Atanu Dey On India's Development

Sri Sri the SCotU

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.

Hi,

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.

Regards,
HS

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.

  • http://constructal.blogspot.com Sameer

    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.

    That’s implied consent. After all it is much useful if “aam admi” anoints you as SCotU rather than you claiming it yourself. The latter may land you in the loony bin.

    Your SSRS series is growing rapidly… any chance you may be interested in writing about other “Maa’s” and “gurudevs” littering Indian “spiritual landscape”. Dr. Anil Avchat has some excellent books (“Ashraddha” – in Marathi) about much smaller but more vicious personality cults of gurus, maatas in Maharashtra… some even exploiting devotees sexually and financially. The Andhashraddha nirmulan samiti does a lot of work to eradicate the hold of these cults too.

    I wonder what the incentive is in being part of these cults? SSRS’s AOL is probably an exception… at least it provides some actual service in terms of meditation and pranayama training. But what about some of the other cults? Is it simply a sense of community that this gives? Is it the comfort of the easy answers provided by the cult leaders? What makes people follow these cults so blindly at such cost in terms of time spent and money wasted?

    Atanu’s response: Sameer, it is just the luck of the draw. Just for the heck of it I wrote about SSRS and then people commented and I responded. Ordinarily I would not have paid much attention but the reaction of SSRS worshippers to my fairly neutral article compelled me to keep clarifying my position. I generally don’t bother to know anything about the other gurus and their followers are doing. Compared to SSRS perhaps they are bit players. I agree that SSRS at least provides some value in terms of teaching pranayam and other techniques.

  • http://valluvar.blogspot.com shiv

    “devotees of SSRS”
    Shoudn’t that be ‘Acolytes of SRSS’ ?

  • ps

    “I generally don’t bother to know anything about the other gurus and their followers are doing”

    Why so?
    Let me add:
    I stumbled upon this great site while looking for proof of criticism the “gurus” abound.

    How do you seek straight ideology for the ‘betterment’ if you don’t bother?

    Thats what ‘uncreepy’ people do, they don’t bother. Wonder the creep.

  • IP

    Hi Atanu,

    Just wanted to add a few things.

    1. I have personally undergone the AoL Part 1 course and found it to be useless for me as a person, for twofold reason.

    A. what is taught under the name of “pranayam” and what millions in our country believes to be true pranayama is not at all pranayama. And this is not my opinion, it would be the opinion of any true sadhak who knows what real pranayama is. The definition of the word pranayama comes from the word itself. It says “prana” (life force), “yama” (control). SO it is controlling the life energy and not the external inflow and outflow of air through one’s nostril. That is just the oxygen supply for the body and not the “prana”.
    To add to this, there is the much praised sudarshan kriya taught at the course. It is nothing but very slow in and out breathing for 40 times, medium paced breaths for 20 times and fast paced breath for 20 times, the whole process repeated three times. I have seen people crying aloud after the practice of it during the course. However most of the lot in my batch did not seem to have felt any difference after doing it (though some has mentioned having releived of cronic pains after it and so on). Moreover, the book “Puran Purush Shri Shyamacharan Lahiri” tells clearly that control of outward breath is not Kriya.
    And logically, definitely control of outward breathing can affect us bodily since it will also control the rate of oxygen supply to our cells but it surely cannot affect us spiritually in either positive or negative way since there is nothing spiritual in pumping air with our lungs.

    Same goes for all other “pranayama” exercises taught in the course.

    B. There were several “sutras” or pieces of knowledge given to the students in the course..such as “don’t let yourself be kicked around by other people’s opinions” and “don’t see intent behind other’s mistakes”, etc.
    I know there are many people who would like to make rules of these kind of commandments and lead their life thiking they have gained a lot. But two things here, first, I don’t see why anyone leading a life with his/her “eyes” open cannot learn these things from his/her own experience by a very early age. Second, anyone with a wee bit of intelligence will see that it’s in a way harmfull to live with stupid rules in our lifes like the above.

    So on the whole “useful” is what I think perfectly describes the AoL course and probably SSRS with it.

  • RC

    Hi,

    I stumbled upon this site and the general discussion started me thinking that the opinions expressed in the previous post by IP is quite true.

    I know someone who has been a teacher for AOL quite some time now. Having attained some “GYAN” about how to better ones life and learn tolerance, he divorced his wife and now cannot stand anyone else either. He has also become totally intolerant of anyone taking a diametrically opposite view of SSRS hallowed position in their hollow lives.

    I also observed that AOL targets affluent people/candidates so that they can contribute in cash to the “cause” (no comments on what cause).

    One night stands between members are more the norm than the exception, and not limited within students but throught out the hierarchy, possibly with the blessings of SSRS himself? What better way to keep idiots as complete faithfuls (“SHRADDHALU”) in this sex starved country than to offer free sex or offer a platform to get some!

    The fact that much of whats taught is common sense is hardly surprising. I dont think one needs a spiritual leader to confirm whats obvious to any officious bystander. So that itself nullifies the whole concept.

    About the “sudarshan kriya”, well thats just another in a long line of Yoga variants created by assortegurus and their dog. Nothing inventive there. Same as the assorted slimming gadgets you get on Daytime TV offering instant results. Most people dont get the bottom line “you slog your butt, you will lose weight”. So we continue to get Gurus Galore and followers waiting to fill vacant time which could be ideally utilized for betterment of ones own self if not anyone else.