Is Isha a cult?

Sometime back I was casually browsing the net and found one interesting article which claimed that Jaggi Vasudev (founder of Isha foundation, revered as Sadguru) is a fraud.  The article is very informative  and well written. You must read it even if you are a big Isha fan. The author claims that he was once an Isha devotee and that he had stayed in the ashram for some time. So the implication is that he is speaking from direct experience and  not just imagining things. This chap wrote another article which argues that "Isha  is a cult".  My current article is not a response to these articles. I am not interested to prove or disprove anything. I just want to share some thoughts on these "cult" accusations.

First of all, what is a cult? I don’t know, so I googled to find out. I still don’t fully understand what characterizes a cult, but apparently a religious/spiritual  cult has some typical characteristics like

  1. A charismatic Guru who can influence people with his speeches
  1. A set of devotees who completely believe in the Guru and are willing to do anything for him
  1. A set of practices/rules that define all followers
  2. Cessation of rational thought and employment of blind belief in attracting new followers, conducting the programs, doing the practices etc.

I guess point 4 above is the most problematic aspect of a cult. Once a belief creeps in, any crap can happen in the name of religion/spirituality. The first 3 points are not really harmful. In fact, they may be very useful if directed towards a positive cause. So did Jaggi Vasudev ever wanted you to believe in him blindly? I never felt so. In fact, he urged people to just focus on their growth. A God or a Guru, however great, is just a tool for you to progress spiritually. "When you go through a spiritual process, remember its not about the guru or the other people out there. Its all about you. If you don’t understand that, you’ve missed the whole point about being there"  he said, in reply to a question.   Personally, this is what I followed even before I did a course with Isha. I found Jaggi's talks insightful and attended the "Inner Engineering" basic course. I found the Kriya taught there useful, so I am practicing it whenever possible.

Now, let us talk a bit about the "followers". It is true that you find many people in Isha who worship Jaggi Vasudev as a God. But what is wrong with that? If they put a photo of him, prostrate to him and chant his name a thousand times, what is my problem? Did they force me to do it? Did they ask me to forget my Gods and my Gurus and to just fall at the feet of Jaggi? May be you are a rationalist, a philosopher, a "non-bhakta" type and so you do not like what they do. For that matter, even I don’t like all this bhakti demonstration. But why should I rationalize my dislike, use my imagination and create a theory that Isha is a cult organization?  Yes, they preached that turning vegetarian is good, but did they ask me to stop eating meat even during the inner engineering course? Yes, they  lectured on the benefits of Rudraksh and even sold them, but did they force me to buy?  After I did my "Inner Engineering" program, I got calls asking me to participate in volunteer meetings,  enquiring about my practices etc. There were group mails about Isha monthly Satsangs, other Isha events, request for donations etc. But nobody forced me to do anything. Surely they will try to convince you of what they think is good for you, but it is really up to you to decide.  I attended only one Satsang to see what it is and decided not to go again as I did not find it useful. I could not volunteer for any event due to lack of time.  But when there was a call for volunteers to do Telugu translations, I opted for it out of interest.

The truth is that, nothing can happen to you, unless you allow it yourself. Only the weak argue that they are being victimized. So if you allowed yourself to be influenced, allowed yourself to be part of a cult, only you are to be blamed. If you say, "I am intelligent enough to know this, but the ignorant masses can be easily exploited", then think again. In this age of commercialization aren't we being influenced by the marketing strategies, the ads, the brands and the ipads (Very recently, I wasted quite a lot of time reading about the rumours on iphone 4s)? Aren't we part of the FB/Twitter/G+ cult, that believes in having fun and meaning in life by sharing every small thing with our friends? When we like and believe in something, it is OK but if something irritates us a bit, it becomes evil?

Let me summarize. I am not saying that Isha is not a cult or that it is a cult. I just don’t really care. Isha is a resource, a possibility and I try to utilize it in the way I want. In the ancient Indian tradition, there is a symbolism of a swan that can separate water from milk. There is nothing like pure milk anywhere. You should first decide if you are interested in milk or water. If you are looking for milk, learn to separate the water out. If you start labeling and discarding everything that you do not like, then really you are limiting yourselves to the possibilities of life. After all, you yourself are not 100% what you want, how can you expect the outside world to be?


Deepak said…
Well reasoned article. No one forces anything upon us. As long as that is the case, people shouldn't complain...I learned a thing or two here.

- Deepak K
Me Inc said…
....If you start labeling and discarding everything that you do not like, then really you are limiting yourselves to the possibilities of life....

This is my take away from this post. Loved it ! Very thoughtful :)
Nagesh said…
Interesting perspective. Loved your analysis.
Vijay said…
Good post.
Anonymous said…
Well written.
Anonymous said…
Sadhguru is a very rare being in planet earth. Don't just complain. If you don't like him move on. There is no use mudslinging everybody who is in public life.

My experience with him was good. But I'm not a fanatic. I love the Krishna, Buddha and Jesus as well.
Anonymous said…
I have never been forced to do anything at Isha. People can criticize all they want. In this time and age with so much loss of sheer human decency, this structured attempt to achieve some good on planet Earth is definitely commendable.
Yes, it is a resurgence of Vedic culture. It is labeled as secular because all can benefit from the Science of Yoga.
Anonymous said…
Very well written last stanza .Strength of character determines our choices in the end. How many possess it ?Some people go through a lot in order to discover it in themselves and not outside. Isha is a school and only some need to learn all the lessons ?
Anonymous said…
Wonderfully articulated and really inspiring! Particularly, the way you have ended this piece! The article bespeaks your maturity and insight!
Bharti said…
Sadhguru is obviously a very likeable and charismatic guy with a great sense of humour and, although I have only watched eight minuets of one of his videos, he is the first Indian guru since Shree Rajneesh that I can remember encountering that was likeable – especially in the world of kriya yoga, a school full of grumpy old men and arrogant frauds. However, Sadhguru strikes me as a very clever man who knows the realities of the world, and his place in it and would be more capable than most Indian beggar priests of taking advantage of the gullible, if he wished to do so – I hope he is all that his followers deserve.
Vimal said…
Do you love Jesus? Can you share what he said in sermon on the mount.. Or Buddha... Can you share one of his dhammabadhas.. Many of us just talk... If you love a girl, you would want to know more about her.. There is a personal relationship... That's same with God.. Unless you get that going, please don't say i love... The meaning changes.. May be you like based on your limited understanding..
Anonymous said…
You all are going to die take your own route and atleast do something good...
Anonymous said…
Sadly you really have no idea what cult is - and if you read only four sentences you'll never will know anything more then that. so before you write something please inform yourself
Anonymous said…
so many sadgurus why india has so many problems . coz every guru has his own business of spirituality. this is the real tragedy
bathma said…
I'm not into spirituality.It's your own self to make choices.
Anonymous said…
Capture the mind of your follower, not his will.
Anonymous said…
This is a another filthy godman from india.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
What is bhavspandana - the shocking truth:

This is exactly the same method used by Osho in past. Bhavspandana is the volunteer recruitment programming of Sadhguru.

No one at Isha has got enlightened till date.

The Isha ashram land in Coimbatore is acquired illegally.

Sadhguru was accused of killing his wife in past.

He does not follow his own principles in ashram.

About 50 to 100 volunteers are locked in silent room and beaten every day at Isha.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for sharing your point of view Phanindra.

I was a Sadhguru follower and did his practices daily. I went to IE and Shoonya meditation programs, and at that moment I thought I was so lucky to have find Isha, because everything seemed so “scientific” and “it made sense”.

When I first starting reading those articles I didn’t want to believe it. And I closed them before reading even the 5% of them. But, months later, I bump in to them again and I decided to read the whole thing. After this, I just couldn’t but admit that I had been lied to and that Sadhguru is not really as genuine as he seems. Later, I re-read the whole think again and after this I saw everything clearly, he was clearly a fraud, and many worse things which I won’t get in now, but that you can read it in those articles.

I am sorry to say that I can't believe that you read those two articles that you quoted at the beginning fully. And if you did, please have a re-read of them with an open mind.

In them you can find evidence after evidence of all the negative things that happened around Isha and Sadhguru. A lot of them are posts of how Isha ruined the life of several ex Isha meditators/volunteers. They also exposed a lot of lies that Sadhguru has said and done over the years, and his lack of compassion towards several students. And other plenty terrible things.

As Sadhguru says: "You go try (read) it fully, if you agree you keep it, and if not you ditch it."

This doesn’t mean that Yoga doesn’t work, it just means that it would be better to find another way of learning about it. What Sadhguru teaches is not more than a few yoga asanas and some pranayama exercises. You can find those on any decent book or yoga school if you want.

With Love!!
Phanindra KSM said…
Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment! I read all the articles criticizing Isha with an open mind and even made notes. I do agree with you that some of the allegations are grave but most of them are personal experiences from people I do not know. If my friend comes and tells me something like that, I would trust him. In the case of online anonymous submissions there is always a question of credibility. I tried contacting some of those folks and did not get a favorable response. So I give benefit of doubt to Isha and Sadhguru for many allegations.

That said, some of the allegations are objective (e.g land encroachment allegations) and can be verified independently. These, I admit, are problematic. I am planning to write another article on what I think are valid criticisms on Isha.

Also keep in mind that what I think is not acceptable may be OK for others. Even when one is open, his reaction to the facts may vary from another open person. So even if we agree on the facts, we may disagree on our overall assessment of Isha/Sadhguru. This thing must be understood as I have seen too many unnecessary debates where people try to convince others to their point of view.
Anonymous said…
You come once, do your deed, feel good about it and disappear. Be useful, to the growth of everybody around you. Life is so boring if u just did yoga all the time... you dont need gurus...
Anonymous said…
Every cult organization lure us by playing with subconscious mind.They might not seem like foisting in the beginning but real trouble involves when you involve deeply with those organizations. Most of the teachers and volunteers are manipulated subtly that they should protect the face value of the cult. I did inner engineering in 2009 but I didn't got involved with Isha later coz after interacting with few volunteers on friendly terms I was shocked at their obsession being Ishaite. Mind you majority ofthose volunteers are highly educated
Anonymous said…
Dear Anonymous,
Looks like you are a Joker....ha ha ha ha......grow up boy.
Anonymous said…
The initiation took place at of the July full moon in at the conclusion of a 7 day program wherein the shakti chalana kriya and shoonya meditation had been taught.  I believe it was Columbus, but, maybe it was Dayton.  I’m pretty sure it was Columbus.

There was a meeting that afternoon before the night of the initiation, for everyone who wanted to take the initiation.  Nothing was said about what the initiation involved or what would be required afterward, if anything.  It was typical isha ambiguity.  During the meeting jaggi warned us that if we took drugs or drank alcohol or lied, for any reasons, or engaged in other similar kinds of behavior that we should not take the initiation because it might very well destroy us.  Some people left at this point.  For those that stayed and were still interested in taking the initiation we were given a number / tag or something similar before we left.  If we didn’t take it when we left then we would not be allowed to be initiated that evening.  If we took the token it held a place for us but did not obligate us to take the initiation.

I took the token / number and went back to my hotel.  In preparation for the initiation we were told to take a shower shortly before the initiation, I think it was about a half hour, and leave our hair wet when we arrived back.  Women were told not to wear a bra because the metal would interfere with the energy.

We gathered again that evening around .  I think there were about 100 or more of us.  I did sukha pranayam for about 1/2 hour - 45 minutes, per instructions, waiting for the initiation to begin.  Jaggi came out and immediately many people went into their stuff – wailing, crying, laughing, etc. 

He gave instructions for us to sit cross legged and for women to put their open left hand on their left thigh, palm up and put their open right hand on their upper abdomen with the top of their right thumb touching the soft spot just below the sternum (jaggi refers to this spot as anahata chakra).  Men were instructed to do just the opposite – put their right open right hand on their right thigh palm up and their left hand on the abdomen with the tip of the thumb touching the soft spot below the sternum.

Then we were told to take in short quick breaths through our slightly open mouth, like sipping coffee or a drink and then chew the air we sipped into our mouths and then swallow.  When we sipped the air into our mouths we were to imagine that we were taking jaggi’s flesh into our mouths and chewing it.  We were to imagine that it was his actual flesh that we were chewing and swallowing.  When he gave those instructions everyone went wild.  It was at least as crazy as a samyama, maybe more so. 

So, we did this sipping and chewing and swallowing of his flesh for sometime during the initation.  Then at the end jaggi told us that we had to do this practice every day at 6:20 a.m. without fail.   Practice Instructions were to begin the process at 6:20 with 3 minutes of sukha pranayam and then do the sipping, chewing and swallowing of jaggi's flesh for approximately 7- 10 minutes.    We were now part of him and he part of us and this would greatly accelerate our spiritual progress.
Anonymous said…
Here's how sick the samyama is, and how it is used to break a person and turn them into a jaggi cult follower.

Samyama ... 7 days (hours upon hours each day) of chanting, silence, meditation, babbling, yoga and frenzy, and the last day he has them focus on one thing....and one thing only...

No, the devotees are told not to focus on themselves, their lives or their "interiority."

In fact, they are told that in order to "attain", they must mentally BURN all their attachments. Jaggi leads a meditation process to burn these attachments completely from their mind. These attachments include their kids, spouses, families, parents, home, pets, work, friends, etc. Yes, he says you must "burn them up" in mental fires, leave them all behind. They are worthless and will prevent you from attaining (whatever it is you're attaining). None of them can go to this unknown spiritual place you are certainly going. (You see, you are special for sitting with jaggi.)

So, after all this burning and breaking down, he tells these hundreds of followers to (instead) attach their breathing, their attention and their energies ... on a different attachment...the only thing in their lives he didn't have them detach from or burn up....jaggi himself!!

This is the final culmination of days worth of breaking people down mentally, psychologically and spiritually. After learning this (not-so-special) samyama technique, the final goal is an all-encompassing attention on jaggi, your master guru.

Unfortunately, followers are all to happy to oblige. And now, he has the adoration of hundreds of devotees willing to (and actually did) burn up their lives for him.
Anonymous said…
Yeah, at a retreat with a couple hundred participants, jaggi started it off by telling us that we had to identify those things / people / situations that were holding us back from progressing. Then he led us through a process where we had to walk away from those things and dedicate ourselves to spirituality / yoga. Well, I couldn't leave my attachments, then or now. Too bad for me, I guess. It seems quite inhumane to walk out on people that you love, who love you and who depend on you for their very life. Even if there is no love between me and those people there is certainly responsiblity (isha 101) and committment (again, isha 101) and doing what is needed in the situation (again, isha 101) out of our humanity. It seems the isha has lost all sensibility. It's bizarre....and seems to contradict all standards and of humanity and our very instincts as human beings. Just my perspective - for whatever it's worth.
Anonymous said…
At a satsang held in at the Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai, Jaggi asked us to hold a similar mudra. I don't remember the exact instructions but can remember jaggi telling us to keep the left palm open facing up resting on the thigh and the middle and ring finger pressing into the anahata.

Then he asked us to keep our eyes shut and then a few sharp hisses and claps followed. As if on cue some ladies started yelling and screaming. Then he started chanting the Linga Bhairavi mantra which is continuously played in the Linga bhairavi temple now. The screaming and yelling and crying continued throughout the duration of his chanting, until he asked us to open our eyes. I felt nothing at all except stiffness in my legs, but was intrigued and fascinated and yes, tempted, in equal measure by the experience. The affected ladies were in tears and uncontrollable. I wonder why ladies appear more susceptible to this kind of "spiritual experience".
I remember Jaggi mentioning that never has such a thing happened i.e people "blowing up" since the time of Agastya Muni. And whats more interesting is that a guy who took the Shambhavi initiation with me, was going into uncontrollable "ecstasies" during the shambhavi when he and me met during a satsang two months later.My eyes were closed and yet I could hear him writhing and thrashing about. This when I was slowly giving up on the shambhavi due to the headaches I was getting during the rapid breathing.

I must admit that this blowing up thing is one aspect about Isha that I find unfathomable and which probably is the one thing that gives Isha an edge over other "spiritual" organisations. I've been with Art Of Living whose Kriyas are on similar lines but have yet to see devotees in states as energetic as in Isha.
Anonymous said…
Samyana describes the mechanism by which the Isha cult detaches people from those they love. I have experienced only the results of this "spiritual process" on a loved one, I wasn't aware of the precise
mechanism. Now I am.

As to "Flesh Eating Meditation," I am, well, just amazed. Maybe there is something in the Hindu tradition that supports it, but to me it is obviously a parody and a rip-off of the Christian Eucharist with Jaggi substituting for Jesus!

I get the impression that Jaggi just makes this stuff up as he goes along. His act (and that is what it is) is most impressive, but at the end of all, he is no more than an actor, an entertainer, and, like other entertainers, a businessman.

Unfortunately, unlike other entertainers, Jaggi is fundamentally dangerous. We know what deep devotion to Isha can do to one's life. Imagine if all of society followed Isha....what the world would be like. It's a chilling thought.

Anonymous said…
isha is a black magic cult and jaggie is a witch
Isha people I know (all Westerners) continue to point out to me that Isha is not a religion. It's website disclaims religious status as well. But...when I watch the videos of all of the ceremonies, rituals, chanting, dancing, adoration of Vasudev, I am reminded of the old adage that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it is a duck. Isha is a religion, it's own religion. That is so clear to me. Like all religions, Isha is syncretic - it borrows from other religions. It mostly borrows from Hinduism, but the flesh-eating meditations are borrowings from Christianity. If syncretic, it is also synthetic - made up on the fly by Vasudev.
People are ensnared by Isha's promises of healthy living through yoga. They then get sucked deeper into a cult mentality. Finally, they are incapable of independent reason. Some, fortunately, will snap out of their trance as have some of the critical posters here; but most, unfortunately, will die Isha devotees.
Meanwhile, Vasudev, the actor-entertainer guru, is enjoying his narcissistic power trip, his wealth, his status in society. And yet, at the end of it all, Vasudev will be die (from disease or accident, not mahasamadhi), his cult will splinter, diminish, and, to quote Ronald Reagan, be consigned to the "dustbin of history." And yet, how many good people will ruin their lives adoring this false god with his faux temples and their manufactured deities?
Vasudev's press is good. His cult spreads. Only this blog stands witness to the truth about this "profound mystic."
Anonymous said…
The Catholic Church has formed lots of charitable organizations, and we can point to all of their good works too. By the same isha logic put forth by dianedebaun we should understand that the priests didn't really rape the little boys and abuse their power and position within the church and community. We should understand that priests weren't intentionally, systematically, methodically and with cold calculation protected from their heinous crimes against the most innocent of victims. Just because the Catholic Church has created charities we must conclude they are incapable of committing these horrific acts and drop the whole matter.

This latest feeble attempt to protect vasudev and absolve him from his cold, calculating, predatory, abusive, selfish, socio-pathic life is in direct contradiction to his teaching of absolute responsiblity and absoulute acceptance for everything in one's life. It's also a continued attempt to deny the uncomfortable dark spaces in isha that are so horrific the devotees are incapable of looking at them. They can not, even for a moment, consider shining a light in the dark spaces of isha becase they are afraid of what they will find. It's a common human phenomenon that the mind clings to what it's invested in. isha people have spent a lot of time and money in isha and they are simply unable to acknowledge they've been sold a lie, even when the leader tells them bluntly that he lies whenever it's necessary. They twist that statement into some spiritual teaching but he's actually telling them he's a liar. For the devotees to acknowledge that it's all a lie is to admit they've wasted their time - and money - and that's just too much for the mind to bear. You see, as isha devotees rightly say, the mind creates all kinds of illusions to comfort itself and the illusion they are involved with some spiritual process and some greater than man guru is just a trick of their mind to keep them from doing their real spiritual work.

In the same way that it's riduculous to condone the Catholic Church for their gross and egregious abuse of power and people because they've established some charities it's also absurd to condone vasudev's equally abusive and criminal behaviour as previously described on this site.
Anonymous said…
Actually, people do force things on us. Even been abused as a child? This is just a recycling/repetition of that in another form.
Anonymous said…
I can prove that classes conduted by both Rishi Prabhakar and Jaggi vasudev have been copied from somebody else , from a person true sadhguru (who is actually the real creator of this classes) who is teaching this courses free of cost in remote villages of karnataka
Bini said…
I read through you blog. My first introduction to Sadhguru was from a negative video circulating on whatapp for him 2 years back, the one were the southindian catholic news reporter questions on governments decision to make yoga mandatory for everybody in school. But his answer in the video came with so much clarity that I just became a fan of him. From that moment I have been skeptically digging out information about him as I have been skeptic about all these gurus all my life. But there is this clarity of thought in this guy that is irresistible. His past that you have digged out and got more clarity from other commentators is a commendable work but I think it was his past. Every human grows and learns from life. As of today at his age, I think whatever his past was, he had learned a lot and thats why there is so much clarity in his explanations on any topic that has been laid in front of him..
Its very rare to find people who can answer so profoundly and freely without any bias. Like he says, you have to leave your identity in the dustbin to be able to accept what/who is in front of you. Only then will you make a unbiased comment.
As far as him making money, I think he is a businessman by nature but the difference is he ensures everybody benefits from his deal and it is sustainable. Look at the projects he has run, all of them are still vibrant and people are benefiting. After reading your blog, I did feel an aversion towards Sadhguru but the moment I seek an answer to any life query from his videos, he has so much clarity in his answers.
Even the people running our country or other big posts have no clarity in whatever they do which is shameful. The greed that lusts around in our society is unbearable.
In such time, a person such as this Guy is doing a great deal to clean this mess up.
Swami Aniruddha said…
The Link to that interesting article on Isha is a Cult and Sadhguru is a fraud is mine. Please update that link with this downloadable pdf link as below

Also full post is available at &

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