Baba Ramdev – Guru or Fraudster?

Baba Ramdev during Yoga Shibir at Bandra Kurla Complex.
Photo by Mukesh Parpiani

The notion of an Indian guru brings to mind a romanticized vision of an enlightened, otherworldly being swathed in ocher orange robes and followed by hordes of devotees. It is not a “profession” that we give much credence to in today’s world, especially in the West where the concept of an enlightened being guiding and teaching thousands of followers is often viewed as bizarre and cultish. In the classical Indian view, a guru is an enlightened being who guides others to their own self-realization; a concept that is questioned each time it has entered our Western world. So it’s no surprise that as Indian teacher Baba Ramdev is making headlines as a modern day guru, his claims of healing incurable diseases and foretelling the future are causing some to question his authenticity.

Baba Ramdev asserts that the practices of pranayama and ayurveda can cure health concerns from high blood pressure to HIV. He talks of corruption from the West and claims to foresee major events like an Indian civil war. Though the proclamations seemed far-fetched, yogis for millennia have carried the same beliefs in the powerful healing properties of breath practices. In addition, the Bombay head of equities trading for a leading Western bank shared similar thoughts about an impending civil uprising due to growing inequality. So is this man a serious yoga adept or a just a seasoned yoga practitioner seeking attention?

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In defense of his claims, the Guru has chosen to use science to back up his health claims. Under the scrutiny of university observation, Baba Ramdev plans to scientifically evaluate his methods of yoga and pranayama in order to substantiate its benefits. Ramdev is not the first yoga guru to submit himself to this type of scientific observation. In 1970, another yoga guru, Swami Rama, participated in experiments at the Menninger Foundation, which included voluntarily stopping his own heart pumping for 17 seconds and affecting his own body temperature by as much as ten degrees. And he received doubt and criticism from people all over the world.

The fantastic abilities of yoga adepts can be traced back to the ancient texts. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali chronicles numerous physical and mental feats that can be achieved by the accomplished yogi (siddhis), but he is also quick to warn that these feats are not the equivalent to the end goal of yoga, Samadhi, or liberation. A true “guru” is one who removes darkness, a light of wisdom on the path of another. So, regardless of how many cool tricks a person can do, the real judge of a guru is their ability to remove the veil of darkness and illusion in others through right action and wise teaching. If Baba Ramdev is a true guru, it will not be shown in a battery of scientific tests or in his ability to prophesize the future, but in the authenticity of his teachings and his love for his students.

What do you think of Baba Ramdev’s claims of healing incurable diseases and foretelling the future?

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