I attended one of Isha’s online cum contact programs eager to know what he offer for all the techies to flock to him. I had got positive reviews of ‘mindfullness exercises’ from the writings of ‘reliable’ skeptics like Sam Harris and Yuval Harari, and wanted to get an idea of one of the many practices. Isha’s course seems easily accessible at my place of work.
His online course called Inner Engineering Program involve seven modules of 1.5-2 hour sessions of monologues followed by few review session. These session dealt on existential questions like ‘origin of happiness’, taking responsibility to self, purpose of life and so and so forth. In one of the last session he introduced an AUM chanting exercise, which seems to be a good mindfulness exercise. The contact session was spread over two days, a half-day session of the same repetitive talks and one day session of initiation of the so-called ‘Sambhavi Mahamudra’,
The exercises are, as such, worthwhile, but is no way original. They are renamed version of traditional Yoga exercises. But Sadhguru has chosen his experience to select few core ones for the purpose of what he call as ‘inner engineering’ which I think deserves credit.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is quite an intelligent person, a keen people-watcher and presents himself as a ‘Yogic mystic’ who is ‘scientific’ and current. He was born as the son of an ophthalmologist. According to his own narration, he was a non-conformist, running from his house every time he gets pocket money to spend. He would spend time in the nearby forest, ‘catching snakes’ and ‘sleeping on trees’. He would return home only when he had run out of money. He studied English literature from Mysore University, and went on to start multiple successful business ventures.
Again, according to what he claims, at the age of 25 years, he had his moment of ‘enlightenment’ and ecstasy while spending time in Chamundhi hills near Mysore. Apparently, this event stretched for many days, and his orientation to life changed after that. He quit his business and set out travelling in search of his spiritual longing. He started to give classes to local seekers, and over a period of time gained popularity. He finally settled down in the foothills of Vellamani hills near Coimbatore, and has built an empire of spiritual industry with thousands of volunteers providing free service. His institution, Isha Yoga foundation conducts classes tailored made to various kinds of audience- from the beginner to the advanced. His USP is his claim to transform people to blissfulness, just as he claims he is in.
Quite suave in his language skills, he runs sponsored ads in Facebook with interviews with Bollywood celebrities and rock star journalists. Selected portion of the interviews are circulated widely, projecting himself as a charming new age guru, conversant in the manners of the 21st century.
People who are not used to Science-spirituality mumbo jumbo would easily fall prey to the speeches of Sadhguru. He mixes scratches from the edges of pop quantum physics, pop psychology and even modern skepticism, and mixes it with questions of mysticism to the utter amazement of his audience. People who have a bend of skepticism, but no advanced tools to handle it too far would easily fall prey when Sadhguru starts with the iconoclastic ideas of skepticism. Here, he shadows what Osha Rajanesh used to do in his heydays. While denying many concepts of traditional religions like heaven-hell and personal God, he endears to the half-intellectual techies and junkies, who do not know how to cleave reason from rhetoric. On his pseudoscience side, he champions the ‘dowsing’ the ‘pranic value’ of food items using Rudrasha, and ‘demonstrates’ the technique to his gullible audience. For those weak hearts who fall for his Yogic initiation, he markets replica of a ‘self-consecrated’ Dhanyalinga as ‘power house’ of spiritual energy to be kept at home for spiritual awakening. The advanced session for the initiated include various types of breathing modulating exercises as well as high endurance physical practices in an environment that is hypnotic by association.
His mass breath regulating Yogic exercises which concludes his online courses is garnished by screams of ‘ecstasy’, which the novice members have to ‘tolerate’ without opening their eyes. These cries of ecstasy are not unlike the hypnotic trances followers of cult-leaders like Jim Jones and Osha Rajneesh used to experience. While stressing that mythical stories of the Puranas are just stories to reveal ‘higher truth’, he is quick to tap the market of scared walks to Himalayas and Kailash Manasarovar. Denying heaven and hell and traditional God, he prepares his followers to make heaven in their inner life. While many of his speeches are conventional truths of existential and psychology literature, he frequently ‘trips’ pseudoscience when the resistance for questions are softened by opening the speech with a set of valid statements. The audience, however, is not able to decipher this on-and-off transition to nonsense. They get hooked to the ‘wisdom’ of his existentialist and skeptical opening statements.
While his Facebook speeches are pithy and relevant, his speeches in his courses are repetitive and boring. His courses like Sambavi Mahamudra are good collections of mindfulness and breath manipulating exercises, but his claims that they will change the ‘inner chemistry’ of the practitioners to blissful ecstasy seems quite farfetched. Nevertheless, the claims of transforming the inner chemistry might be true to extend the breathing exercises and mass hypnosis can do to receptive audience. His pseudoscientific rants like his justification of rituals at Sani temple, his claims that water has memory and his Rudrasha marketing tricks taps into the ignorance of the methods of scientific inquiry in the masses. His progressive initiatives like ‘Rally for the River’ tend to obliterate the memories of the shady stories of the death of his wife (which he claims was a ‘Mahasamadi’).
He is said to be a scholar of Osho literature and seems keen to replicate the Osha’s model of new age wisdom and ancient spirituality. He is careful in not being unpopular and delivers his beliefs only as much as the audience can tolerate. For instance, for a beginner Western audience he cut-shorts his discussion of ‘pranic foods’ and his beliefs on the past birth ‘Karmic responsibility’. He is shrewd enough to understand when to delve into valid psychological facts and when to take out his baggage of unverified theories.
Both in his form and content he reinvents Osho Rajneesh in the best marketable form that is relevant to the confused, stressed-up techies and the ‘enlightenment seeker. For the ‘enlightenment industry’, he is the next big industrialist in the league of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Oslo Rajneesh.
For the confused, frustrated and the ignorant, Isha foundation invites you to a megamall of ecstasy. For the less confused, Isha’s Yoga package is an eclectic accessible source of good mind-fullness exercises. For the latter group, the advice is to be alert to the digressions Sadhguru makes.
1. Mix of wisdom and nonsense, typical of new age guru like Osha Rajaneesh and cult writers like Robert Pirsig
1. Rejects heaven and hell, quite in syn with the market
2. Propounds self-awareness and responsibility
3. Smart mix of Yoga-mindfulness exercises
1. Pseudoscience mumbo-jumbo
2. Beliefs in paranormal and occult practices, but limits discussion only to the utterly gullible followers
Evil tail: An uninvestigated death discussed as ‘Mahasamadi’
1. Enlightenment tricks
2. Ecstasy cries
3. Dhanyalinga artifacts
4. Rudraska tricks
5. Spectacle of drinking cobra venom (which. my 6-year son tells me, is not a poison, as it gets inactivated in the stomach!)
Will you benefit from the course?: Yes, provided you stick to the mindfulness exercise part of it. As Sadhguru exhorts, be detached and take the Yoga part alone. Don’t believe that just because he propounds skepticism in the beginning, all what he say is true. Most probably, Sadhguru himself is confused with the literature he reads.
Below is a collection of Isha’s own mumbo-jumbo snippets for the users to be aware of (Courtesy of collection from Science educator Babu Gogineni )
|1. Water Has Memoryhttps://youtu.be/6C1p4HUHlfE
2. Rudraksh purifies Aura around a person. Rudraksh can be used to find out the ‘pranic quality
of food. This is demonstrated on stage without any sort of control or blinding, to the utter amazement of his guillbile followers.
3. Darwin stole Evolution from Hindu mythology
4. His Wife Announced Her Death 9 months before
In this video he claims that his wife announced 9 months ahead of time that she is going to die and she did it. Also he claims that woman wear a metal ring to their feet just to make sure they don’t accidentally leave their body when they get to a certain state of exuberance. Similarly his wife removed all the jewelers before she went into Mahasamadhi (which is another paranormal term like Aura)
Whereas her father lodged a police complaint suspecting that he killed her.
5. Sani Temple is built based on planet Saturn:
6. Mercury solidifies at room temperature in presence of lord Shiva.
7. Telepathy is real and it can work by tuning the mind in a certain way.
8. Food turns into poison during eclipse.