Thursday, January 7, 2010

Let every city declare my day

BY ART OF LEAVING

I fell for the charm of SSRS in 2006, the year of AOL’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. The short Silver Jubilee film made by Chinese photographers was shown ad nauseam at satsangs. At each showing we were told the coloured lights in the sky represented devas or angelic beings that came en masse to grace this special occasion organised by Guruji.

There was a massive stage with politicians, celebrities and thousands of musicians. AoL claimed two and a half million humans from half the nations of the world filled the airfield below and hosted heavenly visitors the skies above. The presence of the latter had been expertly captured, they claimed, through today’s advanced technology and the skill of the photographers. Never mind that the lights did not look particularly special to the ordinary observer (they actually seemed more like reflections of stage lights on the camera lens). The point was if you had the ability to see auras, you would have known that the lights contained tiny figures in lotus posture and the like. It was suggested the huge bright light hovering over one part of the stage was His Holiness himself, much brighter and bigger than the ones in the skies - a great blessing bestowed on humanity.

I was new and the film made some impact on me yet I found it a little strange SSRS attached so much importance to the whole thing. With or without heavenly guests, it did not seem to me much more than a big show.

A few months later I found myself at darshan given by him to international devotees during the Navaratri celebrations in the Bangalore ashram. We were shown one or two certificates from Canadian cities that had named him honorary citizen and declared a SSRS day. SSRS then urged us to organise the declaration of an AoL day in our own cities when we returned home.

He impressed upon us that since it was the year of Silver Jubilee, a once in a life time happening, we must not miss the opportunity and three or four people together should seek local politicians, tell them about the AoL Silver Jubilee, show footages and give them a folder with copies of all the certificates already conferred. He then added, with a dismissive gesture: “Of course, we know these things really mean nothing but for the sake of those who think it is important...”

Perhaps to reassure devotees who might disagree with asking their cities to declare a day in his name, he added: “We made sure at Silver Jubilee I did not sit on a big chair. I sat in the same chair as everyone else so it wouldn't cause a problem.” He seemed amused at this fact. It was a kind of admission that he was deliberately presenting a more secular and humble face to the world but that the devotees were in on the secret of who he really was – divine enough to deserve a special big chair (as if that was a sign of divinity or importance!).

I felt uneasy by this running after name and fame, and the strategy used did not strike me as honest, humble or spiritual. Normally one would hope that honours and awards are conferred on a person because it is clear to the public eye or to respectable institutions that the work s/he has done is for the common good and of great benefit. One would hope that it is not due to a lot of lobbying by the followers of the person in question. I wondered how on earth one would convince one’s city to declare a day in honour of AoL on the basis of Silver Jubilee. I thought the event had great value in its own right but it would be difficult to make it seem relevant to cities in other parts of the world.

At the time I was not aware of the big push to get SSRS the Nobel Peace Prize and that the “SSRS day” drive was part of that strategy. KLIM’s post Gandhi also did not get the Nobel Peace Prize enlightened me about the extent of the strategising and lobbying that goes on in the AoL.

Exactly how successful or unsuccessful devotees were in their “SSRS day” attempts can be gauged from http://www.srisri.org/biography/awards-and-honours. Gullible cities are listed under “His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day” and “International Honours”.

12 comments:

Son of Chucky said...

I too, attended the big Silver Jubilee in Bangalore in 2006. At the time, it seemed like more of a good excuse to visit India for the first time (and I predicted, my last) and take in the sights, in addition to attending this celebration. I was told there would be 5 Million people from across the world attending, so it would be sort of a "Spiritual Woodstock". Well, as we all know, the attendence was primarily the Indians that lived in the vicinity, which no doubt could easily total over 2M in itself. The rest of the world came but in a predictably lower percentage, and those that came for the most part seemed to be True Believers, as I thought from speaking with them.
Needless to say, the event was quite extraordinary, most likely just from the sheer mass of humanity gathered and the traffic congestion and mess. Many were told they had a certain class of occupancy at hotels they prepaid for, but the hotels ended up being at the lower end of the scale.
The infrastructure of this geo-community was obviously being strained although in normal times it is a herd beyond Hell in itself with a congestive mess of honking cars and teeming humanity somehow maintaining itself in the midst of what would seem to be sheer chaos.
At the Silver Jubilee, Ravi Shankar spoke but it was quite boring to watch most of the 3 days' events, with mostly politicians kissing up to someone they perceived to be a huge influence on their constituencies, and therefore they showed up because they had no other choice. There were some interesting speakers from across the world, but what they had to say was also boring and political mumbo-jumbo speak.
The AOL Ashram was quite a sight, huge and filled with interesting buildings, but also overloaded due to the Jubilee. It was apparent the crowds tolerated the chaos without breaking out into fights or arguments, as I'm sure would be the case in any modern country where the "spiritual" awareness was not emphasized so much. Hinduism has its obvious social benefits when you have zillions of people packed into small spaces, somehow fostering a more benign attitude towards coping in such congestion.
Like Klim, I also found the claptrap about Celestial Beings being played up, since in many photos the images showed as bunches of white clouds in the sky. I assume these were photographic normalties from the dirt in the air, the lighting, etc. However, at a talk in Charlotte, NC later that year that I attended, Ravi announced that the slide show of photos from the Silver Jubilee being shown to the audience had celestial
beings in it. No one seemed to challenge the assertion, but no one seemed to be too concerned about whether this claim was real or just photographic effects.
In any event, looking back at my trip to the Silver Jubilee, I'm half glad I went since I also took part of a group tour after the Jubilee, traveling through Northern India and vicinities; on the other hand, if I knew today what I knew then about the overall physical conditions in India, the dirt, air pollution, 3rd world craziness, and overall hassles,I'd probably pass since I don't find India that intriguing enough to visit given that mess! I'll never return, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

Son of Chucky

Very amusing account :)

Next time try some expensive upclass travel agency.Then see the gloss and the India that you will love. Budget class is always pathetic anywhere in the wold. I will not criticize american craziness or excesses because whole world is witnessing living proofs of that!

Celestial Angel said...

Hi KLIM

There has been a lot of talk and publicity especially in Asia about the angels/celestial beings that were present during the Silver Jubilee celebrations. Would be nice to hear your views/opinions on this.

Vishwanath said...

The christian cult leader Benny Hinn had a large gathering of 2 million people in the jakkur grounds in Bangalore. Silver jubilee function of AOL was created along similar lines after a few months in the same venue with the same number of people attending. One thing is obvious from these two incidents, mass gatherings in India is quite common. Kalki baghvan stages huge mass gatherings to show his power.
There were many Hindu swamis and leaders who attended this silver jubilee meeting. One of them was the popular Asaram Bapu of gujatrat who is now fighting charges of double murder.
The devas and angel stuff are cock and bull stories used to hoodwink the gulliable masses. Very similar to the presence of the holy ghost in Benny Hinns gathering.

Prairie Princess said...

If anyone saw the pictures taken of Barak Obama in Grant Park Chicago on election night, there were many,many "orbs" in the sky. And, I'm sure. the event was better organized than anything AoL has to offer. There should be pictures of Obama in Grant Park on the internet. I saw them after the election but do not have a link. Cities or states declaring "Days" doesn't mean much.

KLIM said...

I had the same thought when I watched Obama's inauguration. In fact I thought, "Oh, Guruji will be so jealous! There are really more than 2 million people in that event and the energy is truly so high. And it is so truly well organized!" That Silver Jubilee was a scam. It lost many people and, looking back, I think it is when I literally lost my mind and character. The stress was so high it was unbelievable. Many teachers did not sleep or eat almost for a week trying to figure out how to room people. The Indian team had done such a lousy job. People who paid deposits and reserved rooms for 2, 4, 5 people were dumped in communal rooms for 20 people. It was a lot of fighting and again, an AoL mess and theft. It was embarrassing. We thought the Millennium event was terrible, but that was 100 times worse. He just wanted all those people and flags for his video footages and print outs. When I think about it I feel like sending a letter of apology to everyone I took. After the mess, of course, it was all used as "he was making us stronger, so much karma was removed." Unbelievable.

Regarding the "bubbles", he actually had me in his room at midnight watching and proudly explaining this phenomenon. One of his most old time teachers insisted it was a technical thing with the lights. We, of course, thought he was too mental and did not have enough faith in Guruji. He, of course, gave him a dirt look. He insisted Ganesh, Laxmi sat in the bubbles. The devas love him!, he explained. All the psychics in Varanasi also saw them on TV (Guruji, are psychics good or useless after all? Trapped in maya or not after all?).

As a good teacher that I was, I repeated that bubbly BS in every satsang and course thereafter, impressing people with the stories, until one day, one of my students rushed to me with her own pictures full of bubbles. She was so excited thinking the angels also followed her. And there, to our surprise, she was in a beer house ... full of bubbles in the air (and the glass)! We suddenly said, "Strange no? Why would angels go to a beer house?" Ravishankar's insisted they follow the light. Well, maybe beer too? After that, I notice it is common to find bubbles in many digital pictures, regardless of the context. I guess, correctly said, "a technical thing with the lights." There we were again, using magical thinking to lure more clients and us, brain dead, repeating his stories without prior critical thinking. At least, my tragic comedy.

Relative of Chuck's Son said...

Klim:
Can you spell F-L-I-M F-L-A-M?
Pretty funny that Angels show up in a beer house!

KLIM said...

I just learned a new word! Thank you! Chuck has quite a large extended family!

KLIM said...

to the Anon who commented on Son of Chucky's experience: note that unfortunately events such as Ravishankar's Silver Jubilee do not do justice to India. For anyone visiting India for the first time, damage is done. It is a pity cause Ravishankar is not good representation nor good ambassador of India nor its Indian culture. Many first time visitors and new "followers" left disappointed.

Arvind Mahajan said...

My wife and I attended the silver jubilee in 2006. There were minor problems with accommodation (all the rooms were full, we had to share our room with two others), but things were pretty spiffy otherwise, considering there were about a frooglepoopillion people around.

The event itself was less than remarkable. There was a lot of pomp and show, political heavyweights kissing up, lots of forced smiles and "jai gurudev"s, and a tremendous amount of dust and mud.

I was hoping for some deep spiritual insights by guruji, meditations, long kriya, or just anything "special" at all, but came away disappointed. It was simply a huge birthday bash for him, plenty of marketing ops, very little real stuff and even the kriya had to be shortened because of all the dust, people were coughing and choking :)

Still, I was amazed at how orderly the whole thing was, I'd expected much more chaos. Even the traffic was remarkably sane after the event finished. I expected to be stuck on the highway till late at night, but we kept moving along quite fine.

HP said...

"Exactly how successful or unsuccessful devotees were in their “SSRS day” attempts can be gauged from http://www.srisri.org/biography/awards-and-honours. Gullible cities are listed under “His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day” and “International Honours”. "
-Art of Leaving

I checked and around 21 days allotted for SSRS, but interesting to note that not one of them is outside of USA or CANADA.

Was this exercise by the AOL volunteers only limited to North America? No Indian city anywhere, Or that no one else brought this crap…, whatsoever very amusing indeed…

Anonymous said...

two comments:
a) regarding the silver jubiliee execution.
I have some knowledge with some authority that , SSRS called representatives of a large volunteer organization who have the ability to handle this kind of event(large gathering) and asked them to take control. THis was after realizing that the crowd could not be handled well by the AOL groups.
THey were also asked to be in AOL uniform(even though they have their own uniform)to make it appear that they are from the AOL org.

b) regarding delcaring AOL day in the cities.
It is very easy task. The city mayor/counsellors are politicians and all it takes is to get hold oa large dononr(mostly doctors) and this gets the job done.
I know of another swamy who has gotten similar thing at the statem level(AZ) and at Big city level (LA)