Not having the gift of foresight, one rarely knows how far one will stray having embarked on an ill-advised direction. So it is with me and my simple assessment of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar many years ago. I began with concluding that SSRS is very skilled in marketing a good and ancient Indian technique generally known as yoga. Many others from India have done so and I approve of all of them because I approve of good ideas being shared. Some made huge fortunes (self-styled “Bhagwan” Rajneesh AKA Osho, for instance) and some labored out of sheer love and devotion for the ideas.
However, my conclusion that SSRS is a “useful” person, just like you and I, did not go down too well with those who are persuaded that SSRS is God Almighty incarnate (whatever “God” is.) So I get nastygrams from these fairly regularly. But once in a while I also get letters from dissatisfied AoL customers. The curious thing is that the nastygrams from SSRS worshippers are pretty incoherent rants; and the dissastisfied customers are generally pissed off but coherent. Because I have published one recent incoherent rant from an SSRS worshipper, I am publishing one from someone who has an opposing point of view. Here it is, for the record.
I wish I had read your Web site, long before my fiancé and I were lured into registering for the Part 1 course of the Art of Living Foundation. We walked out on the last day of the course because we couldn’t stand it any longer. I couldn’t have written or explained the experience better myself. You have beautifully verbalized your opinion of the Art of Living Foundation.
I have lost my money permanently, and I am also, without permission, included as a statistic in the set of AOL “followers” of 20 million or so now, even though I strongly oppose the organization. I have to believe that are many others like me. Only about 30% of the Part 1 course was about breathing and the remainder was ear-splitting, fear-psychosis propaganda (for example, “A question is a hook that tears the brain”, and “Questioning SSRS’s principles and teachings can prove costly”), illogical analogies and anecdotes, and disguised pressure to encourage more people (friends and family) to give their credit card numbers to sign up for the course.
It is a totally for-profit, commercial, very well-marketed product and organization. I do see some token projects here and there in poor and tribal areas of India and around the world, the expenditure on such projects is negligible compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the organization earns from a single “US tour” of a “specialist teacher” from India. I have not seen any document showing or even referring to exactly how much money the organization is really spending on building schools or hospitals for the disadvantaged, other charitable projects. Since the organization is so fond of shouting out the numbers of their followers and so fond of promoting themselves as a philanthropic organization, why not reveal how much they are actually spending on these philanthropic and charitable projects? Wouldn’t that make them more credible? Almost everyone that “works” for the organization does so on a voluntary basis. Almost every piece of land that the organization builds something on, is donated by the government or a wealthy but gullible member of the AOLF. So where is all the money that is collected from their members really going to? What is being done with the profits?
During several of our Part 1 propaganda sessions, we were told we would be the “privileged few” whose place would be reserved for the “coveted” Part 2 course, if we signed up right now. The whole six day course looked like a live version of one of those late night paid commercials that we were participating in and listening to. People from the class were picked on, randomly, to come up to the front and dance and sing, “so that all inhibitions would be vaporized and self-confidence would be developed”.
“Jai Gurudev” had to be the greeting instead of “good morning” or “good afternoon”. I cannot think of a better way to humiliate and control masses of gullible people than to make them do what is being commanded of them to do in front of uncontrollably laughing people. What upsets me more than my loss of money, is the sheer number of followers this organization has. When you can control a small class to dance on command, you can use that power to control the entire 20 million. SSRS is gaining popularity around the world, like never before and he loves to paste pictures of himself shaking hands with world leaders, on his Web site. “Wow, if he is shaking hands with world leaders, he must be good”.
He certainly falls in the “useful” category. Who is stopping all this madness?
Well, I sympathise with SG’s situation. But I don’t think that “this madness” has to be stopped. You pays your money, you takes your chances. SSRS and his Art of Living courses are products that are sold in an open and free market. Caveat emptor and all that. I am sympathetic towards those who get cheated but the burden has to be on the consumer to exercise proper care before forking out cash for a product.
My position arises from my conviction that free markets are best for all concerned. That is, everyone should be allowed to bring their wares to the marketplace and hawk them. There cannot be restrictions on what can be put out for sale. After all, who can decide if what is on offer is good or not? Surely not some bureaucrat or some self-righteous busy body. The consumer is the sovereign. Let the consumers decide if the product is good for them or not. So if the snake oil salesmen make a killing, so be it. It is part of the risk we take and part of the price we pay for the benefits that a free market delivers.