Sadhguru and “ad man” Piyush Pandey discussed spirituality and consumerism in an edition of the “In Conversation With the Mystic” series earlier this year. In this excerpt, they talk about today’s culture of consumerism and whether it is jeopardising the future of our children.

Piyush: Today, everyone wants their child to be better than the others. Societies around the world are moving in that direction. What suggestions would you give to people to try and bring a sense of balance into children?

Sadhguru: Parents in India are pushing their children towards a certain educational qualification because survival is still a strong motivating factor. Except for a thin layer of society that has gone beyond that, in most Indian families it is, “Somehow get into engineering; get into medicine; get into IAS; get into IT” – because the survival mode is still strong. When survival is in question, everything is by compulsion. The dictates of survival will largely determine what you can do and what you cannot do. But once you have gone beyond the dictates of survival, you should consciously choose. Creating another level of compulsiveness is sheer madness. When you have gone beyond survival, this is not the time to imitate other people. This is not a time to take mass decisions. This is the time for individual people to flower, because the essence of human life is that individuals can grow to their full potential. If that does not happen, you have degraded humanity. You have deprived those individual human beings of the possibility of what they could be.

Our education systems are still in that mode. They were created for you to become a cog in the larger machinery of industry, business, or whatever. Reducing a human being to a cog who serves a certain machine is once again only significant as long as survival is in question. Once that is taken care of in a society, creating cogs should not exist anymore. But unfortunately, we try to fit them into a different machine.

First of all you must understand that children don’t belong to you. They don’t come from you – they only come through you. You must always be grateful and see it as a privilege that another life passes through you and becomes real. This is not a time to exercise your right of property. Your children are not your property. A human being cannot be your property. It is not for you to fulfil your unfulfilled dreams through your children. It is not for you to drive them or harness them in any particular way. The moment a child arrives, a whole lot of parents think it is time to teach. I want to ask you a simple question. If your child is below 10 years of age, who is more joyful – you or the child? The child, isn’t it? Then who should be a consultant for life – the miserable one or the joyful one?

If you could keep your children just the way they were born – an active intelligence, no conclusions – you would be doing the best thing for them.

In the process of the so-called growing up, people have become so rigid. They smile once in five days; laughter happens only when they get drunk. You hardly hear simple, joyful laughter anywhere. When a child comes, without knowing why, you laugh, you crawl under the sofa, you learn to throw a ball properly. You do all kinds of things – things that you would have never done by yourself ¬– simply because this bundle of joy has arrived in your family, which is a privilege. It is not for you to shape and twist them and make them like you or not make them like you. Your business is only to protect them from other influences. This is the best thing you can do.

People keep asking me, “Sadhguru, how come you can do a whole range of things?” The thing is, I remained uneducated, which is not an easy task. From the moment you are born, your parents, your teachers, just about anyone in the world is trying to teach you a whole lot of things that never worked in their lives. They are even telling you where God lives, his children’s names, his birthday. They think they know everything, but they don’t know a thing about themselves. If you could keep your children just the way they were born – an active intelligence, no conclusions – you would be doing the best thing for them. But you won’t agree because you would like to influence them with your advertisement.

Piyush: Where do you draw the line between survival and consumerism? For instance in our country, we have an emerging rural middle class. I think it was survival when a man lived in a cave. Then he wanted some more air so he made a window, then slowly he made a garden, then bedrooms and bathrooms. Now they are looking at cars. Do you call it consumerism or do you call it betterment of lifestyle? Where does it end?

Sadhguru: Right now, our standards have become such that everyone wants to do what America does. If all the Americans put carbon dioxide in their water and drink it, everyone in the world drinks it too and says, “This is the real thing,” even though even a kindergarten child knows this body does well with oxygen, not with carbon dioxide. If all the Americans wear only blue trousers, everyone across the world wears blue trousers too. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have promoted America to a leadership position and we are imitating whatever they are doing. We need to understand, America evolved as a nation in a completely different kind of geography, in a different kind of atmosphere.

The first people who went to America, the so-called Founding Fathers, were not the elite of the United Kingdom. They were not the most educated. People who were treated badly, segregated from society, who could not have a good life there, risked their lives to go across the ocean. Two hundred years ago, going across the Atlantic was almost like leaving the world. People took the risk because their lives there were bad and without possibility. When they first came to North America, they saw a lush, limitless land. From water to land, they splurged on everything. Agriculture, construction, and everything else was supersize because they were working out their former poverty.

If there was a little more space, this consumerism would reduce, but that space is only possible if you work on the population numbers.

This happens in every society, but unfortunately, that culture continued to grow in the same mode, and the whole world is taking to it. I am not questioning the morality of it – I am only questioning the practicality of it. I don’t say this is right or wrong. Everyone could live the way they want, if only we had sufficient resources. At the beginning of the 20th century, we were only 1.6 billion people. Today, we are 7.2 billion people. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, we will be 9.6 billion people. If we really want to splurge and do whatever we want, we must at least reduce our population. If you as a generation do not produce children, you can consume. But if you want the world population to grow and billions of people to consume, it is nothing short of suicide.

If instead of leaving it to the predictions that by 2050, we will be close to 10 billion people, we consciously aim at being 3.5 billion people by 2050 – not by killing anyone, but by reducing the reproduction process – you don’t have to be that concerned about what individual people are doing. Another thing is, if there is more space in the world, there will be less need to imitate someone else. Right now, since most people live in crammed places, what someone else does immediately affects us – right away, we compare and upgrade our stuff too. If one kid has a certain thing, all other kids want to have it too. If there was a little more space, this consumerism would reduce, but that space is only possible if you work on the population numbers.

If we try to work on human aspirations, we will never succeed. You cannot control human aspirations, but you can control human populations. Right now, they are consuming, but they are not consuming enough contraceptives.

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