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
- A charismatic Guru who can influence people with his speeches
- A set of devotees who completely believe in the Guru and are willing to do anything for him
- A set of practices/rules that define all followers
- 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?