Third Satsang With Ravishankar

People have settled down now. I am sitting bang in front of Guruji Ravishankar. The bhajans start – Om Namah Shivaya and then Om namo bagavathe Vasudevaya. Then we sing the other bhajans on the Guru, on the Godess, Shiva, Rama, Radha, Krishna. Finally the singing stops with a sign from Ravishankar. He begins to speak. He asks us how we are doing. I say we are doing great. Having a nice time – laughing, singing and dancing. He says good and asks any questions. People are silent. He says if there are no questions then we  have either understood everything or knows nothing. People laugh. One person asked a question that he is very confused in life and has become indecisive. Guruji replied if you are confused then take a pillow and go to sleep. At this very moment Pitaji enters the Kutir dramatically.

Pitaji is Mr Ratnam the father of Ravishankar and co-founder of veda vigyan mahavidyapeeth. Ravishankar welcomes pitaji by standing up and doing Namasthe. Pitaji sits on the throne next to Guruji. Ravishankar asks pitaji to speak. Pitaji is silent and he says let us all chant OM. We all chant OM a few times. Pitaji leads and we follow.

Now Guruji Ravishankar speaks to me in Kannada and asks me specifically how I am feeling. I tell him I am feeling great. The ashram is out of the world and its so serene and peaceful to be in his presence. Ravishankar says ‘hmmmm’and asks me what do you do. I tell him I am studying engineering. Then he says hmmm and ‘good good’. He turns his gaze to some other folks who have come from Mumbai and asks them when did they come. They reply and Ravishankar says ‘hmmmm good good’.

  Some of the visitors from Bombay have brough chocolates and offer it to Ravishankar. He touches them and it is kept near him. He puts his hand on the chocolate box and starts throwing the chocolates around. People are catching the chocolates and are happy. He throws away all the chocolates at us and we catch and keep what comes to us from the Guru. He threw a couple at me as well and I kept it in my pocket.

THe bhajans begin again and go on for about twenty minutes. Ravishankar leaves the Kutir. Pitaji follows. We the people are sitting here. The time is around 7:30 PM and it is all dark outside.

Teacher now tells our group that it is time for Dinner. We go walking to the dining room. We have dinner and wash our plates. Once again a nice light south indian vegetarian dinner.

I go to the dormitory with the other folks. A little bit later I again go out for a walk and meet teacher on the way. Teacher says at 9:00 PM he is going to take our group of fifteen people to Guruji’s Kutir where we can meet Guruji in person. I am looking forward to it. I go to fetch the other people in my group.

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AOL Course – Eye Gazing and Dancing

The time now is 5 PM and we have laughed our Asses off. We go in for a short break and gather in the Kutir after 20 minutes.

Teacher says next exercise is very powerful. This is an exercise which will help us connect with other persons.

The process is something like this. We sit facing a partner and look at their eyes with no judgement and choicelessly. We live in a world where people shy away from looking straight at people and where we build walls around ourselves. This exercise reduces our barriers and defences with people.

We spend about ten to 20 minutes gazing at our partner and later on move on to another person and gaze at them. After about 20 minutes there is music and we hold hands with our partner and dance.  I had heard of the Gazing exercise as a very key exercise done in many of the tantra groups in Osho Commune and elsewhere. But first time I have got to practice this.

The exercise of Gazing finishes at around 5:40 and we start dancing with our partners. At first some folks are hesistant, especially the traditional people who have come to the course for some religious merit. Some remain hesistant and bitter but those who lower their defences and participate enjoy the whole thing. We are all dancing to a slow sitar music. I think I have heard this music before. Maybe by pandit Ravishankar but not sure. I have a  feeling that the music is a little bit slow for dancing. But slowly the music is changed to some high tempo bhajan of a raslila. We dance to the tune of radha- krishna something.  Its a celebration.

All of a sudden dramatically Ravishankar enters the kutirs and starts Dancing with all of us. He holds hands with us and we dance. It is nice and surreal. It goes on for some more time maybe for another half an hour. Some of us are sweating and having a nice dance workout. Finally we all settle down. Ravishankar settles down and sits on his throne. There are many more people who have joined. The whole kutir is full. Some folks have brought the musical instruments. The satsang starts.

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AOl Course – Group Laughter Theraphy

Saturday  3 PM – Veda Vigyan Mahavidyapeeth

About forty of us are back in the Kutir. Some folks are sleepy after lunch. I am feeling light and good. I think it is because of the light lunch I had. I liked the lunch and its taste. Satwic food is good.  

The teacher now says we tell some jokes. Teacher makes some jokes. One lady tells a husband and wife joke. I think these jokes are very polite and school boyish. I suddenly remmber one joke I had recently read.  I think this is not very vulgur. So off I go.

In a convent the teacher who is a catholic nun asks young children in primary class – What do you want to do when you grow up?. The Children start giving the answers – Lawyer, Scientist, Cosmonaut, Doctor and so on. It is now turn of young Mary. Young Mary gets up and says – “When I grow up I want to become a prostitute.” The Nun asks – ‘What did you say. Can you repeat”. Little Mary says once more – “I want to be a prostitute when I grow up”. Nun is very angry she goes and complains to the Mother superior. Mother Superior comes into class and asks Little Mary again. “What do you want to become when you grow up”. Little Mary replies “I want to be a prostitute”. Mother Superior looks releived and she exclaims – “Thank god. I initially thought you wanted to be a protestant.”.      

Some folks laughed. But teachers don’t like this joke. Teacher had already proclaimed the guidelines before the start of the session – no vulgar jokes. I am not sure whether it fits it into the category. Maybe the joke is a bad one on the catholics. No attacks on religion and beliefs. Jokes have to be clean. I realize I have done a mistake. Little bit embarrased. But more stale jokes follow and we all forget.

It’s 3:20 now. Teacher asks all of us to sit in a circle. We all sit in a circle. Teacher says we all start laughing. We can fake it in the beggining but lets all start. So we start. First there is a faking. But the absurdity of the whole thing dawns and we see the joke, the humour and the real laughter takes over. We laugh and laugh for minutes together. People roll on the floor and laugh. I am having a good time. We finally are exhausted and refreshed from the laughter.

We all close our eyes, silence, lie down and relax. There are still some people giggling here and there. Laughter is the greatest medicine. When I get up it is 4:00 PM.

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AOL Basic Course – Moving around the Ashram

I use the next one hour to go around the ashram. Ashram is very nice. I feel like staying here. But I also have obligations towards my family. Finish my education, earn money and support the people who have helped me. I am wondering how much money full time workers in AOL are paid. Some folks had told me there is no fixed sum and they get a percentage out of the course fees for the courses conducted by them. They also get a percentage from the donations that are given to the ashram through their coaxing and other efforts. The main revenue of AOL is controlled by Ravishankar’s family. His father, sister and brother in law. They also have many ex professionals who are part of the Veda Vigyan trust. AOL seems to be a lucarative profession for many. It is also fun. No need to think and work hard. Just spread knowledge of the guru.

It am trying to understand the organizational eco system of AOL. At the centre of the group is the Queen Bee which is the Guru.  The core circle around the Queen Bee is the immediate family and top functionaries of the AOL organization. Many of the top functionaries are successful professionals who have left their stressful and lucarative jobs / business to join AOL which is free of stress and lucarative. These elite class of people at the top along with the Queen bee manage the propoganda machinery, travel itenary,  programs of the Guru and token social service programs. They have links with the media, they publish magazines like ‘Rishimukh’, create the propoganda about the Guru’s greatness and miracles. They rope in doctors from reputed organizations to publish researched articles on the efficacy of the breathing techniques. They meet politicians and businessmen to contribute to AOL.

Below the elite managerial group is the group of volunteers. Spaced out spiritually inclined young men and women. Not very rich. Not very accomplished in worldly life. One main qualification is required from them, they need to believe the Guru hundred percent. Guru is perfect. Guru is the wisest of men in the world. Guru is the fountainhead of all knowledge. Some of these volunteers can become teachers. The qualification of being a good teacher is Obedience to guru plus charishma and good communication skills. A good AOL teacher is one who can imitate Ravishankar to the best extent. The mannerisms, body language and meditative gestures. A nice thickset black beard and dark long hair is a great asset although not a prerequisite.  If the AOL teacher cannot grow a beard he or she can grow their hair long. A partial fullfillment. There are some who have a regular hair cut and look like professionals. They are also required. To conduct corporate courses.  AOL teachers should look cheerful all the time. They are the living demonstrations of the efficacy of the AOL techniques. Singing and musical abilities are a major plus.

The third group is the temporary volunteers householders who can volunteer part time. Help in organising programs. It takes a lot of effort to organise programs but the directions and the master plan is avaialable and given from the top. The functionaries execute them. These people are also helpful in word of mouth propoganda. They solicit new members. They are the ones who typically stick posters in colleges, offices and libraries. They participation in Satsangs are key to success of satsangs.

 I found out quite early the most frowned upon thing in art of living is independent critical thinking, individuality and a questioning mind. Questioning is allowed only within limited predefined parameters. If I want to be part of AOL I need to curb and repress some of these faculties of mine. Also develop love for Guru and start believing that he is the well spring of all wisdom and every word he utters comes from an unknown divine source.  I feel I can fit in. I should talk to Ravishankar. Opps sorry Guruji.  

Its twenty minutes to three now and I walk back to the Kutir.

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AOL Course – Lunch Time

We gather at the dining hall. The rule is to eat the lunch with awareness and silence. There are the brahmin boys from the veda school who are chanting the shanti mantras from the upanishads. They are in the age group of 10 – 15.

We take out plates and wash them. I sit next to one of the teachers of AOL. I strike a conversation with him. He is from some royal family from Kerala. He was also part of the communist party student union like most of the youths in Kerala. But after he did advance course of art of living he decided to dedicate his life full time to the organisation. I asked him since when he knows Ravishankar. He says -‘ have always know him since eternity’. I was thinking good one with a nice punch line. But I asked him since when he in his present physical form first meet and see the physical body of Ravishankar. He said he met him some four months ago after he came for the advanced course in the ashram. He tells me I should do the advanced course as it is out of the world. The basic course is just that – basic. In advanced course you will understand what these practices are. I asked him do they teach new breathing exercises in advanced course. He said not much except  some mudra pranayama and padma sadhana (which is a set of 12 traditional yoga postures in a specific sequence). And in the advance course all the five days you will be in silence and practice non doing and meditation. It is a tremendous course to connect with the Guru.

We finish Lunch. Lunch is good, nice and bland south indian vegetarian food. I feel nice and fullfilled. I wash my plates. It’s 1:45 PM now. Teacher tells us we will meet at 3:00 PM in the kutir and till then we can take a seista or go around the ashram and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the place.

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AOL Course – Day 6 – Physical Toning Exercises and Kriya time

I am beggining to like the new teacher. He has a sense of humour and a rustic common sense. He also makes some original jokes unlike the other teachers. The way he speaks his broken english is quite  humorous. And most course participants laugh at his words.

It is 11:00 am now. Time for the physical exercises. I remmember the basic course posters promised to teach some ‘Physical Exercises which can releive stress’. I was wondering whether the teacher had forgotten to teach us the exericses in the past five days. But now is the time.

The exercises which are taught are simple toning and stretching exercises. It is also called as Sukshma Vyamama. It starts with

Eye Rolls, Neck Rolls, Shoulder rolls, spinal twists, hip rolls, knee rolls, feet roll, ankel rolls, cat-cow pose, lion’s roar pose (Simhasan), rabbit pose (breathing like a rabit while bending forward in vajrasana) and shavasana. In shavasana we tense all over muscles and then relax. These are the only exercises taught in basic course. Teacher said if you want to learn advanced yoga asanas there will be other courses where they will teach them. I thought I should check with the teacher and also ask him whether the sequence of yoga asanas I have been doing is okay or not. 

There is also a guideline that during the course we should maintain silence and only talk to teacher not with the course participants. Most of the time this rule was broken. Teacher also mentioned that since this is basic course it is okay. In advance residential course we will follow silence strictly.

After the toning exercise it is time for Pranayama and Sudarshan Kriya. We do the pranayama and kriya.

The time is now 1:00 PM and I am hungry as are the others. Time for lunch.

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AOl Course – What you resist persists

A new teacher is now in charge of the flock. He is not able to speak english well but is quite energetic. He was also a yoga teacher on his own before he came to Ravishankar and AOL.

He teaches us the final aphorism of art of living – What you resist persists. Which is also basically tied to acceptance of everything and everyone.

‘What you resist persists’ was also one of the often repeated theme in Osho’s teachings. He even went to great heights to live up to this teaching. But AOL is a toned down version of spirituality for urban yuppies. Things are not so radical. You often find orthodox beliefs mixed with liberal priciples.

I am wondering at the implication of this aphorism. What if we take it to the extreme. Many things we resist we ressist for good reasons and those things do they persist. But I do understand the underlying tone of this aphorism it is basically to go with the flow and let go.

We have five aphorisms now:

1. Present moment is inevitable

2. Accept everyone and everything as they are

3. Don’t be a football of other’s opinion

4. Expectations reduce the joy

5. What you resist persists.

Five commandments. Better than the ten commandments of the old testament.

I am getting bored of principles and aphorisms. Even if they are sign posts and indicatory words. Now I want to go beyond words, aphorisms and commandments. I drop them all.

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