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You may know him as one of India’s most revered spiritual leaders and Yoga guru but not many of you must be aware that Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is an avid traveller, who loves to ride bikes. Sadhguru is on a 10,000 mile motorcycle journey across North America, where he is meeting Native Americans and exploring their spirituality and mysticism. The month-long journey is an attempt to delve deeper into the lives of the indigenous people of North America, who have captured the imagination of people around the world. Known for their intimate connection with the natural elements, Native Americans have an intuitive understanding and a heightened sense of perception that governs every aspect of this unique culture.
We interviewed Sadhguru about his ongoing journey. Here are excerpts from the interview.
What fascinated you about the Native Americans? What motivated you to take a motorcycle trip to over 15 states in the USA?
Almost 20 years ago, I was staying in the Center Hill Lake area in the United States and writing a book at a cottage that had been offered to me by someone. One day, I was walking into the forests and I encountered something very strange and painful. What I saw was a frozen Native American spirit and I had never seen any being in that kind of pain and filled with so much anger and resentment. It was the most painful experience of my life. I started inquiring about it and found out that the place was called the Trail of Tears in the Cherokee nation. It was removed as part of the Indian Removal Act and the Native Americans were made to walk to Oklahoma in bad weather. Thousands of them dies and that’s why this place came to be known as the Trail of Tears.This was also the reason why I started the Isha Institute of Inner-sciences, a 4000 acre centre, which is located at the head of the Trail of Tears. It’s not the beauty but it’s the pain that drew me to the place. Since then, I have been looking at their culture and discovering about various native tribes. Most people wouldn’t know that there used to be around 500 Native American nations in the United States itself. Today, they are all there in a nominal way. I have been wanting to come here for many years but my schedule never allowed me to. Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, I was finally able to find the time to come here. Not much has been written about them anywhere and it’s mostly spoken language, so the only way to get to know the Native Americans is to meet them. And there’s no better way to travel here than on motorcycles.
Which places have you visited so far and which one were you most intrigued by?
Oh, that’s a long list, I have to tell you. We started from Tennessee and went on to visit Kentucky, Mississippi to name a few. We rode along the Mississippi river. Most people would not know that there were many well evolved cities in these regions. Cahokia as a city had a population of 40,000 people about 400-500 years ago, when London had 15,000. We went to Chaco Valley, where there was a well-built, full-fledged city with well-engineered structures at one point. They had a tremendous understanding of astronomical significance of equinoxes etc. It’s unbelievable how they managed to learn so much without a written language. We have been to 15 states so far and we will be visiting 3 more states. We will be covering 18 to 19 states.
How did you found the terrain?
Riding through Wyoming, Dakota, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and other states, I must say that the terrain is most incredible. Even most Americans would not have seen the terrain in these areas. It’s the grandest terrain ever in terms of dry rocks and mountains. The roads are fantastic for a rider.
What drew you towards the Cumberland Plateau?
One thing is as I said, this is the head of the Trail of Tears and I wanted to do something there. A few years ago, our activities were largely in Illinois and Michigan area and people requested me to do something in Tennessee. The terrain is great and from where our centre is located, if you make a radius of 12 hour drive, nearly 60 per cent of USA’s population is within that drive, that’s why I was attracted to Cumberland.
What did you like the most about the people you met during your journey?
They are very simple and wonderful people but they are deeply pained. They indulge in too much alcohol and drugs and are in a state they shouldn’t be. They are making serious efforts to come back so I am also working towards giving them a positive exposure. Most people don’t know about them. Their idea of a Native American person is from the Wild West movies and they think they are people who will point a gun at whoever they see. But that’s not what they are.They have very evolved cultures and some tribes have even educated men and women, who are trying to come back in many ways. The youth is trying to join universities and at the same time sticking to their roots and culture. Enough has been said about their history but I am mainly looking at the nature of spiritual practices and their sense of mysticism. That’s what we are exploring right now.
What can society learn from indigenous people?
There are many aspects but one important aspect is that in today’s world and modern society, environment is in text books but for these people environment is in their hearts. Unless that happens to modern societies and unless we have ecological concerns in our heart, I don’t think anything significant will happen. We will only talk about environment as if it’s an abstract science that doesn’t concern us. You and I are also a part of this soil but most people won’t give it till they are buried. The very soil that we walk upon is our body right now. I think this message and the indigenous culture is very vital for this generation and the next generation if we want to do anything about working towards all the ecological concerns that we have.
What was your favourite memory from your trip?
(Laughs) Well, every moment has been tremendously challenging and exciting. I don’t know how to pick one, but I would say driving through the Bryce National park, Zion Valley, Grand Canyon stands out. Unbelievable. It’s a motorcyclist’s dream to ride a good surface with swift turns into the mountains taking you through exciting terrains. We have been super busy meeting people and documenting their lives in videos. We are making videos about their culture and spirituality. We are busy almost 20 hours a day. We are riding minimum 8 to 10 hours and some days even up to 14 hours. We are meeting people on our way.
Given the present scenario, how did you ensure safety against the dreadful coronavirus pandemic? What was the impact of the virus on the places you visited?
We have a strong protocol for everything, for example in India, Isha Centre has nearly 4,000 people but no cases so far. At our American centre, we have little over 100 people but not a single infection so far. I am travelling with 18 people (including myself) right now but haven’t had a single infection even after having travelled so much.We will complete our trip by 25th and get back to our centre. I am sure we will get there without being infected because our protocols are very strict. We are not eating in any restaurants and we are not staying in any hotels. The highways are fully abuzz with traffic but restaurants are closed. Everything is normal here and economic activity is fully on here.
What according to you, shaped America into one of the world’s leading global superpowers?
One thing that probably most people don’t realize is that what a phenomenal land this is. It’s an expansive land and the natural resources here are tremendous. The people who came here had nothing and even today they live by the principle that whether you are a winner or a loser. Right now I am in New Mexico and there are so many outlaws and criminals here of the Wild West who are great celebs and people aspire to be like them. They are hugely admired because they are winners. Also, two to three generations of people have worked very hard. The founding fathers of America, including George Washington had a vision to create a great nation. They worked very hard to craft their country and the most important thing is that they wanted to be winners and they knew how to be winners.
Tell us something about your love for motorcycles and road trips. Any favourite bike? Which bike did you drive during this American road journey?
It’s not about the love for motorcycles, it’s just that I am in love with life. I used to ride a Yezdi many years ago but for 28 years I didn’t drive motorcycles. It was only three years ago that I rode one during the rally for rivers. I was wondering whether I will be able to ride after 28 years but when I sat on it, I realize that I haven’t lost the way. Since then, I have been getting trouble getting in a car. I am riding my motorcycle for the last 3 years. On this trip, I am driving a BMW K1600 GT. It’s great on highways but it’s very bad off-road.
How does travelling enriches a person?
Well, the lives of human being are dependent to a large scale on what sort of exposure you have towards life. And when you travel like me and not travel from airport to airport and form hotel to hotel, you will really travel. Whenever I travel on the road, the experience is extremely rich. I have seen India by being on the road and most Indians would not have seen India the way I have seen her. I think today, everyone is travelling on their cell phone. That’s not travel, that is just information and information doesn’t do anything. It just gives you a make belief conclusion about life. If you think that you know a lot about travelling because you have seen it on your mobile or computer screen, you are mistaken. Travelling is a very different experience. It’s life altering.What would you like to say to Indians who have been impacted by the outbreak of the pandemic and how can one stay positive during such unprecedented times?
This a challenge for everyone. Millions have lost their lives and many have lost their loved ones. The worst part is that they have not been able to attend to their loved ones in their last moments and they have not even been able to attend their funerals. Loss of life is one thing but not being able to attend your loved ones in their last moments is very painful. There has also been a loss of livelihood and businesses have closed. That’s why my only concern has been that we have to ensure that nobody starves during this period. We at Isha Foundation have been feeding 16 to 18 thousand people every day during the pandemic in villages where people don’t have jobs. I want to make sure that there is no large-scale starvation. Once that is taken care of, we must hunker down and wait for things to get better.
When outside situation turns against us, the best thing we could do is strengthen ourselves physically, mentally emotionally and spiritually so that when the situation is clear we will be able to recreate everything that matters to us. Right now we see a mental health pandemic and people are taking their lives but they should not move in that direction. Right now is the time when they should enhance their competence and skills by online courses. When you step out, you must be a much better human being than you were before the pandemic.
At least this is not a war and you don’t have bombs dropping on your skull. Our previous generations have seen all that. We are in a tough situation but still it’s a soft one and it’s not going to break our skull. We just have to behave responsibly. 10 percent people are our super spreaders and if we start making these people responsible for their carelessness, we will be able to contain the virus. There is no magic solution to this but we have to responsibly make our way out of this.
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