In recent weeks when killers with mental health problems have made grim headlines across the world, from Germany to Japan, the words of a leading Indian spiritual leader could not be more relevant.
Sadhguru (who uses one name) believes that the road to self-awareness and self-improvement should be nurtured while people are young, and that yoga can be an important tool to access on the journey to self-transformation.
“We must make sure every child, before he or she is eight or 10 years old, must know something about how to transform their inner self. It’s a tragedy in the world that people are 50 or 60 years of age and still don’t know how to manage their thoughts and emotions. Two basic faculties of being human,” he said.
Quoting statistics about mental health problems (9,000 children in India under the age of 18 and 1,700 children under the age of 13 committed suicide), Sadhguru stressed the importance of addressing the well-being of young children.
“When children start committing suicide, at least then we must understand that we are doing something fundamentally wrong,” he said.
His organisation, the Isha Foundation, has started a programme to take yoga practices to 30,000 schools across India and 50,000 in locations around the US in a four-month campaign.
Sadhguru questioned conventional wisdom around mental health issues. “If you don’t understand the fundamental mechanics of life, if you don’t have a grasp for it, you will live accidentally.
“Anxiety is a natural existence for you, even doctors are saying anxiety is normal.
“[But] Anxiety is not normal – it is the consequence of a sick mind, but the majority have become like this,” said Sadhguru.
Last month, the spiritual leader was at the United Nations in New York to mark the second year of International Yoga Day, an initiative of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
Later he travelled to Berlin and London, where he gave an exclusive interview to Eastern Eye.
Sadhguru spoke about how individual transformation was key to a peaceful world.
He said: “If you create peaceful human beings, there will be a peaceful world. If you create healthy human beings, there will be a healthy world.
“But if you want to create a sensible world without creating sensible human beings or a healthy world without creating healthy human beings, how is this possible?”
He added: “Essentially, we keep talking about transforming the world and that cannot happen unless we transform the human beings who populate the world.
“There is nothing wrong with the world, except the way that humans function. So if we are not committed to transforming individual human beings, because this takes a lifelong commitment, then transforming the world is just an empty slogan.
“So we are trying to see how the tools of yoga, which are actually tools for self transformation, be made as part of the sustainable development goals that the UN has.”
Sadhguru recalled a time when he attended meetings with winners of the Nobel Peace Prize but realised the futility of the exercise when he asked them if they could say with sincerity that they were peaceful, or capable of being peaceful.
“And they were sincere enough to admit that there not capable of being peaceful. So I said, ‘Why are we talking about world peace if you cannot manage your own mind to be peaceful? How are you going to create world peace?’”
Sadhguru was keen to stress the importance of people trying to develop a deeper understanding of life and what it meant to be human and its benefits for a healthy and happy life. Millions around the world have taken part in his flagship “interior engineering” programme. Last month he gave a talk in Berlin to over 2,000 people.
He explained the programme: “If you engineer your interiority, that’s inner engineering; the mechanics of how your interiority is and how you can engineer it to create what you want within yourself. Fundamentally you do not know how to manage your own intelligence, you do not know how to manage your thought, you do not know how to manage your emotion, you do not know how to manage your chemistry, you do not know how to manage this fundamental mechanism called a human being because you have been given the most sophisticated machine on this planet. This is the highest technology – inner engineering is the user’s manual.
“What I am striving for is to go from village to village, town to town, city to city with volunteers in the hundred of thousands. They are constantly bringing yoga into everybody’s lives. All these people who have so much time to tweet, if they dedicated at least one day in the month to teach some simple form of yoga to somebody.
“Let’s say a billion people start practising yoga. If somebody comes to India and see this is an Indian phenomena and if one billion start doing yoga, invariably after a while you will generate very profound beings: profoundness of experience, profoundness of perception will happen.
“If you produce such people the entire world will look up to India. I’m not talking about twisting, turning your body. Yoga means in some way you have managed to erase the rigid boundaries of your individuality and experience some sense of unity with life around you.”
‘Self-professed leaders are abhorrent’
Although Sadhguru is seen as a spiritual leader providing inspiration and direction for many, he finds those who see themselves as self-professed leaders as abhorrent.
“People who claim I am a leader… I think is very ugly, this is obscene. Because when I claim I am a leader or I want to be a leader, what I am saying is that I want to be on top of you in some way.
“Leaders happen with what type of situation we are in… that is the kind of leader we need. If you do something well, people will gather behind you and say you are a leader. For me it means that you see something that you don’t have, you see a possibility with me that you cannot do by yourself, that is a good thing. That is coming from competence and not entitlement.
“A set idea about leaders has always produced tyrants. A leader must do this, this, this… there is no such thing. That depends on the situation in which we are in.
“A leader means someone who perceives the situation and is able to make it a better situation tomorrow. They are able to inspire everybody to walk the distance they would not have done by themselves, so this can be born into something that is nurtured either within or by outside within yourself… you have to cook it.”
Sadhguru at the UN
Last month, Sadhguru was the keynote speaker at a special United Nations event to celebrate International Yoga Day.
The Indian spiritual leader was invited to talk at the UN headquarters in New York about yoga and its role in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It started with a conversation Sadhguru had with the American author Max Kennedy – son of former US attorney-general Robert Kennedy – about why and how yoga could be a useful tool in fulfilling the UN’s goals.
The event that took place on June 21 saw millions around the world observe the ancient Hindu practice. India’s prime Narendra Modi, whose idea it was to launch the special day, also took part in activities in the country.
Sadhguru said: “Our prime minister is lying down in the streets and doing yoga with children with ordinary people, with armed forces, with the police. I want people to understand, which other world leader has ever done something like this for the individual well being of human beings?”
The Indian spiritual leader recalled the experience at the UN. “It was extremely well received. It was the first time a meeting like this has been held in the UN and the response was phenomenal.
“The next day, after this event, when we conducted the yoga session, they say it was a record,” he added.
“Records mean nothing to me personally, but this was supposed to be a big thing. Sixty ambassadors and people from 135 nationalities participated – we were a little over 1,000 people in the middle of the afternoon in the bright sunshine.
“And I told them the first thing we are doing wrong is that we are trying to practise yoga in the middle of the afternoon. Anybody who knows a little about yoga, knows that with classical yoga, it’s 30 degrees either in terms of sunrise or sunset. The sun should be always 30 degrees away from the horizon. There are many scientific reasons for this.
“But they wanted me to teach yoga at 1.30pm during people’s lunch hour.
I said, ‘I won’t teach yoga because it’s fundamentally wrong, I’m not going to do that to the United Nations.’ So we taught them what is called as upa yoga, which is pre-yoga. This you can do any time of the day.”
Sadhguru is the founder of the Isha Foundation, a non-profit organisation which offers yoga programmes and is involved in social and community development activities. In 2014, the Foundation was asked to join the prestigious Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), established in 2005 by former American president Bill Clinton and his family to bring global leaders together in order to find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. In November this year, Sadhguru is set to address the Oxford Union, the world’s most famous debating society, situated in the heart of Oxford University in England.