Attempts at reconversion or asking Hindus to have more children are at odds with Hinduism’s traditions, says noted spiritualist Jaggi Vasudev. Over the course of an exhaustive interview, he also said fringe elements are getting disproportionate attention and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message on development has been consistent. Excerpts
You have emphasised many times that Hinduism is not an ‘ism’, in that it doesn’t represent any standard belief system…That the Hindu way of life is not an organised belief system but a science of salvation… Can you please elaborate?
Let’s first define what is Hindu. This is the land that lies between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean. Anybody – man, woman, earthworm – is a Hindu here because Hindu is a geographical identity. Even today, the country is referred to as Hindustan in Northern India because people are talking about a land, not religion. Rest of the world calls us Hindus because they found us different from the way they were. We did not have a God. Nobody believed in anything. In every house, there were 25 different gods and goddess.
Even today if you take a picture of a cinema actor, who looks a little saintly and tell them he is a wonderful saint, they will keep it in the pooja room and worship him. Anything that is inspiring, that shows us the way, in whichever way, is a little more than us, we must bow down to it …this is what we believe in. Other people had a God, a fundamental belief that made them what they are. We are not believers. We are a land of seekers. We are not seeking God. We are looking for liberation, from our own cycles of psychological, physiological processes, which we understand is a trap. We know that anything that repeats itself is a trap. We have understood from our wisdom that if you stay long enough in a place, no matter how wonderful it is, it is a trap. The ultimate goal of life is to become free, not from somebody, not political freedom or economic freedom from what controls us. Let’s say if you can’t die, this is also a trap. We are mortals right now, fortunately. There is an escape now.
We are seekers of liberation we are also seekers of truth. Because only by knowing the laws that govern life, can you break them and go beyond that. The gods we have today are people who walked in this geography. Krishna walked in this geography, Rama walked in this geography, Shiva walked in this geography. These are people who lived their lives here, solved some problems, failed some. They had their wives, troubles and they were not angels floating in the clouds. They didn’t live in a lala-land here. They went through trials and tribulations of everyday that every man and woman here undergoes.
If everyone is a Hindu here, what is this Ghar Wapsi campaign all about? Just who is coming home and from where?
What is happening as a reaction to a certain political and cultural and other situations and what is the ethos of the land are two different things. These things are coming up for the first time because for the first time probably…Though when sword was put to our throats we didn’t change, when gun was put to our throats, we were tied us to the cannons, we didn’t change. But now we see that money and other kinds of inducements are taking a population away. People have started reacting because of insecurity, more because this threatens them, because they see a huge percentage of the population has moved on, and once they move on they think like they do not belong to this nation, they act in a different way.
I am not saying somebody cannot be a Christian or a Muslim and be in this country, they must be. I am telling you if there is a remote place in the country that has not heard of Jesus, go give a family there a photo of Jesus and tell them he is a wonderful guy…they will worship him without knowing his name. And whatever Islam is talking about, the formless worship…We have Nirgun, the yogic system is all about that. These things are not new. We have no conflict with them at all. But when it is being used as a political force and you can win an election by being this or that, these things begin. Don’t mistake political manoeuvring for religious process. But we must understand, all religions across the world are only thinking about numbers. So if you don’t think about numbers, you will lose yours, so that is the simple logic they have arrived at and they are trying to do whatever, not very successfully of course.
But of late MPs and Hindu religious preachers are telling Hindu women even how many children to have…
These statements come from a certain sense of insecurity, they think somebody else’s numbers are increasing so we must also increase our numbers. This is a stupid way to do it. You will end up poor, with a large and unhappy family. But all these statements you must see as a reaction. I am not saying they are right or wrong. Most importantly, we must have common laws for all Indians. All Indian must come under the same purview of law. If you do this in this country you live well, if you do this, there is trouble for you. This must be clear for everyone.
That is not clear. People feel it is biased. This is when they bring in their laws.
The Indian government is not telling anybody to have four children nor is the Prime Minister. If somebody recommends, it is up to him. Is anybody going to listen to him? My grandmother says she wants her children to have ten grandchildren. She knows she will be valued more if there are more children in the house. Each person may be saying these things for his own personal good. May be somebody lacks following, so he says produce more children. I don’t know their intentions but these things come from a certain insecurity and this political situation that has become a constituency for some.
Religions are saying openly that don’t go for contraception, have more children. In reaction to that if somebody in this country says something, it becomes a huge thing as if the whole nation is saying you must have these many children or the PM is saying have these many children. Lots of people have no substance so they say such things. Also, media is always playing this up unnecessarily. Why is it that an unknown Sadhvi is getting so much media attention?
Right now, considering the conditions within which people are living in this country, I am not a fan of any leader or particular party… But for the first time, we have a leadership that is building India. When such an effort is happening, it is the duty of every citizen to support that. When elections come we will fight him if need but democracy doesn’t mean all five years one needs to be in election mode. Election rhetoric is for six or seven months.
The problem with this nation is today’s lunch for at least 300-500 million people are being postponed to another day. When this is the situation, how can the vital decisions be postponed in the parliament, because of stupid statements made by some people? There are a number of nut cases in every country. We have ours too. What they say is not the main discourse of the nation. In the last six months wherever I have travelled around the world, people come and tell me they are proud of the PM. You can distinctly feel that. Global leaders come and tell me, ‘Modi will do this, Modi will do that’. Earlier I had to raise the image of country in front of people but now for the first time, people are looking up.
You say media should also be more responsible in reporting the statements of fringe elements. How would you advice the media to conduct itself?
When you say media, there may be a business element to it. There is commerce to it, I understand. But media needs to understand it cannot be 100% business. Media is an important factor in making of democracy. This is why certain privileges are given to the media. If you are just a business, then all such privileges should be taken away. Then we will see how it works. Media should understand it has tremendous power and privilege that is a fulcrum for democracy so that it doesn’t go any extremes. But what will happen when the media itself takes extreme positions, instead of taking a balanced route? Instead of taking extreme positions, media should report facts so that people can make their own judgments, instead of being swayed away by somebody’s opinions. Today in papers it’s all opinion, where is the news? Give me the news, I will form my own opinion. You can raise a stink but you can’t clear the air later.
What is your take on the Nirbhaya documentary? Does banning documentaries or films on social issues help when even lawmakers seem to air misogynistic views in Parliament?
The home ministry gave the permission for the documentary to be shot. Banning was the most stupid thing to do. But it was a knee-jerk reaction from the government, fearing where the media will take it. Everything is so sensitive. They tried to cancel but they had given permission to them, after following all processes. But when an avalanche is built up in the media, they banned it. And now they are regretting it but it is too late. The image of the country is gone.
For the world we are rapists and we hide our rapists, we support them and make them ministers. A friend of mine from Greece wants to come to India, spend time in the ashram. Her husband went and cancelled the tickets, When I asked him, he said, “I don’t want my wife to get raped in India”. This is what we are doing to ourselves. If women are being treated badly, we need to fix it: By laws, by educating people. We don’t need more laws, we just need effective implementation. We don’t need to raise a stink in the world.
What are your views on many minority groups saying their feeling of vulnerability has increased or that they are under a siege in the last few months? This is with regard to the recent attacks on churches…
Nobody believes they are under a siege because nobody is under siege. Except a few fringe elements and a few instances here and there, we have remained a peaceful country, with no law enforcement. This is because people here are like that. There is no real law enforcement in the country. In a small village, it takes two hours for the police to reach when you give a distress call. The general ethos is peaceful and let’s keeps it that way. You can’t control one billion people with policemen and guns.
It has to manage itself, it has managed itself. The whole rampaging is horrible but there are no religious tendencies to it. It is all a bunch of rogues. You must not give a religious colour to it. That divides people. It is also sexist. A woman got raped. It is gender issue. They will be picked up, DNA evidence is there. They did it, because they have been getting away with these. Instead of seeing it as a gender issue or an irresponsible act by some people who think they can get away, we shouldn’t make it a majority vs minority issue. The minorities are not under siege. When you look at the damage to the churches, it looks like it has been done for a certain purpose, not because of hatred or anything.
There is no such hatred. Every day I am in touch with thousands of people. You don’t face such hatred in common people. That is seen only when communal incidents happen which are largely politically engineered. Rarely have genuine issues flared up and become communal conflagrations. Now they are internationalizing the entire thing, trying to isolate India as a horrible place where religious minorities are under siege. They are definitely not under siege, they have all rights as a citizen and most Indians don’t identify with religion at all. I am saying give all the disadvantaged irrespective of religion, education, opportunities. This whole minority-majority thing has been cultured by political parties. We now have a PM who is trying to work 20 hours a day, focus on the nation and whether you agree with him or not, doesn’t matter, it is good thing for the country. For any nation to develop, there is a need for momentum. He is causing that momentum. We must capitalise on that. Don’t underestimate the value of sentiment towards the nation, which he has built up in a very short span. If that sentiment is not backed, it will die and it will take another ten years to pick it up. Ten years is small in a nation’s life but not in a generation’s life. A whole generation goes by in ten years.
You recently said, “For me, food is food, there is nothing religious about it. And my sense is we can eat anything that our system can take in naturally…” Does that stand extend to beef too? If so, what do you think about the blanket ban on cow slaughter, beef, et al in Maharashtra and Haryana?
Beef ban is not against any religion. First thing I would say is ban the ban. Banning is not the answer, education is the answer. First of all, as food, beef is not good to eat. Every nation, every doctor in the planet is telling you that. Americans are giving up beef, turning to vegetarianism. We have been vegetarians for thousands of years. Now we are turning to beef. Do we want to go through all the health problems they underwent, do we want to spend $3 billion on our health bill. Do we want to go in that direction? FDA is changing its rules. But we want to go in that way. Definitely it is not a wise thing to do.
In our country, we believe if there is an animal that has any emotions in it, you must not consume it. A cow can love you, shed tears for you, just like humans. It is not about the cow, it’s about any animal that shows human emotions. Can you cut up and your dog and eat it? We have a pastoral culture where before industrialisation happened, 90% people were involved in agriculture. Cow is not just an animal. It is part of the family. You drink the cow’s milk. Children are taught cow is like a second mother. It is part of the culture. So when you cut the cow and eat it, it is aesthetically impossible in the Indian mind.
When somebody is eating, you don’t mind. But now it is becoming a major business. India is exporting beef, which I don’t agree with. India should not export beef. If someone is eating beef, I may want to educate him about the harmful effects of eating it. But it’s not for the government or me to tell him not to. About 80% of the country’s sentiment you ignore and you kill millions of cows and export beef, it is not acceptable. Now you want to mix religion even into food? You can’t turn everything into a majority versus minority argument. This is a game being played by certain people, which is unnecessary.
Is it that simple, because states where BJP was never in power, the party forms a government there and announces a beef ban…
The legislation to ban beef in Maharashtra was already there and was just waiting for the President’s approval. The President has grown up in the Congress and if he thinks it is right, why are you going after the Central government? What is the logic?
The law is not there yet. They have announced it but it has to go through the assembly. The law was there much before the BJP came to power. The government and the PM represent the nation now. Not one word he has said that he represents a certain religion. I am not saying this to protect him, but if you try to damage fundamental institutions that make a nation by questioning certain things and casting aspersions on them you will weaken the country and make it a banana republic.
Democracy is built by institutions. If you want to weaken every institution because someone created a bogie, the nation will be weakened. The PM too is an institution. If he says all of you need to be Hindu, we can have him out. But a rule that has always been there gets President’s approval…It was passed by the assembly to please the majority and kept it waiting there to please the minority. This is not the way to run a nation. Stop this kind of managing the nation. Be clear of what you want to do.
There is no beef in many villages, not by law but by norm. Even minorities respect and appreciate that sentiment. If someone wants to eat it, he gets it and quietly eats it. Others know that too but they don’t bother because it is their home. But if you are going to cut the cow in the street and hang it in front of my house, it is not acceptable for me, because my aesthetics and emotions don’t go with it. They also respect that. But now you are making it, you have to eat beef otherwise you are not universal or secular. You want me to be eating beef to be secular? You cannot question the country’s secular credentials or mine. When no country on the planet had thought about democracy, kings here were practising democracy.
Except tyrants, kings would consult public on decisions. Democracy and secularism are not new to us. We are a land without religion. Each person can follow whatever faith he wants as long as he doesn’t rub it into me. But now you are rubbing it into me. I am poor and you give me food, say give up your God, come to my God. This is happening in a crude way. This is about the nation, not about this group or people or that group. My concern is 50 million people in this nation have no access to nutrition. In the name of my god and your god, you are destroying everything. Freedom has to become a living possibility. The PM comes from a poor background. When you are poor, what matters is what goes into a belly. Hunger is not a joke. Which heaven I will go to is not even of consequence.
You have also talked against consumerism, luxury, the American Dream and the general idea of equating development with consumption. In this context, where do you place the Gujarat model of development, say, as against a Kerala model of development that, at least statistics-wise, seems to be more focussed on people than assets?
No development is of any meaning if it doesn’t bring well being to its people. How to get there is the question. We have taken to a market economy where we can do a boom and that will shower down benefits to people. The other way is the socialist way, which needs dispassionate people, absolutely committed people with a certain degree of sacrifice.
We have tried the socialist model. Communism is a way of thinking. Socialism is wimpy communism. When you don’t have the courage to become a communist, you become a socialist. Communism means not by greed but by need. This will only work when all of us are willing to share. If you have a lot and I have nothing and if you think you must share, it is a wonderful thing. But if I think you must share, that is ugly. But somebody wants me to share is ugly. I pay 30% taxes. I agree with the system because it has produced more well-being in the planet than the other system… …60% per cent of the population in this country has skeletal systems that have not developed properly. Because what they eat everyday is not good enough for their body. They may have eaten full stomachs some days but it is not the food they need to have. So when this is the situation, I don’t think I have the fanciful privilege to say this is right or that is right. Whatever is working best has to be done. When everybody has eaten, we can look at the nuances.
Gas on is the only way now. This generation needs to live well. Consumerism is not a good thing. It is a disastrous thing but disasters have produced well-being for 25% of the planet. According to statistics, if we have to provide the life an average American is enjoying right now materially, we need 4 and a half planets. We have just half a planet now, as half has been taken. So a dream for 4 and half planets of well being is a stupid dream but can you turn back? No. You can only refine it. If you are doing well, you will at least have room to define it. If you don’t, they will rip the planet apart.
You can’t tell a hungry man to save the world. You can at least tell the rich to feel guilty and turn back a part. Bringing people to a sense of well-being, at least physical well-being is important to turn the planet around. Because even now the idea that we must save the planet is big only in countries and societies that are affluent. You go and talk to the man in the jhuggi about the planet, he doesn’t care. He wants to have everything he can. We can’t control human aspirations. Instead, we must see how we can control human population. We are projecting by 2050, we will be 9.7 billion. Why don’t we plan instead of projecting. If the population becomes half, we will have two planets. Body is just a piece of the planet. If you want to save the planet, the number of people using it needs to come down. Why don’t we plan for 3 or 4 billion people. Sakshi Maharaj and mullahs won’t like it. We need a common law for everyone in this country, not personal laws for each. It is wrong to create law inside law. Make one law for everybody.
Do you think a new kind of political party that represents Hindus but champions the religion’s liberal principles is necessary? Do you think the Modi-led BJP can transform itself into such a party?
You can’t call it a core, but you need to…even if you cannot exact and even I don’t … you have to appreciate the problems of a democracy. Without numbers you can’t get there. When you get numbers you have no choice of quality. This is the bane of a democratic process. I feel the media’s focus should be on what the leadership speaks and not on what every …right now somebody who is nothing, if he wants to get media attention, all he has to do is he say “kill all the Muslims”.
All national television will go out there and say who is this guy? He is neither capable of killing an ant nor an elephant alright…but if he says I want to kill all the Muslims then next three days the whole debate is on this joker who is not worth anything. I am saying this must stop. If somebody in a really responsible position said that then ok let’s deal with him. But some joker saying something somewhere…he is actually defining the discourse of the nation, which should not be done.
As far as I am concerned, I said this before and I will repeat it, I am no particular fan of anybody or any particular party…but I am in huge admiration in the last 6-8 months, though he comes from whatever background that you are describing as hardcore whatever he has not said one thing wrong. From the election rhetoric to the statements of a PM, the way he has transformed himself overnight literally, I think it is phenomenal for any man to do that, to be able to do that. The way he was speaking in the election mode and the way he is speaking and conducting himself as a PM, I think if somebody had as much discipline and if everybody had that much discipline, everything would be fine and they can do what they want and every one can do what they want, and everything is fine. Isn’t it? That’s a discipline that is needed. Well certainly people don’t have that, but why are we making them so big.
It is a democratic process, you can’t put them in the jail or hang them, you can’t do anything because they only said what they said. But you can only ignore them. Because they are anyway powerless, what can they do? Can Sakshi Maharaj enforce that you have four children? Leave him alone…See this also has to be seen, the commercial impact of news, has become more important than the national impact that it creates, which I think is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed.
As an idea, do you think it’s time for you and other forward-looking leaders of Hinduism to meet the PM and take up this issue of fringe groups hijacking the religion, and request him to rein in these elements? Isn’t it the responsibility of Hindu leaders to rein these people in than wait for other religions to feel persecuted and take this up?
I am speaking to you now. I hope you write what I say.
How should the government tackle controversies?
See from what I heard internally, wherever possible the PM is putting brakes on all these things. But he doesn’t want to comment on that probably… I wouldn’t have commented if I was in that position, because you are giving it still more national stage. The moment the PM comments on these things, the more it becomes a national stage for these jokers.
I think he is refusing to give that stage to them but internally he is taking steps to handle them. But he cannot handle them because he has no authority over them. If 10 people are there it is a party of itself. Most of them don’t have 10 people in their party. Many of these groups are 8-10 people. They just blab and then media cameras zoom in on them for the next three days. I am sure the media is not that unwise, they know who these people are and that they are of no consequence. They are inconsequential and we are raising them in their stature unnecessarily. And we are asking the PM to comment. I am happy the PM has the wisdom to not comment about it because if I were in such a position I wouldn’t do so.
As a spiritual guru how do you view politics? Do you see it as a struggle for a more equal society, especially economic equality or just as a medium to tackle administration or governance issue?
I know politics has become a dirty word. But now the discourse in the teashop has changed. There is a new respect and regard for politicians, which they never had till now. Not just because of one person. I recently did a programme with Chandrababu Naidu and he is a live wire. We did an inner engineering programme for the bureaucracy and ministers. He makes decisions faster than corporate leaders. I have been with corporate leaders. Naidu is on the ball. I am looking at the political system with great respect suddenly. Then I happened to meet Shivraj Singh Chouhan. I saw how he works.
I have new respect for him. Not everybody is like that but public life has various compulsions.
There are all kinds of expectations. People who have voted for you think it’s their time for payback. It is difficult to close that. Very few leaders have the resoluteness. Others weaken thinking if they have to do certain things otherwise they will have to pay a price later. Because somewhere in this country, though we have taken the democratic way, a large mindset of India is still feudalistic. If I can tell each one in my family whom he or she should vote for, that is feudalism, If I can tell my followers to vote for a certain party, I think it is a larger feudalism. If a religious or community leader asks you to vote for a certain leader, there is no democracy. Wherever there is this en masse meeting, it is feudalism. Democracy is only when husband and wife in the same house vote for whomever he or she wants. Leader in any field is a position of responsibility.
The largest privilege of human life is that it can touch other lives. Why do some people think family is important, because they think they can touch, transform, mould at least a few lives. Leaders have to be unbiased. That will come only when you think you are associated with anything in particular and look only at the well being of the people.
Once you have such an eye you will do to the best of your abilities. So this is a tremendous opportunity I am impressing on every leader I meet. Now you are here, could be for 10 or 15 years. But this is a privilege. You must transform as many lives as possible. It is an opportunity that cannot be missed. All political leaders, leaders in every field must ensure if the work they are doing is important, they must work on who they are. This has to be done by every leader because he has the privilege.
Did you tell this to the PM after he assumed charge?
I have told him all this before he became the PM and I don’t think he has forgotten all that. That is the good thing about him: Good things or bad things, he will not forget (laughs).
This government seems to have gained a pro-corporate image. Do you think it’s a good thing?
You have chosen a market economy but you want to be against the market forces. You left feudalism, came to democracy but you don’t want to leave it fully. You are here nor there. Similarly you left socialism and decided to go for market economy. Once you have chosen a path, go all the way. Don’t keep turning back. Nothing will work then. You have chosen market economy. Put the gas pedal on.
Now if you want the market to succeed, the forces that control the market must be in good health and shape. Without the corporates and businesses doing well, tell me how will you bring well-being to people. People who are taking about farmers have never been to farm in their lives. If you walk through villages of our country and look at the condition of farmers, I don’t want him to be farmer. 70 per cent of population in farming, means for ten people to eat, seven have to cook. It is an extremely inefficient way. This is because we were subsistence farmers. Only 15-20% of the country should be farmers, rest should be doing something else. Moving the city to the villages has to happen. Can the government alone do it? No.
And are corporates going to sit on land as zamindars and do nothing? No. They are going to produce employment. People have been living in jhuggis and slums for all their lives. Are they even human habitation? Even cattle should not live there. People are attached to poverty because they have an investment in it. Corporate is not a bad word. Corporation means a business that is properly organised and accountable. It is not an evil force. Some people may have misused it but that is a different issue; that laws should take care of. There are enough laws.
In the current times when there is much critique about religious/mystical cults being led by fraudulent gurus, as shown in movies like PK. How do you respond to a strand of thought that is critical of human beings claiming themselves as Godmen?
Godmen is a media-coined word. Nobody calls himself one. I have not seen the movie but I have heard people talk about it. Corruption in this world is aplenty. There is corruption in police, politics, unfortunately even among religious leaders. The general level of integrity in the country has gone down. Right now, a guy driving Mercedes might stop and think before jumping red light, but a common man driving a moped doesn’t stop at the red light. We are growing corruption in our homes.
There are a whole lot of spiritual leaders doing phenomenal work. In our country, here have been huge gaps in administration and still people managed to stay together. Please give some credit to spiritual leaders. There is a small percentage that exploits. Trust me, it is small number but because of the trust placed on them by people, it looks glaring. However, there should be a clean up. Those who should be in jail should be in jail. Truth must lead to every body’s well being.
Why does such an avowedly spiritual movement like yours need such marketing slickness? You seem to have a well-oiled marketing machinery.
For the first 20 years, we never printed a brochure as a matter of rule. People came to us through word of mouth. Even now people who come to programmes are people who underwent them and later brought in their friends and family members. Only when we started large ecological, education and health social projects that need enormous resources that we started talking. At present, we have over 4,000 volunteers working full time, most more than 16 hours a day.
Only in the last 9 years have we started making some noise. Is the thing well oiled? (Laughs) It’s not, in my opinion, no. My people are still in the mode of working without publicity. I tell them we need publicity to keep these projects going. To keep lakhs of children in school, to plant lakhs of trees every month without any government help, to treat lakhs of people every month, you don’t know what it takes. People freak out to maintain one family. They don’t know what it takes to keep these projects going. It takes enormous effort and there is no government support. We never sought it and they never offered. We are the largest ecological movement in Asia. The work we have done is immense. Hopefully in a year’s time, I have a plan to make sure our marketing is well-oiled (laughs).