Sadhguru on ‘The Daily Show’ Signals the Spread of Soft Hindutva as Spirituality in the West
Trevor Noah fist-bumping Jagadish “Jaggi” Vasudev may go down in history as an image akin to Jimmy Fallon tousling Donald Trump’s hair. Both lend an air of normalcy and benign relatability to people who are anything but.
Vasudev, commonly known as Sadhguru, was invited on The Daily Show, hosted by South African comedian Trevor Noah. He spoke about the “Save Soil” campaign — purported to be an environmental campaign to save soil from desertification. A Newslaundry investigation revealed, meanwhile, that Vasudev’s Isha Yoga campus was built on Ikkarai Boluvampatti, an Adivasi hamlet in Tamil Nadu, without adequate environmental clearances.
“Man-animal conflict in and around the forests of Coimbatore has seen a spurt in the past 15-20 years. Primary reason is illegal construction in the elephant habitat, and Isha is involved on a wide scale. We are trying to save the natural environment of this area, to preserve its biodiversity. That’s why we are fighting against Isha’s illegal constructions. It’s not a personal feud,” a petition in the Madras High Court noted.
The West has had a penchant for Eastern babas for a long time now. Jaggi Vasudev in particular represents the 21st century’s favorite spiritual guru rubbing shoulders with (usually) American stars looking to find inner peace. More recently, Charlie Puth, SZA, and Matthew McConaughey have met with Sadhguru and have posted about their interactions with him — helping him cultivate not only his own soft power, but also bequeathing legitimacy to Hindutva’s attempts to globalize as a peace-loving, harmless culture.
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Back home, Sadhguru is known to have expropriated land for his sprawling ashram and spread Islamophobic rhetoric. He once infamously called a Muslim student “Talibani” and, soon after, lent support to the Citizenship Amendment Act — a piece of legislation that sparked massive protests for its unconstitutionality. His endorsement was praised by the Primer Minister, who appreciated how Sadhguru “calls out the misinformation by vested interest groups” — all while universities were ransacked and protestors shot, tear gassed, and killed at the behest of the ruling government.
Despite these and many other instances of soft-saffronization, Sadhguru continues to be invited to celebrity interactions and talk shows abroad, where he is given free reign to spout mystical nothings in exchange for greater credibility. The latest instance is just another that shows how an orientalist gaze homogenizes Eastern cultures into a marketable, consumable entity. It’s the impulse that makes Sadhguru virtually indistinguishable to the Dalai Lama to the untrained Western eye. This secular spirituality allows all ideas from the East to be appropriated and marketed as a divine self-fulfilment hack to boost individual prosperity and happiness. In the process, cultural, social, and historical nuances are smoothed over.
Sadhguru is an exceptionally dangerous example of this process in action. He is a “cool baba” — heavily robed and bearded in a way that makes him appear as a benevolent figure of inner peace for hippie-lite lifestylers. He speaks English well — relatively unaccented, articulate, and some would say eloquent — making for a good global export of Hindutva under the guise of peace and love. He is, in other words, the human equivalent of a turmeric latte, if the latte also contained arsenic without anybody’s knowledge. As part of a self-improvement spirituality industrial complex, Sadhguru peddles a faux mysticism that sounds appealing — even helping many in their personal lives — but which sows the seeds of ideological legitimacy to exclusionary politics in the process.
“Sadhguru’s utility for chest-thumping Hindutva nationalists is unique and specific. He provides a universalistic philosophical mooring to a kind of politics that is otherwise very earthly and sectarian. With his abstract, yet calmly-delivered rants about moral philosophy, spiritual thought and ideal practice, Sadhguru delivers a sombre edge to the militant spirit of Hindutva politics,” a column in The Wire notes.
Western spirituality culture is thus complicit in enabling Sadhguru to serve as the “rational” and “benevolent” voice of Hindutva cloaked as lifestyle Hinduism. Left unchecked, the western tendency to elevate self-styled gurus as beacons of enlightenment could strengthen a potent ideological weapon of Hindu nationalism.