The first edition of the International Advertising Association (IAA) India Chapter's 'IAA Conversations' featured spiritual leader Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and Ogilvy & Mather's executive chairman India and creative head South Asia, Piyush Pandey.
The 'Conversation' on the topic 'Spirituality and Consumerism: Can they co-exist' delved into different aspects of consumerism, starting with Pandey's question on the root of consumerism. He asked the founder of Isha Foundation at the event hosted on 6 January 2014: "Is consumerism actually driven by paranoia in people (driven by influences around them)? What will be the next stage of this paranoia?"
Posing that any kind of 'ism' would lead to 'a certain mindlessness', Vasudev reminded the advertising industry that mindless consumerism was not conducive to human well being. He said, "The advertising industry should focus on creating conscious consumers rather than mindless consumers."
Pointing out that consumerism 'used to be a disease', he added, "Even now, we will do not what is needed but what is expected." He was referring to the psyche of consumption driven by societal compulsions rather than individual needs.
"Once any 'ism' sets into society, it will lead to a mindless society that will go in circles - nothing profound will come out of it," reasoned Vasudev. Touching upon the need to stay rooted, the guru explained that everything about the Indian way of life - from how one sat to how one ate - had a deeper meaning. "Because of this (rooting), no matter what outside factors came in, the spirit of India lived on undisturbed. If you take away this rooting and make him (the individual) someone who lives out of a mall, he will get shattered completely," he explained.
Aping American, 'the real thing' and ‘sustainability’ of consumerism
Vasudev pointed out that in the USA, 42 per cent of women over 45 years of age were on anti-depressants. Building his case, he noted that in such a context if one took away some medical formulations from the market, that society would become insane. He described the situation as a ‘product of mindless society’, and surmised, “It is very important that human societies function on their intelligence, not external influences.”
On the subject of ‘absolute consumerism’ and how long it could be sustained, the guru made the point that the planet could not sustain such consumption. He reflected on the imbalance in consumption and said, “If you go by absolute consumerism, you are determined to keep one half of the population in abject poverty. With half a planet, you are marketing for four and a half planets. A more sensible way of living is possible.”
He compared the situation to one from a Panchatantra tale - about a man perched on the wrong side of the branch, cutting it: “If it succeeds, he will fail.”
On the trend of aping the West, Vasudev quipped, “Everyone wants to do what America does. If all of America puts carbon di-oxide in water and drinks it, we want to do the same and say ‘This is the real thing’.” He extended the reference to blue trousers (denims) and more habits that Indians have absorbed from the USA. “Knowingly or unknowingly, we have evolved America into a leadership position,” he said.
The guru pointed out that the founding fathers of America who sailed the Atlantic did so seeking a good life, risking their lives, because they had nothing to stay back for. When they saw a limitless amount of land, they built everything ‘super sized’, he said, adding that ‘unfortunately, the whole world took to it’.
On the subject of space constraints and its influence on human behaviour, he said, “If there is a little more space, the urge to imitate people will come down.”
‘Sensible advertising’ and ‘how you say it’
The guru expressed the belief that advertising does not promote consumerism, when asked by interviewer Pandey. He said, “I do not believe advertising is the basis of consumerism. Sensible advertising definitely creates a conscious consumer.”
With a disclosure that he only watched news channels, and that his response was on the basis of ads he has viewed on those channels, Vasudev noted that a majority of advertising was sensible, with only 15 to 20 per cent ‘mindlessly pushing the product’.
Pandey sought to learn how Vasudev, who did not have a physical product to sell, but was a ‘master storyteller’, approached communication. The Ogilvy India chairman delved into the subject of how one gets their message across - and its importance relative to what the message is.
The guru responded with a witty story, and said, “What is said is not really the problem – how it is said is extremely important. The religions of the world have caused more pain than anything else to humanity (because of this). If you speak, your speech should be about the people you are talking to. The way they get the message is extremely important. It’s not about you; it’s about the person in front of you.”
‘Experiencing life’ – not avoiding it
Pandey read some lines from Vasudev’s book, on ‘tears of love, joy and ecstasy’, and requested the guest speaker to elaborate on the thought behind those lines and the author’s views on emotions.
The guru explained that tears and pain have been linked up in most societies, and explained why. “For most people, love and joy are never intense; because that’s how people have structured themselves. If any experience becomes truly intense, tears will come. Joy, ecstasy, shame anger – all of these, when they reach beyond a certain level, they bring tears. It’s not (necessarily) the emotion – it is the intensity,” he explained.
“If life has not overwhelmed you, why are you alive? Are you here to experience life or are you here to avoid it?” surmised Vasudev.
(A video of the IAA Conversations is available at http://inconversations.com. The event also saw the launch of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s book titled ‘Three Truths Of Well Being’, published by Penguin Ananda.)