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‘In a living democracy you should never take a stance’

Sadhguru, the founder of Isha Foundation, is a new-age guru who touches the heart with his words devoid of the usual twists of scriptures. He visited Shillong recently for an interactive session with youths. As expected of him and quite unexpected of ‘religious leaders’, Sadhguru drove himself. It did not take him much time to win over the youths. Ranked amongst the fifty most influential people in India, Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic, visionary and a New York Times bestselling author. He was conferred the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 2017.
The guru has a huge fan following despite several controversies dogging him and his foundation. But one would wonder what makes the mystic so popular. There is no one reason for this. His persona, witty comments, simple solutions to life’s problems and above all his hearty laughter make him more human than mystic. “All I have is what I know within myself,” is how Sadhguru defines himself.
However, meeting him in the hill city became a daunting task as there was no way of transgressing the invisible security cover around him. So technology came as a savior to get connected to the new-age mystic.
In an email interview, the mystic talks about “true enhancement of life”, godmen, the controversies, politics and 2019 Lok Sabha election.

You have been described as a mystic, ultra-modern guru…. But who are you really? Do you like to be termed as a God-man?
I have seen men and goddamn men in my life, but I have not seen a godman anywhere. This is a word coined by the media. There are no godmen in this culture – we have been reverential towards certain men because of the contributions they have made to our life. Otherwise, in this country we are reverential towards everything.
Now, Sadhguru means an uneducated guru, in the sense that he does not come from the scriptures or study of spirituality but from inner experience. All I have is what I know within myself – I know this piece of life from its origin to its ultimate. If you know this piece of life in its absolute nature, by inference you know almost everything that is worth knowing.

What events in your life turned you into a guru/mystic?
When I was about four years of age, I suddenly realised one day that I don’t know anything at all. If I had a glass of water in my hand, I would not know what water is. I would just stare at this water for hours on end. I knew that water would quench my thirst and how to use it, but I did not know what it was. If I found a dry leaf, I would spend five, six hours with it. There were many nights where I just sat up in the bed staring at the darkness for the entire night.
I developed a very keen sense of attention to everything and I realised there is something wrong with the way we are paying attention itself. So my attention shifted from outside to inside. I started paying a very profound attention to my own faculties because I realised that unless we enhance our perception, there is no true enhancement of life.

What is the purpose of the 112-ft Adiyogi statue that created so much controversy and how does it add to the foundation’s credibility?
As a generation of people, we are the most comfortable generation ever in the history of humanity. Never before has survival been as organised as it is today but still people are in desperate situations within themselves. You cannot say this is the most joyful generation ever on this planet.
As there is a science and technology for external wellbeing, there is a whole science and technology for inner wellbeing. If human wellbeing has to happen, one has to turn inward because human experience is generated from within. What we call as yoga is the science and technology for turning inward.
Adiyogi means “the first yogi” – he offered 112 ways in which a human being can realise his ultimate potential. As a way of honoring him, we created this glorious face of 112 feet as an iconic inspiration and also to bring back this dimension that your wellbeing is not in looking up or looking down, but looking inward. In is the only way out.

Assam government and the Sadhguru-led Isha Foundation have inked an MoU for rejuvenation and conservation of rivers. How will the Foundation help? What expertise does your Foundation have?
We are a hundred percent volunteer organisation and we have worked in this field for over twenty-five years now. Through Project Green Hands we have planted over thirty-two million trees. In 2010, Project Green Hands was awarded the country’s highest environmental award, the Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar, by the Government of India. This year, Rally for Rivers also worked in collaboration with UN Environment for World Environment Day.
Rally for Rivers is a national movement to revitalise India’s waterways, which had an unprecedented participation – 162 million people were part of the event. The most important aspect is that a minimum of one kilometer on either side of the river should become forest, which will lead to river revitalization and flood mitigation.
Rivers need a much more aggressive approach because the depletion that is happening is very rapid and sharp. You may not notice it much in Assam or Meghalaya simply because of the heavy rainfall that you have, but the rest of the country is experiencing this. It is very important that we bring back a certain volume of vegetation in rainfall areas, otherwise the excess water and flooding will continue to happen.

When everyone is harping on saving rivers, one of the spiritual gurus ruined the Yamuna and the ecology? Don’t you think this is an outrageous act in the name of religion?
I don’t wish to comment on any individual person. If someone does something wrong, there is a law in this country. The law just needs to act – there is no need for controversy. Right now the laws are very ambiguous. There must be a mandatory enforceable law – it does not matter who it is. So, the question is not about the gurus, the question is about how the nation handles its subjects.
A river bed is a very complex thing and it takes millions of years to form. There is movement of water both from the aquifers to the river and from the river to the aquifers. No individual should be able to touch the water bodies. It must be approached scientifically and the policy must clearly define what you can and cannot do. You can’t mess around with it anymore.
The Foundation is officially non-religious and ostensibly aimed at public service. But isn’t there a distinct religious colour to it? What do you have to say about the tradition of mixing politics and religion? Is this healthy in a secular country like India (of course considering the fact that even Chanakya wrote about using religion in politics in Arthashastra)?
The word “Hindu” comes from two words, the Himalayas and Indu Sagara, which is today called the Indian Ocean. Hindu does not mean a religion – it is a geographical identity, which in turn evolved into a spiritual tradition. Now, over these millennia of transmitting yoga, invariably it has picked up many cultural frills. One of the basic aspects of my work has been to trim all these cultural frills and present yoga as an absolute science and technology. The significance of technology is that it does not matter who you are, if you learn to use it, it works for you. That is what yoga is about. About yoga being connected with the Hindu way of life – obviously it evolved in this land, so these are the people who propagated it everywhere in the world. If you want to call yoga Hindu, I think then you should call gravity Christian.

What about the lynchings in the name of the holy cow?
This is a major issue in the country today. This is not about cows; this is about whatever is precious to people. If they believe somebody is taking it, they cannot call the police because they will come after twenty-four hours. And even when they come, there are so many issues where it does not get settled directly, so people have their own way of settling. We are not a state or country which is ruled by law enforcement agencies. It is only society which manages its own law because there are not enough policemen or infrastructure.
I am not trying to prove this is the way to do it but when mob tries to enforce their idea of justice, this is how it gets enforced unfortunately. We need to understand that is where we are. If we want to change this, we have to create a law enforcement mechanism that is available to everybody.

A fear psychosis has gripped Muslims in the country and even in a city like Kolkata, Muslim doctors were harassed. The RSS sent threat mails to respective journalists. What do you have to say about this culture of impunity that has gripped the nation?
I am constantly in touch with millions of people on a daily basis. I don’t see any intolerance or fear psychosis anywhere. There are a few incidents happening here and there but this sort of talk is being revved up only for political gains. It is a certain machinery – the media and social media – that people have learnt to operate. The rest of the country is not even thinking about it because they are too busy trying to earn a living on a daily basis. If someone is found guilty by the process of law in this country, the perpetrators should be brought to book, irrespective of whether they are from the majority or minority communities. But if we raise this bogey of fear and intolerance all the time, it will only vitiate the problem.

How do you marry spirituality with technology?
Spirituality is a technology. Spiritual process is a tool for people to turn inward and create their own wellbeing.
This life is naturally happening to a certain law. If you know the nature of life within you, you can completely take charge of the way it happens. If you took charge of it, would you create any unpleasantness within yourself? Of course not! Right now, anger, stress, fear or whatever negativity you go through, it is happening essentially because of your inability to manage your system. Yoga is a technology of bringing your whole system to a certain ease where there is no such thing as stress, fear or any unpleasantness within you.

What do you have to say about freedom of speech in India in the wake of attacks on and killings of journalists and thinkers?
It is an exaggeration to say there has been a wave of killings. I am not saying there are no problems in the country, but do we want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? If we constantly pick on negative things, it causes so much damage to the country. Recently, a lady from a wealthy family in Greece wanted to come to our India ashram. She was so excited, but at the last minute she called me from Greece. She was crying and said, “My husband won’t let me go to India.” So I spoke to him because I know him well, and he said, “I don’t want my wife to be raped.” This is not the image we should create.
About freedom of speech, what I see is that the moment somebody starts talking about freedom, they start doing irresponsible things. Where there is no responsibility, there will anyway be no freedom. Only if all of us behave responsibly, there is Freedom.

What do you have to say about student politics and young faces like Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar? Does Communism scare people now as they did in America?
Unfortunately, people are talking as if communism is an ideology against everyone. No, communism is an ideology for everyone – not against anyone. Communism means whether you are capable or not capable, you must still live well. Unfortunately, people have misunderstood it as a way of fighting with everyone. We are no longer at a stage where there is no hope for the country unless you shake it with armed struggle.
For example, China moved a billion people from poverty to economic wellbeing in 50 years’ time. But they did it the hard way – with bullets. But we are on the threshold of a much more miraculous thing that has never happened in history with such a large mass of people: if we conduct our economic process right in the next 10-15 years, half a billion people will move from one level of living to another through the democratic process. We are right on the threshold, it is important the entire nation works in one direction, if we have any concern for malnourished millions. Some people think it is their right to debate ourselves to death.

What do you have to say about gurus like Ramdev, also a corporate honcho, Asharam, also a rapist, and Yogi Adityanath who is also a shrewd politician? Are they using religion as a facade to hide their real and overpowering ambition for power?
Yogis have always been active in the society. It has always been so that yogis did whatever was needed in those times. As I mentioned previously, there are laws in this country and if someone is not following them, then it needs to be dealt with accordingly. But now, just because someone is a yogi, have you given him any special rights? A yogi pays taxes, needs a license to drive, and everything else. If I can’t stand for an election or start a company, that means I have all the responsibilities in this country but no rights. When a student, an engineer or a journalist can create their own business or stand for election, why can’t a yogi do the same? I am not going to stand for election ever – that is a different matter. But if a yogi wants to stand for election or start a business, it is his right.

What is your prediction for the 2019 Lok Sabha election?
I do not have a prediction. It is the people’s will. Democracy cannot be a spectator sport, it is a participatory process. Most people think that if they come out once in five years and vote, their responsibility is over. No, democracy has various instruments through which you can participate on a daily basis. We need a more participatory democracy on all levels but unfortunately people are still voting by their religion, caste, or creed. Democracy cannot work if you are voting by religion or caste because immediately you are going back to electing a feudal leader – you are destroying the fabric of democracy.
In a living democracy you should never take a stance, this is something we have forgotten. Right now, in the United States I think only about four to five percent of the people decide the election. The rest of the people are already fixed. A democracy means that you evaluate the stance you want to take every time. And that is never a permanent stance.

Having spent some time here what are your observations about Meghalaya’s socio-political scenario?
When there were plans for the Northeast, Jawaharlal Nehru was advised not to touch the pristine nature and tribal cultures of the region. Initially, it was a conscious decision not to touch the Northeast because the people were beautiful and they were living in their own ecosystems. They were doing great by themselves.
Later on, development started happening in unplanned ways, little by little. But today because of connectivity, everyone has succumbed to the western ways of life and they think we also have to become like that. The government has decided to put railways, airways, roadways and everything in the next 15-20 years. Once that happens, the rest of India will be driving all over the Northeast. That is going to happen to you because you asked for development. We can think it is development, but it is also a certain loss to the country.
~ Nabamita Mitra

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