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.


Anonymous said...

Other links:

jivani said...

I've been feeling depressed upon seeing the promotion of SSRS and AOL in my area. I realized that people just simply have no idea that anything could be at all wrong with the org or RS. (well, i realized that before but it struck me in a new way). NO idea at all. They assume AoL is great and a wonderful organization and go on inviting people. No questions asked.

I guess since I've been involved with a cult and understand the deep psychological trauma people in cults face, I feel angry and concerned about promoting AoL and perhaps someone I know being deeply hurt. (or someone I don't know!)

And yet, I feel so helpless to do anything about it. I was honest in saying to the people who invited me to the course that I think AoL is a cult and RS a fake but it didn't make a bit of difference. Not that I thought it would.

I think perhaps one of the underlying problems is that if a person has never experienced the terrors of a cult, they can't even imagine how bad it can be. So, they don't care if AOL *might* be a cult--they've never felt such trauma. The AoLers I told that I think it's a cult, did not know what I was talking about at all. It was like something they couldn't relate to in any way, having no experience with the terrors of a cult on a cellular level. So, what do they care? Now, if someone told me I was in a CULT, I would be very upset and would scrutinize every aspect of the org because I've experienced the horrors. Sometimes people have to suffer to learn I guess. I'd like to see more people finding out about RS and AoL BEFORE getting too involved and suffering psychological trauma.

I worry about people who might get highly involved in AoL and be severely abused. I am just sick watching the promotion of AoL and SSRS as a wise guru when I think of the suffering of the people who may get involved and fall prey to CULT trappings. It's all fine for some people who may not be vulnerable to cults but for those who are, it's really bad.

I wish I could do more...

Shankar said...

I'm curious if there is real evidence that kriya causes memory loss. I've been doing kriya for 10 years now and it has definitely benefited my health, my joint pains have almost gone, my metabolism is excellent, and my overall health is great.

However I too see myself forgetting things more often, but I dismissed that to aging. Now I'm getting worried. I'd hate to give up Kriya because of the health benefits, but if it's messing with my brain, I don't know what to do now. Confused...

Anonymous said...

jivani says " Sometimes people have to suffer to learn I guess."

I concur with you absolutely. Why even Buddha had to contend with false prophets.

It is our erroneous conclusion that all who parody words like enlightenment , realization are ACTUALLY seeking Mukthi. Many are full of desires & people like Ravishankars cater to their needs.

Soothsayers , astrologers , palmists the whole lot exist & survive because there is a demand for them from the masses.

Ramana Bhagavan had barely ten earnest devotees around. The crowds swelled much later. Ditto with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsar. He was considered "crazy" by many.

Keshab Chandra & his brahmo samaj with its watered down marketing of hinduism was highly popular then. Narendra who later became Swami Vivekananda was one of those singing keerthans in brahmo samaj.

Ramakrishna P walked in one fine morning, bluntly telling all if keshab chandra is a candle , my Narendra is veritably the SUN which embarrassed Vivekananda initially. But he(V) just could not stay away from Gurudev & left brahmo samaj. The rest is history.

Sri. Ramakrishna Paramahamsar gives a brilliant analogy. At times a frog in the process of catching small water snakes & consuming them inadvertently takes a huge snake in its mouth. Not realising its stupidity the frog is unable to relinquish it. And the huge snake struggles unable to extricate itself free. The tussle goes on.

The same with the multitudinous flocking to Ravishankars. The moment one feels he is not my cup of coffee one should quietly leave.
Avaricious Ravishankars would never let you go.

Anonymous said...

Shankar - There is also no clear proof that Kriya causes the health benefits you are reporting. It might be due to diet changes or whatever. There are numerous ways of improving your joint health without side effects. Eat green Smoothies (Green for Life, Victoria Boutenko) and inflammatory conditions will most likely never come back. Get some information by Scott Sonnon on joint training. Sudarshan Kriya is a hyperventilation technique and scientific approaches like biodynamic psychology use hyperventilation techniques carefully, for specific people and for limited periods of time. To assume it is a good technique all the time is overly simplistic. Hyperventilation can cause oxygen deficiency, because it reduces carbon dioxide in the blood, which makes oxygen hard to tranfer from blood cells to body cells.

Anonymous said...


It is our erroneous conclusion that all who parody words like enlightenment .

I wanted to write bandy & mistakenly typed parody.

Svetana said...

"In medicine, hyperventilation (or overbreathing) is the state of breathing faster and/or deeper than necessary. It can result from a psychological state such as a panic attack , from a physiological condition such as metabolic acidosis, or can be brought about voluntarily." (from Wikipedia). Sounds familiar?
Read more:

"How does hyperventilation affect the functioning of the brain?
Chemical changes happen in the blood due to UDB. Hyperventilation causes the carbon dioxide level in the blood to decrease. This lower level of carbon dioxide reduces blood flow to the brain, which may result in weakness, fainting, dizziness, and confusion. To protect the brain from damage one will faint and resume normal breathing to restore blood flow to the brain. Studies have show that oxygen to the brain can be reduced up to 60% via chronic hyperventilation."
Read more:

lax said...

"there have been enough legitimate good teachings from it (or cribbed) that I can’t immediately throw out the whole thing. "
Hey YN, I am also in the same boat as you are. SSRS' key call outs like "If you want to do something, just do it. By thinking that so much work is there for me to do, that itself will make you tired".. I have many call-outs like this. But Overall if you observe, these counselling and self-improvement approaches are available in plenty of books outside. You can refer to many tamil books of "MS udayamurthy", and if you want english you can refer to "You can win" by shiv-kera type of books. But in philosopy, lot of books are already available. You can go for Vivekananda's books published by Ramakrishna math. I think, what SSRS has done is he has taken the good things from many such books and he has bundled them as a package and sells it us us. But for us, we have only listened to him and not to many 'real' philosophers. So, we feel we are deprived once we leave SSRS. So, suggest you find out some suitable books and life-history etc. of great eminent people and saints, and also positive-thinking books. You should be able to get over the "teachings" of SSRs. One more thing is, after observing and reading so many negatives, how can we take some real positives from SSRS? For example Nithyananda has been proved a lust-craving normal person. But all this while he pretented to be a saint and many believed it. So, after the expose, who will give damn respect to his teachings? (though they might be good). So, the person giving the advices should also be a good person. Otherwise, it wont' work with our mind.. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Hello, this is the author of the piece.

Anonymous w/ links: Thank you for the links.

Jivani: I feel twinges now too. I didn't notice the problems in the organization until after I got out of my very tiny college group and got involved in a large and very active one. Heck, when I first signed up for the basic course there was no indication it was AoL related at all! Just a flyer saying yoga course.

Shankar: All I know is my own experiences. Perhaps if AoL ever did get the money to fund the research they're seeking (and if the results weren't meddled with) we could get some clear answers. Honestly I was far more worried about the panic attacks than the memory loss. As time passes I can see if the memory stuff gets better.

Prana is powerful stuff! It is life energy and I believe it has its own intelligence. I feel the kriya affects different people in different ways and I think after a certain point it was becoming damaging to my mind. For your body it seems to be helping with your joints. If you feel comfortable with it, experiment with stopping for a bit and see if the pain returns. It seems like it would be easy for you to pick up the practice again!

Anon re. Buddha: At first I thought Ravi Shankar was a crazy wisdom teacher of sorts as well. But I would also get very angry inside about all the useless (in terms of attaining moksha) questions people would throw at him. The seeker can have just as twisted and confused views and desires as these teachers!

Anon re. kriya side effects: Thanks for the followup.

jivani said...

Shankar: I haven't done SK because I don't trust it. There are so many other great techniques out there for health, I thought, why chance it? I thought about going about it scientifically like practicing and recording the results but decided it wasn't worth it. I wish you good luck in your exploration with this.

@Anon 4:54: Yeah, my AoL group was advertised as a "yoga" group too. Actually, it is a yoga class but is also there as a recruitment tool which personally I think could be misleading. People come thinking "Free yoga" and it soon becomes apparent that they *always* listen to SSRS during the class and try to get people into the course. Gosh, did I really start to dislike the SSRS meditations at the end of postures!

AOLite said...

Hi KLIM and others who did not have a good experience with AOL

I am an AOLite (Indian, have been living in Australia for many years). Some of my activities with AOL have been around Guruji in a room, helped organise courses, been a volunteer in a number of courses, etc.

I am not writing this post to show that you are wrong, going on a wrong path or anything of that sort, because I believe there is no wrong or right. A choice is right as far as it serves the person who makes it.

I can relate to quite a lot of experiences and would like to give reasons which I feel may be behind it.

1. Hyper-marketing of AOL courses: Completely agree the nuisance this can create especially in western countries where the general culture is to respect one's space. Not to say, people in India do not respect each other's space but it can be taken for granted pretty frequently. I must mention that my first course happened because someone really forced me to do it. Today, I feel really grateful to that person for having done that. Sudarshan Kriya cured one of my long standing problem - depression. It has been 3-4 years since my first course and so I can say with certainty that I do not suffer from it anymore. On the other hand, I know the feeling of being forced into. I still get pressured into enrolling for courses I don't want to, but a simple 'no' works easy. However, whenever I do the course under pressure or not, I always end up feeling I made the right choice. Regarding, pushing people to enroll for courses, I had a chat with some of the senior teachers in Australia and many shared the same opinion, i.e. not to ever force/pressurise people. This was something that was discussed at the board level meeting. Also, I remember many teachers and Guruji himself saying that not to force people into enrolling courses, however I know the type of forcing that happens.

I can see that many people may benefit even if they are pushed against their wishes to participate in the course. I am one example and know of many others.

2. Money: Guruji on his visits have given clear information about the targets he would like the Australian team to achieve. An outsider may feel that the whole group is being money minded. However, because I have seen how it worked in Aus. Lot of money was spent on when the bushfires broke out in Victoria. The work being done for aboriginals and juvenile offenders is outstanding. Accounts in Aus are audited by a third party as per the law in Aus. I have done some work where handling of money is involved and know about the profit margins in Divine shop materials and the revenues generated. Frankly, I did not find anything untoward happening anywhere.

3. AOL-is-everything: I am also aware about the feeling and the way many devotees talk, eg. AOL is everything in life and anything else is secondary. This I do not understand why people do that. I am completely for having a balanced approach towards everything including spirituality.

AOLite said...

4. Climate change: Have never heard Guruji saying that the climate change, water shortage problem is something like the Y2K problem, which everyone talked about but never happened. As far as I know, he has always encouraged us to plant more trees, save water, grow veggies at home, do Agnihotras (good for environment, age-old practice) and things like that.

5. Mocking people's concerns: I too have felt a bit offended when Guruji would take certain concerns very lightly. For eg. a woman has asked if he could speak about miscarriage and his reply was slightly towards the joking side. Now, could this be because he does not want us to attach too much importance to things that happen to us?

At this stage, you would probably want to tell me how you justified his behaviour for a long time and then realised how you were trying to keep the good image he had in your mind until one day you just wanted to leave. What I sense here is that you were probably suppressing your doubts all the time they were happening and one day it burst and you went from one extreme to the other. You will be the best person to answer if that was the case or not. If it was, then it means that you were lying to yourself all this while which was not serving you at all. I would have suggested that you should have stopped at that moment itself.

6. Pressure felt during SK: I have felt this too when trying to do SK. There have been times when I have felt not-so-good after SK, but even then the peace underlying everything could be felt easily after every session of SK. This I appreciate the most and I think this is the whole purpose of SK and meditation. To put it in other words, it felt like I was at the centre of a tornado.

Regarding the pressure, I would like you to read some information at this site:

This site says that there are evil forces which try to make us feel negative when we're becoming more and more spiritual. I found it weird when I started reading about it. But if you go through all the material there, your mind might open up to the possibilities. Many people trying to do spiritual practices have had similar experiences like yours (pressure, lack of concentration, agitated, etc), but it was because of stronghold of evil which loosened on persisting. This might seem very strange but it could be true.

Finally, I would like to say that,

1. No point of associating with something you don't feel is true.

2. Truth is spherical: The things that may work for one may not work for the other. Two seemingly contrary statements may be pointing to the same thing (Truth). This ofcourse can never be understood by the mind, as it is beyond the mind. Here, intuition is required and intuition is something one needs to develop on its own.

AOLite said...

3. Recommend not to see things too much through thought. Thought can distort things. I do not mean not to think. Please go ahead and think. There are two types of thoughts. One that is inspired from our past and the other that is completely new, untouched by past, unbiased, dispassionate. Also, try to see things from the heart. There have been many things in life for which my views have changed later only because I started looking from the heart. We can also call it "Awareness".

4. Urge you to continue to meditate for faster recovery and to see the Truth for yourself.

5. Truth will always be no matter what we do externally. We may do all sorts of bad things outside but Truth within us is always going to be there. Therefore the feeling of guilt should not be there. We should not think, if we don't do such and such thing then we cannot see the Truth. I don't know if you have any feelings of fear/guilt about leaving AOL... if you do I would want you to feel free and okay about it and release it. There is nothing to be afraid about. Maybe this path wasn't for you. No one is going to be mad.

6. We have a tendency of having ideas about how a Guru should be. If you look at some videos of UG Krishnamurti (enlightened master) and the stuff he talks about, you may be completely shocked how come an enlightened master behave like this. This may help open up our minds.

7. Never do anything with a lot of doubts about it. I know, this is not practical all the time. But if we find ourselves doubting every moment (for a long time) about what we are doing then it is better we stop doing it as it can backfire big time later on. I guess this has been the case for you. You would have wanted to stop earlier, but you did not. I do not know why. If you were scared to, then that is something you have to work on. Everyone of us has some issue or the other to overcome.


jivani said...

"This site says that there are evil forces which try to make us feel negative when we're becoming more and more spiritual....Many people trying to do spiritual practices have had similar experiences like yours (pressure, lack of concentration, agitated, etc), but it was because of stronghold of evil which loosened on persisting. This might seem very strange but it could be true."

First of all, we're not "becoming" more spiritual. That is not the aim of yoga. We are who we are and don't need to try to get somewhere or become something better.

Second, I've been teaching yoga and meditation for many years. Yes, it's true that when we sit in meditation, we may feel agitated and that is simply part of the meditation. Agitation doesn't mean that the meditation is not "good". In fact, we may feel many different things. But the descriptions on this blog of severe health issues and memory loss from SK are very different. It is irresponsible for anyone to say that what these people are experiencing is okay and due to evil forces leaving so one can be more "spiritual".

"We have a tendency of having ideas about how a Guru should be."

So what? Maybe that's a good thing...