Shekhar Kapur: Let’s explore the idea of identity. Who am I? What do I identify with?

Sadhguru: To operate in the world, you need an identity. If you are in Mumbai and someone asks, “Who are you?” you cannot say, “I’m a nobody”—that would be ridiculous. So to function in the society in which you exist, you need an identity. This “Shekhar” will not do because there may be too many Shekhars. You need a “Kapur” attached to it. This gives you an identity. If you say “Shekhar Kapur,” even if I do not know anything else about you, just by listening to your name, I know you are obviously of Indian origin, from a certain region. Cultural identities give people a certain access, an ability to function with each other. In that sense, identity is perfectly fine. But if you believe, “I am that; I am a Kapur,” you are in trouble because your identity limits you in a huge way. Your mind always works around your identity; what you are identified with always seems to be right. What you are not identified with does not seem to be right.

Once it happened that a man from Islamabad went through one of our programmes. He did not tell anyone that he was from Pakistan because of the whole political situation. Only on the evening of the last day, he came and told me, “I am from Pakistan.” I said, “That’s great! I truly appreciate that you came here. You should have told everyone. People would have reached out to you.” But in his mind, he thought this identity could be a problem.

Being Indian or Pakistani is essentially a political identity, which just popped up 50–60 years ago. Before that, there was no such thing. So where did this come from? We invented it, right? Someone drew an artificial line and said, “Those who fall this side are Indians; those who fall that side are Pakistanis.” And just see how much trouble it has caused because people got identified with that. Having an identity for practical purposes of operation in the world is one thing, but creating an identity within yourself is a different thing. If you are trying to build your essential nature with your identity, it will be a big mess. That means you will not be a human being. You will just be a thought, idea, opinion, or bundle of prejudices that go with that identity. Every identity is a prejudice. The moment you are identified as an Indian, everything Indian seems to be nice to you. Something which is against that is also against you. This is not something that you have to consciously think; your mind just works like that.

Shekhar Kapur: So how do I go beyond identity?

Sadhguru: If you want to function in Bollywood, it is better if people know that you are a film-maker. Otherwise, no one will ask you to make a film.  To work in the world, that identity is necessary. But if you believe, “I am a film-maker and that’s who I am,” it hugely cripples you because your mind will work only around that. The deeper your experience of life, the better a film-maker you would be and the better you would be in anything. If there is a school teacher teaching six-year-olds, the deeper that person’s experience of life is, the better a teacher he or she is. The deeper my experience of life is, the better a guru I am. Isn’t that also true with film-making? But the depth of your experience will be crippled the moment you identify yourself with something. You can deepen your experience only if you are wide open to everything, isn’t it?

Right now, the human condition is such that without knowing anything about the nature of his existence, without knowing anything about himself, he is trying to somehow pass through the world. Obviously, it is going to be very accidental. When a person is going through his whole life in an accidental manner, he will naturally be in a great sense of anxiety, fear, and struggle. If you are blind, walking from here to there is a struggle. If your eyes are open and you can see, you can walk through joyfully. Life has become a struggle because there is no clarity of perception as to what is you, what is the world, and what is the nature of this existence. If I tell you, “You are a human being,” it satisfies you, but if you think a little more, it does not work. If I tell you, “You’re an atman; you’re a soul,” it satisfies you, but if you think a little more, even that does not work. Only if your perception takes you there, it will work. Because only what you perceive, you know. What someone else tells you is only a story. It may be a true story, but it is still a story. Stories may entertain you, inspire you, or solace you, but stories will never be a solution in your life. Stories will never make you realise the essential nature of who you are.

Shekhar Kapur: So there’s no alternative to working hard towards perception?

Sadhguru: Why should you work hard to become yourself? If you want to become something else, you have to work hard. To be yourself, why should you have to work hard? There is no such thing as working hard there; you are that anyway. It is just a quest. Enlightenment is not an achievement; it is just a realisation. When we say “realisation,” it simply means you perceive what is already there. You did not invent, create, or attain anything. You just realised what was already there. So enlightenment is a realisation; it is not an attainment.

It is not difficult either. It is just in a different direction. Right now, your whole perception of life is through the five senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Sense organs, in the very nature of things, are outward bound because they are essentially created for your survival. You can see what is around you. You cannot roll your eyeballs inside and scan yourself. Even if something as small as an ant crawls upon your hand, you can feel it. Within your body, so much blood is flowing—can you feel it?

In the very nature of things, right now your perception is outward bound. But the basis of your experience is inside of you. All this is happening within you in many different ways as it is necessary for your survival. What is day for you is night for another creature, so even what is light and darkness is your making. That is why in this culture, we went on saying, “It is your karma.” Karma means action. When we say, “It is your karma,” we are saying your experience of your life is 100% your doing and no one else’s. Right now, your sense organs are all outward bound but the basis of your experience is within you, so you have no way to access it.

The necessary basis to look inward has not been created in the society today. There was a time when spiritual process was the main feature of this culture. At that time, realised beings were not a rarity. Sages and saints were just about anywhere because the necessary infrastructure was there.

“Why is it so difficult?” It is not difficult. Because we did not maintain that infrastructure of looking inward in the society because you did not cultivate that right from your childhood. Now it looks like a faraway thing. No society has invested enough towards the inner well-being of a human being. We have hospitals, schools, toilets, but we do not have enough infrastructure for the inner well-being of humanity. That is exactly what we are trying to build now—the necessary infrastructure for the spiritual process in the world.

Isha New Zealand conducts free monthly Isha kriya meditation practice and upa yoga sessions for general public on every second Saturday of the month. For more information, contact 021 545 923/021 027 639 56.

Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic, and visionary and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru is the founder of Isha Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to human well-being.

Shekhar Kapur is an Indian film director and producer. He is a critically acclaimed director who rose to popularity with Bandit Queen. He was nominated for Academy awards for Elizabeth and its sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age.