God in the Age of Kali
Gurus Wear Different Garb
In India, gurus and Godmen come wearing a variety of garb, for the 1.1 billion Indians neither speak one language, nor worship God in one form. Different class, caste, ethnic, linguistic, regional, cultural, and educational affiliations make Indians one of the most diverse peoples in the world. How could one guru cater to and satisfy them all?
Thus, a book that I finished reading last week, titled Midnights with the Mystic, made me aware once again of the very fertile Indian ground that enables the birth of someone like Jaggi (Jagadish) Vasudev, known now as Sadhguru, who travels the globe, rides BMW motorbikes, and even soothes the anxieties of the very rich and powerful who meet annually at Davos to ponder the future of the world.
Very little of the details of Jaggi Vasudev's early life is available—either in his talks, on the Isha Foundation website, or in the books written about him. In Kannada, the language that Vasudev grew up speaking, which happens to be mine too, there is a saying that one should not inquire into the origins of a river or of a "rishi" or sage. Whether these gurus fight shy of revealing their lives for fear that their mystique will be diminished, or truly because they want their disciples not to get lost in the thickets of the ordinary and the mundane, we don't know. Thus, beyond the fact that he was born in Mysore, that his father was a doctor, and that he came under the influence and tutelage of the well-known Karnataka yogi, Malladihalli Raghavendra Swami, and that one of his grandmothers (or was it great grandmother?) was "God-crazy," we know very little of the many years that Vasudev spent in Mysore. I believe he might have been attending college, while I did too, between 1977 and 1978, because he is just a year younger than me. If indeed he completed his BA in English at the Maharaja College in Mysore, as it is reported, and I was working on my MA in political science on the nearby University of Mysore campus, our paths may have crossed in some nearby coffee shop. He was not Sadhguru then, and I was not a very happy camper at the University of Mysore dorms since some of the young men belonging to the politically powerful Gowda caste were rife on campus twirling their mustaches, stealing and opening letters that they thought contained some juicy boyfriend-girlfriend revelations, and jumping the line for hot water for baths!
Jaggi Vasudev, before he had revelatory experiences, supposedly loved to ride his India-made motorbike fast and furious around Mysore, started a poultry farm which proved very profitable, and even got into the construction business, which we are told is now leveraged for helping well-off disciples design and construct earth-friendly homes. Then, one day, while he was sitting on a rock on the Chamundi Hills that overlooks the city of Mysore, he felt a powerful, expansive feeling that changed him forever.
Ramesh Rao teaches communication studies at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. He is a prolific author on Hindu and Indian affairs, and serves as the human rights coordinator for the Hindu American Foundation.