Why is Art of Living successful

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Art of Living)

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Art of Living)

A world free of violence and stress - with this vision the Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar travels the globe. It should become reality through the (re) enlivening of human values. The founder and spiritual leader of the "Art of Living Foundation" sees himself as an ambassador of peace and humane values. Individual stress, social problems, the consequences of trauma and much more should be relieved on the basis of rhythmic breathing exercises. The NGOs founded by "Gurudev" are professionally set up with a wide range of topics. The “International Association for Human Values” supports, among other things, charitable projects and emergency aid, sustainable development, education, prevention and peace work in many regions of the world.

Live and act

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Sri / Shri / Shree is an Indian honorary title) was born in 1956 as the offspring of a respected merchant family in Papanasam in Tamil Nadu in southern India.1 The little known data on his résumé have hagiographic traits. It is reported that he was able to recite the Bhagavadgita at the age of four and mastered the Rig Veda at the age of nine. When he was asked to choose between bank manager and spiritual path, he chose the latter. The official website lists a degree in Vedic literature and a Bachelor of Science from Bangalore University. At the end of the 1970s he came into contact with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his Transcendental Meditation (TM). Although his time at TM did not last very long, he was not only a student of the TM founder, but "Governor of the Age of Enlightenment" in his "world government".2
At the beginning of the 1980s, Ravi Shankar discovered (“received”) his own relaxation method during a ten-day silent retreat in Shivamogga / Shimoga (Karnataka) and developed “Sudarshan Kriya”, a sequence of breathing techniques that form the basis of the various courses associated with his name and offers forms.3

In 1981/1982 he founded the Art of Living Foundation in Bangalore, which today as an international, non-profit humanitarian organization offers yoga and meditation courses as well as programs for personal development worldwide. In 1997 he founded the International Association for Human Values ​​(IAHV) "in order to coordinate sustainable development projects in cooperation with The Art of Living, to promote human values ​​and to find solutions in conflict areas" (website). Both Art of Living and the IAHV are NGOs accredited by the United Nations and are among the largest voluntary work-based organizations in the world, according to the information on the website.

In 2003 the guru initiated the "World Forum for Ethics in Business - International Leadership Symposium", which holds large international conferences, including in the European Parliament, and has increasingly focused on ethics in sport in recent years.

Today Ravi Shankar travels tirelessly in matters of conflict resolution and a vision of peace. His successful efforts in Iraq, Kashmir and Colombia are particularly praised. A few years ago his support for the peace negotiations between Farc guerrillas and the Colombian government was reported.

The guru has been touring Germany regularly since the late 1970s. In 1995 he acquired the former traditional spa hotel Bad Antogast in Oppenau-Maisach in the Black Forest, where the German and European headquarters were established.

Ravi Shankar knows how to present himself effectively in the media. In November 2009 he received Günther Oettinger, at that time still Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg and designated EU Commissioner, with a large delegation from business and politics in his Art of Living Ashram near Bangalore. While the visitors had expected a rather harmless folklore evening, they experienced a perfectly staged promotional event for the programs and the worldview of the guru, documented by camera teams.

In 2011 the guru was invited to an “interspiritual dialogue” at the German Evangelical Church Congress in Dresden. A Protestant theologian discussed with him.

The 30th anniversary of Art of Living was celebrated in July 2011 with the World Culture Festival in the Olympiastadion in Berlin. The number of participants remained far below expectations, the ranks could not be filled - certainly also due to the weather. The World Culture Festival 2016 for its 35th anniversary also had to contend with difficulties, albeit of a completely different kind. The preparations for the major event with an expected three and a half million guests on the banks of the Yamuna River in New Delhi called nature conservationists on the scene. Massive public debates and legal disputes ensued.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has received awards from many countries, including several honorary doctorates.

Elements of teaching and practice

"The basis for a stress-free society are peaceful people."4 “The view of Ravi Shankar is this: 'a non-violent society, a body free from disease, a clear, free, deep breath, a mind free from confusion, an intellect free from any anxiety, a trauma-free memory and a carefree soul is the birthright every human being. '"5

The world is a family (One World Family), celebrating differences and diversity in a relaxed way and learning from one another - the consistently simple and positive messages of the Master should show reliable ways to a happy life. Difficulties arise due to wrong attitudes. “Nothing can be an obstacle if you don't allow it. You and your own mind are what make something an obstacle. "If you have problems with religion, one answer is:" It doesn't matter. Move from religion to spirituality. You are a spiritual being and that is enough. Every religion has something beautiful to offer. Take something from all the religions in the world and move on. You don't have to get stuck in it. Do not worry."6 The strength lies in spirituality. The guru is known for the comparison: "Religion is the banana peel and spirituality is the banana." The misery in the world has arisen because we humans hold on to the empty peel and throw away the banana.7

What is to be understood by spirituality, however, and how it is filled in terms of content, remains rather indefinite. The message of love is central. It is based on the nondualistic conception of the unity of creation, as it can be found in Indian Vedanta. Everything is part of the divine, there is only one God who is worshiped in many languages ​​and in different ways. Ravi Shankar often compares Jesus to Krishna. He himself joins the ranks of the saints, calls himself “His Holiness” and is presented as one “who unites many goddesses and gods”. Followers see in him not only Indian wisdom that is thousands of years old, but also embodies pure love. This is the true nature of man like that of the divine. To “realize” this is the goal of the spiritual path. The impressions and experiences that people collect on their way of life darken the mind. It takes practice to reach the liberating state of inner emptiness that illuminates our selves in the experience of this oneness. When people are free from tension and stress, human values ​​such as humanity and social responsibility are automatically lived.

Ravi Shankar combines positive thinking and practical pantheism with Indian guru mysticism. Analogous to TM, he developed his own methods. The "Sudarshan Kriya" called "powerful breathing technique" for personal development is primarily intended to reduce stress, strengthen the immune system, restore peace of mind, in short: to feel better. Because "breath, feelings and the mind are very directly connected with each other" (R. Shankar). In addition to a scientific claim, there is above all one hope associated with this: that with the help of breath and meditation the longing for a better world, one guided by human values, can be fulfilled.

Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) is the heart of the "Art of Living Happiness Program". The mix of yoga, breathing techniques and meditations is taught in nine hours on three days (3x3), cost: 265 euros.

Organization and dissemination

Similar to Maharishi, Ravi Shankar also repeatedly initiated new campaigns and foundations. Aid projects in developing countries are carried out as well as trauma and stress management courses in crisis areas or rehabilitation programs.

The Art of Living Foundation ("Art of Living" Foundation, AOLF) claims to be active in over 150 countries. She has special advisory status to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. The artofliving.org website lists 45 centers for Germany, ten for Switzerland and one for Austria.

The International Association for Human Values ​​(IAHV) offers humanitarian and social programs “to reduce stress and develop leadership so that human values ​​can flourish in individuals and communities” (website). In Asia, Africa and Latin America, more than 30,000 villages and over 65,000 local youth have been reached in the past.

The range of courses is differentiated. Special courses are offered for children and adolescents, for example, to improve their fitness for life by reducing stress and dealing with emotions correctly (ART Excel, All Round Training in Excellence). In prisons, “Art of Living” courses are offered as part of the “Prison SMART” program (Stress Management and Rehabilitative Training), and since summer 2018 also in Berlin (Tegel).

The IAHV is registered under Swiss law (seat in Geneva). The Swiss headquarters is the umbrella organization of the IAHV in 17 countries (nine European countries, USA, Canada, Russia, but also African countries, the United Arab Emirates, India and Australia). The European center is registered in Germany. Today it houses the "Akademie Bad Antogast" and offers workshops, courses and yoga retreats for thousands of international guests every year.


Ravi Shankar - smiling friendly, white robe, long black hair - is less of a “teacher”, but is a source of inspiration, an inspirer, a motivator with gentle friendliness. “I don't want anything, just prosperity, well-being and happiness for all people,” he says. A typical book title: "God loves fun". The central message at the World Culture Festival 2011 in Berlin was this: Back then the walls of Berlin fell, now the walls between cultures must also fall through love and harmony. Irrespective of further explanations or even justifications, the guru's strong personality seems to be enough to inspire people. The spiritual entertainment of the “highest teacher of enlightenment”, as the guru was also called, finds its followers despite - or maybe because of? - the simplicity of the content, which is striking for outsiders. In addition, there is an exaggerated claim to self (“People are waiting for me everywhere”).

It is problematic when charitable concerns are used to promote one's own worldview. Time and again, ways are sought to offer the Guru's “happiness realization program” (sic) as simple yoga exercises in companies and schools.

The scientific garb is characteristic of Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation (TM), but Ravi Shankar's Sudarshan Kriya Yoga also refers to (pseudo-) scientific explanations of the effects of breathing techniques. Stress, fears and the like should be reflected on the cellular level as poisons that can be excreted again with the help of breathing technology. Kriya Yoga is originally a Tantric Kundalini Yoga that was popularized in the West by Paramahamsa Yogananda. Tantric gurus mainly work with the lower two "chakras", it is about physical strengthening and the mobilization of vital energies (sexuality) that are supposed to lead to Kundalini awakening.

In addition to secularization and the radicalization of religion, banalization is also a trend in the market that should not be neglected. Market-like offers of easily digestible promises of happiness tempt - despite humanitarian efforts - to self-centered and volatile idealizations. “Religion light” is not dangerous per se, but it does play down complex interrelationships and therefore possibly prevent them from being perceived responsibly.




Dehn, Ulrich: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - the entertainment value of the banal, in: MD 8/2002, 243-246.
Neff, Matthias: The "Art of Living" and its guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, in: Baer, ​​Harald / Gasper, Hans / Sinabell, Johannes / Müller, Joachim (ed.): Lexicon of non-Christian religious communities, Freiburg i. Br. 2010, 211f.
Schmid, Georg: Ravi Shankar and the happy people, in: MD 6/2011, 220-224.

Dr. Friedmann Eißler, November 2019


1 His namesake, the sitar player and world musician Ravi Shankar, was born in Vanarasi / Benares in 1920 and died in San Diego in 2012.
2 www.agpf.de/Ravi-Shankar.htm with receipts.
3 www.artofliving.org/de-de/yoga/atemtechniken-pranayama/was-ist-sudarshan-kriya.
4 www.artofliving.org/de-de/ueber-organisation.
5 From “Indian Spiritual Gurus. Twentieth Century “by M. L. Ahuja, 225-236, quoted from https://wiki.yoga-vidya.de/Sri_Sri_Ravi_Shankar.
6 https://wissenvonsrisriravishankar.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/von-der-religion-zur-spiritualitat.
7 Der Tagesspiegel, September 18, 2007, www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/panorama/sri-sri-ravi-shankar-lachen-ist-der-schoenste-luxus/1046174.html.