A friend wanted to gift me a book written by Sadhguru. I politely declined. I told him to save it for someone and briefly gave my reasons. He did not take it well and made me feel like I have criticised a saint or a seer.
It is not that I despise Sadhguru. I believe generally he is a good man with good intentions. Like Osho, his programs have helped some to keep their sanity. Most of his messages are true as in truism. Some you have already heard before but that does not matter. He reminds us life is not so bad and worth living. His motivational messages have a place alongside other inspirational messages you receive daily in your WhatsApp. However, I cannot be a fan like some of his die-hard fans who believe everything he says. For me, he is an agnostic, rather than a mystic. He enjoys the adulation his followers give, like one given to a mystical immortal.
Arguments fit for a Utopian world, not this world
Many things that Sadhguru says are true if we live in Utopia, unfortunately, we don’t. Sadhguru’s mantra is, ‘I don’t believe anything that anyone says. I look at them the way they are.’ Sometimes when we look at things the way they are, not seeing beyond obvious things, we fail to see the bigger picture. That is why most of the things he says, seem logical only on the surface like trite platitudes. There are several, but I will discuss just one. I will stick to this principle for other topics as well to avoid this article from being too lengthy and monotonous.
In one of his talks What happens if all humans die, he admonishes humans for being too egoistic to think that humans are more superior to animals. Sadhguru goes on to say ‘Who the hell are you to think an ant is a lowly creature and you are some superhuman.’ The problem with this statement is humans don’t think that they are more superior to animals rather they know they are more superior to animals since ancient times. We do so many things against the will of animals.
Humans don’t give two hoots even to the largest animal on land, leave alone ants. Maybe someone should take Sadhguru for a tour to certain parts of India to understand the term ‘Elephant Crushing’. Elephant calves are captured, separated from their mother and herd. The elephants are tortured to crush their spirit to be domesticated.
I will support Sadhguru if he like Sangita Iyer can be the voice for the voiceless elephants.1 Can he start a campaign to tell people to leave elephants in their natural habitat and not to use them to entertain tourists, and for ceremonies?
However, there is one area of human superiority over certain animals that I cannot support, though it seems unfair if you view it from the animals’ standpoint. Sadhguru must understand people innately do not view animals as totally anthropomorphic, par with human thoughts and feelings as he preaches.
One can easily differentiate the master from the slave by watching a common sight in farms, a man riding a horse; farmers cattle ploughing with a whip or rod in their hands. Humans do not stop just there to show their dominance. The beasts of burden never applied for job positions but were forced to be quadruped porters. We imprison domesticated graminivores and take their milk meant for their calves. We take delight in stealing unhatched offspring from fowls and make scrambled, boiled, or poached eggs. On the surface, these routine human acts look like infanticide, murder, labour exploitation, slavery, and daylight robbery.
No one in his right mind would take human consumption of cow or goat’s milk as a justification for mosquitoes to feast on our blood. No one would call you a murderer for swatting a fly. So, I leave it to Sadhguru to fight for these causes if he meant what he said and perceives we live in Utopia. One may look smart in using sophistry to win arguments but the complexity of life should often be viewed from multiple lenses, not a single lens to comprehend the complexity. That’s why one should kill a mosquito but not a butterfly. A sophist might even take this statement as an opportune for an argument, ‘See how cruel humans are, they kill the ugly insects and leave the beautiful ones alone.’ This can make a lot of sense if we want to feed intelligence with nonsense.
Escaping the questions rather than answering the questions
In many of Sadhguru’s talks, I find something consistent. The questions are crispy clear and straightforward, but if you are expecting a straightforward answer from him, you will be highly disappointed. He has mastered the art of eluding the questions gracefully with agnostic answers and logomachies.
Sadhguru claims he does not belong to any religion, though he cites the Hindu religion often. He says ‘Hindu’ is only a way of life and not a religion. We have heard this type of statement before: ‘Christianity is a way of life,’ ‘Buddhism is not a religion, it’s a framework for life,’ Judaism is a way of life….
This is a disservice to the great religion and men of spirit and intellectuality like Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami. Bodhinatha Veylanswami is a leading authority on Hindu studies. He is proud to say he is a Hindu and asserts Hindu is a religion: ‘If we discard the name Hinduism or call it just a way of life, we remove it from the grand esteemed position that it holds and deserves as a major world religion. Hindus themselves are becoming more confident about their faith, proud to declare: I am Hindu. In universities, the world over Hindus stand proudly side by side with students of other religions. That can’t happen if we avoid the name Hinduism and it can’t happen if we give up the word religion.’2
If Hindu is not a religion as what Sadhguru says, then it is improper to state it as a religion on ID cards. Are any Hindus willing to remove this piece of information from any official documents?
You can see Sadhguru finds delight in winning arguments by paying more attention to logomachy, denying the vista of the bigger picture. He makes a similar claim that seems exclusive only to Hindus, ‘Hindus are seekers’. He regards himself also as a seeker. Are we all not seekers? Christians refer to themselves as truth seekers. The central figure in Buddhism is regarded as one of the greatest spiritual seekers. Seeking the truth and knowledge is an indispensable virtue in Islam. Sikh means ‘Seeker of knowledge.’
When there are so many pressing matters to discuss, it is petty to argue about the meaning of such words, for the sake of arguing and to look intellectual. It is like watching a tiresome, enduring argument between two logomachists with opposing views, debating if a tomato is a vegetable or fruit. It is a battle of who is more fastidious, rather than who is more knowledgeable. This type of argument can become so intensified, eclipsing core matters, that one should not be faulted to assume the debaters would die or do murder for a definition. Anyway, if you are pedantic, I am willing to be corrected for referring to the great religion as Hindu instead of Sanatana Dharma.
Faith and facts
When it comes to scientific discourses, he is often too overloaded with words when he is unfamiliar with the subject. He has his views on everything and should be taken as views, not facts. There are several occasions he has mistaken pseudoscience as science. People who understand basic scientific systems are not swayed by his pathos and demand evidence for his unscientific statements. He has yet to respond, ironic for a man who demands concrete evidence in his discourses. Scientific facts are based on evidence, not on loquacious wit and humour. The problem is when he talks about science, he often takes faith as facts and makes hazy abstraction by mingling both. Religious practices and beliefs should be interpreted as transcendental truths, not scientific facts. That is why a rabbi would look silly if he says humans can part the sea by raising a staff and stretching out their hands over the sea simply because a prophet with an Egyptian upbringing had done it many years ago. People sometimes have a false notion that charismatic leaders are infallible. But they are just like anyone, they can rise, they can fall and like everyone, they can err.
He is quick-witted in demanding evidence with pompous insularity, especially on matters of faith. In one session, he demanded engineering students to provide evidence for their belief in God. I expected the students to answer: I believe in God because the Vedas and Bhagavad-Gita say so, or I am a Christian/Muslim, etc. This is a question of faith that cannot be answered without reference to religion if one expects an affirmative answer. The closest we can give ‘scientific proof’ of God is through scientific observation. A study conducted by Stephen Meyer shows intelligent design was detectable in both the physical parameters of the universe and the information-bearing properties of life.3 Ironically, in the same session, Sadhguru says ‘Your life is your Karma’ which is a belief.
He claims that he does not refer to any of the holy books or religion for his source of knowledge. Are you not baffled that Sadhguru has sound knowledge of the Holy Books without reading them? He is also an expert in every discipline without reading any books or being trained in any institution. He acquires knowledge from a spiritual source that is ‘bequeathed’ only for the chosen ones like him. He speaks as though his intelligence surpasses all educational institutions put together and portrays his source of knowledge is not derived from this world. He talks lucidly like an expert, about astronomy, nutrition, physics, chemistry, and medicine; you just name it.
Lest we forget, Sadhguru is not a wandering anachronistic Sanyasi, but a modern man who is not unfamiliar with the Internet and social media. It didn’t matter to people the information disseminated by Sadhguru was already available on the Internet. That is why apart from true statements, he repeats unevidenced claims found on the Internet; eating brinjal (eggplant) is bad for health. Typical of Sadhguru’s fans, one fan said that is not what Sadhguru meant (an overused preamble by his ‘advocates’), although it was clear that was what Sadhguru meant. ‘Sadhguru is just telling us not to eat brinjals excessively.’ Doesn’t it apply to all foods? Too much cabbage, carrot, and even water is bad. Seriously, do we need someone like Sadhguru to tell us all these things? Some of my friends took Sadhguru’s advice seriously and have stopped eating brinjals. Anyway, I respect their decision.
Eureka! Sadhguru ‘discovered’ neem can prevent cancer; something academics knew very much earlier. Scientists are aware of anti-cancer properties like Nimbolide found in neem leaves and flowers. Researchers have conducted several studies which show neem can be used for cancer prevention and treatment. I found at least 41 studies.
It is obvious, Sadhguru has a penchant for gathering facts and then garnish them with mysticism, to call himself a mystic. Many assume he possesses some kind of mystical powers, and answers just pop into his head. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Sadhguru could give answers for unanswerable questions or on things yet to be discovered, instead of telling us things we already know?
Theist or agnostic
To appease a particular community, Sadhguru appears to be a theist. In one of his talks, Sadhguru explained the origin of the universe. He retold the story, found in the Hindu scriptures and mentioned Rudra and Shiva. A statue of Shiva is conspicuous in his ashram. He celebrates Maha-Shivratri annually in accordance with Hindu beliefs and practices. Let us get one thing straight. When he talks about Rudra and celebrates Maha-Shivratri, he must believe in Hindu ideology and practices, at least in part. Sadhguru is a smart man. He admixtures Hindu scriptures with agnosticism, at the same time, distances himself from the great religion, to create a new movement. So, he enjoys the best of both worlds. What proof/evidence can he give for his practices and beliefs? It is always easier to preach.
However, when it comes to debates, he is purely agnostic. Sadhguru knows what it is to be agnostic, and the power of being agnostic to win debates. That’s why ‘Just say I don’t know’ is a catchphrase he uses often, not in humility, but to seal the lips of interlocutors. An agnostic will tear you to taters if your argument is based on mere belief. Agnostics may say many things, but in several matters, they mean only one thing: ‘We don’t know.’ I can write volumes on why an agnostic will win debates over an atheist or a theist. I will save the space for another article. Maybe I will name it: Don’t argue with agnostics. Don’t even think that you can win a debate by stating universal truths. A conversation which I made up can go like this:
X: Tomorrow I will get up early to watch the sunrise.
Agnostic: How do you know the sun will rise tomorrow?
X: It happens every day. So, I know the sun will rise tomorrow.
Agnostic: We cannot say with 100% certainty the past will resemble the future. You say it because you believe the uniformity will continue in the future. We have no control over these things, like the rotation of the Earth. Nature does not owe you or me a dime to ask for our consent to run its course. The sun may diminish and may not even rise at all. Yes, or No?
Now everyone can applaud for being enlightened with these ‘original intellectual’ answers. The agnostic has just shredded common sense with an eristic swipe, which cannot be rebutted from the scientific point. So, you see, this is a fool-proof method of winning arguments. Sadly, these smart-aleck answers are what the masses perceive as ingenious.
You can argue like this for the sake of making a living, but we don’t live for the sake of arguing or speaking with absolute certainty, otherwise, we will be monomaniacally uncertain of almost everything. You would embrace doubts to feed your intelligence and torture life because even to think is a sort of belief. We would then lose the gist and gaiety of life. Eristics can grow into a lucrative occupation if discussions are all about shooting uncomfortable, unanswerable questions that even the most brilliant minds cannot answer. It is a cheap way of winning arguments, at the expense of objective truths.
Christopher Fernandez is a corporate/academic trainer for Management and English language programs. Christopher Fernandez also teaches qualitative and quantitative research methods. He believes, if you are in doubt about something, the best way to find the answers is to take a disinterested stand on all views before you.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author, and not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the Badscience.in.