Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Art of Acting and The Art of Marketing


I can still remember my very first AoL teacher. I remember being in awe at how well he was able to deliver the “knowledge” and conduct the class while smiling throughout, how well he handled student’s questions (especially the skeptical ones), and how at ease he always appeared. I was impressed. And all the other students must have been too because by the last night of the course, they all gravitated toward him and didn’t want to leave. Since that time, I had gotten to know many other teachers, and have gone down the long and twisted road of becoming an AoL teacher myself. I came to that path because I had good intentions and grandiose ideas of changing the world. But in the end, I know I was chosen to become a teacher because of my ability to pull off a decent appearance, recite from my script (the teacher’s manual), and sell the course to my community. And every requirement to becoming a teacher, and every aspect of the teacher training are geared toward finely honing those skills.

I didn’t realize that the course was scripted until I attended a number of part 1 courses. Different teachers taught the course identically, and all used the same words and mannerisms (isn’t it?). They even tended to dress the same way (white or light colors and usually adorning a shawl). It all made sense when I met ssrs, and saw that it was he they were emulating. This bothered me at first, but somewhere along the way, that feeling subsided, and I began to emulate too. I’m not sure why. Could it have been because following the herd was the easy thing to do? Or because I had spent so much time surrounded by devotees, that I came to accept those practices as the norm? Or perhaps it was because of all the positive reinforcement I got from my teachers while emulating ssrs. I suspect the answer is all of the above.

Further along the path to becoming a teacher, there were more and more intense lessons in the Art of Marketing. DSN was nothing more than a salesman boot camp in which course participants are first broken through sleep deprivation and physical and emotional exhaustion, and then made to sell the course at all costs. I remember on the last day having to walk into a jam-packed church in the middle of a sermon to recruit people to an AoL course. If that is not proselytization, then I don’t know what is. TTC1 also focused intensely on marketing. Again, participants are broken through sheer exhaustion. Aside from getting emotionally and mentally abused (which I will not go into here) students spend many hours setting goals (“sankalpas”) for the growth of AoL in their own communities, developing marketing strategies, and polishing their introductory talks.

I got introduced to the Art of Acting at TTC2. It is yet another course with the usual component of breaking participants through exhaustion. But the main focus this time is on memorizing and reciting the “course points”. Hours and hours are spent reading the manual and delivering “the knowledge” before the class. We are told not to get creative or to let our own thoughts interfere. Just stick to the manual. By the end, the course turns out an army of well-trained, finely-tuned robots (aka AoL teachers).

Over my years of continuous involvement with AoL, I have realized that ssrs & co perpetuate the myth that becoming a teacher of AoL dogma is a wonderful gift, bestowed by ssrs only upon the most worthy and select few. But my experience has shown me that AoL is printing out teachers like they’ve just invented the press. Anyone with the inclination who has the money to afford the training courses and can withstand the abuse can become a teacher. One who keeps coming back for more abuse has truly proven his enduring gullibility, and is entrusted with a God Almighty, holiest of holy, precious-more-than-life-itself kriya tape. The fact is the DSN and TTCs train one to become a walking, talking advertisement that can put on a good enlightenment act. And yes folks, it is all an act. I have witnessed first hand senior teachers break down emotionally, and I have seen the rage ssrs can become possessed with behind closed doors. These are not the behaviors I would have thought to ascribe to an enlightened individual.

I have heard the argument time and again from AoLites that no one is ever forced to do anything in AoL. But I would counter that the manipulation that goes on in the courses (both subtle and overt), as well as the brainwashing, runs so deep, and the emotional damage sustained so unfathomable, that one finds oneself compelled to continue to serve the organization. I suspect this compulsion is driven by the same psychology that brings an abused wife back to her husband abuser, a prisoner to defend those who have imprisoned him (as in Stockholm Syndrome), or an elderly couple to give up their life savings to a con artist. But whatever the reason, AoL continues to lure unsuspecting victims into its thick web of deceit.

I have seen many cases where ssrs and senior teachers have taken advantage of well-meaning, well-intentioned, innocent individuals, suck their time, money, and energy, and then leave them by the wayside, a useless emotional mess. I am forever grateful that I managed to get out with my sanity still in tact.


KLIM said...

DSN, TTC 1, TTC 2, even Blessings course focus mainly in making sure one "breaks the ego" in order to bring people to the course, not to take you deeper into knowledge or work on your evolution. It is funny to think there was a belief it is one's ego if you don't enroll people to the course! In fact, I have heard ludicrous comments like, "Not talking to people about the AoL and not bringing them to the course is murder."

SSRS says one day AoL teachers will be the most respected people in society and the most privileged position anyone could have. People will fight to become teachers. I don't know if it is true but I know since recent years anyone can become a teacher and often everyone who attends a TTC 2 leaves with the SK tape and the manual. So irresponsible! In the meantime, the graduates felt they were the chosen ones, the special ones, so smart and so evolved! When the TTC teacher would argue with him about certain people not deserving the tape or manual (often because they showed signs of mental instability), he'd give them a dirty look. It was always accepted with a "the grace will take care."

Funny OMGs!

Pastrami said...

God that is truly frightening.
Sounds worse than going through the TM teacher training, where at least there was no "DSN" proselytizing, and the results of the meditation technique itself were self evident.
I find that boot camp description and proselytizing extremely cultish sounding and know a friend who went through this BS.
He admitted the proselytizing was wierd, but can you imagine trying this on for size in a community where you do business or someone knows you?
You'd be marred for life as a looney, something not so conducive for your livelihood.

Sitting on the fence said...

The tagline of AOL should be anyone can become teachers - last year there was an express TTC in Bali - anyone who had done one Part 1 course could apply.

How can a person who has been in AOL for just a couple of weeks impart knowledge and teach yoga. Mystifying - answer is Guruji knows and everything works with his grace.

From the AOL grapevine, a mentally unstable applicant from Taiwan applied for this TTC and the local teachers co-ordinator did not approve the application. The applicant wrote directly to the Ashram and the Guru approved his application. The local teachers
were dissappointed but they were reassured that Guruji knows best.

Yes why woulnt he know best when each applicant has to pay almost USD2000 for the TTC.

Baffling but this cowherd mentality deserves this and much more.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding in South America you do TTC 1 AND 2 in only THREE WEEKS, and anyone who took the Part 1 course, even just a few months ago can do it. That's an expression of his hurry to conquer the world. And finally you get so many unprepared people acting as teachers: mentally unstable, immature, fanatics, etc. What is his hurry????? Can someone please explain?

Art of Leaving said...

It makes me happy to see how quickly this blog is developing. I've been hoping it would take this form. Thanks a lot for putting so much energy into it, Klim. Thanks also, Humble Witness, for contributing posts. Hearing many voices are good.

I have a question I wish to put to long-time ex-devotees. Perhaps someone would be willing to contribute a post about it?

The question is this: After putting so much devotional energy into SSRS (or into any other Guru) and then leaving, what does one do with the devotional need afterwards?

I am unwilling and unable to kill the devotional tendency in myself, because I still feel there is something beautiful and worthwhile in it, and I prefer transcendence and transformation through the heart and some form of Guru bhakti. Perhaps I have some emotional lack or immaturity within myself, but so be it. That's who I am, and I need to work with it in a kind and gentle way.

I have found that what I sometimes do is to divide SSRK into two personas - the one is the real-life one who has put me through much hell and whom I ended up hating and cursing; and the other is the one of my initial projections. The projected SSRS includes the one percent in him to which I still seem to be attracted, coupled with how I would like him to be ideally.

To such an ideal SSRS I still sometimes mentally direct love and devotion, mostly because I have not found any alternative yet despite much searching for one. And perhaps also because I have drawn him so deeply into my being via meditation.

I still watch some of his videos and I am still addicted to AoL Bhajans and I do get some emotional nourishment from it. I have tried to direct my attention away from him many times, sometimes for a few months at a stretch, but I return time and again to some idealised version of him.

I no longer have any desire to physically return to him or AoL, although initially I sometimes considered doing so. But my heart has been burnt badly enough already and by now my head is very clear about it that any return would merely repeat the torture. The evidence in these blogs also helps to keep the dangers vividly before my eyes.

Anyway, what to do with the need for devotion to a Guru - that is the question. I could keep working with my idealised version of SSRS and deepen him, but there might be a danger of stagnation and delusion. I would really prefer moving on completely, but how?

Sitting on a bigger fence said...

(a) We can not really know the entire Universe and its magnanimity because of our
limited ability to perceive. The brain works on a frequency channel; our sense organs have limited capacity.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Ref: The Speaking Tree, TOI, dt 30 Nov 09

(b)Seeker:Do you think you are God? Would you like to be called as God?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: How can you doubt? Can any body ask the Sun if he is Sun?
Ref: Rishimukh Magazine May 09 issue Q&A session P-51

Ignorant people claiming themselves as Omniscient God is simply foolishness. It is not only cheating the innocent people by misguiding them but also degrading and insulting the God.

*** Please also note that God does not discuss with human delegates in the Parliament of Religions conducted at Melbourne – Australia, for solutions to the problems of humanity. He being SUPREME establishes DHARMA on his own

This was forwarded to many AOL members by a Mr Shankar PBK who has been commenting on SSRS and AOL for quite sometime.

KLIM said...

Art of Leaving,
Let "devotion" be directed towards your own higher being and the beauty of life itself. This is one of the greatest lessons I have learned from all my experience with AoL. Truly, the master is within ourselves. Whereas gurus like SSRS talk about going in and all of that, in the practice it becomes all about being out. We serve someone else, we are devoted to someone else ... at the end of the day, we forget the most important: who am I, loving ourselves, seeing God in ourselves, learning to relate with ourselves. Any devotion geared towards someone outside is where we loose equilibrium and track of truth and the Self.

For Heaven's sake, please stop idealizing that man. I am sure others will also give you even better advise. Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

To Sitting on a Bigger Fence

SSRS IS NOT claimmg that only he himself is God.He says Everyone is God and there is divine within each being. By that same logic SSRS is God and so are you, me and all of us. Everything quoted out of context looks crooked.

Once upon a time even Jesus Christ claimed to be God. He also said all of us are divine. He was crucifixed by then majority. Now after many thousand years Christ being God is regarded as The only truth by so many millions!!

CHUCK said...

Anonymush, the idea that Jesus is God is NOT a belief of all christians. Having said that, I believe that it's possible that Jesus was the same kind of maniacal scumbag that She She is today, but who can say. The only thing we know for sure is that She She is.

Art of Leaving said...

Thank you for those words, KLIM. I need to repeat them to myself often.

Anonymous said...

Klim and AOLeaving and all,
One finds his own path. Every Guru says he will only show the way and not hold your finger throughout the journey.
It is one thing leaving a movement dejected (or rejected?), but just finding fault with it blogging negatively on it, collecting like-minded dejectees (to rhyme with devotees) is such a horrible waste of good time and energy. Leave SSRS and AOL, fine. But put your time in some useful work, some seva. What?
Seva is a better way of getting rid of frustration. Blogging is mere energy loss.
No point in commenting on my comment, as I will not visit again here. I had enough of reading Guru-bashing stuff.
Anyway, thanks for another perspective.
Jai Gurudev.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to talk about my experiences at one of these DSN courses (as an attendee) this was probably 9-10 years ago and as a faithful AOL devout; this course opened my eyes into what a cult it had become. The teacher was charismatic and we all were awed by his presence. As he went on, he said a few things that made me realize that this is bordering on a cult. DSN's premise was you could take any criticisms in life after attending this course - this was based on making a person sit on a chair and have the rest of the course attendees hurl insults at you (granted they don't even know you but still).
I heard a story where a pregnant woman had a miscarriage because of domestic abuse by her husband (he kicked the newborn fetus) and she later took this course only to have someone from the class yell at her that she deserved it (the abuse, miscarriage).
My experiences weren't that horrific but they were enough to make me change tunes.
Some of the things that were done and said:
1. The teacher told an example of how one of his apprentices was being constantly pushed by his mother to get married and he responded by taking a bottle of rat poison and keeping it infront of his mother as an act of defiance - saying that if she asked him one more time to get married, he would make her drink it.
2. SSRS is God/Lord/Almighty and there is no one else.
3. The teacher lamented how the bangalore ashram at the time lacked a solar water heater and how it would be a good 'gift' to Guruji. Sure enough the next day, the class managed to get out their checkbooks and raised a princely sum of 300,00 rupees which at the time was a lot of money. I had this horrible feeling where i was sort of being pressurized to come up with a contribution and yet I came up with nothing - a very different kind of feeling to experience.
4. As part of the course, we were made to walk the streets and peddle AOL and get a lot of people to join up/ sign up so that you as an individual would fulfill your destiny. You were then mocked when you came up with nothing
5.they hurled abuses at a woman whose only sin was that her husband would not partake or support her in her AOL activities.
In the end, I lost total respect for the teacher whom I have known for a while. There's a thin line between preaching and forcing your views on someone and he crossed that line - making us believe that it is okay to forsake your own family for the greater good of AOL and that was something I could never stomach doing.
I wish I had the temerity I possess now and had done something back then. I guess that also comes with age 9-10 years is a longtime.
Good job with the blog. I have come to realize that one's own family means the most and wasting your time, money and energy on such a greedy cut-throat organization is bordering on being a cult follower/ retarded.

Lehmann108 said...

Oh you poor baby! Life is so cruel! I hope you have napped enough from the big meanies in AOL who deprived you of sleep. Here, have a cookie of my pity. Those awful meanies!!!! Did they change your diapers too because you couldn't do that either? Here's your bottle and blanky to keep those cruel meanies away little baby cakes. What are you 35, 36 now? Let's keep on blaming other people for the bad choices you made! Don't worry, one day you'll find a perfect breast to keep you fed! It's not my fault!!!!!