With all the controversies surrounding Sri Sri Ravishankar's 'attempt on life' I am reminded of the few encounters with his Art of Living classes and its evangelists.
The first and most interesting incident occurred while I was traveling with my friend Murali from Thiruvananthapuram to Bangalore in the slow moving 'express train' - Island Express. The journey is pretty boring and long. After some time, we started chatting with the fellow travelers in the adjoining set of next 8 seats.
We were in our 2nd year of engineering, and a young man working in the then dream field of IT held our attention. After chatting on general topics, he slowly moved on to religion and spirituality. Then he began his sales pitch by saying 'Life is an art, you must master the art to have a proper life'. Then he said that the only way to master the art of life is to join the preliminary course at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living course. With his skills, he had almost convinced the other 4-5 people sitting there to join the course at 1500 rupees. Seeing the crass commercialization of Hinduism, we got piqued and started picking on his statements and presenting counter statements.
During this, he made a mistake of saying 'Why are you folks thinking like this - if a girl tells you I love you, you believe it, whereas if someone tells you he hates you, you don't believe it'. We picked on this and said, no, its the other way round - if a girl tells I love you, she may be saying it with ulterior motives, whereas if someone says I hate you, it is more likely to be straight from the heart and hence more trustworthy. Others who had earlier agreed to join the preliminary course agreed with this point of view. We then went on to say that everything is a part of living, and even art of living is a part of living, playing on silly rhymes.
By this time everyone dropped their plans to join the Art of Living course much to the irritation of our evangelist friend. He more or less threw us out from there but that didn't give him any brownie points with those who had dropped the plans to join the course. At Coimbatore station when we stepped out to have tea, this dude ran away from us when he found we were headed to the same tea shop on the platform.
My second encounter with an Art of Living evangelist was when this distant relative of mine, himself an instructor of the preliminary course, took 'pity' on my living conditions (!) and took me to a higher level instructor. To solve my 'problems' (all in the imagination of my relative) he needed a picture of Sri Sri to be gifted to me. The simplest way to escape was to accept the pic, which I did, and later in turn gave it away to another Sri Sri fan in my extended family.
I do not know Sri Sri personally, nor have listened to his discourses. Whatever may be his real knowledge/powers, his followers are definitely taking religious commercialism to new lows