The millennial guru: On a higher plane with Sadhguru for the International Day of Yoga
Yoga is taking over the world. And how! As thousands upon thousands of people step on their mats across the globe this International Day of Yoga — we take our place, warmed up and ready, beside one of the biggest champions for the practice — Sadhguru. Although, between helming the non-profit Isha Foundation with a whopping nine million volunteers, churning out a steady stream of spiritual discourses on YouTube, and now, a new book out titled Flowers on the Path — we have to wonder, when in the world the mystic ever finds time for some savasana!
From asanas to cricket to cocktails — Sadhguru’s latest read takes us on a rollercoaster ride of knowledge, gleaned from the most unexpected places. The founder of the Isha Foundation, who is known for his high-impact, no-nonsense sermons and hearty laugh the world over, tells us that
this is the first time he has taken the effort to focus on evolving his spoken style to the written word, instead of a transcribed version, as per usual, from one of his innumerable talks. The result is not just simple language packed with actionable wisdom, but also a slew of fun pop cultural references to brighten up your spiritual journey. After all, how often do you find a chapter on disease by a man with a flowing white beard, under the title Saturday Night Fever?
Excerpts from the interview:
While masses of people congregating to practice together is, on one hand, amazing for theInternational Day of Yoga — is this in any way diluting what yoga is all about? Add to that, all the different trending pop variations... If yoga is a union of the senses, are we really helping the process of looking inward, in the midst of all that noise?
The core of yoga is not disturbed in any way. On the surface, there are small distortions here and there. Today, there is a lot of misconception about what yoga is. Yoga is not a practice. The word ‘yoga’ means union.
So yoga is not about bending and twisting your body or holding your breath. It is a technology that renders you to a higher possibility in your life.
As a system of self-alignment, yoga is capable of activating inner energies in a way that your body and mind function at their optimal capacity. It is a means to create your inner situation exactly the way you want it. When it comes to external situations, we are all differently capable. But when it comes to the inner situation, we are all equally capable. All human beings, without exception, are capable of turning into architects of their own joy, the masters of their own destiny. Yoga offers us the key.
However, if something has the power to transform, it has the power to cause damage if mishandled. Without creating the necessary atmosphere, just attempting to teach yoga somewhere on the street side is irresponsible. Yoga needs to be handled in an extremely committed atmosphere.
But there is something called Upa-yoga, which gives you physical and psychological benefits, but doesn’t touch the spiritual dimension. Upa-yoga does not demand that level of commitment nor does it cause any problem if you do it improperly because you can’t do it improperly — it’s very simple! As a part of International Day of Yoga, we are offering various Upa-yoga practices through free sessions across the country, and the world, and also digitally on our websites and apps.
It is essential that we empower our youth with this technology for inner well-being. All are welcome to assist and fulfill this most important cause, for our future generations. Leaving a better generation of human beings than what we are is a responsibility that we cannot shirk.
Health and yoga form a core part of your teachings. The last time we spoke to you, when you were at the age of 58, you told us that the secret to your energy is that you are 100 per cent alive, while most people choose to kill themselves in installments. At 61, tell us: How does one tap into that awareness? Even when we aren’t doing something exciting or new?
Awareness is not something that you do. What you call as life is just awareness. Suppose you are totally unaware of what is happening around you right now, we would say you are not alive anymore. So aliveness and awareness are not different. The question is, just how aware or alive do you want to be?
It is not necessarily so, but generally people need some effort to shift their awareness from one dimension to another; they need energy. If there is no energy, there is no question of raising your levels of awareness. This is the reason for sadhana in spiritual processes.
If shifting your awareness from one dimension to another has to happen, you must work on your energy system. If your energies rise, then you naturally become aware of many aspects. The raising of energies can happen in many ways. It might happen just by singing a song or it might happen out of your love, or out of sheer intensity of life, or it can be built up constantly with proper practices.
People have a dozen love affairs going on Facebook, but they cannot get along with the people around them. This is because on social media, you can say pretty things to someone and then move on, but if you have to actually love somebody next to you, it costs life. It takes involvement...
Tell us more about this new book. With all the travel that you do, did you find yourself typing out the words in unlikely places? The chapter titled Saturday Night Fever certainly got us curious!
Most of the time, people who live in the ashram assimilate what I have spoken, and it is printed. So, there is a certain rawness to many of my books — because it worked for people who have seen me speak. Now, when they read this, it is just like I am speaking to them. Transitioning from spoken word to written word is a different thing altogether. When you speak, there are gestures and expressions that you make that go beyond words, which are lost in the written word. At the same time, the written word is for a larger reach. So, for this book, I read through every piece of it, making it like a written word, without changing the context of what is being said.
We love that you included a chapter drawing parallels between cricket and some vital life lessons. Could you elaborate on this a little for us, please?
In the normal course of life, if there is anything that is truly close to a spiritual process, that is sport. The sacredness of a sporting event is that individuals rise beyond their limitations, achieving a state of abandon that is usually known only to those who are steeped in spirituality.
Thus, sports have always been a part of the Isha Foundation. All our programs have an element of play — as to play is to live, and to live is to play.
The fundamentals of any sport or game are: if you want to play a game, you must have the fire of wanting to win, but also the balance to see that, “If I lose, it is okay with me.” You never play a game to lose, you always play to win, but if you lose, it is all right with you. If you maintain this aspect of life, you are a sport. And that’s all the world expects from you — whatever kind of situation you are in, you are still a sport.
One of our favourite phrases in the book is ‘a guru mixes the right cocktail’. In the age of disconnected social media lives, and loneliness stats increasing — what is your recipe? Give it to us ‘neat’, please!
I am not against technology. Technologies were created to support human beings to better their lives. If you use it properly, social media can be a wonderful tool. These are conveniences that have come our way, but how we employ them in our lives is the question. People have a dozen love affairs going on Facebook, but they cannot get along with the people around them. This is because on social media, you can say pretty things to someone and then move on, but if you have to actually love somebody next to you, it costs life. It takes involvement.
Without being involved, you cannot experience anything, whether it is the food that you eat, your relationships with people, or the situations in which you exist. Where there is no involvement, there is no experience of anything. It is the depth and intensity of involvement, which allows a human being to take the experience of what he or she is doing to a certain level of richness and profoundness within themselves. How profoundly you are involved, that is how profound your experience of life is.
You wrote in your book, ‘God is one big human being’. How does that serve to enlighten us?
The very thought of God occurred to you only because you saw creation. When you were born and you opened your eyes, you looked around — so much creation! Before you came here, so much has happened; obviously, you did not create it, so you thought there must be a creator. Because you are human, you are imagining it has to be a big human being. Now, a little debate has emerged — is it a man or a woman? But if you were a buffalo, you would definitely think God is a huge buffalo!
This is because people believe in things that are not a living reality for them. If you look at it, most religions have reduced themselves to a set of belief systems. If we believe in something according to our convenience or based on the cultural influences, then there is a natural conflict the moment we are in contact with someone who believes in something else.
Essentially, belief systems stem from the basic problem that people are not sincere enough to admit that they do not know.
If this sincerity to simply admit — “What I know, I know; what I do not know, I do not know” — comes to us, then there is really no room for conflict.
With reference to your chapter, Spiritual Allergy: How do we change our inner world to be conducive to our outer world?
Essentially, success in the physical world is just how well you harness your body and mind. There is substantial medical evidence today to show that only when you are in a pleasant state of experience, your body and mind function at their best.
It does not matter what is the nature of the activity. Success does not come because you desire it. It comes because you do the right things, otherwise it doesn’t happen. When it comes to the inner situation, the right thing for you is definitely to be joyful and peaceful. If your mind and body were taking instructions from you 100 per cent, would you keep them joyful or miserable? Definitely joyful.
Tell us about what is in the pipeline for 2019, with the Isha Foundation and beyond. With videos being the most viral form of content, and your massive following on YouTube — would you ever consider expanding your wisdom to a web series, perhaps?
This is one of the commitments that Isha has for the world — we want to build infrastructure for the inner well-being of the human being. When I say infrastructure, I am not just talking about physical infrastructure. The most important thing is what kind of people you generate. Without the right kind of people, it will not be transmitted the way it should, because it is a subjective science.
Our intention is, without any discrimination of caste, creed, religion, gender or region, we want to offer a spiritual process to every human being on the planet. We have the necessary knowledge, energy and competence to offer this to the modern world today. This is the time and age where we can empower every human being with the necessary tools, know-how and ability to handle their own inner well-being by themselves, without impeding upon any other life. We are looking for sponsors to launch various tools for transformation in over 20 languages, free of cost.
Public discourse needs to move from a politically correct stance to striving for solutions. Ensuring that no one needs to be a God’s soldier is the absolute need of the day. If God is almighty as one believes, he wouldn’t need puny creatures like humans to fight for him — for sure, he can take care of himself.
What ails the world? Why is there so much hatred — with the recent church bombings, and mosque shootings. What is your solution?
Religious terrorism is a major part of the mechanism of terror today. Of all the kinds of violence, terrorism motivated by religion is the most dangerous.
You can speak reason to a man who’s fighting for anything else, but when a man believes he is fighting for his God, there is no reasoning with him. Those who think they are fighting for God or doing God’s work are only too eager to die, and take all of us with them.
Public discourse needs to move from a politically correct stance to striving for solutions. Ensuring that no one needs to be a God’s soldier is the absolute need of the day. If God is almighty as one believes, he wouldn’t need puny creatures like humans to fight for him — for sure, he can take care of himself. If we ensure in the coming years that religion is only a personal pursuit, never a global agenda, we would have done a great service to the future of humanity.
‘Most people do not know how to handle their life here. What is the point they ask’ — that is a quote from your book. For the disillusioned or worse yet, suicidal, we ask: What is the point?
Life is so phenomenally intricate that if you spend 10,000 years looking at it carefully, you will still not know it entirely. If you pay a little attention to this process of life, you would not need any purpose. There are so many unbelievable things happening right here within you. If you pay enough attention, it will keep you engaged for a million years, if you want.
There is no other purpose. The purpose of life is to live, and to live totally. To live totally does not mean to party every night.
To live totally means that before you fall dead, every aspect of life has been explored. Before you fall dead, even if you do not explore the cosmos, at least this piece of life you must know it in its entirety. That much you must do for yourself — that you experience all dimensions of what this is — not leaving anything untouched. That is a good enough purpose for you.
What learnings did your motorcycle days elicit?
There was a time when I criss-crossed India on my motorcycle. I did not ride with a destination in my mind – I simply rode.
The terrain of India just grabbed me. The motorcycle, me and the earth became one, so much that I would ride sometimes three days and three nights, without sleep.
And, of course, the people. I never stayed in a hotel. I just rode into a village somewhere, walked into someone’s house and told them, “I’m hungry and I need a place to sleep.” Not once did anyone refuse me. I did not have to know people to make them a part of my life. I did not have to own the land to make it mine.
I think that is the biggest lesson that came to me with my motorcycling — that I did not have to possess anything to make it mine. I have already made all of you mine. And because of this, my life is constantly exuberant and phenomenally rich.
Sadhguru's soup for the soul
What you need to understand is that all human experience has a chemical basis to it. What you call as joy, misery, stress, anxiety, agony and ecstasy are different kinds of chemistry. In other words, what you call as yourself right now is a chemical soup. The question is, are you a great soup or a lousy soup?
What is the prescription for happiness?
What you need to understand is that all human experience has a chemical basis to it. What you call as joy, misery, stress, anxiety, agony and ecstasy are different kinds of chemistry. In other words, what you call as yourself right now is a chemical soup. The question is, are you a great soup or a lousy soup? There is no one here, who does not know peace, joy, love, and ecstasy. Every one of you knows it, but the only thing is it is not sustainable. You are capable of joy, but you have not engineered yourself to stay there.
Isn’t it important that we engineer ourselves the way we want? The outside situations are subject to a variety of forces, but whether you live joyfully or not should not be subject to anything on the outside. This must be determined by you, not something else. The situations of your life may not be in your hands, but the experience of your life must be 100 per cent in your hands.
Flowers on the Path, INR 150, Penguin Random House India.