A Mystic’s Insights on Contemporary Issues
In an interview with Khabar, master, mystic, and humanitarian Sadhguru Vasudev shares his wisdom on some of today’s pressing issues—the fear of a job loss, gender equality, parenting, politics, pessimism, and even the nuances of the Bhagavad Gita.
He hobnobs with Chief Ministers and CEOs of global corporations; has been invited to speak at international forums such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland; and has been cited amongst the 50 most powerful Indians by India Today magazine. He plays a mean game of golf, flies helicopters, rides motorbikes, and drives fast cars. All of this cannot begin to scratch the surface of the immensity of the scope and influence of mystic, yogi, and humanitarian Sadhguru Vasudev.
Based on this brief glimpse, if you hastily think of him as just another psychedelic guru given to the indulgent life, you would be gravely mistaken.
Rather, Sadhguru seems most in his element when working towards raising the consciousness of the masses—such as at last year’s Anand Alai (“A Wave of Bliss”) event in Chennai, India, which attracted 150,000 people, from housewives and business executives to farmers and film stars.
The sheer range of his activities and accomplishments in the area of his mission of elevating consciousness and human wellbeing is staggering. In the realm of personal spirituality, he has touched over seven million people across six continents over 30 years. Environmentally, Project Green Hands, an undertaking of his Isha Foundation, set a Guinness World Record for planting over 800,000 saplings in a single day across 27 districts of the state of Tamil Nadu. The Foundation’s Action for Rural Rejuvenation wing, through its rural health clinics and mobile health clinics, serves over 4,200 villages and a population of over seven million people by providing timely medical care to people who would otherwise not have access due to financial constraints or the remoteness of the region.
Many other activities and programs of Sadhguru through the Isha Foundation—promoting primary education and creating spaces dedicated to elevating human consciousness through ancient yogic sciences—are hardly enumerable here.
It is no surprise that this enigmatic mystic is constantly travelling around the globe at dizzying speeds,
accomplishing in weeks what many couldn’t dream of covering in a lifetime. Yet, to sit with him, as I recently did at his 1,200-acre U.S. ashram in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee, is to experience a man exuding the peace and ease of a successful retiree enjoying his golden years on the sunny beaches of Florida.
This rare privilege came about when Khabar was granted an interview with the Master to avail of his insights on many of the widespread questions and concerns of our times. Following are excerpts from the interview.
You have said that most people are overly preoccupied with earning a living, and that even animals fend for themselves far easier compared to how much humans toil mentally to make a living. Yet, in today’s economy, too many people have faced the ugly reality of being unemployed and have been consumed with worry about what’s the next thing they could do to sustain their family and their lifestyle. What advice might you have for them?
Do you agree that right now America is the best-fed nation on the planet?
So, if this is the best-fed population, you are not talking about bread. You’re talking about butter, cream, and dessert. A little less butter is good for you. Even your doctors are telling you that. I’m not making fun of the struggles people are going through right now. But I want you to understand that humanity is constantly raising the bar of survival. Individual human beings and societies are struggling for survival no matter how much they have. No higher pursuits of life will happen in such societies.
An individual will have to pursue his calling, whatever is his passion, whatever really means something to him, what truly matters to him. He can’t just go on increasing the scale of survival. This keeps a man in a state of distress, and never allows his intelligence to flower. Every human being has some kind of genius about himself, which largely remains unexplored in most human beings because they’re mostly concerned about their own survival all the time. When people are so concerned about survival, where is the room for exploring any other dimension of who they are? If human genius and intelligence remain unexplored, if all of it is used just to survive better, make a little more money, build a little bigger house, eat a little more, if this is all the whole life is about, it is such a horrible waste of human potential.
If a simpler level of survival is fixed in a society—you see, it’s just a psychological structure … In our educational systems, in our social circumstances, we need to develop the idea that money is not the highest value in our life; it’s a useful thing. But there are some people who have a capability for [making money]; some people are not so capable about those things. It doesn’t matter. It is just a means. It does not decide who a human being is. If those values are not brought into the social structure, into the family structure, and above all into the psychological structure of the human being, we may be the richest nation but we will always live like beggars hankering for something. That is a kind of tease which is very unfair because from poverty to a reasonable level of affluence is a hard struggle. It comes at an enormous cost. After you get there, you can’t rest because somebody is raising the goalpost all the time. And you just have to keep running and hankering for something more and something more. That has to stop. The media has a great role to play in that.
The role of women in the workplace compared to being a full-time homemaker has been a topic of discussion lately. What are your thoughts about this in particular and about gender equality in general?
It all depends on how you understand the word “equality.” If you think equality means sameness, then it’s cruel for both man and woman. If they both become the same, then you’ll wonder why the other gender. They’re different, and that’s why it’s valuable.
Generally there’s a tendency for people to understand equality as being same. Equality is about equal opportunity, not leveling everybody to one level. That’s not going to work. It’s going to be cruel and ugly for any society to do such a thing. Instead of talking about gender equality, if you talk about humanity, gender equality would naturally happen without talking about it.
The person that you love can never be equal to you. That person will always be above you. And that’s how it should be. You must hold her above you and she must hold you above her. If both of you sit down and start a civil debate about who is equal to whom, then you’ll come to some paper that you can sign, but the fundamental reason why you have come together will be destroyed.
And about homemaker … our values have become totally monetary, economic in nature, and we think whoever has the most money is the biggest man. If you say someone is a big man in this town, it does not mean he has a big brain. It does not mean he has a big heart. He has got a big wallet, that’s all. Once your values have become like this, naturally the woman also thinks I must make as much money as the man is making; otherwise I’m not equal to him. Once monetary earning is the only equality level, then of course she wants to go out and do everything. If she has to go out and do everything, there are certain biological responsibilities of manufacturing the next generation of people, which she wouldn’t want to do, naturally, because it will set her back in the race. I think that’s an unfair thing, both for humanity as a whole and particularly to a woman, that she cannot go through whatever her fundamental needs are, simply because we have set an artificial goal that she has to earn so much to be somebody in the society.
Why is it you think that somebody who goes out and earns some money has a bigger job than keeping the home, raising the children, in a way creating the future generations of the planet? Why is that a lesser responsibility and of lesser credibility than making a few bucks in the marketplace? Those values have to change. Then naturally these things will fall into place.
Thanks to technology, the pace of change has gone up dramatically. Now there seems to be endless complexities in the basic process of living. This, coupled with a historic economic crises around the world, environmental deterioration, and social changes such as children no longer playing in neighborhoods, have all added up to an increase in pessimism about the future. Please comment.
Children are not playing in the neighborhood because they are playing across galaxies. (Laughs). They are not fighting with the neighborhood boy, they’re fighting with intergalactic enemies! About the historic economic crisis, I don’t think so. Except for a certain percentage, is it true that as a generation of people we’re eating better than any other generation? Maybe not the healthiest, but more choice and more quantity. Are we dressing better? Traveling better? In more comfort? Then why do you say “historic economic crisis”? There is no historic crisis. There is a historic well-being. Never before have people experienced such well-being. Okay?
So technology is a tool which has greatly enhanced many capabilities that we have. Technology doesn’t do anything new. It does something more. We can walk. We’re already capable of locomotion. But now you came up with a motorcycle, car, airplane. We’re already able to speak, but now we have a phone to talk [across distance]. The capabilities that we already have, we’re seeing how to enhance it to more and more convenient levels. So is this a problem? Definitely it shouldn’t be a problem. But now people have an immense capability to make a problem out of everything. You give them any blessing, they can make a curse out of it. Whatever boons you give them, they will make suffering out of it.
This is because they have not tended to the most sophisticated technology that has been given to them in the first place, which is the human mechanism. This is the highest and most sophisticated technology that you have, and you have not explored it. Whatever other technology you’re handling—your phones, computers, and other stuff—is a much lesser technology than what the human mechanism is. Because you never explored this, that seems to be freaking your life out. If you had explored this, you would use that gracefully to the extent it is necessary, to facilitate your life, not to destroy your life.
Can you give some insights on good parenting in the context of the fact that in earlier generations a parent’s word was good enough for children, but now parents must provide an explanation for everything they want their children to do or not do? “Because I said so,” is not good enough anymore.
If you say something to your child and he doesn’t believe you, what does it mean? It means you’ve not earned that credibility. So if parents believe that children should listen to them, first thing is that they must earn that credibility. Credibility is not going to come by enforcing authority. It has to be earned. I’m always trying to leave the choices of life, the small things and big things, to my daughter. But she keeps coming back to me and saying, “You tell me what I should do, and I’ll do that.” You must earn that credibility. The moment you ask for credibility you become a fake. When you demand respect, you become a fake. You cannot earn it any other way than by being a credible person in every possible way.
Don’t be bothered about parenting. Just be concerned about how this one (pointing inwards) should be. You work on this. You think you have to work on your children. You are the one who needs to be fixed. You work on this one constantly—this one will become credible.
Your problem is, if they question it, you don’t have an answer. (Laughs). What is the problem if somebody questions something? Let them question anything. If you have an answer there’s no problem. If reverence comes, if reverence happens in a child’s heart or an adult’s heart, because you have seen somebody or something that has a truly great value, then it’s fantastic. But if people start revering authority, they become slaves. So nobody should revere authority. Authority should not conduct competence. Competence should be the authority, shouldn’t it? So if your child is more competent, than you let him be the authority.
The U.S. is entering the bitter phase of political rivalry as we move towards another highly contentious presidential election. What is your advice on how citizens can make a good choice in one of the most significant of their duties and privileges—that of choosing the next president?
Why do you say it’s the most contentious election? Every four years it seems the same. They fight bitterly for that place, and it’s okay. That’s the democratic process. It’s just that I hope they don’t go around digging up personal rubbish about each other. It should be more about policy and the nation, rather than the individual’s life.
The way of democracy is such that you have to get the majority of the votes. So you have to please a large number of people. And what you do to please a large number of people may not be the best thing for the nation in the long term. So I would say, in the United States you have one good policy—that a president can have only two terms. The second term is when they will do things for the good of the country. I think you must always give every president a second term, unless he is too disastrous, because that is when he will do long-term well-being of the nation. The first four years he will do a lot of cosmetics because he wants to survive for another four years. If you give him the second term, he’s got nothing to lose, so he will start doing things which are good for the country.
Some Hindus have complained that despite your stature as a guru from the Indian heritage, you seem to downplay the significance of the Bhagavad Gita and advise against reading it. Please explain.
I neither discounted the Gita nor did I say it should not be read. For them the Gita is probably a political tool. I see the Gita as a tremendous spiritual possibility. And I know that Krishna delivered it as a spiritual possibility, not as a political tool. If it was a political tool, he would have spoken it to everyone. He spoke the Gita only to his closest disciple. Closest, in utmost intimacy, in an extreme situation. Thirty-six years after the Gita was delivered, Arjuna lived on, but he never ever spoke even to his brothers (about it) because it happened in such intimacy and he valued it so much within himself.
If two lovers are speaking, there is a certain passion between them. So much has happened between them. Somebody overhears (them) word by word; yet every word will be misunderstood because they have only the words. They don’t have this passion and experience. So if you hear these words as just words and read them as words, it will not help. You need to have an inner experience. If you have an inner experience, suddenly these words will become very intimate. Not because you are a Hindu. The Bhagavad Gita is not for Hindus alone. If you’re talking about the law of gravity, because Isaac Newton was a Jew, will you say the law of gravity is Jewish? In that context I said, this is not your dharma. You’ve got nothing to do with this. You are not the keepers of this. This is universal law. Sanatana Dharma means universal law. He is talking about how the mechanics of life happens. When Krishna was there, there were no Hindus. Nor did he start Hinduism. He was talking about humanity as a whole.
Krishna is trying to remind you of your swadharma. Swadharma does not mean Hindu dharma. Swadharma means dharma of the self. So I said, instead of reading the book, look inward. Then one day, if you look at the book you may appreciate it hugely. I said I still haven’t read the book, because the need did not arise within me. But I hold a certain intimacy with Krishna which I relish in the highest regard. See, you can read the scriptures and look smart. I said, this scripture is not about that.
The Gita itself is a debate. Arjuna refers to Krishna as “Bhagwan.” But every word Krishna says he questions. Every word. Arjuna, being a prince, had received the best of education in those days. So he has read all the scriptures. So every time Krishna says something, Arjuna says, “But no, this scripture says this; that scripture says that.” So Krishna laughs and says, all the scriptures that you have read, all the scriptures that exist, they are all like a small tank of water when the flood has come.
Whatever I’m doing is happening because of what I have experienced within myself. And that is what Krishna went on insisting you must do. Your swadharma is your highest dharma, the dharma of the self. And that is where you should go. And that’s a solution to everything. That’s what I’m saying—you must turn inward. Otherwise everything will be fake. So the Gita that Krishna spoke is of absolute value, the highest value. The Gita that you’re reading is fake. The same words you’re reading, but it’s fake because you don’t have the necessary perception. First qualify yourself. It’s like a child reading e=mc2 and thinking, I know the theory of relativity, because he knows the alphabet. So because you know the words, don’t think you know the Gita. If you want to know the Gita, you need to know the swadharma, law of the self. If you do not know this, you will not know the Gita.
From smart phones to social media, technology seems to keep people fully preoccupied, multitasking, and rarely in solitude. What is your advice to those who are a bit confused about whether to shun or embrace such rapidly evolving technology geared towards hyper communication in “real time”?
Technology is not demanding, “Use me.” Technology is available; you use it to the extent it’s relevant for your life. The problem is just this—you don’t know how to deal with yourself. You don’t know how to deal with your body; you don’t know how to deal with your mind, deal with your emotions, deal with your chemistry. You don’t know how to deal with anything that’s you. So you’re trying to complain about everything that’s around you.
It seems increasingly hard to become spiritual in a material world where the enticements and seductions seem to have multiplied manifold. From entertainment to food to gadgets and gizmos, the choices vying for our attention have exploded compared to prior generations. How can one learn to be spiritual on a sustained basis in such an environment?
Such a question comes up only because spirituality (to you) is some unpalatable rubbish that you have to eat. If it was the sweetest thing, this question wouldn’t come, isn’t it? Right now my work is only this—not to tell you to take on to the spiritual process because it’s the greatest thing to do. No, (take on spirituality) because it’s the most beautiful thing in your experience. So you’ll naturally do it. In your experience, if it’s the sweetest thing that’s happening, would you sit and email or (would you) meditate? You’ll email to the extent that it’s necessary for your work and the rest of the time you’ll meditate, isn’t it?
People should take the time to explore life. Instead of exploring virtual life, some real life they must explore, that’s all. I’m saying technology is not in the way. Technology is good; you can even do Inner Engineering at your home now, online. (Laughs). If there was no technology, can I come knocking at your door? Now it’s just a click away, not even a knock.
A few generations ago, American philosopher Henry David Thoreau expressed his belief that most men live lives of quiet desperation. Many would agree that human life is too hard and at times simply overwhelming in its complexity and challenges. Do you feel the creator overestimated the capacity of humans to deal with life?
(Laughs). See, nothing is overwhelming here, except the stuff that you have created. The suffering is not because of this or that. The suffering is just your inability to handle yourself. You do not know how to handle yourself. So first learn that. That’s why I said, first do inner engineering, then you’ll enjoy all the outer engineering very much. Right now you’re complaining about beautiful pieces of engineering because your inner engineering has not been handled.
Life is essentially multidimensional, but to the extent possible, can you recommend one overriding magic bullet that one can make a part of his or her life to steadily grow in the direction of ultimate wellbeing?
We’re offering a very simple process called Isha Kriya free of cost. In India we distributed over 12 million DVDs in various cities. In the United States we have made it available on the net for free. You can go on it and meditate everyday for 12 minutes a day. And it will set you on the path. Some day when you’re ready for more you can do more. Till then you can do at least this much. It’s called Isha Kriya and being propagated as Be, Breathe, and Blossom. This is something everybody can do. It’s a wonderful way to set forth, whatever age. It doesn’t need any preparation. You can sit on a chair and do it. All you have to do is click and the meditation will come on and it will guide you through. You don’t have to be lost, not knowing what to do. It will guide you through every step.
|The Gita (Song)
The hollow bamboo can turn the passing Wind into a Sweet Song.
One filled with its Own Sap will be mute and dumb
When all of Creation laughs and Sings
If the hum of life’s Sweet Song has to be heard, empty.
Empty yourself of your self.
The Sweetness, the Melody and the Fragrance of the
Divine Song shall be You
When you let yourself be absorbed into the divine will
— Sadhguru Vasudev
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