Jay Shetty’s Backstory May Have a Few Holes

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If you like self-help gurus, read Goop, or just know a lot about Bennifer’s plantation wedding, you have probably come across Jay Shetty, a life coach who dispenses advice that he claims is based on knowledge he gained while studying with monks in India. Since he started churning out inspirational videos in 2016, he has gained an astoundingly large following and has a flock of celebrities singing his praises. His sprawling self-help empire has ensnared everyone from Michelle Obama to Kim Kardashian to Matt Damon — and, of course, Gwyneth Paltrow. The same year Shetty officiated the Bennifer nuptials, Erewhon christened a smoothie in his name: Jay’s Love Potion.

Well, it seems someone has finally called bullshit on Shetty’s whole deal. Journalist John McDermott, who says he was commissioned to write a profile for Esquire, alleges that he dug up more than a few inconsistencies in Shetty’s claims, particularly in what he has said about his religious backstory. McDermott shared his findings in an investigation published in The Guardian. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Jay Shetty’s backstory reportedly has a few glaring holes.

Shetty’s whole persona is built around a story he shares on talk shows, in advice videos, and in two best-selling books: While in business school, he attended a talk by a monk named Gauranga Das, had a major spiritual awakening, skipped his graduation ceremony, and studied at an ashram in India for three years.

Based on what McDermott found, this tale is likely distorted at best. For one thing, Shetty frequently changes his age in the story — he sometimes says he was 18 but has also claimed to have been 21 and 22. Gauranga Das and Shetty’s legal team confirmed that their encounter happened in 2007, which would have made Shetty 19 or 20.

But there are bigger holes. Based on accounts from people who knew him at the time, Shetty did travel to India in the mid-to-late-aughts, but, they say, not for nearly as much time as he claims. According to some former associates, one of whom he allegedly dated for a year, he reportedly spent most of his monk stint not in Mumbai but at an estate outside London called Bhaktivedanta Manor. Both Gauranga Das and Shetty’s legal team insist he spent only a few months there before moving to India, but in a travel blog he kept at the time — which McDermott says was made private at some point during the reporting of his story — he reportedly called Bhaktivedanta his main ashram. In a 2011 post, he apparently discusses returning from “almost four months in India” before hanging out at London’s City University and “distributing flyers and books on the streets all over the UK and enjoying festivals!”

According to some people, Shetty was also not nearly as cut off from society during his stint as a monk as he would have people believe. They say he spent a lot of this time filming viral YouTube videos in London and was not, as he has claimed in the past, so ensconced in his studies that he didn’t even know who the prime minister was when he rejoined civilization. One associate reminisced, “I saw him in sweatpants more than I saw him in robes.”

Shetty has also been cagey about the fact that some of his religious education seems to have happened in the Hare Krishna movement, a Hindu religious organization known more formally as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON. According to what his lawyers told The Guardian, he grew up in the Hare Krishna faith — something he hasn’t mentioned publicly — but didn’t find it meaningful until his encounter with Gaurangas Das in 2007. ISKCON has a controversial past involving allegations of abuse in the ’70s and ’80s, which may be why Shetty would want to distance himself from it.

Shetty has previously been accused of plagiarizing his inspirational content.

Shetty has been hit with accusations of plagiarism for years. In 2019, he took down upwards of 100 YouTube and Instagram videos after YouTuber Nicole Arbour found the original sources of several of his go-to parables. He now credits and tags the Instagram accounts he pulls videos from, but a few creators told The Guardian he didn’t ask them for permission or pay to repost their content.

Shetty’s life-coaching program has made questionable claims about its credentials.

McDermott also looked into the Jay Shetty Certification School, a $7,400-a-term self-help course that purports to give students a master’s degree in life coaching. Turns out the school’s accreditations are questionable at best. Before McDermott started making calls, its website listed affiliations with a handful of universities, none of which confirmed it had any link to Shetty’s program. (Most of these have since been removed from the site.)

The same goes for Ofqual, the U.K. government’s exam-regulating branch, which is listed as an approving entity in Shetty’s school’s brochure but denied to The Guardian that it does any regulation for the courses. Shetty’s lawyers claimed that, because his school pays a private exam-certification group called OTHM to evaluate it and OTHM is approved by Ofqual, this is legit, but OTHM also denied that Ofqual had regulated any of Shetty’s teachings.

The Guardian has pointed out that the general structure of Shetty’s school — its vague credentials, hefty price tag, and emphasis on recruiting new students — bears a resemblance to multilevel marketing. Still, a handful of its graduates shared nothing but rave reviews with the paper.

So far, Shetty seems unbothered by the accusations.

As of Friday afternoon, Shetty hasn’t commented directly on any of the accusations in the report, and things seem to be business as usual on his social-media accounts: In the past 24 hours, he has continued to publish inspirational clips from his own talks and promoted an upcoming workshop for his $40-a-month “community,” Genius. He also dropped a new podcast episode about how to stop caring. Sounds like he’s taking his own advice?

The Cut has reached out to Shetty’s representation for comment and will update this post if we hear back.

Jay Shetty’s Backstory May Have a Few Holes