When Manu Joseph met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

7 July 2011

Manu Joseph, editor of Open magazine, in The New York Times:

“Nine years ago, I was invited by the Art of Living Foundation to interview Mr Shankar.

“Mr Shankar was in the house of a wealthy businessman in South Mumbai.

“In the living room he sat on a large, embellished, thronelike chair as about 50 of Mumbai’s rich and famous sat on the floor, among them the film actor Vinod Khanna and the actress Nagma.

“At Mr Shankar’s feet sat a newspaper reporter, taking down notes as he spoke.

“All the interviews that evening were supposed to be conducted in this manner, with the reporter on the floor, at his feet, and he on the throne.

“When it was my turn, an absolute silence filled the room as I dragged a chair toward him. When I sat down, there was an audible moan from his followers. The interview did not go well. Most of his answers were snubs that elicited loud guffaws from his audience.”

Read the full article: Indian spiritualism made for the new age

25 Responses to “When Manu Joseph met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar”


  1. Manu Joseph is a great journalist. He is not the kind of man who will ever be in awe of any self styled guru. May God bless him.

  2. geeta seshu Says:

    liked the irreverent tone – we need more of it!

    just one point, though:

    It a highly debatable point whether (double) Sri Ravi Shankar has a ‘brand of Hindu philosophy that is secular in nature’ ?

    Anyway, the market, alas, has a way of hitting back.. art of living is prominently displayed on the NYT page carrying the article – courtesy google ads!

  3. Mysore Peshva Says:

    When Manu Joseph writes of “a brand of Hindu philosophy that is secular in nature,” he displays an ignorance of the Vedanta. Mainstream Hindu dharma, as informed by the Vedanta, is all inclusive. Hindu dharma is analogous to secularism; the evidence is all around us.

    Mr. Joseph writes in a smooth, anecdotal style, but he would do better if he read some more. He is evidently a reporter, not a scholar. He has not studied Hindu dharma, which makes his attitude a bit disingenuous.

    I think his pulling a chair showed a brash sense of entitlement that is not consistent with our culture of interacting with an elder or a host. He had a right to decline the interview, but he chose to be a jerk. I do not blame him — no journalist likes to be scooped!

    In addition, he was utterly sensational in terming traditional outfits “peculiar” when most males wear shirts and trousers. To me, Mr. Joseph lost credibility in that very first paragraph.

    (PS: I do not intend for this comment to be interpreted as a positive or negative reflection on Mr. Shankar)

    • Sam Says:

      He isn’t saying Hinduism isn’t secular.

      Thanks to the Sangh Parivar’s (RSS / BJP) perversion of ‘Hinduism’ to ‘Hindutva’, I think Manu was right in using the words he did. (After all, a sangh parivar ‘swami’ doesn’t teach or practice inclusive or secular Hinduism.)

      Religious fundamentalists – The christians have their ‘nazis’, the muslims their ‘jihadis’, the sikh their ‘khalistanis’. And Hindus (today) have the ‘Sangh Parivar’ (RSS / BJP).

      As a Hindu, you might find it hard to accept that your religion too has religious fundamentalists, who have no hesitation in using violence against their perceived enemies or to force their beliefs on someone.

      It is a depressing fact.

      But the sooner the Hindu’s accept it and fight against them, the less will they be able to dominate and pervert it.

      While I agree that he too could have sat on the floor, instead of pulling the chair and was perhaps being disrespectful towards double Sri Ravi Shankar, do you think Mr. Shankar should have taken offence at it? Would an enlightened guru really be mindful of someone who is being indifferent or even rude to him?

      Gurus like Mr. Shankar and Mr. Ramdev, and organizations like ISKCON are all about making money from religion. (Ofcourse, it isn’t specific to one religion – even those who run the Ajmer Dargah, unfortunately, are quite corrupt.)

      All of them would do some good to pay heed to the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who once said that when any individual or organization has too much money, they lose their spirituality.

      • Mysore Peshva Says:

        *Sam*

        Sir, I do not mean to sound presumptuous, but I’m afraid you do not understand Hindu dharma either. The lumpen idiots that you mention are NOT motivated by any mandate in their religion, but by a self-professed love for that religion. Nothing in Hindu dharma prompts an exclusion or rejection of an “other.”

        Hindu dharma has no concept of conversion; it does not define the “other;” it enables no scope to reject anyone as alien. It has no equivalent of a kafir, infidel, heretic, heathen, or even an apostate, or any such allegedly hell-bound upstart. All of those self-righteous terms are later Abrahamic ideas that, in my view, notionally betray their zealous users’ insecurity. Such terms are, as a matter of fact, anathema to Hindu tradition, which accords zero importance to one’s choice of deity (“Ista devata”), or whether one even has chosen a deity.

        Anyone that has accessed primary texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and the Gita, would be aware that Hindu dharma essentially and conceptually represents a disembodied, introspective, and highly personal tradition. I ask you to quote a single exhortation in any primary text that defines an “outsider” to be rejected, vilified or defiled.

        Let’s say I so adore my daughter that I slap you for merely looking at her, and despite nary a complaint from her. Is it my daughter’s fault? Rowdy elements that define and attack an “other” only expose an irrational love for, and a deep ignorance of Hindu dharma. They should be prosecuted and jailed. But it’s nuts to say they are in the same league as the religious zealots of, say, the Taliban, who cite and quote from their primary text and rely on a word of God himself as duly transcribed by their holy leader to define and attack the “other.” In that context, the term “Hindu terrorism” is logically defunct, absurd; its use is situated in a dangerous cynicism.

        I believe that the lumpen elements you mention (much like the fine journalist Manu Joseph and you and me) need to read more, introspect more, and definitely talk less! If they are unfamiliar with Sanskrit and Pali, I’d recommend secondary literature in the critical studies tradition, especially interpretations by Gandhiji, Radhakrishnan, Rajaji, Ramana, Vivekananda, Rolland, Haberman, and of course Sankara.

        Please pardon me for the lengthy response!

      • Krishna Kumar Says:

        Sam,

        You say “….Christians have their Nazis…” Is it correct? Yes, the Germans who joined the Nazi Party were Christians in their faith. But, to the best of my knowledge, none of the numerous churches of Christianity ever endorsed Nazism. Pope had even apologized to Jews for remaining silent during the holocaust.

  4. sairandhri Says:

    http://dharmanext.blogspot.com/2011/07/francois-gautier-targets-manu-joseph-s.html
    I dont know if I agree entirely with Gautier, but there’s only one like in there–the sales figures of his books–that will interest Manu. Manu J is… best ignored.

  5. vicky Says:

    I would like to commed Mr Joseph for calling the spade a spade. He has raised a pertinent point of us Indian perching ourselves on a high platform as far as culture and spirituality go. Every country has a culture and there are cultures older than ours. Iran, Iraq, China are a few examples, save a few years here and there. So, what is the point of gloating so much?

    Just because you didnt slurp up his feet doesnt mean you dont have respect for him; getting angry though showed Mr Shnakar’s true colour and high ground he likes to maintain. He never leaves any opportunity to miss the flashlights, the way he reached Haridwar to break ramdev’s fast. Now, tell me when had u heard of their friendship before? Nonsense…

    Roaming in flashy cars and chartered planes is hardly representative of common man.

    • Deepak Says:

      Dear Vicky,

      I hope you had done a bit more research before joining hands with the almighty Manu Joseph. Did you see Sri Sri Ravi Shankar getting angry or oh yes, you just believed Mr. Manu’s words!!! As for the friendship of Sri Sri and Ramdev, you can take a look at websites like Google or Youtube to get more details about the innumerable visits Ramdev has made to meet Sri Sri in AoL Bangalore Ashram.

      You can also read this article to give you a bit more insight into what Mr. Manu’s hidden agenda’s might be: http://www.sandeepweb.com/2011/07/08/manu-josephs-open-ignorance/

  6. Vincent Says:

    This could have been taken seriously if only the author had not published it in a newspaper that adores the Pope complete with his miracles and pedophile industry. Christians should stop picking on Hindus. The article smacks of bigotry against people of another faith.


  7. Well, there are wheels inside wheels. The responses to this post show.

    The main problem is that in INdian culture touching someone’s feet and sitting at feet are thought to be a way of giving respect.

    If you don’t touch the feet of a saint or if you don’t sit at his feet, some religiously minded people might not like that.

    After reading all the responses, I realise that this is a much more complicated issue than what I initially thought.

    This is a cultural issue and hence subject to many different interpretations.

  8. Sam Says:

    @Mysore Peshava:
    You seem to have made many assumptions about who I am, and what I know or don’t know.🙂

    When you say, “Nothing in Hindu dharma prompts an exclusion or rejection of an “other.””, I completely agree with you.

    And that is why I draw a line between the “normal” people and the religious fundamentalists, irrespective of their religion. It is those religious fundamentalists – the nazis, the jihadis, the khalistanis or the sangh parivar – that pervert religion to practice exclusion, rejection and extreme violence.

    Whether these fundamentalists do it because of their “self-professed love for that religion” or “irrational love”, anyone who uses violence and hatred has already gone against his / her religion. And so we shouldn’t consider them a part of the mainstream.

    And yes, so terms like “Hindu terrorism” and “Muslim terrorism” are very illogical (and counter productive) as they tend to lump the normal, peaceful general public with those violent, religious fundamentalist.

    You’ve urged me to read lot, and left pointers to it. I will definitely look into it. From my side, I’d like you to just meditate on the following (it is the first thing I read, and fall asleep too, everyday):

    “Thinking about sense objects brings an attachment towards them. Attachment breeds desire, and desire leads to frustration, which in turn leads to delusion. When you are deluded, you lose your memory and with the loss of memory, the power of discrimination is destroyed; with the destruction of discrimination, your self itself is lost.”
    – (The Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 2: 62-63)

    • Mysore Peshva Says:

      I appreciate your comments and counsel. 🙂 All good wishes to you, sir.

    • Jesse James Says:

      Doesn’t the pope or his lower minions also pervert the original message? I don’t see much being said about it?

      Its just more fashionable to pick on “god men” (versus “men of god” … as in the case of the pope & his flock)

      • Sam Says:

        As Swami Vivekananda said:
        For the world can be good and pure, only if our lives are good and pure. It is an effect, and we are the means. Therefore, let us purify ourselves.

        A spiritual person knows that in any relation, whether it is with God or humans or beasts, you need to focus on the good to enhance it – both in the other and thus, in himself / herself.

        Religious fundamentalists are always bitter, and often full of contempt and hatred for the ‘other’, because of their obsession with the negativity of the ‘other’.

  9. Sahana Says:

    http://www.sandeepweb.com/2011/07/08/manu-josephs-open-ignorance/

    “Few things pollute the atmosphere worse than a slighted journalist. What’s an even worse pollution than that is a slighted journalist whose writings reek with a stink of suspicious agenda. Meet Manu Joseph: a non-entity until his Open magazine exposed the Radia tapes sleaze last year. That was its ticket to media stardom. As is the case with such things, the public judgment on the magazine was as immediate as it was knee-jerk: bold, courageous, took on powerful media persons like Barkha Dutt, etc. Of course, not too many of us looked at Open’s “About Us” page (which borders on the rubbish anyway) or looked at some of the stuff it carried in the pre-Radia Tapes days, which provides hints of its thought processes if not leanings. It’s the near-total absence of applying even the most fundamental critical thinking skills—among other reasons—that has allowed the English media to spout trash and get away with it repeatedly.

    If we had bothered to scratch just a few inches below the surface, we wouldn’t be surprised or shocked to read this ignorant balderdash published in the India-phobic New York Times (first published in the International Herald Tribune). Oh, and congrats Manu Joseph, you’re a star already! The piece innocuously titled, Indian Spiritualism Made for the Modern Age is a snide piece of hack-work whose sole purpose seems to be to target the Art of Living founder-cum-head, Sri Sri Ravishankar. But because Manu Joseph needs a larger canvas to place him in, he picks on Indian spirituality. In this, he slightly departs from his distinguished peers in the pantheon of India’s English journalism where the norm is to write copiously in vacuum. However, the canvas is as dirty as the ugly picture he paints; actually it’s rather apt because pigs love nothing more than a gutter overflowing with garbage.”

  10. aa Says:

    oh common are you kidding me ?! … to claim sri sri was angry at him for pulling out a chair and that the audience didnt like him and oh … well he was in a wealthy man’s house and oh… he doesnt wear the same clothes as the common man …

    well you get the drift … these are just scrambled thoughts in Manu’s head … no depth nor coherence in his article …. the truth is that he only indicates that as a reporter he didnt get the welcome that he craved for… and this formed such a stringent opinion of the person in front of him. It is ok to be caught up in preconceived perception for a while … it happens to everybody but to stay in it and form a grudge from it is silly.

    why go after a man who does so much good to the world. you say that because he is revered by the people of the East in West and thrived on them … that he is hungry for fame.

    I’ll tell you this Manu that when there is hunger for something… that hunger can only last for sometime… after a while you get hungry for something else.

    sri sri does not crave for fame … what will he do with craving for fame? he is only interested in service … that is the only way one can radiate so much love … and greet the world with a smile all the time.

    Despite situations and moods in life he knows how to be loving and positive when he needs to be – and this Manu, is not a skill, it is something good that resonates from deep inside. This humble sincere vibration enables him to do this all his life.

    and your problem with people revering him is as ironical as the fashion choice that perturbs you.. in fact sadhus wearing that similar style of clothes is not an abnormality… in fact it is quite the opposite …

    if people want to revere him that’s fine … how does it affect you … if the person being revered is trying to instill qualities of service, self-improvement and a down-to-earth mentality in life …. whether you are rich or poor is beautiful … just the thought itself ….

    we often go criticizing our environment, even our own people… and yet look … just take a step back … what have we done to make life around the world better?

    we should ask ourselves that first … focus on doing service… forget the magazine covers dude … just do good in the world it is beautiful🙂

    ***

    i dont agree …

    the saint does not judge you for touching his or her feet … he sees it as … the other person wanting to express gratitude in some way … you are welcome to do it silently from your heart that is acceptable to any true spiritual person…

    yes it is a cultural thing to touch the feet of elders but i think if anyone might not like the “lack of respect” by not touching feet … it is the common man perhaps in that culture … but then thats true with the common man within any culture… thers always somebody thriving on gossip

    forget how ppl judge you wen u intend good … just keep your heart that is already beautiful and simple, light and simple

    ***

    sorry manu joseph is way too high headed .. and lacks coherence in his writing … pulling in way too abstract examples and then tying them to the one person …saying he also is like that … (the breast examples is appalling and highly disrespectful … it might have happened with someone else… but please dont drag anyone else’s name in it)

    this guy needs from integrity in his writing … not a bashing of his own ego flowing through it

    ***

    “The person who finds it(effectively the truth about high) is requested to inform this reporter first.”

    Laughable! Clearly Manu does not have depth in his writing to say somethin like that …. in fact it is almost hypocritical! Since just like writing a piece is an experience that can only be described in thoughts and emotions after going through it …
    similarly life is an experience always growing and stretching you… not a dictionary definition Manu is looking for.

  11. Raghavan Says:

    Manu Joseph is basing his opinion about only middle class and rich people being impacted by Art Of Living on his one encounter with Sri Sri in the midst of celebrities. Ask him to go the thousands of villages in Maharashtra where the breathing/meditation techniques have weaned people way from alcoholism, suicide etc. Ask him to talk to the farmers who have benefited from organic farming techniques taught to them. Come to Pune where a group of people (including myself) work at an orphanage teaching such techniques free of cost along with vocational training techniques sponsored by us (AOL volunteers) and the local AOL chapter. Then go back and re-write this article. Until then it only smacks of poorly researched journalism.

  12. Sam Says:

    @Krishna Kumar
    “You say “….Christians have their Nazis…” Is it correct? Yes, the Germans who joined the Nazi Party were Christians in their faith. But, to the best of my knowledge, none of the numerous churches of Christianity ever endorsed Nazism.”

    Which mainstream, peace-loving swami or maulvi supports the current sangh and jihadi terrorists?

    Religious fundamentalists tend to establish their own “churches” and / or try to take over existing ones.

    Support and / or sanctions for their extremism doesn’t come from the mainstream religion but by their own “swamis” and “maulvis”,

    In the case of Nazism too, the Nazi party made great efforts to take over the “mainstream” churches or establish their own. These two wikipedia articles – Nazism and Christianity and German Christians – should provide you some good read on this, if you are interested.

  13. R Sachi Says:

    Joseph is ignorant: every true Hindu is a freelancer, and Hindu preachers are not schooled nor Hinduism converts the differ not just Hindus, even Christian and Muslim and Buddhist spiritual leaders too dress differently. If he ridicules Tagore, let him read Vivekananda, Gandhi and Radhakrishnan. Every man is on a journey for his own truth..only journalists meddle in other’s truth! I can understand if Manu Joseph doesn’t subscribe to any religion or spirituality and hence ridicules anyone and everyone.

  14. mazoom Says:

    The opposite of a “freelancer” would be a slave, an employee, a “service man”, somebody who is beholden to some one else.

    In my analysis, Manuel Joseph aka Manu Joseph who works for his paymaster, is not only afraid of being free, but also takes pride in his own condition. Such, can’t be helped !

  15. f2000560hwin Says:

    ‎1. Would you take a critic on the papacy seriously if it were to start with the assertion the pope wears a funny hat most of his followers don’t? Didn’t think so but Manu thinks its a pertinent point.

    ‎2. Is it seriously that wrong to rely on faith, yoga and religion to find meaning in life. I personally may not but that doesn’t entitle me to mock those who do. He dosn’t spare Tagore also.

    ‎3. Manu i think its polite to follow to the mores of the host house. If i am invited to dinner in a christian family that insists of saying grace before dinner i don’t start eating when they say their prayers. If I have to cover my head before entering the gurudwara I would do it, so would any polite respectful person. If it was that demeaning to sit on the floor to interview him you could have called it off, instead you end up acting like the big wanker you are.

    4. Manu I am not deeply religious or spiritual but your painting of most Hindu gurus as charlatans is a leap of logic not too different from painting all Church bishops and the like as paedophiles and all muslim as hate spewing demagogues. Perhaps you need a crash course in statistics cause you have sighted just one sample set ( and that too non verifiable) to bolster your assertion. Little wonder you couldn’t have cleared those objective entrances like your Open biograph mention you dim wit.

    5. Personally one of the endearing points in Hinduism is the lack of central chain of command and mores and the fact its like one big tree under which many small tree ( sub cultures) exist without being crushed. The presence of a chain of command is hardly going to eliminate few bad eggs as is evident from the crisis in various churches.

  16. Sanjay Austa Says:

    Loved Manu Joseph’s Piece,
    I am a photojournalist and I had a near similar experience when I spent a day with him and his followers in 2000. I was bewildered how Sri Sri, who claims to own nothing, zipped around in fancy cars and how his rich disciples huddled together in buses.. Here is a link to the full story of that day.
    http://www.sanjayausta.com/2011/08/24/sri-sri-ravi-shankar-and-the-art-of-living-it-up/

  17. abhishek Says:

    @sanjay austa,
    Dear sanjay,
    Read your article.I have done sudarshan kriya and it has only helped me in every way.are you not being too harsh in your judgment?Like you have a problem with two “sris” in his name.It’s like asking why you name is spelled sanjay and not sanjai instead.As for his going in mercedes cars,I am confused as to whether your problem is that sri sri was going in a merc or that you were huddled in a bus.

    Anyways, the equivalent of gurus in western and arab world own more than a few mercs. Have you seen any bishop’s house in any part of the country??Just a bishop of a small congregation has an official residence that can put a minister’s house to shame.The big daddy of the bishops,our pope owns a country.Poeple like imam bukhari dabble in politics so openly.Have you seen his residence??ayatollah ,the spiritual leader of iran,,,what luxuries does he lack??and these luxuries come to them officially.

    when it comes to gurus,you feel they should be wearing a loin cloth only.why this double standard??sri sri has never told his followers to go to jungle and attain nirvana.So why should he do it?if he does not preach it,then why practice it?As for sudarshan kriya being and age old technique,when i did my basic course,it was told by the teacher that it is indeed a 5000 year old technique that has been repackaged to suit today’s needs. As for patenting it,it is a powerful breathing technique solely depending on the rhythm of breath.I do not know if you have ever been into sports in you life,the rythmn of breath does make a difference to how smooth or rough your activity is.The wrong kind of breath in yoga or weight lifting can lead to grave injuries.If every T,D and H starts practicing this thing on his own and something goes wrong,who will be held responsible??It will become a major article for you,right??

    as for art of living defacing any hill or mountain,I do not know wht is your definition of defacing.If it means that one hill had to be bulldozed for it then it’s wrong.But if a view is being obstructed for the duration of the visit,how does it matter yaar?? I have been to AOL courses and the first thing they ensure is that their campsite is cleaned thoroughly.

    If you can find nothing right with sri sri ,it just means that you are extremely prejudiced.You have a problem with his name,his cars,his yoga,his hotel……….is there nothing good in this man at all???And you have not even done the course like AOL people said.Is it not a bit too much?all because you were not given the VIP treatment as a photo journalist??

    as for Mr MANU JOSEPH, please fix an interview with arch bishop of delhi or the pope or imam of jama masjid and then show some disrespect like not kissing pope’s hands or something………..and then speak…………….your “guts” will be there for all to see and what’s more,in this forum i will render you my apologies


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