On my recent visit to Mumbai, I saw numerous posters like the one above informing the public of an impending “Maha Satsang” (because apparently a Satsang isn’t good enough; it has to be a great/grand one!!) there later this week. I also saw another poster that contained an exhortation to ‘Volunteer for a better India’. The man whose face was plastered on all these posters is referred to by his followers in a rather overt display of honoroficity (this is a word I have coined as a, even if I say it so myself, terrifically original response to the lack of an alternative word that describes such perverse and repulsive ass kissing behaviour) as “Param Pujya Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji”. The subject of this blog post is that much revered man himself and will be henceforth be referred to in this post as P2S2RSg.
My first introduction to P2S2RSg and his Art of Living (AoL) foundation was from a series of blog posts by Atanu Dey where he brilliantly answers his own question “Is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a con-man?” I read these blog posts and was quite in agreement with Atanu’s basic argument that P2S2RSg was a simply an intelligent person well versed in marketing to have attracted all that interest in his breathing techniques & have it commercially packaged in the AoL courses. I did not think much of P2S2RSg after that until recently during my Mumbai visit. Looking at the numerous posters across the length & breadth of Mumbai, I realized P2S2RSg through his Art of Living variety spirituality & volunteerism holds a sway over a substantial proportion of India’s educated metro elite. I also got a feeling P2S2RSg is attempting to expand his influence from the “spiritual” domain to that of the political. Alternatively, perhaps there is a bunch of interested people aligned with him who are trying to use P2S2RSg & AoL’s brand equity and PR machinery to project him on the national stage as a politico-spiritual reformer of sorts. The more likely explanation is that it is a combination of the above mentioned. The ultimate idea driving their machinations is most likely to create a votebank loyal to P2S2RSg that will vote as per his directions and provide him and the abovementioned interested group leverage to negotiate with the eventual powers that will emerge.
I don’t know what P2S2RSg deems as good utilization of his time but I sure can tell that he spends an ordinate amount of time meddling in affairs that he has no skills, talent or business to be interfering in. On one or two occasions in the past, I have noted with dismay the kind of activities that P2S2RSg chooses to involve himself in; like playing the peacemaker in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Since, it would appear that P2S2RSg’s claim to fame is that of being a spiritual teacher by virtue of Sudarshan Kriya® which has helped millions of people to find relief from stress and discover inner reservoirs of energy and peace in daily life, I think he really should stick to helping many more clueless devotees of his to lead a stress free life. Instead, so that he remain free to pursue his other roles of a humanitarian leader and a peace ambassador, P2S2RSg has delegated the responsibility of being a spiritual teacher to a band of merry followers who are on a never ending mission of expanding P2S2RSg and AoL’s devotee count by aggressively marketing and recruiting clueless people into the courses offered by AoL.
I was curious to know if P2S2RSg and AoL always offer their courses at a price or do they also hold out the promise of leading a stress free life to those who cannot afford to pay the course fees. While searching for this on the internet, I stumbled upon these blogs whose purpose 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. The contents of these blogs are disturbing as they charge that
(There has been) damage to physical health of various practictioners of the techniques taught on the courses,
(There has been) psychologic damage resulting not only from meditation and kriya, but also from spiritual abuse by senior members of the organization itself, including Sri Sri.
The majority of techniques in AoL have been plagiarized from other organizations and sold to course participants as originating from AoL,
(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.
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,
AoL is commercializing a great many sacred Hindu practices and profiterring heavily from this venture,
Probably the most disturbing of all the allegations is that Art of Living is actually a cult masquerading as a humanitarian organization.
This sample list of charges is explored in great detail on this blog here.
One can only arrive at their own conclusion based on their own experiences with AoL or their perceptions of P2S2RSg (something that I will write about in a separate blog someday). I noted with interest that AoL had sued these bloggers for defamation and trade libel in mid 2010 and then by mid of 2012 eventually decided to reach a settlement agreement with them. Apparently as per one of the bloggers, the real reason why AoL sued them was because they also had published AoL’s manuals and Kriya notes here. Apparently these bloggers continue their discussion about AoL here.
Meanwhile in India, the flock of sheep led by P2S2RSg seems to only increase as I note that he and his foundation are now indulging in a feverish campaign to increase their visibility and relevance at the national level going by yesterday’s interview to CNN-IBN.