Introducing Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev isn't easy, mostly because it's hard to pin down the unconventional guru, who wears jeans, eats fish, tees of at the golf course, and teaches yoga to millions of followers in India and overseas. When he isn't exhorting the merits of meditation, he talks to business leaders about "inclusive economics" at the World Economic Forum, plants trees all over South India, and discusses nation building with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So, while speaking to the guru, founder of Isha Foundation, recently in Delhi, we asked him, "Who are you?"
"I'm a Yogi," he said.
Read our interview to find out who, he believes, is a yogi, and the tools he recommends to find inner peace. "You are here to experience life, not to torture life," he said during an hour-long conversation about topics ranging from motorbikes and marriage to religious harmony and poverty alleviation.
Over the years, the guru has advocated bringing spirituality in the micro and macro dimensions of our lives. This first part of the interview focuses on the micro: Seeking love, happiness and spirituality.
We’ve read about you straddling a BMW bike on the expressway. What has riding a bike taught you about spirituality?
I did the BMW business just once or twice in my lifetime. I did ride a lot across India at one time on a Yezdi Roadking CZ 250. At that time my mind was a billion questions, and wherever I asked those questions, nobody seemed to have any answers. So I don’t know what I was looking for. It was not about the motorcycle. It was more about wanting to cover the maximum amount of the world in some way, whichever way possible, motorcycle was accessible to me. I think the motorcycle made me feel very comfortable being alone. I was alone days and weeks on end…riding…riding…riding from one end of the country to the other. "It was not spiritual but it took me to the end of the material in many ways."
So was that experience spiritual?
It was not spiritual but it took me to the end of the material in many ways.
You teach Yoga to the world. You speak at the World Economic Forum. You dress in jeans. You dress like a holy man. You play golf. You eat fish. Who are you?
I’m not dressed like a holy man. I’m dressed like an Indian person. I can be whatever I wish to be. That is how I have made myself. In any given situation, I can be as the situation demands, and to do whatever needs to be done, joyfully, and that is how I’m trying to empower everybody. You don’t have to stuck to being this or that. Whatever the situation demands you must be able to do the best rather than thinking of a dream situation that never occurs in your life.
Are you an atheist?
I’m a yogi. A yogi is someone who knows about the union of existence. Today, modern science and modern physics is trying to prove as you sit here, every particle in your body is in communication with the whole universe. If this becomes an experiential reality then you’re a yogi. If it just an idea and a thought, you become a scientist. If you become an atheist then you fragment the world in a million different ways. "Today, modern science and modern physics is trying to prove as you sit here, every particle in your body is in communication with the whole universe."
Is spirituality a domain of religion?
You must understand that there never has been organised religion in our country. What you see today is only a reaction to external competition, aggressive competition that came from outside. Otherwise in the same house, five people are worshipping five different gods. They have no issues. There is no concept of THE God. All the Gods that you worship in this country are human beings who walked this geography whether you say Shiva, Rama, Krishna. They are historical figures. As per the stories we know, they represent a certain level of enlightenment. Here at the highest value has been mukti or freedom. Liberation is the highest goal. God in heaven has never been the goal. This is a spiritual movement.
Even though this country was political 200 entities at one time, still both internally and externally, people considered this as one nation. They called it Hindustan because this was a strange land. A Godless land where people are seekers not believers.
Have you ever been depressed?
Life has done many things to me, but it never left me unhappy or depressed ever. Maybe there have been moments of reflection.
Depression is on the rise in our country. What do you advise people?
If you are coming for solace, you are coming to the wrong person. I have tools. I’ll give you tools. If you use the tools, you can create what you want. As there are tools for handling the objective world, there are tools for handling the subjective dimension. This tool for transformation is what we are referring to as yoga. When you think of yoga you are probably thinking of impossible postures. No, it is a range of technologies. Yoga is a technology of well being. "Life has done many things to me, but it never left me unhappy or depressed ever. Maybe there have been moments of reflection."
People think their suffering is coming from elsewhere. All human experiences is generated from within you. Whether you get angry or joyful or miserable or depressed, it happens from within you. Every human experience has a chemical basis to it or this is a chemical soup. Are you a great soup or a lousy soup? I can teach you how to make a blissful soup.
"You are here to experience life, not to torture life."
As long as there is fear of suffering in a human being, he is always half-a-step, he is never a full stride. The fear of suffering should go if you want to be a full step. That means you create a chemistry of blissfulness within you. Then you will know life in its entirety. One needs to understand that you are here to experience life, not to torture life.
You’ve said that ‘love is a sweetness of emotion that happens inside you" and you have said that it isn’t about someone else. How is not about someone else?
Let’s say somebody is in this room. They love somebody somewhere. They can sit here and love that person immensely. That person is not involved in this. Maybe they are busy working on the street. But you are sitting here and loving them without their cooperation. Supposing that person fell dead there, you don’t know, you can still there and love. Is it true or not? And actually most people love the dead more than the living.
It seems easier said that done. When people are in love they fight, there is pain and anger, so your happiness becomes contingent on how that person behaves as well?
No other person in your life will happen 100 percent the way you want them to. Your parents, spouse, children, friends, will not happen that way. The problem is that you are not happening the way you want yourself to be. If you had a choice between being utterly pleasant and unpleasant, which would you choose? If you had a choice to sit in here in a loving blissful manner, it doesn’t matter how someone else is behaving or not behaving, whether somebody exists or does not exist. If you had the capability that is what you would choose.
You are saying it is easier said that done. I’m saying you need tools. You don’t have the tools to manage your chemistry. Love is a certain chemistry, joy is a certain chemistry, agony is a chemistry, ecstasy is chemistry. If you had the tools to control your chemistry, would you chose ecstasy or agony? Why you are falling in love is in the hope of ecstasy. You are trying to use the other person as a tool to cause ecstasy within you? I’m asking you do you want to be a self-start or a push start. Not up, not out, in is the only way out. "Love is a certain chemistry, joy is a certain chemistry, agony is a chemistry, ecstasy is chemistry. If you had the tools to control your chemistry, would you chose ecstasy or agony..."
We’re hearing about more marriages in India ending up in divorce, couples splitting up, why do you think this is happening?
It is a natural consequence of the kind of life we are trying to create. Essentially, marriages were super stable in the past, whole khandaans got married. Thousands people versus thousand people got married. Breaking up all the thousand people was very difficult. Now only two people are getting married. It is easy to break them. There were certain divisions between a man and a woman, a man took care of procurement, a woman took care of the aesthetics of life, creating love, cooking, children.
Now a time has come, we have birth control. Once there is birth control, a woman can explore many things. Just 100 years ago, muscle was everything. It is technology that has levelled the field and when women are out on the streets, she is exposed to many things, there are various possibilities in life. And above all there is economic freedom. So people break off even when the smallest things happen. Earlier it was determined in their mind that we are locked for life. There is a certain beauty to have a commitment of relationship which future generations may not enjoy.
"There is a certain beauty to have a commitment of relationship which future generations may not enjoy."
The Western world is suffering immensely because of this emotional instability. You will see that all the productivity they reached when their families were stable. Ultimately in the end, it is the women who suffer because you will see, the statistic says, I don’t know far it is exact, but it says that 42 percent of women over 40 years of age are on some kind of anti-depressant. Today, one of the biggest struggles is loneliness. Because even if you are married, you are still lonely because you don’t know how long you are together. When they making the marriage commitment, they are already making the divorce agreement because they know it is not going to last. Earlier it was determined in their mind that we are locked for life. There is a certain beauty to have a commitment of relationship which future generations may not enjoy."
So do you think women getting married at a later stage in life is a problem?
Marriage happens because of the many kinds of needs that human beings have. There are physical needs, emotional needs, psychological needs, maybe they are social needs and financial needs. These are reasons why you have to bind yourself to somebody. The maximum amount of your physical need is probably between 15 and 30. That is why marriages were all that time. Now our education system is such, and the life we are crafting is such, that it is not practical for someone to get married until they are 24-25 (at least for women, for a man it is even later).
So once this happens, they are living in certain denial, or they are exploring other kind of possibilities in their life. Whichever way it is, by the time you are 35-40, do you really want to bind yourself? A question mark will pop up, because you have formed your own structures, you are not willing to merge your life with someone’s life. Even if you are married, you will need two homes. It is happening in America. So wanting to merge with somebody that longing will pass. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible but it is going to be a little more hard work.