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)!


Prairie Princess said...

I am impressed with your honesty and wish you continued recovery. The world is waiting for Seva from everyone. There are homeless to care for, food pantries that need staff, schools that need volunteers, environmental groups that could use a hand, big brother, big sister organizations that need volunteers to work with kids who need help, community organizations that need volunteers, hospital patients that could use a visitor, foster children to take in, and trash in the street to pick up. This is true Seva and all that is asked of a person is that they show up and participate. This is true Seva and has nothing to do with shilling for AOL or helping ravi ravi acquire more cash. I met some of the same sick "senior teachers" who said they would come to a city if only certain numbers were reached for their courses and threatened the course organizers with their absence from the event if the numbers were not met. Pray for their recovery and reconnection with the divine--because, as long as they hang with ravi baby, they are lost and disconnected. In what kind of sick system is abuse seen as motivation? Is that some kind of Indian thing..because it doesn't fly in the west unless it is used against someone who is very ill.

Very Indian said...

"In what kind of sick system is abuse seen as motivation? Is that some kind of Indian thing.because it doesn't fly in the west unless it is used against someone who is very ill."

Stick to the precise point here. Dont use these words against India. Americans have created Jihadis and world is sufferring because of your stupid mindless greed. Learn to be human first then judge. Speaking about seva doesnt suit you americans. Moreover Your students do shootouts at schools and abuse drugs. There is problem with pornography and mindless sex and mental illness.
You americana have made the world very sick.

If you dare raise your voice against jihadis , islamic fndamentalists, abuse in the church, waste culture created by americans, lously greedy american corporations and american contribution to greenhouse effect. The list is endless.

Surely you americans feel very proud to hear this. Such must be very normal feeling for you

Anonymous said...

it looks like my life story. I have been in and out of the same hell.
Now only I am able to give time to my family .
Earlier I always excused myself to do some some AOL work on every family occasion.

manjula said...

You are absolutely right in your decision, KLIM.

In the organization (any spiritual org?) Gurus/teachers ask you to 'leave your mind' behind and to unquestioningly do the Guru's work, whatever it is.

I went through the same motions that you did. But when I rebelled, I was labeled as being too 'in the head' questioning things.

But the Holy Scriptures say that you have to be convinced to follow a 'goal'.

I left aol before I became judgemental because 'something didnt feel right'. And guess what?

It was not my 'chattering mind' telling me that. I believe it was my 'Self' or soul speaking.

Any Seva, even of the smallest kind, is a Blessing. Feed the poor, Help the needy. Say a kind word, and smile from the heart...

I do not attend AOL satsangs, but when I sit with good people around me, and listen to soothing knowledge sessions with my husband, I feel that I am in the BEST satsang in the world...

KLIM and CO. said...


KLIM and CO. said...

Prairie Princess and Very Indian, PLEASE let's not turn this into West vs. Indian because it is not. "Very Indian", I read and re read Prairie's Princess' comments, and though you may have understandably taken it personally, I think she meant it from an innocent space. Sadly, Ravishankar is not a good representation of his culture. Please people, let's NOT turn this into Indian vs. Western. Comments bashing anyone's cultures will not be posted hereafter. Thank you.

Sachin said...

Many Spiritual Organizations are turning out to be commercial enterprises and they are not shy of admitting the same .But unfortunately many people get trapped in these institutions giving "free service" in the name of "seva"/"karma yoga" and later regret that their lives are wasted . My advice to everyone is that life is in front of you and there is no point in escaping from it . Do go to ashrams / retreat centres to learn yoga / pranayama or meditation to keep your body and mind fit but do not surrender yourself to them expecting them to take care of you or your life .

Prairie Princess said...

There was no intention to bash Indians but was an inquiry into the mind set of a culture and its relationship to authority. If it is inculcated into members of a certain culture that those in any type authority can do no wrong, then any behavior from an authority figure is all right, whether it is abusive, makes sense, or follows human decency. Cultural values can make it problematic to discriminate when one is being abused and used. I point out here the treatment of minorities in the west as an example. I do believe ravi ravi is Indian as are many,many of his followers. If Very Indian has a problem with inquiry it speaks to how much his/her mind has been captured by a cult. So sad. What happened to the so-called belief in One World in aol?? Practice what your cult preaches please.

Anonymous said...

aol cashes in on big sounding stuff like "iit" and all that
they use this for marketing...
I used to think the guy below is charming: this is what one of AOL's many minions is doing: spreading misinformation/propaganda to the youth.

europe only accepted that the earth was round once they saw apollo
space pictures. - what hogwash

and he is using a picture drawn in the 21st century to prove that
10,000 years ago we knew that the earth was round. Didn't it ever
occur to him that the picture was drawn AFTER knowing that the earth
was round!!!

in part 2, he says kollur receives 750 cm of rainfall a year!!!

I googled it, it looks more like 450cm of rainfall

Anonymous said...

check this out
This is on nithyananda there is a part-I as well.

People, focus on your jobs, careers, family first and sewa and all after that there is nothing to feel great working or guilty not working for non-profit orgs it helps in purification by doing selfless service, however not at the cost of your family, careers and jobs.

Also as the author mentions do these courses with in your financial means, trust me nobody is going to come and give you money, you have to earn and figure it our yourselves , otherwise need to live in food to mouth situation under these orgs.

Nobody said...

@ Prairie Princess: No, it is not an "Indian thing". Abuse seen as motivation is something prevalent practically everywhere in the world - witness fraternities, hazing, corporate culture, the US military, whatever. In any of these and indeed, in all authoritarian systems, the person in a position of power has the freedom to abuse - and then justify this abuse to the victim as being for "his own good".

Please, this is the oldest trick in the book, and certainly not limited to AoL.

I am an avid reader of this blog and am in general agreement with what you say but your statement seems to imply that the "Indian System" is sick because therein abuse is seen as motivation. As I have just shown, abuse is seen as motivation everywhere there are abusers. What's more, the concept of a uniquely defined "Indian system" is erroneous because there isn't any such thing. And thirdly there is no reason or logic in connecting "abuse as motivation" with "Indian system" unless you wanted to be deliberately inflammatory or you chose your words rather poorly.

To the non-Indians reading this: India brought the world things such as Mathematics, Logic, Medicine, Language and a whole lot more in terms of what is recognized today as hard "science" or "engineering". So please, don't derive your ideas about India from bogus gurus such as Ravi Shankar or Nithyananda who espouse fake cultish pseudo-spirituality in the name of enlightenment.

And to the Indians who read this, you couldn't do worse than remaining in ignorance about your true culture and heritage.

For instance, let me ask you this: Why is the Bhagavadgita 18 chapters long? After all, Krishna is God himself, and Arjuna is the perfect student - veritably, the perfect Guru-Shishya pair. Then why does it take Krishna 18 chapters of lecturing - a la "Aham EvAkshaya Kalo DhatAham VishvatoMukhah" to convince Arjuna to fight?

I mean, for the perfect Guru, it should have been merely a matter of issuing a command "Arjuna, Fight!", and that should have been the length of the Gita.

Nuh uh. The reason the Bhagavadgita is so long is that our perfect student looks God Himself in the eye and says "Umm, I don't believe you. Show me proof that you are God."

Not only that, our model Shishya does not back down from that request until Krishna actually shows Arjuna his Vishvarupa - physical proof.

Frankly, I don't care whether the Gita is literally true or not; but it displays in spades that a mere mortal, even when faced with the word of the Almighty Himself, refuses to put his logical mind on the back burner and take his "Guru's" word for granted.

Now that is the true heritage of India - the relentless pursuit of the truth - of Satyam - whatever that may be, not obeisance to some con artist who wants others to believe that he is God.

Anonymous said...

i am so sure KLIM you wrote this one.

KLIM and CO. said...

"i am so sure KLIM you wrote this one."

Nah, I did not write this one. Your siddhi powers are a bit rusty.

Very Indian said...

To Prairie Princess & KLIM

There goes 'the princess' again.

what gives you right to say taking abuse from authorities is a cultural thing for India? Haven't you read about freedom fight of India in the last century?! Or it is not part of your cult's history books? What do you know about culture of this ancient tolerent country existing for last several thousand years? What givers you quthority to bash our culture?

Can't you see so many Indian hindus are contributing here?

Just for you well informed lady, I don't belong to AoL. Because I was pressured to take an AoL basic course one of my ex-AoL friends told me to refer this blog and then decide for myself.

It doesn't matter to me that the authors here are american whites / blacks /browns. They have served more than a decade with AoL. They did selfless spiritual, social service to humanity. their views matter to me. I value their perspective. I dont judge whether it is wrong or right.

What have you done with AoL and for how many years? what authority do you have to speak about AoL and most importantly about India? That is my question

I walk alone and don't belong to any cult but surely your cult has taught you racism ans selfish judgements. I can see.

a humble witness said...

Dear Anon of March 21 @ 3:45PM

"i am so sure KLIM you wrote this one."

I am quite flattered you think I am KLIM. I think he/she has great communication/writing skills and a wealth of information to share about the inner-circle workings of AoL. I was never part of the "inner-circle", and I was never a full-time teacher for the org., although at one point I did consider it. I was a "part-time" teacher for the org. and continued to slave for AoL a few years too many before realizing the error of my ways. In any case, I do not understand how my identity has any bearing on anything, as I am simply sharing my experiences as part of my own recovery (to help process what I went through) as well as the recovery of anyone else who might find reading these experiences helpful.

I wish you all the best.

Anonymous said...

Klim ,

I don't find anything wrong with what Prairie Princess has written.

It was the same uber touchy reaction of Indians that demotivated me from commenting here. Too many taboos & political correctness.

Since you don't want to have any (perceived actually))anti indian comment please don't post these allegations of racism by Indians.

I am sick of hearing a lot about this hyperbolised racism , Christian conspiracy yadayada.

So this is the impact of years of pursuit of Vedantam on fellow Indians :-((

Anonymous said...

anon March 22, 2010 9:38 AM

mate be less materialistic less judgemental then you will be able write your own vedanta. nobody in the world is omniscient to attack any country's culture. so chillax

Svetana said...

Answer to Very Indian.

I also did not find anything wrong with what Prairie Princess said, but your comments sound extremely agressive, as if you went through AOL DSN course several times.
Every country has something unique and beautiful to share with the world, and there are dark sides as well.For example, India is famous for its spiritual traditions of the past. It's true, you can learn a lot from these old teachings. At the same time, there are so many so called Gurus now-a-days (most of them are from India) that pollute all these teachings and spread it in the world. As a result, a lot of people are hurt physically, emotionally and spiritually. My own experience with AOL and SS is - STAY AWAY, it's DANGEROUS!
The very Guru idea seem not to work at all in present times.Did it work in the past? I don't know. All those wonderful books about Gurus! But there was no Internet in the past for people to share their experiences.
Thank you KLIM for exposing this scam to the world.

Anonymous said...

It is said that the "area under the glow of the candle is the darkest" and so it is with India, her ancient knowledge and the presence of S3 Ravi Ravi Ravi and other nutjobs (dark area under the candle)

desi dude said...

I'm new t all this. Though a DESI(slan for India) I never attended any course for spirituality(AOL or otherwise).
I landed here while looking for cults , after nithy video broke out.

I want to know, once you learn SK, can you teach others with out going through the AOL system?

From what I read here, AOL appear to be like AMway MLM, excpt the participanat have an opportunity to attein moksha and SSRS collects cash. is that right?
otherwise why would one work full-time for AOL?

jivani said...

@desi dude:
I'm no AoL insider, so I don't know if it's like Amway. But I was telling a co-worker about it and she said 'oh, that sounds just like Amway'. It took her about one second to see through it. Suffice it to say, I don't think she'll ever end up in a cult.

I was asked to sign an agreement that I would not teach SK after learning it in the Basic Course. (dropped out after re-reading that and got my $ back without taking the course) So, yes I guess you have to go through the "system" and become a teacher to teach it.

a humble witness said...

Dear "desi dude",

You do in fact have to put a lot of time and money into the org before getting a precious-beyond-value SK tape, which is a recording of ravi shankar's voice chanting "so-hum" in different rhythms. Possessing the tape is regarded as one of the highest honors among devotees, and is a requirement if one is to teach for the organization. And right before receiving the tape (after jumping through all the hoops), one has to sign an agreement to only teach for AoL and under no circumstances is one to teach for one's own profit. It is made very clear that the tape does not belong to you, but rather, it belongs to the foundation, and you are merely a "custodian" of it. Its very cleaver when you think about it--its hard to copyright a class, but a tape-recording is something physical that can be copyrighted and controlled and used for profit. This has been a very lucrative business for ravi.

Anonymous said...

It's possible that KLIM and his/her ilk are covering up their stupidity and naivete in believing this SK thing by writing these sob stories.

desi dude said...

Thank you "a Humble Witness" and Jivani

After this nithayananda episode, during discussion with few friends of mine the question that came up was " how come all these professional gurus exploit the free knowledge available through ageless tradition, not only make money, also exploit people"

In that connection we were discussing a story of Ramanuja.
he is agreat acharya in vaishnava tradition in 11 century india.

he got a maha mantra upadesha from his guru and was told that he will get his mukti by chanting that and he was not to share it with others.

His question was , if that mantra was to give mukti , how come we dont make it available for ALL.

he calls all the villagers, goes to the top of the village temple and loudly chants the mantra and asks every one to chant.

he gets cursed by his guru for that, however he goes on to become a great scholar and is identified as originator of sri vainshnava tradition.
Such was the exaple infront of us !

Anonymous said...

infinity says: what is not a cult? Even christianity (or as osho calls crossianity) is also a cult. many of the techniques that are described here to be used by AOL seem to be used in a understated manner by christian missionary. Jesus was also a Guru. Ony thing he lived two thousand years back. budha was also a Guru. Only hing he lived two thousand five hundred years back. We are comfortable worshipping long dead gurus.

By the way jody (of guruphilac) sounds similar of Judas, the intimate disciple of Jesus who betrayed him.

The ways of the masters are mysterious. Those who are not into serious spirituality will miss it even though they are under a true guru. Those who serious seekers of truth will get it even though occasionally they may be under a false guru.

Anonymous said...

i believe if u do ur meditation and do ur part 2 courses regularly...u won't pile such enormous amount of garbage in ur mind...don't blame H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji for u behaving foolish...being a teacher u could organise courses for urself...numbers r not that important...nor money...what matters is ur balance between the all...also the knowledge given by guruji will help u...specially asthavakra....

Svetana said...

@ Anon, April 18, 2:37PM

Could you, please, translate your message into proper English.
Did this kind of gibberish happen to you after doing part 2 courses regularly? Does it happen to everyone?

Anonymous said...

I am an Indian living in the US.

I read some of the comments here and wanted to comment on this thread even though its dead for some time.

Firstly, respect foreigners studying Indian culture. Indian culture is not superior over any other culture. Fellow indians should realise that and also spend some time into thinking that we might have been conditioned into thinking we have an elaborate and dense culture. Question the foreigner too. Why would someone give up so much of their own culture to study yours?

Secondly, In my mind after constant debating I can conclude that it is indeed an issue that abuse is motivation. True that the west gave us a number of problems but that doesn't justify what AOL/Nithyananda is doing.

Finally, if you want to evolve - question everything.