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Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 4

November 12, 2012

In Part 3 we began to take a detailed look at some of the processes employed by Art of Living to manipulate their devotees, beginning with Robert Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence. In Part 4, we continue this discussion by looking at the power of Commitment & Consistency and how it is used to influence people.

Commitment and Consistency


When an individual commits to a certain idea or belief, either verbally or in writing, they become far more likely to honor that commitment. The reason for this is that the idea or belief which they commit to then forms part of their self-image, and as such they want to be seen as being consistent with this self-image. Inconsistency is more often than not seen as a sign of weakness.

In Cialdini’s own words:

It is, quite simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.


Once a stand had been taken, the need for consistency pressured these people to bring what they felt and believed into line with what they had already done. They simply convinced themselves that they had made the right choice and, no doubt, felt better about it all.


Indeed, we all fool ourselves from time to time in order to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already done or decided.


The drive to be (and look) consistent constitutes a highly potent weapon of social influence, often causing us to act in ways that are clearly contrary to our own best interests.


To understand why consistency is so powerful a motive, it is important to recognize that in most circumstances consistency is valued and adaptive. Inconsistency is commonly thought to be an undesirable personality trait. The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don’t match may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill. On the other side, a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. It is at the heart of logic, rationality, stability, and honesty.

Reinforcing Commitments
Cialdini focuses not only on the power of commitment and consistency, but specifically on how compliance practitioners leverage this natural tendency to manipulate us. In particular he notes that there are two circumstances under which a commitment an individual makes is greatly reinforced.

Firstly, by asking individuals to make a commitment in front of others, it becomes even more important that they honor this commitment in order to remain consistent in the eyes of those who have witnessed them making this commitment.

Secondly, by asking individuals to make a commitment in writing, a written record solidifies the commitment and makes it very difficult not to honor it. This is even more powerful than a making a commitment in public.

Cialdini also makes a note about a tactic commonly used by compliance practitioners who exploit this particular weapon of influence by beginning with the elicitation of a small, trivial commitment from an individual, and then goes on to note that it then becomes far easier to ask for increasingly greater commitments from that same individual in the future.

You can use small commitments to manipulate a person’s self-image; you can use them to turn citizens into “public servants,” prospects into “customers,” prisoners into “collaborators.” And once you’ve got a man’s self-image where you want it, he should comply naturally with a whole range of your requests that are consistent with this view of himself.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone?

How it is Exploited in Art of Living

From as early on as the Basic Course, participants are asked to make various seemingly trivial commitments to Art of Living. At the end of the course, participants are usually asked to commit to practicing home kriya every morning for anything from 40-90 days, and to attend long kriya sessions once weekly.

Participants are also asked to commit to signing up 5-10 friends to do the Basic Course, and are often asked to write down the names of these individuals then hand the list in to the teacher. Similar requests are made towards the end of most courses, to bring friends to courses, talks, satsangs and any other AoL events.

But it is in the Basic Course points and the manner in which they are taught that AoL particularly excels at eliciting a powerful commitment from course attendees. Rather than just asking course participants to write down each of the points and to memorize them, the teacher asks attendees a series of questions and instructs them to discuss these within the group. On a subtle level, the teacher actually leads the participants to arrive at each respective course point by guiding their responses (as they have been taught to do), however it is done in such a way that it appears as if the participants arrive at these conclusions spontaneously. In this way, the participants are far more likely to accept the points as truths and commit to internalizing them.

What makes the Basic Course points particularly interesting is that the majority of them refer to things which are either completely intangible or which are very difficult or next to impossible to attain. In Part 1 of this series I already stated that I didn’t consider the majority of these course points as part of the Art of Living ideology. However, they are a very good means of bringing people into Art of Living, by having a set of guiding principles which devotees follow, and as such these can be considered as an agent for group cohesiveness, that is, to bind followers to each other and to the organization.


During the DSN course, participants are asked to form groups based on their geographical location, and at the end of the course are told to make a commitment to keep in contact with their groups ongoing. They are actually asked to give out their contact details to the “team captain”, whose responsibility it then becomes to ensure they meet on a regular basis to plan how they can promote Art of Living in their respective areas.

One interesting thing I personally experienced occurred towards the end of a session which had been organized for TTC aspirants where Rishi Nitya Pragya asked everyone present to make a donation towards the local Art of Living center. We were specifically instructed to donate one month’s salary, and were further asked to write the amount we wanted to pledge on a sheet of paper and hand it in. Not long afterwards each of us who had made a pledge received a phone call asking us to honor our donations, and as per Cialdini’s observation, the fact that we had made this commitment in writing made it very difficult to back out at that stage.

Effort and Initiation

Anyone who has spent any time with Art of Living will have come to realize that there is a well-established path for devotees to follow. For most it begins with the Basic or Yes!+ courses, Sahaj Samadhi, one or more Advanced Courses including an Advanced Course with SSRS, optionally interspersed with voluntary work to promote the organization, attending group activities such as long kriya sessions, knowledge sessions, satsangs, and then progressing onto more advanced courses such as DSN and eventually TTC. Beyond that, teachers can become senior teachers (how exactly do they do this, and in fact what are “senior” teachers?), and a small handful go on to become TTC trainers, Swamis and Rishis.

The further one progresses along this path, the more overall time, money and above all effort one needs to expend in order to remain on the path. As Cialdini observes, “And the evidence is clear that the more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it.”

This idea is greatly expanded upon by Cialdini when he covers initiation ceremonies and their effect on the attitudes of those who have to undergo them. In particular he cites one anthropological study where boys who are part of the Thonga tribe in southern Africa have to go through an elaborate coming-of-age initiation. “During the course of his initiation, the boy undergoes six major trials: beatings, exposure to cold, thirst, eating of unsavoury foods, punishment and the threat of death.” Those who successfully manage to survive these trials then effectively become “initiated”, that is they are accepted as adults in the eyes of the rest of the tribe.

One cannot help but note similarities between these ordeals and various processes which participants of DSN and especially TTC have to undergo. We have such trials as the Hot Seat (where participants take it in turns to be criticized and in some cases humiliated by members of their group), a strictly controlled sattvic diet, exercises involving handing out of flyers to strangers to bring them to for example an introductory talk or course (which many find unnerving), the Buddha Process (which consists of dressing up in one’s worst clothes and begging on the streets), and of course forced sleep deprivation (which it is well-known can induce psychosis, a state of deep confusion, and make people a lot more susceptible to brainwashing).

Those who make it to the end of TTC and who end up being chosen (not everyone is) are rewarded for their efforts not only by being handed the much coveted Sudarshan Kriya tape, but also by going from being ordinary followers to becoming fully-fledged teachers for the Art of Living.

In so many ways, then, the TTC is itself an elaborate initiation process, and in a subtle way it is even marketed by Art of Living as such, especially by existing teachers. It is seen as some sort of holy grail, something which all followers should strive for, and once a follower has attained it they somehow become more “special”, more dedicated, more committed and ultimately initiated in the eyes of the organization and of all other followers.

Cialdini cites one pertinent example where researchers conducted a study to show that “persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.” In this study, two groups of college girls were trying to gain admission into a sex education group. One group, who had to go through an embarrassing initiation process, valued the group much more highly than the other group, who didn’t have to expend any effort whatsoever, and who in fact found the group to be “worthless and uninteresting”. In particular he notes, “The more electric shock a woman received as part of the initiation ceremony, the more she later persuaded herself that her new group and its activities were interesting, intelligent, and desirable.”

There is little doubt that those who are at the head of affairs in AoL are fully aware of this principle as it is something which underlies many of their courses, especially TTC. All the effort one has to expend to go through the processes which are part of the TTC, combined with the time and money one has to spend on this and all prerequisite courses and materials, elicits one of the most powerful commitments in the devotee and makes them value the organization and especially their newly acquired teacher status all the more than they would have done had they never taken TTC.

Art of Living Ideology Revisited

Ultimately, all the commitments which devotees make to Art of Living result directly or otherwise in their aligning their core beliefs to and hence adopting the Art of Living Ideology (discussed in Part 1.) Because of their commitment to the Art of Living Ideology, it becomes very difficult for them to acknowledge any of the many red flags they may encounter during their time with the organization, or to accept any points of view which radically challenge these beliefs, such as those presented throughout these blogs. This is because of a condition which has come to be known as Cognitive Dissonance, and which will be discussed at length in our next part of this series.

In Part 5, we take a detailed look at the phenomenon known as Cognitive Dissonance.

  1. Anonymous permalink
    November 12, 2012 6:20 pm

    “Commitment and consistency” can also be applied to the critics of Art of Living who are committed, in writing on this and other blogs, and by committing their precious time and significant mental efforts to being critical about Art of Living and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. This critical path is also based on an ideology. Of course, the critics usually don’t think of themselves as being ideologues, as it does not fit their mental picture of themselves, to be cognitively consistent rather than dissonant. “Ideologue” is the way critics derogatorily address those mere mortals who have a lesser intellect then the critics themselves.

    • Anonymous permalink
      November 15, 2012 5:47 pm

      I am trying to understand where you are coming from Anonymous…I do not see any derogatory addressing happening in these articles..Moreover most of the authors and writers in this blog have personally experienced AOL and are expressing themselves and trying to understand how they got drawn into the cult..and these articles by Obi-Wan is giving an understanding of the psychology behind AOL..

      Moreover dictionary meaning of Idealogue is “One given to fanciful ideas or theories; a theorist; a spectator”

      None here are spectators looking at AOL from afar…Most were ardent followers and spent substantial amount of time in the organisation to rightfully be able to offer a clear and distinct option about AOL.

      • Anonymous permalink
        November 16, 2012 10:38 pm

        Sure, but the critical crowd will not believe that the so-called “psychology behind” AOL actually the psychology that the critical crowd is using themselves through the anonymous and subtle means of the internet. The critical crowd doesn’t believe what they are doing is pursuing their own anti-AOL ideology. The critics cannot question their own anti-AOL beliefs because they believe themselves to be somehow inherently superior to the dumb followers of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who are following Him like lemmings to their own fall (according to the benevolent critics who are trying to save the lemmings through this blog). The only intelligent people are the critics who run this blog. The critics will never accept themselves to be ideological even if the dictionary meaning is spelled out to them – how can they be ideological when they are so analytic and intelligent? They (on their own – with no help from other critics (as opposed to in AOL where others interpret your experience)) have perfectly dissected and rationalized their individual AOL experiences and are now perfectly perched to help other analyze theirs – though of course the lemmings the critics are saving will somehow analyze the experience on their own without the critics aid, cuz one only takes others help to analyze one’s own experience when one is in a cult, not when one is an super-intelligent rational independent and groupism-free critic.

      • bloggisatwa permalink
        November 17, 2012 6:37 pm

        The famous Bush logic. If you are not with us, you are against us. You do the same thing we do, so whats the difference ??? Who is better, your God or my God ?

        Everyone who posts on this Blog is the “same”. Anyone who says anything that is not pleasant about AOL or SriSri….they are tarred with the same brush in ONE easy sweep. How convenient !!

        And the motive ??? The bloggers are jealous of SriSri’s success !!!! So they want to say all kinds of crap about him.

    • Anonymous permalink
      November 17, 2012 10:36 pm

      Haha Anonymous November 16, 2012 10:38 pm:
      So according to your personal Ideology – what about the critic that psycho-analyzes critics?? hmmm..let me guess….if according to you critics are super intelligent then that makes critic of a critic – super duper intelligent..! and of course so on ……
      and yaya…not to forget we critics are also in denial – we do not accept that we also follow a particular ideology (an anti- AOL one) exactly like many in AOL are in denial that they are being manipulated….anyways…that creates a balance..both parties here are in denial….so lets all enjoy this game together buddy….!!

      Bloggisatwa – I would like to add –
      Bloggers are not only jealous – they are also apparently SO intelligent that they cannot contain it…! they just have to show it off somehow…!

      I am actually enjoying showing off my intelligence here – Anonymously…ssshhhh – nobody needs to know who is behind this intelligent exchange..!!

      • January 13, 2013 4:27 pm

        I’m not anonymous, Anonymous, and many people here, have a sour taste about that cult.


  1. Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 5 « 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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