Friday, November 27, 2009

My beginning, our beginning

I met Sri Sri Ravishankar in the early 90s. I did not think much about him then. He seemed an ordinary small size Indian man dressed in white, with simple answers which often mocked the questions made by the public, giggled more than lectured - nothing really outstanding. I remember being more captivated by the eccentricity of his followers. Some seemed to float around, as if they were high on some peace and love pill, throwing flowers in the corridors, singing, dancing as they greeted us, brain dead, brainless, handing brochures, speaking to us about the wonders of this man they were following since God knows how long. The whole event was lame, small, uneventful, boring. I left suspicious, dull, cheated. How did I, a year later, got sucked into the organization, I still wonder. I had received very high education, considered myself intelligent and skeptical. But I do know that when he, Ravishankar, wants to lure a newcomer with potential (either because of the capacities the person presents or his/her contacts or he/she has money), he is the perfection of Don Casanova.

I went from disliking everything about him to being passionately in love with him. I found every stupid word he uttered, wise, deep, even funny. To my surprise, I can watch the very same talks today and find them shallow and repetitive. Actually, he never says anything new nor mind-blowing. I’d name it, “Variations on a Theme of Ravishankar” (without any doubt Rachmaninoff had a lot more creativity, depth, genius, confirmed by his numerous master pieces).

There was something about the way he spoke – slow, well paced -, the way he gazed – hypnotic … I cannot decide yet if his talks hypnotized us or made us stupid. Like I cannot decide either whether his famous Sudarshan Kriya, and other techniques, relaxed us or killed our brain cells. Somehow, as the years went by, I remember perceiving myself more stupid.

There are many things I have not yet found answers. However, there is one thing I am certain of: the art of living happens without the Art of Living. Leaving the Art of Living becomes an art itself.

Looking back, I see my years of involvement with the organization as a pause in my life. Everything that happened revolved around the ambitions of Ravishankar and his family. And there was only one clear ambition: fame, power, wealth, numbers. He wants to be the biggest, the greatest, the best … We all worked for free for him, in the name of “seva”, in the name of “spiritual growth”, in the name of “becoming stronger”, in the name of “burning karmas.”

I stopped being myself, I stopped living life, I stopped being happy by faking joy and teaching the means to reach it, I became stressed teaching how to be stress-free. Of course, you may think it is all my responsibility, or that I was unfit for the organization or the role as a volunteer teacher. I definitely am responsible, but for having bought a fraud and stayed for so long. I am responsible for being gullible, innocent, idealistic, insecure. I am responsible for not loving myself and not knowing how and when to draw the line. Unfortunately, it was not just me who suffered of the same stress, unhappiness, psychological dissonance, illnesses.

I have met many senior teachers who are unstable psychologically, psychotic, etc. I have met hystrionics, narcissists, border-lines, psychotics, sociopaths, obsessive compulsive, hypochondriacs, paranoids, immature people claiming to have the absolute truth and the key to salvation and enlightenment.

Being in a so-called spiritual path has given me a lot of pain, robbed my innocence, living my life, being myself. It has taught me invaluable lessons, woke me up to the fact there is a lot of evil in the world and that, regardless, it is beautiful as it is. At the end of the day, Ravishankar did not teach me absolutely anything. The lessons were provided by life itself only because I decided to turn every experience into a lesson.

Today, if someone asked me what I learned in the spiritual path, I’d reply, “I learned everything one must never do in life, and I learned what kind of a human being I never want to be.”


Hugo said...

Welcome to the blogosphere! I'm glad to have you here. I don't have the same background as you, but I have a background that I believe to be somewhat related, so it'll be cool to compare notes.

May you be particularly helpful to your intended target audience!

Katyayani said...

I was just recently introduced to your blog a few days ago by a dear friend I made when I was a member of the Art of Living organization (for over 15 years) and I appreciate the courage you've shown to post your feelings and experiences.

I met Guruji when he first started teaching and was part of the original group of devotees who helped start the Art of Living. And while I don't know if anyone (except maybe for a few devotees who have always been very close to Guruji) really knows him and his motivations, I think a lot of what you've shared has some truth -- and some of it is not true at all.

But having said that, I witnessed a lot of what you've observed to happen with the AOL to start taking shape around 2000. Around 2002, he essentially pushed me and my husband out and told us to go and start our own thing. For several years after I was devastated and felt I had been completely abandoned and misled by what appeared now to me to be an exploitative, ego-based organization.

But what's happened since is I've realized what a profound blessing it is to have had a Guru, trusted him with my heart, and then be pushed away. I've realized that such a relationship is not dependent on the greatness of the Guru, but on the greatness of the devotee -- who has the courage to surrender, the faith to serve, and the selfless love to offer.

And a true devotee's destiny is not to get caught in the illusion of separateness. What great courage it took not only to surrender to a Guru, but to wake up and leave. You are fit for the highest realization. Guruji himself was such a devotee who left his master with the same courage -- and he faced much worse trials and difficulties.

I can promise you in the early days (the 1980s and early 1990s), Guruji was sincere -- a beautiful and innocent bright light in this world who shared such an incredibly profound inspiration. He was not the political figure-head you see as a tiny dot on the stage now who is worried about raising money to keep everything we started going or how he's perceived in the press or if he's going to get a comfortable room so he can for once enjoy some peace and rest from the insanity of the multitudes who surround him. I often wonder if he misses the joy we shared in his presence and all the fun we used to have. I know I do. Everyday.

Now he's caught in the same trap as Maharshi was -- and I'm sure he is well aware of his limitations at this point. But now it's time for his old time devotees to get the same courage he once showed and go forth with the beautiful enlightening knowledge that is the heritage of our holy tradition -- and not get trapped by the stupid politics and illusions of the disease called the "organization."

I send all blessings to anyone else who may read this who feels let down that you may continue the line of enlightened masters who have graced our tradition for thousands of years -- each one of them disillusioned by their Guru or alienated by their Guru (look at Maharishi's story and his Guru's story and his Guru's story -- it's all the same as what you've written here in your blog). Awake, Arise, and Don't stop until the goal is reached.

With all love and respect (and not afraid in the least to sign my name),

Katyayani Poole, Ph.D.
Shruti Institute for Vedic Arts
(otherwise known as "little Katie" for you old-timers)

hoopyfrood said...

Hi, I recently found your blog, and just wanted to thank you for doing what you're doing. You probably get a lot of incoherent rants from art of living supporters, against you, so just wanted to add my voice to the people supporting you.

I couldn't find an email address on your blog, so I'll leave my comment here.

Several of my friends and family members are members of the art of living cult, and it's been tough dealing with them. Especially as they sacrifice family relationships and give up their own affairs to focus on their art of living "duties". It seems like their entire lives revolve around the art of living, with no room for the outside.

Anyway, thanks again for doing what you do. Your blog is a great resource.

Anmol said...

Hi Klim & Co.,
Is the teacher who wrote this resignation letter one of you ?

Anyway, you can read this.

KLIM and CO. said...

No. Kudos to the one who did!