an open letter

Following is a letter I wrote to the father of two girls whom I met in a YES course as an assistant last year. It was my favorite seva assignment ever, and just what I always wanted to do–teach kids knowledge in a fun and loving atmosphere. Being a kids AoL teacher was something I considered to be part of my purpose in life, something I was made and meant to do after I outgrew my more “egoic” ambitions. After working with these girls and the rest of that amazing group of kids for a week, I decided that this was the year and that TTC was my “sankalpa” for when Guruji was back in the summertime. Hell or high water, TTC here I come! Everyone I knew in AoL said, “Of course! It’s about time! You’ll be a brilliant teacher, you could help shape the entire program!”

But those girls opened my eyes to the frightening responsibility of shaping young minds. After a week, they were ready to believe anything and everything I said about Sri Sri, a man I’d barely ever spoken to once or twice, a man I knew nothing about first-hand, a man I worshipped with all my heart for absolutely no reason other than my feelings– which I now see were deeply manipulated and heightened by the group. I thank god for those girls and their innocent credulity– it was like looking in a mirror and seeing my own lack of discrimination in the face of an attractively fantastical reality. Only I was not 11 years old, I just decided to act like it! ‘Be child-like, not childish!’

It’s far harder to let yourself grow up and to earn your own wisdom by living your own life, artfully or no.

The Letter:

Dear Mr. J—–,

Hello from Europe!
I just wanted to get in touch with you and your lovely wife with what will probably be surprising news, but I need you to understand because otherwise I’m sure S—- and D—– will be very confused.
Since all of us were together at the ashram I have decided to leave Art of Living. When I first became involved 4 and a half years ago, Art of Living seemed like a wonderful community that I would want to be a part of for the rest of my life. In the last year or so, though, I’ve become aware of a much darker side of AoL and actually your family was instrumental in my decision to leave.
You see, your daughters embraced me and loved me (as I love them, very much) and were so ready to believe anything and everything I said. My heart was full of devotion to Ravi Shankar and we shared that together. But I later came to realize that given my experiences in Art of Living, I just didn’t feel morally responsible recruiting children into the organization, and encouraging them to believe everything they’re told about Sri Sri.
The more one gets involved in AoL, the more one sees that there is a lot of unhealthy stuff that happens there. Also, people are told things like Guruji is the reincarnation of Jesus and Krishna and Shankara, that serving him is a once-in-a-millenia opportunity, and many other things that could derail a young person’s entire life if they are taught to believe that when they are young, faithful and looking for something to dedicate their lives to. I nearly gave up all my personal ambitions because I believed Ravi Shankar was going to change the world and that I should help him do it. I don’t want your daughters, or any children, to throw their lives away because someone like me encouraged them to believe things about a teacher I’ve barely even spoken to more than once. Art of Living looks wonderful from the outside and feels great at the beginning, but it can break your heart or steal years of your life if you’re not careful.
So please, Mr. J—, be very careful bringing your family further into Art of Living. It’s a beautiful place to be, and the community is full of very many loving people, and Sri Sri teaches lots of beautiful knowledge. I loved my time there and I very nearly became a teacher because I loved spending time sharing knowledge with beautiful people like your daughters. But I’ve met and read testimonials from too many people who came out of 10 years or more with AoL having gained very little knowledge and/or having spent all their money, who were threatened or abused for leaving– and even I was sexually assaulted while at the German Ashram by a person who was NOT removed from the organization, whom I’ve recently discovered may have subsequently assaulted other young women. I’ve also met many young people who were raised in Art of Living, and their ability to choose for themselves what they want in life is very underdeveloped. These are all things I couldn’t stand to know your daughters were at risk for, especially not because of me.
I hope you do not feel offended by me sharing this information with you. I hope you have much joy and happiness whatever you decide, and that you and your family will remember me as I will always remember you, with love and devotion and big smiles!
Lots of love to you and your beautiful family. Namaste.
BW
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About theartofleaving

Former devotee and member of The Art of Living organization reflecting on the process of joining and leaving cults, abusive relationships, and sundry obsessions. Trying to draw the line by connecting the dots.
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3 Responses to an open letter

  1. Peaceful Warrior says:

    It’s crazy how they use guru stories and group think to supposedly build faith. Faith needs a strong foundation of insight and knowledge, and having dived in the current of life. A true guru-student relationship is a wonderful thing – but it has to be genuine, and that requires spending quality time with one’s teacher. That sort of a thing is not possible with televangelists like SSRS – but they still want to rewards of guru-student relationship, without investing anything into it.

    This is such a common thing, and you are not the first one to notice this – yet so many AOL teachers not only ignore such a thing, but actively encourage guru worship. Clearly, they don’t have the best interests of their students in their mind – or worse they have deluded themselves into thinking that being a devotee of SSRS is the goal in life, so it’s all good. How is it that when it comes to taking responsibility, then it is only the student’s own choice – whatever happened to the false information that the student was fed, and the environment of guru worship they were subjected to by AOL teachers? People are innocent and come to learn about meditation and breath – but they are subtly manipulated to be JGD slaves – then they say it was their own choice.

  2. ex-cultie says:

    Guru stories are a very powerful mechanism to brainwash potential devotees once they are brought to a certain state after hours of meditation or group activities. I’ve seen people blindly believe impossible stories. I’ve also seen the darker side in the AOL ashram in 2007 when one of the YES+ teachers recounted to us a very personal story about his experience with a course held in a jail in India. When I completed my part-3 course (with Guruji) and was helping out with another training program at the third floor of Visalakshi mantap, I saw a young man preparing for intro talks, standing in front of a small audience of about 20 and repeating the exact same story verbatim.

    I was perplexed and asked the senior teacher about this. He bluntly told me there was no harm and that the speaker was only conveying a message to share the knowledge and teachings, and that many masters in the past including Jesus and Buddha and Krishna had done similar things to spread their knowledge. I wanted to ask him “did you actually hear this from Jesus’ or Buddha’s own mouths?” but obviously didn’t.

    The organization is rotten because the root, trunk and core are rotten. Nothing can be done to change this. Everything that happens is sanctioned by Ravi Shankar himself. It’s good to get out while one still retains a little sanity.

  3. My experience in the Art of Living has been quite positive, but I agree with you that a AOL teacher saying that Guruji is the incarnation of Jesus, Buddha or Krishna as part of a public talk is moronic. Guruji has never made a statement to this effect. This is the belief of the teacher and has nothing to do with any official teaching.

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