God in the Age of Kali
Gurus Wear Different Garb
Cheryl Simone's book does not throw much more light on the life of Jaggi Vasudev. And despite the gushy blurbs on the back cover, I found the tract contained nothing more than a superficial inquiry into the challenges of life and being, in conversations spread over a period of five nights, at the lakeside home that Cheryl owns in North Carolina. Sadhguru does not reveal much about his life, and Cheryl even fails to ask him about his wife, Vijayalakshmi, who died in 1997 and to whom a shrine is devoted at the Isha Yoga Center—the headquarters of the foundation that the Sadhguru has built near Coimbatore, India. Nor does she ask him about his daughter, Radhe, and his relationship with her. So, for any reader interested in dialogues between master and disciple, and about the origins and detours of the master's life, Patrick Levy's Sadhus: Going beyond the Dreadlocks, is more satisfying.
The Sadhguru, however, has caught the imagination of the world, and has logged more miles jetting to different venues than Anand Baba, the guru who still guides Patrick Levy, will ever do traveling by train in India or walking the paths up Himalayan peaks. But this is where I have to revert to my first paragraph: gurus and Godmen come wearing different garb, cater to different kinds of seekers, and live and walk different paths. Jaggi Vasudev wears a flamboyant but unruly beard, from what I can make out from photographs and the many YouTube videos, as well as sporting aviator glasses. He is comfortable wearing blue and tan jeans as he is wearing Indian-style loose, white cotton pants. He is not the "typical" Indian guru, if one imagined an Indian guru as wearing nothing more than a loincloth, or only a little bit more in the form of simple white, or saffron-colored robes. Here again, one has to be cautious about pigeon-holing Indian holy-men: we know that J. Krishnamurti, the very well-known Indian philosopher/teacher who caught the imagination of the West in the early part of 20th century, and who traveled the world for more than six decades till he passed away in 1986, wore Seville-Row suits when he traveled in the West, and wore stylish Indian cotton clothes when he spent time in India.
Whatever he wears, and wherever he is guiding his students, Jaggi Vasudev seems to be in his element. His students remark about his zest for life. That is all well and good when most of us—whether successful or not—are burdened by anxieties. To unburden those anxieties and to learn about our bodies and minds, the Isha Foundation has a beautiful retreat and ashram in Tennessee. Just as at the Indian retreat, students get to learn yoga, and are helped by trained teachers to work through one's physical and other ailments. But Jaggi Vasudev, while helping one student at a time, has also set his sights on transforming the world, realizing however that even a Godman is limited in his abilities to will change. When he was asked recently in India about what he needed to change the world, he said that he would want the attention of heads of the twenty-four most powerful nations in the world for five days, and that if he transformed them they would be able to, in turn, navigate the world into safer waters. Let us keep our fingers crossed!
What would he tell them and show them? What are Jaggi Vasudev's special/unique lessons that enable his students to go back home happier than when they first went to meet him? One facility that he has is that he speaks well the language of modern, educated citizens of the world. He has traveled around the world, met with business leaders, politicians, and academics. Business schools have sent their students to learn from him. However, there is nothing new that he says because there cannot be anything new in human travails and what can be said about them! He does believe, however, that there is a change in guard from military leaders to politicians, and soon power will be shifted into the hands of those who hold and have economic power. And how should they wield power then? He says: "Power is a privilege that some human beings get. So when such a privilege and responsibility is placed in your hands, every action and every thought that it generates, every emotion that you can form, can touch and transform millions of lives. I think the kind of thought you generate, the action that comes out of you, has to be looked at from that perspective."
Hmmm.... I continue to be a skeptic about such global transformation. Sometimes, one doubts if there can be even an individual transformation, as the maverick Indian guru, U.G. Krishnamurti went around proclaiming for almost as long as J. Krishnamurti went around proclaiming the opposite!
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.