One of the rewards of writing a blog is the occasional email expressing gratitude for something which resonated with the reader. I get those emails fairly regularly on a variety of topics. The flip side is of course the rant from some disgruntled reader who finds something objectionable about my opinion. I get these very rarely but when I do, it is always from a follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I believe that the most commented post is the one titled “A Letter from a Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Worshipper” which to date has 74 comments. (One of the sites maintained by the devotees of SSRS has a link to this post. I am pretty certain they did not bother to read the post — they mistakenly think that it is a news item praising SSRS.)
Here’s an informative letter from someone who has attended SSRS’s Art of Living course, for the record. The writer wishes to remain anonymous.
Thanks a lot for your post – Is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a Con Man?
I did Art of Living Part I course last October and just the last weekend I did the advanced level course called Divya Samaj Nirman. Overall, my experience has been somewhere between very nice to excellent. I learnt a well packaged yoga, meditation, pranayam schedule that I could follow every day morning. Plus, I got immense motivation to follow the routine on a regular basis. Plus, I got some very good knowledge points that I could apply when life is rough to me. Plus, I got highly motivated, freshened up and free. The experience of the course itself was amazing. It was a very professionally conducted course, I did it in USA so may be that counts. I think it will help me a lot in my life.
On the flip side, I was torn apart by their very very very pushy branding. Not only they sell the organization to me to extreme irritation (which I suppose I should care less), they even made me do the advertising, very forcefully, as part of the course.
Secondly, I certainly sensed that the followers of the organization treat him as God. I was kind of offended. I know couple of enlightened gurus in my family. I would not consider Sri Sri Ravishankar Guruji any different than them. I don’t believe in miracles. I need direction; however I don’t want to make myself handicapped – mentally emotionally and spiritually. They tell me that it’s all about the faith. I understand, but somehow I don’t find associating myself with him as my God. For that matter, I grew up learning from my parents that they would associate with any saint or guru or sage as such, even greats like Ramakrishna Paramhansa. At least, I would like to gently grow into the faith, rather than forcing myself.
And then I read your article, very nicely written. It gave me some relief from my ambiguity. I would still follow teachings of Art of Living, but I would not be part of the cult, if at all it is one.
I don’t think I have fully understood what I find so creepy about SSRS. Of course, I am generally against personality cults — which is why I consider Christianity (the Jesus personality cult created by Paul), Islam (the Mohammed personality cult promoted by Mohammed), Scientology (the L Ron Hubbard personality cult created by LRH), Mormonism (the Joseph Smith, Jr personality cult), etc, creepy to the extreme. Perhaps I intuit that SSRS aims to attain divinity through modern marketing techniques.
I am fairly certain from what I have read about him and what I read by him, that he is not himself deluded that he is the Supreme Creator of the Universe (TM). But I think he does not mind it that his worshippers do consider him the SCotU. Indeed, he smiles benignly and indulgently when they bow and scrape in front of him and kiss his feet.
Perhaps it is not him that I find creepy but rather his worshippers that I find creepy. That feeling of mild disgust aggregated over a large number of instances gets associated in my mind with SSRS. The problem is that I think that SSRS is a very useful person. He is a defender of the Indian religions against the onslaught of the crazy intolerant monotheists, and Hinduism desperately needs as many defenders as it can get. It would have been better to have a few of the caliber of Sri Aurobindo or Swami Vivekanand. But one is grateful for small mercies.
I realize that I am too critical of people who peddle vacuous homilies. But then, I also realize that the average person is not too bright and if presented with something substantial will not be able to grasp it. So it could be that the vacuous homilies are calculated to appeal to the masses even though the peddler is capable of something more. Or perhaps that is all they are capable of dishing out and it just happens to resonate with the masses. I know that I could not keep a straight face while mouthing that sort of nonsense. Anyway, I enjoy the spectacle even though it comes at the cost of having to see SSRS’s face plastered all over the place. Creepy.