The time has come for me to bring to a close the matter of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his Art of Living as discussed on this blog. It began with a simple enough request some years ago from my brother who asked me to check out AOL since he was (and continues to be) a big admirer of SSRS. I checked out the site and I realized that I had indeed heard of SSRS before. It was at an Indian classical music concert in San Francisco. The concert was being sponsored by the Art of Living Foundation (or something to that effect). Before the concert began, there was a fairly long video presentation promoting the AOL program. I recall seeing SSRS images on that promotional video and it seemed to me that the man was central to the movement.
I have a very deep-seated distaste for personality driven movements, as opposed to idea driven movements. Personalities are people and people are human and therefore fallible. When the core is a person, and the masses follow that person, grave danger lurks. From what little I know of the world, it appears to me that all movements that center around a person invariably end up in disasters. Just to name a few names, in no particular order: Lenin, Marx, Gandhi (the Mahatma first, later Indira, Rajiv, and in a few years Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka, their children, their children’s children), Nehru, Mohammed, Jesus, David Koresh, etc. They degenerate into cults one definition of which is an “obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.”
I am all for ideas but when the person is elevated above the idea, my bullshit detector meter registers in the red zone. I realized that SSRS is doing useful work and people are willing to pay for it. But even so many years ago, before SSRS was as famous as he is now, I realized that he will be worshipped in a few years. And so it has come to pass: I see the picture of SSRS jostling for space on many a shelf holding images of Shiv, Ganesh, Durga, etc.
I wrote to my brother saying essentially that SSRS is doing good work and therefore belongs to the category I define as “useful” (which includes you and me and billions of others) but I would not put him in the categories I define as “good,” “enlightened,” or “great.” He was disappointed. I later posted it as an article with the title “Is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a Con Man?” and answered the question saying that SSRS is a good marketer of wholesome Indian wisdom and is running a very useful business. As an economist, I am all for producers producing stuff that consumers want and benefit from and applaud people who provide useful services. SSRS meets a demand and is amply financially rewarded for it.
I have been consistent in my view that SSRS is doing good. Yet, some of his followers are offended that I don’t consider him to be the 11th incarnation of Vishnu, so to speak. This mystifies me: why do they care what I think of SSRS? Is their faith in their Gurudev (as they prefer to call SSRS) so fragile that the opinion of a nobody like me gets their hackles up? I should stress that I don’t believe that all of the millions of SSRS followers are whacky. I think only those who have a very tenuous grasp on reality in general mis-read what I wrote and they write to me angry emails which are more often than not incoherent and misspelled to boot. In all fairness, one should not judge SSRS by these mentally challenged followers of his.
I think ridicule is a great weapon against puffed up pretensions. I think it is appropriate for me to poke fun at an email which gives me unsolicited advice on how I will see the light if only I enrolled in a AOL course. There is nothing privileged about such a communication and contrary to what one commenter wrote in connection with my recent post, there is nothing the least unethical about making publicly available such an email as long as the personal details of the writer are not revealed.
So now it is time to say goodbye to SSRS and his AOL on this blog. It has been fun but one has to move on. Life is short and there are other things and people waiting to be made the object of one’s fascination.
Goodbye, good night, and may your god go with you.