How Sports Can Build the Nation
Can sports really play a role in developing the nation? Sadhguru discusses how introducing sports and games has transformed rural communities in Tamil Nadu through Isha’s Action for Rural Rejuvenation, allowing people to joyfully come together beyond thoughts of caste and social status. Building a strong nation, he says, first requires building strong and healthy people.
Q: Namaskaram Sadhguru. It is very interesting to learn that you are using sports in the process of reaching out to communities in rural areas. How did Isha Foundation begin to use sports as part of its community outreach and development program?Sadhguru: This happened many years ago when we started our first Action for Rural Rejuvenation program. We wanted to offer a meditative process to rural people. When we started the first class, a little over one hundred people came.
On the third day, we served everyone a lunch. But then on the fourth day, half of the people dropped out. I asked, “Why?” They had been told not to come because it was not okay for them to eat with someone of another caste. I decided I am not conducting this program anymore if this was going to be the basis. So I stopped the program midway.
But then, when I thought about it, I saw that this was a problem that was a few thousand years old. It is not going to get solved overnight. The problem was that I had asked them to eat together, which became a contentious issue. So I thought, if eating together is a problem for them, let’s devise the program in such a way that they will play together.
They had no issues playing together, and it changed the whole dimension of Action for Rural Rejuvenation because, in playing together, they forgot who they were. That is the beauty of a game – once you jump into a sport, there is a certain sense of abandon in you that your identity collapses.
We always use games, every time, in every program across the world. Wherever we teach any meditative program, before we initiate people into meditation, there is always an hour of some kind of simple games that they play, where people become like children. They scream, run and play. If that sense of abandon is not there, if people cannot scream, laugh and jump, then they definitely cannot meditate.
Leveling the Playing Field
Caste and other kinds of prejudices are things that have been carried from generation to generation. But what we noticed is that once the teams formed in the village and league tournaments started across Tamil Nadu, whoever was playing well, he became the hero. Nobody identifies him by caste – he is their village champion and that is all that matters. Sport leveled the caste system, if not entirely, at least to some extent. It made inroads into each other’s communities.
Even today, when they are having a match, you will see all the communities gather. They have forgotten who they are. Initially, maybe when they stand, they stand among their own people. As the game picks up momentum, the spectators will boil over and mix with each other. They are slapping each other’s backs – they have forgotten who is who.
That is the beauty of a game. You cannot play a game without involvement. Involvement is the essence of any sport. If there is no involvement, there is no game. Sport brings such a sense of involvement that they become ready for bigger things. We use sport very effectively in villages to make them still and meditate, which they had never imagined possible in their lives. Vivekananda went to the extent of saying, “You are closer to God in kicking a ball than in prayer."
Sports and the Future of India
Q: As a nation, we face an enormous number of issues. What do you visualize as the role that sports can play in India’s development as a nation?
Sadhguru: One thing is, for one billion people we do not have enough sport. For the one billion people that we have, we should have a team for every game on the planet. When a country like Costa Rica, with a population of five million, can send their team to the Football World Cup, why is it that with 1.25 billion people, we cannot produce a team?
This is simply because we have never taken sport as an important part of our life. In many ways, we have dropped our playfulness in this country, for which we are paying a very heavy price. It is time we bring back sport on all levels.
In schools, it is very important that at least fifteen to twenty percent of the time is spent in sport to make the child playful. A lot more can be taught to a child by making him playful, rather than just making him sit in a corner in a classroom. His body and his brain have to develop and become agile. If your physical body and your brain are not agile, what are you going to teach to that child?
It need not always be competitive sport. It can just be fun games, but people should play. It is very important for the physical body and the brain to develop. Only then can we develop a humanity which is competent. If that competence is not built at an early age, then later on, most people in the country will not be fit.
Fit for Life
I was talking to a group of very high profile business people and their families some time ago. I said, “None of you are fit for life.” They said, “What do you mean? We are all doing fine.” I replied, “Tomorrow morning, if all of you are walking on the street – let us say a tiger came. How many of you can climb a tree and save yourself? Not even one of you could do that. Only that guy who is sweeping the street, he may climb the tree and save himself. All of you, who think you are successful, you will be breakfast for a tiger.”
Fitness levels are generally low in India. In the last few years, a little bit of enthusiasm has come, but that is only in a certain segment of society. This has to spread across the country.
If we want to build a great nation, first of all we should have healthy and strong people, and sport can play a very important role in making that happen. Without building individual human beings properly – well nourished, healthy and agile – you are not going to build a great nation. There is no such thing as nation – there are only people, and in this, sport has a significant role.
Editor’s Note: On Dec 9, 2018, Isha Foundation will conduct Isha Gramotsavam, an annual celebration of sport and rural spirit, that will draw 40,000 players from thousands of villages in southern India. Find out more.