Jagadish Vasudev, better known as Sadhguru, is an Indian spiritual guru of international renown. If you listen to him enough times – as I have – you come away with the impression that spirituality is the only sensible alternative to the regressive and old-fashioned belief in religion. Religions, and in Sadhguru’s view, Abrahamic religions in particular – with all their notions of a traditional creator-god, scriptural morality, and heaven and hell – are well on their way to extinction, or at least should be. In this sense Sadhguru is only echoing the view of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, who have long prophesised and hoped for ‘the end of religion’ and the triumph of science. Sadhguru unthinkingly hops on this bandwagon, since according to him spirituality is closer to science than to religion.
Sadhguru’s Isha Foundation claims that it ‘does not promote any particular ideology, religion, or race, but transmits inner sciences of universal appeal’. The turn of phrase is telling. Spirituality as ‘universal inner science’ is supposed to be the panacea to the particularity of religion, which is itself coterminous with ideology and ethnicity. We will see presently why such posturing can be deeply problematic. Blind to its own particularity, it promises a false sense of universalism that it cannot deliver. It is only a small step from there to associating with oneself the objectivity and indisputability of science, and with the Other the emotionality and dogmatism of belief.
More broadly, Sadhguru’s pronouncements on ‘religion’ lie on the same level of intellectual sophistry as that of Dawkins – which, if I must spell it out, is not a flattering remark at all. But, by rehashing Dawkins-esque views on religion, Sadhguru secures for himself a double victory. Firstly, he can marshal the New Atheist polemics against Abrahamic religions in his favour, and so he has his work cut out for him. Secondly, he garners fans who in their fits of teenage rebellion might have acquired a scepticism of traditional authority, but who – perhaps due to their teenage impatience – might have stalled at that stage, and could hardly sustain a long-term and thorough-going period of critical enquiry and exploration. Sadhguru, very much like Dawkins, panders to the lazy sceptic – one who takes an ahistorical view of his or her own scepticism, considers all religious traditions to be patently false while ironically admitting his or her ignorance of them, and holds a triumphant belief in ‘Western Enlightenment’ values. Although when pressed on this last point, such a person would be at a loss to enumerate what these values actually were, let alone defend them intellectually. In fact, behind this veneer of the rationalist-sceptic, there seldom lies any deep engagement whatsoever with philosophy, religion, or history.