A long flowing beard, a turban, earth coloured robes, twinkling eyes, belly full of laughter… Scratch that! Grey T-shirt, jeans, a comfy hat and a golf club in his hand… Scratch that! Cargo pants, blue shirt, aviator glasses, eyes firmly ahead, hands steering a BMW motorbike, an SUV, a boat, a helicopter… Scratch that! Dressed in a dhoti, working side-by-side with impoverished villages under a blazing hot sun… Conjure up any of these images, all of them will easily fit Yoga guru Jaggi Vasudev, popularly known as Sadhguru.

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Sadhguru is a renowned Indian yogi, mystic, visionary and philanthropist who has dedicated himself to the elevation of the physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing of all people. He has created an effective methodology for healing called Inner Engineering, based on yogic principles. He’s been a keynote speaker at the United Nations and the World Economic Forum and has been named as one of India’s 50 most influential people. His book “Inner Engineering”, a New York Times best seller, details his transformational system for achieving inner fulfilment. His Isha Foundation, with more than 9 million volunteers worldwide, is dedicated to addressing all aspects of human wellbeing.

In an exclusive interview with Shri Ram Shaw, Sadhguru divulged in detail on various issues regarding COVID-19 and India, lockdown and self-isolation, role of a guru, goal for a human being and humanity, Hinduism et al.

Excerpts:

We are living in uncertain times with the COVID-19 pandemic holding us ransom; how does one live each day with joy instead of fear? And yet, without fear, wouldn't we end up putting ourselves at risk? How does one deal with self-isolation and the loneliness that comes with it?

Sadhguru: You are asking, “In these uncertain times, how can I be joyful?” You cannot depend on the outside to bring you joy because the outside never happens 100 percent the way you want it to. Joy is about how you are within yourself. As there is a science and technology to create external situations the way we want, there is a technology for inner wellbeing that can be employed to create your inner situations the way you want. If your mind and emotions take instructions from you, you would definitely keep yourself joyful.

When things are not going the way you want them to go, that is when your capability is most needed. But if you are in a state of panic, you are paralysed. When you forsake your capability when you most need it, would you call that an intelligent way to act? A human being who is joyful, sensible and responsible can deal with situations much better than one who is fearful.

All human experience has a chemical basis to it. What you call as joy, misery, stress, anxiety, agony and ecstasy are different kinds of chemistry. If you have a chemistry of blissfulness, then whether someone is around you or not, you are fantastic. Yoga is a way to create a stable and blissful chemistry within yourself and enhance your ability to deal with the ups and downs of life. Once your way of being is not determined by anything outside of you, there can be no such thing as loneliness.

Living in isolation as part of this lockdown is forcing many people to reconnect and grow deeper bonds. Others are getting a much-needed breather from work or kindling new interests and hobbies. What are your thoughts on living one’s best life during this unique time in history?

Sadhguru: The most important thing is we are alive, and we have a vacation. The virus has given you this chance. Let's put it to good use.  If we put enough effort into these few weeks, we can come out physically fitter, mentally more stable, energetically stronger and spiritually more receptive. This is a good amount of time for you to become that wonderful person that you are aspiring to meet, that you are expecting everyone else to be.  If you become that wonderful person, others can enjoy it, but above all, you will enjoy it. Concern is only of those who have livelihood issues.

Why is India’s fight against coronavirus a positive one? How do you see the post-coronavirus world? What are the lessons of COVID-19 for India and humanity?

Sadhguru: Though our systems may not be as strong or money rich as other nations’, we are managing better than most in this emergency because of the resoluteness of the leadership and the clarity with which they are responding. Our police and medical personnel are putting their lives on the line providing essential services. The majority of the population in the country is following instructions and doing a wonderful job of slowing down the spread of the virus.

We don’t know when post-coronavirus will come to be. So, it is important that we maintain social distancing and respiratory etiquette, not just during this lockdown period, but for life. These are all things which were well established in our culture. This kissing-the-cheek and hugging culture we have imported in the last 10-15 years. Otherwise we would always greet each other by putting our palms together in namaskar. And even today in most villages and small towns in southern India, when speaking to someone within a two-feet distance, they cover their nose and mouth as a mark of respect. It is time to understand the value of these customs and bring them back into our lives.

In some interviews you have used ‘karma’ as a negative word and you talk about dissolution of Karma? What does that mean? You have said that everyone must find their own way. So, is having a guru essential? What is the role of a guru?

Sadhguru: Karma is the basis of your existence right now, the glue that binds you to your physical body. If all your karma is dissolved, this moment you will shed your body. So, karma is not a negative word; it is not your enemy. It is just that if the glue is too sticky, it holds you to the body too tightly. Let us say you are wearing very tight clothes; after some time, there is no distinction between you and your clothes. But when you wear very loose clothing, you are always aware that it is not you. So the spiritual process is about warming up the karma a little bit so that it melts, and you wear your body a little loose. Then you are aware that “I am not this.” Once this becomes a living experience within you, you exist here with a different kind of freedom.

Now, why is a Guru needed? A Guru provides you with the necessary tools for this fundamental aspiration within you to become free. A Guru is like a live road map. Can you do without a road map? Yes, you can, if you are the adventurous kind, but to find a place which is just next door, you may go around the world, come back and still not find it. Above all, you are trapped in a self-created prison. The nature of the prison is such that you do not even realise that there is a possibility beyond the way you exist now. This is why spiritual traditions insisted on outside help from someone who is not in the same limitations. Because it is an inside job, you end up needing outside help.

You talk about ‘being liberated and enhancing life’s possibilities. Could you elaborate on that concept? Aren’t some limitations socially imposed? Can one live completely without limitations? Is that a reasonable goal for a human being to aspire to?

Sadhguru: There is something called your “ability to respond.” There is another aspect of your life which is your “ability to act.” You are mixing up these two dimensions. Your ability to act is subject to so many laws and various kinds of limitations – physical and mental capabilities, life energy, social realities, economic situations, and many more factors. But your ability to respond, your responsibility, is not subject to any law or any limitation. But most people have put a limit on their ability to respond – instead of being a limitless consciousness they have become a constipated being. When your ability to respond is limitless, you will not limit yourself because of boundaries you have set up in your mind - everything that you can do, you will do; what you cannot do, you do not do. Your experience of life will become beautiful and your action will happen to the fullest extent that you are capable of. This is the simplest and easiest way to experience and express your own divinity because what you call as God, or the Creator is just limitless responsibility.

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Is there an increasing clash among religions across the world? Has religion become a divisive force? According to you, Hinduism is…?

Sadhguru: Unfortunately, religion has become the main source of conflict everywhere in the world, taking the maximum number of lives and causing the maximum amount of pain for thousands of years. Initially, religions were just a method to turn inward or to create inner wellbeing. They all started out as a spiritual process, but slowly over a period of time, in their eagerness to become organised, they lost their fundamentals. Now religion has been reduced to a set of rigid belief systems. The moment you believe one thing and I believe something else, conflict is inevitable. If you think, “No, I believe in my God, but I am not a violent person; I will not fight with anyone,” this is just short-sightedness. If someone provokes you sufficiently, you will fight. Whether the conflict happens with swords or guns, or with words, ideas and emotions, it is still a conflict.

About Hinduism…there really is no such thing as Hinduism. This term and concept was coined only in recent times. When the Persians came, they introduced the word “Hindu,” derived from the Sanskrit word “Sindhu,” to denote the people who live beyond the river Sindhu. Essentially, what you call Hindu is a geographical and cultural identity. It had never been the intention to organise it into a religious identity. There is no belief system to the Hindu way of life. Someone can worship the God of their choice, someone else can choose not to worship anything and still be a Hindu. Essentially, this whole Hindu civilisation is rooted in the spiritual ethos of each individual seeking their ultimate liberation as the fundamental goal in life. God is just one more stepping stone that you can use or skip towards your mukti.

In the East, spirituality and religion were never an organised process. Organisation was only done to the extent of making spirituality available to everyone – but not for conquest. It is only recently and due to external influences that this geographical and cultural identity has attempted to transform itself into a religious identity, but it is still not successful because the Hindu way of life, which is referred to as Sanatana Dharma or universal law, is all-inclusive in nature.

Do you think the human community is moving in the right direction? If not, are we at a point where big change is possible? Having met so many political and economic leaders, are you hopeful about humanity?

Sadhguru: Human life is not an independent life. Only when the lives of the insects, worms, birds and animals are functioning well will our lives function well too. In these last few weeks of lockdown, the Delhi air is clean, and people can see the Himalayan peaks from Punjab for the first time in 20 years. I’m sure all the animals are thinking, “The human virus seems to be gone. Let’s make the planet great again!” All this is simply because in this little break, the human footprint has been minimal.

In a way we are living as if we are the last generation on this planet. The United Nations estimates we will be 9.7 billion people by 2050; if that happens, it does not matter what wealth or education we have – we will not live well. Now that this virus has come and reminded us of our mortality in a strong way, this is the time to look at addressing the human population. Instead of making predictions that by 2050 we will be 9.7 billion people, we can make a plan that by 2050 we will be four billion people. Because we cannot curtail human aspirations; we can only curtail human population.