“How deeply you touch another life is how rich your life is … the greatest thing that you can do in life is to live to your peak and to set an example that there is a way to live beyond all limitations … this life for me is an endeavour to help people experience and express their ultimate nature … it is … also … an endeavour to help people experience and express their divinity … .” – Sadhguru
Sadhguru – sant, sadhu, seer, mystic, visionary – much has been written, said and broadcast about this self-realized Indian yogi, who apropos is also a prolific writer and teacher, waxing eloquent on myriad topics and themes. There exists a whole treasure trove of information on him in the public domain, from features and profiles to his discourses and writings, from media interviews and conversations to talks given at various world fora – he certainly is no stranger to many of us. Founder of Isha, a group of globe-spanning non-for-profit organisations that offer yoga and wellness programmes to people from across the world, Sadhguru is based out of Coimbatore, India; while maintaining a presence in the United States and Great Britain, Lebanon and Singapore, Canada, Malaysia, Uganda, China, Nepal and Australia. His Foundation’s deep involvement in serious social and community development activities has won it much acclaim, like the special consultative status it enjoys with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Sadhguru was born in Mysore, Karnataka, on Tuesday the 3rd September 1957 to Susheela and Dr. Vasudev, an ophthalmologist with the Indian Railways. Jagadish, the youngest of four siblings, or Jaggi as has come to be known, evolved a deep interest in the workings of nature at a very young age. Snake-catching and truancy came naturally to him during his school days, even as he forayed frequently into the woods and jungle nearby, with sojourns sometimes lasting up to three days at a time. And in youth, his blunt clarity in life earned him the unenviable job of unofficial counsellor to problem-prone mates. But it was a chance encounter with Malladihalli Sri Raghavendra Swamiji when Jaggi was all of 12 years, as it turns out later, the watershed event that changed his life making him what he is today. The Swamiji takes Jaggi under his wing then, teaching him a set of simple yogasanas that Jaggi religiously maintained and practised … “without a single day’s break, this simple yoga that was taught to me kept happening, leading to a much deeper experience later.”
Schooling over, Jaggi Vasudev went to Mysore University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. This was the time he developed a fascination for motorcycles, and indulged in its logical corollary – travelling places on one. Chamundi Hill for him and his friends was an oft frequented haunt, where they rendezvoused and took off on long nocturnal drives. Jaggi Vasudev has apropos travelled extensively to many nooks and corners of our country astride his motorcycle in his lifetime. This new-found passion and wanderlust egged him on “to earn some quick money,” and just ride off somewhere at every whim. His attempts to put this plan into action saw him taking up a whole bunch of profitable businesses soon after graduation – a poultry farm, a brickworks and a construction business are well worth mention here.
The year was 1982 and Jaggi had just turned 25. One fine September day, something in him drove him to ride up Chamundi Hill … and there he sat alone still as the rock he was perched on, when all of a sudden, an overwhelming spiritual experience assailed him. Sadhguru tells us about it: “Till that moment in my life I always thought this is me and that’s somebody else and something else. But for the first time I did not know which is me and which is not me. Suddenly, what was me was just all over the place. The very rock on which I was sitting, the air that I breathe, the very atmosphere around me, I had just exploded into everything. That sounds like utter insanity. This, I thought it lasted for ten to fifteen minutes but when I came back to my normal consciousness, it was about four-and-a-half-hours I was sitting there, fully conscious, eyes open, but time had just flipped.”
Six weeks passed before Jaggi simply left his businesses to a friend and took off on a motorcycle on a soul-searching expedition, travelling wherever his fancy took him … virtually leading the life of a nomad, in an attempt to grasp that elusive trigger which had led to his mystical experience. A year of travel and meditation passed by before Jaggi came to a conclusion – he would teach yoga to share his inner experience with others. His first class happened in 1983 at Mysore, with just seven participants. Over time, he took his yoga classes all across Karnataka and to Hyderabad, travelling from class to class on his ever-present and ubiquitous motorcycle, living off the rental proceeds of his poultry farm, and refusing to take any payment for the classes – any collections that came from participants he would donate to a local charity on the last day of class. Jaggi Vasudev had taken the first step to become Sadhguru, as he is affectionately known today to his followers and well-wishers.
What transpired from then on till now is a rather amply well-documented story – on how the first ashram in the Velliangiri foothills came about to the gradual expansion of Isha to become a world-girdling organisation with millions of followers, volunteers and devotees who have pledged their lifetimes to full-time work with the various Isha endeavours … the Dhyanalingam, the Linga Bhairavi temple, the Adi-Yogi Aalayam – its all very much there in the public domain, which spares us the need to delve into it. After all, google’s your friend, just go ahead and google it! We, instead, shall tentatively explore and glean a few subjective aspects aspects of Sadhguru from that ocean of material available about him in media archives – some of them insightful and some simply anecdotal – to better understand the man, the mystic, the visionary and seer – and attempt getting a bit more closer to him through the effort …
The Sadhguru, at the very first sight, while he surely defies any stereotype of godmen or spiritual gurus, comes across as a man who loves all good things in life. “Oh, you are still using that Apple 4,” he quips to a journalist using it to record the tête-à-tête. This by the way is the real Jaggi Vasudev – modern day tech-savvy yogi and mystic who takes pleasure riding sports bikes, plays golf and, of course, is at home with modern gadgets. “If your idea of a guru is from a calendar, who has candy-floss beard and a constipated look on his face, then definitely I am not that. If someone has to be a guru he has to be contemporary, otherwise what sense will he make to modern day people,” he questions. And narrating how he reacts to people who often ask why he drives his own car or flies a helicopter when yogis in ancient times just used to walk, he says: “I tell them that in those days everyone used to walk, not merely the yogis !”
Sadhguru, who is known to hold radical views on a whole range of issues, is however quite vocally disapproving and anxious about every aspect of our lives getting blatantly commercial. “For me, health, education and spirituality should never be commercialised. Unfortunately, the first two have already succumbed to commercialisation, and now it’s slowly creeping into the spiritual sphere as well.”
Passionate about sports, Sadhguru is of the view that sport is a path to spirituality as well. This conviction of his has found ample expression in the path his foundation adopted decades ago, when they promoted an annual sports-focused event called ‘Gramotsavam’ in the Coimbatore district of Tamilnadu. “It all started some 24 years ago when we set up a yoga centre near Coimbatore. We thought we would teach yoga in the surrounding villages. On the first day, about 150 people came and after the programme, we served them meals. Next day, only 70 people turned up. When I asked the reason, I was told that many people have reservations about eating with certain caste members. I realised the 1,000-year-old caste practice was not going to go away in a day. So, instead of the afternoon meal, I made them play together. No scripture, after all, says you should not play together.”
In due course, his experiments with sport have only strengthened his convictions – sport was indeed a powerful medium that overrides caste and religion barriers to bring people of all ilks together. “I observed this is America, where till the late 1960s many whites hated the blacks, but loved to have Magic Johnson’s photo in their bedrooms,” recalls Sadhguru. By the same logic the Isha promoted Gramotsavam reveals yet another another spin-off – it has in a sense become a liberating activity for village women, who according to the mystic have never played a game since they were eight or nine years of age. “Today, even a 73-year-old grandmother walks onto the throwball court to the applause of thousands of spectators. This is indeed liberation … .”
As far as mystics go, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has consistently defied every preconceived notion you might hold about spiritual leaders. He admits to being as comfortable walking barefoot in the Himalayas to riding a BMW motorcycle on the highways or skimming hilltops in a helicopter. So it’s really not all that unusual to see him spend lunch hour playing a game of frisbee with Isha volunteers, or writing a poem on the nature of money … in the handmade paper journal he always carries around with him. His schedule is often an eclectic mix – ranging from addressing a gathering at the World Economic Forum in Davos to conducting an ‘Inner Engineering’ yoga programme in London. Recollecting the resentment of some people the first time he was invited to speak at the World Economic Forum, Sadhguru says, “I met a few people who questioned what a mystic was doing there. I told them that whether you make computers or software, the most essential business is human well being, and that’s my business too.”
Closely attuned as he is to the business world, he is much critical of CSR efforts by corporates. “CSR has become a guilt-washing process. Instead, why can’t companies structure their businesses such that it benefits the world and its people?” he asks. His logic is rather simple – Instead of letting your money lie idle in a bank account, why not use it to set up a new business with lower profit margins, but offering more widespread services? If you are good at it, your venture will expand and grow with more people benefiting from it, and it might just do away with the need for charity. “Nobody likes receiving a dole – it’s not in the human dignity to do so. People may accept it because they are desperate, but nobody is happy to be at the receiving end of charity” he says. “Once you nourish a plant, you don’t have to worry about what it will create because it will blossom all over the place, whether you like it or not,” is his view.
Well, much much more can be written about Sadhguru and his extraordinary approach to living and dying. I am in fact actually very tempted indeed to pen a piece that will take off from Sadhguru’s views on ‘the art of dying,’ but I will reserve it for some other time. That said and done, it is not my intention to write a hagiography, but instead point to the truism that the life Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has led reads like a well-structured life-manual for good living. And yes, Sadhguru … he is a strange man — a very strange man indeed — but … he’s for real.