Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Founder of the non-religious, public service organisation, Isha Foundation, comforts corporate heads and the common man alike. In an exclusive interview with K. Sai Srinivas, the spiritual master, who was among the speakers at the BT MindRush conclave, shares his views on a range of subjects. Edited excerpts:
Q. Your views on work-life balance...
A. Your work has to be lived. And your life has to be worked at. And there is no such thing as work and life, it is life and life.
Q. Do wealth and stress always have to go together?
A. (Amused laughter) I thought poverty and stress go together, not wealth and stress.
Q. There seems to be a lot of stress in Corporate India, among executives…
A. The problem is, you ask the chaprasi on the street, he is stressed about his job . You ask the housewife with two children - she is stressed with one husband and two children. You ask the prime minister, well, he looks stressed. The stress is about the way you are, you have not understood how to use this fantastic mechanisms - human body and mind. You have not read the users' manual.
Q. We are witnessing a a lot of consumerism. Is India going the right way by aping the West? Does this drag us more into bondage, first into material bondage, unable to develop the spiritual side we are known for?
A. It is not material versus spiritual, there is no such thing. According to Living Earth statistics, if we have to provide the lifestyle that an average American is enjoying right now for the 7.25 billion people we have on this planet we will need four and half planets. But we only have half a planet. Is it realistic for the whole world to go that way? The world's idea of ideal life has become the American life, isn't it? It is a sure recipe for disaster, there is no question about it. The better solution would be… at least if we strive for the next 50 years we can bring down the population to 50 per cent of what it is right now. It will give a little more freedom to the earth to recoup itself for whatever rubbish we do. If we don't do that ourselves consciously the planet will do it to us in cruel ways.
Q. What is urgently needed in India?
A. We need good leadership. A determined, focused, passionate leadership which will look at organic solutions for this nation, not imported solutions from the West.
Q. So according to you are politicians a hindrance for growth in India now, with so many scams happening...?
A. It is not the politicians… the important thing is the archaic laws that we have which allow people to engage in subversive activity. Mainstream activities that you have to carry out are so full of obstacle courses everybody finds a subversive way of doing things. One of the chief ministers has commented, "What is wrong with corruption, it makes everybody's life easy". And some top corporate leaders have suggested, "Why don't we legalise corruption like they have done in Indonesia or some other place" (laughs)… So the important thing is the pathway to success in this country is so full of obstacle courses… Look at the aviation laws in this country I think before the Wright Brothers (bursts into laughter)…
Q. That is because they did not allow you to fly your helicopter...
A. That is not the point, look at the laws. You ask any aviator in this country. All flying clubs have closed down… it is not about fun, only when these things develop a whole lot of other activity will happen.
Q. We are due for elections next year. Is there turmoil ahead? What are your views on Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi?
A. Why are you trying to get me into trouble (laughs loudly)… Narendra Modi has a successful record, which I feel is important for the nation. Arvind Kejriwal has done something truly fantastic. He has spoken about things which nobody dared to speak in this country till now. I think someone like that must be in Parliament every day breathing down the necks of people in power. Such people must be a substantial segment in Parliament so that they will question and talk about everything and raise a debate about a whole lot of things which will be a great service to this country. At the same time I think the promises they are making are a little over the board. And if you fulfill those promises you will ruin the country. So the Election Commission must stop this. People cannot make promises like this… giving free this, free that. The nation will only progress if you pay the right price for that one kg of rice or wheat or one unit of electricity.
Q. What about Rahul Gandhi? Do you think Congress has lost its way?
A. I really don't know who Rahul Gandhi is because we don't know what he is trying to say. If anybody wants to be part of the political process it must be very clear to people what the man is trying to say. Arvind Kejriwal is talking corruption, Narendra Modi is talking development. What does Rahul Gandhi stand for? At least it is not clear to me.
Q. Your Isha Foundation's rural rejuvenation programmes have benefited millions. Do you think urban rejuvenation is the urgent need now as more rural people are migrating to urban areas for jobs?
A. Over 70 per cent of Indian population lives in villages. If all of them move to cities you do not know what kind of chaos it will create. It is very important that the city moves into the village. At the same time it is important we get people out of agricultural activity and get them into other skills, because 70 per cent of the people producing food in this country means if 10 people have to eat 7 people are cooking, which is an inefficient way of managing anything. In China, probably 10-13 per cent are in agriculture, in United States it is only about 4 per cent. Even if you don't go that far at least you must bring it down to 25 to 30 per cent to make this an efficient process. If that has to happen we have to go down to rural India and develop skills and they need not migrate here.
Q. Corporate India is lamenting that people are coming out of colleges and they are not properly skilled to take up jobs…
A. If the youth of India have picked up any (skills), hats off to them because they have done it on their own.
Q. How can we spiritually transform corporate culture in India where wealth and well being of executives can go together?
A. Every kind of leadership - corporate, bureaucratic or political - everybody who touches somebody else's life…Is it not very important that you keep your hands very clean when you are touching somebody?
Q. What do you think corporate India can do for better employer-employee relationship in this downturn?
A. Recently a major company in the South came to me with a problem. It wanted to cut off 10 per cent of its employees. So I said, go and talk to the remaining 90 per cent of the employees, ask if they are willing to take 10 per cent less salary for a certain period while you use this time to retrain and rejig the 10 per cent for a different capability. The employees did not refuse. This whole hire-and-fire thing is a very western thing. In India somebody who works for us for life means he will not go anywhere, we develop a bond with him. If you do not experience any humanity working in your office you are going around like a robot. Naturally you will talk about work and life (laughs).
Q. In Corporate India, there are deep divisions within business families. How do you think these can be resolved?
A. There was a time when we always looked up to somebody in the family as an elder. What he said was the law. We have to some extent lost that. I think a whole lot of new companies are establishing proper systems - property management, wealth management, and succession plans. But family-owned businesses sometimes fail to do this.
Q. How do you think corporate-government relationships can improve? At the moment the government is putting pressure on corporates charging them with tax evasion, this and that…
A. As I said earlier, you should not make doing business into an obstacle course. You settle that one thing, then you can enforce every law. When there is a big question mark on that - asking the industry that runs its own infrastructure and generates its own electricity to pay taxes - you can't just say I will collect taxes. You can't use guns like the invaders did…
Q. What about political funding? Many politicians extract money in the name of funding their parties. Isn't it a means to put pressure on corporates?
A. These things will happen because in this country you can't run a business largely by law. You have to please somebody. When payback time comes you have to pay. We should be able to run business in this country without going to your minister or prime minister. There a few states that are managing to have clear laws now.
Q. Where do you think India stands vis-à-vis other emerging countries like China on development. Do you think we have done enough?
A. We have definitely not done enough, no question about that. China is way ahead of us. Let us not even compare the two. Taking one billion people from abject poverty and putting them on par with developed nations - something which can take over 200 years - in a matter of 35 years is not a small achievement. But we have the strength of individual enterprise. Tomorrow if all the laws are simplified, corruption is taken away, and people are given a free hand, you will see India will surge ahead. Everybody will want to do business with India, not with China for various reasons. When you are dealing with China you don't know what you are dealing with. You may be thinking you are dealing with somebody who makes plastic toys but you are actually dealing with the Communist Party… So in India we have this advantage but (laughs) this is like they have colds and fevers but we have got cancer. We have got to fix it.
Q. Can India dream about catching up with a developed nation like America?
A. The United States of America is almost three times the size of India with one-fourth the population of India. The amount of natural resources in America is tremendous. Almost 18 per cent of the world's fresh water is in America. You cannot compare yourself with America, it is waste of time to even aspire for those things. We should look at how to nourish and educate properly our 1.2 billion people, develop their enormous skill, we can take the world by exporting half our population… even today everybody says it is always best to be treated by an Indian doctor in America.
Q. According to you, once elections are over what are the three things a new Prime Minister should do?
A. You should make it a little easier to live in this country. Everything is made difficult… you know, these are invaders' rules, these are not the rules of the nation. We were registering a company and it took us some 30 days or so to do it.
Q. So even a Sadhguru is made to run...
A. Yes, I am not spared (laughs)… Then we wanted to do a complementary company in the United States. So I told them this is the style of the company, this is what we need to do, this is the purpose and everything. In about two hours they said Sadhguru the company is registered you can start activity... I just knocked my head what are we doing to this country, when somebody wants to start economic activity which is going to benefit everybody why are we treating him like a criminal? You have to get 25 no objection certificates, why anybody has any objection to my doing business?
Q. Making life is easier is one, what are the other two…
A. If you do that one thing, the Indian population is so effervescent it will make India happen. Aren't there 540 business or industries in this country which can take up education, nourishment of one constituency each not as service, but as an investment? If you invest in this population you will get quality manpower in the next 12 to 15 years time, why don't you invest long term? I don't want any philanthropy, you invest long term, produce the right kind of people, only then you can run the business, otherwise you are going to the Philippines…
Q. So you think corporate leaders are barking the wrong tree in terms of philanthropy?
A. Philanthropy is not going to make the nation great. Because people who receive may feel greatful but they won't feel great. But if they become worthy of investment they will feel great. This is what we need to do to the people - bring back pride in who they are.
Q. You have mentioned that technology can be used to generate productivity. What are your views on the current digital life that people are leading?
A. That is only in urban India… a small percentage of the privileged class which is always looking for some obsession. Everything that has been brought to you as a blessing, you want to turn it into a curse.
Q. But even in rural India smartphones are selling like hot cakes. People are getting into YouTub...
A. In America between the ages of 20 to 26 the male population spends six hours on video games. If you continue to do this, the nation will be a disaster after some time. Between 20 to 26 is the time when a man has to make something of himself. This is the time they are playing video games - shooting somebody, climbing this, falling off that (whatever, laughs), so we don't have to bring that culture to India. You don't have to do what people whose stomachs are full, and are dying of obesity, do. When 500 million people are hungry in this country you do right things. We don't have to imitate everything that they do.
Q. What do blue jeans, T-shirt, riding a motorcycle mean for you… how does it help you in your spiritual development?
A. (Laughs loudly)...A motorcycle is just a means of transport and sometimes fun. At one time I crisscrossed India on my motorcycle. I literally lived on a motorcycle for a few years. I really did not grow up in a spiritual atmosphere, I grew up reading Camus, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, listening to the Beatles. I did not have any spiritual stuff in me. For me spirituality is what happened within me.
Q. What are your views on fake gurus? How do you think people can believe in Sadhgurus, spiritual personalities as there is a thinning of faith...?
A. It is not just spiritual gurus. Even journalists are being imprisoned these days (laughs). A certain amount of rot has spread across the spectrum whether it is business or politics or journalism or spirituality… We need to see how to bring that sense of integrity. Too many people of this country are innocent of integrity.
Q. What about sexual laws? The Supreme Court has passed a ruling...
A. I have not read the Supreme Court judgement, so I don't think I have a right to comment.
Q. Same sex relationships...?
A. As far as I am concerned every human being has a right to be whoever he wants to be as long as he does not harm anyone. At the same time we must look at long term implications and handle them now when the issue has come up. Sexuality is a personal thing, it need not be a revolution on the street. This is not a prudish country right from ancient times, even our gods are involved in sexual activity, so it is not a strange thing for us.
Q. You said fear is just the creation of an overactive and out of control mind. So what is the way for an active but not overactive mind of a corporate leader? What is the way out?
A. You must find the keyboard to your brain. Right now we are just punching the wrong buttons (laughs). You must do some inner engineering.