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Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 10

May 11, 2013

Links to All Parts

Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 1
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 2
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 3
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 4
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 5
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 6
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 7
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 8
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 9
Exposing the AoL Brainwashing Machinery – Part 10

Summary of Articles

Since so much ground has been covered already in this series, I want to conclude firstly by summarizing the various discussion points covered in each of the articles which have already been published as part of this series.

In Part 1 we began by defining Brainwashing as the use of one or more techniques or processes usually involving some degree of manipulation or deception, which are employed to bring about a change in the beliefs of those being brainwashed. The beliefs can be considered to be an Ideology. Successfully administered brainwashing results in the brainwasher effectively controlling both the beliefs of those being brainwashed and also to an extent their actions. The reason for the brainwashing is simply to afford a number of benefits to those who are responsible for the brainwashing, such as financial gains, power and adulation.

We took at detailed look at the AoL Ideology in terms of beliefs about Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Sudarshan Kriya, the AoL organization itself, and any beliefs designed to suspend critical thinking and promote blind faith in the organization and the guru.

We showed several ways in which an AoL devotee can be considered to be an asset of the AoL organization, in particular with regards to the amount of money each devotee brings in to the organization.

In Part 2 we took a detailed look at the ways in which AoL has tried to create an environment which is conducive to brainwashing. We introduced Robert Jay Lifton’s eight conditions which were used to bring about thought reform in Chinese POW camps in the 1950s, and showed how every single one of these is present in AoL.

We noted how the AoL brainwashing machinery is actually mostly made up of the devotees themselves, who are for the most part the ones responsible for spreading the ideology. We further discussed that since AoL are unable to fully control their devotees’ environments (unlike in Chinese POW camps), that outside influences such as the internet are allowing their devotees to see perspectives of AoL that they wouldn’t normally see, that this is causing a major kink in the AoL brainwashing machinery and has over time caused a lot of devotees to break free from their brainwashing and leave AoL.

In Part 3 we began by looking at how an individual’s existing beliefs are to an extent a determining factor as to how much brainwashing needs to take place in order to bring about change in their beliefs. We then began by looking at Robert Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence discussed in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

We looked at the Contrast Principle which tells us that when we compare two items, the way we perceive one item is radically altered by the way we perceive the other. We showed that this was used in AoL mainly to draw a comparison between ones life before AoL and ones life after becoming involved, trying to persuade devotees that AoL had had a marked improvement on their lives, and using this as a springboard to bring other devotees into the AoL fold.

We looked at Reciprocation, which tells us that when someone gives us something of value or shows us a certain kindness, we feel compelled to repay that kindness in some way. More than anything, this technique is used in AoL to persuade devotees into believing that whatever they have received from AoL, such as Sudarshan Kriya or anything else which generally makes them feel good, is of far greater value to the devotee than any money they paid to AoL. As such devotees are made to feel indebted to AoL, and that they need to repay AoL back in some way.

In Part 4 we took a detailed look at the power of Commitment and Consistency, which tells us that once someone has made some sort of commitment, it is very difficult for them to act in some way which contradicts this commitment since they appear to be inconsistent, and this is highly undesirable behavior. We looked at ways in which AoL enforces commitment from its devotees, in particular by asking them to write down their commitments on paper, and to make commitments in front of others.

We also took a detailed look at various studies into Initiation Rites and the effort made by those undergoing those rites, and showed how in so many ways the AoL TTC can be seen as an initiation rite, particularly with regards to the ways in which it is greatly coveted by so many in AoL and how it influences the beliefs of those who undergo the course.

In Part 5 we spent a considerable amount of time looking at the phenomenon of Cognitive Dissonance, a term describing a psychological phenomenon which arises whenever an individual holding a particular belief or set of beliefs is presented with conflicting beliefs, resulting in a conflict in the mind which is experienced as pain. The mind then has to act in one or more ways in order to try to remove the pain caused by this dissonance.

As far as AoL is concerned, a devotee will experience Cognitive Dissonance whenever they are presented with anything which seems to be in conflict with either their perspective of AoL or of RS. This includes nearly everything written across these blogs, but also any experiences which they themselves have in AoL which they find questionable, which are normally experienced as “red flags”.

We listed so many areas in AoL which have resulted in devotees experiencing Cognitive Dissonance, including beliefs about Sudarshan Kriya, TTC, money issues, allegations of various types of abuse, behaviors of senior teachers include RS himself, beliefs about RS having “Guru’s Grace” and the ability to heal, and of course beliefs about RS being enlightened. We also showed how so many of the behaviors seen on the blogs by AoL devotees, and also the need for many devotees to start counter blogs, was directly as a result of Cognitive Dissonance.

But we also looked at how the effects of Cognitive Dissonance could be so devastating that those who had been in the organization for a long time would find it very difficult to leave and would rather continue living a lie than accept many of the things which are wrong with AoL or RS.

In Part 6 we turned our discussion to Social Proof, which states that whenever we need to make some kind of decision in life, we are far more likely to follow the same course that many other people have taken in the same situation. We looked at how the power of Social Proof to influence us is particularly accentuated when we are uncertain about a particular situation, or when those who have been presented with the same situation are similar to us, the similarity being a major influencing factor.

We showed how Social Proof is being used in AoL. For example by quoting large numbers of participants who have allegedly done the Part 1 course worldwide, the number of countries in which AoL has a presence, the hiring of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin which in the end was only filled to a fraction of its full capacity, and the ways in which AoL devotees are encouraged to make a big fuss whenever any AoL “celebrity figure” was coming to town.

In Part 7 we looked at the Liking Principle, which states that we are far more likely to comply with a given request if we know and like the person who is making it. We showed how this principle was manipulated in AoL, including leveraging existing bonds between friends by asking devotees to expend considerable effort in persuading their friends and relatives to join. We also showed how physical appearance was a contributing factor, and how AoL favored better-looking teachers and encouraged them to dress in a particularly congenial manner.

We also showed how many of the processed in various AoL courses were designed to make devotees like each other and the organization even more, for example by giving each other compliments, encouraging regular contact with each other, and encouraging cooperation towards a common goal. We also looked at how conditioning and association could be used to influence people, citing the specific example of AoL’s association with Anna Hazare’s IAC movement and how AoL tried to leverage this association to attract more devotees.

In Part 8 we examined the power of Authority. We began by reciting the findings of the now infamous Milgram Experiment, which demonstrated how individuals reacted to authority in situations where they had to be outright cruel to another human being, and the ways in which that authority effectively overrode their consciences.

We showed how authority in AoL is exploited, in particular by noting how RS is projected as being an enlightened guru, the ultimate authority figure in Hinduism. But we went on to show that RS simply has to show various signs, or symbols, of being enlightened to make people believe this is the case. We showed how his titles (“Sri Sri” or “His Holiness” – both of which he has bestowed upon himself), his appearance (white robes, long hair, beard), Guru stories of his alleged “siddhis” as well as his alleged “Guru’s Grace”, and his purported knowledge of various scriptures are more than adequate to convince the majority of devotees that he is indeed an enlightened guru. We also looked at the way in which the whole AoL organization itself can be viewed as a “hierarchy of authority”, with those lower down surrendering their power to those higher up in the hierarchy, the power moving from devotees to teachers to senior teachers to the AoL “inner circle” and finally to RS and his family.

In Part 9 we examined Cialdini’s final Weapon of Influence, Scarcity, which tells us that the more limited the availability of any given thing that we may desire, the more we come to desire it and hence the greater the influence it can have on us.

We showed a plethora of ways in which Scarcity is exploited in AoL, from marketing certain courses as having limited availability, claiming that certain senior teachers are so busy that people should feel blessed whenever they visit a certain region to give talks, certain knowledge being very special and claiming that it should only be made available to certain people (or that the world isn’t ready yet to receive this knowledge yet), and using it to sell various products such as the Ashtavakra DVDs.


There are many who believe that much of what goes on in Art of Living requires some mystical explanation or other, and I myself even believed this at the time I was associated with the organization. However, as I alluded to at the start of this series of articles, my intention here has been to try to explain most if not all of the things that transpire in AoL from the point of view of psychological manipulation.

Whilst I very much subscribe to the old adage that awareness is curative, I feel even more strongly about the even older and more prevalent adage that prevention is better than the cure. The problem, however, is that most of what is detailed in these articles, and the background research which they are based on, isn’t taught in schools anywhere in the world, at least not to the best of my knowledge. If it were, then most likely people wouldn’t be so quick to fall into organizations like AoL.

If you are looking at becoming involved with AoL, these articles should at least help you decide whether it really is an organization you wish to become involved with.

If you are currently part of AoL but are having any doubts for one reason or another, then these articles may help to highlight the sorts of doubts you are having and explain the reasons why you are having them.

If you have already left AoL but are still trying to understand much of what happened to you during your time with AoL which still still remains a mystery to you, then these articles will hopefully shed a great deal of light on at least some of the things you went through. This in fact was the position I was in when I discovered the background material to these articles, and I found it extremely helpful in my own breakaway from the organization.

In everything I have written here, I have tried to remain as objective as possible and have tried my level best to refrain from any form of judgement. As such I cannot emphasize enough, this really is not about good versus evil, about right versus wrong or anything like that. Rather, it is about highlighting the ways in which people who are associated with AoL end up losing their freedom, surrender their responsibility and power, and lose their ability to think rationally and clearly.

Whilst it might seem obvious to some that these are undesirable things, the sad fact is that some people really don’t want to take responsibility for what they do in life, they don’t want to think for themselves, and would rather happily allow others to tell them what to do and think. And this isn’t just limited to organizations like AoL, it affects so many people on the planet.

It is also a sad fact of life that so many people lie to themselves in order to make themselves feel happy. This again is not limited to just organizations like AoL, it is pandemic. People believe things because they want to believe them, even in spite of evidence to the contrary. What makes this so concerning is that from a psychological perspective, this effectively causes the mind to split into two, one part which believes the lie, and one part which knows that it is actually a lie. In other words these two parts directly contradict each other, and hence disharmony ensues in the mind. If this sounds all too familiar to anyone who has been following this series of articles, it is because this is the exact dynamic which gives rise to Cognitive Dissonance, discussed in Part 5.

As Cialdini remarks throughout his book, it is our natural tendencies and desires which are ultimately exploited by those who wish to manipulate us in some way or other – and of course, our vulnerabilities. And this is exactly what the AoL Brainwashing Machinery takes advantage of.

If there is one thing which everyone who has ever been associated with AoL has in common, it is that every single one of them has one more vulnerabilities of one kind or other. Whatever the nature of their vulnerabilities, for many AoL offers some means of dealing with them, or at the very least it claims to. Whilst in and of itself this is not a bad thing at all, all too often these very same vulnerabilities are used to exploit individuals in the ways which have been detailed in these and other articles across these blogs.

It may sound surprising but without exception everyone who is part of the AoL Brainwashing Machinery is to some extent a victim of it. Everyone from regular devotees, volunteers and teachers all the way up to senior teachers, swamis, rishis, and even its ultimate beneficiaries including of course Ravi Shankar himself and his close family and friends.

The AoL Brainwashing Machinery is designed to keep people under its spell for as long as it can, controlling their thoughts and their day to day activities in whatever ways it can. But very often people see through its cracks. And when they do, they find themselves with one of the most difficult decisions they have to make: to stay with the organization and accept whatever it is they have objection with, or to leave. And for most, the latter is far more difficult than the former as it can mean a great loss. This can be loss of identity, of purpose in life, of friends and community, and of course the loss of the one person whom they felt they loved and trusted and to whom they had surrendered all their power to – Ravi Shankar. And as we all know, the fear of loss can be so overwhelming and even debilitating that we would rather do anything we can to avoid it.

If you are happy living a lie, or are happy to be manipulated and deceived, then that is absolutely fine as long as you are aware of these things.

But if you ever wish to break free of it, know that you can. And know that countless people have done so in the past and will continue to do so in the future, and that it really isn’t as difficult as it seems. Whatever loss you feel you may have to incur, know that you have so much more to gain after you leave – if that is what you really wish to do.

I want to finish by tipping the hat to the late and great comedian and social commentator Bill Hicks. Art of Living is very much like a ride at an amusement park, and when you choose to be part of it you think it’s very real because that’s how powerful our minds are. And just like a ride, it has ups and downs and thrills and spills, and it’s brightly colored and it’s very loud and it’s fun … for a while. But some people who have been on the ride for a long time have seen things which make them think that there is something seriously wrong with it, and they begin to question it. But when they speak out, those who have so much invested in the ride tell them to shut up, accuse them of being negative, of telling lies, of trying to defame and so on and so forth. Because those who have so much invested in the ride want the ride to go on and on and on for ever, and don’t ever want to wake up from it. The problem is, they have forgotten that it’s only a ride, and they believe that the ride is actually real life. Even when they are shown that it is only a ride, they choose not believe it and continue to live the lie. Those who have fully woken up and who have seen it as just a ride have moved on, and have realized that outside of the ride real life awaits. And guess what? They have never felt the need to turn back and get on the ride again. Why not? Because they realize they can have all the thrills and spills and joy and laughter which they’re hearts desire in the real world, outside of the ride. And anyone can make exactly the same choice they made, if they want to. But the trick is, they have to want to in the first place. If the ride is giving you all the fun you want and you have no need to get off it, then stay on it by all means. But if you’ve been on the ride long enough and want to get off it, then you have to realize that if the one thing keeping you on the ride is fear, then you are allowing that fear to control you and prevent you from experiencing real life which lies outside of the ride. And as almost everyone who has gotten off the ride will tell you, real life is so much better than the ride can ever be. In the end, the choice is yours and yours alone to make.

  1. Russians coming permalink
    May 14, 2013 1:48 am

    Thank you for interesting blog. We will think how to organise work for translating it into Russian.

  2. Comrade permalink
    May 19, 2013 3:00 am

    @ Russians coming

    We have posted the Russian translation of this post in nine subsections at the link below:

    We have also posted the Russian translation of the following post in the post itself:

    Also, please check our blog in about ten days. We will be posting the Russian translation of all posts in a book format as we have done with this post by Obi-Wan.

    Thank you for your patience.



    P.S. To see the list of topics we have covered, please visit the following link at your convenience:


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

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