On the 19th, last Sunday, the Open Air Theatre on the Manasagangothri campus was filled to capacity after a long time. It felt like I was at a well-funded rock show. There was a good sound, fantastic lighting and an air of excitement like you were expecting to see a rockstar. And we did see a rockstar, albeit a spiritual rockstar — Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.
The way he appeared at the venue, the way he was received, the way he got off the motorcycle, the way he kept his sunglasses on throughout a night event, the choice of headgear he wore, and the way the crowd was coached to shout and wave placards that read ‘Save Soil’ before his arrival felt like it was a well-managed show by a team who had done this many times before.
That evening it was clear that Jaggi was a spiritual showman. I don’t mean it disparagingly. His style of dispensing spiritualism has made spirituality appealing to new India and even the world.
Instead of Sadhguru, he could very well be cool-guru. A perfect blend of earthy Indian clothes, who rides a BMW motorcycle, plays golf, takes up environmental causes, promotes classical arts, etc. He looks and acts like the new young Indian — take what you like from the West, but still appreciate and be proud of your culture.
The show began, and it was a dance performance by students from Jaggi’s initiative to nurture classical arts called ‘Project Samskruti’. The first performance was by his daughter Radhe Jaggi. She was exceptional. So also, the other dances and the choreography were brilliant.
Finally, Jaggi spoke, and I was disappointed.
As he got up to speak, a person next to me said, “Not bad for a Mysuru boy, no?” Well, he may have been born, grown up and enlightened in Mysuru, but there was something about Jaggi that evening that made me feel like he was not my hometown boy. Something about him felt like he didn’t particularly like people perceiving him as a ‘Mysuru’ boy anymore.
I’m no language fanatic, but I like it when people make a good gesture. A true Mysurean will always say “Namaskara, hege iddira?” Even the Prime Minister felt like saying a few words in Kannada to endear himself to Mysureans to connect to the Kannada audience. And Jaggi, who was born and brought up in our city, could have said a few words of endearment in Kannada. But he didn’t.
Maybe Jaggi doesn’t want to offend the ‘linguistically hyper-sensitive’ Tamil people as his Foundation is located in that State.
I suppose Jaggi is out to become a global guru, so English is his chosen medium. So he continued with his oddly Americanised accent to bemoan us to ‘Save Soil’ while often stopping to say a rather patronising and rhetorical “hello?”
I have been a voracious consumer of spiritual literature, particularly people like Osho, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Khalil Gibran, so for me, Jaggi doesn’t offer anything new. But I like how he has mixed and matched the same concepts and presented them in a way that is easy to understand, consume and apply.
Jaggi has found the balance between being a therapist and a spiritualist. He has the right wordplay, good timing and jargon. Guess his B.A. in English Literature is coming in handy after all.
Many may mock him, question his financial motive, raise questions about his Ashram being built on an elephant corridor or say that his spirituality lacks depth and is rehashed. But one can’t deny the fact that it works for our times. It has worked and is working for millions of people. Jaggi’s preachings are not highbrow, and that’s what make them appealing, pragmatic and essential.
Jaggi is to India’s spiritual market what Chetan Bhagat is to the Indian English literature market. And they are both important. Chetan Bhagat may be ruthlessly critiqued, but then he writes books that are easy to read and relate to. And for a nation that is just learning to pick up English books, that matters.
Similarly, Jaggi may be ‘spirituality-lite’, but it has gotten people to explore the idea of ‘happiness’ as an essential aspect of living. Today because of Jaggi, young and old people have started to differentiate between just ‘existing’ and actually ‘living’. I like that Jaggi has made spirituality more important than religion without being abusive and brash like Osho.
Yes, Jaggi Vasudev is an excellent hand to hold when you need positivity in your life. But I might need our rockstar guru’s help to stop his devotees from rocking my world and ruining my rejuvenating walks up the Chamundi Hill.
Over the past year, I have met quite a few people who stop me as I walk up the hill to ask me, “Where is Sadhguru Rock.” Chamundi Hill is our city’s deity, Goddess Chamundeshwari’s abode. I fear that as Jaggi keeps talking about the rock on which he attained enlightenment, his followers will create a shrine on the rock sooner or later. Worse, people might start lining up to sit on the rock to get enlightened.
If that happens may be the Chamundi Temple Management Committee can start charging an ‘enlightenment fee’ to sit on the ‘enlightenment rock.’ Some devotee has already found the rock and even painted the Isha Foundation logo on it. Sad.
What disappointed me further that evening was that when Jaggi rode away on his bike with volunteers shouting ‘Save soil, save soil, save…’ and dancing to the ‘Save soil tune’, I noticed Jaggi was being followed by six huge backup cars! I was left screaming in my head, “Save soil indeed, but please save air too.”
A spiritual guide helps one navigate through this labyrinth called life but becoming obsessed with a person or movement can lead to intellectual blindness and introspective dystrophy. Having a spiritual guide is understandable, but while bowing at their feet, please let us not leave our brains there.
I now like Jaggi better on the short YouTube videos rather than watching him live.
P.S.: I couldn’t help but notice that the Isha volunteers were extremely courteous and even empathetic. We need kindness and empathy more than anything right now. Guess, Jaggi is doing something right. His Inner Engineering or rewiring, whatever it is, seems to have churned out good people. The volunteers’ behaviour has made me curious enough to visit the Isha Foundation soon.
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