On Sadhguru, JNU Administration and the Mythology of Peace


In this argumentative piece, the author has questioned the way the JNU administration has trivialized the meaning of the Nehru Memorial Lecture by inviting the much-hyped Sadhguru to speak on ‘youth and truth’.

Avijit Pathak is a Professor of Sociology at JNU, New Delhi.

JNU Nehru Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Sadhguru on September 25, 2018.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] know that it does not matter if an insignificant teacher like me makes a conscious decision not to attend the JNU Nehru Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Sadhguru on September 25. Yet, I believe that my act of pedagogic dissent, irrespective of its outcome, has a meaning precisely because a university, unlike a military camp, evolves through alternative visions, conflicting worldviews and diverse perspectives. Conformity need not necessarily be seen as a virtue;  in fact, an ethos of dignified dissent backed by academic/philosophic/political arguments enriches the cultural landscape of a university. Yes, there is nothing personal in my critique of Sadhguru delivering the Nehru Memorial Lecture. My arguments, as this article would reveal, are based on serious sociological and philosophical considerations.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Beyond

Jawaharlal Nehru

To begin with, let me refer to Jawaharlal Nehru. I know it is not easy to invoke him at a time when the ruling ideology – a mix of hyper-masculine cultural nationalism and neo-liberal capitalism–degrades Nehru through its widespread network of ‘communication channels’. ‘Fake secularist’, ‘immoral/westernized’ ruler and the ‘enemy of Sardar Patel and Subhas Chandra Bose’ – the allegations are many.

Yet,  when one acquires the courage or sanity to see beyond this toxic social media campaign against Nehru, one realizes that the first Prime Minister of India – possibly, the most charismatic one–was a gifted scholar and thinker. Furthermore, as  a truly pan-Indian leader, he showed his ability to hold a fractured nation together – and that too at a time when the Cold-War politics was posing a serious threat to the sovereignty of the newly independent nations.

His classic text Discovery of India revealed the meaning of an insightful search for understanding the complex and subtle interplay of modernity and tradition, civilizational heritage and the new ethos of liberal democracy, egalitarian socialism and scientific temper. Likewise The Glimpses of World History was a brilliant documentation and analysis of the historical transformation–say, the inventions of modern science, the impact of Marx, Freud and Darwin on our thinking, and the age of colonialism and nationalist movements. His Autobiography too indicated the creativity of a thinking mind – say, his immense admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, yet his discomfort with Gandhi’s ‘metaphysical’ orientation to the world, or his critique of modernity as articulated in Hind Swaraj. Again, as a leader he sought to consolidate the foundations of a postcolonial state with periodic elections, five-year planning, industrialization , the establishment of modern centers of learning and a broadly  secular public sphere with some sort of ‘scientific temper’.

I am not saying that Nehru was perfect. In fact, the failures of Nehru are diverse and many. For instance, the practice of ‘mixed economy’, far from taking us towards a reasonable degree of egalitarianism, intensified statism and red tapism.

Likewise, the inherent centralizing tendency in the Nehruvian project of modernity caused a huge gap between the urban elites and the large section of Indian masses, between ‘official secularism’ and people’s ‘folk religiosity’. Nehru succeeded; and Nehru failed. He made us think, even though we should not stop seeing the limits to the Nehruvian vision. And this is precisely the reason why a university like JNU ought to organize the Nehru Memorial Lecture – not necessarily to agree with him or valorize him, but to raise new issues, and reflect on the emerging challenges. Nehru too raised new questions and reflected on his times. Hence, to recall him is to retain the tradition of critical thinking.

Let me propose a set of critical issues we can think of for the occasion of the Nehru Memorial Lecture:

(a) Revisiting  Nehru’s Fabian Socialism in the Era of Global Capitalism

(b) Scientism, Technocracy and Ecological Movements: A Critical Look at the Nehruvian Perspective on Development

(c) Hindutva, Pluralism and Cultural Syncretism: Rediscovery of the Mind of Nehru

And we can think of a galaxy of speakers say, Ashis Nandy, Ramachandra Guha, Medha Patkar and Bhikhu Parekh – to deliver the Nehru Memorial Lecture, and arouse the creative imagination of the young. However, the JNU administration thinks differently. It chooses to invite Sadhguru to deliver the Lecture.

Sadhguru and ‘Feel Good’ Factor 

Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev / Image Source : Youtube

Well, Sadhguru is a distinctive figure – a ‘spiritual guru’ known for excellent oratory and the practice of ‘inner engineering’. His fluent English, his references to mythologies and religious texts, his wit and humour, his look and symbolism, and his interaction with those who ‘matter’–political bosses, corporate executives, film stars and cricketers–has added to his ‘charisma’. At a time, when a market-driven hollow existence causes inner emptiness, and the spiritually impoverished affluent class seeks instant ‘Enlightenment’ without questioning the structure of society–the logic of reckless speed, the fetish of ‘growth’ and ‘efficiency’, the quantification of performance, the instrumental use of time and resources, the practice of conspicuous consumption causing perpetual restlessness for ‘having’ more and more, and the new management discourse of ‘good living’–the phenomenon called Sadhguru or Shri Shri Ravishankar arises. Unlike Buddha, they do not ask you to renounce your privilege. Unlike Ramakrishna and Kabir, they do not want you to break all armours of ritualism and regain the lost innocence. And unlike Christ and Rumi, they do not ask you to love and be reduced into zero. Instead, they whisper into your ears: ‘Follow this breathing exercise. Utter this mantra. Like summer holidays, give a break, join the meditation camp in a lavish ashram, and be ‘successful’ in life. There is no spiritual radicalism in their practices and preaching. This is merely a ‘feel good’ technique– a ‘conscience’ of the rich and the powerful. Not surprisingly, it is not difficult for the State to absorb them. And in the age of media-induced spirituality they become ‘stars’.

I,therefore, believe that Sadhguru is not the right person for the Nehru Memorial Lecture–the way Judith Butler is not the right person to deliver a lecture on Sri Aurobindo’s ‘integral yoga’.  In fact, to invite Sadhguru to deliver the Nehru Memorial Lecture is to trivialize the occasion; this is to dilute the criticality of social philosophy and political thinking. Or is there a sub-text? Is it an effort to give a lesson to the ‘Nehruvian leftists’, and tell them that their days are over, and now they must be prepared to hear the songs of the market-induced/packaged religiosity?

Perpetuate Violence, Talk About Truth and Peace

In the presence of the Vice-Chancellor and other officials Sadhguru will initiate a dialogue on ‘youth and truth’. Possibly, a world that sanctifies violence goes against any authentic search of truth. In a way, as Gandhi demonstrated beautifully, to strive for truth is to strive for a morally strong non-violent resistance against all that promotes violence and associated falsehood. However, the question is: Why violence? Well, violence in the material/phenomenal world prevails because of all sorts of unevenness – class divisions, caste hierarchies, asymmetrical distribution of economic and cultural capital, and the coercive machinery of the state that often represses people’s aspirations for a just society.

Moreover, there is technological violence; and all sorts of psychic/symbolic violence exist in the form of stigmatizing and excluding the ‘other’. Is it possible for Sadhguru to initiate a dialogue on truth by stating clearly how structural violence goes against the essential spirit of truth? Is it possible for him to make the youth aware of the all-pervading violence in our times–the violence perpetuated by many of his celebrity followers? Is it possible for him to say that the ruling ideology is violent? Can he say that ‘encounter deaths’, the arrest of ‘rights activists’, cow vigilantism, and the surveillance network through which the state monitors, classifies and hierarchizes its citizens  are striking illustrations of violence? Can he say that the entire propaganda machinery  with its media simulations and hyper-reality takes us to ‘post-truth’? Can this violence of falsehood be combated merely through a discourse that we find in ‘self-help’ books?

And see the specificity of the context. Is the administration creating an environment at JNU which is really conducive to an authentic search for truth ? Or is it that the administration is terribly violent–the way it destroys all channels of dialogue and communication, the arbitrary rules and regulations it imposes on the students and teachers, the way even for participating in a peace march teachers are issued ‘show cause’ notices? Truth demand a spirit of conversation, fearlessness  and trust. Is it possible in an environment that is based on fear and surveillance? Is it possible for Sadhguru to give some good advice to the Vice-Chancellor and his team? Or is it that he would pretend that everything is normal, and JNU students and teachers need simply a lesson in the appropriate ‘meditative practice’ to feel ‘positive’, remain ‘truthful’, and say ‘yes’ to all that the ‘benevolent’ administration is doing for the university?

Friends, I would like to be proved wrong.  


    • Wow. So much nonsense in a single comment. Be tolerant to someone’s thoughts. I see no difference between people like you and Bhakts.

  1. It would have been wonderful had you attended the lecture(it was actually a conversation) and not ‘assumed’ what would happen and skip it. You could have experienced it first hand yourself.

  2. This sounds like this man wanted to be the one delivering the Nehru memorial lecture. I don’t know enough to comment on his views about Nehru, but he is utterly clueless about spirituality. Throwing around names of Rumi and Buddha won’t get him any closer to a spiritual experience. There is nothing ‘feel good’ about spiritual practice, it is a tough and long process, which one can go through joyfully with the guidance of a Guru.

    • Sir common, we should come out from colonized mindset that spirituality can only subscribed only by any Guru. Yes but we can not deny that today spirituality has become a product and we are potential customers.

  3. We usually come across prejudiced people here and there, the writer seems to be of the same category. Writer simply assumed that Jaggi Vasudev’s visit to JNU is part of agenda being imposed by current government. However, the title of the program was “Youth and Truth”, not “Let’s talk against Leftist movement is JNU!”. As a youth of this nation, I look at Mr. Jaggi as a sensible person. He makes sense. More than whole left movement these days. (And he admitted yesterday that he is a Communist on NDTV Dialogues Program.)

    About Sadhguru’s right to deliver a talk in a hall, in fact, in a varsity named after Nehru, writer’s pride seems to be hurt. His apparent intolerance against a sensible person trying to build a movement in youth tells much about his anxiety that so-called leftist plague in JNU will go away and students will start to think beyond left-right-center etc. JNU is a public university and writer has nothing to do with who should give a talk there who shouldn’t. It’s Administrations’ job. Please do not preach.

    About writer’s commentary over Mr. Jaggi’s yoga and putting him in line with other religious leaders, let me correct him, Mr. Jaggi Vasudev has never identified himself as a religious leader, not even a Hindu. Please correct your facts, as you said “I would like to be proved wrong.”, yes, you are absolutely wrong here.

    The writer seems to be a stubborn person who is not even tolerant enough to listen to someone who is trying to make a point. And he has guts to pass a commentary on a conversation that he didn’t even care to attend. This is utter arrogance and false sense of righteousness.

    I wish writer had guts to attend the conversation and ask questions after. But given writer’s prejudices, he would not open himself even a little unfortunately.

    I feel pity that writer missed this wonderful opportunity to engage with some sensible person.

  4. Your text full of professorial intellectuality couldn’t hide your lack of insight about yogic mysticism or your lack of curiosity about it. Hope you would realise that your contempt and prejudice is but an expression of your ignorance. Your views are jaundiced by your politics and yet you hide behind the façade of dialogue, free speech, non violence and other refuges of the hypocrites in today’s India. You wrote “Truth demand a spirit of conversation”, how can you miss the irony in your words professor?

  5. Professor Avijit what sadhguru tells that if u dont adress the thoughts of new secular in India they will label you as fascist , right wing or left wing and Professor in your column you already vomit a lot of such nonsense Idea . Better you joined this event and confront him face to face. Its your University and you are open to discuss anything.

  6. Very well said and profoundly articulated article. He was not the right candidate for Nehru memorial lecture. I totally agree with u.

  7. I read this article 4 times and completely agree with the way author has provoked few questions? After Looking on comments asking myself Why we can not digest the truth???

  8. Sadguru is a profound speaker. The way he speaks, articulate and like a magician hypnotize the masses. I am sorry to say that he is a great philosopher or enlighted being. And yes on Nehru memorial lecture he is not the accurate person to speak. More than lecture it was a political propganda. Similarly on Din Fatal Memorial lecture you are asking Arundhati Roy to speak.

    • Better to say commodification of spirituality. Our indegenious tradition talks about mysticism and spirituality. And number of mystics are born but they never take it to the market. Yoga does not exist before Ramdev? But he takes it to market and embraced this secret practice. After all Sadguru’s spiritual discourse is ok but it was not a perfect occasion to invite him. And if he came then he must need to spoke on Nehru.. the idea of India. Also I believe that these campaigns are to target youth… We have highest youth population and to unite them is a strategy. If one is really a mystic, the person should be aware of – niskam karma.


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