Isha in association with RMP (Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini) and Agewell foundation hosted a symposium on “Pluralism and Democracy: Role, Expectations and Challenges” at the United Nations headquarters on October 30th, 2014. The Ministry of External Affairs, India and the Indian Mission to the UN were co-sponsors for the event. The event took place at the DHL auditorium.

The symposium looked at democracy as both an end and a means of development, and its role in the post-2015 development agenda. Sadhguru spoke on the role of citizen engagement and expectations of citizens from parliamentarians. Dr. Vinay Sahasrabudhe, Director General of RMP, spoke on assessing the effectiveness of parliamentarians as pillars of democratic governance.

Sadhguru: I don’t like to hide behind the podium. Nations are made on the basis of race, religion, language or ethnicity. India is a colorful combination of all these things and more. Sameness has been the formula in the making of nations. India stands in total defiance of this mediocrity. When we talk about a nation, we’re always thinking of a certain type of people or a certain type of language or race or religion or ethnicity. We’re an absolute amalgamation of a very complex mix of all these things, but still we are a nation. Probably the oldest nation on the planet because if you look back 8 - 10,000 years ago, though at… sometimes we were over two hundred political entities, still people within the subcontinent and also those who dealt with them from from outside; everybody considered it as one nation. It’s always known as Bharath, or sometimes as Hindustan. It needs to be probably cleared in this audience. When we said Hindustan, this predates all religion. We were not talking about a particular type of people. We were talking about a geographical identity – the land between Himalayas and the Indu Sarovar, as the Indian Ocean was known. The land between this was called Hindustan; the land between Himalayas and Indu is the Hindu.

So, this predates all religion, but what is it this made these people in the subcontinent as one nation because if you drive fifty miles, they speak differently, they look different, they dress differently, they cook different, they eat different – everything about them is different. But still what is it that has made this one nation? It’s very important to understand this. If you want to understand why Indian democracy ticks… If you look at the country, there is not diversity, it’s simply distraction; totally, entirely different. Even today, I come to United States and if I walk into an Indian family, just the smell of the food; I just tell them, “Okay, this is your community, isn’t it?” “Sadhguru, how do you know?” I said, “Well, the seasoning of the food clearly tells me what community you belong to.” That’s how distinct it is, but still we’ve always been considered a nation. What is the basis?

So this is important to understand because this is very unique to India alone. This is a land which is not of believers. Everywhere else, people come together because they believe something, either religious or otherwise, some kind of belief which brings people together. But always India as a land has been identified as the land of seekers. Seekers are not believers because you become a seeker only when you realize you don’t know a damn thing about life. This is the way you must start your life always; that you really don’t know anything about life and you seek, you seek through your whole life - seekers of truth and seekers of liberation, always. This is one nation on the planet, even today, most of the population in the country does not hold god or heaven as the highest goal. We still hold freedom or liberation as the highest goal. Mukti is the goal - heaven is not the goal, god’s lap is not the goal – our goal is always liberation; to be free from god also. That’s always been the goal.

This has been… This is a wrong concept for people to believe that if all of us believe one thing, we will be together. People who believe one god or one ideology have been fighting everywhere in the world. When there is no belief system… That means you have no set of concretized ideas in your head; life is your mission, life is your teacher, you have no concretized ideas in your in your mind. You’re always looking - always looking to learn, always willing to learn, always seeking your way through life. You are not like a projectile who has already determined that this is the trajectory you will take. You’re always seeking your way through every step of your life.

This milieu of things sets the right kind of atmosphere for a democratic process because a democratic process cannot happen in any reasonable sense if people are already predetermined which party they will vote for, which caste they will vote for, which creed or which race they’re going to vote for. If all of us already determined we are this or that, democracy is just a wasteful exercise. When the opportunity comes in front of us, if each one of us are willing to think from our own intelligence and arrive at a decision, that this is what I’m going to vote for, then it would make sense. All of us are predetermined, we’re going to vote in chunks either because we belong to a family or a community or a caste or a creed or a race or ethnicity, we have already decided this is how we’re going to vote – there is no democracy. It is feudalism of a different kind.

So real democracy can only happen when people do not have strong set of beliefs about anything; they are willing to look at everything fresh. Only when individuals vote on their own capacity, on their own intelligence, there is a democratic process. When groups of people vote together, what is the point of secret ballot when I already know this is the party you’re going to vote for? What is the point of secret ballot? We can just raise our hands and say, “This is it”. So the purpose of secret ballot in a democracy is every time you can evaluate, look at it as an individual. If you are voting for one person, your wife may vote for another person, your children might vote for another person, and it’s perfectly fine, and only then democracy will manifest. Such an ideal system of democracy is yet to happen on the planet, but largely it is becoming true in India, particularly this 2014 elections was a manifestation. People voted across religions, across castes and creeds and languages and they… you know, the state entities and identities, people voted across that just for thinking about the well-being of the nation, and this is what needs to happen.

There is… The unique, The uniqueness of parliamentary democracy versus other systems is – it is… every… every region in the country is represented at the highest body. I’m not saying other systems do not have that; they have, but it is much more active. The idea of giving everybody an opportunity to have a representation in the highest body and it is not a secondary body – it is the body. The executive of the nation is that everybody has a say. For this to effectively translate itself into an active democrative… active democratic administrative process, we need to make sure that the parliamentary representatives, the people who become members of the parliament, must have a much more active relationship with the people or the constituency that elects them. This must not be by choice. It must be mandatory that they have to come back to their constituency and engage with the people because if peoples’ aspirations do not turn into national aspiration, then there is no meaning for us to cast a vote, there is no meaning for what we call as democratic process.

I think in Indian languages, this word… the word for democracy in Tamil is jananayakam. It simply means – people are the leaders. It is not that we are electing a leader; people are the leaders. Well, one billion people can’t go and sit in the parliament so we are sending five-hundred-and-forty people, but people are the leaders. They are the people who must make decisions. This one person is a representative; he is supposed to just convey their decision up there. But till now we think once we elect them and leave them, it is done. It’s a dumb thing. Once in five years, either on that day – because in India it’s a holiday; the voting day is a holiday. Either… Either you can go on a picnic or you can go and vote. Any one of these you can do and your democratic duties are over. No, if people are the leaders it’s very important the necessary education is impart… imparted right from the school level.


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As the instruments of democracy – in how many ways you can participate in the instruments of democracy. If this knowledge is not there, we’re again talking about five hundred and odd people ruling the country, which is w… again another form of feudalism. Political class is becoming feudalistic in so many ways simply because there is no active relationship with the people except for w… that one day. And that one day will turn into a farce if there is no active relationship. I believe this should not be optional; this should be mandatory - that they have to come back to the people and there has to be an active engagement with this.

When we say a democ… democratic process, what we’re talking about is – the rule of institutions. To make the institutions which make a nation. It is not the rule of individuals, it’s the rule of institutions. We are selecting individuals only to create institutions which are strong, stable and agile. Agile is important because if the necessary decisions for whatever issues that people have, if the necessary decisions are not made in the right bodies, people will try to make those decisions on the street in the form of agitations and various things. There’s another issue that we have been having in India which slowly we’re trying to face it out. I believe in the next five years this must be completely taken out of our system because this is a hangover from the pre-independence era. It’s almost become… During the pre-independence era when the British were in control of the nation, it was a qualification that you went to the prison. Your prison term was worn as a badge; that I was in the prison for two years means… that means you did something - enough trouble you gave to the British. But this hangover continued and even now a whole lot of people are carrying it like a badge. Now if you go to a prison in India it simply means you’re a criminal . It does not mean anything more than that.

And one more aspect of pre-independence thing which has been a hangover for us for too long - I… I don’t think anybody should stay hung-over for sixty-five years - agitators became administrators. With all due regard and great respect that I hold for Mahatma, Mahatma himself is an agitator, but against who? Against an occupying force. When the time to form an Indian national government came up, he understood that I’m an agitator, I cannot suddenly transform myself into an administrator, and he stepped back. His wisdom, intelligence, and humility comes to the fore in this one act. That… I mean, he… he’s a foregone conclusion he’s the leader of the nation, okay? There is no… any kind of competition or any kind of question about that, but he steps back and says, “ I’m… I’m good for agitation. I know how to stop things on the street, but I don’t know how to make things happen,” because agitation is the technology of stopping a nation; administration is the technology of making the nation happen. This transformation must happen and I… I believe it’s beginning to happen right now in the country, but it must be put into force properly that people should not become leaders because they agitate about something.

This idea must be taken out of people’s minds entirely; that if you want to become a leader all you have to do is gather hundred people and block a road or a railway or do something. This has to go away if democratic process has to happen effectively. Everybody in the nation has to have a say in what happens in the country. Then a few… You know people who have muscle in their head, just come and stop things on the street, and they become leaders all of a sudden. This idea must be completely removed. This is a pre-independence thing. It was the right thing to do at that time; no more the right thing to do.

So when we say democracy and pluralism or whatever, democla… democracy is – I don’t even want it to be plural – it’s individual. Every individual is making the choice. It’s very important that we never vote as a religion or a race or a caste or a creed or not even as a family. A family should not go and cast vote together; it must be a secret ballot. That is the basis of democracy, which essentially means in a democratic process, we are not interested in your pedigree, we are not interested in where you come from, we are not interested in who your father was, we are only interested in who you are. That means every citizen has an opportunity to make his life the way he wants to make it. The moment you identify it with groups of people, something else is determining what you will become, or what you can aspire for in a given nation.

So, India has the necessary fundamental crede… credentials to be a great democracy, and it is. It’s… It’s incredible how the election process is done. It is the biggest operation on the planet, the way it’s pulled off, the efficiency with which it is done is truly, truly incredible. But in spite of all that for us to be truly an active, alive democratic process, it’s important that we understand this fundamental spiritual thread which has held us together. In spite of different languages, different ways we are made, we look different, we eat different, everything different about us; the only thing us… that has held together is we are in pursuit of liberation. But very actively… An active, organized hacking of this thread which holds us together has been happ… happening for a period of time. If we do not reinforce and strengthen that spiritual thread which holds us together… I must clarify this. When I say spiritual, I’m not talking about a religious process, I’m not talking about a belief system, I’m talking about a scientific way of looking for human well-being.

When it comes to human well-being, this is not by the prejudice of me being Indian. When it comes to human well-being, no culture has ever looked at human mechanism as profoundly as this one culture has done. Many things have been said by many people being in America. Mark Twain said – when he visited India for about three-and-a-half months – he came out and said, “Anything that can ever be done either by man or god has been done in this land” because when it comes to the inner nature of the human being, nowhere else have people looked so profoundly. Without dogma, without belief systems – simply looking at the human mechanism and what is the ultimate possibility for a human being. And this has always been our strength. India has been the spiritual capital of this world for many thousands of years. Anything spiritual means right from ancient times people turned east, and it has fundamental contribution to be made to various dimensions of life on this planet.

It is time once again that India establishes itself, not… spirituality beyond religions, spirituality beyond sectarian ideas and dogmas, spirituality as a process that is relevant to every human being. In this… In this root of spiritual process is where the democratic roots are too because this is democracy because it doesn’t matter who your father was, it doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, it doesn’t matter what your karma is, what your ancestry is, if you are willing you can aspire for the highest. Both materially and spiritually this is a possibility, and right now I think – well, our Prime Minister himself is a manifestation of this. That people from any walk of life can rise to the highest point – you…, it cannot be denied to them. It doesn’t matter who he is or who he was, today who he is, is the only possibility that has to be kept alive for every Indian and every other citizen in the world. We have to understand that leadership today has to rise beyond national identities. Only then, really democracy will happen across the world.

We are thinking of imposing democracy in different countries. This is not going to work, and we have seen it’s not worked like when I just referred to it, in how many places it’s failed. This is because you are trying to blueprint democracy on someone else. But which people are against their own well-being? No people on the planet are against their own well-being, it is just that they’re against an imposition from somebody, even if it’s a good thing. Even if I give you something that you really love to eat. If I give you a chocolate and I want to thrust it down your throat, you don’t like it. It doesn’t matter, it’s the best thing, but I don’t want it to be thrust it down my throat. That is a fundamental thing in a human being and that must be respected and that’s the basis of democracy – that nothing is imposed on an individual human being - everybody chooses to be who he is. Today world has come to a place where governments are no more interacting a couple of times a year, they’re in active collaboration with each other. Businesses are constantly beyond national borders, common people are interacting, peo… people in India are falling love with somebody in Pakistan – you can’t stop it. The technology, internet, the social…, the social media is slowly making the national boundaries irrelevant. It’s time… It is time for tomorrow’s well-being that we start thinking of producing teachers beyond national boundaries. Leaders beyond national boundaries must happen. This is the time to look at it. This is the time to start nurturing it because it… we are reaching a point in the world where education and other possibilities of access – education, money, the whole capitalism is gone because… We now call it market economy because there was a time the resource of money was available only to a few families. Probably a hundred years ago, not more than fifty families in United States of America had real access to capital. In the whole of India, probably just a f… a few maharajas and a few families had access to capital. It is no more so. If you are capable of… If you have an idea and if you know how to execus… execute it, almost everybody has access to capital. Capitalism is gone. There is a certain democracy, democratic process, in the economic system already, and if this has to take root and if this has to flower into tremendous creativity for the human beings, it’s important, it’s very important that we understand that we can no more be operating always as nations. Nations are still needed, but looking beyond that has already happened in the business sphere. It has already happened in the social level and cultural levels. It is only politically we have to transcend this.

Political trand… transcendence is not something that suddenly tomorrow morning we can make it happen, but allowing more free interaction between societies, businesses, and also on the level of bureaucracy and when equitable way of living across the planet becomes a possibility, our justice systems can be common. Like this, somewhere linkages can be brought between governments that everybody has the same rights. We are working for human rights across the planet – everybody should have the same rights, everybody should face the same justice system. Like this we can integrate nations. We cannot right now think of wiping out the boundaries of nations, but we can create more porosity in the thing. Only then we can work for a better humanity because now we are cultivating human beings on all levels, various talents. If they find… If they have to find expression to their talent, their education, and their competence, it is important they have to go beyond borders. You see how many people here from various nationalities sitting here. When this is so, it is time that we actively start thinking beyond national boundaries because only then true democracy for humanity becomes a meaningful process.

A few updates from the talk are below:

Sadhguru’s insights into the functioning of democracy and nation-building have been appreciated around the world, and his recent conversation with Kiran Bedi was a hugely popular event. Watch the event clips below if you haven’t already!