The Art of Living – A Personal Experience

I am cynical of religion in general and Godmen in particular. I am very suspicious of anyone who claims or institutionally organizes claims to be closer to the Divine than the rest of us plebians. Not that I can do much given my suspicions. I simply stay away.

However, word came down that the Sudarshana Kriya Course taught at the Art of Living Foundation (AOL) was worth trying. A friend in Singapore told me so after a couple of beers in a bar behind a Borders bookstore in Singapore. That was after a second cousin who is deeply involved with the AOL, teaching courses and trying to convince people that breathing right will put them on the road less traveled but more fruitful, had been trying to get me to try it for a long time.. Her attempts to get me to do the Sudarshana Kriya course were met with my initial polite deflections. She didn’t stop trying to persuade me till I clearly told her that I’d do what she wanted me to, if she did what I wanted her to – and I wanted her to stop dishing out unsolicited advice. My friend convinced me to do what my cousin wanted me to do – I enrolled in a Sudarshana Kriya course. Below is how I feel about it three weeks after participating in the course.

There are two aspects to the course – the physical part and the psycholo….okay call it what it really is – the brainwashing part! I’ll deal with these two separately.

The physical part of the course consists of two parts – an initial set of breathing exercises which apparently prepares one to do the Kriya itself. The Kriya consists of a series of rhythmic breathing sequences and ends with a meditative rest. The entire process takes about half-an-hour to do. It’s now been about three weeks and I do it more or less everyday. My sense is that I was taught the mechanics pretty well – though I don’t have independent confirmation of how well I’m doing it. Maybe I’ll ask my cousin to evaluate my technique the next time I’m in India! And my guess is that I’ll keep doing it till I know it’s doing no harm, or am certain that it will do no good.

It was the other part of the ‘course’ that was troubling. Many a tip on how to live well was passed along. Some of the stuff made sense – you can only control your actions. But some stuff was debatable – don’t worry about a person’s intentions, because as the Guruji would say, it only causes tension! My trouble was not that it was debatable, but it wasn’t debated. The course instructor would state a proposition, preface it with a “You know” and end it with a “Right” in a sing song way. And the six or seven of us course participants would nod in agreement. There was no discussion, just acceptance of wisdom, even when there was none.

You don’t understand, you say. Let me give you an example. On the final day we were told, “You know, have you noticed people who do seva (service) but not sadhana (live right) do not seem happy, – have you noticed? Right?” And we all, once again said, “Yes!” Actually that’s not the whole truth. This time I objected. I not only disagreed with the notion that those who did seva but not sadhana were unhappy, but really didn’t know how to identify whether or not people who did seva did sadhana, to have an opinion on the need for seva and sadhana to exist for one to walk the path of bliss. I went a step further and protested that the my fellow students and I were acting like a cult, and told the instructor that he was being profoundly judgmental. “Do you know what a cult is?” thundered the instructor who earlier had advised us that we may show anger, though we must not be angry. He carried on, “The Art of Living is not a cult, and you are being judgmental!” I never accused the Art of Living of being a cult, so the response was quite revealing. And when I got the ‘you are what you are accusing me of being’ response, I felt like I was having one of those occasional conversations with my spouse.

The other part was the massive public relations drive on behalf of the Guruji. We were told how the Guruji was our instructor’s idol – “I idolize Shri Shri.” And there was good reason to. For it was the blessings of the Guruji that led to a series of completely improbable (actually impossible, but who’s keeping track) series of events, that got our instructor to go to India to do the teacher’s course – I won’t bore you with the details, but the invisible hand of the Guruji did play a role! Another time the Guruji played a role was when our instructor once told his boss that he would work from home when he had AOL affairs to attend to, did no work, but was given a bonus of $7,000 for his good work. No prizes for guessing who was responsible for this sequence of events! But the most bizarre story was about his mother who came to the U.S. and got very sick after eating out. She had a miserable night and in the morning the instructor on his way to the local drug store thought within and asked his Guruji why his mother was going through this suffering – if she was in India a doctor would come and see her at home – after all they came from a well to do family in India. He then called a friend who suggested he call a doctor. And the doctor insisted that he will come and see the patient at home on his way to the hospital. This story may well be true. What I find troubling is the sense that someone far away was listening to the anguished plea and responded. I’m simply left to ask, why weren’t the good wishes and positive energy not used to make sure that the mother didn’t get sick in the first place? Like all the others, this time even I stayed silent, and nodded my head. Happy to be a trouble maker a couple of times, but even I don’t overdo it.

Much more of a not so complementary nature can be said about not so subtle attempts to present the AOL and the Guruji in positive light. But I think I’ve made my point. Suffice to say, my problem with all forms of organized religion/spirituality was reconfirmed. While it is possible that either for real or psychosomatic reasons good comes out of these institutions, the level of sycophancy and personal attribution of power and powers to some of our fellow humans boggles the mind. I’ll never understand the worship of other humans, but I am happy to see if breathing a certain way will have a positive impact in my life. If it will, I’ll carry on breathing in purposeful fashion.

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7 thoughts on “The Art of Living – A Personal Experience

  1. In 2 parts…I'd like to point out that you did not attend a Sudarshan Kriya Course but an AOL Part I (Introductory) course. The Sudarshan Kriya is a module . Now lets get down to your beef. You start off by saying:…… I am very suspicious ….. the rest of us plebians. ……Two things here:The first is that an entity you call the "Divine" exists . By this I assume you mean an entity possesing what can be loosely called supra human attributes, who it is beneficial to be in close proximity with – the closer the better.The second is that there are people who claim, or have organised claims through institutions they have set up, this greater proximity. I agree with you entirely.In the context of the rest of the post however, the clear implication – nay insinuation – is that Sri Sri Ravishankar (henceforth SSR) is such a person. This is completely unfounded.SSR has not made such a claim himself. I seriously doubt he has explicitly instigated AOL's instituional mechanisms to make such a claim. There is nothing, for e.g., in the AOL literature that even hints at such a claim.There is , however, a different kettle of -distinctly tamasik – fish to consider. This is that a significant propotion of SSR's followers claim (and completely believe)SSR is divine – forget about your concern about his greater proximity to the Divine. Your instructor is one of these people.(Note Divine/divine distinction)You are right in that there are cult like aspects that can show up in the course , so to speak, of the course (I'll won't comment on the egregious placing of course in quotes in the 5th para. Compared to several of the courses that are offerd for credit in the liberal arts curriculum of most US colleges,Part I is rocket science) . My personal experience from having attended a few of them is that how prominent this is is very instructor dependant.These folks derive satisfaction from attribuing what are , in effect, miraculous qualities to SSR . WTF (if you'll pardon my French) – it makes them happy.It surprises me that something like this should boggle your mind (I was going to say it boggles my mind but…).

  2. Sycophancy implies the the person concerned knows he is saying/doing something he should'nt be to gain favours/benefits. In this sense SSR's followers, by and large, are not being sycophants . AOL is essentially a modern version of the 11 – 15th Vaihnavite movements. It is , in the Indian context, progressive. For e.g.,it seems to be caste blind . It does quite a lot to try and diffuse Hindu-Muslim tensions. It is definitely active in things like diaster relief. It runs roughly 2000 schools . I mention this as a response to:———While it is possible that … good comes out of these institutions… ———Yr instructor has got the party line on seva / sadhana wrong. First to say sadhana is "living right" is plain wrong. "contemplation through structured meditation" is as close as I can come to an English language translation of sadhana. It's a bit like trying to translate buddhi or atma . Anyway, as far as SSR is concerned,seva is most important thing an individual can do. In fact SSR tells you to take what you want to from the overall AOL philosophy but if you have to internalise one thing its the concept of seva Now about the Kriya itself. What you do daily at home is mainly to prime you for the weekly Sudharshan Kriya . My own experience is that is is extremely beneficial from a physical well being point of view. It can also be extremely useful as an adjunct to chemical and psychiatric approaches to arresting substance abuse. I have seen some credible evidence to support this. I strongl urge you to make Kriya a daily thing. Add 6 Suryanamaskarams and your home on the physical fitness front.You introduce yourself by saying logic matters . Logic as I undertand it reuires a framework – axioms, rules of opertation and so on. I am surprised that you have not taken into account the existence of systems/schools of logic where the attribution of divinity to an individual can be validated. So stop getting your mind getting boggled by some poor idiot being sure that RSS nudged a doctor into making a house call. There'sstuff from A (fghanistan) to Z(imbabwe) more suitable to boggling a truly logical mind. Jai Gurudev 🙂

  3. Thanks all for reading and responding. Schriro…I’m a 5 on the (God Delusion Scale) Dawkins scale – essentially not sure leaning towards being a non-believer. Answering why I’m that way is a long answer I’ll pass on for now. But I’m not seeing why my belief in God and my reasons for it in any way have muc to do with my post.Krishnan…For starters, thanks for the smiley/grinny. A few quick points. First, I was the one who defined sadhana as right living, not my course instructor. I think going with ‘meditation’ for sadhana works a lot better. On the AOL ‘party line’ I think you have it wrong, at least according to the AOL Wisdom Corner (http://us.artofliving.org/content-wisdom-corner?center=usa). I quote from the websiteQuestion: How can I be assured of salvation and a perfect life on this planet? Sri Sri: You need a warranty on the spiritual path also, don't you?!Examine how much time you spend on the spiritual path…Evaluate the seva(service) you are doing…How much are you meditating? There should be a balance between seva and meditation. Those who do a lot of service get burnt out, if they don't make time for meditation, and those, who only meditate, become 'dry', if they don't make time for service. So you need both – service and meditation.Also, given my hope to not make the blog (or comments on it) multilingual, I’ll be moderating comments. I’ll make sure that my moderation is primarily an anti-French screenerRahul…No such intentions.

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