Jaggi Vasudev known as Sadhguru is an Indian yogi who teaches yoga, meditation and frequently answers questions related to spirituality. He is known for his keen wit, humour and ability to combine ancient Indian yoga with modern life. He founded the Isha Yoga Centre and has promoted several environmental issues. He has travelled around the world, speaking at venues from Davos to the United Nations. He promotes a spirituality which emphasises personal transformation, clean living and social awareness. He has been associated with aspects of Hindu nationalism
Jaggi Vasudeva was born 3 September 1957 in Mysore, India to relatively affluent parents. His father was a doctor who travelled around the country. As a child, Jaggi was high spirited with a streak of rebelliousness. He was easily bored with school and would frequently play truant and appear fearless in the face of authority. Rather than spend time in school, he would often wander off on his own to the countryside and become absorbed in nature. He owned a bicycle and would frequently cycle on long tours. He loved sports and outdoor pursuits and was interested in maintaining the best physical health. From the age of 13, he took up hatha yoga after meeting a 70-year-old yogi who displayed great physical dexterity.
His fearlessness and physical strength led to a lucrative job as a snake catcher. He would not use a stick but just catch snakes with his bare hands. He has had a lifelong closeness to snakes and the snake world. For a while, as a teenager, he threw himself into revolutionary politics as he became concerned with social justice but after a few years, he became disenchanted with the levels of hatred and hypocrisy within the political movements.
After school, he enrolled in a self-study course of English Literature at Mysore University, and despite his usual erratic attendance, managed to graduate, finishing second in English Literature. After graduating, rather pursuing more studies, to the dissappointment of his family, he set up his own poultry farm. Starting from scratch, he worked all day to create a financially successful business. With money from his poultry farm, he also set up an even more successful construction company. When not working on his farm, he would spontaneously tour the country on his motorbike, – often at furious speed and taking extreme risk. He was never keen on planning but would travel at the drop of the hat. A popular destination for Jaggi was Chamundi Hill. In these days, he spent time with a group of friends who were attracted to a more alternative lifestyle – for a time, they considered forming an idealistic commune, but it never materialised.
Aged 25, Jaggi had a successful, if unconventional worldly life, but all this was set to change. On 23 September 1982, Jaggi made a typical journey on his motorbike to Chamundi Hill – he had no particular reason for going – he just often felt drawn to this mountain. Whilst sitting on a rock, without any particular effort, he began to enter a meditative state. In his own words he writes:
“Suddenly, I did not know which was me and which was not me. The air that I was breathing, the rock on which I was sitting, the atmosphere around me, everything had become me… And here I’m sitting tears are flowing to the point where my shirt is wet, and I’m ecstatically crazy! But, here I am, drenched with a completely new kind of blissfulness.” (More than a life – Sadhguru)
Sadhguru later said, it is hard to describe the experience of enlightenment, but it felt not so much like an achievement but as a homecoming – a remembrance of what we always had – the awareness of the infinite energy and delight that makes up the universe. When he came back to his normal consciousness, it was evening and several hours had passed. It was an experience that changed completely the direction of his life. He said he went up the mountain as a happy go lucky motorcyclist and came back a mystic.
“Enlightenment never happens. It is there; it is always there. The sadhana that you do is just to see it is there. You are not doing sadhana to construct divinity within you. All you will construct is only ego.” The Times of India, March 28, 2005 
Shortly after he retired from his construction business, and for a year mostly sat absorbed in meditation and experiencing the bliss of his new inner experiences. People began interacting differently with him – seeing in him some inner vision. People spontaneously asked him for advice or to divinise the future. Even his physical appearance changed, with his voice becoming deeper and his eyes wider and brighter. After a year, he decided to teach yoga and from small beginnings more were drawn to his yoga practises and this began the formation of his yoga organisation.
In 1984, he met Vijji, at a yoga programme. They both felt a deep kinship and despite objections from parents about caste suitability, they decided to marry. Jaggi felt that Vijji had been his sister in a previous lifetime, when he was a yogi with little contact with his family. They had a daughter Radhe, who now works as a trained yoga instructor.
In 1987, he toyed with the idea of developing his farm and making it a model co-operative farm, but just before the harvest, it burned down. He accepted this setback with typical detachment and took it as a sign to begin a new life path, without any business entanglements and devote himself to travelling and teaching yoga.
As more people became attracted to his path of yoga, a further change came over Jaggi, rather than just a happy go lucky friend, he evolved into a role as a spiritual guru. To his disciples who were committed to the spiritual life, he could be strict in directing their spiritual growth and encouraging them to discipline their lives.
“Do not aspire to meet a wonderful person. Aspire to become the wonderful person that you expect others to be.” – Sadhguru
In 1992, he formally established the Isha Foundation in the Velliangiri Mountains in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India. Through his Isha Foundation, he teaches yoga – or the “inner engineering”. This program teaches an integral approach to life, combining hatha yoga, meditation, selfless service and community-minded living. As his spiritual following increased, Jaggi continued to evolve – from a rebellious agnostic spirit, he increasingly took on the role of spiritual Guru and those who knew him well observed a shift as he became less familiar but more the role of a spiritual guide. It was at this stage that he began to be known as Sadhguru. Although he had often been sceptical of organised religion and spirituality, his own ashram began to develop a sense of order and rules, similar to many other ashrams. He started to initiate people into the path of Brahmacharya. (celibacy) To Sadhguru Brahmacharya is not about what we give up, but the opportunity to taste the real freedom of Brahmin by going far beyond limited human pleasure.
“My whole work is to enhance people’s perception. I have no teaching. I have no philosophy. I have no religion. I have no belief system. All I have is methods to enhance people’s perception, because only what you perceive, you know.” More than a life – Sadhguru
In 1997, after a series of intense spiritual practises, his wife Vijji entered mahasamadhi – a rare state where a yogi makes a conscious decision to leave the body. The human in Sadhguru was distraught to lose his wife, but as a guru, he felt a divine pride in her spiritual achievement. However, Vijji’s father made an allegation that she had been killed by Sadhguru, though a police investigation proved this claim to be baseless. 1997 was a critical year as Sadhguru was hoping to initiate the Dhyanalinga (a spiritual energy centre). But, his wife’s death put back the planned initiation. Around this time, the ashram was also attacked by people hostile to Sadhguru and the ashram, including the uncle of one meditator. In the local press, accusations were made about activities in the ashram. However, Sadhguru and the ashram weathered the storm by offering more yoga classes and meeting the sceptical local population. After many years in Tamil Nadu Isha has become a valued part of the community. Sadhguru has stated that he does not teach a superficial spirituality which tries to just make people feel better. He seeks a real spiritual transformation, which involves challenging ingrained habits and vested interests of man. When real spiritual teachers seek this kind of transformation, it invariable causes some kind of reaction from those who feel threatened or jealous by this different approach to life.
“People ask me, “Sadhguru what is the significance of your work?” I said “Tears.” Every day millions of people across the world shed tears of love and ecstasy on a daily basis. This is my significance. I bring tears to people.” (Paper Mag)
The Dhyanalinga was finally consecrated on 23 June 1999. Sadhguru explains that those who meditate and pray near the consecrated ground will be able to get in touch with a deeper spiritual reality and make faster progress. No particular belief system is needed, just an openness of heart.
In recent years, Sadhguru has travelled around the world. He is a frequent guest on tv shows, forums and student bodies around the world. These sessions frequently involve inviting questions from the audience. Sadhguru has spoken around the world from the Oxford Union to Davos and Ted Talks.
Sadhguru designed a large state of Adiyogi (Shiva as the world’s first guru) In Feb 2017, Sadhguru it was inaugurated by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The aim of the statue is to inspired people towards inner well-being through yoga.
This face is not a deity or temple, this is an iconic inspiration. In pursuit of the divine, you don’t have to look up because it is not somewhere else.
“The spiritual process is just to create the right kind of chemistry, where you are naturally peaceful, naturally joyous.” Encounter the Enlightened (2001)
A key part of Sadhguru’s teachings is the belief that individuals have the capacity to shape their thoughts, emotions and actions through conscious awareness. He advocates healthy living, hatha yoga, meditation and the cultivation of spiritual devotion. Sadhguru has said:
“Devotees often look like a bunch of idiots to the rest of the world, but the wisest ones are always devotees. This is a different kind of wisdom which logical minds can never understand.” (More than a life – Sadhguru) p .177
Sadhguru has also been keen to promote a spirituality that is embracing of life – and not the asceticism of past Indian practises. When talking and answering questions, he often makes use of humour to puncture someone’s pride and show that the spiritual life is not all about seriousness.
“Spirituality does not mean going away from life. Spirituality means becoming alive in the fullest possible way so you are not just alive on the surface, you are alive to the core.” The Times of India, 10 June 2009
In his book Inner Engineering, he argues we all have the capacity to throw off depression and cultivate inner happiness through spiritual practises, such as avoiding negativity and seeking to cultivate inner joy and happiness. He maintains his teachings is not a belief system or ideology, but like technology.
“So inner engineering is a fundamental technology. I’m insisting it’s a technology because it’s not a philosophy. It’s not a belief system. It’s not an ideology. It’s not even a teaching” (Paper Mag)
Sadhguru’s personality and method of interaction
Sadhguru’s personality is multifarious. At times, he can be childlike – joking and teasing those close to him. At other times, he assumes his role as Guru, and can become a hard taskmaster – to some of his disciples, he may say nothing outwardly, seeking to draw them closer inwardly. At other times, in question and answers sessions, he appears as a rational, charming speaker with always a ready answer to any question. Outside a hectic travel schedule, he enjoys playing golf and driving very fast. He advocates a vegetarian diet and moderation in consumption. He has warned about the health and spiritual drawbacks of consuming alcohol, meat, tobacco and drugs. Although he read widely, he sees his answers as coming from his own inner wisdom and very rarely uses any kind of scripture to illustrate his answer. Rather than scripture, he likes to use anecdote, parable or story from India’s spiritual past. He loves trekking in the Himalayas and sometimes leads trekking parties. He has also been involved in offering programmes for long-term prisoners in Tamil Nadu prisons.
Sadhguru has revealed that since enlightenment he remembers previous incarnations that have had an influence on this life and his role. In one incarnation, over 365 years ago he was born in an orthodox Hindu family, who were ardent Shiva devotees and practised the art of being snake-charmers. However, he fell in love with a Muslim girl, which caused great consternation with his family. After refusing to give up his love, he was sentenced to death by being poisoned by snakes. This life-experience had a profound impact on his love and kinships with snakes. Sadhguru states snakes are quite evolved beings and should always be treated with respect. It also reveals itself in his distaste for any caste or religious distinction. Another incarnation he talks about was a Sadhguru called Sri Brahma, a yogi and sadhu with a strong temper. This yogi had experienced self-realisation but was unable to share his spiritual wealth because of the hostility of society and his lack of social skills for dealing with a sceptical public. This incarnation is an opportunity to complete the failed attempts in this last incarnation. In another incarnation, he spoke of gaining enlightenment with the help of his guru Palani Swami. His Guru had helped him attain enlightenment but also in return imposed a mission to build a Dhyanalinga – a source of spiritual energy which would help other seekers.
Sadhguru has been involved in several environmental initiatives, such as the mass planting of trees – along India’s depleted rivers and also agricultural areas on Kaveri in Tamil Nadu.
“Trees and humans are in an intimate relationship. What they exhale, we inhale, what we exhale they inhale. This is a constant relationship that nobody can afford to break or live without.” – Sadhguru (on Project GreenHands mass tree planting initiative) Isha Insights Magazine, Spring Edition 2009
Sadhguru has expressed political opinions more than is usual for a yogi, and is recognised as one of India’s most influential and powerful people. He says he is not affiliated with any political movement and the most important thing is to bring spirituality into political life. However, his views often align with the Hindu nationalist party the BJP. He has argued for a tough line on militants in Kashmir.
More than a life – Sadhguru
More than a life – Sadhguru – by Arundhathi Subramaniam
Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy – by Arundhathi Subramaniam
Famous Indians – A list of Indian men and women throughout the ages. Categories include politicians, scientists, sports people, spiritual figures and cultural figures. Includes Mahatma Gandhi, Akbar, Swami Vivekananda and Indira Gandhi.
Famous Religious leaders and founders – Key people who helped to found different religions and spiritual movements.
Photo top left: Photo Aveda Corp. CC BY 2.0