The campaign of one candidate for Seattle City Council has been funded in large part by an occasionally controversial international spiritual organization called the Art of Living Foundation.
Brian Carver, a 34-year-old Amazon.com employee who is challenging Councilmember Richard Conlin, is listed as the Art of Living’s Seattle contact on its website. He does not make a point of talking about that on the campaign trail, and the organization is not mentioned on his campaign site.
But a review of disclosure documents filed with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission indicates that of Carver’s top 50 donors, at least 34 of them are members of the Art of Living. Many are leaders in the group. Most do not live in Seattle or Washington state.
The Art of Living, founded in 1981 by the spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, describes itself as “an educational and humanitarian movement engaged in stress-management and service initiatives.” The group is based in India but operates throughout the world, focusing on its trademark yoga and meditation classes but also providing disaster relief and organizing other volunteer missions, according to its website.
The foundation recently settled a lawsuit it brought against two bloggers who had claimed to be former members and accused the group of being a cult.
Asked about the group, Carver said he is not running to represent it. But he said it has inspired him to serve.
“I have been inspired by Art of Living activities. I’ve been a volunteer for many years doing social service,” he said. “Since I practice the breathing techniques, I feel energized and full of enthusiasm, and my personal life is so much better and free of stress. Instead of thinking about just one’s self, I want to serve the society.”
Carver said he encountered the group while doing an exchange program in India while studying for a business degree.
“I had never done meditation or yoga or anything like that, and I wanted to experience something new,” said Carver, adding that, “I was blown away by the impact. I had so much more clarity of mind.”
Carver eventually became an instructor and now serves as the group’s national director for its college program.