OPINION

All is not Well at AoL

July 02, 2010
Suresh Naig

All is not well at AoL (Art of Living) foundation at Bangalore. Few weeks back there was a shooting incident and then it was swiftly swept under the carpet. The police confirmed that it was a dead bullet fired at stray dogs from a nearby farm, which fell into the ashram losing its velocity. A stray bullet aimed at stray dogs. However congruent and plausible the dead bullet theory might be for the police, it was a lost opportunity for its founder. Even before the police could investigate and come up with the dead bullet theory, Ravishankar - the founder of AoL had pardoned the shooter. If one thinks that the dead bullet aimed at stray dogs theory is incredible, the speed with which Ravishankar pardoned the assassin was amusing.

Two days back there was a news item of the ashram lodging a complaint with the local police about receiving extortion calls. Now it turns out to be not an extortion bid, but a real estate deal that went sour.

Of late most of the religious personalities are in the news for wrong reasons and Ravishankar is no exception. Most of the religious heads unnecessarily entangle with people of ill repute mostly in land deals. It is ironical that many ashrams amass and exhibit their wealth to propagate humility and simplicity. When these ashrams function like any other commercial institutions selling for a fee their trade mark registered product such as Sudarshan Kriya, why do they need a religious cover?

These flamboyant Gurus are not religious messiahs but entrepreneurs with uncanny business acumen. They knew how to market their branded products of breathing practice culled out from ancient texts sandwiched in Hindu religion to have least market resistance. To brand it as religious and charitable institutions has other advantages too. Besides tax concessions these ashrams could get volunteers to enrich the Guruji without demanding a corporate pay packet.
In early 80's when we were expecting our first child, I enquired the obstetrician about the breathing practice taught to expectant mothers in the USA, especially to have a smooth labour. The wise lady told me, 'Suresh don't bother. I have assisted so many women during their labour and what is being rediscovered in USA comes naturally to many Indian women. We have forgotten what we were endowed with, in the name of modernity. Your daughter might require it and certainly not your wife'. What a prophecy. My daughter is taking up the lessons now for a fee, what my wife knew inherently.

Besides the practice of Yoga and breathing practices, the package to have a stress free life includes simple psychological lessons involving mutual interactions. No doubt, I have witnessed so many introverts turning interactive and positive, brimming with enthusiasm on attending these courses. I have also felt bliss exuding from the faces of the people who have attended these courses. When some techniques are taught to have stress free life for a fee and few Ayurvedic products are sold for a cost why religious angle to it?

It is very simple. When they sell, they sell like a commercial establishment and when they buy immovable assets, they do it like a charitable institution. The cake is eaten without exhausting it. If not the followers, the founder of AoL for sure knows of the Art of Living.

A marketing professional, yet believes in talking only the truth. An optimistic maverick remains a puzzle, puzzling others.
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