Sunday, March 28, 2010

Siddhis, the ally

When I first was introduced to SSRS, so much had been spoken about him, I imagined him a lot bigger than he really is. In any case, by the time I sat in his presence for the first time, I was convinced he could read my thoughts, and, as years went by, I attributed many other supra natural powers to him. Even when people said, “Gee, he is so short”, I’d be perplexed, “What do you mean? He is not that short, is he?”

It is said he can see our past, present and future, and liberate us from the cycle of life and death, as well as remove our karmas with just his presence or serving him. It is said he can change the weather – “I am nature! It flows through me! Nature does what I tell it to do!” he once yelled at me, “Don’t you yet understand?!” It is said he can produce fragrances: “What do you want? Chocolate, roses?” It is said he can predict and he knows everything about you even when you are not present or know everyone’s names. It is said he can cure people even of terminal diseases (even the blind recovered sight, and the deaf hearing). In other words, he knows everything and he is almighty God.

AoLers call these so-called powers, “siddhis”. Many people attribute him mastership and the state enlightenment with the argument “but he has siddhis.”

I have met many people with these “gifts”, many more accurate and precise when predicting and curing, yet, they don’t brag nor call themselves a “spiritual master”, nor claim to be more evolved or enlightened, and certainly do not use it as a means to dig into people’s wallets. These “siddhis” are just skills that anyone can have, and do not indicate at all anyone’s state of evolution. There is a difference between a clairvoyant and a mentalist, and neither of them, in a healthy mind, would claim to be a Guru or want to be one. In any case, even so, many of his predictions are flawed and many of his so-called cures and magic, hoax and tricks a-la-Houdini (maybe he is just the reincarnation of Houdini or related to David Copperfield).

Before exiting the cult, a friend started keeping track of all the predictions he’d state in public, as well as all the claims in numbers, prizes and events,and then check them in the internet. Right after the 2004 tsunami, he predicted, for example, another would soon hit the Atlantic. After the 9/11 he predicted attacks as important as the one in NY would take place in London, Frankfurt. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan that also did not happen, though he later claimed was saved by a maha kriya. Of course, for every such prediction he’d insist we needed to get more people to the knowledge to “save the world”, only our knowledge and SK would prevent chaos and bring peace to the planet. He insisted a teacher married a man who sabotaged her stay in the country and work, and was having an affair all along with another married woman! He blessed the daughter of another teacher to marry someone they found out ONLY the day of the ceremony, the man was married with children! He insisted a devotee who was very sick he did not need more medical check-ups, but just do SK thrice a day, because he’d live another 17 years, yet he died a few weeks later. Not to mention, every year he predicted he’d win the Nobel Peace Prize: “This year we’ll get the NPP.”

What we usually labeled as super natural was rather someone giving him prior information or intuition and common sense (note: it is well-known psychotics possess a sharp intuition doctors often call “sixth sense” or “clairvoyance”, I knew a case of psychosis which regardless of the sunshine, he’d say, “At 4 o’clock it will rain”, and it would; or “such and such is …” and it’d be exactly as he’d say. Medical psychosis diagnosed in this man who, despite his “siddhis” does not have call himself a Guru).
When it comes to real things, he really does not know everything. When a friend of mine left, he told her she should not be worried about losing her position and then told everyone else it was because she wanted to have a family. The woman left because she could no longer agree with the unethical practices of the movement and had lost respect for him! He even accused her “lack of faith” to having spoken to a “bad influence” when she had not been in speaking terms with this other person for years! How many times did I call him and he’d ask me where I was or what was I doing! I often provoked him by saying, “What do you mean? I thought you knew everything.” In private he often asked, “What did he say? What happened? What do you think?” Of course, to justify his “cute innocence” we’d say, “He knows he has hairs but he does not need to tap to how many exactly he has. Of course he knows everything.”

He knows people have a lust for magical thinking and miracles. Though he initially critized Sai Baba and his path by stating it was not a path of evolution because their faith relied on miracles, he himself started that trend too. In fact, when this started, amongst teachers we’d often make fun of it, by adding, after a stupid story, “It’s a miracle!” He wanted them told in courses and esatsang, and there we’d be, sitting in long eternal sharing sessions. Though, often he himself would be surprised with the stories. You see, he does not know a thing, he simply knows the weaknesses of people and how to manipulate and use good-timing in his favor.

All this magical thinking simply “idiotized” us. “Oh, Guruji told me to take the TTC and I could not, but after he told me to do so, I called the airline and I found a ticket for only $100! He is so amazing!” People! The airline had a good promotion! Sometimes there are good air fares and you happened to get one! “And just when I was saying that to him, he turned around and looked at me!” Gee, he just happened to look at you! “Oh my god! Guruji gave me his blessings and when I talked to my boss to take days off for the course, he said it was OK! Guruji is so amazing!” Hello? Maybe you were entitled to a few days off?“But he can remember all our names!” So what if he does! I remember everyone’s names too and where each one of my students sat during their first kriya! And, it is not true he remembers everyone’s name or that he knows everyone! We, people close to him, teachers, etc. coach him often before the meetings. He’s often told me, “But I don’t know who they are”, about some of even his board members! “I asked Guruji for his blessings and then my business picked up significantly.” Honey, you simply are talented at what you do and you would have done that with or without his blessings! “Ever since I do the practices I don’t fall sick anymore! And my skin looks so good!” What about maybe your health would have been just as good without the practices and your skin is good because you got good genes? Jesus! I have even heard RS claim a woman was more beautiful because she joined him! Many old timers who have left are actually afraid of speaking out because they fear his power of “destroying” via the mind, magic, etc, “He has powers he uses in the wrong way”, they say. Sadly, I also got sucked into all this stupid magical thinking too and blew it out of proportion with the obvious final ending: “His siddhis.”

The sad thing about this is it is used in the wrong way to manipulate and weaken people more. “If Guruji says so, it is because it is that way.” I have seen people injusticed with this thinking. People who did not do anything wrong, yet because Guruji said so, or because he supported someone in favor of that idea, then, it must be so. Thus, at the end of the day, in AoL one loses authority over one’s own thought process, judgment, values, power. Instead of empowerment, we give away our power. “Guruji says ….”. “Guruji knows …” Let's remember that magical thinking is what took several cult groups to mass suicide and other calamities.

A true spiritual master is made by the amount of siddhis. It’d be utmost pathetic shallowness (that we all fell for unfortunately). In fact, I don’t recall any miraculous stories attributed to Buddha. And the teachings of Jesus Christ do not revolve around his turning water into wine twice. Their teachings, their persona transcend all these little stories, miracles, siddhis.

It sadly is just an indication of how superficial and lost our society has become and, thus, how easily we can be preyed by these con-men. And before one says, “Guruji says ….” Or “what did Guruji say about this?” One should ask oneself, “What do I think about this?” “What actually did happen?” “How do I want to my life to be?” “Who am I?”

I wonder then, why did his siddhis not prevent this blog earlier? Did he not know there’d be one eventually? Why is he accusing the wrong people of being behind the blog? Shouldn’t his siddhis know? Why is he even accusing or threatening or fearful of people expressing themselves? It is just a blog of opinions. That is all. Isn’t he above it all? Didn’t he say, “Words are futile”? (God Loves Fun). Wouldn’t his siddhis tell him nothing will harm him because he is the best and the one who would “bring about the spiritual revolution of the new millennium”?

Siddhis does not equal spiritual evolution. Having siddhis or not does not give power to anyone nor make anyone more evolved than anyone else. If that was the case, then, CNN weather report is still my favorite Guru!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sri Sri 90210


I always found TV programs such as Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, OC senselessly funny. Everyone sleeps with everyone, it’s all about the looks - who has what, who wears what, who said what, who did what - hysterical tenfold shallowness. Sadly, not that different from AoL. I jokingly referred to it as, “Sri Sri 90210” (little did I know he’d eventually buy his mansion near that zipcode! Watch out! I have my siddhis too! … should I start a movement?).

Before you realize, everyone in a satsang group would have, at some point or another, slept with one another, dated one another, cheated on one another. Some secretly, some publicly. The fact is one big magnet that pulls people to the AoL is not the knowledge, not the guru, not the Kriya, but the social activities, the opportunity to meet “boys and girls”, the company, the networking (for professional and personal purposes), the fashion statement. When you enter the AoL portal, you find yourself in an international community of contacts, fun-loving people who seem inoffensive in the outside, go out to dinners, hang out in the name of seva. You start feeling important, purposeful and full of friends.

For a long time it feels real. You start believing these are long-life friends, spiritual siblings – after all, you’ve shared your life story in 10 minutes so many times! You’ve gone through humiliating processes in courses, been criticized, confessed dark secrets … of course they have to be your close friends! …. Until you cross to the “other side” and you suddenly find yourself alone, abandoned, attacked, rejected, ignored. Not belonging to them, no longer agreeing with their beliefs, not participating in their same activities, not loving their guru makes you a worse enemy than the one they have not yet converted. Then you wonder where all the friendship, the belongingness, the unconditional love, the secrets and intimacy you’ve shared went! For them, you are a fallen disgraceful soul: “poor xxx, not a chance this life time, bad karma).

In the old Bhakti Sutra talks, Shankar states there are 3 types of people who seek for a guru: 1. Those in sorrow; 2. those curious; 3. Those who seek for enlightenment. Sounds right. But in the case of AoL, I dare state they fall instead into, 1. those looking to network for a better job or spouse; 2. those who feel lonely and/or inadequate/lost in the world; 3. those who feel purposeless, unwanted, bored. No matter in which category one falls, Ravi does not care as long as he gets free labor, an additional body to fill in a space for a picture that demonstrates large following, people to kiss his feet and praise him endlessly, more donations, and extra arguments to pursue the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today I see the AoL satsang environment, the international and local courses hysteria and histrionic fun - shallow, psychotic, immature, deceiving.

In the beginnings years, two kind of people went to RS: Those who left TM and were promised first row seats at the feet of the guru who claimed would take them to enlightenment, and those who wanted to have a spiritual experience with a guru who would give them knowledge and guidance. Around 1999, he changed the advanced courses, simplified many things including his talks and the length of public satsangs. His explanation: those who’d d join thereafter were not that evolved thus things needed to be adapted for them, “the dummies”. (So, if you joined after 1999, this is sadly what the beloved master thinks of you. )

I don’t recall the last time I spoke with him about spirituality. He never had time for that anymore but always for a, “how many?”, events, connections, prizes, money, his reputation, what others had achieved (creating a sense of competition between teachers, thus ego battles that led to more results). Curious, I asked many people when was the last time they had a conversation about spirituality with him. Noone could recollect but they could all remember the same question, “How many?” In any case, if there were any questions, they were more around the “should I marry this person? Should I move to …? Should I finish school? Should I do this or that?”

Actually, a “deserter” said the last time he asked him about his own spiritual growth, He pinched his nipple and asked what and how he liked to practice sex (?!) instead of attending his query.

As it is wildly known, Ravi likes to be surrounded by riches and the rich. You will never find a person from a poor social background traveling with him. Only “VIPs”.If you are in his room, you get to see the latest electronic gadgets, expensive brands, etc. He has the best and not because he is the best but because he likes the best. And thus, his devotees too. I have seen ashramites and full-time teachers spend the money they did not have to own the latest i-phone, computer, brand garment (or get a wealthy devotee to “donate” it to them), and change it all the time! I don’t blame them. Most of the ashramites and full-timers I have met do not come from wealthy backgrounds. Being exposed to all of that, with a Guru who likes to flash and hang out with those who can, must be tempting, and of course, the wish to emulate their beloved one. It was just hypocritical and again, shallow a-la-“90210”, the only difference being, those in the TV show really have that money to spend and Ravi spends the money of others, not his!

Finally, it is not just in the satsang communities that “swinger” activities go on, but at the ashrams too! You just would not believe what happens in the ashrams! One would think it is a “sattvic” place of meditation, seva, silence, celibacy. First of all, in the AoL the last thing one finds is SILENCE. Even in the part 2 course there is no silence. Maybe the students keep quiet, but, have you seen a teacher, even an advanced course teacher BE SILENT? They are the most “yacki-reeh-yack” people of all! They love listening themselves talk!

There is so much sleeping around at the ashrams though everyone claims to be chaste. If you only knew what happens behind those ashram walls! If only walls could speak! There’d be some crazy stories to tell! You’d be most shocked to find out who has slept with who, how, where and why! And Ravi knows it all!

(For those AoLers who are tempted to ask for evidence, as usual, “No, I don’t collect pictures or videos of people having sex, orgies or kinky stuff, especially not with the picture of a guru in the background and the smoke of incense.” If you need evidence to the luxury items Ravi likes and owns, just take a good look, or otherwise, check out his sister and nephews. If you want to make him a gift, keep this detail in mind and He will be very impressed and give you many vegetarian brownie points!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My story with AoL, Guruji and his family


Dear Readers and Contributors,

I too have my story which is very similar to those of the contributors of this blog.

I know some of the deep dark secrets of this family run business (Art of Living, VVM, IAHV, etc.) down to where the money flows. Mr. Narsimhan, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's brother-in-law (Bhanu didi's husband) being on the VVM board India, ashram trust, signatures on bank accounts, and money movements. Having Art of Living related businesses (companies) setup for their (Bhanu didi and Narsimhan's) sons, Arvind and Ajay, and many other things.

I think we all should not lose our basic common sense. We should listen to our inner conscience. Like we teach our children - don't do anything Immoral, Unhealthy or Illegal. Yet all this I have seen in the Art of Living.

1. Being a spiritual organization. I too have seen the hypocrisy in the organization. They don't seem to live the principles they preach or seem to be spiritual at all. On the contrary they could be worse than some participants sitting in front of them. I think all teachers actually need to learn the Art of Living. I have also doubted Sri Sri himself because I have seen him back stage and in private settings. I don't think the spiritual masters I have known of the past have been like him. I have experienced what KLIM has to some degree first hand. I have seen what goes on in his meeting room and inner room. I have seen the worst side of people and humanity around Sri Sri, the very opposite of spirituality.

2. Being a non-profit. I think first of all there are certain standards for this. You can't run it like a family business or go on for too long deceiving people. It is NOT a non-profit in reality. At least Deepak Chopra runs it like a business and doesn't deceive people. Art of Living in reality is a family run business and very aggressive at it. Its deceives mostly the teachers, then the volunteers and finally the participants. The teachers and volunteers are feverishly working non-stop to get a little bit of approval and attention from their Guru, neglecting themselves and their responsibilities. And like a science experiment of mice being given a little teaser of nectar asked to keep running harder and faster with the enticement of getting privileges and recognition, like getting into Sri Sri's room. For those 5 minutes in his room they slog the rest of the year competing with each other thinking, "see I do much more than him/her, I should be allowed inside Guruji's room". Everyone competes to be a lead organizer. So much mania and feverishness! Wow, it is the best sales model in the world. Pay them nothing (volunteers), get max revenue out of them, lure them with attention/approval of the Guru, and then use the money they raised as you wish.

I know all that is posted here about the service project and many other things and in great detail. But in order to protect myself I can't divulge all the information in this public forum.

If not the government (US or India) I hope the public implicates Art of Living and Sri Sri, like the ex-disciple of Nityananda. How long will this deception go on? How many more lives and families be destroyed. I am going to do something about it now. Will you?

3. The good side. Nothing is totally wrong or totally right. No one is totally good or bad. There are so many good qualities that Sri Sri has. He has tremendous amount of knowledge, Vedic and Yogic, he does seem to have powers that I have experienced firsthand. However not being all knowing myself I may be mistaken too. Further, these “siddhis” can be misused and are not an indication of enlightenment. But again, I am confused at the dichotomy of his other side seen in private. Art of Living also has good things: the Course points are universal principles on peace of mind, the meditation, breathing techniques, yoga. The cultic elements start if and when one gets involved in the organization. I have seen many people get destroyed. It is the same with Hare Rama Hare Krishna for e.g., which I think is a cult and again I don’t want to brand it as evil, dark, devilish.

My understanding is that everything is part of God, even the unhealthy, illegal and unhealthy things. We need to be wise to make the right choice. I for one want to be firmly established in the knowledge of Vedas, truly seek answers for 'What is the purpose of live', "Who am I", "what is truth", and be free.

There is much more I know. Enough to digest for now! More later... :-)

Monday, March 22, 2010

A summary of my story with AoL


I had been a part of AoL since 1998 and left it as of a few weeks ago due to what I’ve learned in this blog, others and reflection on my own experiences. I wish to share a summary of my story.

For the first five or six years I was in it, due to some fortunate happenstances, I saw AoL as a benign Neo-Hindu movement. I was in college and the teacher I had was not interested in the large-scale proselytizing that is happening today. He cut the fees lower than what was normally permissible so that students could take the basic course and didn’t explicitly push AoL but instead yoga and meditation. As he was a Sanskrit scholar and an Eastern Religions professor as well I learned what I could so I could fill in some of the gaps and get a handle on Hindu religion and culture, as much as my Western background would allow anyway. During this time I learned Sahaj and took an advanced course, and met Ravi Shankar twice. While I felt the folk close to him were pretty blissed out and the constant “Jai Guru Dev” was a little weird the experiences weren’t bad.

My biggest problem at this time with AoL was the fact that it was trying to couch itself as spiritual and not religious when in fact there were a lot of practices that were explicitly Hindu. I felt this was intellectually dishonest but as I was interested in such practices anyway it wasn’t enough to drive me away.

At this time I wasn’t a firm practitioner and after college I dropped out of AoL for about 2-3 years as I got my life in order. When I got into the group where I live now there were several differences. There is a very high student-teacher ratio here, and many more Indians. I became interested in teaching and started to work on the requirements that I could. However, instead of a focus on the practice and the teachings there was a focus on the organization. Bringing in more people and making connections with the powerful in the community were more important than discussing the teachings and their practical applications. Of course, bringing in people would also bring in more money to fund the projects that were touted on big posters.

We were encouraged to attend as many courses as possible, all described in glowing terms. I also volunteered for events that seemed to be more about bringing in money and doing feel-good award giving rather than spreading practical teachings. As my job status improved I started saving up and eventually took DSN, figuring it would be helpful for my teacher training.

In the interest of saving space (I can go into more detail if wished), DSN left me with several negative experiences. It really is training to peddle AoL and to raise money. The teacher was exceptionally good at patter and there was a lot of sleep deprivation. Due to the stress involved I did end up having several panic attacks, mostly out when I was trying to convince people to sign up for a course. A senior Atlanta teacher noticed the one that I did have in the venue and she took me out of there to calm me down. There were several processes that were helpful to me but on the whole it was an exhausting and weird experience.

After this experience I started doing the Kriya full-time and took a few other courses, Yes+, several special satsangs, knowledge series, etc. I figured that I needed to delve into the sadhana more to overcome the fear issues. After about two years of this all I really noticed was that my panic attacks were increasing and my head was getting more and more foggy. My short-term memory was getting worse. So I did research on Google and found this blog, and I’ve started cutting my ties.

I have left the Art of Living organization and I’m doing self-study to see which of the practices and knowledge points are worth preserving as I move forward on my own. I am of the opinion that while the organization is corrupt and some of the practices are dangerous there have been enough legitimate good teachings from it (or cribbed) that I can’t immediately throw out the whole thing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Art of Living Course or Curse?


My first introduction to the convoluted world of the Art of Living was through a very benign-looking “basic course” I took many years ago. There I was, surrounded by wide-eyed, innocent students like myself, each of us looking for something different. Some were there for stress-management techniques, others were there to improve their grades or become more productive at work, and still others were there to find the purpose and true meaning of their lives. There we all were, looking for different things in that same place. And by the end of the course, somehow the teacher had us all convinced that AoL and SK were the magical answer to all our problems in life and the only key to happiness. We were told we were among a select chosen few to come across this “knowledge”, and I somehow believed what I was told. I have to admit, I felt blessed, and from that space of love and gratitude, I devoted the next several years of my life, every ounce of my free time, and every penny of my savings to AoL courses—to attend them, organize them, and teach them. And in hindsight, that first course I took, which lead to all the others, turned out to be a curse that had brought so much misery, and lead me down a path that nearly destroyed my life.

Over the years that followed that first part 1, I had attended many other courses. There seemed to be a lot of pressure in my local group to attend advanced courses (part 2s, DSNs, blessings etc.). The common conception was that these courses were a “true vacation”, an opportunity for growth, or a path to enlightenment, and not to be missed, whatever the cost, especially when given in the presence of ravi shankar. If you didn't have money for the course, borrow it. If you didn't have time to take off work, make up an excuse or just go anyway. These were things people did to get to courses. Our local teachers encouraged us all to go, taking advantage of our weekly kriya gathering as an opportunity to spread the word about these “amazing opportunities”. There was an unspoken competition among peers to get all the requirements done to become a teacher. Somewhere along the way, I got swept up into the mania and dragged myself to course after course all over North America (and even in India). Somewhere deep down inside, I must have known the truth about AoL because often I would get overtaken by a sense of revulsion and anxiety as the course date approached. I truly did not want to go, and often would come close to cancelling. When I asked my teachers about these feelings, they would encourage me to go, like zombie cheerleaders, and attribute all the “negative” feelings I had to “pre-course karma”. After coming home from such courses, I would usually fall ill, and inevitably be applauded by the group for going through such “purification” and “cleansing”. It was something to almost be envied for. Once after an extended course in the Montreal ashram, held in the dead of winter, I returned home with such severe bronchitis that I needed immediate medical attention and was at risk of developing pneumonia. It took me over a month to fully recover. Only in AoL could becoming so ill be regarded as a sign of something so positive.

I was always attracted to this idea of doing “seva”, or selfless service in my community. But somewhere along the way, tens of AoL courses later, the idea got twisted, the wires in my brain got shorted, and I got convinced that the highest seva and the only one worth doing is to organize more AoL courses and recruit more people to spread the “knowledge”. And like a good little “seva warrior”, I did just that. Organizing courses and “outreach” are the true dirty-works of the organization. Any salesman would tell you that the hardest thing to do is “cold-calling,” where one introduces a product for the first time and meets with rejection most of the time. But I was trained well in DSN and TTC1 to “overcome my inhibitions”, and accept rejection, criticism, and emotional abuse. I was primed and ready to be a seva warrior and organize successful events, “come what may”. I would set the course dates, put my own money down for a venue, and then invite teachers from out-of-town. In return, I would receive their “support” and “encouragement” in the form of pressure to meet certain numbers of paid participants by certain made-up deadlines, or else they would threaten to not come at all. I did not want to lose my credibility with the people I had managed to sign up for the course, and I certainly did not want to lose the money I had to invest from my own pocket. Desperate to recruit enough people for these courses, I would make frequent announcements about the “amazing” upcoming event in our weekly satsangs, and I quickly exhausted my supply of friends (many of whom I’d lost due to my involvement with aol), and alienated myself from co-workers by attempting to recruit them and neglecting my work. I nearly lost my job for this “seva” and found justification for my actions in ravi shankar’s words “if you do my work, I’ll do yours.” Inevitably, I was stuck with both our work, and I was the only one left accountable if things failed.

If the numbers fell short, it would be my fault for not “moving with the grace”, not having enough faith, not having strong enough “sankalpa”, or not being fully open to HIS divine guidance. No matter the reason, a failure was my fault, if people didn’t sign up, the problem was always “in my mind”, and I’d be the only one left to foot the bill in case the event fell through. But when things were pulled off successfully, of course the credit would go to ravi shankar, the supreme master of the universe, our divine leader, GOD HIMSELF. I don’t know which was worse—when an attempt failed and the course had to be “postponed” (mind-you, never cancelled to let you off the hook), or when a course was “successful” and proceeded as planned. By the end of the course, inevitably, one or a few of the course participants would be “inspired” to organize the next course, and me, being the “experienced team-leader” would be asked to oversee the whole operation. On too many occasions, I felt compelled, or rather dragged into course organizing for that very reason. And yet again, I’d be the one responsible for the outcome (but only if it wasn’t successful).

Even though AoL had become an increasing drain on my time, energy, and personal and financial resources, I still aspired to become an AoL teacher. To this day, I’m not exactly sure why. Was it because I longed to make a difference in the world, convinced that sk was the answer? Was it because I wanted to be among the “chosen few” (or so I thought at the time) to spread “HIS knowledge”? Was it because so many others with whom I associated aspired to become teachers and I got swept up in the mania? The only thing I know for sure was that I was driven, and somewhere along the way, I stopped asking questions and became unaware of my own reasons for doing the things that I did. I had all those words of encouragement told to me by various AoL teachers ringing in my head. “You would make a great teacher,” they’d say, or “you should become a teacher.” When ravi shankar himself told me to become a teacher, I felt honored, and became the envy of my satsang group. And like a good little zombie, I followed through and took all the required courses.

Once I became a teacher, only one thing had changed. I still had to do all the organizing, but this time, I had no choice if I wanted to remain true to my words. I had to say “YES!” to everything, no matter how absurd the request, no matter how much energy, time, and finances it would require. I had to be in the “yes mind”—after all, I was a teacher, and preaching that very concept to my students. If an inexperienced or mentally-unstable member of the group wanted to organize a 108-person part 1 course, my answer would be “YES!”, or if he/she wanted to organize a 1,008-person event with food and music, and turn it into an intro-talk, my answer would be “YES!”, or if they wanted to invite “guruji” to our city with the promise of a stadium full of 10,008 people, the answer would be “YES!” My answer was always “YES!”, but I’d be thinking “no, No, PLEASE NOOOO!” People in the group would go off to part 2 courses and DSNs and come back with their head full of all these ill-conceived notions that they are superheroes and can do anything, and they’d have all these ambitions and plans for “growth of AoL in our city”. And being the only local teacher, inevitably, I would have to get involved in some way or other. Every course (even those that others wanted to plan or take) was truly a curse that brought more misery, and sucked me dry. AoL had become another full-time job, and the irony was that I myself, who needed most a “true vacation” (which at that time translated into a part 2 course) could not afford to take one due to lack of money or time. I lived in this sad state for years. My productivity at work declined, my relationships with friends and family became nearly non-existent, and AoL had taken over my life.

To help get me through those times, I had successfully learned the art of manipulation as an AoL teacher, and I’m ashamed to admit that I applied all the same tactics that were used to pull me into the organization to recruit others for courses and to encourage them to become teachers themselves. I held “free” events (such as weekly satsangs and “introductory workshops”) and used those as opportunities to sell courses to members in the group or members of the unsuspecting public; I’d always have students share their wonderful course experiences in front of the group to compel others to take courses, and I’d always share my own exaggerated “wonderful” and “awesome” experiences with the techniques or courses; I’d always recruit a number of “repeaters” in any part 1 course who were convinced of the value of the course to help to convince the newcomers of its value and keep the group together; I’d praise those in the group who would make “good” teachers on their skillful delivery of “the knowledge” and encourage them to become teachers themselves. The list could go on and on. Needless to say, the sum total of all these subtle manipulations were used successfully to convince myself and others to further ravi shankar’s pursuit of money, power, and god knows what else.

I recognize that at every juncture I had a choice. No one twisted my arm, and I was never forced to do anything for AoL. But it is in my nature to be agreeable, to want to do the “right thing”, to have a positive impact on those around me, to practice what I preach, to follow through with my commitments, and to take full responsibility for the impact of my words and actions on others. Normally, in real life, having these qualities might be regarded as a positive thing. But in the twisted world of AoL, they make one vulnerable the subtle manipulations, and were the very qualities that kept me slaving for the organization for many years. It was the initial realizations that many of the teachers are hypocrites, that the “trauma relief efforts” are a sham, and that sk, the “gem” of the part 1 course, is downright harmful, that helped me to see aol and rs for the fraud they truly are. And reading all of the experiences and insights that have been graciously posted on this forum have helped me to understand many of the other things that went on in the org. that seemed “not quite right”.

I have been free from AoL for several months now, and with the AoL curse behind me, I have never felt more alive, more invigorated, or more full of honest-to-god joy (not the fake-it-till-you-make-it kind)!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My days as a door-keeper of the holy room


This is the first time I break ”my silence” as a former insider and now ex-cult member of Art of Living. I spent 13 years whole-heartedly supporting the AOL, the then foundry of my life. I was a teacher for seven years, a full-timer four of them. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was my Guru whose words I put before anyone else’s – even my closest family.

I have witnessed and experienced many of the incidents described in this blog. I have the same wish as the other collaborators to shed some light about the dark side of the organization. We all somehow know how criticizing SSRS in particular is a big no-no, especially as an insider, and how critical thinking around the movement is banned and justified with statements such as, ”You have low energy level. Do more breathing exercises” or ”be more in the knowledge and listen to Ashtavakra Gita” (SSRS´ comments on the Hindu text by the same name).

I was very close to SSRS and had fairly easy access to his room. He called me by name, I had his personal mobile number I could call whenever and I back-massaged him - dressed - in his room many times. The latter was for me not connected with any sexual energies but with a feeling of honor and extreme privilege.

I often played the role of doorman or door-blocker to his meeting room - a place where many people wanted to get in even without a real important agenda. People just wanted to “hang out”.

I remember one of the first times with this ”extremely important” job, realizing the complex and un-written rules that go with such a position:

1) Only a specific segment of people have free access to SSRS´ room: those with lots of money, media-influence, political influence or opinion makers such as actors and other public figures. This lets you right in because such a person could be used as a means to expand SSRS’s agenda.

2) Male senior German, Dutch, Indian and Swiss teachers also go right in.

3) Ordinary people with no titles or special influential powers stand very small chances for personal meetings.

Being the door-keeper was an akward situation to be in. You have to tell a lot of people SSRS is very busy and that they can´t come in. Though it is sometimes true, he often is just sitting on his couch watching CNN and/or not doing much besides chit-chatting with the ”lucky” one inside. Often people inside just sit on the floor – at his feet!! – and stare at him and carefully laugh at every one of his silly jokes or at any of his ”charming and playful” gestures. If an outsider (non-cult member) took a look inside, he would not understand what was so interesting – actually, nothing! So called ”devotees” believe they sit in the presence of the embodiment of God, a rather big deal for them.

Spending a lot of time ”inside” the room, both as a door-keeper or as a hang-out, it often struck me how bold and rude SSRS would comment about people who were not in the room (not a behavior you would expect from a dispassionate avatar-Guru!). I have often seen him making fun of people by ridiculing them in front of the crowd inside. Comments such as, ”She has such an artificial laughter – something is not quite right with her” or ”I think she/he is a blue-star” (a Sri Sri word for someone who is not right in the head).

Once he did not feel like going the ART Excel perfomance the kids had prepared for him. He said, ”It is such a poor performance”. I once overheard a phone-conversation he had with a full-time teacher who was upset and crying. When he hang up, he told the rest of us that because this person was not well because had been made teacher too young.

One of his most senior teachers of Germany, a very nice guy I happened to teach with and spent a lot of quality time with, decided to leave the movement after realizing that following ethical and, especially legal guidelines for organizational leadership was NOT vital to SSRS. The teacher sent a farewell letter explaining the motivation behind his decision. I happened to be in the room with SSRS and a group of people shortly after the teacher’s official departure was in effect. SSRS´ comment was pretty much like this, ”He is free to leave the organization. He anyway never did anything to promote my work!”

Even a hard-headed and true-believer myself then, I felt it was an unnecessary and insensitive thing to say. I never understood why SSRS, in his position as a leader, would ridicule anyone in front of others in that manner. I seems too far from the standards one expects from a Guru of compassion and, furthermore, truly very unprofessional.

The above experiences are just a few I had over the years and though I had a good time during my first years with the AoL, I soon started seeing how things really work behind the scenes. It is fair to say that these insights were the beginning of the end to me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Behind the holy door

In the AoL, being able to be with the Guru in his room was a priceless situation. People fought and discriminated in order to be in there. There were those who could walk in and out whenever, and those who could only go in if they had some good excuse/reason, and those who often were outside and were allowed to go in by default. Most everyone wanted to be there. It was the big mysterious place.

I was inside the room many times when he’d made the doorman tell people he was busy in some meeting when the truth was he was watching TV or playing with the boys. Meanwhile, people outside would be fighting amongst them. One learned to find out who was a “blue star” one had to avoid if one wanted to ensure green light into his room. It was often said that if you were around certain people he’d feel it and not let you come in.

“He knows everything. He can feel your energy, if it is low he won’t let you go in.” Come on! He often had to ask who was out there! Does he or does he not know everything?

There was a belief that being in the presence of the master karma was removed, that he gave high knowledge and that it was a great deal of fun. In truth, it was most boring and dreadful! He did not give high knowledge, CNN did, and he mostly was either discussing business, criticizing or making fun of people, or being massaged, while a few read his letters. You needed to pretend to be busy or that you had something important to discuss.

As a teacher I so often encouraged people to write to him: “He reads all your letters. Give him all your problems, he will take them away from you.” I have many times read letters sent to him and sent back replies too (it is not true he reads them, a bunch of immature power hungry people do, and they do NOT keep your stuff private, they later discuss it with their friends). I used to write to him all the time myself until one day I witnessed one of the most denigrating scenes.

A full-time teacher sent him a fax with the word “confidential” written all over it. He did not seem to care about the privacy of it and instead he started reading it out loud to us, mocking every line and her situation. She was going through a difficult divorce and the challenge of taking care of 4 kids while being a full timer. He called her names, made fun of her, laughed intensely. The few people in there would laugh with him too. I remember feeling extremely embarrassed. As I heard and observed my peers and my guru laughing at the poor woman’s pain, I did not have any expression other than that of shock. I knew this woman. I knew her struggle. I knew about her grief. There was nothing funny about it and he had no business reading a confidential letter to any one of us and even less, make fun of someone who had reached out to him in his role as a Guru.

Some time later I wrote him a personal email regarding some personal situations. A few months later, during an event, one of the teachers who is always in his room, stopped me in the corridor and mentioned my email in mocking tone. That was the last time I wrote a personal letter to him. That is how much he respects people, their privacy, integrity, evolution and sorrow. That is how much compassion and unconditional love he has backstage. That is the extent of the high knowledge one got in his holy room.

I clearly remember once a new devotee insisted to talk to him. Her teacher had told her to do so because only the Master could do something about her situation. She sat in a small corner while we discussed business until he finally paid attention to her. In an irritated and impatient tone he asked her to speak out her problem. In absolute shyness, discomfort and sadness she requested he gave her a private time. I remember I was ready to get up and leave when I heard her speak those words. She evidently had something very private to discuss. Instead he raised his voice and harshly said, “Speak! Whatever it is, speak! Why? You feel you don’t belong to these people?” She insisted a few more times, crying at this point, but he trashed her more and more until she bursted out crying and rushed out the door (probably more depressed and abused than she was before walking into the “holy room”).

For a long time I justified the episode as a lesson about belongingness. For Heaven’s sake! What was I thinking!

Ladies and Gentlemen, nothing much happens in that room except a small man trying to conquer the world, trashing people and getting pampered. What about the following scene? One boy rubbing his left foot, another his right foot, another one arm, another his head and shoulders, another placing his head on his other shoulder, Ravi watching CNN. I am not kidding.

Friday, March 12, 2010

My experience with AoL Advanced (Part 2) course


I attended a Part-II course of AOL conducted by Rishi Nityapragya at Noida (near Delhi) in (4th to 7th) December 2009.

There were certain things which I tried not to accept, but after reading your blog, I am forced to admit the same:

1. The course was advertised in the name of Rishi Nitya Pragya, but throughout the course duration, I could sense that involvement of Rishiji was simply not there. The course began each day from 6 AM and ended at 10 PM in the night. During this period, Rishiji used to be with us only from 11 AM to 1 PM. Then he would come at 9 PM in Satsang.

2. During his discourses, he infact pointedly remarked (which was in quite bad taste) that people should not say that Rishiji is not coming. One should stop complaining.

Why? Is commitment nothing?

Infact the support staff carried the programme with far greater sincerity than Rishiji.

3. At the end of the course, Rishiji litrally shouted on one of the participant in an extremely humiliating manner.

He used to say that he has been teaching Part-2 course since last 7 years.

I could not help in thinking that being a teacher of the course and that too from last 7 years when he cannot control his anger on trivial issues, what benefit will us mere mortals will have?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The joy of sects according to The Simpsons

Take a break to watch this episode of The Simpsons. Good laugh guaranteed, though a tragic comedy for many of us who recognize many scenes, reactions, phrases, thought processes as our very own for as long as we belonged to the AoL - the joy of sect, with the Guru of joy who promised joy forever as long as you faked it until you made it.

See how many things you recognize. I will start the list:

it's free, the leader, low protein diet, blisstonia, "bhajans", nanananananana leader!, the circle of judgement, "I am dustier!", etc.
(click it twice)


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

With friends like this, one does not have enemies

I was "home" for as long as I read this loving humble not-at-all-condescending email. I really don't miss the days in which unsolicited advise was given for free in twisted almighty cult psychology manners. "We are the best and right, they/you are all wrong, I am the light, I will show you the way. He is beating you up for your own growth, to "free you from the world"" - stabbed from the back while being patted with a smile in the front, while I should keep the smile "no matter what". With friends like this, one certainly does not have enemies!
PS: I had an excellent successful career, education, home and friends before and post AoL. My mistake, like that of many others, was my gullible love for service and knowledge.

From JA

Hello Klim,

I read with great interest some of your blogs that you have written to malign Gurudev whom you had so much love for. Reminds me of one historical character who deceived Jesus for a few silver coins - do I need to tell you who he was? And do I need to remind you what happened to him? This is not to put fear in you, because you have plenty already to have created the blog - but for you to take some time out and do some introspection - at least you will be saved from your own mind - for your own sake... not for anyone else.

It's a free world, and you can say anything about anyone. A Guru's work is to free you from the world - looks like you were more interested in something else but freeing yourself with the most wonderful knowledge you received from Him...

- Did anyone ever stop you from being a fully employed person who enjoys spirituality and teaching - after all more than 99% teachers of AOL are full volunteers with a job or business - isn't it?
- Looks like you did not have much skills or confidence yourself to make a successful career outside AOLF. Guruji seldom asks people to become full timers - in fact, He tells people to have a healthy family life and serve whenever they can. HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN ALL THIS? Or has the hatred taken over you so much that you do not remember anything from your past?
- Have you completely forgotten the enlightening knowledge that you received about this infinite consciousness, or has Truth also become just a fantasy for you?

What are you doing these days other than spreading negativity - is this your plan for the remaining part of your life? Have you considered what you will be doing in the next 10 - 20 years - spreading negativity forever? Wake up my friend - if you are unhappy, go find something else to do - no one's stopping you - there's so much good work to be done in this world and you can be a wonderful instrument. It's like so many employees in my company who keep complaining and bitching about their job, and I tell them the same - stop complaining! If you don't like the job, go find something else to do... because, honestly, no one cares what you are complaining against...

You think you are making friends with your blogs, but I can assure you - you will be left completely friendless until you engage in helping others and in spreading positivity. Stop adding misery to your life - you know this, don't you? Go somewhere else where you can make a positive impact - somewhere you are really contribute. Maybe that's destined for you... And my blessings and best wishes that you truly find a fulfilling life there. You look like you are a good writer - write something nice and uplifting - help others come out of their stresses and fears and anxiety - maybe you don't think AOLF is doing that - but maybe you can do that - maybe show all of us in AOLF what true service is - maybe we can emulate you!

Jai Gurudev & love & best wishes,
Your friend

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Advanced economics for the Shankarly inclined


Two years after my first basic course, I went to Bangalore for a Special Advanced course with Guruji. Our basic course teachers described the Bangalore Ashram as heaven, a special divine place on earth, and urged us to visit it as soon as possible. (In India special courses are held between April and July in different states. Since the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat have more followers, they have their own courses).

The fee for a 5 day course varies according to lodging – the fee/"donation" for a room for 5 people is currently Rs. 5,000.00, the cheapest being an open hall for Rs. 4,000.00. The price for a 2 person room or single room goes above Rs. 10,000.00.

Let’s consider their costs: the rooms are very simple, 5 people are squeezed in a room meant for 2, the cleaning is done by volunteers (seva), the only major cost is food. Considering the kind of food provided, the cost per person for the entire event, including other overheads, is not more than Rs. 500.00.

There were more than 2,000 people in my Advance Course. Assuming minimum payments of Rs. 5,000.00 per person, then the net revenue of the course was Rs. 4,500 x 2,000 = Rs. 9,000,000.00.

It gets more interesting. On the second day of the course, the teacher announced Sahaj Samadhi meditation would be conducted during the course: 4 days, 1 hour/day. It was spoken of it in such manner it made everyone feel they should not be missed. The teacher insisted Sudarshan Kriya + Sahaj was the best combination in the world. Hence, almost half of the course participants enrolled!

The course fee was Rs. 2,000.00. I did not feel anything different after Sahaj. In fact, I felt it could have easily been included in the advanced course, though it was Bhanudidi who taught it. (I later found out Sahaj was an imitation of Mahesh Yogi’s TM technique).

The total revenue for SSM course was Rs. 2,000 x 1,000 = Rs. 2,000,000.00 without any additional cost.

My wife even noticed the saree Bhanudidi wore and told me the price. I scolded her and asked her if she was there for knowledge or for looking at sarees and jewelries!

On the third day morning, a Nadi Vaidya (Ayurvedic doctor) came and told us how beneficial it was for us to check our health. Many people went, of course. There were 4-5 doctors. He/She held our pulse for 2 minutes and prescribed medicines to be found only at the Ayurvedic Medical stores located in the Ashram. Together with the medication, Sudarshan Kriya was also prescribed in writing.

Total cost per person: minimum Rs. 700-800. Note these medicines are not available in other stores, thus if you wanted to continue the treatment you had no choice but to get them from AoL. (Personally I find the quality of their medicines inferior).

Then there is the Divine Shop where AoL books, photos, CDs are sold. Generally, in any organization, materials published by the organization are very cheap. But in AoL, everything is very costly. Their much hyped knowledge set of Ashtravakra, Yoga Vasishta are out of reach for the common person. If you ask them why, their response is, “money is used for Seva Projects.” My question is, if knowledge is so important, shouldn’t it be offered at lowest cost? Isn’t that also seva? They don’t seem to think so.

It gets even better. On the last day of the course, after the evening Satsang, when everyone was allowed to speak again, a different Advance Course Teacher, a swami close to Ravishankar with a powerful personality, showed up on stage and asked the participants to form groups of 20-25 persons per city/area. We had to choose a leader who was asked to distribute some materials provided by them. The teacher with great brain-washing skills, spoke 80-100 minutes (a perfect brain washing experience). He explained that material was about Dharma Stambha Yojana (Religion Pillar Scheme), nothing new, for their school, village, women projects, etc. The world will transform within 3-4 years and only two type of people will be there: the ones who contributed for this cause and the others (translation: the good and the bad people). “It is your choice to which side you want to belong. Put your head and brain on hold and listen to your mind and fill the amount. Don’t postpone, do it now.” He then told us 3-4 stories about how people got monetary rewards from the Divine after giving donations. Some got new job contract, some won the lottery, etc. In other words, if you gave now, you would get 10 times more later. Most people completed the forms and committed to sending donations every month for a year. The group leader was made the monitor of the area and if anyone failed to make a payment, he would be made responsible.

My conclusion: Out of 2,000 people, more than 1,500 completed the form. If at least 33% actually paid Rs.10,000.00 per person (average) then receipts were of Rs 5,000,000.00. After completion of the year, you got renewal notice and donation form for following year.

After visiting the Ashram, I felt something was wrong. After listening to Osho’s discourses I knew what was wrong. In India, there is an old saying: charity should be done in such manner that left hand should not know what is given by right hand. So, give and forget. If you give and count, and expect rewards of monetary or non-monetary type, it is not charity, it is investment, it is greed.

I finally understood what the swami did. He was not asking for pure charity, he was sowing seeds of greed in the minds of devotees: if you give Rs.100.00, you shall get Rs.1,000.00 from the Guru. This is not taught in Indian wisdom and culture.

If I calculate the earnings of the AoL from that one Special Ashram Advance Course, the total revenue was of more than Rs. 2.5 crore. (roughly USD 0.55 million). Almost 12-16 Ashram Advance Courses are organized each year besides the "n" number of other courses.

If it were a tax paying business, no one would care where the money goes, but if you have formed a Trust and claim your income as tax free, and take donations for various seva projects, shouldn’t you disclose how much is actually being spent on which project, and how much goes to administrative expenses, salaries and personal expenses? If I have given donations for child education, I am very much concerned that it is spent only for that purpose. I would want to know if it is used for purchasing land or covering administrative expenses. Because it came from my hard earned money! But in AoL, there is no way to know.

Finally, everyone expected people in and around the Ashram to be divine. But the shopkeepers, travel agents, watchmen, fruit sellers, etc. were all normal people full of anger, lies, cheating in business, etc. Our expectations were wrong, but how were they created in the first place? If this “living God” cannot purify those in his Ashram, how can he purify the minds of the whole world?

I trusted the AoL very much and whatever I have done was with full devotion. After the DSN course I felt something was wrong but I could not put my finger on it. After returning from the Bangalore ashram, this feeling intensified. Osho’s discourse helped me realize what was wrong (I am not a Osho devotee but I find his discourse and books really good. I have found several examples of Ravishankar in Osho’s books).

I did not doubt Ravi Shankar even after that. Instead, I wrote a mail to him, describing the various things mentioned above. I was certain I would get a reply from him. But nothing came.

If everything is happening under his instruction, if he gets credit for the selfless work of the few volunteers, then he should get the blame of the wrong doings of his volunteers, misbehavior of teachers, etc.

People’s behaviors do not change only by doing Sudarshan Kriya. Many volunteers claim they have not missed Kriya one single day in the last 4-5 years - they smile. But I have seen their real nature when things don’t go their way. If a person is full of anger, jealousy and hatred after doing kriya daily for 5 years then it proves Kriya does not work.

I left the organization after two years and also required lots of healing to overcome the disappointment.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ravishankar vs. Nithyananda

Once during a tour, one of Nithyananda’s teachers approached Ravishankar as he walked into a satsang and gave him a brochure of the activities he was running in the country. I found it quite audacious. As RS sat on stage, his expression was that of worry. He kept looking at the brochure and seemed distracted during the entire satsang. He barely attended the public with the usual whimsical charisma. In fact, he was even rude when taking some questions, snapping at people, saying they were boring him with their dumb questions. “If you want good answers, you need to think of more intelligent questions.”

Some of the people who were seeing him for the first time were righteously offended. Of course I justified his replies, felt small and dumb, and interpreted their attitude as that of big ego. If the guru said we were stupid, of course, he had to be right. We had to make an effort to work on our sharpness!

That satsang was shorter than the usual. He rushed back to his room and urged us to hurry our work in the area before Nithyanand took over! “Call everyone tomorrow early for a meeting! We will make everyone teachers! Everyone needs to hurry and go out to teach! We cannot let his group take over! There is no time!” He made us go into their site and started dissecting it part by part. He claimed everything was an imitation of the AoL and RS: the logo, the design of the website, the poses of the pictures, the content of the knowledge, the kind of courses and activities (note how he reveals the thought out business. It is not spirituality. It is business). He was appalled at the cheap imitation yet worried “the cheap imitation” would take over. He did not have the "come what may" smile then.

The next morning, he yelled at everyone for being lazy, slow and “chickens”. He alerted them another group, which was not as good, was doing a better job and would take over before we did. If that happened, he warned us it’d be our karma for allowing bad knowledge to be spread. He discounted all the TTC requisites and made everyone a teacher! There were people who had only done one basic course. “Make them watch Ashtavakra and give them the tape! Quick! Quick!”

The group left with the expression of little children scolded for being useless and stupid. “He called us ‘chickens and lazy’, then we must be! Oh, it will be our fault if that guru reaches every state and city before we do! What are we going to do?” Frustration, impotence, guilt, feeling of inferiority, failure, anxiety, are some of the feelings people took from that meeting – their encounter with the Master. Guilt, manipulation, abuse. He was a master at that. Somehow, we were always blamed for the failures and he was only responsible for the achievements.

I think about this Nithyanand scandal. How bizarre, how eerie. I can’t imagine what his devotees must be feeling! The confusion, the deception, the nausea! To know that your guru has done wrong and/or is a fraud is already horrible enough (I know it well), but to have it on tape! ... I can’t but remember the above story and conclude what a crook this RS is! He was worried about a con-man? He was competing with a fraud? Why would he worry about competing with worse knowledge and techniques? I thought he knew everything! Didn’t he know everything???!!!

Nithyanand definitely did not take good notes. RS is a lot more careful and controlling. Only brain-dead robots have access to his rooms and belongings. Hidden cameras, copies of accounting, etc. would never be a possibility … or so I think. Honestly, I hope I never get to see any tapes of RS fondling and “playing” with men.

Somone commented earlier: On Nithyananda's scandal, SSRS has commented 'People should live the values. Otherwise such things will only happen. So only people should have faith in spiritual tradition'.

You got to be kidding me! I guess the show must go on …

(make sure to read the first comment posted under this article)