A further discussion on "How genuine is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?"

Rajaque Rahman of the Art of Living Bureau of Communication at the Art of Living International Centre in Bangalore has taken the time to comment on the article How genuine is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?"

On this page you can find his comments and the replies of the author though it is worth noting that the author has created a blog where he answers many more questions and emails from AOL related people. So if the reader wants more information about the whole discussion he or she is invited to visit http://answeringaol.blogspot.com . The page you find here can also be found there.

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In the following Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is abbreviated to "SSRS", Art of Living to "AOL", Sudarshan Kriya to "SK" and Transcendental Meditation to TM .

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Rajaque Rahman wrote "I am of the view that the author is prejudiced against His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the article was written with an intention to tarnish the image of a revered leader like Sri Sri." and says he knows Sri Sri and has "followed his work for a few years now. In this context, I would like to make some points with regards to questions raised by the author."

This is in reference to the posting “How genuine is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?” It was interesting to see how in his attempt to paint Sri Sri as a fake, the author actually uncovered the truth about him.
I have to admit that my language was harsh, ironic and sarcastic. But that was merely a choice of style. And I believe that, as long as I do not tell any lies or distort facts, I am entitled to choose any style I want to convey a certain point. In this instance the point was: "let us be cautious" and not: "SSRS is fake". That is why I wrote: "he might be genuinely wishing well for his followers and the rest of the world."
But of course it is obvious that I am, to say the least, a bit suspicious about that. And yes I use harsh language like "his blatant exaggerations and mystifications in presenting himself and Sudarshan Kriya seem at least to point in that direction." I believe that the whole of the article shows that this might perhaps be bluntly stated but at least not factually wrong.
Therefore, I did not, as you say, want to "tarnish" Shankar's image, but I wanted to correct the extremely "holy" and excessively positive picture often found in today's media.
In Indian tradition, when a person takes on a Guru, the Guru gives him a new name. However, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s name was given by his parents; so obviously Sri Sri has no Guru.
I'm afraid I do not really see the strength of this argument. Whatever Maharishi might or might not have called Ravi Shankar does not really matter. He is allowed to use any name he likes from "Superman" over "Sri Sri" to "Chota Ravi". But whatever name he uses, it will far from prove he did not associate himself with Maharishi.

That he doesn't have a guru now is of course obvious, as the official' biographies on his websites for example consider him to be a fully enlightened being on his own. This is also the official reason why he is worthy of the double honorific name "Sri Sri".
Yet this 'double holy making' is on the other hand not given to him by his parents or any guru, but he has simply given it to himself. On http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/738?print=1 one can read this explanation: "Shankar met the famous sitar player Ravi Shankar, who complained that the holy man was unfairly capitalizing on the name the musician had made famous. Soon after, the guru added the honorific "Sri Sri." "

Now, if what you try to say is that SSRS was never a pupil of Maharishi, then I would like you to review the following websites:
http://hinduism.about.com/od/gurussaints/p/ravishankar.htm
http://www.sudarshankriya.org/Sri-Sri-Ravi-Shankar.html
http://news.sawf.org/Lifestyle/40776.aspx
http://www.indiayogi.com/content/indsaints/ravishankar.asp
http://www.srisri.com/6-7-text.htm
http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/738?print=1

On top of it, I was actually already aware of this fact since a couple of years (before I read any of these websites) when an Indian acquaintance had told me this as a regular "matter of fact". So I do not see the reason to hide this fact when it is so known.

Sri Sri has not learnt pranayama or the Sudarshan Kriya from anybody.
I do not believe that I claim this in my article. What I did say, however, was that SK is not that special considering the long existence of pranayama and other Yoga-forms. There's a big difference between saying: "He has learned that technique from somebody" and saying "his own technique is not that much different than the technique of others". I do therefore admit that SK is his own technique. If SSRS wants to combine certain elements of Yoga tradition (and perhaps some personal findings as well) into a new 'type' of meditation, he is of course allowed. But to say that that makes him very different from others would be denying the existence of all those before (and besides) him who have come up with new 'types' of meditation.
If some one asks him whether Maharishi is his guru, he is silent. This is because Sri Sri believes that the Guru principle is omnipresent and we learn from everyone, what to do and what not to do.
This I believe must be cleared up properly as to avoid misunderstandings. When a factual question is raised, a spiritual answer can be very out of place. Example: if a journalist was to ask Pratibha Patil, president of India, "do you have kids, and if so, what are their names?" and she answers: "all the kids of India are my sons and daughters" then of course, spiritually or symbolically speaking she might be right. But it would put the journalist who simply wanted to know the names of her son (Rajendra Shekhawat) daughter (Jyoti Rathorand) in an unnecessary void.
Similarly: If the question is asked: "Were you a pupil of Maharishi once?" The answer is simply yes or no. It is not: "so many people have thought me so much." I'm sure they did, but the FACTUAL question was something else.
So of course you have the right to interpret SSRS' silence to the question in a spiritual way. But others also have the right to interpret this silence as a way to get around the question.
Sri Sri believes that service and spirituality go together. Obviously, one cannot do charity from an empty bowl.
I totally agree. The article does not claim this idea would not be true. It is also simply another topic.
The trademarks, organization and course fee are all a means to support the social work.
That on the other hand, I am less certain about. For one, the reason for the pattenting one finds in the interview on http://www.rediff.com/news/2004/jan/14inter.htm is "Because someone else was going to patent it. We patented it so we could teach. Otherwise, it would have become a commercial commodity in the US long ago. People started copying it and we stepped in." Thus the patent is not there to create more money for social work.
Also, on on the "art of living" page on Wikipedia one can read:

"The foundation states that the money collected from courses is directed towards its "operating expenses, special service related projects, building improvements and endowments". According to the 2005 tax return filed by the American chapter, AOLF had total revenues of $3.2 M (mainly from course fees and public support) and expenditure of $1.9M (mainly in salaries, occupancy expenses and travel) in 2004; however none of the money went towards international developmental or humanitarian programs, disaster relief, scientific/medical research or charitable activity. According to the document, the organizations sole accomplishment for the year was to "teach art of living courses"."

Sadly enough somebody removed the link to the source of this information. That is why I did not use it in my article. But it did arouse my suspicion. (Note from Yunus on 19/10/07: The link on the wikipedia has been put back. You can find the tax-file by clicking here

All in all, the lack of sources for such information is of course the problem. I can not really say whether the claims about what happens with the money are true or false. (And I also did not claim it in my article) The only thing is that the AOL is a multi-million dollar enterprise, and that calls for some transparency. Some people would like to see what happens truly with all that money. I personally can understand this wish. I myself have been involved in development work for a longer time and have often seen that the money does not always go where it is supposed to go (certainly in countries like India where it is very difficult to keep track of everything going on for various reasons). Transparency is a must in such issues that involve this amount of money, and so far, to my knowledge, this transparency has not been seen in AOL.

I also wonder how the author knows that the Sudarshan Kriya (SK) is not different from other breathing exercises experiencing it.
I know because many on the internet who have direct experience with it say so (see for example: http://guruphiliac.blogspot.com/2006/07/sri-sri-cons-iraqis.html) and because nothing I have seen so far so far proved it being different than anything I have personal experience with in this field. The claims of its effects are similar to the claims of others, and the techniques can also be found elsewhere. The fact that SSRS says you have to experience it for yourself to notice the difference is not a valid argument. That is what others call "a commercial trick".
This world is full of people who are prejudiced on the basis if religion, race and creed and the author seems to be prejudiced against Indian spiritual teachers!
I am very sorry if this is the feeling the article gave you. Especially because actually the opposite is true. I have travelled in India many times, specifically for my interest in and experience with Indian spirituality. Personally I have an enormous reverence for Mahatma Gandhi for example, . That is why I have made my masters of theology dissertation about him, asserting that following Gandhi and his ideas about fasting is still relevant today (can be found here: http://satyagraha.halalmonk.com). That is also why I said that SSRS misuses Gandhi's legacy of non-violence to back up ideas that are not really Gandhian. As a theologian with speciality in the matter, I could not let that one pass.
Also I have a huge reverence for people like Vivekananda, Krishnamurti, Vinoba, and many others. The article mentions Yogananda as well, for example, and certainly does not say anything bad about this person - I only mention him because he, as a famous guru long before SSRS, is honest in mentioning (and even emphasises) the lineage of guru's before him.
But yes, the article is a bit harsh on Osho and Maharishi. Simply because those two have often been shown to be controversial - if you want to put it nice - or downright fraudes - if you want to state it harsh and critical. But you do not seem to care about me attacking those two, so I will not dwell longer on them.
If there was nothing new in SK, why did the Art of Living not happen before?
The Art of Living is an organisation. SK is a type of meditation. There have always been organisations centered around types of meditation. Of course AOL is a new organisation, as SK is something SSRS came up with. Again, the article did not say that SK itself was very old. No, it said that it fits in a long tradition of Yoga, and that it is not that much more special than any of the other types that belong to that tradition. TM is maharishi's and SK is Shankars'. So be it. But both have their roots in the whole of the Yoga system. They did not fall from the sky.
And neither did AOL. So AOL is not something that 'happened'. It is something that is 'set up' around SSRS and SK.
The author seems to suggest that 50 million people in 150 countries who have done the programme are all wrong, and he is the only intelligent person!
I am again sorry if this is what you understood. I did not at all want to say that all those following the programs are wrong. Just like my criticism of Maharishi do not not mean that all those practising TM would be stupid. Certainly not. David Lynch and Michael Franti for example are fine examples of intelligent men that have been or are involved with TM, and I do believe they use it for the best in their lives. So I also do not suggest that anyone trying out SK would be stupid or all wrong. People can meditate in any way they like. I am simply saying that the way SSRS, SK and AOL are presented and how they deal with certain things are perhaps not ok.

Also, I certainly am not the only intelligent person. Never thought so, and never said so. But I do have a certain knowledge concerning these topics. On top of it I share most of the insights in my article with many others as well. And like those, I am only a very suspicious person when it comes to multi-millionaire guru's. But who could blame me or others for that? As I write in the article: there have been some issues with those gurus in the past, therefore we should perhaps be cautious about those gurus in the present.

Further, all research on SK has been done by independent agencies such as All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), etc. To generalise the findings of these research and dismiss them as nothing special would amount to casting aspersions on these reputed institutions.
I could of course not address every single finding in all the article in one article. So I am honestly a bit sorry about the generalisation. But there is no dismissal at all. I believe my article does state the findings. But it
also states that the findings are used in the wrong way. That is the critique, and not that the findings would be dismissable. On the contrary, personally I am always happy when some research shows the potential of meditation techniques.
But to claim that the potential of SK is higher, is a different matter all together. And that, the research did not show.
So as it says in the article:"The studies seem to indicate for example that it helps against depression, and that it brings better antioxidant status and lower blood lactate levels." So I do not think I dismiss anything. But of course, as a theologian with some knowledge in the matter, I also need to admit that all those are possibly "a general outcome of any meditation."
And let me perhaps just repeat a paragraph:

"On top of it, when one turns from those research articles back to the normal web pages of the Art of Living, it is amazing to see how all the 'scientificness' has all of the sudden gone. On the Sudarshan Kriya page it says that “this unique breathing practice is a potent energizer. Every cell becomes fully oxygenated and flooded with new life. Negative emotions that have been stored as toxins in the body are easily uprooted and flushed out.” What might 'a potent energizer' be in scientific terms? Energy in scientific terms is not the prana of the Yoga terms. And how does a concept like 'new life' relate to oxygenation of blood? Oxygenation is simply a chemical term describing the amount of oxygen in the blood. And what on earth are 'the toxins' that store 'negative emotions' in the body? A proper scientific research proving the existence of those would surely be very hard to find."

Thus the irony of the matter is that I did not dismiss the scientific research in my article, but that AOL apparently did so on their own websites by not using any conclusions of the research when presenting their own claims about Sudarsan Kriya. As I wrote: "The wording all of the sudden becomes an obvious case of pseudo-scientific language when they explain it in their 'own' terms." This therefore, for me, seems to be very misleading for people who do not have the time or the possibility to analyse all this thoroughly.

These institutions have taken up the research on SK based on preliminary reports that suggest miraculous healing effects of the technique.
Please show me (and this invitation is directed to anybody within the AOL claiming such things) where the conclusions of scientific research speaks of 'miraculous healing effects' and then please also send it to the board of the institute that published the article for a review, because as far as I know from my scientific (physiotherapy), philosophical and theological studies, would be greatly misplaced in truly scientific research.
The author has rightly expressed that it is unbelievable that all the work of the Art of Living has been done by one man. This does not discredit the work that has been done by Sri Sri, and that is why he is different. Any sensible man who has experienced and seen the work of the Art of Living wonders how one man can do so much, but the author chose to scoff at it.
Because of the tone, yes, perhaps I scoff. But I do not think there is anything wrong with expressing my honest doubts. I merely question whether it is really true, because it is very very very unlikely. Who would for example believe that there is somebody who has become richer than Bill Gates in two years? Few I think, as it is practically impossible. The same goes for AOL. Like I said in the article, somebody who knows anything about development work, knows that what AOL claims it all does and that SSRS is the one man behind it, is practically impossible.
Of course I admit: It might all be true. The article did not deny that. But yes, it could perhaps in theory also be possible to become richer than Bill Gates in two years.
What more should Sri Sri do to meet standards of the author seems beyond my comprehension. Maybe he should hide in the caves of the Himalayas to suit his standards.
Considering I have a big reverence and knowledge of Gandhi, I am of course not at all the type to say that one has to go into the caves of the Himalayas to suit my standards of a spritual teacher. And also, considering Gandhi's maxim of "God is truth" I can answer this question fairly simple: "he should be honest."
For SSRS this means: he should say whether Maharishi was his guru, he should provide a whole lot more (traceable) facts about his history, he should stop his AOL from abusing the existence of scientific research to 'sell' his SK in pseudo scientific terms, he should make his whole organization more transparent so that the financial dealings can be better observed, he should not claim to propose ideas in line with Gandhi when he is not saying really Gandhian things, he should be a bit more nuanced in dealing with very complex and difficult issues like for example the war in Iraq, he should not write books about Islam "in a hurry" (he gave this as an argument in a debate with a Muslim scholar who showed the flaws in SSRS' book) when we all know how sensitive the Hindu-Islam issue is in India, etc.
Honesty, transparency and thoughtfulness therefore go a long way in meeting my standards. The amount of followers you have and the amount of social projects that you have set up do not mean much to me. For history has known many that had much followers and have done a whole lot of projects without being the slightest bit genuine.
The author should realise that one cannot attract attention with cheap headlines.
All the official websites of AOL and SSRS actually prove that you can.
I suggest the author does some introspection and see how genuine his contentions are.
I thought my intentions were very clear and I certainly do not feel the need to hide them, so here they are very clearly summarized:

As a journalist I wanted to give another view on SSRS than is lately give a lot in the media like for example CNN because the information became to one-sided. As a philosopher/theologian I wanted to set some things straight like the weird way in which the existence of 'scientific research' is used as an argument, while the language to 'sell' the Sudarshan Kriya is very pseudo scientific. And as a spiritual person interested in peace and religion I also wanted to make sure that proper investigation is given to SSRS and AOL before they receive a Nobel prize.

I believe there are no other intentions than these with my article. I am a fan of Indian spirituality, but not of hypocrits abusing it. Therefore, because some elements make me doubt, I am simply wondering whether SSRS is genuine or not. Hence the title.
I suppose this was all very obvious in my article. And thus I think it classifies my contentions as genuine.
Considering introspection: that is exactly what, in my personal dealings, always has made me honest about who were my spiritual teachers (which were very unknown people from Belgium, so let nobody think that I'm writing all this because I'm a Ramdev fan or something), has made me never hide anything from my past, has never made me claim incredible stuff without backing it up, and so on.