Jaggi Vasudev earned a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Mysore and has been teaching yoga in southern India since 1982. In 1992 he established the Isha Foundation near Coimbatore, which operates an ashram and yoga centre and is involved in various activities in spirituality, education and the environment.
Vasudev is the author of several books, including Inner Engineering: A Yogi's Guide to Joy (2016). He has addressed the United Nations ' Millennium World Peace Summit, the British parliament's House of Lords, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the International Institute for Management Development. He has also spoken at the annual World Economic Forum in 2007, 2017 and 2020.
In 2017, he received the Padma Vibhushan, India's second-highest civilian award, from the Government of India for his contributions to social welfare.
Jaggi Vasudev was born on 3 September 1957 in Mysore, Karnataka, India to a Telugu speaking family. He had four siblings – two brothers and two sisters and was the youngest of them all. His mother Susheela Vasudev was a house maker and his father B.V. Vasudev worked at the Mysuru Railway Hospital as a physician. The family frequently moved due to the nature of his father's job. He lived in Shimoga, Chikkaballapur, and Guntakal for a brief time and returned to Mysore with his family in 1969.
Vasudev showed an inclination towards nature during his early life. He spent time trekking alone in forests as a child and developed an interest in snakes, often keeping them as pets.
After his schooling at Demonstration School, Mysore and Mahajana Pre-University College, Vasudev graduated from the University of Mysore with a bachelor's degree in English, despite a spotty attendance record and an irreverent attitude to tuition. Defying his parents’ wishes, he refused to pursue a post-graduate course and took to business instead.
Aged thirteen, Vasudev took yoga lessons from Malladihalli Raghavendra, and kept practicing asanas and pranayama daily throughout his youth, albeit without spiritual aspirations. At the age of 25, on 23 September 1982, he went up Chamundi Hill and sat on a rock, where he had a 'spiritual experience'. Six weeks afterwards, he left his business to his friend and travelled extensively in an effort to gain insight into his mystical experience. After about a year of meditation and travel, he decided to teach yoga to share his inner experience.
In 1983, he taught his first yoga class with seven participants in Mysore. Over time, he began conducting yoga classes across Karnataka and Hyderabad travelling on his motorcycle, subsisting on the produce of his poultry farm rental and donating the collections received from his students to a local charity on the last day of the class.
Jaggi Vasudev's family’s lineage is linked on his mother’s side, to Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire. His paternal great-grandmother, Kuntamma, impacted him as a child. Called Kuntamma or one who limps, she built a temple, but was considered unorthodox by society’s standards, because of her loud laugh and lack of respect for social conventions, especially in worship and religion. Vasudev has fondly recalled how her bedtime stories kept him engaged, and how her exuberant style of worship intrigued him. Kuntamma’s son and Vasudev’s grandfather was a wealthy man with a large ancestral home. It was at his grandfather’s house that Vasudev first came in touch with Malladihalli Raghavendra, from whom he learnt yoga.
He met Vijaya Kumari, known as Vijji, in 1984 after a yoga class in Mysuru. Vijaya Kumari had previously been through a difficult marriage and divorce. After a brief romance, they made an impromptu decision to get married during a trip to Irupu Falls on Maha Shivaratri. Kumari and Vasudev’s mother developed a close relationship, while Kumari’s parents respected Vasudev because her father benefited from Vasudev’s yoga classes after suffering a paralytic stroke.
Vasudev’s mother died in 1989 of renal failure. In 1990, Vasudev and Kumari had a daughter, Radhe Jaggi. On 22 January 1997, Kumari died at a large gathering at the Isha Yoga Center. After a complaint alleging foul play was filed eight months later, an inquiry was conducted.
According to Vasudev, his main motive in getting into business was to fund his urge to travel and explore. One of his favorite haunts was the Chamundi Hills, where he often rode at night. On one occasion, in pursuit of adventure, he decided to go off-road and rode down the slope of the hill, careening into trees and rocks and suffering a broken ring finger. He also formulated a plan with his motorcycling friends to build a commune in a hundred acres of land, where they would live without any rules or regulations. The idea never came through, and Vasudev admits that it was for the best that he never executed the plan. Besides riding his motorcycle in and around Mysore, he also rode across India, before being stopped at the border because he had no passport.
His first business was a poultry farm in a remote part of Mysore. He chose poultry because the sector was on the rise in the region at the time. He set up his farm with borrowed money. Due to financial constraints, Vasudev chose to construct the farm buildings and bird cages by himself over six months. In the process of constructing his farm, he also took to brickmaking, and soon converted this into a second business.  Though his family did not approve of his choice of business and thought it was a waste of time, the farm soon turned profitable. Operating his businesses occupied four hours of his time every day. The rest of his time was spent writing poetry, reading, swimming and relaxing. Vasudev says that though he was practicing asanas and pranayama from the age of thirteen, it was during his time at the poultry farm that he began to meditate in an established way.
His third business was a construction company named Buildaids. Vasudev entered the construction industry as a response to the constant questions from his relatives about why he was into the poultry business. He started the company in partnership with a friend who was a qualified civil engineer. Though Vasudev had no formal engineering training, he used the experience gained from building his poultry farm in his new company.
Jaggi Vasudev is the author of several books. His books Inner Engineering: A Yogi's Guide to Joy and Karma: A Yogi's Guide to Crafting Your Destiny made The New York Times Best Seller list. Vasudev is also the author of Mystic's Musings and Death: An Inside Story.
Vasudev is a frequent public speaker who has been invited to address many prestigious forums and conferences across the globe, such as the United Nation's Millennium World Peace Summit, the House of Lords, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the International Institute for Management Development. He has also spoken at the annual World Economic Forum in 2007, 2017 and 2020.
Vasudev received the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award from the Government of India in 2017 in recognition of his contribution to the field of spirituality. He stood 92nd in The Indian Express' list of 100 most powerful Indians, in 2012 and stood 40th in India Today's list of 50 most powerful Indians, in 2019.
Located on the foothills of the Velliangiri Mountains, forty kilometres from the city of Coimbatore in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India, Isha Foundation was established as a non-profit organisation by Vasudev in 1992. Its social initiatives have been awarded with the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar.
After the establishment of the ashram, Vasudev began conducting yoga programmes on the premises of the newly established Isha Yoga Centre in 1994, including a course for the Indian Hockey team in 1996. In 1997, he began conducting classes in the United States and from 1998 onwards, for life-term prisoners in Tamil Nadu prisons.
The flagship program is titled 'Inner Engineering', which introduces people to simple Yoga practices and the Shambhavi Mahamudra; corporate leadership forms a core audience of these programs. It views depression as the result of a false widespread belief about an ability to change the world according to one's desires, and offers to teach the technology of mental well-being, to help one acclimatise with unavoidable work rigors. Vasudev has frequently cited a study by the University of California which supposedly found mahamudra to lead to highly elevated levels (221%) of neuronal regeneration in the brain; it has since been noted that the study appeared in a fringe journal published by a discredited alternative medicine advocate and his allies, and that it merely reports lower levels of subjective stress from a medium-sized uncontrolled group practising yoga daily for six weeks.
The Dhyanalinga (composed of the terms dhyāna and linga) is a consecrated sculptural stone structure standing 4.3 metres (13 feet 9 inches) tall. Its creation and consecration, according to Vasudev, was his life's mission entrusted to him by his guru, Palani Swami. In 1998, the structure of the Dhyanalinga was ordered and arrived at the ashram, where the Dhyanalinga Yogic Temple was being built to hold it. After three years of work, the temple was completed on 23 June 1999 and opened to the public on 23 November.
The Dhyanalinga Yogic Temple is a meditative space which is not dedicated to any particular faith or belief system, and is open to all visitors irrespective of their religion or nationality. A stone pillar named the Sarva Dharma stambha, located at the temple's front entrance, features symbols of several religions to indicate the venue's universality.
Designed by Jaggi Vasudev, the foundation built a 34-metre-tall (112 ft) and 500-tonne (490-long-ton; 550-short-ton) Shiva statue for inspiring and promoting yoga. It was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi and has been since recognised as the "Largest Bust Sculpture" by Guinness World Records. It is a part of the Incredible India campaign.
The Tamil Nadu government has since claimed the entire construction as illegal, for which no approval was granted; Comptroller and Auditor General's report further states the construction to have flagrantly violated the rules of biodiversity zones.
Jaggi Vasudev regularly conducts gatherings (mahasathsangs) in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. He also takes spiritual aspirants on annual pilgrimages (yatras) to Mount Kailash and the Himalayas.
Every year at the Isha Yoga Centre, Vasudev celebrates an all-night Mahashivarathri, the annual Hindu festival in honour of Shiva. It is estimated that these celebrations were attended by as many as 800,000 people in 2013. He has also established a Linga Bhairavi temple in Coimbatore where women conduct the rituals.
Isha Vidhya, an education initiative, aims to raise the level of education and literacy in rural India by providing quality English-language-based, computer-aided education. There are seven Isha Vidhya Schools in operation which educate around 3,000 students.
The foundation also runs an Action for Rural Rejuvenation program, in over 4200 villages, raising the welfare of the underprivileged.
Isha Foundation has consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, and is an accredited observer of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, praised the efforts by foundation for carrying forward Swachh Bharat Mission in Tamil Nadu.
Project GreenHands (PGH) was established in 2004 as an environmental organisation. Its activity is largely focused on Tamil Nadu. The organisation received the Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar, the Government of India's environmental award in 2010. The organisation's activities include agroforestry, plant nurseries in schools, and tree-planting in urban centres such as Tiruchirappalli and Tiruppur.
The Rally for Rivers campaign, which ran from September to October 2017, intended to rejuvenate India's depleting rivers by growing large forests along their banks. Promoted by Vasudev all over the country, the campaign received support from a broad range of celebrities and the urban populace. MOUs were signed with state governments.
However, the campaign has been widely criticised by environmentalists for lacking in scientific basis and shifting the spotlight away from real concerns. Acclaimed water conservationist Rajendra Singh alleges that the campaign is motivated by the goal of money and fame.
The Cauvery Calling project aims to support farmers in planting an estimated 2.4 billion trees through agroforestry, thereby covering one third of Cauvery basin with trees, as a means of conserving it. The project has received acclaim from politicians and members of the movie industry.
However, environmentalists and public intellectuals allege that the program presents a simplistic view of river conservation, sidesteps social issues, and has the potential to harm tributaries and wildlife habitats. A Public Interest litigation has also been filed in the Karnataka High Court questioning the legality of the fundraising practices for the initiative, and the usage of government owned land for a private purpose without supporting study. In January 2020, the High Court ruled that the Foundation needed to disclose details of its fundraising practices relating to the initiative.
Critics claim that Jaggi Vasudev shares the ideology of Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindu nationalism (Hindutva), and that he takes an "intolerant nationalist" stance in his media appearances. He advocates a total ban on cow slaughter and characterises the era of Muslim Rule in India as an "oppressive occupation" that was far worse than the British Raj. Vasudev has also spoken in favour of the 2019 Balakot airstrike, the introduction of a comprehensive GST, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, while denouncing the Thoothukudi protests as a peril to industry. Vasudev accuses leftist liberals of aiding and abetting militancy in Kashmir, and has suggested that Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, known for their involvement in the JNU sedition row, should be put behind bars. His understanding of politics and history has been repeatedly questioned.
Vasudev has also been accused of promoting pseudoscience and misrepresenting science. He propagates the claim, unsupported by science, that cooked food consumed during lunar eclipses depletes the human body's pranic energies. He also perpetuates numerous myths regarding clinical depression, and opposes the potential prohibition on the use of mercury in traditional Indian medicine, despite the substance's extreme toxicity. His views on the Higgs boson and alleged benefits of vibhuti have been rejected as unproven by science.