Science, Spirituality, and the Psychobabble of Sadhguru

POV

Science, Spirituality, and the Psychobabble of Sadhguru

Illustration: Akshita Monga

L

ast year, when Coldplay came to Mumbai there was so much excitement, at least 100 people must have been added to the city’s population. The selfie-per-square-foot metric almost tripled as an entire generation came face-to-face with their idols from their early Vh1 days.

Back home my mother – minus the selfie obsession and the general promiscuity – was preparing to meet her rockstar. The TV’s volume was turned up to a 100, the children had quietly slunk out of the house, and the neighbours had braced themselves… because everyone knew it was time for Sadhguru, aka Jaggi Vasudev, aka the reason I have to fast every few days, to deliver another speech about consciousness.

For the uninitiated, Sadhguru is an erudite, well-spoken, modern-day Godman. He is to the upper middle-class what this gold-vomiting Godman used to be for our parents’ parents. The only difference is: Sadhguru doesn’t believe in visiting temples, he has slightly more progressive views on God, and claims to be a strong believer in modern science. He has also started a rally for rivers to revitalise our water bodies and to prevent incidents of drought and flood, and he does this through… missed calls. These are some pretty noble intentions for a person who shares a job title with Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and Asaram Bapu. So maybe things are not that bad.

It was during the recent lunar eclipse, however, that things started getting murky. I wasn’t forwarded yet another aesthetically shot picture of the supermoon, but a dire warning from the Godman’s website about consuming ANY KIND OF FOOD during an eclipse. Fortunately, for the dog waiting patiently by my side, I was half way through a sandwich when I read this.

This is what Sadhguru, who appears to have two million devoted, intelligent, educated followers who understand the term “Inner engineering”, had to say:

“If there is food in your body, in two hours’ time your energies will age by approximately twenty-eight days. Does that mean you can eat a raw-food diet on such a day? No, because the moment food goes into your body, the juices in your stomach attack and kill it… This is not just about food. This is about the way you are itself. If you have moved away from the natural dimension of who you are in anyway, you become more susceptible to these forces. If you are in your natural state, you are least available to these forces.”

Wait, whaaa, can you repeat the question?

"So what, I hear you say, at least he’s bothering to save the rivers, much like that other Godman Sri Sri, who spent ₹13.9 crore to make Yamuna-paar a more embarrassing place to come from."

Now admittedly, the last time I seriously studied any kind of biology was 10 years ago – when I was 15. I’m not sure how much things have changed since, but I’ve never had a stomach dimension that couldn’t be fixed by some good ol’ Hajmola and Pudin Hara, yet. Maybe the half sandwich will eventually “turn into poison” in my stomach, in which case I hope it ruins the mosquito ecosystem around my house.  

So what, I hear you say, at least he’s bothering to save the rivers, much like that other Godman Sri Sri, who spent ₹13.9 crore to make Yamuna-paar a more embarrassing place to come from. The Isha Foundation plan does call for a kilometre-long buffer of trees alongside all the rivers, which most scientists will agree is probably a good thing. The problem is that his campaign ignores very real problems like “back-to-back dams, sand mining, pollution, and plans to interlink rivers and build waterways”, as stated in this insightful article.

To add to this, Sadhguru has once delivered a speech where he implied that the water we’re drinking could change at a molecular level based on whether someone passed it us with a smile or a frown. This insight was dropped at IIT Madras, which makes you wonder why he doesn’t just shout pollution away already. Either way he was referring to a controversial theory on water memory, which has been debunked and propagated with equal fervour.

In the past, he has made videos about the Higgs boson particle, but claims very profoundly in the middle that, much like science, yoga attempts to realise the space between particles – a statement that’s likely to spawn a new form of Quantum Yoga abroad, so help us God.

Using a scientific theory or two, but giving it his own unique twist, and a touch of psychobabble seems to be his MO. And that, is the peculiar seduction of Sadhguru: It’s really difficult to dismiss him. He’s a well-spoken, supposed man of science, not a Zakir Naik equivalent you can laugh and reject outright.

To give you an idea of how hard it is to call out such an articulate man on his pseudoscience, sample these two quotes. One of them is real, the other was invented by a random word generator. Let’s see if you can tell the difference.

— “If you look at the Universe, you will not see anything. If you look at an atom intensely enough — and if it yields to you —  then you know how the universe is made.”

— “If you drink a certain volume of water at once, the body will determine how much to absorb and how much not, but if you sip it constantly, body will get confused and start absorbing more than it should.”

Do you think you have the right answer? Probably not, because I lied, and both of those are actual Sadhguru quotes, and none of them are really God-worthy. To be honest, I’ve read more profound axioms on certain shampoo bottles.

Taking this tone with my mother will probably result in punishment that involves more hours of watching Sadhguru, because the man – with his fancy cars, cool bikes, and interviews with Gordon Ramsay – has successfully managed to brainwash a majority of his followers into believing he is the coolest Godman this century has had to offer. If his peers are anything to go by, that might even be true.

Maybe I am being unfair. Why go after Sadhguru when he seems to be from the same school of science as our Science and Technology minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. The latter recently claimed that the Vedas had a theory superior to e=mc2 but refused to reveal it for some reason. It’s so easy to believe fake stuff these days that even Facebook and WhatsApp don’t need to try anymore.

It would have been fine if the Sadhguru were spreading whatever garden-variety message of peace and brotherhood and harmony and achieving your full potential he wanted to advance. No complaints there, and good luck to him. It is only when he dumbsplains science, which is then treated as gospel truth by his followers, that things begin to get tricky.

It’s impossible to force my views upon anyone, but I would like to sign off with food for thought – the next time you take culinary advice from a Godman, take it with a pinch of salt.

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