Atanu Dey On India's Development

Another SSRS Letter

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.

Peace.

Thanks, AV, for adding your perspective.

  • http://skthewimp.livejournal.com Karthik

    On a similar note i once remember telling my aunt that Sai Baba is a spiritual guru, so it is fair to call those who go to visit him as followers.

    At that point, she totally got wild and insisted that they were devotees, and that he is God, and when i stuck to my point she didn’t speak to me for a few days!

  • http://desiontheweb.blogspot.com/ Deebu

    One thing which is interesting to note is that SSRS doesn’t seem to be getting any older. His hair is jet black even at the age of 50!

  • http://girishmallapragada.blogspot.com Girish Mallapragada

    Dear Atanu,

    I have been following you emails on SSRS for quite sometime now. I am not clear on what my own convictions about faith in general are, but I do know that people who follow such Gurus have chosen to lead a life that they do not own, a wrong decision I am sure. They deserve what they are getting. If they want to live in a make-believe world listening to SSRS, I am happy I don’t have to deal with such individuals in my everyday life. The world is better off not having such people who are on the look-out for guidance. These people will look out for another SSRS if the current AoL one loses prominence.

    Any individual, religious or not, needs to look into one’s own self to discern right from wrong. One does not need to attend classes run by an organization to feel at peace with one’s own self or to learn the meaning of life.

    I do not want to pass a judgment on whether SSRS is a fake or not. Honestly I don’t care. I do know that people have to change. People will listen to any idiot if what the idiot says is packaged well. Particularly, when there is no sensible alternative available. Only when people start taking responsibilities of their life on all issues, moral and ethical included, will there be a change. Till then, we will find many gurus like SSRS.

    I do not subscribe to the view that we need to change people’s opinions by telling them SSRS is a fake or a bigot. It is like showing light to a mass congregation of blind people. They are all blinded in their faith and belief in someone who has nothing meaningful to add to what has already been said from time immemorial.

    I think it was Robert Heinlein who said and I quote, “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig”.

  • EmperorFrost

    Another great letter in the SSRS saga. I totally agree with AV on the use of two “Sri”s ahead of the RS. In an interview with rediff, when asked about the SS part of his name SSRS replied that his disciples called him whatever they felt like and that he would be totally fine with someone calling him Ravi (not exactly his words but the same effect). I have never heard him dissuading anyone from adding the double Sri to his name. It almost seems like he enjoys it but doesn’t want to publicly admit it as in the same breath he claims to be humble. His alleged (self or otherwise) humility is a farce. His disciples/devotees literally worship him as a God (the customary framed photo, flowers, garlands and prayer). Now, if he truly considered himself to be humble, in my opinion, he should publicly and firmly stop this deism and stop for a moment to consider that he is not as important in the grand scheme of things as he thinks he is or his disciples make him out to be. His or atleast his disciples’ notion of his grandiose existence runs totally contrary to his claims of humility. Honestly, how can anyone, in the knowledge of the fact of being publicly worshiped like a God, elevate himself to a level of a deity (if not God himself/herself) and still claim to be humble?

  • Guru Gulab Khatri

    I dont follow these folks with any devotion, but i am not sure baba ramdev qualifies in the same category as sai baba.

    I dont know much about SSRS either.

    Sai baba is a crook where as baba ramdev seems to be teaching and selling yog (yoga) DVDs etc.
    Can any one tell me if that dude is into something else.
    I did see him doing one leg squats with a flow on TV and did consider buying the dvd,
    But I didnt like his baseless assault on modern living so i didnt….

    However based on what i know he doesn’t seem to be promising the usual nonesense.
    creating matter, performing miracle and ofcourse molesting followers.

    A funny incidence i recall, involved
    TN sheshan on national TV held up a watch and said that Sai Baba produced this rolex watch out of nothing.
    Perhaps rolex should sue him for Sai Baba TM theft atleast.

    Atanu likes to take pot shot at US for being full of religious jesus freaks but India has more %age of its population that are just as freaky if not more
    They range from those who think Dera Suchcha Sauda followers should be punished, trouble making muslims and dumbass hindus who beleive jwala devi is a miracle not natural gas, and are consumers of all kind gobar like jyotish, homeopathy vastu, horoscope numerologist, astrologist and gobar itself.
    Oh and come on lets not forget that there are jesus freaks in india too(IMNHO indian catholics are worse Jesus and pope freaks than Latin American Catholics who I meet in US)

  • chaitanya

    Guys, i don’t know if you’ve read J.Krishnamurti. He cracked this whole business of traditional religion , and the pitfalls into which even sincere “enlightenment” seekers fall-in and exposed it threadbare. Anyone who is serious about religion should read him.

  • Arvind

    While we all need teachers, guides, coaches in various walks of life, it amazes and at times disgusts to see what should I call – simplicity, stupidity, surrender (of intelligence)… of people. It is not just for the gurus, stampede for seeing a rock star or a film star is in the same category. So far as people can see them as a path to enlightenment or entertainment it is fine but if they become the ends, then u have GODS and Semi-GODS being created. What’s worse, these people in most cases have abandoned their own efforts to achieve anything what they adore their GODS for. Such a waste of self (confidence, respect, achievement).

    My own visit to one of such site (do not want to name it) of an existing Guru made me expereince the lack of courtesy to another human being, worse than a fish market tendency to grab the goods selfishly, lack of any air of happiness around there …

    Many would have been better off with a psychiatrist or a councellor who makes them look inside for their answers.

  • http://vision-2020.blogspot.com Dev Ranjan

    Dear Atanu
    I liked the story ” The man who planted the trees” so much that I made 20 copies of this story and circulated among friends. I also posted it on my e-satsang.net blog. That is a probable reason for your traffic from e-satsang.net.
    I have been reading your blog for the last two years and “Thank You” for the beautiful stuff.
    I became associated with the AOL only a few days back when I did the Youth Empowerment Seminar Plus. During the course we get to hear SSRS through CDs. SSRS keeps saying that “The only way to be happy in life is through service”. The above story also says the same. I quote the authors forester friend “He has discovered a beautiful way to be happy”.
    When I attended the first so called “Intro talk” by the AOL,I felt like these people were trying to wake people up. Theres so much inaction around us. I see so many of my friends waste away their time on movies, partying, drinking and stuff. This can be compared to sleeping and what AOL is trying to do is waking these people up and fill them with enthusiasm to do more.This effort I think shall have long term benefits to our society when young people come out of the partying loop and become sensitive to the nations problem.
    But when I visited the ashram at Bangalore, I also saw so many people blindly following SSRS.For all the discussions above, these unintelligent blind followers should be blamed and not SSRS.
    And one more thing, recently I was at the “India Young Leaders Forum” organised by SSRS’s Art of Living Foundation where we talked about you RISC model alongside Prof. Indiresan’s PURA. So just to tell you people at Art of Living have been talking about your model.

  • http://vision-2020.blogspot.com Dev Ranjan