The next three days were spent with a group of 40 people participating in the Introductory Course – people from all over India and some foreigners as well. The Art of Living operates in over 150 countries including an ashram in Montreal, Canada and a local center in Vancouver. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s goal is to spread peace by teaching people how to lead a stress-free life and by getting involved in humanitarian projects.The three-day course was a snapshot of what the ashram is all about. We learned pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, yoga, and discussed all sorts of questions about one’s self. We learned about each other and did some amazing activities that really bonded the group in only three days.
The grounds were nice with lots of trees and each evening at 6:30pm everyone in the ashram gathered at the amphitheatre for Satsang. People sang songs (bhajans) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar would come on stage. People were thrilled to see him and extremely reverent. On the second night the stage was filled with about 40 religious leaders from all over India – Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist etc. They had all gathered at the ashram that day for a religious/peace conference.
At satsang Guruji led a short meditation session and everyone would participate. He also answered questions from the audience. His voice was unique and calming. He was not one of those charismatic, cult type leaders trying to sway everyone to follow him. But he seemed genuinely concerned about teaching and spreading peace. As he said – India has so much knowledge. So many people wanted him to stay in India and just teach the Indian people but he said no, he felt it was his responsibility to share knowledge with the entire world.
As far as the course went it was pretty good, somewhat thought-provoking and I would be curious to know what the second course is all about. But it was so hot at this time of year and the hall we were in was a sweat box even with fans. Plus there were no chairs and we had to sit on the floor all day. For the breathing and meditation we had to sit cross-legged (sukhasana) or on the knees, sitting on the ankles (vajrasana). I do both of these in yoga and vajrasana we do until our feet turn blue (5-10 min. and it’s supposed to be good for you) – but to be in these positions for 1/2 hr – 1 1/2 hrs is a killer. Add the heat and I couldn’t stand it.
So the heat and sitting was a problem and then there was the food at the dining hall. I like Indian food, but it was mush – no texture at all. One day of it and then I had to opt out and go to the little cafeteria where I could buy fresh fruit juice, fruit salad, and grilled veg sandwiches. But I didn’t really look forward to standing in line for that food either because people were always butting in and you had to fight your way to the front of the line. It just boggled my mind that in a place like this where everyone is learning about peace and giving, people could still butt in front of others and think only of themselves.
Oh, and then there was the shower. There is no actual shower stall, the water just goes onto the floor in the bathroom and the drain is on the same wall as the shower head but on the other side of the toilet. There is a squeegee which you use to guide the water on the floor to the drain. Ummm, I didn’t really get it so didn’t really shower. Heat, no shower, no food, no sleep, no chairs = no fun.
A couple other things they could do is get a better lock system on the doors – they use locks like ones used in high school. Also, please give everyone a map – it’s a big place and it was too hot to be walking around aimlessly trying to find the hall, the dining hall, and accommodation without a map.
The Art of Living definitely has its positives and its negatives. Michael had a very positive experience and he will most likely do the second course. I am very curious about it but I’m not sure that I’m ready to go “inside the gates” again just yet. Many, many people all over the world follow Sri Sri’s teaching and I’m sure they are better people for it. If you are thinking of doing it – just do it, give 100% and see what you can learn in just three days.