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Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 3

November 7, 2012

In Part 2, we looked at Lifton’s eight criteria for brainwashing, and showed how Art of Living had created an environment which features all of these criteria. We also showed how the AoL Brainwashing Machinery is ultimately composed of its devotees, and concluded that its greatest weakness is its inability to control every aspect of its devotees’ environments, which in turn has led to devotees discovering revealing information about the organization through the internet. In Part 3, we look at some of the processes which Art of Living actually employ to brainwash their devotees.

Brainwashing Techniques and Processes

Central to brainwashing is the idea of belief change, which Robert Jay Lifton originally referred to as “thought reform”. But how exactly can an individual’s beliefs be changed? After all, simply telling an individual to believe something is usually insufficient.

One of the main factors which can influence how a person’s beliefs can be changed is their existing belief system. If for example an individual is already a Hindu, or is well-versed in Hindu philosophy, it doesn’t take a great deal to persuade them that a particular human being – in this case Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – is an incarnation of God, since the idea of “God-realization” is part of Hindu philosophy. An individual who follows another religion such as Christianity is not as easy to persuade, however it is still possible. One technique which is employed by Art of Living on Christian followers is to convince them that RS is actually an incarnation of Jesus Christ, who himself they believe to have been a “God-realized” being.

Essentially, if a potential convert’s existing (that is, pre-brainwashing) belief system is in some way in accord with the new belief system the brainwasher is trying to convert them to, the amount of work required by the brainwasher to bring about these belief changes is greatly reduced. A far greater challenge is to convince an individual whose existing belief system is in conflict with the new belief system.

A good example is to take an individual who is an atheist and convince them that RS is a God-realized being. There are a number of challenges here, first and foremost that before the atheist can even be convinced of RS’ “God-realized” status, he needs first to be convinced of the existence of God! Since it is highly likely that the atheist is also a rationalist (although one does not necessarily always follow from the other), another challenge this presents for the brainwasher is to overcome the atheist’s ability to use reason and critical thinking.

A brainwasher faces many similar challenges when it comes to changing the beliefs of individuals. However, if the correct techniques are applied, over a given period of time it is possible to overcome the majority of these challenges in order to bring about the desired changes to a person’s belief system, and to do so irrespective of their original beliefs.

As it happens many such techniques are employed to great effect by Art of Living, and I will attempt to cover as many of them as I can in the remainder of this series of articles. However, whatever I cover here is by no means exhaustive and the reader is invited to contribute any further techniques they may be aware of at the end of this series.

The Psychology of Persuasion

In 1982 a professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University by the name of Robert B Cialdini first published a book entitled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In this book Cialdini discusses a number of techniques, which he refers to collectively as Weapons of Influence, which are predominantly used within the arena of sales and marketing to illicit certain responses from customers. Ultimately, as a result of the application of these techniques, customers end up buying goods or services which they most likely otherwise would not have done. Cialdini argues that there are certain seemingly natural impulses which many of us respond to in a predictable manner, and that those with sufficient knowledge of these can exploit individuals to bring about a desired result in those who are exploited by them.

Although the book’s main focus is on sales and marketing, the author cites many examples where these same techniques have been used by cults on their members. Unsurprisingly, without exception every one of the techniques discussed by Cialdini is used to one extent or another within Art of Living.

The following is a list of all of the techniques which Cialdini discusses, and I will spend some time going into detail as to how each of these is employed by Art of Living:

  • Contrast Principle
  • Reciprocation
  • Commitment and Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

The Contrast Principle

The first technique which Cialdini describes is what he calls the Contrast Principle. When we compare two items or events against each other, the way we perceive one item or event is radically altered by our perception of the other item or event.

For example, most people will have heard of and may even have carried out an experiment featuring three tubs of water, one cold, one warm, and one hot. When an individual’s hands are placed respectively one in the cold and one in the hot tub, and then both hands are removed and placed in the warm tub, the hand which was in the cold tub will perceive the warm tub as being warmer than the hand that was in the hot tub, which will perceive a drop in temperature.

The Contrast Principle is often put to good use in stores where on a particular item an old price is seen crossed out and a newer, lower price is placed underneath it. More often than not the “new” price is the actual price of the good, and the old price is just an exaggerated price at which the item was never really priced at in the first place. But our minds tend to see this information, process it as a bargain, and hence we are more likely to buy the item if it is something we would have purchased anyway, because of the apparent drop in price.

How it is Exploited In Art of Living
In Art of Living, the Contrast Principle is used in a very subtle way – especially compared to other techniques – to try to emphasize a difference between a devotee’s life before and after they joined AoL. The longer the time they spend with the organization, the greater the perceived contrast between their life before and their life since becoming part of AoL. This technique is even used to great effect in some of the more advanced courses.

For example during the DSN course, participants are asked to come forward and share with the group how much of a positive impact Art of Living has had on their lives, particularly with regards to Sudarshan Kriya. Inevitably those who have had the most profound changes will be the ones who share their stories, and this results in those present believing that Art of Living is directly responsible for making their lives better. Ultimately, this makes those who hold this belief far more willing to promote Art of Living to the public.

I am not saying that Art of Living does not improve people’s lives, it certainly does as it did for me. What I am saying is that people are reminded of this regularly during their time in AoL, and as such it brings the contrast in their lives into focus and makes it easier for AoL to persuade followers to market AoL to others.


When someone gives us something of value, shows a certain kindness to us, or does us some favor, we feel indebted to that person, and as such we are naturally inclined, and at times even feel obligated, to reciprocate the favor.

Throughout this article, I will refer to this principle as the Reciprocity Rule.

How it is Exploited in Art of Living
At every opportunity, AoL tries to convince its followers that all they have received from AoL – for instance Sudarshan Kriya or any “sacred” knowledge they have learned – is far more valuable than any money they have ever paid to the organization.

As with the Contrast Principle, this again is one of the underlying themes of the DSN course, the entire purpose of which appears to be to turn individuals into AoL marketing robots. During my own DSN, our teacher outright asked us “Don’t you all feel that the money you paid for learning Sudarshan Kriya is nothing compared to the benefits you received from it? Hmmm?”

Along similar lines, volunteers and teachers have a tendency to use one of a plethora of techniques, such as yoga, meditation, playing games, giving knowledge, and satsangs to bring about a feeling of happiness and well-being in a participant. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, however they then go on and try to attribute that feeling to Art of Living and ultimately to RS.

In Art of Living, this attributing of a person’s happiness and well-being to RS is commonly referred to as “Guruji’s Grace”, and is discussed at length in the post Original Sin in AoL & the Final Salvation, which details how “Guruji’s Grace” is really just a mechanism used to enslave devotees to AoL and RS. It has also been challenged further in a the series of posts entitled “Debunking Guruji’s Grace”, Part 1 of which you can read here.

There is also a tendency amongst teachers to single out individuals whom they believe will themselves make good teachers, and to try and make them feel as special as possible in order to groom them for becoming teachers in the future. Bizarrely enough for an organization which talks endlessly about the need to transcend the ego, most techniques which teachers employ to make a prospective teacher feel special involve massaging the prospective teacher’s ego. The more senior the teacher who singles out the prospective candidate, the more “blessed” that candidate is made to feel, and they often feel they need to give something in return for this blessing.

The effect of this technique becomes even more powerful when RS himself suggests to a particular individual that they should become a teacher, because then it seems as if it is a mandate from God himself – if the individual is sufficiently conditioned to believe that RS is God by that stage of their development. In any case, those who are singled out and appreciated in this manner feel they have received something precious from AoL, and this makes them highly susceptible to exploitation by the Reciprocity Rule.

Once AoL successfully convince an individual that they have received something of great value, then by the Reciprocity Rule that individual then feels duty bound to repay AoL in some way. This may be in the form of volunteering such as handing out flyers, organizing courses, or in the case of those who have already been singled out, taking steps to becoming teachers.

In Part 4, we continue to look at how Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence are used in Art of Living by looking at Commitment and Consistency.

  1. anon permalink
    November 7, 2012 6:22 pm

    Excellent write-up. A detailed logical explanation of brainwashing machinery. Tend to agree with every point made. How AOL succeeds in making zombies!!!
    I have a family member who is already brainless, weak minded and lacks in original thinking. Such a predisposed person, I presume must have been such an easy target. Owes everything to the so called `guru grace’. Do such people have no confidence in their own good karma? How do we instil self-confidence in such weaklings? Hope the day is not far off when these herds open their eyes and realize their foolishness.

    • November 11, 2012 2:58 pm

      Hey Anon,

      Have you read your post? It sounds amazingly arrogant. Referring to people caught up in AOL as weaklings completely misses the points of these last posts and the blog in general. All kinds of people get involved in cults. You don’t have to be a “weakling” to be susceptible to these influences. Even strong, aware people can fall prey to this kind of influence, especially if they are not aware of how the influence works. Getting involved in a cult is like getting involved in a dysfunctional relationship. The same dynamics are at play to a large degree. And it is my experience that anyone can get involved in a dysfunctional relationship.

      So, Anon, next time you want to post, please show some respect to the many people who come to this website trying to find their way out of a very difficult situation.

      • Anonymous permalink
        November 12, 2012 5:17 pm

        I agree with DW…

        Brainwashing is part of life…no matter strong or weak minded…It all starts with family values, social culture, religion and extends to nationality…when we come out of a country and stay in another culture we can observe the extent to which we are brainwashed to be part of a particular society…

        While a social consciousness and adherence is acceptable and required for day to day operation (It is like being a Roman in Rome); AOL or any other similar entity that brainwashes to have its end met is not acceptable and is something that has to be stood up against…

  2. Subramaniam Iyer permalink
    November 8, 2012 1:19 pm

    Received this from my basic course teacher.

    Art of Living Bloggers Conference
    Creating waves of happiness in the virtual world!

    We welcome you to the First Ever Art of Living Bloggers Conference on Jan 6th 2013

    The purpose of this Conference is to recognize and award those who have contributed to creating a wave of spirituality and positivity in the internet space

    Blogs are the new and powerful medium of sharing information, expressing oneself and reaching out to so many effectively!
    Welcome to this Internet Yagna where we all come together to celebrate the positive messaging on the internet. Connected we are powerful!!
    Gurudev often says that negativity prevails not because there are many negative people, but more because the good ones don’t take action! So, its time for all of us to act virtually and Speak Up about what is GOOD!!

    Gurudev says “Spirituality is the Technology of the Consciousness”. Lets popularize the positive message of love and human values using this innovative technology that allows creative expression! Its time now for our voice of love & peace to be heard!
    This Conference is open to all Art of Living Family members around the globe who have their own blogs, so we encourage you to start your own blog… it might even win an AWARD!!!!

    Please watch this space for more updates and a website for interesting information on blogs including helpful tips on how to make your blogs more visible and more!
    We look forward to hearing back from you. Do contact us on
    Warm Regards
    Bloggers Conference Team

    • bloggisatwa permalink
      November 9, 2012 7:03 am

      Klim’s, Skywalkers and Obiwan’s blog……triggered this (90%+ probability)

      Theirs is a simple strategy…and God it does smell pretty awful to me.

      Repeat the same thing (even if not factual) many many times and it becomes the popular truth ….. Lets do this through the devotee sponsored blogs.

      1. Sri Sri Ravishankar is enlightened
      2. AoL does seva with the money it generates
      3. AoL is not a cult. In fact all are welcome. We are open to the world.
      4. Do Sudarshan Kriya. Solve all your problems.
      5. There was an assassination attempt on me.
      6. We have done nothing illegal.
      7. The bloggers are jealous of us.
      8. The bloggers have (ARE) bad karma.
      9. Sudarshan Kriya was revealed to me when I went into 10 days of silence.
      10.Having doubts means you have low prana.
      11.The Guru has the ultimate authority
      12.You are special, because he chose you.
      13.You are doing God’s own work. What better thing can you ask for ?
      14.The Guru exists only for you. Especially for you. He is there for you always. Has always been there. His hand is unseen. It’s behind everything that happens to you.

      Create more blogs. Create more Search Engine Optimisation. make it fuzzy. Whenever anyone searches for AOL blog on google or any other search engine…they should get so many hits that they will never be able to find our blog.

      Me says…..It will not work……they are embarking on a fool hardy adventure to suppress the truth. They forget their own piece of touted knowledge…”What ever your resist will persist”.

      The intent here is not to share and expand goodness (can’t share what does not exist in the AOL world….it only has goodness that has been used to camouflaged exploitation).

      This is going to fail so miserably, that they will not even now what hit them. I saw this happen before, it will happen again. Only fools do not learn from mistakes. They are pretty clueless as to how such an initiative can backfire. So be it. They are hastening their own downfall.
      Looks like its an all out guerrilla marketing campaign. Similar to the above the following emails / tweets are circulating around now. These below are a new breed of AOL seva projects (qualifying criteria) being dished to aspiring teachers (pre TTC ?).


      I am doing one art of living project, where in I am required that my friends should like and should click like button in the following link.

      This has to be done by tomorrow noon. so can you please do it now for me.

      Loka samastey sukhina bhawantu.



  3. Anonymous permalink
    November 8, 2012 8:20 pm

    This is a very informative article..not only from the AOL perspective but also life in general…looking forward to read the next parts..!
    kudos to Obi-Wan’s efforts…

  4. Anonymous permalink
    December 10, 2012 9:24 am

    Great Going Dude 🙂 Glad you are pointing out to the true seekers the pitfalls of choosing a false Guru. I am from India, and believe 99.99% of such self-proclaimed gurus are fake! It has become almost impossible to get a true guru for a true seeker. They have made a “Product” , a marketable commodity of everything we deem sacred. Even some of the brightest minds in the country are there in the AOL club. Thus, no person however intelligent is fully protected from brainwashing.

    • Anonymous permalink
      September 10, 2013 9:42 pm

      Finally you are the brightest of all who is protected from brainwashing.


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

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