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“The word Yoga literally means Union…your _idea_ of individuality is all yours,” says the sparkling Jaggi Vasudev, a 60-year-old guru from Mysore, India, “right now, as you sit here, there is a transaction going on in the form of respiration, for example. If you become too much an individual and say you don’t want to breathe – that’s the end of you. It’s not just on the level of respiration – it’s happening with food & water & this/that. Today we know that every sub-atomic particle in the body is in transaction with everything else in the Universe. You are existing here as a phenomena, a larger phenomena of existence, \[and\] it _is_ fantastic that creation has given us this privilege of being an individual also at the same time, but now we are so lost in our individual identity that we have just forgotten that this is happening as one whole thing. If you experience that \[wholeness\] you are actually in union with everything and then we say you are in Yoga. All the Yogic practice is just toward this: _how to obliterate the boundaries of your individuality._”
Light pours in. Birdsong. Anticipation. _What is a realized being like?_ I wonder. Artificiality of spirit and existence is flooding the American consciousness – I can’t speak beyond that; some are breathing through straws, some are battling, some believe, some die, snap, sleep for days on end, get stoned, some awaken. But, to be on the top of the pyramid of thought or knowledge or leadership, what might _that_ look like?
Heart beating. Mouth dry. Ears pricked up because I really want to hear. I’m sitting on a couch in Los Angeles, California with Mr. Vasudev, who is also known as Sadhguru, an Indian yogi, mystic, New York Times bestselling author, motorcycle hellion of sorts, environmentalist, spiritual and existential activist, and creator of Inner Engineering (a technique or practice steeped in the guidance of Yoga), which is also not a philosophy, per se, “I am not based in any philosophy,” Sadhguru tells me off the bat, unveiling this manner of one of the purest kinds of sternness I’ve ever seen – he has no wrinkles on his forehead, by the way, his beard looks like strings of innocent milk, his eyes are like obsidian (not embellishing), and he is totally capable of uproarious laughter, but also seemingly totally capable of setting ablaze, as an effulgent energy exudes out of his solar plexus.
“\[It’s\] just that most people choose to root themselves in the surface of life, I put my roots a little deeper,” his right leg is crossed, the other one hangs down, foot strapped up in a grey Teva, “That’s about it. A little deeper dimension of life, not a philosophy. Because in many ways and in every way, individual philosophies are individual people, which can turn into large groups after some time…it is the basis of all the conflict you’ve seen on the planet: my philosophy versus your philosophy/my belief versus your belief/my ideology versus your ideology,” he looks up and around, “my essential work itself is to turn individual human beings into seekers, not believers of something, because essentially belief means you are assuming something that you do not know.”
The meaning of “Sadhguru” is “uneducated guru”, as noted by Sadhguru on his website, “if a human being says, ‘I don’t know something,’ then the possibility of knowing is open in his life. If he believes he knows something that he does not know, he is a mess.”
This circuitousness of belief of thought or willingness is revealed quickly. Each question I ask is answered with a multitude of other avenues. My mind is being lubricated while speaking to the guru. My vocabulary is stretching. An intellectual bath.
When he was 25 years old in September of 1982 he sat on Chamundi Hill just east of Mysore and had his first breakthrough spiritual experience, “Till that moment in my life I always thought ‘this is me and that’s somebody else and something else’. But for the first time I did not know which is me and which is not me…what was me was just all over the place…the very rock on which I was sitting, the air that I breathe, the very atmosphere around me, I had just exploded into everything…”
Sadhguru is not sitting in a cave meditating for 18 hours a day. His Yoga is about being in the mix, mingling with contemporary issues with vigor. He has multiple initiatives in India to help revitalize and rebuild the country’s most precious rivers and natural environments.
He has launched Rally For Rivers in 2017 with his Isha Foundation – which is located in Coimbatore, India, and has another ashram in McMinnville, Tennessee. Rally For Rivers is aimed at resolving water scarcity in various rivers all over India (Ganga, Krishna, Narmada, Kaveri) and creating awareness about protecting them through the planting of new trees along riverbanks, and altogether educating the people on the grave importance the rivers play in daily and future life. The legacy of a depleted river would lead to a future of deprivation and conflict for the next generations.
Another important initiative created by Sadhguru is Project Greenhands, founded in 2004, with a goal of planting 114 million trees throughout Tamil Nadu, India, to increase the forest cover in the state to 33 percent. The effort of over 2 million people has helped plant around 27 million trees in over 1,800 communities across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry – both located in the Southern region of India.
“Today there is data to show – and there is debate on the periods – that if all the worms disappear today…in 18 months time all life on this planet will disappear. That is the role they are playing in the making of this planet. If all the insects disappear in three and half to four years all life will disappear, that is the role they are playing in the making of this planet. If we human beings disappear the planet will flourish…”
What am I doing? Who am I? Should I get like Kerouac and hit the road?
I was watching a video of Sadhguru on the Internet a couple weeks before speaking to him – you can watch any number of Sadhguru talks on the Internet, ranging in a wide variety of topics.
I got lucid at a particular video, “I’m a twenty-one-year-old University student striving to live a life of truth, involvement, fulfillment,” a young voice says off screen, “How should I and people my age balance the inner path with the outer world…be it going to med-school, getting a professional career, or spending more time at the ashram?”
Sadhguru did a bit of his customary chuckling, he leaned into his answer like a cobra – Sadhguru’s favorite creature, actually, “If there is a meditator there is a cobra nearby,” they say in India – and he spoke, “All of us have to live in this Universe…No choice about it right now…” pin drop silence in the crowd, “What I would say is, as a young man, I want you to open your eyes and look at the world…please see, what is the most needed thing in the world right now…you don’t do some fanciful thing, you do what’s needed…”
Because I live in Hollywood should I be an actor? Because I grew up on a potato farm do I need to grow potatoes?
Sadhguru belts out a big laugh when I ask if Yoga is ironic. I think he laughed because it’s not. But telling a young person itching to conquer some square of the world to really do nothing for an extended period of time and just observe feels a little bit odd. But that’s exactly it.
Yoga equals union. Union with yourself and the Universe. A battle with the Universe is not a good thing to get into.
Where are millennials?
Are they are in little digital boxes?
Who put us there?
Who is allowed to escape and see nature again?
“This time everybody must take and the proper atmosphere should be provided for that. Normally all retreats are religious in nature, so it is already set – _what is our agenda?_ A retreat where there is no agenda, this is what I am creating for people,” Sadhguru says of his ashrams in Coimbatore and Tennessee, “A retreat where there is no agenda – you withdraw, not for a specific agenda, you just withdraw, because it’s important for your intelligence, your body, and many dimensions of being human that \[you\] exist for a certain period without being driven towards an agenda. That it is just there as life, and you will see people come up with incredible possibilities in those times.”
America is a Yogic frontier. America is different than The West in this regard; America has its own cultural cache, power, and reach.
Sadhguru is aware, “For whatever reasons, America assumed leadership in the world, not just as a political and military power, but in so many different ways,” he holds out his hand, pointing, “You’re not in it, but you’re brother is in it – if you go to a city and just sit down and look at everybody below the knees, you will see nearly fifty percent is wearing the same blue American denims. If American people put a hole in their pants the entire world is tearing up their pants…one way or the other and for whatever reason America has found leadership. If America meditates the world will meditate; that’s why I’m here.”
America, with all its confusion and spiritual circus, also has an unquenchable desire to incorporate and learn and welcome different cultures. We are the immigrant country. We are the ones that don’t know. And maybe with the same energy we started down-dogging, maybe we can start breathing, meditating, reaching, finding peace and joy and infinity – after all, it’s all already there to begin with. Sadhguru is a welcome beacon, a lighthouse worth being grateful for.
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Written by Augustus Britton
Illustration by Jeff Britton