The word ‘spellbound’ denotes ‘holding someone’s complete attention by magic’. Indeed, the interactive session with the unplugged Sadhguru at the NALSAR University has once left me intrigued. The Isha Foundation hosted its flagship event ‘Youth and Truth’ at the NALSAR University auditorium on September 18, 2018. To host a spiritual guru on campus was itself a widely debated issue within the student community. However, what trumped all opposition was the fact that a premier law institution should provide a platform for all kinds of discussion.
Such is the mystic’s aura that the entire auditorium was jam-packed with curious students who had missed their morning classes, enchanted youth from neighbouring colleges and devotees of the Isha Foundation.
To our surprise, a band performance by a singing sensation preceded the session. Alas, the organisation’s guesswork failed – item numbers don’t always lure the youth. Next was a video of Sadhguru delivering talks across the world, answering whatever questions that came his way in a wink of an eye, with absolute confidence and surety. Snippets of Sadhguru performing youthful activities won applause. Throughout the video, Sadhguru was shown as the epitome of intelligence, success and compassion. He was a ‘know it all’, a real genius having authority and thoroughness on almost all matters affecting the flora and fauna of earth.
And here he was, at the law school, to reveal the ‘logical truth’ to the young students about a variety of controversial issues like nationalism and compulsory standing during the national anthem, women’s entry into temples and not promoting homosexuality. However, it is pertinent to express my skepticism on this specific model of addressing all types of concerns and life problems. I am particularly unnerved by his treatment of critical issues, particularly socio-political phenomena and personal predilections in an extremely simplistic, one-sided and narrow fashion. More importantly, what he calls a logical, impartial and apolitical approach is grounded in a deep, historical and complex socio-political context. In reconstructing ‘true’ answers to all types of difficult questions, he is passing and transferring his own narrative of ‘truth’ to the audience as ‘universal truth’.
The Youth and Truth initiative, however well-intentioned, carefully designed and mystically carried out, has the tendency of: first, redrawing crucial issues myopically as being unidimensional; second, garnering a misconception that solutions to every problem can be arrived at with a finger snap; and third, spreading the Sadhguru’s version of truth as ‘universal truth’.
What began as an insightful discussion on why we should not judge a book by its cover and a person one’s first impression gradually turned to such issues as nationalism and compulsory standing for the national anthem. The issue was whether standing for the national anthem in the movie halls is the best way to show one’s love and concern for the nation and our brethren. The students who opposed this idea were asked to come up with an alternative way of showing love and concern for the nation, allegiance to common and shared values, and respect for our soldiers at the national borders.
Sadhguru swiftly replaced the term ‘nationalism’ with ‘humanity’ at his own behest and said it was ‘inhumane’ for a citizen to not stand during the national anthem even at the movie hall. In his typical style, he counter-questioned the audience what purpose an Indian’s sitting during the national anthem would serve. Being a teacher of logical and legal reasoning, I couldn’t link how not choosing to stand for 52 seconds in the movie hall during a movie show reflected one’s inhumanity, apathy and disregard towards the nation, the soldiers and the poor and suffering brethren. The question remains unanswered: why is compulsory standing during the national anthem in a movie hall the most appropriate barometer to measure an Indian’s love and respect for the nation?
On the next few questions, he espoused that the government’s duty is to strongly enforce the law – and law alone. However, his assertions were sprinkled with astutely selected facts and fascinating trivia without any cogent reason. His deference towards the ruling government and its policies was very much evident. I was interested to know what his opinion is on what happens if a democratically elected government uses the law and its machinery to the detriment of the people, especially, vulnerable minority groups, the press and the civil society.
Ironically, he justified the religious prescription against entry of women in temples on a skewed reasoning that during olden days, occult practices were prevalent in these temples and women being the weaker sex had to be protected from sorcery and black magic. He further criticised the courts for not understanding the rationale behind prohibiting women’s entry in temples and simply applying the law blindly. Was he of the opinion that the law should be applied selectively when it comes to women’s issues like temple entry? He went on to put forth a rhetorical question: Even men are not allowed inside some temples but why was nobody in the audience spoke about the men’s right to enter those temples?
The law students’ collective disagreement on his opinion was writ large. Feeling the discomfort of the students, he narrated how, during ancient days, Indian kings were accompanied by mystics and saints like him for efficient and effective administration of the state. This phenomenon is certainly not alien to us because we have become used to seeing spiritual leaders and mystics assisting the ruling establishment in cultivating a specific socio-political narrative. Whatever name they give their collaborations, it all boils down to a particular version of truth which is not impartial, neutral and apolitical.
Another topic for hot debate was Sadhguru’s opinion on why homosexuality should not be promoted after the Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377. When asked to clarify what he meant by ‘promotion of homosexuality’, his brazen answer was: after the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality, what was the need for LGBTQ persons to come out and speak about one’s sexual preference at all? It is important to understand the real meaning and implications of the ‘no promotion of homosexuality’ rationale, called the ‘No Promo Homo’ approach in short. This approach is problematic and discriminatory to the extent that it seeks to propagate a negative idea of homosexuality in the society. Its rationale is that homosexuality can at most be ‘tolerated’ by the society but not considered as an acceptable form of lifestyle and individual choice. In Sadhguru’s ‘no promo homo’ approach, I could smell a parallel idea of ‘Live and let live, die and let die’. The same sensitive and empathetic mystic who wants everyone to stand up in unison to show sensitivity, concern and solidarity for each other, excludes LGBTQIA+ persons from this idea.
This initiative is an apt example of cultural hegemony, in which the powerful ruling establishment manipulates and influences a culturally diverse society like India to propagate its own ideology – beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores – about social, economic, political and universal phenomena. The dominant ideology is described as being the true, natural and the most cherished culture of the society as a whole. Individuals, phenomena and perceptions that do not fit in the dominant scheme are termed as ‘deviants’, ‘aberrations’ and ‘rubbish’.
The string of ‘Youth and Truth’ events conducted by the Isha Foundation across different educational institutions in the country reflects how the Indian youth is being exposed to only Sadhguru’s version of ‘eternal’ and ‘valid’ truths about the nation, its people and their culture. It is extremely important to understand that Sadhguru wields immense power and influence within the government, has substantial control over dominant channels of communication including print and social media, and enjoys the patronage and tacit support of the ruling class. This rare combination of power, privilege and prestige has the potential to wreak havoc in a culturally diverse society and liberal democracy like ours.
We must be very cautious because, together with the government, Isha Foundation led by the ‘knowledge creator’ – Sadhguru – treads on a common path- endeavour to culturally transform the youth of India for a better future through his revelation of ‘the pure, eternal and universal truth’. The Indian youth must be wary, for if they dissent they will be termed as ‘urban naxals’, ‘anti-nationalists’ and ‘enemies’ by the internet troll army. This is exactly what happened with the NALSAR students when Isha Foundation uploaded snippets of the recorded interactive session. The students who had asked questions and sought clarifications from the Sadhguru during the event faced intimidation, verbal haranguing and trolling on the internet.
The Sadhguru-at-NALSAR experience reflects a new but very effective institutionalised mechanism to silence dissent. How Sadhguru has won the attention of many people by sheer magic is quite spellbinding.
Prerna Dhoop is an assistant professor at the NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.