In a comprehensive interview with the Economic Times newspaper, Sadhguru looks at the Hindu way of life in India today, Ghar Wapsi, and fringe elements of society attempting to hijack the national discourse.
Q: You have emphasized many times that Hinduism is not an ‘ism’, in that it doesn’t represent any standard belief system…That the Hindu way of life is not an organized belief system but a science of salvation… Can you please elaborate?
Sadhguru: Let us first define what is Hindu. This is the land that lies between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean. Anyone – man, woman, earthworm – is a Hindu here because Hindu is a geographical identity. Even today, the country is referred to as Hindustan in North India because people are talking about a land, not religion. The rest of the world calls us Hindus because they found us different from the way they were. We did not have a God. Nobody believed in anything. In every house, there were 25 different gods and goddess.
Even today, if you take a picture of a cinema actor who looks a little saintly and tell them he is a wonderful saint, they will keep it in the pooja room and worship him. The ethos in this land is that we must bow down to anything that is inspiring, that shows us the way, that is a little more than us in whichever way.
Other people had a God, a fundamental belief that made them what they are. We are not believers. We are a land of seekers. We are not seeking God. We are looking for liberation from the cycles of our own psychological and physiological process, which we understand is a trap. We know that anything that repeats itself is a trap. We have understood from our wisdom that if you stay long enough in a place, no matter how wonderful it is, it is a trap. The ultimate goal of life is to become free, not from somebody – not political or economic freedom – from what controls us.
We are seekers of liberation. We are also seekers of truth, because only by knowing the laws that govern life, can you break them and go beyond that. The gods we have today are people who walked in this geography. Krishna, Rama and Shiva walked in this geography. These are people who lived their lives here, they had their wives, they solved some problems and failed at some. They were not angels floating in the clouds. They didn’t live in a lala-land. They went through everything that every man and woman here undergoes.
Ghar Wapsi: A Reaction to Political Maneuvering
Q: If everyone is a Hindu here, what is this Ghar Wapsi campaign all about? Just who is coming home and from where?
Sadhguru: What is happening as a reaction to certain political and cultural situations, and what is the ethos of the land are two different things. Things like Ghar Wapsi are coming up now for the first time because historically, though a sword was put to our throats we didn’t change; when a gun was put to our head and we were tied to cannons, we didn’t change. But now we see that money and other kinds of inducements are taking a population away. This is probably happening for the first time. People have started reacting because of insecurity – more because this threatens them and they see a huge percentage of the population has moved on. And once people move on, they think like they do not belong to this nation. They act in a different way.
I am not saying somebody cannot be a Christian or a Muslim and be in this country. They must be. If there is a remote place in the country that has not heard of Jesus, go give a family there a photo of Jesus and tell them he is a wonderful guy. They will worship him without knowing his name. Islam talks about formless worship. The yogic system is all about nirgun. These things are not new. We have no conflict with them at all.
But when it is being used as a political force and you can win an election by being this or that, these things begin. Don’t mistake political maneuvering for religious process. But we must understand, all religions across the world are only thinking about numbers. If you don’t think about numbers, you will lose yours. That is the simple logic they have arrived at and they are trying to do whatever – not very successfully, of course.
Q: But of late, MPs and Hindu religious preachers are telling Hindu women how many children to have.
Sadhguru: These statements come from a certain sense of insecurity. They think somebody else’s numbers are increasing so we must also increase our numbers. This is a stupid way to do it. You will end up poor, with a large and unhappy family. I am not saying they are right or wrong but you must see, all these statements are a reaction.
Most importantly, we must have common laws for all Indians. All Indians must come under the same purview of law. If you do this in this country you live well, if you do this, there is trouble for you. This must be clear for everyone. That is not clear right now. People feel it is biased. This is when they bring in their laws.
The Indian government is not telling anyone to have four children nor is the Prime Minister. If someone recommends such things, it is up to him. Is anyone going to listen to him? Someone’s grandmother may say she wants her children to have ten grandchildren. She knows she will be valued more if there are more children in the house. Each person may say such things for his or her own personal good. Maybe somebody lacks a following, so he asks people to produce more children. I don’t know their intentions, but these things come from a certain insecurity and this political situation that has become a constituency for some.
Religions are openly saying, “Have more children. Don’t go for contraception.” In reaction to that, if someone in this country says something, it becomes a huge thing as if the whole nation or the PM is saying you must have these many children. Lots of people have no substance so they say such things. And the media always plays this up unnecessarily. Why is it that an unknown Sadhvi is getting so much media attention?
Right now, considering the conditions within which people are living in this country, I am not a fan of any leader or particular party. But for the first time, we have a leadership that is building India. When such an effort is happening, it is the duty of every citizen to support that. When elections come we will fight him if needed, but a democracy doesn’t mean one needs to be in the election mode throughout the five years. Election rhetoric is for six or seven months.
The problem with this nation is today’s lunch for at least 300 to 500 million people is being postponed to another day. When this is the situation, how can the vital decisions be postponed in the parliament because of stupid statements made by some people? There are a number of nutcases in every country. We have ours too. What they say is not the main discourse of the nation. In the last six months, wherever I have travelled around the world, people come and tell me they are proud of the PM. You can distinctly feel that. Global leaders come and tell me, “Modi will do this, Modi will do that.” Earlier I had to raise the image of country in front of people. But now for the first time, people are looking up.
Are Minority Groups Really Under Siege?
Q: With Ghar Wapsi programs and the recent attacks on churches, what are your views on many minority groups saying their feeling of vulnerability has increased or that they are under a siege in the last few months?
Sadhguru: Nobody believes they are under a siege because nobody is under siege. Except a few fringe elements and a few instances here and there, we have remained a peaceful country with no law enforcement. This is because people here are like that. There is no real law enforcement in the country. In a small village, it takes two hours for the police to reach when you give a distress call. The general ethos is peaceful and let’s keep it that way. You can’t control one billion people with policemen and guns.
It has to manage itself and it has managed itself. The whole rampaging is horrible but there are no religious tendencies to it. It is all a bunch of rogues. You must not give a religious color to it. That divides people. If a woman is raped, it is a gender issue. We shouldn’t make it a majority vs. minority issue. The people who did this will be picked up and the DNA evidence is there. They did it because they have been getting away with these things. The minorities are not under siege. When you look at the damage to the churches, it looks like it has been done for a certain purpose, not because of hatred or anything.
There is no such hatred. Every day I am in touch with thousands of people. You don’t face such hatred in common people. That is seen only when communal incidents happen which are largely politically engineered. Rarely have genuine issues flared up and become communal conflagrations. Now they are internationalizing the entire thing trying to isolate India as a horrible place where religious minorities are under siege. They are definitely not under siege, they have all rights as a citizen and most Indians don’t identify with religion at all.
This whole minority-majority thing has been cultured by political parties. I am saying, give all the disadvantaged, irrespective of religion, education opportunities. We now have a PM who is trying to work 20 hours a day and focus on the nation. Whether you agree with him or not doesn’t matter, it is a good thing for the country. For any nation to develop, there is a need for momentum. He is causing that momentum. We must capitalize on that. Don’t underestimate the value of sentiment towards the nation, which he has built up in a very short span. If that sentiment is not backed, it will die and it will take another 10 years to pick it up. 10 years is small in a nation’s life but not in a generation’s life. A whole generation goes by in 10 years.
Of Beef and Bans
Q: You recently said, “For me, food is food, there is nothing religious about it. And my sense is we can eat anything that our system can take in naturally.” Does that stand extend to beef too? If so, what do you think about the blanket ban on cow slaughter, beef, et al in Maharashtra and Haryana?
Sadhguru: You want to mix religion even into food? You can’t turn everything into a majority versus minority argument. This is a game being played by certain people, which is unnecessary.
Beef ban is not against any religion. The first thing I would say is ban the ban. Banning is not the answer, education is the answer. First of all, as food, beef is not good to eat. Every nation, every doctor in the planet is telling you that. In the West, people are giving up beef and turning to vegetarianism. We have been vegetarians for thousands of years. Now we are turning to beef. Do we want to go through all the health problems they underwent? Do we want to spend billions on our health bill? Do we want to go in that direction? The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) is changing its rules. But we want to go that way! It is definitely not a wise thing to do.
In our country, we believe if there is an animal that has any emotions in it, you must not consume it. A cow can love you and shed tears for you, just like humans. It is not about the cow, it is about any animal that shows human emotions. Can you cut up your dog and eat it? We have a pastoral culture where before industrialization happened, 90% of the people were involved in agriculture. The cow is not just an animal. It is part of the family. You drink the cow’s milk. Children are taught that the cow is like a second mother. It is part of the culture. So when you cut the cow and eat it, it is aesthetically impossible in the Indian mind.
Still, if someone is eating beef, I may want to educate him about the harmful effects of eating it, but it’s not for the government or me to tell him not to. But now, India is exporting beef, which is becoming a major business. If you ignore about 80% of the country’s sentiment and kill millions of cows and export beef, it is not acceptable.
Q: Is it that simple, because states where BJP was never in power, the party forms a government there and announces a beef ban…
Sadhguru: The legislation to ban beef in Maharashtra was already there and was just waiting for the President’s approval. The President has grown up in the Congress and if he thinks it is right, why are you going after the Central government? What is the logic?
Q: In Haryana?
Sadhguru: The law is not there yet. They have announced it but it has to go through the assembly. The law was there much before the BJP came to power.
I am not saying this to protect them, but the government and the PM represent the nation now. Not one word has he said that he represents a certain religion. But if you try to damage fundamental institutions that make a nation by questioning certain things and casting aspersions on them, you will weaken the country and make it a banana republic.
Democracy is built by institutions. If you want to weaken every institution because someone created a bogie, the nation will be weakened. The PM too is an institution. If he says all of you need to be Hindu, we can have him out. But a rule that has always been there gets President’s approval, then how can you go after them. It was passed by the assembly to please the majority and kept in waiting there to please the minority. This is not the way to run a nation. Stop this kind of managing the nation. Be clear of what you want to do.
There is no beef in many villages, not by law but by norm. Even minorities respect and appreciate that sentiment. If someone wants to eat it, he gets it and quietly eats it. Others know that too but they don’t bother because it is their home. But if you are going to cut the cow in the street and hang it in front of someone’s house, it is not going to be acceptable for them because their aesthetics and emotions don’t go with it. They also respect that. But now, the way it is being made out is that you have to eat beef, otherwise you are not universal or secular. You want me to eat beef to be secular? You cannot question the country’s secular credentials or mine. When no country on the planet had thought about democracy, kings here were practicing democracy.
Except tyrants, kings would consult the public on decisions. Democracy and secularism are not new to us. We are a land without religion. Each person can follow whatever faith he wants as long as he doesn’t rub it into me. But now you are rubbing it into me. I am poor and you give me food, and say “give up your God, come to my God.” This is happening in a crude way. This is about the nation, not about this group of people or that group. My concern is 50 million people in this nation have no access to nutrition. In the name of my god and your god, you are destroying everything. Freedom has to become a living possibility. When you are poor, what matters is what goes into a belly. Hunger is not a joke. Which heaven I will go to is not even of consequence.
How is the PM Doing So Far?
Q: Do you think a new kind of political party that represents Hindus but champions the religion’s liberal principles is necessary? Do you think the Modi-led BJP can transform itself into such a party?
Sadhguru: You have to appreciate the problems of a democracy. Without numbers you can’t get there. When you get numbers you have no choice of quality. This is the bane of a democratic process. I feel the media’s focus should be on what the leadership speaks and not on what someone who is of no consequence to the nation’s discourse says. Right now somebody who is nothing, if he wants to get media attention, all he has to do is say “Kill all the Muslims.” All of national television will go out there and say who is this guy? He is not capable of killing an ant but if he says “I want to kill all the Muslims,” for the next three days, the whole debate will be on this joker who is not worth anything. This must stop. If somebody in a really responsible position said that, then let’s deal with him. But some joker saying something somewhere, he is actually defining the discourse of the nation, which should not be done.
As far as I am concerned, I said this before and I will repeat it, I am no particular fan of anybody or any particular party. But I am in huge admiration that in the last six to eight months, though the PM comes from what you describe as a hardcore background, he has not said one thing wrong. From the election rhetoric to the statements of a PM, the way he has transformed himself overnight is literally phenomenal for any man. The way he was speaking in election mode and the way he is speaking and conducting himself as a PM, I think if everybody had that much discipline, everything would be fine. That’s the discipline that is needed. Certainly, many people don’t have that, but why are we making them so big.
It is a democratic process so you can’t do anything because they only said what they said. You can only ignore them. Because they are anyway powerless, what can they do? Can Sakshi Maharaj enforce that you have four children? Leave him alone. The commercial impact of news has become more important than the national impact that it creates, which I think is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed.
Q: How would you advice the media to conduct itself?
Sadhguru: When you say media, there may be a business element to it. There is commerce to it, I understand. But media needs to understand it cannot be 100% business. Media is an important factor in the making of a democracy. This is why certain privileges are given to the media. If you are just a business, then all such privileges should be taken away. Then we will see how it works. Media should understand it has tremendous power and privilege that is a fulcrum for democracy so that it doesn’t go to any extremes. But what will happen when the media itself takes extreme positions instead of taking a balanced route? The media should report facts so that people can make their own judgments, instead of being swayed by somebody’s opinions. Today, in papers, it’s all opinion. Where is the news? Give me the news, I will form my own opinion.
Q: As an idea, do you think it’s time for you and other forward-looking leaders to meet the PM and take up this issue of fringe groups hijacking the religion, and request him to rein in these elements? Isn’t it the responsibility of leaders to rein these people in than wait for other religions to feel persecuted and take this up?
Sadhguru: I am speaking to you now. I hope you write what I say.
Q: How should the government tackle controversies?
Sadhguru: From what I heard internally, wherever possible the PM is putting brakes on all these things. But he doesn’t want to comment on that probably. I wouldn’t have commented if I was in that position because you are giving it still more national stage. The moment the PM comments on these things, the more it becomes a national stage for these jokers.
I think he is refusing to give that stage to them but internally, he is taking steps to handle them. But he cannot handle them because he has no authority over them. If 10 people are there it is a party of itself. Most of them don’t have 10 people in their party. Many of these groups are 8-10 people. They just blab and then media cameras zoom in on them for the next three days. I am sure the media knows who these people are and that they are of no consequence. They are inconsequential and we are raising them in their stature unnecessarily. And we are asking the PM to comment. I am happy the PM has the wisdom to not comment about it.
Q: In the current times when there is much critique about religious/mystical cults being led by fraudulent gurus, as shown in movies like PK, how do you respond to a strand of thought that is critical of human beings claiming themselves as Godmen?
Sadhguru: “Godmen” is a media-coined word. Nobody calls himself one. I have not seen the movie but I have heard people talk about it. Corruption in this world is aplenty. There is corruption in police, politics, and unfortunately even among religious leaders. The general level of integrity in the country has gone down. Right now, a guy driving a Mercedes might stop and think before jumping a red light, but a common man driving a moped doesn’t stop at the red light. We are growing corruption in our homes.
There are a whole lot of spiritual leaders doing phenomenal work. In our country, there have been huge gaps in administration and still people managed to stay together. Please give some credit to spiritual leaders. There is a small percentage that exploits. Trust me, it is a small number but because of the trust placed on them by people, it looks glaring. However, there should be a clean up. Those who should be in jail should be in jail. Truth must lead to everybody’s well being.
Editor’s Note: Sadhguru looks at the past, present and future of this nation, and explores why this culture matters to every human being on the planet. With images, graphics and Sadhguru’s inspiring words, here’s Bharat as you have never known it!