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Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 1

October 31, 2012

Introduction

For many, myself included, reading through much of what has been written within these blogs has been a highly education and rewarding experience. In fact, it is fair to say that this reward is due in no small part to becoming involved with Art of Living in the first place, and then subsequently leaving when the time was right. The blogs have just helped to shed a great deal of light on what actually happened to us during our time with the organization, things which we certainly were unaware of at the time and which some may still be unaware of even now.

As such, one of the most recurring questions those who have left AoL ask themselves is, “How did I ever get sucked into Art of Living in the first place?” There really is no definitive answer to this question, and in fact the answer probably varies from individual to individual. However, in this series of articles, I wish to give a perspective based on my research into psychological manipulation, brainwashing and cults which may help at least a number of people better understand some of the processes they underwent during their time in AoL.

Brainwashing Defined

One of the core themes running throughout these blogs is that devotees of Art of Living and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have been brainwashed into believing a great many things about the organization and its leader and acting in particular ways as a result of this brainwashing.

Although there is no exact scientific definition of brainwashing, there are a number of key aspects which are common to nearly every definition. As such, rather than focus on any given definition, for the purposes of this article I will focus on these key aspects of brainwashing which are relevant to Art of Living.

The main aspects of brainwashing which we will consider here are:

  • The use of one or more Techniques or Processes which are employed by a brainwasher on a brainwashee to bring about a change in the beliefs of the brainwashee.
  • The techniques which are employed by the brainwasher usually involve some for of deception or manipulation.
  • The beliefs which the brainwasher instills in the brainwashee can be considered an Ideology
  • The Ideology provides the brainwasher with a number of key benefits, most importantly the ability to control the mind of the brainwashee.

Since the majority of this article will focus on the techniques and processes which AoL uses to brainwash its devotees, I will begin by discussing what I consider to be the Art of Living Ideology, together with the advantages it gives to those who are responsible for its propagation.

The Art of Living Ideology

The following is a list of the most common beliefs which are at the heart of and which essentially are the foundations of the Art of Living ideology. The further one progresses along the AoL path, the more of these beliefs one comes to adopt, and in fact the adoption of a number of these beliefs is actually a prerequisite to becoming a teacher.

  • Beliefs About Ravi Shankar
    • He is an enlightened, God-realized, self-realized master or Guru who has come to save the world from imminent danger
    • He is the reincarnation of Krishna, Buddha and Jesus.
    • He possesses supernatural powers known as siddhis, which include for instance the ability to control the weather, see into the future, read people’s minds, and cure certain terminal illnesses, amongst other things.
    • He is in control of a special power known as “Guru’s grace” which many who come into contact with him claim they can feel. The more one progresses on the AoL path, the more of this “grace” they experience in their own lives. Most believe this “grace” is responsible for all the good things that happens in their lives.
    • Because of his enlightened status, those who follow him should strive to completely surrender to him.
    • Also because of his enlightened status, he is allowed to behave as he pleases, and nothing he says or does should ever be questioned. Devotees should accept and overlook any instances where he lies, manipulates others, is abusive in any way, or does anything deemed to be unethical.
    • If one becomes a devotee of his and serves him well, he will help to remove any “bad karma” which one has.
    • He is all-seeing, all-knowing, and always present, watching over all his devotees, “protecting” them from harm.
    • If anything “bad” ever happens in Art of Living, it is always due to anyone else except for him.
  • Beliefs about Sudarshan Kriya (SK)
    • The world is in imminent danger from stress and needs saving
    • Whilst observing a 10-day period of silence in 1982, the breathing technique Sudarshan Kriya was revealed to RS by “the Divine”
    • SK is RS’s “gift” to the world and one which will help to save it from the imminent danger of stress
    • If everyone in the world learned and practiced SK, the world would become a better place, and eventually world peace would somehow ensue
    • SK should be practiced regularly, at least once daily (short version) and once weekly (long version)
    • Long Kriya can only be practiced whilst listening to a tape which contains breathing instructions, and for this to have any effect whatsoever a “specially trained” AoL teacher, who has undergone a 3-week Teachers Training Course (TTC), must be present at all times otherwise it will have no effect
    • The reason why the teacher needs to be present is because they are a “channel” or “instrument” through which the “grace of the Guru” (RS) “flows” during Long Kriya. Without the teacher, the technique has no effect.
    • Practicing SK brings one closer to “enlightenment”.
  • Beliefs about Art of Living
    • AoL is the highest spiritual path, superior to all other paths
    • AoL devotees are specially chosen and hence should consider themselves exceptionally blessed to be on this path and with this great guru, RS
    • Following the AoL path will eventually lead one to enlightenment, specifically by doing more Advanced Courses, sitting TTC, and doing one’s best to serve the master in whatever way one can.
    • Service (seva) is actively encouraged – the highest form of seva being to bring more people to AoL, followed by doing any voluntary work which will benefit the organization, for example organizing courses and events, or providing free labor in ashrams.
    • One’s life after AoL is much “better” than it was before AoL.
    • Since one has benefited so much from AoL, one needs to bring other people to AoL in order that they may receive the same benefits. This will also help to make the world a better place.
    • Those who cannot be converted to the AoL path are not ready, not special, not chosen, don’t have enough good karma, and hence are inferior to those who are on the path.
    • Becoming a devotee is only the first step – becoming a teacher should be everyone’s goal
    • The ends justify the means: it is ok for a devotee to use deception, manipulation or to abuse others as long as they are serving a “higher purpose”, such as convincing people to take an Art of Living course, promote Sudarshan Kriya, or helping others to “transcend their egos”.
  • Beliefs which suspend critical thinking and promote blind faith
    • Doubts are seen as bad thing, and so any doubts which a devotee has about Art of Living, RS or any of the teachings should simply be dropped.
    • Skepticism is a bad thing and should be overcome both in oneself and in those whom one is trying to convert.
    • If one does not have faith in the master, one is somehow weak, egotistical, “small-minded”.
    • One should learn to accept people, situations and things as they are, especially anything related to AoL or RS.
    • One shouldn’t criticize AoL or RS and anyone who does is labelled negative or disgruntled, and brandished a liar.

Note:A large number of these beliefs, especially those which suspend critical thinking and promote blind faith, also serve an additional purpose in that they are designed to ensure the continued propagation and hence survival of the AoL Ideology.

This list is by no means exhaustive, however it does include the beliefs which are core to the Art of Living Ideology. A great majority of AoL devotees will over the time they spend with the organization come to adopt a good majority of these beliefs.

I have purposefully left out the majority of the Basic Course Knowledge Points. This is due to the fact that these are not core beliefs as much as they are guidelines for devotees to follow. As such I have also left out the majority of what can be found in the AoL knowledge books.

Whilst AoL claims to be a secular, non-religious organization, the fact is that a great many of the core beliefs which form the AoL ideology actually stem from Hinduism. This gives AoL a tremendous advantage over other cults in that it can readily draw followers from the already massive base of Hindus, most of whom live in India where AoL is based. However, it is also obvious to anyone who examines the AoL ideology closely that a great many of the central tenets of Hinduism have been subtly twisted in order to provide enormous benefits to those at the head of affairs in AoL, namely Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his close family members, and those who are in various key positions in Art of Living and its related group of companies (for example Sumeru Realty, Sumeru Software, Inwinex Pharma, Sri Sri Ayurveda, Divine Shop to name but a few.)

Art of Living’s Main Assets

One very disturbing conclusion that arises when we examine these core beliefs is that if we consider that a devotee as being someone who over time adopts these tenets of the AoL Ideology, this will ultimately result in a devotee becoming an asset of the organization. According to Wikipedia, an asset is defined as:

Anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled to produce value and that is held to have positive economic value is considered an asset.

Let’s take a look at a number of ways in which a devotee can indeed be seen to be an asset of Art of Living:

  • each devotee effectively becomes a customer of AoL who is then persuaded to spend their money on courses, talks, concerts, books, CDs, DVDs, ayurvedic products and even housing, in short anything which the AoL group of companies produces; devotees are AoL’s largest source of income as they are its biggest market, and in fact it is extremely unlikely that anyone outside of AoL actually buys anything from the AoL group of companies
  • each devotee who surrenders to RS is effectively giving him power to control them, and in so many respects can be considered to be owned by RS and AoL. This is certainly the case with many teachers, especially full time teachers, senior teachers and Swamis.
  • each devotee gives RS, his sister, and many senior teachers a great amount of adulation which is something that many of them have come to crave over time
  • each devotee becomes an agent who propagates the AoL Ideology to others (under the guise of “spreading the knowledge”), thus (assets). This is how the ideology spreads, and if left unchecked, it could go on indefinitely.
  • those devotees who voluntarily work for any of the AoL-controlled group of companies effectively become a source of free labor for those companies, thus saving them a great deal of money which they would have had to otherwise pay in wages

It is an indisputable fact that the majority of wealth owned by RS and his family originated from devotees, since it is well-known that they had very little money prior to Art of Living and that Art of Living has been their sole source of income for the majority of the last 30 years. Although there are many full-time employees, the majority of the organization is run by devotees, most of whom work on a voluntary basis thus saving AoL a tremendous amount of money.

Of course, most devotees don’t realize that they are being used as assets in this manner. They have been conditioned to believe that they are serving the highest purpose, directly serving the incarnation of God himself, and as such cannot and will not see how they are being manipulated.

This is due in part to the fact that AoL provides an ideal environment for brainwashing to take place without anyone suspecting that it is actually happening.

In Part 2, we take a detailed look at the environment which Art of Living has created in order to propagate its ideology as effeectively as possible.

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15 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 31, 2012 4:18 pm

    Agree with the points made….this is an amazing perspective..!

  2. anonymous permalink
    October 31, 2012 5:06 pm

    Bull’s eye!!!

  3. Curious George permalink
    November 1, 2012 5:07 am

    Hi Obi-Wan

    You mentioned that central tenets of Hinduism have been subtly twisted in order to provide enormous benefits to those at the head of affairs in AOL.

    Can you please elaborate this and shed more light ?

    Thanks

    • November 1, 2012 8:13 am

      Hi Curious George,

      Some of the key Hindu concepts which AoL twists are:

      • bhakti – which is really devotion, and which can actually be devotion to anything, any ideal or God or whatever else you want; in Art of Living it is limited to devotion to RS alone, but in actual fact it isn’t just devotion, it is complete surrender of one’s power, of one’s will to RS; surrender itself in Hinduim is really about surrendering to the divine within, surrendering your ego
      • karma marga – which is the path of selfless service, and which in Art of Living is referred to as seva, but in AoL the highest form of seva is seen as serving RS and AoL, by volunteering, bringing people to courses, teaching courses, raising money for AoL. Any other selfless service is seen as inferior.
      • sadhana – which is spiritual practice; whilst meditation is generally considered to be a form of sadhana, sudarshan kriya is really a pranayama; at best it is a form of regulating breath, perhaps in order to prepare one for meditation; however in AoL it sold not only as a sadhana, but as one of the most powerful sadhanas, and practitioners are led to believe that it will eventually lead one to enlightenment if practiced regularly
      • karma – the idea promulgated throughout AoL that if you do seva for AoL, RS will remove any “bad” karma you have is a complete fabrication; in Hinduism a guru cannot remove karma; at best a guru can delay it or take it on himself; this is definitely not what is spread in AoL
  4. Rajesh permalink
    November 1, 2012 8:53 am

    Thanks Obi-Wan

    I found this interesting video. And i realized that a couple of techniques to recruit new members is often tried by Yes+ teachers at Intro Talks

    Honestly, i feel very disappointed to learn, they have probably been programmed and they don’t realize this.

    Worse, is the fact that while I’m learning about this all on my own, its getting difficult to digest and resulting in a lot of confusion and disbelief.

    I still do believe that some of the techniques of AOL can genuinely bring much relief to most people. But what I’m averse to is the mindless aggressive marketing technique AOL follows to enroll more people for the course and the fact that AOL doesn’t follow up or enquire deep enough to check if someone could be adversely effected or experience counteractive symptoms. If someone tells them otherwise, most AOLers argue back with vague reasons.

    Probably, the way some of the earlier blogs started with authors sharing their distasteful experience and taking to criticism might have provoked AOL into taking a rather defensive tactic and completely rule out the accusations by the writers of those blogs.

    The only reason why I’m sharing this video is because it is educational. I don’t intend to really pinpoint any person or organization and declare that they are a cult or not. But irrespective of my intentions, i cant help but notice the starking similarities in AOL and the video.

    Maybe all the aggressive Art Of Living volunteers and teachers out there should take a huge lesson from this video and realize where they stand and give up pressure tactics they use to convince individuals.

    Also, i really admire the courage and spirit of boldness and freedom that you guys have endorsed throughout this blog. I have been a regular reader but have been constantly examining all that you have written about in the present setting of A.O.L that I’m involved in.

    I honestly feel this video should be circulated in Facebook and emailed to each AOL teacher who we know of to spread the awareness of Cults and Mind Control. Let them watch it and decide for themselves.

    • Prakash permalink
      November 2, 2012 4:26 am

      “But what I’m averse to is the mindless aggressive marketing technique…”

      Profit earning is at the core of all AoL courses/ programs/ workshops/ celebrations. Your worth in the organization is determined solely on your capacity to bring $$$. The only way to earn Guru’s grace is to bring more and more people to AoL courses.

      “Probably, the way some of the earlier blogs started with authors sharing their distasteful experience and taking to criticism might have provoked AOL into taking a rather defensive tactic and completely rule out the accusations by the writers of those blogs.”

      Not really.

      I have seen this organization since very early days and their attitude was no different. Rather I would say that because of these blogs the organization has mellowed a bit. You should have seen the days when there was hardly any criticism. Teachers used to brush aside any criticism of SK or AoL with supreme arrogance of someone who had sole monopoly on truth.

  5. Nath Yogi permalink
    November 1, 2012 10:46 am

    I am sorry to know all this. There should not be any difference between the soul and the true Guru. This is truth! This is the truth! This is the absolute truth!

  6. bloggisatwa permalink
    November 2, 2012 3:57 am

    Obi,

    The AOL scheme in a nutshell. I thoroughly connected with and enjoyed the elegance in this expose. Couldn’t agree more with your views. Excellent stuff and very well written. Thank you. The video posted once again by Rajesh is totally brilliant.

    “Those devotees who voluntarily work for any of the AoL-controlled group of companies effectively become a source of free labor for those companies, thus saving them a great deal of money which they would have had to otherwise pay in wages…”

    On one hand, AOL devotees promote AOL products (books, CDs, Ayurveda, courses) DIRECTLY. This is their norm. Meanwhile, the AOL system also devices other community service projects where they get Corporate sponsorship money which also goes into the AOL / IAHV kitties.The interesting part is that the workers (because they are volunteers) come free. The true cause (Get family RS rich) gets camouflaged by putting up a humanitarian cause (supported by the innocent volunteer’s face) right in the front of such a campaign.

    • Guru-ouch permalink
      November 2, 2012 8:48 am

      I have one question for AOLites. It is widely known/”assumed” that AOL gets involved with “relief” programs after any natural calamity strikes in any part of the world. e.g. Earthquake relief in Haiti, Tsunami relief in India etc. I am sure, sooner or later a “relief” program would soon be pursued for Hurricane Sandy or for e.g. in Cyclone Nilam affected areas in TN/Andhra. With the amount of workforce (“volunteers”) that AOL boasts of, is it not also “seva” to visit the possible areas of natural calamity, especially in the case of, say, a
      hurricane or cyclone? I am sure, with the several thousands of seva-wary soliders of AOL, it would also be counted as “seva” if you visit the areas under the risk of an impending cyclone/hurricane to work along with the local management team to warn adequately of the impending disaster. This is far more worthy of a seva than giving a popcorn-charity-lending hand after a disaster strikes. Say for e.g., during this Cyclone Nilam, it would have been really possible for AOL with their given infrastructure/network to evacuate people from low-lying areas to give them shelter in a nearby school or community halls. Even raising awareness/providing transport to the near by shelters would have made some sense. This would have expedited the relief efforts or crisis management efforts of the local govt.officials. Have AOL seva-warriors ever considered visiting cyclone hit areas to do work in terms of say – cutting the fallen trees, pumping out flood waters from flooded areas, providing food packets in terms of disaster relief? However, the AOL’s style of giving any helping hand seems to be, wait for the disaster to happen, use the disaster as a platform to promote their products (read – AOL courses, SK etc), than really provide any “meaningful relief”.

  7. someone permalink
    November 2, 2012 10:39 am

    AOL does not really take much time if you are alsow illing to fall into trap. two of my close friends have been posting different philosophical posts on fb, now they have come out in open and posting those qoutes and adding Sri Sri to it.
    These guys are seen roaming around and moving around with only selected people, they go to places on weekends with a selected coterie. one of them has no money to go home, was seriously worried about finishing studies and since last couple of weeks is packing bags and being all over an european country.
    Why is smart people like them cannot see through such bullshit and instead falls into such traps’?

  8. Rajesh permalink
    November 2, 2012 12:12 pm

    People cannot see through the cult like programming because they are not aware and dont realize it.

    To help them realize we must spread awareness about it

    Make sure to watch this video. It is a compelling dramatization of how MIND CONTROLLING
    CULTS work.

    It would be helpful if readers could share any of their experiences with AOL which confirm with the tell tale signs of cult as portrayed in the above video.

    I dont mean to malign AOL in any way. I only want everyone to realize how Mind Controlling works.

    • November 4, 2012 3:31 am

      Hi Rajesh, You’ve posted this twice already, and it’s already been posted a couple of times on Skywalker’s blog and once on Klim’s blog. No need to keep posting it repeatedly on subsequent posts, so I’ve removed it from the latest post.

Trackbacks

  1. Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 4 « Further Beyond the Art of Living
  2. Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 10 | Further Beyond the Art of Living
  3. Summary of Criticisms Against Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Art of Living | Further Beyond the Art of Living

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