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The Dark Side of Yoga: Allegations of Exploitation and Cult-like Practices in Prominent Organization

Be it for inner peace or as alternative medicine, when it comes to yoga, organizations like the Art of Living and the Isha Foundation exercise a monopoly over the rest.

In the reviews, one finds nothing but success stories and grateful, satisfied customers. The Art of Living is a non-profit whose mission is to reawaken the human values of compassion, love, togetherness, joy, and harmony in order to realize a true representation of a one-world family... reads the slickly designed website.

These organizations not only make achieving your personal goals appear fast and easy but also hold weight in society, the gurus keeping exalted company and having a social stature that affords them and their organization great leeway. They make it impossible to dismiss their program outright, feeding on people’s theological beliefs, and making it very hard to ignore their advertisements.

Reports of attempts to brainwash clients into believing that Indian gods were the only real gods and thinking that the ‘guru’ is the only true spiritual leader are plenty, and with this, the gurus have succeeded in creating not only a loyal following but a cult. The collective is designed to draw people in and make them lose all sense of self.

This has led many to believe that these organizations are a modern version of Hindu missionaries, and they aim to spread Hinduism.

However, these organizations have also been accused of bastardizing the Hindu religion to profit.

Their courses are varied, but the one thing common to all of them is the concept that connection with a guru exonerates you in some convoluted way of accountability for your actions. Instead of helping one face and deal with guilt, these organizations’ doctrine is that by giving to the guru, a person is atoning and is allowed to continue self-indulgence without feeling responsible.

Even as they teach material detachment and simplicity, the Art of Living’s e-commerce site features a wider variety of merchandise, from CDs and puja materials to clothing. Isha Foundation’s merchandise is eerily similar, simply branded differently.

There are no public records of the Isha Foundation's revenues in India but it claims that donations— "contributions"— account for a substantial amount. Many have discovered that their mandatory fees to enter sessions and buy merchandise are listed under donations. Refunds have been refused.

Complaints about how the Isha Foundation misuses the 80G exemption, which solely covers 'voluntary donation', to evade tax disappear. The Foundation has also been known to violate both construction and education laws, opening a “school” without permission and constituting on restricted forest land before requesting permission. Complaints are overlooked and cases are dropped without reason as these organizations continue to flourish and grow.

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