Independent Observer permalink
      September 12, 2011 3:15 am

      This blog is about all our personal spiritual journeys and learnings from that.

      At the end of the day, we need to be fair and just to ourselves first.

      The ultimate justice will be served from Life’s unseen courts. I dont think I am too worried that a law court in some country has to move on this. Yes, that is not to say that that may not happen. It very well may.

      However, if anyone wanted legal justice, they should be out there suing AOL in court not writing onto this blog. As far as I am concerned, this is a platform to share views. Period.

      • Anonymous permalink
        September 12, 2011 3:11 pm

        Agreed..

  4. stupidseeker permalink
    September 10, 2011 4:16 am

    This is the price the people of any society need to pay when they have a fixation with Godmen as their spiritual benefactors. The industrialist who grabs land is a few notches better than these so called godmen since at the very least his ill gotten land may provide employment to many, but what about the land grabbing of these Godmen.

    It’s amazing what sporting a beard,garb and smile, Maharishi style, could do for Mr. Ravishankar.He actually convinced so many in both east and west including yours truly, of his spiritually exalted status.
    In some fairness, doesn’t he then deserve his adulation and his legal immunity?

  5. Sunny permalink
    September 10, 2011 12:58 pm

    Such a pity. AOL has some good stuff. The yoga is simple and effective. Even kriya has worked for me to improve my general health. They should have stuck to that scope. Ravi Shankar struck gold with his enlightened guru formula, millions with empty lives just yearning for belongingness, or non-Indians with a taste for the exotic… exploiting it to the hilt.

    Can’t blame the man, he was in the right place with the right experience through his ex-guru Mahesh Yogi. I really admire the man, he’s got a roaring business, raking in millions, got powerful movers and shakers close to him, and plays the peacemaker role rather well. How many of us can do this? Why not, if you cannot only be treated like royalty but equated with god? Power, the ultimate aphrodisiac.

    • stupidseeker permalink
      September 11, 2011 4:12 am

      My personal experience with the kriya was that I found it was mor effective when I didn’t do it at all.

  6. stupidseeker permalink
    September 11, 2011 4:01 am

    I wonder if there ever was a point in Indian history when millions of people were huffing and puffing their way to enlightenment, such as is the present situation.Right now it seems that probably the whole of the Indian upper middle class is on its way to mass enlightenment, courtesy enlightened beings such as ravi shankar, ramdev and jagadish vasudev amongst others.
    Isn’t it true that that modern modes of communication and their exploitation by these modern gurus preaching “anceint” knowledge has contributed more to this “enlightenment” movement more than anything else??

  7. September 12, 2011 7:59 am

    Brand Anna is all about foisting an Ayatollah on us

    Read more: http://exitopinionpollsindia.blogspot.com/2011/09/brand-anna-is-all-about-foisting.html

  8. Anonymous permalink
    September 13, 2011 5:27 pm

    i wonder why are you all not behind K P Yohanan , Thanku Brother and Christian missionaries who looted this country!!!!

    • Anonymous permalink
      September 13, 2011 8:31 pm

      Christian missionaries in India… that’s a whole different topic… and I guess blogs must exist for them too… the “elite” buying “spirituality” and “enlightenment” from AOL are one bunch of wackos and … the people getting converted to Christianity to change their social status to avail the benefits of affirmative action is another… and on the top of it… the people who you have mentioned are far far worse than SSRS… now… you be safe and I be safe and that should be whole motto… if people are getting looted from Christian missionaries in India, to hell with them… its their destiny…

    • stupidseeker permalink
      September 14, 2011 3:42 am

      @Anonymous,

      Good you atleast admitted that ravi shankar isn’t all he claims to be. Thats a good start by any standard.
      Thing is ravi shankar, unlike the other people you have listed, hasn’t at any time explicitly referred to himself as being Hindu, even as he gets along famously with the traditional hindu nationalists the RSS and VHP.
      Ravi shankar, atleast when touring the West, has always made it known that he considers religion as being distinct from spirituality, and that he is a spiritualist, rather than a religionist, even as he engages in, and propagates as being part of the spiritual package,ceremonies such as Navratri pujas etc. which are activities normally considered religious by traditional Hindus.
      Thus while faith in religion can be debunked very easily,as we have seen the debunking of the Bible etc.,by the rationalists, spirituality is looked on as being somehow more rational than faith and so anyone propagating faith in the garb of spirituality has a much easier time winning converts to his own personality cult even while not acknowledging directly the source of his “spiritual” constructs.
      This has typically been the trend since Vivekananda, over a century ago,placed scholarship and book knowledge, subservient to “personal experience” since he believed that religious books only reflected the experience of their authors.Thus it’s the personal experience of the authors that validated scripture and not the other way around,.Eer since Vivekananda laid the foundation of “personal experience” as the benchmark for spiritual growth, we have seen a steady stream of “spiritual” gurus, from Paramahansa Yogananda to osho to baba muktananda amongst a host of others, making their way west for reasons best known to them.
      Thus, in our society right now, we now have a situation where the oligarchy of the pandita scholar has been replaced by the tyranny of the guru and his whimsical personal experience on whose basis he claims authority in “spiritual matters” and such claims cannot be allowed to go uncontested by those who call themselves humanists and rationalists.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    September 14, 2011 6:32 am

    wow, stupidseeker, excellent analysis

  10. Anonymous permalink
    September 14, 2011 6:39 am

    Its some time since I have followed the Art of Living critical blogs etc. Been bussy with my life. But I must admit I am very impressed with where it has moved. I always thought that the real settling of the score with Ravi Shankar always belonged to the Indians. Sure I know with out doubt that the art of living is rutinely behaving fraudently in Europe. But the financial scope of art of living as an organization here is still very limited, and the cultural impact is none. The only thing that bothers me is the fact that they abuse our welldeveloped civic societies for there own gain, but again Art of Living is such a small organization here so it is hard to really care.
    The real harm surely is done towards India, both financially, when it comes to the civic society and culturally. Good for you all to take up the challenge of dealing with these people so obviously doing massive dammage to you all. All the best to your efforts

  11. Meditator permalink
    September 16, 2011 12:42 pm

    Just came across this article. http://www.indiansceptic.in/mar2008/art1.htm

    [b]India’s NGOs being taken for a ride by Art of Living’s Ravi Shankar by Bhamy V Shenoy[/b]

    Recently I had been to Ravi Shankar’s Ashram located close to Bangalore to take part in what was announced as an NGO meet to discuss environmental protection and access to social justice. Within few hours of its inauguration, I fled from his ashram which was looking more like a jail with several security guards and hundreds of spy like volunteers.

    This is one of the cleverest hoaxes perpetrated in the name of spiritual movement using the facade of NGOs. I came with a distinct impression that Ravi Shankar is a great genius like Dhirubhai Ambani or yester years US barons, Rockefeller, Morgan, Mellon etc. One needs to admire his entrepreneurial capability of earning huge profits from a simple idea of organizing an NGO summit in collaboration with UN’s END POVERTY MILLENIUM CAMPAIGN, advertising as speakers such famous people like Dr. Pachauri, Vandana Shiva, Bahuguna, Surabaya etc.

    Shanakr’s ashram is a commercial operation doling out psychological products specially for some foreigners and middle class men and women who have studied in English Medium School. Surprisingly there were more women volunteers than men. It was impressive to see how so many could be motivated to give their services to produce profit for an institution. This requires genius of the highest order.

    I even met a professor from IIT Mumbai who is a volunteer there! When I expressed my disappointment with the whole show, she was very “sympathetic” and assured me that she felt the same way first and later thanks to “guruji” she could see the light. Uniformly every volunteer to whom I complained about the NGOs being taken for a ride, responded in the same manner as though all of them were robots programmed by some unknown force!

    After charging Rs. 5000 as a delegation fee, Art of Living was providing delegates a room with three persons and no towels, soap, drinking water, etc. Food was sub standard where we are expected to wash dishes after eating. I do not think delegates were taking part to learn about self help as his disciples/devotees may be expected to do. We did not go there as his disciples. I refused to wash dishes which was not liked by some. This is not because I dislike it. I have done it often. But I did not pay Rs 5000 to do that. Moreover on the web site I was offered better lodging and food facilities in “International Center”.

    What a wonderful way of advertising Shankar’s product by charging us! Companies pay money to advertise their product and here Shankar collects money from us for the privilege of learning about his products and services. This requires unusual capabilities. There were ‘Satsanghs’, “free” introductory yoga classes, visit to his first abode, etc. I am sure some NGOs would have decided to buy his products and will act as his emissaries. Of course there will be few like me who will attempt to do just the opposite. There were spies in the ashram observing people like me. It was obvious and at one time I was even frightened.

    During an evening ‘Satsangh’, there were some planted questions put to Ravi Shankar. Still his responses were pedestrian at best. One of the questions was about the new burning topic of global warming and climate change and what does Shankar think about them. First he ridiculed those who are worried about such things and proceeded to give the example of Y2K phenomenon.

    Ravi Shankar dwelt on how foolishly people worried about Y2K, the world coming to an end, places exploding, etc and how nothing of the kind took place. He was suggesting that Y2K was not a problem and so also global warming. Little did he take into consideration elaborate precautions taken by the world to prepare for Y2K and how India became of world capital for IT outsourcing as a result. What a pity such an ignoramus is considered as a “guruji” even by the fire brand Vandana Shiva. Some one asked the question about the unrest and violence in Kashmir and his response was to pat the questioner and to state youth should get involved. Is it possible he has the ability to negotiate with Naxals, LTTE, Al Quaida in Iraq etc? How media has created this “guruji” with such supernatural powers?

    After spending less than 24 hours, I decided to leave the place. The cult like environment was suffocating. Some other delegates from Mangalore with whom I have been conversing also decided to leave after the inauguration. One of the speakers Ananth Nadakarni, vice President for Tata Council for Community Initiatives also decided to leave early. Another speaker who was to talk on HIV left even before the first day.

    But for Vandana Shiva, none of the experts and well known speakers (Pachauri, Ashok Khosla, Bahuguna etc) were present. Is it possible that their names were prominently placed to sell the Sangam? We were told that about 500 delegates have registered and there were three silver sponsors. They must have raised at least Rs 30 lakhs of rupees and incremental cost would be no more than Rs. 3 lakhs. This is an excellent and clever way of making huge profit. Business colleges should use this as a case study. We should admire the entrepreneurial capabilities of Ravi Shankar. It needs genius.

    Despite being a key note speaker, Vandana Shiva spoke just for few minutes and that too in a rambling manner. She took the opportunity to bash Tata’s Nano. Her so called key note speech was dull and did not dwell on the main subject. A high school student could have delivered a better speech with greater insight. One High Court judge also gave an uninspiring talk making no points on topics except offering “pranams” to “guruji”. What a joke! I attended the first workshop and it was also equally boring. Speakers were more interested in offering pranams to “guruji” than dwelling on the subject. Since the completion of the summit, I have learnt from a participating activist that the meeting was a total failure and many were totally disillusioned.

    I am planning to demand the return of payment since facts were misrepresented to me while registering. I am exploring the possibility of filing a case in Consumer Forum.

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