Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thank you note

Evidently, the last article: “The 3 letter unspoken word: sex” stirred some wild emotions, as it did to me every time I heard someone go through yet another similar situation. It took me almost 10 years to come to terms with it (I know people who left because of it), as it took me even more years to come to terms with many of the deceits and fraud I today recognize about the AoL and SSRS, which were obvious to friends and family. I don’t blame the AoLers who write in full blast aggression, possessed by anger and sometimes even too off centered to express themselves coherently. I don’t know what it does to you, but it does a lot of service to me by confirming the right decision I made of leaving the organization and RS. It helps me further confirm that the teachings of RS only create a hyper hysteria, fanaticism focused only in building his name, organization, numbers, fame and popularity, and it takes the individual nowhere in the spiritual growth, but only builds ego/narcissism, delusion, fanaticism. Practicing a breathing technique that actually induces hyperventilation and which he did not create himself as he claims, or a meditation that is an imitation of someone else’s that went wrong and whom he criticizes constantly, or delivering repetitive topics that are cleverly entitled, “Ashtavakra, Bhakti Sutras, Patanjalis”, naming the Yoga Vasistha, repeating like parrots: “opposite values are complimentary, accept people as they are, don’t see intentions behind people’s mistakes, don’t be a football of other’s opinions, the present moment is inevitable” are not an indication of spirituality nor evolution nor “goodness.” Spirituality is more than just reciting, reading scriptures, doing some technique. Spirituality is not about the activities one does, who one follows, what one eats.

Following is a comment the blog received, obviously posted under the wrong link. The person is comprehensively mad. But I understand because I, too, used to get out of myself whenever I heard “my guru” and “my organization” criticized. However, with the years, I also learned that I got mad when it was about things I actually was not sure about, that I myself, deep inside, doubted, or actually, because it simply hurt my true-believer-ego. Evidently, Mr. Ravishankar, the quality of your teachers and your teachings need to be improved because, sadly, your disciples cannot remain centered with that smile you insist they should have, not “living the knowledge”, like you’d diplomatically insist, “Come what may, keep your smile.” Don’t you say AoL offers the knowledge that makes one unshakeable? I am sure this kind of reaction does not make you happy either:

ronith has left a new comment on your post "Additional links":

u have no proof of all the bull u write show us some proof abouct all the bull u write even i can open a stupid blog like urs and write bull like u without any proof atleast i am not mindless like u and if u think u r so smart y cant u reveal ur identity show us some proof u publicity hogger

There was a time this kind of comment/people affected me. The aggression and psychosis within the organization greatly disturbed me even when I was a “true believer”. Today, even with all the bashing provoked by the sex subject, it only makes me laugh and feel at peace with my decision of leaving the AoL and further confirms what a sick community it is and what a poor education we got from “the holiness.”

Maybe AoLers reading this kind of comment rejoice and cheer it like men watching a football game – notorious behavior of highly spiritual people following a highly enlightened master.

Maybe some AoLers reading this kind of comment feel quietly embarrassed that one of their fellow peers can express himself in such way and is indeed a bad representation of the movement, teachings, guru.

Maybe those who are not AoLers but have done a course, relate to it and applaud it, and maybe some take it as an indication of what AoL really is not about and see the holes of the organization and teachings before further going into it and getting sucked by “the black hole”, like it happened to me and many others.

Maybe some former AoLers reading this kind of comment, feel the same effect it has for me, reassuring the decision of leaving and the relief of no longer belonging to that madness. Maybe some prefer that I don’t write about any of this. I know some prefer to leave it for “fate and karma to take care” and some are afraid of the bad things Ravishankar can do to people because they themselves have experienced them (myself included) - reasons why so many old timers and former teachers have not come forward a lot earlier.

Whatever it is, whoever it is, thank you. Thank you to you all who, nicely and violently, help me in my journey of recovery. Thank to the comments of aggressive AoLers - if I had any doubts left about SSRS, there no longer are any. If I had any fears left of him/them/you, because of the retaliation, threats, harassments, lies I experienced during and post AoL, I no longer have any. Little did I know how healing this blog and all the nasty comments would be for me (hopefully for others too). Thank you again to former members and to current members, even those who curse, insult, threat, etc. KLIM & co. You have made me stronger. You have set me free.

Will wrapping up with an “I belong to you” make anyone puke? Better not, no?

A sincere heart-felt thank you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The 3 letter unspoken word: S E X

How many times have we heard Ravishankar say, “Even mosquitoes do it! Dinosaurs did it! You have been doing it so many life times! How much can you rub your nose against each other?” On the one hand, he made sure he let everyone know sex is part of the history of humankind, but on the other, he encouraged celibacy to many of his teachers, and in the course for young adults there is a chapter on sex: do pranayamas, take cold showers when you have sexual thoughts/urges.

In other words, it is normal, but take a cold shower when you feel the urge, because it is not good. It is inevitable everyone ends up interpreting these messages in different ways, and unfortunately, most people take it as sex is bad.

I know of a teacher who did not have sex during the days he taught the course because he was sure his energy would be affected. I knew of another who every time an assistant arrived to the course after having spent the previous night with a partner, would flip out and accuse him/her of showing up with “bad energy”. I knew of someone else who felt so guilty about sex he’d actually do it only in the bathroom and then meditate a lot to wash out his impurities. I knew teachers who got married but could not consummate because they felt inappropriate. I knew people who would turn RS’s picture around “to do it”. I knew of teachers who simply craved so much for sex yet Ravishankar dissuaded them from having it by imposing fearful thoughts in them like, “You were not cut out for sex, you are too weak for it, your health will be affected. If you have sex, you will get sick. If you have sex, you will get distracted. If you have sex you will not get enlightened.” Of course, these individuals would hold as much as they could, and then go crazy, and then feel guilty about it. I’ve heard him tell young boys, “Just focus in me, you are not meant for relationships this lifetime. Why do you need someone else when you have me? Keep you eyes only on me.” Even his swamis and rishis have issues with sex. We know of at least a rishi who still today cheats on his wife, right in her face!

Has AoL not learned from the Catholic church?! All the interpretations, the lack of direct addressing the issue, the lack of transparency, the concepts created a weird world of horny but repressed individuals that express it, eventually, in the form of aggression or dissociation, lies, taking many cold showers, doing excessive meditations, and promiscuity.

Many teachers, especially senior teachers take advantage of their status. Women fall for them like bees for honey, not knowing they are just being used for sex. Female teachers pretending to be virgins or untouchables. I knew of one who everywhere she went made a point to inform she was virgin, and then someone who was hosting her found out she was bringing men to the house while they went to work, by finding used condoms in her room and the reports of the maid. The one million dollar question everyone asked for a long time in the West was, “Did Philip and Rajshree have sex?” They pretended to be “just friends” but wherever they went, they slept in the same room. Yet, he projected to be a monk and she the most of all virgin people. (Does the word “histrionic” come to mind?). It was such a mystery people actually got mad and confused when Philip married (someone else, since Ravishankar never approved his relationship with Rajshree).

Unfortunately, there are even stories of male teachers raping female students or teachers, and other forms of perversion. The inner circle knew about this. We simply did not talk about it. It was shameful, both for the victim and for us who represented an organization, knowing the situation and not doing anything about it. When reported to Ravishankar, he simply ignored them and turned the victims into the problem. Of course, he had to keep his senior boys content and relieved, and again, who would listen to a woman with rape stories inside the AoL, especially when the “stars” were the aggressors - advanced course teachers, meditation teachers, TTC teachers? Under the excuse, “Guruji knows everything”, if he did not do anything about it, it meant the women were being drama queens and needy of attention.

Ravishankar often explained he could not have women in his room until late hours because people would misinterpret. “The two major reasons for scandal”, he said, “are sex and money.” It was his way to comfort the women who also wanted “to play”, like the boys, until late hours at night. Maybe he thinks the world is gullible but actually people are more suspicious of him hanging out until late with “the boys.” Especially hand picked boys, entering and exiting in different batches. Some spend the night with him, but leave the room early in the morning before anyone finds out.

The very few who I know dared speak out were quickly “taken care of” by spreading rumors of “psychological instability” and suddenly, would disappear from the organization. I was very sad to hear from one of them later defend him when I challenged him about the stories he once spoke about in detail. This young man had clearly been sexually abused and was going through a delicate sexual confusion himself. He felt so ashamed, he could not follow the conversation, and finally, explained he did not feel he was a victim, Guruji loves him, he did it for his growth. And once in a while, pop the question, “You mean, on top or under the underwear?”

What does it matter if it is on top or under the underwear, for heaven’s sake! Many teachers who have left and with whom I have spoken about this later, also ask the same question: “You mean on top or under the underwear?” Somehow, we all knew about at least one story, and thus, the same question, but we always found ways to protect the secret and keep it safely guarded. As we start to share more details, after passing the “underwear” question, the reaction is usually, “Oh God.” At that time, it was about surviving in dissonance. It is painful to admit it about one’s beloved Guru. Even today, as I write, I feel akward about it.

I have, however, trouble accepting people, who know men who have been raped by the guru, excuse it with arguments such as, “Oh, they are adults. Oh, it was for their growth. Oh, but Guruji loved them. Oh, but they got his grace.” Can sexual assault be justified in any form? Or, that noone has denounced him or made it public, not even anonymously! I know he threatens, I understand the shame, the guilt, the conflict, the pain. But, for heaven’s sake, it’s been going on for decades and it is not just 1, 2, 3 cases, and it keeps going on. It is going on with some young lad as we speak.

I once approached a teacher who hang out a lot in his room about the stories of a boy who came out with accusations. I gave him details, trying to understand if the boy was losing it or if his accusations were real. The teacher’s reply was more shocking. He laughed and lightly said it happened all the time to a group of them: Guruji touches them to release the kundalini and relieve their sexual tension, so that they can focus in their seva and not think about women.

Is it just me or are you frowning too?

But notice, not everyone has the privilege to release his/her kundalini! Only a few selected group of young men (young pretty men) and, I guess women have no chances of releasing anything this lifetime!

In intimate settings, sometimes, teachers, we’d ask each other if we believed these stories, if Guruji is celibate or not. We’d never dare confirm an answer, but everyone always agreed, “If he is sexually active, he definitely likes boys.”

Allowing the rapes of his female devotees is just as wrong as him sexually abusing his male devotees. There is no kundalini or enlightenment that justifies any of these two acts. Whether on top or under the underwear, I guess, even within a “spiritual” community, keep your pants on, their hands off, and do not talk to strangers. Just like your mother once taught you.

(When leaving comments, please be considerate and respectful. Keep in mind someone who has suffered a form of sexual abuse in the AoL may be reading the blog. I have spoken to several of these victims and they still suffer of the trauma of the abuses).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Healings or Hoax?

One of the main methods used by Ravishankar and AoL to bolster up the faith of his devotees and lure unsuspecting newcomers to the fold, is by constant testimonies about blessings and miraculous healings.

During the 2006 Navaratri celebrations Ravishankar gave darshan to international devotees at the Bangalore ashram. While circulating among the country groups to hear what projects each country was planning (note: as usual his primary interest was in projects rather than in people’s spiritual/personal concerns), he requested an Indian devotee to share his experiences with the Blessings course.

The devotee said Guruji had sent him to do blessings in certain Indian provinces where large numbers of farmers were committing suicide due to increasing debts. He claimed to have blessed approximately twenty-eight thousand people within a few days and rambled off statistics about how many blind and deaf people gained sight and hearing, how many got cured from depression, etc. He even claimed that people saw him as Guruji during the blessings and demanded to know why he had not previously warned them it was Guruji himself who would impart the blessings.

He was not a self-confident speaker and people were more interested in where Ravishankar was in the darshan queue than in listening to his testimonies. So every now and again he would lose heart and fall silent, with Ravishankar calling out: “Continue, continue.” I felt a bit sorry for this guy, thinking he was being taught a lesson on self-assertion.

At the time I was sceptical about the long-lasting effect or authenticity of all the reported healings. I wondered if the deaf persons who acquired hearing were able to speak/understand their mother tongue afterwards. I knew that deaf people whose hearing is restored by means of cochlear implants often have a long and difficult journey to distinguish sounds and learn to speak. I wondered if these blessings instantly conferred the gift of speaking as well. Similarly with blind persons who gained sight. It’s not just about gaining sight but also learning to distinguish shapes and know what you are seeing. As for people with depression, how can one claim an immediate cure? It is easy to bless someone and make them feel better for the moment, but what about next week, next month, next year?

Incidentally, someone who has worked for eighteen years with deaf children, some of whose parents occasionally take them to Christian faith healing services, has told me that she has not seen a single case where they have not returned disappointed. Some children who had some degree of hearing beforehand said afterwards that they heard better, but when tested no improvement was detected.

Similar to many Christian faith healing groups, AoL is quick to exploit people’s testimonies of healings to promote kriya, their courses, the organization and the guru. AoL cameras are always ready to register testimonies. But if the same person comes back next week and says the old condition has returned, would s/he make it again to a camera? Would anyone get to hear of it? Not a chance.

Healing should come with responsibility. If miraculous mass healings are claimed, they should be accompanied by scientific investigation and report of the cases (before and after, as well as long-term follow-up). And if scientifically validated, well, let’s have them bless and heal all sick people without exception!

As for myself, I have not been blessed or healed – neither physically, nor emotionally, nor spiritually. From an already fragile emotional state I was steadily pushed to the verge of a complete breakdown. Who was there to bless me then? If Ravishankar can bless and heal some, I can also testify from my own experience that he is capable of doing very deep damage.

With all the evidence of deception and manipulation mounting against Ravishankar and AoL, I now wonder if the reason for that devotee’s poor public speaking skills weren’t perhaps because he was instructed to fabricate lies about healings that never took place, rather than due to a natural shyness on his part.

Additional links

Its amazing how much aol propaganda one has to sort through before finding precious kernels of truth and opinions that shed a negative light on ravi shankar and the organization. I came across these interesting sites after spending some time with good-old google:

The first two links are personal assessments on an aol event and ravi shankar, and the last three are reports on aol's involvement in political matters last spring.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quick glance of the LA center

The Art of Living Foundation recently purchased a beautiful classical style church located in the historic West Adams District of South LA, just two blocks from USC. While the Foundation is an educational and humanitarian NGO rather than a religious organization, its plans for the building are remarkably close to its original intention: creating a landmark for prayer, peace, service, and community upliftment. Location: 948 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007

This is where your money goes, in case anyone still thinks it goes to

"25,300 villages in India, benefiting more than 2.3 million people. The statistics are mind-boggling. Over 75,000 Nav Chetna Shibirs, more than 28,350 cleanliness campaigns, more than 1.3 m trees planted, 12,857 medical camps benefiting 4.3 lakh people, 1,474 homes helped built and 50 model villages developed. In addition 25,710 village youth have been trained in the Youth Leadership Training Program and 2,000 self-help groups with a membership of 35,000 villagers have been founded."

SSRS makes up numbers (if there were only 300, he says there were 1000, if there were 3000, he says there were 30,000. We have all made fun of him that way. Press releases are made by his media center, numbers are not sustained by any proof, but just his press releases, and the little that is done, is done for free and by asking for more donations for that specific project, that is later not carried out). There are scandals surrounding Pitaji too that the organization has carefully guarded, yes, involving sex and money. But at last, here is a real project that clearly allows us to see where all the money went and will be going the next few years.

Who wants to guess the property value of this mansion in the very expensive Los Angeles area?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I forgot to bless the Twin Towers

In 2006 I heard SSRS tell that some time prior to the 9/11 attacks a woman asked him to bless all of New York city. According to him, she actually took him on a helicopter ride to bless the city. Amused, he added, “I just forgot to bless the Twin Towers. I literally forgot!”

I tried hard to get my head around that one. Didn’t the attack of the Twin Towers affect and traumatise all of NYC? (the entire world, in fact?). He actually meant to say his oversight of one spot effectively cancelled out the entire blessing! How was then the rest of the blessing of any use at all? Perhaps the blessing even messed up the energy balance and turned into a curse? In one way or the other, he insinuated world peace is in his hands!

I wonder now if he would have spoken in such a light-hearted manner if the city in question was 26/11 Mumbai.

He once told us that everyone can bless. Once we have done a Part II course, one could do the Blessings Course and be able to bless others. The course claims one will “become a perfect instrument for the Master's Grace to flow.” Um.. with the Master making such gigantic blunders in blessings, why would one want to become a perfect instrument at all?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti - not for commercial use

If you haven’t done so yet please pay attention to Haiti. It is difficult not to be shaken by the news, the pictures, the footages. It is a tragedy. I keep asking myself what can I do from so far, and inevitably I remember my times with AoL and feel ashamed of having supported initiatives that thrived from the tragedies of others.

A common question people asked SSRS was, “Why are there natural catastrophes?” A typical answer was, “So that people work on their compassion and do seva.” Very poetic, perhaps truthful, but definitely, very witty – the perfect way to keep his people working for him for free, not question anything he does (or not do) and feel proud of themselves.

We heard countless stories about the Gujarat earthquake, how AoL people helped day and night and the myriad miracle stories (my favorite being the one of a boy who fell off a high building and nothing happened to him because “Guruji caught him”). Of course, we heard the stories of the Tsunami and the unfounded claim “we were the first NGO to enter the region and do seva”, accounted by a few pictures (always the same 3, 4 pictures) of SSRS passing some bags of food and clothes, and standing in front of people in despair. In fact, the Blessings course is an aftermath of that tragedy: Swamiji was sent to the region, and as per his own narration, the guru asked him to bless. Upon asking innocently “how”, the guru yelled at him, “Just do it! Have faith.” And thus, when the swami innocently touched people’s heads, he’d learn the deaf gained hearing, the depressed started eating, the devastated smiling, the childless mothers found meaning to their lives again. The blessings/healing stories gained more importance than the actual needs of the tsunami affected population.

Taking advantage of the situation, the organization went out fishing for donations. A former teacher told me the story of a Brazilian bank that raised funds within their employee community and decided to donate close to USD 400,000 for the construction of an orphanage AoL claimed to plan to build for the Tsunami orphans in Sri Lanka. This project, like many others, did not follow up with accountability, paper work, proof. Instead of the promise of building the grounds in a few months, it did not conclude until way past the year. The bank authorities were furious. Of course, they had been fooled and their reputation was at stake. As a respectable, professional organization, they needed to show accountability. The AoL quickly fabricated pictures, trying to trick the bank authorities with photos only of few terminated corners of some rooms, or from angles that would not show the real unfinished situation, and of course, with big Brazilian flags wherever possible. To make things worse, once the building was finally terminated, they had no authorization from the government to run the orphanage, and there were no orphans to host (note: you don’t just grab kids from the streets and put them in a place ... for pictures …). I can’t help but imagine how much could have been done in Sri Lanka, even the slums of Brazil, with that lump sum of money back then! I keep thinking constructing the building did not require even 1/10 of that money. I wonder what has become the real use of that place and where that money really went.

I was at an AoL event during the Tsunami tragedy and, in two weeks, we collected close to USD 300,000 for “the cause.” He even sent us out to the streets to beg, TTC participants wrote big checks, events were organized to raise funds for the Tsunami victims, yet, they ended up being intro talks to register the people (who went to find ways to help “the cause”) to the next courses.

This was the work of only one group. I wonder how much money AoL sucked out of the Tsunami tragedy and how much really went to it or, rather, where did all of it really go.

The Dresden flood kept some Europeans busy for a few days, proved, of course, by a few pictures of a few people pulling buckets. Of course, there was the famous Katrina tragedy that claimed to have mobilized the entire US AoL chapter. Somehow, the AoL constantly makes big claims, but whenever articles are published it is because some devotee used some connections in the media. My point being: how come AoL always has to let the media know about their amazing work and it is not the media who finds their super big work? If their achievements are indeed that important, wouldn’t people notice them themselves?

Let’s be realistic and crude: what is the bottom-line claim of all the campaigns? Sudarshan Kriya will save everyone, his holiness is the new millennium Messiah, AoL is the only organization that is really making a difference in the area. Yet note that all projects life span last as long as some pictures and footages are taken, enough money collected, and you don't hear about them anymore, except in the form of heroic and miraculous stories (always the same ones).

Furthermore, it is interesting to notice he only helps incidents that are politically more productive for media and award purposes. When I read about some natural disaster, I check with former members of the area, local and international press, esatsang (!) to see if AoL is present in the rescue, vigorously implementing their claims of seva, sending their “seva warriors”, saving the world, “we care we share”, investing the money collected from courses in real causes. … Why does it still disappoint me though? Well, let’s give them a break. At least they keep recruiting people for courses! Sudarshan Kriya and devotion to SSRS will, after all, save and change the world! (Yes, that was sarcasm). There are people who believe the awards the IAHV claims were given by obvious merits rather than lobbying of their devotees.

A few years ago, a wealthy AoL member proudly informed of a “planting trees” project in Haiti. Not very knowledgeable about the area, I was embarrassed to ask why plant trees and not engage in more immediately necessary projects instead? Like, medical care, hunger, education, hygiene, etc.? Maybe deforestation was a big issue I was not aware of, but it obviously kept this man feeling important, donating and convinced AoL does real seva. I doubt so many trees were really planted in half of that island and I know as a fact there are not that many activities.

Oxfam, Red Cross, Doctors without borders, the UN, etc., a list of organizations are currently out there helping Haiti. Their efforts are visible, their goals are clear. It embarrasses me to remember how he convinced us those organizations are useless because they are all words but little action: “They use 80% of the donations in overhead expenses, did you know? Hah? We use less than 10% in overhead expenses the rest all goes to seva projects. Don’t give your money to them.”

Seva projects? Or Ajay’s homes, cars and triple US education? Bhanu’s saris, jewelries, purses and first class trips to visit her son? His own latest gadgets, expensive dotis, shawls, 5 star hotels and first class plane tickets? Or his real estate investments? Or the Texas ashram, the luxurious DC center, the recently acquired obnoxiously luxurious Los Angeles Center? (for those who have not seen the pictures yet, make sure you do. A historic building, several million dollars, former Christian Science church. I almost gagged when I saw the photos).

What will AoL invent and claim now about Haiti? That he is blessing the Caribbean? That the tragedy happened because AoL was not too active in the country, thus “everyone, quick, quick, start teaching in your areas before it is too late!” I will get revolted yet I am already getting ready to hear about a world meditation or a world maha Kriya to help the victims of the tragedy, and claims of seva projects and miracles in the area. Sadly, the AoL community will be excitedly convinced they are contributing (like the time they prevented a war between India and Pakistan with a maha Kriya), organizing special satsangs, donating money to AoL. “Everything is an opportunity. One just needs to be clever”, as taught by TTC teachers.

Taking advantage of the tragedy of others is simply distasteful.

Mr. Ravishankar, if you want to help, you need to roll your sleeves and get your hands dirty, but not your way-that-way-dirty, the real way. And not just for a few pictures. Know the Dalai Lama said to a reporter when a typhoon destroyed Taiwan: “I am not here to take pictures.” (You did not go. Your local chapter did not do anything relevant, if any at all. Supporting Taiwan would be a dangerous political move). If you choose to donate to an active organization truly currently working in Haiti, I am sure you can find ways to cut taxes. Remember your own teachings: a good businessman is the one who knows to donate. The more you give, the more you receive.

For those who want to help, here is a link from the NY Times: "HAITI DISASTER RELIEF: HOW TO CONTRIBUTE"

(Also read in this blog, "Another disaster, another marketing opportunity")

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another disaster, another marketing opportunity

I was wondering when aol was going to start capitalizing on the Haiti tragedy. And behold, I got a short e-mail today shamelessly sent by the “Artofliving Marketing Team” soliciting donations for “immediate supplies and food”, “trauma relief programs”, and “long-term rehabilitation” for Haiti. You’d think that something like this might fall under a “disaster relief team” category or something along those lines.

Anyway, another e-mail, much more detailed and well constructed, came a few minutes later from the same marketing department. They are seeking experienced graphic designers, photographers, and videographers to create posters and other marketing media for the foundation. The process of selecting who would be enlisted for such an honor was outlined in great detail.

You’d think that a disaster relief effort (a much larger undertaking) might warrant at least a similar attention to detail if it is genuine, and those supporting it monetarily are to be assured of its success. I for one have sent my donation to the Red Cross.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

“Enlightsitive” = enlightened + sensitive

It was common to find that the more someone was involved in the organization and the more senior the teacher was, the more “sensitive” he/she was about many things, e.g. food, environment, people, music, activities, the paranormal, etc. Somehow, with time, we developed sensitivities that were attributed to "evolution." Being more sensitive was regarded as having reached a higher state, being more spiritual. Being less sensitive was hmm ... the contrary.

Many were allergic and/or phobic to many things. It was often a pain to hang out with teachers, especially Part 2 teachers, swamis, Sahaj teachers, senior teachers. I dreaded feeding them, hosting them. They were all big time prima donnas in the name of enlightenment. I call them, “enlightsitives” = enlightened + sensitive.

Sugar, white flour, flour, grains, cereals, non-organic, coffee, soft-drinks, garlic, onion, mushrooms, frozen, not frozen, cooked, not cooked, etc., etc., etc. Or else, smells: cleaning detergents, sprays, perfumes, shampoos, soaps, dry-cleaned clothes, etc. Or else music, “that is so not sattvic. My prana is going down. Put on some bhajans.” (After so many years of AoL I suddenly noticed one day I did not know what the world was listening to and I only knew the words to bhajans! Thank God they were not that difficult!). Or else, “there is such bad energy in this house, I cannot stay here” or “that person is so low, ignore him/her, it’ll consume your energy field.” Or else, the pita, vata, kapha! Or else, the overall belief that activities, such as, going to the movies is not sattvic. For heaven’s sake! Imagine young people not living their time! Feeling guilty about partying, dating, hanging out, making out, having desires. Isn’t it all part of growing up, being human, learning, discovering life and oneself? Did our parents, grandparents not do it after all? Were they that bad? That unevolved? Did the great inventors, philosophers, scientists, doctors, teachers not engage in such activities either? Were they that bad? SSRS watches movies, loves potato chips and likes that song “Besame, besame mucho” (as per a friend’s translation: “Kiss me, kiss me a lot, kiss me as if this was the last time …” Interestingly sattvic ☺ !)

I was speechless when I recently heard some people even self-induced vomit or naturally vomited after being exposed to what was considered “unpure” energy, e.g. hanging out with people who belong to “the world”, doing kriya with bad/low energy people, etc.!

I remember once 5 people were dumped in a room, amongst them a teacher. It was uncomfortably tight yet the teacher insisted everyone needed to move everything around (bed, wardrobes, bags, etc.) in an incoherent way for everyone but her only because she otherwise could not sleep -she needed to lie in the same direction of the underground water (or was it some energy wave?). She considered herself more evolved than the rest because of these needs. We thought she was self-centered, selfish and “looney”. She was just “enlightsitive.”

Eating meat was, of course, the ultimate anti-glow sin. I met some people who upon medical advise went back to eating meat. They did so with so much guilt and were constantly worried people would notice them less "bright" and sense their "bad" energy. In fact, they were sure Bhanu and SSRS discriminated them since their change of diet. At least, Bhanu kept making awful remarks to them about it. But let me see, if one has to choose between glowing and health, glowing and health... Come on, does meat-free diet ensure "glow" and purity? Glowing in the name of evolution is definitely overrated. I know so many meat eating people who are so sensitive, spiritual and loving! And I know so many vegetarians who are vicious, awful people.

I am not sure yet if the collective hysteria was brought from TM and we ended up adopting it, or if the practices created such imbalanced sensitivities and/or eliminated our “energetic immune system”. I was an “enlightsitive” myself. However, today it makes no sense to me that evolution would bring such ineptness to cope with everyday life, situations and discriminate "unpure people" (as I write I am ashamed of the arrogance!). I am not invalidating the claims of anyone’s sensitivities (I have my own share) but I keep wondering if a truly evolved person would make a fuss about everything, or if, instead, enlightenment is that state in which one is sensitive yet finds oneself at ease and in acceptance with everyone and anything.

I know organic, non-toxic, non-plastic, non-etc. is better (behold, I myself believe and practice this), but somehow I cannot image someone enlightened rambling, “I cannot eat this, it is not organic, it'll kill me”, “I cannot sleep on this bed, the bed sheets are not organic cotton or pure silk”, “you sprayed too much perfume, the toxic residues will give me cancer”, “oh my pita vata!!!”, “your repressed anger makes me loose my centeredness”, “I cannot sleep unless my head points east.”

As stated earlier, many people, especially senior teachers, considered such claims heroic and a sign of evolution. Unfortunately, imitation is the most powerful form of education.

SSRS himself also discriminated against people in that manner. There was often a say in the hallway while waiting for him: better not hang out with “blue stars” or low energy people otherwise he will not let you in ("your energy will get contaminated and he will feel it"). It was sad to notice people avoiding each other, and unfortunately, ignoring some “not dignified” souls, and of course, there was always this hidden fear one was actually the one everyone stepped away from. It stirred up awful degrading feelings. Furthermore, how many times did he refuse to stay in a devotee’s more humble home because their energy was not high enough for him? (though of course, a 5 star hotel or a mansion were never a problem).

I admit I was once also an “enlightsitive.” In fact, I am still sensitive to many things. However, it is funny to notice that since I left the AoL and the more time goes by since I stopped doing the practices, I feel more equipped to deal with differences and they don’t bother me anymore. AoLers would explain it as I am now less evolved because I am now “in the world” and out of “his grace”. I believe my organism is gradually stronger and I everyday have less AoL softwares in my hard drive. Thus, whew! I am no longer “enlightsitive”!☺

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Once upon a cult

Recovering from spiritual abuse is an endless, intimate, lonely process few people comprehend. Sexual abuse and domestic violence are today recognized in most societies (unfortunately not all) as crimes, and victims of it qualify for proper justice and counseling. Society sympathizes with them and offers help in countless ways, although probably not enough yet. On the other hand, being a victim of spiritual or cult abuse is still not as acceptable and an unspoken subject accompanied by shame and misunderstandings. Out loud coming out as a victim of cult/spiritual abuse may place one in a vulnerable situation, even ridiculed or exposed to more bullying. One is blamed for having joined or questioned on the veracity of ones experiences. Of course, they are the big organization with the big names, the holy persona and thousands of followers. I am just a nobody who was “rejected or dejected” (as someone put earlier). Why believe me? I must be bluffing, resentful, seeking revenge. Otherwise, “something is obviously wrong with you, to begin with, for having joined a cult”, and “you are ‘stupid’ for not having left earlier”, “you are responsible.”

Maybe people can’t relate with spiritual abuse because it is more abstract, subtle and mainly because there is a general concept about spiritual masters: they are holy benevolent beings, and because there is a tendency to believe one is always in control of everything (“should be”). People don’t understand the extent and the depth of the manipulations and damages of spiritual abuse, specially under the leadership of one who claims “the way”, the lonely pain one carries silently for a long time and how difficult it is to cope with it everyday, how being a victim of a cult leader is not different from being a victim of Stockholm syndrome, rape or domestic violence. People sympathize with Jaycee Dugard but they question me. I was spiritually raped and abducted but I could/should have walked out. I could/should have as much a Jaycee Dugard could/should have.

Recovery did not start the minute I left the organization. Recovery started the day I was able to face the truth and admit to myself I had belonged to a cult, that I had participated in a big lie and brought many to it, that I had been abused and also been abusive, that SSRS was a cult leader and not a spiritual one. Unfortunately that happened long after I officially left. I fed my dissonance for a long time after instead. It is what I had perceived as truth for so many years and the contrary was too hurtful and challenging to unknot. I was betrayed by friends, students, my guru, but mainly, I betrayed myself for not listening to myself, not seeing the truth earlier and for allowing the abuses. Maybe I will understand many years later why it all happened, maybe one day I may even be grateful for it too. Maybe, maybe not.

I find the biggest challenge former members face is recognizing SSRS is not what we thought he was or that his love for us is not unconditional, as he claimed, that the Sudarshan Kriya is a hoax, that we were used to feed someone’s narcissistic ambitions. I’ve heard people who have been abused defend him in the most dissonant manners. They blame the board, some senior teacher, they even claim he did it out of love, etc. They somehow see SSRS as a victim himself when underneath it all, they are most likely protecting themselves. Let me just ask, “What kind of parent would abuse you in the name of love?” (In the world we identify them as pedophiles and sick). Who do you think is behind the board, the senior teachers, the situations? You really think things happen without his consent and knowledge?” SSRS is about the greatest control freak I know! I remember the time I told him I found an article bad for his name because it stated everything in the Art of Living revolved and depended on him. He mockingly asserted, “Of course that is how it should be! I am behind it all! Without me nothing exists! You still don’t know?!” (A little too narcissistic perhaps?) This is the naivite that goes on. I also defended him so many years when the truth was evident to those watching outside.

I realized about myself that the extent I needed to lie to myself about SSRS was the extent of my own immaturity. Psychologically, children move to the next level of maturity when they realize Santa does not exist. I believe the same happens with ex-devotees when we consider the possibility the guru is a fraud. Eventually, admitting he is, is the ultimate painful act, thus some choose to keep the Stockholm syndrome. As the saying goes, “ignorance is bliss.”

I stopped consuming sudarshan kriya, meditation, chanting, anything that reminds me of the routines I followed for so many years, that killed more than 100 of my brain cells, and repressed my rights of freedom of thought and critical thinking. Uninstalling all the guru softwares, allowing the real me to flourish again, being truthful is my current sadhana. The meaning of “sadhana”, now finally makes sense: spiritual practice done for higher aims.

I was once member of a cult. I say it with shame, humility, respect and responsibility. But above all, with pride I finally am truthful to myself.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Is spirituality not democratic after all?


Ah!!! I am actually getting tired of responding to AoLers writing to this blog, even those who fake they are not. What the heck! I left their organization to, years later, engage with them online? OK, a risk I took the minute I started this blog, but geez, they don’t even have such good reading comprehension skills because they are so emotional when reading they immediately jump to conclusions and/or are too anxious to make a point, ready to militate for Ravi any minute. Geez! With all due respect, reacting like men who were just told they have small tiny weenie penises! Excuse me. I did not say anything about anyone’s penis so please chill! And anyway, let’s respect each other’s size, shape and preferences! Is spirituality after all not democratic?! Do we all need to believe AoL is the biggest most amazing NGO in the world? (It is not! Check statistics. The AoL cannot even detail how many active teachers it has and how many teachers it has made! AoL cannot even give specific numbers of how many people did the course in each city, country and year! I was one of you when we tried to collect this data and we were not able to because we were lousy and disorganized as an institution, and because, unfortunately, that is the price for working with volunteers, some less prepared than others, and many, without any real professional experience). Do we all need to believe Ravi is the greatest man on earth, holy, the one and only, and the best? Do we all need to believe everything the AoL and SSRS claim as true? If thinking differently to you makes us stupid, then let us be! At least, stupid, free and happy. Let spirituality be democratic! The soul is, after all, FREE!

Neither AoL nor SSRS nor his devotees should feel threatened, shaken or offended by different opinions – I call them “different”, they call them “negative” … interesting. Good education is based on diversified information, not on unilateral, manipulated, censored information. One should decide if something is good based on all reviews: good and bad. Something is not necessarily good if it only has good reviews. On the contrary, it gives room to suspicion. In a world governed by minds like those of fanatic AoL followers and SSRS the system would be non-democratic, totalitarian, despot. If that makes you feel more comfortable, please practice it within your divine community but don't push it on others. I and many others, greatly appreciate democracy, freedom of speech, freedom for religious beliefs, transparency, wholesome education. For the love of these, I chose to leave.

I also don’t understand, when I was a devotee – truly devoted, by the way – I never ever thought of reading anything “negative” about “my guru” or “the best organization in the world”. First of all, I never thought anyone doubted we were the best. In fact, I was shocked to find out, years after I left, there were people and sources out there with “negative” observations and experiences! Second, I did not consider other opinions valid. My family, friends, etc. thought I had lost it. I was even told straight in my face I was in a cult yet I stood strong to my convictions. Needless to mention, I never thought of attacking someone who felt differently or tried to convince them they were wrong, belittle or dare them. I only kept bringing people to the course. Even then, I believed everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. How are you then practicing the knowledge “don’t make the mistake of going against the mistake” (Ashtavakra Gita)? Cause I am out, you are in, shouldn't you be "in the knowledge"?

SSRS speaks about the joining of all religions, breaking differences, but actions such as these of his devotees writing to the blog (and to many other links that present different opinions) or himself assigning people to check on “negative press” only reflect the contrary, and are a sign of little or no true spirituality, hidden insecurities, cry babies, and overboard narcissism. Should those who think differently, those who may appear to think “against them” (I prefer, “not in favor of”, or “not similarly”) be attacked, questioned, “dared”, threatened … eliminated? (a common AoL in-house practice after all).

Fortunately, I had many many years of training under this kind of despotic rule and tyrant thinking, and, unfortunately, I am not unfamiliar with the AoL kind of hostility towards difference in opinion. For heaven’s sake, keep conquering the world but let people enjoy democratic spirituality!!!

Is spirituality not democratic after all?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Let every city declare my day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly how successful or unsuccessful devotees were in their “SSRS day” attempts can be gauged from Gullible cities are listed under “His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day” and “International Honours”.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Interesting articles

Worth checking out the two articles recently added under Helpful links as per the suggestion of readers.

The Art of Living Business


Is Sri Sri a Fraud Fraud? What the heck do we know? We are just mortal human beings and he is "holiholiness"?

Thanks for the suggestions!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Walk like a king and be a perfect doormat


I was young when I joined the organization. I was vulnerable, full of hopes, naïve, gullible, enthusiastic, influentiable, impressionable. I had that adolescent arrogance that made me believe we could change the world. My psyque was probably not even strongly developed yet. I believed in helping others, wished for a better world and loved knowledge. I was the perfect target.

My family was all along against me being part of the organization, and worse, giving my life to it. SSRS said to me once, “Have compassion for them, pray for them”, as if they were loosers who missed out the chance of being on the path. AoL adults would then remind me how lucky I was for serving a guru at such a young age (though curiously, they would not encourage their own children to follow my steps). Thus, I disregarded every warning my family gave me because they were "not in the knowledge". Instead, I listened to the guru and my fellow senior teachers/friends.

Even when I write this, I laugh at myself. I actually listened to “adults” who obviously have serious psychological problems and who, in different ways and reasons, stopped growing at some early point in life because of some dysfunctional story, or fled from “the world”, relying on spirituality as an ego booster. Time passing by is not an indication one grows. I have met 40 year olds going into 14 and 65 year olds going into 17. I once looked up to those people and thought that, as my seniors, in age and spiritual experience, they knew better. The fool leading the fool.

Few years after joining the organization, I lived enough unethical situations that affected me personally and made me want to leave. I struggled with the devotion and commitment I felt for him, and the respect and conviction I had for my values. Senior teachers would then corner me with the “should and should not” script.

Basically, it was all just a sign of low prana, lack of faith we all go through, to make us strong, get rid of our egos. “The path is only for the brave ones”, “the amount of doubt you have equals the amount of faith you have, so when you have doubts, realize how much faith you have”. If I was angry, I should not be angry, “anger is not good for you, observe the sensation, sit for hollow and empties, bow down, surrender to the Guru, chant.” If I thought SSRS did something wrong, “he is doing it for your growth, he is a satguru, he is showing you the way by creating that situation, he wants the best for you, he is taking you to the next step.” If I wanted to say anything about it, “you are being vindictive, observe your violence.”

One could never win nor validate oneself. The one abused was turned into the aggressor. Therefore, what was extended and deepened instead was the condition for abuse until one finally regarded it as normal, acceptable, spiritual. SSRS talked about surrender but he really wanted us to succumb.

I can almost hear my basic course teacher if she found out about this blog: “revenge is not good.” Revenge is so not part of my personality and not at all the goal of this blog. And if I was once angry, so what? It is part of the process of recovery and healing. I am real: bones and flesh real. She is also a victim of abuse and has made abuse into something spiritual. Realizing the contrary would be too much to handle. Actually, recognizing and admitting one belonged to a cult is a big load that comes with shame and appears to disqualify everything one did for so long.

If I had the chance to talk with her today, I’d tell her how much she helped me, and how much she deeply screwed me. Sadly, I see that everything she did was for herself. She actually hid in the spiritual path to feel superior, to hide her feelings of insecurity, failures and inadequacy. As long as she had someone to save, she was somebody. She had the best of all intentions but could not see she was blind. Someone who had removed herself from the world for so many decades and who has difficulties surviving without belonging to a "spiritual cult", was a senior teacher who trained and led young people. All her advises only prepared us for more abuse. She taught me that if I was slapped, I should be grateful. Though I see the beauty of that knowledge I am sure it does not mean, “Walk like a king and be a perfect doormat" (as in Ravishankar's "Walk like a king and be a perfect servant").

Loving oneself, learning to respect oneself, learning to stand up for oneself and be respected are crucial in growing up strong and healthy (You see, my basic course teacher and some swami would say that was my ego speaking).

I know my teacher meant well. Today I recon she is emotionally, psychologically and spiritually crippled. She influenced many young people like me. We all looked up to her. More than one felt guilty about something after being with her because she had so many concepts, shoulds and should nots.

Being in a spiritual path does not make one better than others nor does it mean one truly works on oneself. One thing I know about AoL is noone really works on him/herself. We thought we did. The spiritual arrogance one acquires is such that AoLers believe doing kriya and kissing the guru’s feet automatically puts one above everyone and everything else.

I am today allergic to any unsolicited advise, specially in a condescending way. Often people in spiritual paths have the bad habit of thinking they know better. They think they know what advise you need, what you are really feeling that you are not aware of, what you still have not done. The obnoxious “I know for your better good.” Needless to mention, often the advises go around the leitmotif “be forgiving, be compassionate, do not be angry, let go, move on, etc.” Whereas there is truth in it, one cannot deny the abuse and the array of feelings that come with it. Imagine what a rape victim would feel if you tell him/her right after the attack, “forgive, be compassionate, don’t be angry, it was your karma, you must have done something bad some other life time, let go.” Just imagine!

I do not need to do anything but feel what I feel and be myself. That is the only thing I must do. Being angry is just as part of life as anything else. It does not make me worse. It is what it is at that moment and time takes care of it. After all, aren’t opposite values complimentary? Suppressing negative emotions is the emptiest spiritual mood making I know that turns people into arrogant robots. Being in a spiritual path does not mean you don’t feel negative emotions anymore. A spiritual education should teach you negative emotions are part of life and how to handle them, not that you should not feel them, or that feeling them is not OK, or that by meditating you will never have them again.

I also once oscillated from being a victim of abuse to being an abusive arrogant robot in the name of spirituality. Sadly, in AoL we thought spirituality was enrolling people to the course, creating devotion in people for SSRS and faking a smile at all times – “fake it until you make it.” Meditating, breathing, having a guru, chanting mantras, doing yoga, being vegetarian, doing “seva” are not signs of spirituality. Spirituality is not about the activities you do but about how you act and where the action stems from. Spirituality is not about not feeling any negative emotions. Spirituality is not in the shoulds and should nots, it is about how real you are to yourself, in life and to the world.

I dropped the habit of telling anyone what and how they should feel and do, or thinking I know what the other feels and should do. More importantly, I also dropped the habit of telling myself what I should or should not. Where there is a “should”, I learned, I lose my authenticity and my freedom.

I no longer want to be a doormat.

Friday, January 1, 2010

How AoL Preys on the Youth


I remember back when I first became a part of AoL—there was never such an emphasis on youth courses. Now, all of a sudden, youth courses are all the hype (particularly the YES plus). Their advertisements and posters inevitably have some young people (of mixed demographic) smiling and having all kinds of fun. They use catchy words and phrases like “confidence”, “enthusiasm”, and “meet new people” to lure young unsuspecting students to the course. There are now even YES plus courses for college credit. So AoL has figured out how to tap into the fountain of youth—a whole population of young, naive, impressionable individuals with plenty of energy (to market the course) and plenty of friends (to market to).

Just like part 1 teachers, AoL is churning out armies of YES plus teachers. In order to become a YES plus teacher, one has to not only be able to pull off the enlightenment act, but it has to be more like “enlightenment on speed”. To make the cut, YES plus teachers have to act young and dynamic and especially enthusiastic in order to attract the young folks. It must be utterly exhausting.

Once one becomes a YES plus teacher, next comes the Holy Grail of YES plus teaching—getting the course offered in a university for credit. And how on God’s Green Earth are they able to convince respectable institutions to give college credit for such a course? Well, they seem to have found the magic marketing formula (four easy steps), which have been circulating among the teachers:

Step 1: Give several YES plus courses on (preferably) or near the campus to undergraduates in the institution and collect their testimonials
Step 2: Identify a few “strong” students and “nurture” them by hanging out with them and organizing and attending social activities.
Step 3: “Inspire” those students to tell the administration and/or their connections within the university about the course and arrange for a meeting with a YES plus teacher.
Step 4: Contact the YES plus desk to get proper coaching and help with organizing a professional presentation for the administration.

Now if that’s not predation, then I don’t know what is.

Thankfully, it seems that only a small percentage of students stay for the follow-up sessions (much like any other AoL course). But among the few that have stayed, I have seen students feel pressured to do the “seva” of recruiting more students to courses that they themselves were at first “inspired” to organize, and then later get burned out. I have seen students do this “seva” at the expense of not getting their own schoolwork done. And I know of one student who dropped out of school entirely because of involvement with AoL. It is a sad waste of life for those kids that take to heart ssrs’s words: “If you do my work, I’ll do yours.” Shame on ssrs and his org for hijacking young impressionable minds and getting them to do his dirty work.

Its bad enough that I, as a teacher, wasted years of my life on AoL. But what’s worse is the painful fact that I have helped AoL and ssrs suck dry the lives of others. I know that sharing my experiences here can never undo the damage I may have caused, but if these experiences can be used to help just one person decide not to take a course, or just one AOLite to leave the org, then my job here is done.