AOL refers not to “America On Line” but rather to “The Art of Living” as taught by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (SSRS, in short).
A simple straight forward piece I wrote some years ago (Is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a Con Man?) does get a lot of attention. I get emails from people, some of which is the average “I agree with you” type. Then there is the “How dare you even suggest that SSRS is not god almighty himself and that the sun does not shine out of his butt? You are an evil person” type. I would like to share part of one such exchange I had today with one SSRS worshipper (initials “AG”).
AG read my article on SSRS and wrote
U r right when u talk about ‘marketing & packaging’. To quote ur example to u, Tell me wud u buy a Pepsi or a coke without their jazzy punchlines and star power? . . . Are u aware that AOL has 20 million+ followers, by any standards. . .
‘SSRS’ does not has to travel anywhere. He can construct any modern state of the art works monument on the most expensive piece of real estate available on planet earth and stay there as long as he wants. Instead he travels more than 290 days a year. So much so that he is 2 time zones on the same day sometimes. And still he gives talks with same compassion, calmness & love. I wonder how much deciet, hidden agendas and money power u need to become like that in today’s world? . . .
I suggest u do 1 course, and then form ur opnion. It won’t take anything out of u, but will give u a lot more than u can possibly think of. And then form ur opnion and add a follow up to this post of urs with ur experience. . .
The presence, the strength, calmness, peace and love from ‘SSRS’ eyes & voice will shake u to d very core of ur being.
Otherwise u can be as closed as u r right now and use ur intelectual knowledge to reject things such as this as illogical, repacked material etc.
It was a long rambling email and I have quoted just a bit to give you an idea of what it was about. I wrote back saying:
Whatever AOL does, it clearly does not teach one how to spell or write coherently. Besides, I did not say even one unkind word about SSRS and yet you have been shrill about how great AOL is. That indicates that you have reading comprehension problems.
If you are a typical follower of SSRS, I have grave sympathies for the guy.
PS: The spelling of the pronoun is not “u” but “you.” Get a spelling lesson for SSRS’s sake — otherwise people will think that you are totally illiterate.
AG wrote back. Since it is brief, I quote the entire message.
Thanks for the prompt response Mr. Dey,
As I said U r a typical person who uses his intellect to prove things logically. Well, faith doesn’t works that way. U can’t reason everything untill u have faith, as it’s not an exact science, sir.
Probably in 5 years time when u r mature enuf to understand the scale of work and the mamooth size of comittment AOL has undertaken to make people peaceful and acknowledge and imbibe right values towards other people and towards life in general; around the world, then I shall talk to u again.
BTW are u aware that SSRS has been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for the second time?
P.S: Please get ur facts straight first and get a clear 360 degree picture. Plus thanks for ur suggestion. My english is gud enuf and I am happy the way it is & if proper english is a MUST for healthy & happy living it will be taught in AOL shortly. U on the other hand r not fit for any AOL program coz ur time has not arrived yet.
Thanks but no thanks for ur grave sympathies.
Nothing personal and no offence meant watsoever.
Well, slap me silly! I am so sorry that I lean so heavily on logic. Excuse me, I will try to be illogical and stupid. And how do I get there? Why, by joining an AOL course, of course.
Seriously, isn’t it worth noting that some movements depend on numbers? It is a defining characteristic of a cult: the followers repeat to themselves and others how many of them there are and how fast their numbers are growing. It is as if they are validating their belief by telling themselves and others that they cannot be wrong because there are many others who also share that belief. But delusions don’t stop being delusions when it is widely shared.
I have a theory about this fascination with numbers. In popular perception, a movement is a cult if the delusion is shared by only a small number of people; if there are a large number of followers wallowing in the same delusions, say one billion, then it is no longer a cult and becomes a religion. People involved in the movement want their set of beliefs to be regarded as a religion and not as a cult. So cults try to enlarge their membership constantly. And with time, it becomes second nature to them and thus are born proselytizing movements such as Christianity and Islam — essentially cults but because of their numerical strengths, they command respect.
Cults are personality based. There is one person who is what I call the “god equivalent.” Some examples: Jesus the Christ, Mohammed, Jim Jones, Sai Baba, Satya Sai Baba, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. What the first two have and the rest of the list does not is numbers. If only a few millions share in a set of delusions, it is a cult; if there are hundreds of million, then it is a religion.
The AOL movement is a cult. It is totally benign from what I can tell. It is doing at least one valuable thing: it propagates yogic practice and thought. Yoga is part of the world lexicon and yoga is entirely Indian. (I cannot resist pointing out that Hinduism contributed yoga to the world, and Islam contributed jihad.) SSRS, the charismatic leader of the AOL cult, is doing valuable service by promoting peace and understanding between people.
Yet, I find the worshipping of SSRS distasteful and undignified. But then, that is what the common lot does, doesn’t it?
[Related post: A Letter from a SSRS Worshipper.]
[PS: The last and final post on the subject is here.]