Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a contemporary indian spiritual teacher. Actually, right now he is the biggest guru in India – by amount of wealth and power. You can see big politicians, including prime minister of India, and movie stars coming for his blessings. About 10 years ago he was rated as the 5th most powerful person in India. Impressive, isn’t it? Let’s see, what makes him so popular.
Strangely, you can’t find any extended biography of Ravi Shankar even on the official websites, which is quite unusual for a person of such popularity. The only few facts available – he was born in 1956, got a college degree (or two according to other sources) at the age of 17, then he was traveling with his master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, helping him to set up his work, giving talks and courses. In 1982 he discovered a breathing practice called Sudarshan Kriya, that became the core of his teaching, during the 10-days period of silent meditation. Since then he is teaching it all over the world. With time his organization grew, and he established a few charitable projects which deal with a wide range of issues like social programs, peace initiatives and cultural activities.
Some details of his biography don’t look very convincing. It is not clear, how can a person get a degree (or even two) at 17, when people just finish school at this age? No further information provided. Then, though Ravi Shankar actually was a disciple of Maharishi, he never mentions him as his master. And Maharishi himself reportedly broke up with his disciple, and later spoke about him in a negative way. Later Ravi Shankar claimed he is a reincarnation of a master from Rishikesh, which allowed him to formally establish his position in some spiritual lineage. This is just one of the numerous claims of Ravi Shankar, which seem to have no ground and proof. Further, he “discovered” Sudarshan Kriya. Well, 10 days of meditation is not really something to brag about, especially in the context of indian spirituality. Just think of Ramana Maharshi or Meher Baba, that spent decades in silence. Sudarshan Kriya, in fact, is just a set of traditional breathing exercises from yoga arranged, presented and branded as a new product. Initially, Ravi Shankar asked a permission from his then-teacher Maharishi to teach this practice, but Maharishi didn’t allow him, probably being aware that the disciple wants to start his own enterprise. So Ravi Shankar continued on his own. His organization called Art of living offers a number of courses for stress-relief, body and mind healing, dealing with negative emotions, improving relationship and so on. It has a non-profit status, but nevertheless they charge well for the courses, and all the money collected worldwide are transferred to the headquarters in India. Ravi Shankar claims that these money go into his numerous charitable projects, but still he himself and his family have quite some capital (his is estimated around 200 million USD). His organization has a rigid structure, most of the work is actually done by the volunteers (including teachers), which receive little or no payment. Strict instructions are given on the aspects of teaching process and the behavior of the teachers, basically their main work is to create a constant money inflow and make the organization grow. All the techniques and courses of Art of living are trademarked and kept in secret, even the participants sign the papers which don’t allow them to talk about anything that happens in the course. If it is so beneficial for the world, why not make it public? Furthermore, there is actually no proof, that these techniques are beneficial or even safe, because there is no possibility of an independent unbiased scientific research, since everything is kept in secret.
Initially Ravi Shankar was called Pandit Ravi Shankar, as the famous indian sitar player. By the way, pandit means a scholar, a specialist in Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy, which Ravi Shankar has never been. Later he changed his name to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, as if one Sri is not enough. Now his full title is His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. What comes next? The whole teaching of Ravi Shankar can be put in one sentence: “All the problems in the world are coming from stress, and it can be relived by doing Sudarshan Kriya, so better sign up for the course.” So when his people are dealing with things like rural unemployment or war-affected areas like Iraq, hey first teach them Sudarshan Kriya ”to relieve stress”. When you actually read his words, you can notice he always speaks in general, and never touches any controversial subjects, and when he has to, he speaks even more general. His talks usually go around words like “stress”, “violence”, “relieve”, “peace”, “happiness”. Obviously, you can’t go wrong with that. Never criticize, never speak anything particular, never touch anybody’s interest – that’s how you grow high and win respect. Who will blame a person that always speaks about love, peace and happiness? Neither you will find any deep revelations in his talks – because his target audience is general public; everything has to be simple and nice. Again you can’t go wrong with it. That’s why Ravi Shankar got so many awards all over the world – he is continuously pleasing everybody. For the orthodox hindus – he is a validation of the scriptures, for the younger generation – he is a cool contemporary style guru, for the westerners – an indian spiritual teacher with good reputation and a big following (must be something good!), for the poor – a humanitarian, for the politicians – a peacemaker, and so on. One thing is certain – he is really good in PR and marketing. He shows that you can make a successful product out of nothing.