When I sit down closing my eyes and thinking about AOL, Isha Foundation and their leaders, I feel full acceptance of them. I am at peace. They have a right to exist and do the work that they are doing. I don't feel any aversion towards them. In the same right, I feel my strong critique of these institutions can exist too. All of us are needed for our growth.
When I understand that we are all on a learning journey towards the light / truth, then I see a rightful place for these institutions and their leaders. They are merely born out of the needs and aspirations of the large number of people and where they are in their journeys. And this is what I understand of it.
There is this Hero's Journey framework, which is no longer just a theory to me. I have personally verified it through experience multiple times, and it really captures many things for me that used to earlier leave me baffled and confused. When one hits the limits of one's 'Existential Universe / Bhoomi', one is tempted to stay on as long as possible by making small adjustments / improvements. There is a great pull towards leaving that Bhoomi and move in the direction of light / truth. Since the new Bhoomi is an unknown, there is an equally great fear that pulls in the opposite direction to keep one on the same bhoomi for as long as possible. When life becomes unbearable in that Bhoomi, one starts looking around for any means that will be offered to help provide relief / alleviate their suffering where one is. These small improvements actually do the intended work. Let's look at some examples from two angles: spirituality and sustainability.
The growing guilt arising from the fact of contributing to a destructive world becomes so unbearable on the materialistic bhoomi that one starts wanting to become more sustainable: composting, consuming organic food, planting trees, donating money, etc. while still tightly holding on to the corporate world. At this point, one decides to become the typical reStore customer.
The growing fatigue from inhabiting the materialistic bhoomi becomes so unbearable that one starts wanting to learn yoga, pranayama, meditation and listen to discourses on advaita / vedanta for a refreshing experience at the level of both body and spirit. At this point, one becomes the typical AOL follower.
Am I equating reStore and AOL here? Yes. And No.
Why yes, should be obvious from the explanation above. We both offer something to relieve suffering to people who walk in as consumers.
Why no? I have heard from many people who have joined AOL, etc. that they really found something valuable that they were seeking at that point in their journeys and really benefited from it. Real seekers of the truth cannot and will not inhabit these spaces as 'mere consumers' for too long. They will want to move on. As their journeys progressed, their new questions and insights could not be held (or even tolerated) in these spaces. They had to leave. At reStore, as our collective knowledge and journey also deepens, we attempt to open up newer spaces for those who are ready to progress in their journeys, seeking new knowledge: information & ways of being and doing. The BTTL is one such attempt. How effectively we do it, I don't know. But the attempt is sincere.
So, to answer the question: Do organisations like AOL and Isha Foundation actually benefit people? Yes. Sudharshana Kriya, healthy organic diet, pranayama are all immensely helpful in our present day lifestyles to find relief. But it is also limiting. If the Gurus are indeed interested in helping their students shift their bhoomis, they need to also point out the limitation of these relief measures without negating them. I translate their reluctance to do that as either a lack of real understanding or lack of integrity. Either way, I question their enlightenment!
I invite all those who oppose / villify organisations like AOL to their see their place in the larger scheme of things, without the need to either justify or condemn them. They are there for a reason. Enquiring into that reason can bring us more acceptance, peace, clarity and strength.