Did you know that this blog features prominently in search results on Sri (repeat n time) Ravi Shankar? Without intending to, I have stumbled upon a subject that simultaneously delights and enlightens. Aside from the usual hate mail, I quite frequently get mail from people who want to share their experience of the Art of Living and their opinion on SSRS. I will share two recent one’s with you.
First from Bill (not his real name):
I’m writing to thank you for your well-reasoned articles on Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living Foundation. I recently became involved in this group, taking their Part 1 course and just this past weekend completing their Part 2 Retreat. I have had my own doubts about the organization and the founder which crystallized after I left the retreat. Finding your articles reassured me that my doubts are well-founded.
A small, possibly interesting aside on the cultish nature of the organization: Since I have developed some personal relationships with teachers and other students, I felt obliged to write them and let them know I would no longer be participating in any AOL activities. Immediately after sending that e-mail I felt an extreme rush of unexplained anxiety. This may be meaningless, random, and unrelated, or it may be akin to the feelings cult members experience when they contemplate abandoning the group.
Thanks, Bill, for writing. Next up, an email from Sunil (not his real name) which arrived with the subject line, “yet another hapless zombie responds” and said:
I came across your blog recently. Some interesting stuff, I was intrigued till I came across my description as a zombie.
I wallowed in self pity for a while, at this description and then started framing a response; I then came across the following question and answer session with Sri-Sri from the last couple of days, and felt it was appropriate response. (attached below)
Like a true zombie, I felt this answered the need of the moment, and no further thought from me was required in framing a response.
With luck, this is first time you have seen this answer in your in-box.
Thank you, Sunil, for writing and for the permission to quote your email.
Following that, Sunil included the transcript of a question-answer session which I quote below with a few of my own comments interspersed:
In a satsang at the Art of Living centre in Germany last night, someone asked Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: “Guruji, I have observed that Guruphiliac seems to follow your every move and then write negative things about you. Why are they doing this?”
This is the gist of what Guruji said: I have inherited an ancient lineage and my job is to further its cause. Neither by thought, nor through word, nor by deed, have I ever done any harm to anyone, nor will I ever do so in the future; it is simply not in my nature. Nobody can expose me because there is nothing to expose: I stand tall, clean and naked in front of the whole world.
Fair enough. As I had assumed before in my first opinion piece on SSRS, he is like you and me: not intending any harm to anybody and by nature a good person; in other words, useful like the rest of us. The mystery is of course the umbrage that some of his followers take at this characterization. They insist that SSRS is way beyond merely mortal. I have not seen any evidence of that. But I have seen plenty of evidence that the Art of Living organization peddles its wares with as much gusto and enthusiasm as any corporation and does so with a deep commitment to making as much money as they can.
I absolutely salute any legitimate organization for doing its best to make money. That is what makes the world tick. But I am reluctant to label the head of a commercial establishment as a supreme being.
I do whatever maximum good I can, and I inspire others to do so. These people who keep writing about me simply cannot leave me alone – they must be in deep love with me! (laughter) When they keep comparing me with other people all the time, I must have made a very deep impression on them. I cannot help it if they can’t get over me – that’s the way I am! If I am that bad and fake, they should simply be able to ignore me and move onto the truth –why are they are holding onto me, again and again?
That bit from SSRS reads funny. It is a mix of arrogance and hurt, with a defensive bit of egotistic self-congratulation thrown in. It is arrogant to imply that one is incomparable — that people who compare him to others are somehow stupid. The defensive self-congratulation is the claim that he inspires to do good like the good he does himself.
I don’t doubt that people do good and inspire others to do good by example. But let others note that fact. If a person himself makes that claim, it sort of sounds cheap and vulgar. One is left feeling a bit of pity for the person. One should not have to say, “Look at me, look at me! I am good, am I not?” if one is totally confident of one’s own achievements.
To me, that answer reveals a defensive posture that is wholly unbecoming of a person who is absolutely confident in his own self. A really honorable person will never have to talk loudly of his honor. (“The louder he talked about his honor, the faster we counted the silverware,” is one of my favorite quotations.)
If they are trying to teach me a lesson, if their intention is to correct me, then I’m sorry, I am incorrigible! (laughter)
Very droll. And in a very I-specialist sort of way. “I know it all and there is nothing that you can ever teach me anything. How wonderful am I, am I not, eh?”
If their idea is to stop people from coming to me, and if people do stop coming just by reading these blogs, then I really thank them; it is good for me, it reduces my responsibility! If they think I am doing this for publicity, they are unaware of the disadvantages of popularity. I pity them. Celebrities enjoy only popularity, but spiritual leaders have a huge responsibility with that popularity. People do not go to celebrities for guidance and blessings, but with spiritual leaders they do.
OK, I get the message. “I am a spiritual leader and you have no idea of how heavy a burden that is. Just look at me! I am shouldering a burden that mere mortals will buckle under. If only, Lord if only, someone will stop people from coming to me, I would be grateful for the relief. My popularity sits like a millstone around my neck. You ordinary folks have no idea how heavy is the responsibility of popularity. Celebrities love popularity because it comes without any responsibility. But look at me! LOOK AT ME!! I am a spiritual leader and for us spiritual leaders, popularity is a matter of grave responsibility which you — you murakh na-layak you — can never understand.”
Yeah, I get the message. It must be a terrible burden to have your Art of Living promoted ceaselessly and strenuously until every nook and cranny of India is plastered with your hirsute visage. (Note to self: must post that picture of SSRS’s promotional flyer I took at the Edison NJ train station last month.)
If they think I have no right to exist on this planet, then they can crucify me; I am afraid neither of death nor of being defamed. I am not afraid, because nothing can destroy me.
Don’t you just love a martyr? “Go ahead, crucify me. I am so wonderful that I even take your ingratitude in my huge steps and think that your criticism is like nothing. Look at me! Am I not the most wonderful thing you have ever laid your eyes upon? Yeah, after Jesus F Christ, I am the greatest. I am indestructible. I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, also.”
We do charity with the hard earned money from our courses. We are, of course, rich with people and with good character, and I am ready to share this wealth with anyone.
Lest they understand that their hatred is nothing but love standing upside down.
Okie dokie. Hats off to you sir. You are most clever. I note that you did not say “I will share the wealth that I have (which goes into the hundreds of millions of dollars.)” He said that his wealth is his followers and he has generously offered to share that “wealth of people”. How very magnanimous of you sir.
I was about to send you my bank account number with the hope that you will share the money you have with me. But I guess that option is out. I see no need for worshipful followers and so you will excuse me if I don’t take you up on your offer to share your “wealth.”
Goodbye, goodnight, and may your god go with you.