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.


a humble witness said...

Wow! Thank you ND for that brilliant cost analysis and for shedding light onto the money-making schemes that go on in India in AoL. I think the AoL business in India is quite lucrative because of the sheer numbers of people who relate to the brand of spirituality rs sells and are so inclined to attend such events.

It seems AoL uses all the same marketing/money-making tactics in North America as well. Participants of advanced courses are routinely recruited for aryuvedic treatments and sahaj by the second day, and then hit up for donations on the last day. In one course I attended in the Montreal ashram, we all had to form groups and come up with plans for how we were going to repair the ashram and replace all the chairs (because they are worn with weather and time), and add more outdoor lighting. Many of us came up with solutions and donated money for such causes. When I attended another course at the ashram over a year later, nothing had changed--there were the same ugly chairs and no additional outdoor lights. Also, people have been donating for years for a new meditation hall there, and today they're still holding advanced courses in the same-old circus tent, with no progress made on the meditation hall.

Anyway, you were smart to get out after only two years. I hope that your wife has also seen the truth about the org. and has left with you.

Dr Quentin Jones said...

Brilliant analysis ND. You should author the following guide book:

Dummies guide to making money the AOL way.

parmartha said...

thats a brilliant cost analysis. complete tax free money. no wonder with so much money ravi ravi has so many politicians in his pocket.

Lax said...

Cheaters ! Cheaters !. They are not teachers !

Hey, The gullible stupid ( Apologise for the strong word). followers and attendees of the AOL courses ...Awake,

Share your donations for your own family or educating a poor child in the slum near you or child of your maid or cook. That is the real seva which would give you peace. Otherwise you will find yourselves like Nithy's followers.

My blood boils and my BP also could raise when I look at the revenue figures. Man, It's atrocious.

Hey Devotees , followers and volunteers, When are you going to wake up ?

The idiotic ( smart for AOL) idea of making a group leader for a city / area, is really disgusting. I feel that when I am sitting with my hard earned money in my wallet, someone comes and takes the money and throws it around to others.... and I am keeping quite...

Horrible and thought provoking courses...

Anonymous said...

1 Financial irregularities of AOL are sufficient to it to fall
2 Subtle spiritual abuse in AOL,not known to general public can be another reason for it to fall.
3 Land grabbing can be yet other point.
4 AOL is dividing families and the society in the name of spirituality while tactfully saying ........ Religion divides spirituality unites.Let the whole world know this before AOL's final fall.
..........Do we still need any sex scandal for AOL's fall?

Anonymous said...

All AOL teachers are beautifully used for money minting. what a way- you first brainwash them and than deploy them for this noble agenda.

Anonymous said...

job list of AOL teachers
1 To recruit more and more unsuspecting people for courses.
2 money collection. TO encourage devotees to donate more.
3 spread false glorifying stories about SSRS
4 gradually go away from your family and profession and help propagate the cult by beautifully getting "used".
5 contribute their own money for higher courses.
6 waste your precious time and money in traveling to follow SSRS.

Anonymous said...

AOL morons groomed by SSRS reminds me of the spooky movie Stepford Wives.

Ram said...

"5 people are squeezed in a room meant for 2"

The same happens in third world country prisons! Their governments claim to have no budget. Often, unfortunately it is true, though it usually involves corruption of some sort. What is AoL/SSRS's reasoning for squeezing 5 people in a 2 people room, or stashing 60 people in an open hall, with no dignified facilities, unless of course, you are a VIP or a very wealthy person, potential donor or surname marketing, etc., while claiming to be "the largest NGO in the world" and cashing income with free labor? Why doesn't he, his nephews, Bhanu lodge with the rest to "cut costs" so that money goes to the "seva projects" they repeatedly mention but that we never see, except in a few pictures here and there?

Anonymous said...

I am openly challenging AOL - can they publish in their website the 25 or 30,000 village supported by them listed by name and the type of activity conducted along with the amount of time/money spent? I know its lots of data , but can they atleast start listing 10 per day at a time so by end of this year this task will be completed.

Also it can help AOL address this blog and close lots of mouths like ND and others on where all the money collected is going besides the real estates they continue to acquire?

Anonymous said...

I think this is good that we should ask accountability for the public money collected with tax exemption status. Hindu organizations have long been the cannon fodder for these type of yellow journalism. Can we dare ask the same about NGO's and Christian Missionaries? Hindu temples have been taken over by the government while Church and Mosque continue to mushroom around the country unabated.

Anonymous said...

I don't think any organization can please everyone. Sai Baba has a totally different model where he doesn't specify so called fees and rates. Yet we find so many whiners you complain and doubt his intentions.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me but overhead cost per person @Rs.500/- looks too less to me.

For any residential course including this 5 day course you arrive a day earlier and leave a day later than the course so 2 extra days will all food living etc are added completely free of cost. Most people enjoy these 2 free days!

During all the seven days there is hot bath water, the room and bed, unlimited breakfast lunch and dinner, there are overheads of the hall where the course is held. There is cost for satsang at Vishalakshi then there is video watching. All this involves lots of electricity. Premises wear and tear, upkeep / cleaning materials cost, repairs and premises depreciation.

Dont forget the paid security guards for 24 hours and some paid cleaning staff. Ashram also has some paid labour working at the farm and at other places.

Think about every applicable overheads (costs) per person per course then you will realize a lot of things.

In addition to this you are meditating or first timeres are taught meditations at no extra cost.

Try having a seven days economy holiday in Bangalore with same facilities and see how much will that cost. There would be no teaching meditation nor a safe, serene spiritual atmosphere.

I think asking them to publish accounts is a right thing. That will put an end to these for and against AoL speculations.

Vishal said...

"I am openly challenging AOL - can they publish in their website the 25 or 30,000 village supported by them...."

Annon - you do not understand what supporting means in AOL language. It means Ravi Ravi would have flown over these villages in a chartered Deccan Aviation helicopter (hire charges - 2 Lakh rupees for an hour minus the frequent flyer discount). And from top he would have provided his divine support and blessings.
If you want to know the actual support done by Ravi Ravi for the hapless indian villagers and farmers, you should visit Udipalya. Udipalya is the place where the ashram is located - 21 kms on the Bangaluru-Kanakapura road. Ravi Ravi has grabbed all the adjoining land. Fenced it with huge compunds and security systems. The villagers are just wondering open mouthed on where their land went. Meanwhile pitaji, guruji's father has donated 10 sewing machines (costing rupees 3000 each) to the girls of this village so that they can earn some money through tailoring as they do not have any land left.

Anita said...

ANON March 7, 2010 11:34 PM

Was it the AoL Bangalore ashram you stayed at or the Oberoi hotel? During none of my visits to the ashram I got hot water nor unlimited food. In fact I woke up to the sound of rats. Most services are attended by people in the name of "seva", the rest of the crew are poor villagers who probably get paid a few cents the minute or in exchange for some fabric or food. How much can security or village workers cost in southern remote area of India? As a former volunteer, everything is negotiated in the name of "seva projects" and most services or gadgets are acquired for free. I'd say our friend here was very kind when suggesting RS500 for overhead costs. They claim to be a non-for profit organization, teaching mediation for free, or rather, guiding people in relaxation is the minimum they could do. Many organizations do so without highlighting it as as big deal. Especially when it is meant for marketing their courses, other activities and products (not just books, shampoos, etc). Then don't forget also that teachers work for free, volunteers too. If they get any money it is the minimum required to get them going for simple needs. Electricity to show their videos? At this point, I would not be surprised if they stole it from the city wiring electricity cables ilegally. There is noone more stingy and greedy than Sri Sri. He is the only one who gets hot water in that ashram, good and sufficient food, and cleaning service.

Anonymous said...

Hi people,I am one guy who happens to be living around the AOL area. Since my school days as a kid I am
seeing this AOL growing from small hut in small hill and spreading to nearby villages grabbing hundreds of acres of Land.

I use to ask my Dad whenever I pass through AOL, but my Dad never told me until I grow up and came to know that it is one Ashram of SSRS. When I came to know, I was annoyed and my early guess was it is some resort.

Currently I am living Abroad and last I saw was in 2008. They have built palaces and bungalows in the name of charity and I smell there is lot of funds mismanagement in the name of charity going out there.

If they are honest and helping other people they should make financial details public.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there are millions coming into AoL coffers, but my question is this - who handles all this money? Where is all this money going?

I have met with and have been quite close to many AoL teachers, and they don't make money from their teaching activities.

So who, then, controls the cash? Where are the accounts? Do they have annual audits? If they do, is the auditor a disinterested third party or yet another AoL devotee? Where are the audit records?

Peaceful Warrior said...

@Anon 11:34

You forgot to add bhanu and ajay's lavish lifestyle. That also takes money.

If all was spent in expenses, etc. AOL won't have a problem with a public audit right ? Such large sums of money are involved, and yet there is no transparency or accountability of how the money is spent. Organization wise, they are still living in the medieval ages.

fair_and_balanced said...

I think this blog has some useful perspectives. Yes, its true that AOL could use a lot more transparency in its financial affairs. On the other hand, theres little doubt that they do teach valuable techniques and life skills. I do not begrudge them the $350 bucks I paid for taking the intro course in 2000 and later did a few more advanced courses. In every case it was probably a lot cheaper than staying at a hotel in the same location. All things considered, I'd still encourage friends to try the courses and learn something of value. Outside India, AOL helps people of Indian origin to socialize in a spiritual context. Thats not bad at all. The groups I know do social work in their communities.

Does it mean that the organization does not have problems? Not at all. Its true that senior teachers propagate fanciful accounts. And that standards for teachers have been diluted. Maybe there's a real deep seated need in humans to idolize those we benefit from. That said, those who are given much should also seek to display the kind of transparency that goes along with that.

I find it curious that consensual sexual peccadilloes are kryptonite in this day and age! Hello. Sex is pretty a basic human activity and experience. I guess people expect a lot from the self-proclaimed enlightened ones.

fair_and_balanced said...


Good analysis. On the whole, I think the rates are pretty darned reasonable. In my time (2000), I shared a small room with another guy; I doubt there was space to squeeze anyone else in that room. Food was free and pretty decent. The main problem is that everything is run by volunteers who arent paid very much (if anything). So its not surprising that there is a complete lack of transparency, esp in financial matters. I hope the higher ups at AOL take note and fix the org. There are a lot of good, decent folks in the org and I do not wish for them to be hurt if the org was to eventually implode.

Anonymous said...

@ Peaceful Warrior

Ajay has a brother Arvind who runs his own export business from India.
In India giving new clothes and/or an ornment to a married woman (as a free gift) is considered very good and auspcious gesture. All of us do this gifting. The worth of the gift depends on our financial ability and social standing. This again isn't the same thing as charity. Charity is different. As an Indian I will not be surprised if SSRS's sister is considered as holy as her brother and is given a quality gift. My guess is that most well to do people will not gift cheap sarees! so much for 'designer sarees'. By the way even designers / saree manufacturers proudly gift out their lovely sarees!

Most indians who happen to grace forbes list are SSRS devotees / acquaintances.

when i querried about the guru's chopper travels i was told that the guru is offered chartered choppers - by rich and powerful. Everyone in India likes doing Guru seva we Indians are generally very hospitable people. he is welcome to spend some time at the rich and wealthy residences also.

I am told by many a devotees that when the Guru has his meal (in india) he sits down on the floor. He sleeps on the floor without any matress. He lies down on just a single sheet. These are some of rules to be followed by every sanyasi. Nobody is allowed into the room once ssrs retires for the day. He sleeps for hardly 1-2 hours and is up again for work.

I would like to know exactly where the palaces and bunglows are built inside the ashram. The precise location/s I too feel very curious about the finacial dealings and this whole controversy.

Peaceful Warrior said...

@Anon 5:19

You use the phrase "I've been told by many devotees..." Devotees will definitely tell you the real truth. You are talking about people who will justify the master "raising the kundalini" of young boys. Find your own truth.

Coming to the point:
Lets do the math. It costs approximately $35K/year to go to college in US. About $60K if you live in a nice downtown apartment in DC, live the lifestyle Ajay lives.

This is a very conservative estimate. If he owns a property,(see:, his expenses are probably much more.

Do you really think Mr. Arvind has the financial muscle to support his brother's lifestyle...unless he is mukesh ambani, no businessman would spend so profligately. On the other hand, there is a chance that the business is a front company which launders AOL money - in which case it is entirely possible.

Of course there is the other question which bothers everyone : Where does all the money go ? Definitely
not into seva....we all know that....coz in AOL one has to raise funds for seva.

Anonymous said...

Stupid Question
Why no one can not lodge a FIR or take some legal action? Do we not have anyone with equally high contacts to fight such culprits?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog post. Serious questions such as the ones raised here require serious answers.

There are organizations that can assist in investigating and raising awareness of financial irregularities.

I am in the West, and if someone is able to provide substantiated evidence such as corroborations from displaced home-owners around the ashrams, or any sort of evidence, i will take steps to bring light to this issue in the media. Until then, everything listed in this blog post is speculation.

Anonymous said...

Dear Friend, When westerners stay at Bangalore ashram, and take courses, we pay the same rate as if we take the course in our own country, pt 1 $350 ( $450+ in Sri Sri's presence) pt 2 $50 and up. TTC $3000 and up. figure that in please! Dear friend who showered with hot water and enjoyed 2 days free... who do you know? I was sticl in a room for 5 w/ 6 women and no one to talk to about it. I said I had an issue with m legs ( which I do ) and was put in the furhtest away room, while "darlings" who had overeaten their way to joint problems stayed close to meditation hall. This place is a trip. your friend

narendra said...

Ravi is a megalomaniac surrounded by sycophants. He has no ethics or even basic culture. It is wonder how cuch a squeaky voiced pip squeak managed to get so much of a following- that is is the real miracle!
He wallows in all osrts of luxury while exhorting his followers to live simply. For the past few years he has been lobbying for a Nobel prize. If there were one to be started for deceit he will be the strongest contdenor and will win hands down!

Anonymous said...

My bet is an enormous amount of the money earned from these Advanced Courses ends up in the Shankar family's Swiss Bank Accounts and other tax havens, or else invested in Real Estate around the world.