If any city in the world is ripe for some spiritual diddling to sooth its weary soul, it’s Buenos Aires.
Not to be confused with the world-famous sitar player of the same name, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a spiritual leader and founder of the Art of Living Foundation. He imparts ancient Indian spiritual wisdom to millions of followers in a nifty New Age package.
The Newest Guru to the Stars
Marcelo Tinelli, host of Bailando por un sueño, Argentina’s version of Dancing With the Stars, boosted Shankar’s popularity in Argentina when he talked about his experience with the Art of Living in 2010. Without a hint of irony — considering the incongruous nature of a spiritual awakening with his often vulgar TV program — he said El Arte de Vivir “changed his life.”
Shankar’s courses have also come into fashion among the upper middle class in the northern areas of Buenos Aires. The Art of Living courses are taught at centers throughout the city and start at AR$490. There are discounts for those who sign up for multiple courses with names such as ‘Yes+’ and ‘Know Your Children.’
Buenos Aires: ‘City of Love’
Buenos Aires’ Mayor Mauricio Macri has also embraced the teachings of Shankar and is determined to take the city along with him on his spiritual journey.
In 2008 Macri entered into an agreement with the Art of Living Foundation ‘to improve the quality of life’ in Buenos Aires through programs to teach meditation and breathing techniques in schools, neighborhood community centers, and to public employees.
He reaffirmed his committment to make Buenos Aires ‘The Love Capital of the World’ on Thursday, while inaugurating the city’s spiritual conference ‘FeVida2012’ “We want to put Buenos Aires on the map as a spiritual focal point of Latin America,” he said.
Guru in the Middle of Political Scuffle
It’s the national government that originally embraced the Indian guru though. In 2006, the Department of Justice, under then-president, Néstor Kirchner, signed a contract with the Art of Living Foundation to teach meditation and pranayama breathing exercises in Argentina’s federal prisons. According to the Art of Living Foundation more than 5,000 Argentine prisoners have taken their courses.
Now that Shankar is aligned with Macri, the national government is denouncing his PRO party for promoting ‘commercialized spiritualism’ in the city’s schools. The accusations come shortly after the PRO party denounced the Ultra-Kirchnerista group La Cámpora for spreading its militant doctrine in public schools.
Now the national tax agency AFIP announced it is investigating the local chapter of Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation for tax evasion and money laundering.
AFIP’s director, Ricardo Echegaray sent a ‘report of suspicious operations’ to the Criminal Justice department several months ago, but the investigation only came to light on Thursday, the same day Macri inaugurated the ‘spiritual mega-conference.’
The federal tax evasion investigation is focusing on the destination of 20 million pesos (US$4.3 million) collected through donations and course fees for the Art of Living Foundation in 2011. The foundation is registered as a non-profit organization.
Rumors are floating around that city officials gave two million pesos to the foundation. On Wednesday congresswoman Delia Bisutti said, “I’ve gone through all the administrative channels to find out how much money the foundation received, but up until now the city government has not provided a figure.”
Macri said the FeVida event is not costing the city money and denied that the city made any donation to the Foundation.
Ancient Indian knowledge in under three minutes:
Mega Group Meditation
Buenos Aires Planetarium
La Pampa & Figueroa Alcorta Avenue
•2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9