Since the last few days, I notice that this blog is getting a lot of visitors from esatsang.net, a site devoted to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I am not sure why but my blog does get a lot of attention from the followers of SSRS. It is interesting that my knowledge of the Art of Living organization and its leader is only impressionistic. I never studied the organization or its head. I had a general idea that SSRS was one of the many gurus that India produces fairly consistently. There are many to choose from, if you are so inclined — Sai Baba, Satya Sai Baba, Osho, Baba Ramdev, SSRS, even a genuine medical doctor-turned-guru Deepak Chopra–the list goes on. In my opinion, they are useful, whatever their personal failings or their motives, because they help in promoting Indian thought globally and make the world a little better place. Like the purveyors of physical goods, these gurus compete in the marketplace of ideas and their successes indicate that they do produce something that the market values.
It is just accidental that I wrote a brief letter to my brother about SSRS a few years ago, and later published it on my blog (Is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a Con Man?). Then the emails from people with various takes on SSRS sporadically started coming in. Some of them were in agreement with me, while some strenuously objected to my viewpoint that SSRS was merely useful. I responded to some of the hate mail publicly with posts and created a category on SSRS. It is a popular category, judging from the number of responses; one post alone (A Letter from a Sri Sri Ravi Shanker Worshipper) has 87 comments. That is a record.
I continue to be educated about SSRS and AoL by those who have first-hand experience, as a consequence. From the hate mail I get the impression that to a large number of people, SSRS is a divine figure. But every now and then, I do hear from people who have been there without falling into the spell. This one came as a comment and I thought it best to haul it out so that it would reach a wider audience. The write is one who signs off as AV. Here it is, for the record.
First of all I must commend Atanu Dey on his very well-thought-out and articulate letter to his brother. It has been a long time since I read or heard anything on this topic that was not clouded by either fanaticism or extreme skepticism without willingness to examine the facts.
I’m one of those that was an ardent devotee but I snapped out of it in a year (and thank goodness I did). Why? I found SSRS hypocritical. Allow me to narrate just one incident:
Just last week he was in a 4-hour stopover at Bahrain airport. He has a fan following in the country and it would have been no trouble at all to get a visa so he could see them, but he refused. It seems he needed a State invitation! If that isn’t hugely egoistic I don’t know what is. I was totally disgusted. And then he had the audacity to add, ‘the people of Bahrain are not ready to meet me yet.’ Yeah, right.
In the private lounge at the airport where he met a few people, everyone sat on the floor, but the Indian ambassador to Bahrain sat next to him on the sofa. Why the distinction?
Meanwhile, outside, the devotees conducted themselves in a deplorable manner over the matter of who would get a pass to go in and meet him. Instead of exercising the love and compassion and detachment that they are taught about in the course, they fought about it, hurt each others’ feelings, and were generally bitchy. I’ve seen less ‘enlightened’ people behave with more decency.
I think it’s great that he’s improving so many lives, but I have also seen families ruined by this juggernaut that is the Art of Living Foundation. The tragedy of these people is that they think they have been ‘saved’.
I don’t begrudge the man his millions and his terrific booming business, but I do mind him preaching about love and humility when he does not practice what he preaches. One only has to look at the two ‘Sris’ to see just how ‘humble’ he is.
Thanks, AV, for adding your perspective.