Technology Entertainment Design (TED) is an influential non-profit devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev does not fit the stereotype of Indian spiritual gurus. The 52-year-old new-age guru, who runs the Isha Foundation, often swaps his usual designer tunic for a pair of jeans and T-shirt. He claims not to believe in any particular ideology or religion, but only in ‘inner sciences’ of universal appeal. Switching with ease from impeccable English—albeit with an American accent—to chaste Tamil, Vasudev spoke to Open about the meaning of his tech-jargon-laced message.
Q TED’s mission is to unearth ‘ideas worth spreading’. What is your big idea for the conference?
A Everybody in this world is striving hard in the pursuit of well-being. People work very hard in their jobs or visit temples. There’s so much happening, but well-being is not happening. Global warming has happened in this pursuit of well-being. Never before have we enjoyed such creature comforts. But are we happy? Somehow we are always in desperate action. Man’s mind, body and emotion have to work towards a certain level of pleasantness. So far, things like religion, faith, philosophy have failed in achieving happiness. The time has come to handle spirituality as a technology of well-being. Let us all write a software for our souls that would make our lives pleasant and blissful.
Q So, no faith, philosophy or religion has managed to deliver what you call well-being?
A Now you are trying to draw me into a politico-religious debate. But philosophy has worked to some extent. After all, India is the only culture in the world that holds liberation or moksha as the highest principle. But over time, what has happened is we are looking to free ourselves only from our current bondages. Someone who’s poor is working hard to be free of his economic bondages. A middle-class person works hard to set himself free from the bondage of EMIs. Before Independence we believed we would fly in ecstasy once we had freedom from the British. That obviously didn’t happen because we had only rid ourselves of political bondage. And in the absence of faith and religion, we would need a billion psychiatrists to treat a population of six or seven billion. But people often remain entangled in the process of rituals. Rituals are merely a means to become conscious—the easy steps to the ultimate thing.
Q What is the role of spirituality in the modern world? How does the average man, who is preoccupied with paying EMIs and raising kids, relate to spirituality?
A People would have been preoccupied with existential issues even a thousand years ago. Spirituality is not an ideology. Let me give you an example. I can see that you use an iPhone. Won’t you be able to make it more useful if you knew all its functionalities? That’s true of any instrument. Don’t leave any process of life unknown. Spirituality is knowing yourself thoroughly. Humans are hugely impacted by technology. We are possibly the most comfortable generation ever. Technological progress has hugely empowered us. There aren’t too many illnesses today that can’t be cured. What’s lacking is consciousness. Man has not realised the nature of his existence. As a result, we are half human beings. Some 1,000 years ago, one angry man could have killed a few hundred people. Now he could kill a million. Therefore the spiritual process is like an emergency critical care centre that has to be looked up without a minute’s delay to cure us of constipated consciousness.
Q Gandhi said that poverty is the worst form of violence. Why does inequity and suffering exist?
A If there’s limited food in the house, most people would give it to their child and prefer to go hungry. They do it because they feel the child is ‘theirs’. There is enough scientific evidence to show that people’s conception of what is theirs and what’s not is all wrong. Most vital resources are in adequate abundance for every individual on this planet. I would again go back to what I said about consciousness. The leadership of this world should have the consciousness that there’s enough for everybody. I often joke that send the 25 most powerful heads of state to me for five days and I can change the world.
Q How much is enough? How does one balance? After all, desire knows no limits.
A How much rice do you eat in a day? Three plates? I say eat five. Any more and you’ll have to visit the doctor. You cannot eat so much rice that it will last you a week. Similarly, how much can you save for the future? The problem today is that people are saving not only for this lifetime, but for the next janam as well.
Q You are never too far away from a mobile phone or a laptop. Your website displays your photographs playing beach volleyball in a Hawaiian Shirt. You don’t seem to fit most people’s conception of a spiritual guru.
A You’ll surely have a problem with me because you’re used to fake godmen in saffron robes. If Buddha or Patanjali had access to technology, would they not have used it to spread their message? Anybody who refuses to use technology is a fool. I can reach millions of people through podcasts, email and YouTube. Why shouldn’t I? Spirituality is inner engineering, a subjective technology. Subjective technologies have to ride objective technologies.
Q Your critics say that you hobnob with the rich and mighty, especially with media owners which fetches you enormous publicity to perpetuate your brand of corporate spirituality.
A I have been around for almost 30 years. For the first 22 years I didn’t do media interviews. People got to know about me through word of mouth. Now, one has to make noise only because of the good social work we are doing, otherwise where will all the money come from? Yes I meet leaders from all spheres of life and successful entrepreneurship. There are some armchair critics who do not appreciate success, and wouldn’t move an inch beyond the cosy confines of their homes to help the needy. In fact, the inability to appreciate success is a uniquely Indian problem. More than 70 per cent of Isha Foundation’s activities are in rural areas. We plan to open hundreds of schools across the poorer districts of the country, starting with Tamil Nadu. All that is funded by some of the fee-based courses we run in urban areas.
Q Is there a recipe for instant nirvana?
A People in the media use the word ‘nirvana’ mindlessly. Nirvana means non-existence. Not as a body, not as a soul. Now please tell me if instant nirvana is possible.
Q What are some of the biggest challenges facing India?
A Lack of integrity and lack of leadership. We have enormous talent but absolutely no leadership. As long as the nation is divided by caste, creed and religion, India’s potential will remain latent. More and more people are adopting the hard-and-fast malicious view that ‘my way is the only way’.
Q You profess no faith in rituals. Why do you make annual visits to Mount Kailash with a big bunch of followers, who pay a hefty premium to have your company?
A It’s not a pilgrimage ritual that I undertake, and I don’t think of myself as a follower of any religion. That doesn’t mean I take my followers to a picnic. Kailash is the greatest mystical library in the world and I want as many people to experience the place. You don’t have to be religious to come with me. You just need a curious mind.