woensdag 16 april 2008

Email of Vasu Gokaraju

Vasu Gokaraju wrote me an email. He went through great lengths to comment on most paragraphs of the original article. The text of his email is in bold, my replies are in between his comments.

His introductory text:

Dear Mr. Jonas Slaats,

Thank you for publishing the article “How genuine is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?”, I have recently came to know about AoL and started searching for content about the organization. 90% of the content is on his achievements and your article is one of few who criticized the organization and their practices.

By the way, my name is Vasu Gokaraju and I am from Andhra Pradesh, India. I have been living in the USA for last 10 years.

The article title “How genuine is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?” sounded very encouraging as I was looking for some critiques, but at the end it left me mixed opinions. Here is my feedback.

The paragraph numbers that I have mentioned in my further discussions are from the article published at
http://www.yunusnews.com/node/486

His comments:

“To be frank, I never studied about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi before. Since it is mentioned in your article, I searched on the web and found the following page. http://www.mahalo.com/Maharishi_Mahesh_Yogi If you are basing such allegations to conclude Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as fraud, you have very weak argument. In your article, you have mentioned that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became popular because of Beatles. As you have mentioned, his fame did not go away, even the Beatles left him. I don’t know about you but it tells me that his fame has nothing to do with Beatles. I am not discussing further as it is not the main topic.”

My answer: This is indeed not the main topic. And the reason my article is quick in deciding that Maharishi wasn't as Maha (great) as he himself or others have claimed, is because the amount of evidence around showing the difference is amazing. After his death it was surprising to see how so many aknowledged mediahouses seemed to 'overlook' all this evidence. On my website i have mentioned that at the time of his death it “took a deep delve into the internet to find an article shedding a less positive light on the founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement” but it was not impossible. On top of it, those articles once again swept all the hagiopgraphy away. For example the last journalist to interview the Maharishi also wrote an article, and since he was the last to have a first hand account of an encounter with the Maharash his story is once again showing well enough why we should not consider the Maharishi as enlighted as he or his followers claim: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/showbiz/showbiznews.html?in_article_id=512747&in_page_id=1773
About his fame still being there. That is true, but that was not my concern. In any case his association with Beatles did make him an international star. That he remained popular afterwards does take that away. It just goes to show how people can disregard facts for years in a row.

But indeed, he is not our topic, so let's move on.

“I have visited ArtOfLiving.com website and noticed that they did not provide anything about Sri Sri’s pre-guru life. I don’t know why they did not mention about it but that should not put them at fault.”

My answer: I do not know what site you looked at it, but this comes from http://www.artofliving.org/Founder/Biography/tabid/72/Default.aspx: “Often found deep in meditation as a child. At the age of four, astonishes his teachers by reciting the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Sanskrit scripture / Starts lessons with his first teacher, Pandit Sudhakar Chaturvedi, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi / Becomes a scholar in Vedic literature and obtains an advanced degree in modern science by the age of 17.” This is quite the typical account of his young years you can find on lots of websites – not in the least his own personal website which is closely linked to the one of AOL.

Now about these things some small remarks:

One: As far as i know, the part with Pandit Sudhkar Chaturvedi is fairly new. But new or not, it is remarkable that it is there, stressing the relation with Gandhi – thus trying to show that he is in that tradition. (this is important for our discussion later on)

Two: If you try to show why he is in a certain tradition because of having had somebody as a teacher (A vedic scholar – by the way) why does he not mention his other teacher and Guru (who also claimed to be a vedic scholar)?

Three: Being a Gandhi-scholar myself (as i researched and wrote my graduation dissertation about Gandhi, satyagraha and his fasting. I wrote this dissertation in the Theology Department of the Katholic University of Leuven. You can see that here: http://www.kuleuven.be/nieuws/berichten/2006/thesis/godgeleerdheid.html ) i must also remark that Chaturvedi is not likely to be considered “a close associate”. Sure, he witnessed Jallianwala Bagh, and of course he encountered and knew Gandhi personally and was a Gandhian, but that hardly makes him a “close associate” which would be something you'd reserve for people like Abdul Gafar Khan, Nehru, Vinoba, and the like. Not surprisingly so, if you search the net, its only the Sri-Sri-related sites mentioning Chaturvedi as a "close associate".

“But when I came to know about Sri Sri first time from my sister, she did mention about his association with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, so it is not quite hidden from Indian public at least.”

My answer: As you later on comment on the further discussion on my article (http://www.yunusnews.com/node/506) you must have read it, and in it i first clearly give some links to websites who provide information about this, and then i add “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.” So, you actually just repeat my own observation: it is very known to Indian public.
That is why i argued that there is no sense in hiding it for others. Even more so, it is rather dubious not to mention it, considering the importance Hinduism gives to the guru-disciple relationship.

Of course, it is also a known fact to some Indian public that Maharishi has before publicly renounced and scolded SSRS. On top of it, in the West, as I have said before, Maharishi was not praised everywhere. He was, to say the least, a controversial figure. Two reasons why SSRS might not link himself to the Maharishi.

It is then of course also very telling that although his own websites artofliving.org and srisri.org make no mention of it whatsoever, the office of SSRS was very fast in publishing an article that supposedly came from the hand of SSRS himself about his days as a student with the Maharishi once it was clear that all the other mediaconcerns also reported nice things about him the day that he died. So as long as the guy is still alive you don't mention him in your 'official biography', but when he dies you all of the sudden start saying that he is “a great saint” and that you “have never seen anyone as deep as Maharishi”.

http://www.mail-archive.com/fairfieldlife@yahoogroups.com/msg114644.html

http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/feb/06aol.htm

He even continues by describing how the days he spent as a disciple had been. Apparently you could call Maharishi quite a significant person in his life then. Strange not to mention that explicitly before.... unless of course... you can only say it when the person you want to say something about can't reply to you and publicly contradict you. Considering Maharishi died, that prerequisite seemed fulfilled.

“Paragraph 6…: When you are after finding the truth, you cannot use guess work basing on the rumors on the Internet.”

My answer:

One: what you refer to was not really meant as an argument for depicting the truth, it was meant as a possibility (and the above makes it clear that it still is a very big possibility) which is backed up by some.

Two: “rumors on the internet” was used as a literary phrase, i could just as well have said: “Some people who seem to have followed the matter for a longer time have said that...” But as i know that many people say many things on the net, i did not want to overstretch this argument or base it on authority. As i wasn't there when Maharishi said what he said, it suffices to say that i know that it is being said that he did.

Paragraph 7…: It is hard to believe what Sri Sri achieved at early age. But if you look into other gurus that you seem to attest, they have similar abnormal stories.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobiography_of_a_Yogi#Spiritual_quest_begins_in_childhood
http://www.scribd.com/doc/18716/BIOGRAPHY-OF-SWAMI-VIVEKANANDA


My answer:

One: I have no problem with abnormal stories as such. I have a problem with it all being clouded in mystery. In the case of SSRS for example it are the same few sentences repeated all over again, never is there any more data about it. But above all they never offer a possibility of verification. And if there are people saying the opposite, and we use their accounts as argument it gets disregarded as 'hearsay', 'jealousy' or 'rumor'.

Two: Because of the fact that i KNOW that he was a pupil of Maharishi and he does NOT mention it and thus shows to not present his personal history very accurately, i also start questioning WHAT ELSE he does NOT mention and – by reaction - i also start wondering about the truthfulness of what he does mention.

“Paragraph 8…: Can you provide more details about what is the name of the “other yoga technique” that was suppose to be the original of Sudarshana Kriya? If those “Others” are familiar with the technique, they should know the name of the technique. In Yoga, each technique/posture has a name.”

My answer: I did not mention any name, simply because in contemporary language “Yoga” has become a general term describing the huge amount of energetic body- and breathing exercises that come from India. In any case “Pranayama” is mostly mentioned as a predecessor to Sudarshan Kriya, but all in all one could of course also simply mention Hatha Yoga (the part of the Yoga system which is actually the physical (breathing)exercises which in the west has wrongly become to designate Yoga as such) or Kundalini Yoga. Or i could also refer to the Yoga Paramahansa Yogananda spread and was simply called: “Kriya Yoga”. Or last and not least i could of course mention Transcendental Meditation which was taught by his guru – Maharishi.

Of course i reckon the last example is more focussed on mantra's then Sudarshan Kriya, but he can just take bits and pieces from everywhere and roll it into his own system. I have said it before: there is certainly nothing wrong with that. It is just wrong to present it as something new that you have 'come up with', because the truth of the matter is that Sudarshan Kriya presents nothing new under the sun. And that is not a shame, as the Yoga-system is in itself already more then extensive enough to offer the possibility to find both physical and mental health. It is just a shame that some find the need to say that they “cognised” a “natural proces” (see http://www.artofliving.org/Spirituality/SudarshanKriya/tabid/195/Default.aspx ). They have put together there own yoga system. That's what they should say. The former gives a sense of exclusiveness, the latter a sense of relation to already existing things.

So i'm not saying that that there is some kind of 'original' of Sudarshan Kriya. I'm saying that SK fits in between a whole bunch of other exercises within the bigger Yoga system that all use their bits and pieces of techniques which all have been around for many hundred years. Just like Maharishi didn't come up with Mantra's - but only used them in his own way -, SSRS didn't come up with the breathing systems of Sudarshan - but only used them in his own way.

Paragraph 9…: I do not see anything wrong in registering the Sudarshana Kriya brand name. Sri Sri needs money for his charity activities so he needs a way to generate revenue. As Sri Sri said, “charity work can’t start from an empty bowl”.

My answer: Again, this is already adressed in my further discussion on my article. And this was my answer there about the bowl argument was: “I totally agree. The article does not claim this idea would not be true. It is also simply another topic.”

But when it comes to the patent it has no relation to the empty bowl idea. As i said before: “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 but for preventing somebody else to run away with the money.

“As you know, the Sudarshana Kirya is patented in the USA. If you believe that this knowledge is not Sri Sri’s invention, you can disqualify his patent by providing the proof. That not only helps your frustration but also saves the world from another fraudulent Indian Guru.”

My Answer:

One: I guess this means that you'd find it normal that somebody would have patented meditation itself once and that SSRS had to pay to that person because his Sudarshan Kriya is a form of meditation.

Two: How do you prove any meditation technique to be the same or not like another. If i inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth, and you do the opposite i guess we both can patent 'our style'. But i do think that to most people that would seem at least a bit comical.

Three: I actually don't mind the patent. He can do as he pleases with his style of meditation. What i do mind however is that it gets presented as a means to an end (social works) while it was actually another one (preventing somebody else taking money for it).

Four: Above all a patent in itself simply seems to be a not-so-enlightened thing to do when your goal is to provide relief and enlightenment for the whole world. But that of course is more a matter of opinion than an argument – though an opinion i reckon that i would share with lots of honest spiritual people.

“Paragraph 10…: What breathing exercises the Sudarshana Kriya is centered around? Can you name those breathing exercises? Generalization might not help here?”

My answer: Again, the Indian Yoga system has for thousand of years known many different breathing exercises. “The control of breath” as such is simply an integral part of yoga. If Sudarshan Kriya is an energetic breathing technique, then it simply belongs to that Yoga system.

Considering the moments of what i'll call “fast breathing” (faster breaths that connect the inhale and the exhale – i.e. There is no pause between the two) many who have had experience with Sudarshan and wanted to share this have refered to it as being very much like “rebirthing” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebirthing-Breathwork) – and indeed it has many similarities - or “holotropic breathwork (http://www.holotropic.com/about.shtml). I personally also see similarities with some parts of Osho's Meditation techniques where fast breathing (to increase the intake of oxygen) were also used.

“Paragraph 11…: I do not know who those are but, if someone can experience the same effects of Sudharshana Kriya by doing “other” yoga breathing exercises, so be it. If there was such an alternative to SK, the original article would not be that lengthy. I feel that you are trying to prove a point that does not exist.”

My answer: I'm not entirely sure about what you feel i'm trying to prove. Again, i have stated my intentions very clearly in my furter discussion on the article: “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.”

Considering the point I want to make about SK, it is fairly simply this: “Nothing new under the sun.” And thus a part of the point is that there are MANY alternatives. That is partly why my article and replies are in fact so lengthy because i always have to reference to other things.

I'll give you a list in the answer on your next comment.

“Paragraph 12…: Here also you have failed to name the other meditation techniques. Generalization only weakens any argument. Yoga/Meditation practices are very old an freely taught before. Now people are paying to learn Sudarshana Kriya.”

My answer: I agree meditation has been freely taught before. And, yes, now people are paying for it – and in the case of Sudarshan Kriya even quite a lot. But the problem i address in paragraph 12 is of course the fact that the eternal argument of SSRS followers is that you have to try it yourself otherwise you can't speak about it supposedly.

Not even considering that that of course means that we should all pay for it, the argument is simply also totally flawed. First of all there have been enough people telling about their experience with Sudarshan Kriya (See for example here: http://guruphiliac.blogspot.com/2006/07/sri-sri-cons-iraqis.html) and they tell enough of what one needs to know, certainly if they have experience with other meditation practices that they can relate it to.

And before you say i'm too vague again, here's a list of what that can be (the ones with a * are the ones i have personal experience with):

Qi Gong*, Tai Chi, Pranayama, Hatha Yoga*, Kundalini Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Zen*, Tantra* (in the sense of the meditation that tries to preserve sexual energy), Sema, Transcendental Meditation, Dhikr, Vipasana, Christian meditation*, Rebirthing, and so on.

I really find it strange that i have to mention what sorts of meditation and Yoga there exist. That is quite self evident. Of course i group them. Not because i'm vague, but because it would be needless to every time give a list.

So again let me stress that my point is that Sudarshan belongs in a long list of possible practices.

If my list would not be good, because Sudarshan Kriya would be completely different or a lot better than all the other practices i mentioned, than, i am afraid, the need for proving this is entirely up to SSRS and AOL, and not to others. As far as i am concerned i have not seen, read or heard anything that would make Sudarshan Kriya seem different then other types of meditation – not its theory, not its practice and not its claimed effects. It is SSRS's and AOL's type of meditation and that is all that makes it different.

“Paragraph 13…: This paragraph did not offer anything new. Since Sudarshana Kriya is nothing but a form of breathing exercise it gives same effects. Sudarshana Kriya is the product of AoL and naturally they talk good about it. I do not know why you find it difficult.”

My answer: So we do agree somewhere. And i do not find it difficult at all. Sudarshan Kriya is the PRODUCT of AOL. Indeed. It is a commodity that is created, patented and sold by AOL using all possible commercial means.

And that is exactly where i have a personal problem with the whole thing: meditation should not be a 'product'. Meditation is a religious practice that is supposed to help you on the path to enlightenment. Adding commercial value to it only inherently hollows it out. Like the Buddha said: “One road leads to wealth and fame, the other to the end of the road.” It seems to me that the whole product-based dealings of SSRS and AOL make him walk the first path.

Not a problem so far. Many companies and corporations do so. Capitalism is certainly not inherently wrong. If AOL would just try to make as much money by use of the 'guru-business' then that would be just fine, but the problem is of course that AOL and SSRS claim to be interested in spirituality and service, and not on in becoming rich. Even more so they use exactly this claim to make people 'buy' their product.

Really, i can't see the spirituality in the 'productification' of meditation.

“Paragraph 14…: I do not know why you had to bring Sri Ramdev into this article.”

My answer:

One: Because Sri Ramdev just like SSRS tries to 'prove' how good it is to practice his teachings and meditation because of claims that it can cure (or strongly help to cure) cancer and aids. So even in this quite impressive claim SSRS and his SK are not alone.

Two: Because Sri Ramdev and SSRS are at the moment the two Guru's with the biggest mediacoverage. And for some reason both of them (or their followers) always seem unhappy once the other one is mentioned.

In the case of Ramdev the Union Health Ministry has made it clear that Ramdev should watch out with making unsupportable claims. (http://www.moneycontrol.com/india/newsarticle/stocksnews.php?cid=1&autono=30049&source=ibnlive.com) Ramdev was quick in saying that he never claimed that he could 'completely cure aids' or that people should abandon their chemotherapy. Is previous stances softened and he said that his Yoga and medicines are a very useful addition to the other treatments. It seems to me that if Ramdev (the 'king' of claiming medical results of his ayurveda and yoga) is wise enough to soften his stance when he is told to 'wacth out', that other guru's should be wise enough not to go to far themselves either.

“But coming to the point, I have personally met and talked to a 50 year old cancer patient in Vijayawada, A.P., India. She is an attorney by profession. It seems that her doctors told her that she only had 6 months to live. Now, after 5 years, she is still alive and leading a healthy and active life. Well, since she is an attorney, let us not take her word at its face value, just kidding. But she turned her house into an ashram for local Sudarshana Kriya practitioners. She dedicated her time and resources to propagate SK. As if it is not enough, her husband, who is a government servant, also bought into this by the facts. So, not having a scientific research on Sudarshana Kriya is not a big issue for me to believe its positive effects on Cancer.”

My answer: Of course i will not say your story is a lie, but obviously i have my doubts. First the story does not mention whether the person tried other therapies as well.

And even if it would be attributable to Sudarshan Kriya then the question arises where we could verify this because this would be an amazing thing! So for the good of the world it would be best if you could also tell which doctors were involved and will attest that SK can have this result. (Of course, to be really credible those doctors should also be independent from the AOL movement) So, if you can, please let me know how and where one can find more of those documented case, because i'm pretty certain you won't find it in the scientific research AOL provides as a backup of their SK - as these studies do not talk about such things.

Let me by the way also remark, that unlike certain other meditation types – let's call them the more 'traditional ones' – like Qi Gong, Hatha Yoga, Tai Chi, etc., about Sudarshan kriya the opposite stories also exist. For every miracle story there is an opposite one. So i wouldn't use 'stories of experiences' as relevant material to show the effectiveness of SK.

On http://guruphiliac.blogspot.com/2006/07/sri-sri-cons-iraqis.html you'll see a perfect example of how for every positive story or experience somebody else can provide a negative one.

“Surprisingly, less people are questioning the English medicine though their scientific predictions are not exactly true.”

My answer: It is certainly not through that the English medicine (whatever that may be – i guess you mean 'western style' medicine) would not be questioned. The continual rise of alternative therapies for example shows exactly this questioning by the big masses.
On top of it the point of science is that it can be wrong in its predictions. That simply asks for renewed investigation and research - which also continuously goes on as far as i know.

“Paragraph 15 and 16…: I see you are desperate to prove that Sudarshana Kriya is no different than any other meditation technique. You should complain if AoL claims that none of other meditation techniques work.”

My answer: I'm not really desperate to prove that. It's simply one of my arguments (the other arguments, as you know, follow further on the article).

Nonetheless i can also think of two very good reasons why proving that it isn't unique would be a very worthwhile as a goal in itself.

1. If it is the same as others, then it would mean that everybody can just go and learn the techniques that are taught for free as then there would be no need to pay for the AOL courses. And as such – maintaining the 'product'-idea – i could be considered as a critical consumer trying to show to other people who are wondering about it why they should or should not buy the thing. And my review would be clear: do not buy it, because you can get the same thing a lot cheaper.
2. It is presented as something different, better or special by AOL itself. If i'm right, that would amount that AOL is telling lies - and that will not often be considered as a very moral or spiritual thing to do.

“Paragraph 17…: I personally convinced that Sudarshana Kriya can cure/delay cancer effects on human body.”

Answer: And it is your perfect right to believe so. Your conviction is yours. All i was saying is that the studies didn't prove that it did – AOL on the other hand does say that it is not just a matter of conviction, but that the effectiveness of SK in general, and by extension also when it comes to things like cancer is a proven fact. This seems like distorting the facts because the effects that the quoted research 'proves' is something very different. As i stated before, in the case of cancer for example it helps because people who are into meditation breath better and tend to smoke less. Less smoking, less lungcancer. It has in other words little to do with an inherent 'revitalizing' capicity of SK. Or at least, no research makes on think it does. So that means that it can indeed only be a personal conviction. And as i said, i will of course never try to stop you from believing something or being convinced like you are.

“But you seemed to be research oriented person...”

My answer: not really, but AOL and SSRS go through a lot of effort to show how research can back up their Sudarshan Kriya. So i just tried to show how it actually does not. I wouldn't even consider the research if they didn't constantly mention it and try to use it to show the worth of SK.

“... and you can understand the following articles better than I do.
http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/08/050831071025.htm

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7915

Now and then I see reports that a new research proved that previous findings were wrong. I do not know why you are so desperate about scientific research when it only helps to understand things up to certain extent.”

My answer: Let's suppose i do agree with these studies (which i don't necessarily do – although i also do certainly not disagree with some points mentioned in the articles you present here. But that would be a totally different discussion about the value and practice of scientific research in the contemporary world and that has nothing to do with what we are discussing here).

Well then this can mean two things:

One: As it is not me but AOL trying to use scientific research to back up certain claims, it is not me but actually they who have a problem. That would mean that all there research has no value in any case, because it would most likely be false.

Two: As we can't trust medical research, the only things we have to go on are AOL and SSRS as authorities - but they are trying to sell a patented product to as many people as they can. Or we have to go with the stories of personal experiences of people. But as mentioned above, for every positive one we also have a negative one.

Paragraph 18…: It is too technical for me, so no comments.

My answer: To technical? Strange, i don't see what's so technical about it. Too bad you didn't seem to understand it completely, as i believe this paragraph actually backed up all my previous arguments in the most solid way. So let me try to make it clear to you in non-technical terms:

It wouldn't matter whether AOL comes up with a hundred researches like the ones they have because eventually, when they talk about Sudarshan Kriya, they do not make any use of the conclusions of the research. They say “it has been scientifically proven that it works” but once they explain why it works according to them, it has absolutely nothing to do with the reasons the research provides. This to me, seems like abuse of research to fool the people for who it all would be 'too technical'.

In very vulgar terms it would be called: cheating or – yet again - telling lies.

Paragraph 19, 20 and 21…: Again you have failed to provide the names of other breathing exercises.

My answer: (I'll only consider paragraph 20 as 19 and 21 have no relation to that). Why do you constantly say i have to provide those names every time. “Yoga” as a term should suffice. Whether it is the way Shiva meditates or the way Buddha practiced it, whether it is Pranayama or Vipasana, that doesn't matter at all, all these things have been all around for many many years. And of course all those practices have been known to have beneficient effects.

“Paragraph 22 and 23…: Yes, it is not very clear why Sri Sri had to initiate another organization.”

My answer: We agree here at least.

“Paragraph 24…: I am not sure what is the point here. To me, AoL generates lot of revenue thus made it possible to expand in many directions. Most of the service is being done by volunteers, I believe. Did I miss your point?”

My answer: In this paragraph there was no point yet so you couldn't really miss it. This paragraphy only helps building up the next argument.

“Paragraph 25…: AoL claims that SK is the medicine for depression and stress. If the outcome of all the mentioned problems specified in this paragraph is depression and stress, what is wrong in offering SK as treatment? What is your point? Should the SK not be offered as single treatment for all?”

My answer: this is exactly why i had to show that SK was not different of all other meditation forms, because, if that is true, then that means that SK can simply NOT be offered as a single treatment to all. No meditation can. I'm seeing meditation as one of the biggest helps in my personal life as well, but i would never claim that it will solve everything from depression to poverty. Medition has its limits. To present it as the one cure for all is as unrealistic as presenting antibiotics as the one remedy for all diseases. And if i am right that Sudarshan Kriya is not different then normal meditation (and i think i made a very strong case of showing this) than that means that it is just as incapable of solving all the problems in the world.

Paragraph 26…: I think it is a good question to direct to people who made the claims.

My answer: Well, that is what my article is about. So far from official AOL channels i have only received emails trying to discredit my article with weak arguments. Nobody has provided me with data or facts of why,when, how and whether all these people were truly helped.

Paragraph 27 and 28…: I spend lot of time and resources in social service and I know what it takes to execute a public event. I checked artofliving.com website but could not find what you have mentioned in this paragraph. They have specified about their services in various countries but no mention of a specific number.

My answer: Not the AOL website. My article specifically says the personal website of SSRS. Here's the link:

http://www.srisri.org/About%20Sri%20Sri.html

Paragraph 29…: Are you expecting him to engage in different type of discussions? If so, you should have mentioned what they are.

My answer: Read Gandhi's writings. Or Martin Luther King's. Or Nelson Mandela's. Or Michael Gorbatsjov's. Or Romero's. Or... those should give you a good idea of how you can discuss the same thing but in a deeper, more constructive, more argumented and more concrete way.

Paragraph 30…: Same point is repeated with frustration in this paragraph. If the same Tylenol could treat headache of American housewives and the people of war torn Iraq, why not SK?

My answer: I do not think that many people would find it acceptable to to compare the problems of the people of Iraq to something simple like a headache? I guess few people would disagree that it is quite something different to help an American housewife that is stressed because she has to get the kids in time, doesn't see her hard working husband enough and has a mother that is constantly meddling with her affairs. Believe me, i'm not downgrading such problems. They are problems in their own right, and everybody has the right to be helped. But i simply do not think they can be compared to the stress of people that live in constant danger of their lives because bombs explode around them every day in a neighbourhood that has bullet holes in every wall, of people that live in a country that has lost all its social structure, that lacks possibilities of proper healthcare, education and governance due to the fact that a foreign power with a totally different culture has invaded them and now imposes a legal and political structure on them that is totally foreign to them, of people that try to get by with bits and pieces because the daily economy is on completely shattered while just some kilometers outside of their city some big (foreign) companies are making huge profits because they could get a hold of some oil wells.

Although SK might – again, just like other meditation practices – possibly help with calming some of their emotions, could perhaps help dealing with their inner struggle and so on, i'm afraid that lots of other elements will also have to be tackled. To continue with your example: Your Tylenol won't do much good if your headache is caused by the fact that your neighbor every day comes into your house and hits you on the head with a heavy hammer.

Paragraph 31…: Here I feel you are running out of ideas. Are you in any way suggesting that encouraging dialog between the parties is not a good idea? Gandhi engaged civil disobedience to kick british out of Bharat. But here the Iraqis should live together in their country. I see Lot of difference.

My answer:

One: First of all the same thing applies: what good is it saying to somebody: take Tylenol when he does not get thought how to stop that other guy from hitting his head with a hammer? So encouraging dialog is perfect, as long as the right actions follow that dialog. I'm all for dialog, but it needs to be able to be held in certain conditions.

Two: Gandhi is the perfect example of how peace-making is not at all simply trying to create some dialog. When the dialog with the British would not be possible anymore he came up with very strong actions like the Dandi Salt March. When the fighting Muslims and Hindu's would not listen to him anymore, he would fast. A huge part of Gandhi's strength exists in his actions and not in his words (however inspiring they might be-.

Three: There is less difference then you might think. First of all the Iraqis are in many respects invaded by an alien country that imposes governance-structures on them in a manner that in many ways can be considered 'colonial' (imposing political structures, draining of resources, etc.) and secondly the other thing that Gandhi tried to do was to make the Muslims and Hindus of India live together. I would say that considering the fact that those two aspects are present in both cases (i.e. A search for proper self-rule and a way to live together with many different cultural groups), the situation of India then and the situation of Iraq today are actually very similar.

Paragraph 32…: Gandhi and his practices were uncalled-for in this discussion.

My answer: Here as well, not me but SSRS himself brought it up in his interview with CNN ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-Sstlp1u7Y ). So i just thought that it needed some reply as i considered his reference to Gandhi inapropriate - or at least he oversimplifies the Gandhian way of handling the conflict.

Perhaps i should here also remember you of my previous answer earlier where i showed how he specifically tries to link himself to Gandhi by claiming to be a pupil of Pandit Sudhkar Chaturvedi and calling this Chaturvedi a close associate of Gandhi.

How do you know what would have happened had Gandhi asked people to meditate to get ride of their anger?

My answer: We know what happened. As Gandhi constantly asked people to do just that. Wouldn't you think that a known quote like “My greatest weapon is mute prayer” (http://www.mkgandhi.org/epigrams/p.htm) hints in that direction. There is no way around it: For Gandhi the spiritual change was the most needed of all and for that he saw prayer (meditation) and fasting as the best techniques.

The only difference is that he added enormous actions, great political insight, huge efforts of education, social reform and even rural reform to it, based on quite a bit more then just a Yoga practice. You could say that SSRS and AOL do all of that as well, but as i have stated in my article: when you take a closer look at all the social relief work they offer it always seems to come down to teaching Sudarshan Kriya classes.

You are talking about conditions that you are not familiar with. Let us focus on Sri Sri.

My answer: As my graduation thesis in Theology was about Gandhi (again, see: http://www.kuleuven.be/nieuws/berichten/2006/thesis/godgeleerdheid.html), as i have frequently visited India many times for researching about this topic, i think i can say that i'm fairly familiar with it. I can even say that i seem to know quite some more about the topic then most of my Indian friends.

Paragraph 33 and 34…: So Gandhi was nominated for Nobel Peace prize 5 times and did not get it. So, where do you think is the problem…..Gandhi or the Noble Peace Prize Committee. I hope you are not suggesting that Gandhi’s non-violence and civil disobedience were not peaceful enough to win the peace prize. Guess who won the Noble prize, Henry Kissinger.

My answer: I'm most certainly not suggesting Gandhi shouldn't get it. I'm only suggesting that we better first give Gandhi a Nobel prize before we even consider giving SSRS one. And as the Nobel commitee has given prizes after people died before, there is appearently a possibility to do that. I would be a big fan of doing so.

Considering Kissinger. He was certainly not the only one of the inapropriate ones. The commitee has been criticized more then enough and rightfully so. So be it, that's not my point. They have in any case shown a willingness to evolve as well as an institute. So they could still correct mistakes for example by offering Gandhi a noble prize after all.

To add one more point to that: They might also have been a bit too West-focused in the past. But luckely that is over now. So we can now dismiss the arguments you can find on the net of AOL people saying that SSRS is not chosen because he is Indian. Since Yunus Muhammad of the Grameen bank has been chosen that argument makes no sense at all anymore.

Again, I don’t see your point in comparing Sri Sri with Gandhi. Did Sri Sri ever said that he has done more than Gandhi did OR is it just you trying to make a point that fits your argument?

My answer: Again, SSRS brings it up himself. He links himself to Gandhi, trying to show how he is in the tradition of this famous historical peace-person. (See CNN interview and the fact that he mentions Chaturvedi as his teacher – see above) But he does so in inappropriate ways as his way of handling things is not very Gandhian at all. Again, for me that amounts to fooling people. You say something to present people a certain image, but when you look into it you see that that image is false. Therefore he obviously neglects all the things that make Gandhi really Gandhi and SSRS really SSRS. Examples: Gandhi was a strong advocate of being poor with and for the poor, Gandhi would never have associated with extremist hindus but would have tried to bring them to other ideas and as Gandhi knew how tensionful the relations between Muslims and Hindu's were, he would never have written a book about Islam “in a hurry” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ojeyl6v0lNc) - as this would lead to "many mistakes" (as it did in SSRS case, so he admitted).

Paragraph 35…: I cannot stop noticing your hurry to conclude Maharishi as bogus. Is there any scientific way to prove that those who complained on Maharishi were telling the truth? If word of mouth is good enough for you to determine Maharishi as bogus, why not apply the same rule in believing Sudarshana Kriya. In case of Sudarshana Kriya, you seem to be interested in scientific research.

My answer:

One: How could anybody be 'scientifically proven' to be bogus or not? We just will have to go with the information that people offer us. For my part one of the sources would be my uncle who happened to be one of Maharishi's very close disciples once. But i don't really need such personal acquaintances when you have witness-accounts like the one coming from the last journalist that could interview him. ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/showbiz/showbiznews.html?in_article_id=512747&in_page_id=1773 ) And so why do i conclude from such an account that he is bogus? Well it's very simple. Both Maharishi and his followers claimed he was enlightened. The account given to us by David Jones (the journalist) however clearly shows us that he really wasn't – not unless angry frustration is a something you consider to be an aspect of enlightenment. Now, i'm not saying that i and others don't have my moments of angry frustration ourselves, but i and most of those others also do not claim to be enlightened.

Two: Once again i have to make the same point about Sudarshan Kriya. I'm not interested in scientific research about it, but SSRS and AOL seem to be. So if they say that it's effects have been proved scientifically, but the effects they themselves mention are not at all discussed in the research which they refer to, then i would consider that a bit bogus as well.

It's actually very simply all about integrity and honesty – for that would exactly be characteristics the Indian religions have linked to enlightenment.

Paragraph 36, 37 and 38…: It would be helpful if you could elaborate what part of his practices/teachings make him criminal or beyond?

I never said Sri Sri's practices or his teachings made him a criminal. If you are refering to the sentence “there is certainly enough grounds for reasonably doubt as well” than i can assure you that it does not refer to “his very commercial New Age image is far from a crime” but to the idea “that he might be genuinely wishing well for his followers and the rest of the world”. For that is what my article of course hinted at (as the title also very clearly puts to question): that he probably is not genuine. That is not a crime, it only would make him quite a lot less enlightened as he is often pictured to be.

Paragraph 39…: I am sure the world is full of intelligent people and they can distinguish between good and bad.

My answer: And so am i.

I know you are trying to talk for the world but not everyone in the world may accept with your opinion.

My answer: You state it a bit grand, but i guess by putting it on the net “trying to talk to the world” could be a bit of the idea. Although i see it more as: offering that other very needed point of view that perhaps somebody might need to form a clearer picture. In that sense i am aware of the fact that is but the other point of view and that indeed certainly not everybody will accept it. I never wanted that. Neither is it needed in the least.

Paragraph 40…: I pray all the gods to work against Sri Sri getting so called Noble “Peace” prize. It is my opinion that there is no greater insult to Sri Sri than receiving Nobel prize.

My answer: I have admitted earlier on that the nobel peace prize commitee has made mistakes before but to call it an insult is to denounce the work of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tuttu, the Dalai Lama, Mohammad Yunus, and so on. If SSRS would feel the same as you do i guess that would exactly make my point: that he's not so enlightened after all.
Some points from the follow up discussions on the original article:
(further discussion can be found at http://www.yunusnews.com/node/506)

I could not stop noticing that you have addressed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as “Ravi” and “Shankar” in your article. I understand that you are not a big believer of Sri Sri but you could have shown minimum curtsy by addressing him as Sri Sri or SSRS as millions of people in the world believe in him.

My answer:

One: I'll reserve the title Sri for those names where it is appropriate. So i'll for example gladly talk of “Sri Krishna” or “Sri Shiva”. But i do not think it is really a necessity of courtesy to give mr. Shankar the title “Sri Sri”. First of all the double honorific is already bogus in itself and second its even more bogus if you consider that he added this “Sri Sri” to his name himself (to distuingish himself from the famous sitar player). Suppose George Bush would call himself “Holy Holy George Bush” simply to distinguish himself from his dad, would you except it and use those terms because of courtesy?

Two: as an abbreviation i used SSRS in my answers. as the SS stands for Sri Sri i actually, in a certain way, did use this title to address him.

In one of your responses, you have tried to bring the point that AoL did not spend any money that it had collected in 2004, in the USA. Well, as you are aware, AoL has been raising funds from more than 140 countries for more than 20 years. Probably they used funds raised from other countries in that year. You could have left this topic out as you did not have full information. Because you have been bashing AoL for not having enough proof on SK.

My answer: I have the information of the USA that was enough. And sure, they make money elsewhere. But considering his own adagio of “charity work can’t start from an empty bowl” isn't it at least a little bit strange that that charity-bowl does not get filled by the ones who have the most. Exactly the country where the wealthiest followers of AOL live together does not use any of their capital for that charity – it seems at odds with his own idea.

You have mentioned about Sri Sri misusing Gandhi’s concept of non-violence. I did a search on the web but could not find even one countable reference on the subject. I found some third party sites mentioning that Sri Sri is the next person after Gandhi in uplifting the poor. If this is the information you are basing on, this topic is not even worth discussing further.

My answer: I gave the link in a previous answer as well. Here's the interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-Sstlp1u7Y

Since you liked the methods of Gandhi, I have very fitting questions for you. During the Indian freedom movement, Gandhi had collected funds from people. I know this because my grandparents told me that Gandhi visited our neighboring village and almost every family in surrounding villages gave gold, silver and cash to their capacity.

My answer: And it is as well documented that he raised a lot of money. Up to the point that men would be scared if their women would go to meetings where Gandhi was present as his words would make them donate their jewelery. I certainly know all of that. I find the latter a funny anecdote even.

Gandhi never took accountability nor provided transparency in funds manipulation.

My answer: My own research was not really about this topic, though it would surprise me a lot. Even when Gandhi was studying in London he kept track of every penny that he spend in a notebook. I'll leave it over to the experts to answer this one completely, just stating that it probably was all quite well accounted for considering Gandhi's fastidiousness in those matters.

When Gandhi does not even use private vehicle to travel, why does he need funds?

My answer: Nice point there. If Gandhi could do all his work living in the most basic situation, why does mr. Shankar need all the planes and fancy hotelsweets?

But to answer your question: he needed it for Harijan work (see next answer).

What happened to all the millions of rupees? What freedom activities were conducted with that money? I am not suggesting Gandhi used all the money for his personal benefits, but the funds were collected on his name so I am curious what answers people like you could offer?

My answer: Gandhi mainly fundraised for Harijan (Dalit) work. But apart from that i would guess that where the money also would go to was this: the printing of his newspapers 'Young India' and 'Harijan' that kept the Indians informed about their struggle; Ashram work and rural development of the communities living around his ashram; health care (like leprosy-care. He for example took personal care of a lepper in his Sevagram ashram); education; etc.

Because, the reasons Sri Sri has been presenting to the public have striking similarities to Gandhi’s.

My answer: In Gandhi's case though there were actual changes for the Dalits (such as getting them allowed into the temples, more political strength for their group, the official abolishment of "untouchability" in the constitution, ...) – and also all other consequences of what he did and set up are heavily documented. He never used a single rupee to many for his own good. His work extends far beyond teaching the same type of meditation in every possible situation.

But in any case i did not want to put Gandhi into question for that would mean a whole new research in itself - and i don't see the need, because i have never come across anything that would rouse my suspicion in these matters. By all means, take up the research if you feel the need to do so and provide me with your results.

In the case of SSRS and AOL on the other hand, what they present about their work is highly questionable. And it doesn't need much research to see that. Let me give you a quick and simple calculation. According to his personal website “In 1997, he founded the International Association for Human Values, a humanitarian Non-Governmental Organization that advances human values in political, economic, industrial, and social spheres. The Association is working in poor rural communities to promote sustainable growth, and has reached more than 30,000 villages.” This means that in 11 years (or 4015 days) the association for Human Values has “reached out” to an average of more than 7 villages a day! Also the same official biography says that “Through personal interactions, teachings and humanitarian initiatives, SSRS has reached out to an estimated 300 million people worldwide.” That means that if the 52 year old Shankar would have been “reaching out” to people ever since the day he was born, he and his organisations would have “reached out” to an average of about 15806 people a day! Rather high numbers all of them.

Here I have few questions out of topic. You are one of the editors of this website and this website seems to cover many things happening in India. But what I have noticed is that there is not even one article about the atrocities the Christian missionaries have been doing in India.

My answer: Indeed there is not. There are documented articles however about how Hindu extremists are becoming increasingly more violent towards other religious groups - especially Christians.

I am sure you know how the missionaries raise money under the name of helping poor people in poor countries like India. But they never mention about how the money is being used.

My answer: links? References? Data? Without any of those, these are purely allegations without grounds.

They do not mention about how they abuse the religious freedom in India and force people into Christianity. They do not mention how they trick people into Christianity under the name of service or miracle.

My answer: I have seen a couple of Christian (Catholic) NGO's in India. They all did really do service, claimed no miracles whatsoever and did not try to convert any of their members as most of their volunteers were of the different religions. In the NGO's i have personaly seen and investigated Hindu, Muslim and Christian were truly working together without a problem.

Neither have i ever seen any making claims to miracles.

And by the way, as the discussion was actually about Ravi Shankar, how come getting people into something 'by using service or miracles' is all of the sudden a problem. Is that not exactly what he, his organisation, and above all his websites try to do?

The website also publishes very interesting articles on Islam and its intolerance.

My answer: It actually publishes more about its tolerance and the contemporary misconception of how Islam would be an intolerant religion. Furthermore it publishes on fundamentalism of every religion to show that they all have it and that it is really not the acceptable form of any religion.

But surprisingly it does not even find one article that criticizes how the Christians are systematically killing/converting people from other religions. Initially this website seemed neutral but not until I started searching for articles on Christian activities. Here I am not providing any links to Christian atrocities in India as you can find them very easily, if you are really interested know.

My answer: You have not found such an article as i have not come across credible information concerning these matters. And if you were really interested in me knowing these, you would have provided me some of those authorative links instead of saying that i have to go and look for it. I as well provide enough links to back up what i say about SSRS.

In any case i will have to reply that your arguments about these matters are very common to Hindutva-thinking. I am also fully aware of the support Ravi Shankar gets by Hindutva politicians. The link between Shankar and Hindu nationalism is often mentioned by criticizers of Shankar. However, i do not need this information for my arguments.

But what i do need is people being honest and truthful in their accounts. Simply accusing other religions of criminal acts will bring no betterment to anybody. Even more so, such unargumented portraying of religious news that might distort facts, bring wrong ideas and incite hatred was exactly the reason why i started my website.

If possible, please publish my comments under follow up discussions.

I will indeed try to put all of this on the net. I am looking for the most appropriate way to do so. [note: with this blog i have found a way to do so.]


Reply from Vasu:


I greatly appreciate your time to reply to my laundry list of questions. First, let me talk to my AoL teacher (in India) about the following points.

  1. Why Sri Sri did not mention about his Guru until Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is dead?
  2. What are the issues that brought distance between Maharishi and Sri Sri?
  3. Did Maharishi ever scolded Sri Sri and what are the reasons?

    and I will also try to collect the...
  4. Documents related to the cancer patient that I had mentioned in my previous response.

    and of course I will provide links to prove....
  5. Missionary tricks and methods to convert people into Christianity.

One thing that I want to mention here is that when I ask questions 1, 2 and 3, my AoL teacher is going to ask me why I believe so? I can neither say that some individual mentioned about the conflict nor use an article on the web as proof. So, I will try to collect fool proof evidence before I ask those questions.

My Reply:

I have no clue why you keep on focussing on Maharishi although that aspect is really a minor point within all my arguments.
But by all means, try to collect "fool" proof (i suppose you mean "full proof", but ok.) Just to help you out and give you a start:

http://guruphiliac.blogspot.com/2006/02/sri-sris-big-jubilee-blow-out.html
http://guruphiliac.blogspot.com/2006/02/sri-sris-inflation-unabated.html

If you are thinking that "ontheotherhand" who mentions the rejection of Sri Sri is just making up things, then search the rest of the guruphiliac blog for his other posts. You will see that he most certainly has first hand information and has indeed been really involved in AOL.

And while you're at it,
you can perhaps also put the following questions in front of your teacher. I have taken these questions from the remarks made by an ex AOL-teacher which he had written down in a 'resignation' letter directed to the American AOL branch:

1) Why the increasing corporization of the Art of Living organization?
2) Why the intensifying promotional push on all fronts?
3) Why the increasing course fees making it so difficult for many people who need help to participate in programs?
4) Why the pressure on participants in AOL to raise and donate funds?
5) Why the hype and myth creation used for indoctrination?
6) Why the effective undermining of people's self-trust and making them dependent in an infantile way on idealized images of the guru and his special abilities, and a perception of inferiority relative to him?
7) Why the misrepresentation of the placebo effect as the result of the speciality and uniqueness of the practices or the grace of a person?
8) Why the ongoing emphasis on specialness of the organization's leader and his omniscience?
9) Why the resultant cultish atmosphere within AOL and the possibilities for manipulation of all sorts?
10) Why the focus on organization growth and perpetuation rather than the advancement of the people involved and deeper self-inquiry?
11) Why the lack of transparency and accountability for the use of funds, projects implemented, etc.?
12) Why the organization's acting increasingly like a business in the guise of a non-profit?
13) Why the frivolous use of exaggeration and misrepresentation of facts in promotional efforts (as to the scale of humanitarian efforts or the scientific evidence for the benefits of the practices, for example)?
14) Why the conflict between encouraging people to donate a dollar a day to support poor children, etc. and staying in the presidential suites at expensive hotels (e.g. Ritz-Carlton), flying first class, etc.?

You can find the original posting of the ex-teacher's letter here: http://guruphiliac.blogspot.com/2008/03/defection-aol-teacher-sees-light.html

2 opmerkingen:

Anoniem zei

Hi, Sorry for not providing any links here, but I wanted to address your defence of Christian missionaries. The Christian missionaries in India are not purely service doing. My brother is a doctor and he recounted that during his training in his medical college + hospital, Christian missionaries would sit by patients and pray for them. When the patients were cured (in the hospital presumably due to medical treatment), the missionaries would claim the power of prayer to the patient's family.

Similarly, the western missionaries tend to be very well supplied when they work in poor areas. Like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, their own lives are more comfortable than the poor folk they serve.

Also, Sudarshan Kriya is not a meditation technique. It simply is not and the AOL doesn't claim it to be. I think your not taking a course is the reason for this inaccuracy.

Please note that I am not defending Sri Sri Ravi Shankar here. Just nitpicking.

Yunus zei

I have already replied to the claim "SK is not a meditation technique". To read my answer to that idea, click here and scroll down a bit.