Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - A Life of Service

After reading various blogs discussing the values of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living Foundation, I was looking for a forum to share my personal experiences of being involved with the Foundation. As one of the founding members of the organization, I have worked closely with Sri Sri for more then 22 years. Having spent countless hours in his presence, I have seen him in many diverse situations that have shown me again and again that his is a total commitment to a mission of eliminating human suffering on this planet. Besides sleeping just a few hours a day and taking meals, all of his time is spent in teaching, serving and uplifting others. He doesn’t seem to have any personal agenda or a separate personal life.

Yet in spite of Sri Sri’s dedication, he has received criticism from a few individuals who want to portray him as a fraud.

As the current president of his organization in the US for the last 5 years, I see where every dollar goes. The finances of all of his organizations reflect this emphasis on service. Because all of our organizations are registered 501c3 non-profits, all of the foundation’s 990 financial information is available to the general public to view on the Guidestar website after taxes are filed each year.

Sri Sri has a very Gandhiesque approach to running his foundation. He is more concerned about the future growth and expansion of the organization rather than in any personal gain. He refuses to take any of the honorariums he receives for his personal use and insists that all donations that have been given to him are to be used to support the numerous social service projects he has inspired in India and abroad. In fact, if his staff did not look after his personal needs, I’m sure Sri Sri would still be living in his original hut-like room at his ashram in Bangalore. His life is an open book. When he is not flying across the globe meeting political, religious and business leaders, sharing wisdom and collaborating on ways to improve the quality of life on the planet, he is either sharing knowledge, answering the plethora of emails he receives form Art of Living members and volunteers from 154 countries or spending personal time attending to all the individuals who come to meet him and receive his guidance.

At all hours of the day and night there is a sea of people waiting outside his room eager for a few moments to meet with him. And inside his room or hotel suite there are numerous volunteers assisting him in whatever way they can. Besides the few hours he sleeps or meditates, Sri Sri doesn’t have any alone time. I’ve often played the roll of being his secretary and spent more then 16 hours a day with him. There are so many interruptions, that getting work done is always a challenge. Getting a few moments alone with him is very rare. There is a constant revolving door to his room with someone entering and grabbing his attention at almost every moment.

Many times I’ve questioned Sri Sri’s motives for adhering to a daily schedule that is so grueling and physically demanding. No matter how many demands and challenges he faces, Sri Sri remains exuberant, posed and attentive to all who came to meet him. He is clearly there for one purpose, to ignite a spark of self-awareness and compassion that can help people lead a more fulfilling and productive life.



  1. One night, in Ranchi, India as he was eating dinner at 10.00 pm after returning from the public talk of ~10000 people, we got a phone call that a busload of volunteers(~45 or so) had made it to the venue an hour away from where we had just returned. The bus carried villagers from remote parts and could not make it to the venue on time owing to mechanical problems. I was in the room with him as he quickly cut short the dinner, and started scouting the area to see if the bus can be brought there-turned out it couldnt. Before I could even get a whiff of what was happening-he was in a car and on the way to the venue-an hour away-at 10.30 in the night!
    We went there and he met the people, who were telling stories for gratitude. He waited for the other bus which was with these folks, until 1.30 am at night...after which he told them to come to his place of stay-where we reached around 2.30 am. As I went upstairs with him the last thing he told me was-if they come in the next hour, I shall come and meet them now else after 7 am. I was so touched by his commitment that words failed me! How much care for the people!! How much honor for their devotion! Day after day, year after year-he lives exemplifying commitment to service!

  2. For me it is the simplest of stories that moved me to his compassion and attentiveness. This was at the Montreal Ashram in the summer of 2009. We we all hovering around him from his walk from his little hut to the dining hall. Even as he entered the dining hall he was surrounded. He said--they are unloading the truck outside, some people should go and help. We had walked with him all the way from the kutir and none of us had noticed the truck or people unloading yet here he was attending to the smallest of details. Anyone else would be taken in with the adulation but he was attending to the needs of others, as always.

  3. Mikey, this blog is the bomb. This is why the Internet rocks. Thanks and keep on sharing.

  4. BV- what a touching story- thank you for sharing

  5. I've never met Sri Sri, but it is evident that he is a hero and role model to many here, to some he is the essence of divinity, and to others he is considered god almighty. It is also clear that he has done many good works and made a positive contribution to humanity that should be admired. In this sense, i look to him as a role model.

    I also see him as a savvy business man who's product is Indian spirituality. Why else would he have thought to trademark sudarshan kriya, and why is it necessary to get participants to sign a non-disclosure agreement when participating in courses? Clearly he has commodified spirituality as have many Indian guru's before him such as Osho and Ravi Shankar's own Guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Deepak Chopra is another who sells Indian spiritual wisdom, although Chopra does not have non-profit status to my knowledge.

    I have many friends involved with AOL in Canada. These are unpaid volunteers, some dedicate a few hours a weeks, one is working with the AOL foundation full time. These are dedicated individuals, good people who are pouring there heart and soul into the org. and driven to help spread a positive message of peace, and stress-free living.

    I've also read tales of many on various blogs who in all there sincerity feel that the AOL organization has caused significant abuse, mentally and emotionally.

    It would be nice if the AOL organization officially acknowledged the concerns and grievances of so many who have left the organization with a sense of harm.

    This blog has great potential, and seems to me to be a worthy effort. The message of practicing the values of which we preach is a positive one, which i thank you for sharing. I hope to be able to do so myself.

    The apostle Paul, from the Christian tradition, himself struggled with doing good. He admitted, In Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing.”

    This is the constant struggle that we all face to live to our highest values.

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