Sri Sri Ravi Hype-more
File under: Gurubusting and The Siddhi of PR
A few months back, we were interviewed by London's Financial Times about that boogieman of delusional, self-promotional personality cult-making, the personal fame-seeking and glory-hunting Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. We've included the highlights here:
[The Art of Living org] is also, however, given to hype. Its brochure celebrating the “One World Family” boasts of all kinds of programmes and workshops that the Art of Living runs around the world. There was a “workshop for Afghan women refugees” organised through the Afghan Coalition in Fremont, California, which left its participants feeling a “sense of great joy and peace”. Rona Popal, the executive director of the Afghan Coalition, says that the Art of Living ran a single demonstration of their Breath-Water-Sound workshop about three years ago, and nothing since. The brochure also features photographs and gushing quotes from prisoners in Ohio’s prisons, where the Art of Living ran a course. The Ohio prison service said that those courses have not been run for at least the past two years.We'll save our dance for the day it becomes clear to the world that Sri Sri is really only in it for his Me Me. Until then, we'll try to keep shoveling his bullshit out of the way of the nondual truth getting covered up in the promotional pollution of his Art of Living org.
Jody Radzik, the creator of Guruphiliac, an American blog which keeps tabs on various gurus and mystics, is sceptical of the Sri Sri cult. “In public,” he says, “Sri Sri repudiates his divinity – he puts on the humble show. But in private, and in his organisation, there’s an assumption of his divinity and his ability to perform miracles.” Radzik says that the physiological experience of Sri Sri’s breathing technique is genuine, but no different from that of many others. What Sri Sri offers is a format for incorporating that experience into your life, via a cult built around his own personality.
Sat Bir Khalsa, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an expert on the health effects of yoga and breathing, says that the Art of Living technique “really is very similar to a lot of breathing techniques in Hatha yoga practice. There’s nothing super-remarkable about what they’re doing.” He adds that there is a growing, but still scarce, body of research into the link between the mind and body and the positive benefits of breathing. There was certainly nothing to justify the “evangelical” approach of the Art of Living. He had witnessed “obnoxious and aggressive” behaviour from members of the Art of Living organisation insisting their technique is the only one worth following. “But I’ve also seen these things wax and wane. There was transcendental meditation in the 1970s, then the Hare Krishnas, and for the past 10 years Vipassana meditation has been very strong because of the Buddhists.”
“It is soft power,” says Rengaraj Viswanathan, India’s ambassador to Argentina, after attending a meeting between Sri Sri and the mayor of Buenos Aires. In his view, Sri Sri is simply an excellent Indian export. “You see yoga centres on every street corner here. In the 1970s, this was a fad, a fashion. But now it has reached serious proportions. You see younger people, professionals, business people all looking to this.” What about the ambassador? Did he meditate or breathe in order to relax? “No,” he said, rocking back with laughter. “I salsa!”
Note: Thanks, Gregory!