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Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 7

November 29, 2012

In Part 6 we took a look at how Social Proof is used to influence the many decisions that devotees make during their time with Art of Living. In this part we take a look at what has come to be known as the Liking Principle.


The Liking Principle states that we are far more likely to comply with any given request if we know and like the person who is making the request.

In Art of Living there are two ways in which this principle is exploited. Firstly, since the strongest liking bond is usually between existing friends, devotees are often persuaded to turn to their friends in order to ultimately bring more money into AoL. Secondly, the principle can readily be exploited to make devotees and prospective devotees better like Art of Living as an organization as well as other devotees, teachers and of course RS himself. These are described in some detail below.

Leveraging the Existing Bond Between Friends

The most obvious way in which AoL exploits the Liking Principle is simply to ask devotees to persuade their friends to enroll for an entry-level AoL course, such as a Basic/Part 1 or Yes!+ course, or even to attend an Introductory Talk. Since a bond of trust already exists between friends, this is usually far more effective and hence far less time-consuming than asking them to persuade complete strangers.

Whenever a natural or other disaster occurs, Art of Living ask their devotees to raise money to help those who have suffered as a result of the disaster. Devotees usually ask their friends for money, and since the bond of trust is already there, friends who generally are happy to give money to charity will more often than not make some nominal donation towards the given cause. Most people would not want to believe that their friend is raising money which will eventually end up for example financing one of several for-profit companies (for Inwinex Pharmaceuticals, Sumeru Realty, and so on) or to finance the 5-star hotel stays or business class travel for the founder of the alleged charity.

But more than just asking for donations to alleged charitable causes, AoL even asks devotees to canvass for donations for their Art of Living centers! This has happened and probably continues to happen in many places to this day. If devotees want to donate their own money to a local center that is one thing, but asking their friends and colleagues to make a donation? Isn’t this really quite far-fetched?

The Tupperware Party

One very interesting example of exploitation of the Liking Principle that Cialdini describes is the Tupperware party, which involves sales representatives of the Tupperware company approaching particular individuals, almost invariably women, and asking them to host a “party” at their homes and invite all their friends. Whilst it is sold to the friends as a party, and whilst even games are played at the party, it is in actual fact a very cleverly disguised vehicle for selling Tupperware products to the friends of the hostess. In return, the hostess receives a commission of all products sold.

What makes the Tupperware Party so powerful as a sales tool is the fact that the real sales power comes not from the Tupperware Party sales representative but from the hostess herself, or more specifically from the fact that all the guests at the party are already friends with the hostess – and will thus already like her.

The most interesting thing about this is that in an email which was sent out to devotees some time in 2010, and which was posted on Skywalker’s blog under 9 Steps To Organize a Part I Course, Bawa (author of the email) encourages devotees to use this exact tactic to manipulate people to signing up to a Basic / Part 1 course. It is specifically referred to in Step 7 as a “Home Intro Talk”, but in reality is just a variation of the Tupperware party.

As an interesting aside, this would lead us to believe that not only is Bawa well aware of this principle but he is most likely aware of the very same book where it is described – Robert Cialdini’s Influence. This should come as no surprise to anyone by now since, as we have already seen, all the manipulation tactics which have thus far been described in Cialdini’s book are being used to one extent or another in Art of Living. It is most likely then that many of those at the head of affairs in AoL are also familiar with this book and all the various principles of psychological manipulation described therein.

Manipulating Art of Living devotees

As well as persuading devotees to recruit and illicit donations from their existing friends, Art of Living further exploit the Liking Principle by manipulating these same devotees into better liking AoL itself and other devotees. By increasing trust in this way it makes it far easier to sell ongoing courses, events and of course to illicit donations from existing devotees.

There are a number of key factors which affect how the way we like something.

Physical Attractiveness

A great amount of scientific research has shown that we tend to like people more if they are physically attractive. Note that this relates not only to how attractive people are physically, but also to their clothing and general grooming.

I recall one senior teacher who likes to cry whenever he thinks of his beloved master that he thought that RS not only had a beautiful soul but that he was also physically beautiful. Even at the time this seemed like one of the strangest things I had ever heard, but now I realize that he was just implanting the idea that RS was physically attractive in the minds of all those present.

For those who recall there was a very heart-wrenching account on Klim’s blog about a woman who had spent the best part of a small fortune to take the TTC but who at the end overheard the teachers say that they considered her to be too ugly to become a teacher, and then subsequently broke down into tears.

So yes, physical attractiveness is considered an important factor in Art of Living, especially when selecting who can and cannot become a teacher.

One observation which Cialdini makes:

“Because we like attractive people and because we tend to comply with those we like, it makes sense that sales training programs include grooming hints, that fashionable clothiers select their floor staffs from among the good-looking candidates, […]”

It is fair to say that most Art of Living teachers and especially senior teachers are physically attractive. But on top of this, they are actually instructed in TTC to wear certain clothing, light-colored or preferably white, and to completely avoid dark colors, especially black. This is done on purpose – to make them more likeable.

The Halo Effect

That physical attractiveness is a key factor which influences how we like someone is actually due to what has become known as the Halo effect: when one positive characteristic of a person seems to dominate the way that person is viewed by others. Much scientific evidence shows that physical attractiveness is one such characteristic.

Research has shown that we automatically assign certain favorable traits such as talent, kindness, honesty and intelligence to good-looking people. In other words, we psychological associate good-looking with being good. Good-looking people are generally better liked, more persuasive, and seen as possessing better personality traits and intellectual capacities.


We tend to like people more if they are similar to us, especially if they hold similar beliefs and opinions, come from a similar background to us (for example geographically or professionally), have similar personality traits or a similar lifestyle to us.

Whilst many similarities can readily be found between Art of Living devotees, the most obvious one is simply that they are members of AoL. Implicit in this is the fact that devotees share many beliefs and opinions, and have many similarities in their lifestyles.

This is actually a huge influencing factor since it greatly increases the chances that devotees will already like each other – even before they know each other. Unless they have had bad experiences, they will believe that they will have a much closer affinity to other AoL devotees than for example to complete strangers.

This built-in likability then makes it far easier for AoL to persuade their devotees to ask other devotees to sit more courses or volunteer to organize them, participate in satsangs, or in short do pretty much anything that they ask for.


Whenever we are complimented in any manner and we feel the compliment is genuine, we automatically better like the person who made the compliment.

This is something which is used effectively in AoL once individuals have already become devotees. In the Advanced/Part 2/Art of Silence course, it is one of the first processes that participants have to go through, to learn to give compliments to others as well as to themselves. The take-away from this is that “All praise goes to the divine.”

Devotees are constantly complimented on one thing or another by other devotees and more so by teachers. In fact, as was already touched upon in the section on Reciprocation,
one of the greatest compliments a teacher can give to a devotee is to tell them that they should become a teacher.

More often than not, we have little reason to suspect that we are actually being manipulated when we are being flattered in this manner. We just accept the flattery, believing it to be genuine, and leave ourselves wide open to be exploited by the Liking Principle.

Familiarity through Increased Contact

The more times we come into contact with something, the more familiar we become with it. And research has shown that we like things which are familiar to us. As Cialdini tells us: “Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.” Ultimately, the more familiar we are with something, the more we like it and so the more social influence it can have over us.

The following passage taken from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is of particular interest to the discussion at hand:

“For example, in one experiment, the faces of several individuals were flashed on a screen so quickly that later on, the subjects who were exposed to the faces in this manner couldn’t recall having seen any of them before. Yet, the more frequently a person’s face was flashed on the screen, the more these subjects came to like that person when they met in a subsequent interaction. And because greater liking leads to greater social influence, these subjects were also more persuaded by the opinion statements of the individuals whose faces had appeared on the screen most frequently.”

The most pertinent example of the way the familiarity aspect of the Liking Principle is exploited in Art of Living is the use of photographs of Ravi Shankar, usually smiling beatifically. These are ever-present at satsangs, on the cover of nearly all AoL books, in some of the more advanced courses, in posters throughout all the ashrams, and most prominently of all in the homes of the more ardent devotees. This is an integral yet somewhat subtle component of the Art of Living Brainwashing Machinery, with the overall purpose being to make devotees like RS a lot more than they would ordinarily, that is, without the use of the photos. As such, this becomes a major contributing factor to the overall influence RS has over his devotees.

Familiarity through Cooperation

Another factor which affects the Liking Principle is cooperation, specifically working together to achieve a common goal.

At the most basic level, there are so many group activities throughout various courses starting with the Basic/Part 1 Course which are designed to create a feeling of mutual cooperation and hence act as a binding agent between devotees. Any group activity, such as handing out flyers, organizing courses and events, and even sitting courses with other individuals all create a feeling of cooperation, and hence increase the chances that those involved will like each other.

But the best example of cooperation in Art of Living is that all devotees are working together for a common goal, to do whatever they can to spread the message of RS to the world, to bring as many people as they can into Art of Living and so to help save them from certain doom. Everyone working tirelessly together, one big happy AoL family, all striving for this common vision.

This really is one of the strongest social forces which keeps people trapped in Art of Living. So many people form such strong bonds with fellow devotees because of this that it becomes extremely difficult to break these bonds should they ever feel they need to. For example when the doubts become too great and they have to leave.

One way out of this particular trap is to realize that outside of Art of Living, one usually has very few if any commonalities with other devotees.

Conditioning and Association

One of the most prominent factors affecting the Liking Principle is the use of conditioning through association, as discovered by Ivan Pavlov. Specifically, it is the association with positive things whilst at the same time avoiding any association with negative things. The association with any given positive thing generally makes the person exploiting the association look more favorable in the eyes of consumers, thus making them more likable and giving them more social influence.

Art of Living are constantly trying to associate themselves with positive things. Whenever any disaster takes place in the world, AoL are quick to respond by telling all their devotees that they have taken some positive action to help the situation. A visit from RS himself to the affected area is usually part of the propaganda machine here.

A key association that AoL often boasts about is that it is affiliated with the United Nations. At the current time of writing the Wikipedia entry for Art of Living states: “The Foundation is working in special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.” Whilst this may sound impressive on paper, in reality it doesn’t actually amount to very much at all, especially given that there are at least 3,500 NGOs worldwide that share this status (see

Art of Living’s involvement with Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption movement was actually a brilliant example of exploiting the association aspect of the Liking Principle. Not only did AoL associate themselves with a movement which was considered by many to be very positive, but due to the nature of the cause, they also tried to distance themselves from something very negative: corruption itself. This was an absolute masterstroke of pure genius. Incredibly, this internal email written by François Gautier and sent out to devotees
shows how AoL tried to spin things to look as if they were the major driving force behind the movement.

But it doesn’t end there. Nearly a year on and with the IAC movement seemingly on its last legs and looking extremely unlikely to achieve any of what it set out to, where is AoL now? It looks like they rode the media wave when IAC was in the limelight, but now that it has become unpopular, AoL has all but abandoned the movement and completely distanced themselves from it. See Bringer of Light or Desperate for Limelight for a detailed analysis of this. This link also describes how many of the service projects which Art of Living uses for publicity never really come to fruition.

Even though it has been covered adequately in both this post and across the blogs, the attributing of anything positive in a devotee’s life with their association with AoL and particularly with RS is also another good example of the exploitation of this principle. If a devotee believes that anything good which is happening to them is due to “Guruji’s Grace” in their lives, of course they are going to like RS more – thus opening themselves up to be further exploited by him.

In Part 8, we’ll take a good look at how the power of Authority is exploited in Art of Living.

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