Sometime in October, Hollywood actor Will Smith posted a picture and a small video of his meeting with Indian spiritual guru Sadhguru, on Instagram. Smith wrote that he has been following Sadhguru’s work including his book, Inner Engineering.
That reminded me that my copy of that book as other books such as Om Swami’s Kundalini hadn’t returned to my bookshelf in five months. When the lockdown began, I started getting requests from friends and friends of friends and their friends who wanted to borrow books or wanted book recommendations. Everyone just wanted “valuable, meaningful” books that offered an actionable plan to become better, happier and content.
Yes, 90 per cent of the requests were for self-help books. But not just any, those written by spiritual gurus were the most popular.
Turns out, Will Smith, Steve Jobs, and Julia Roberts aren’t the only ones who go about their lives with a yearning to be more, do more and have more. My friends, friends of friends and their friends also want to address this yearning to go beyond the worldly and there is no one better than India’s spiritual gurus who write best-selling self-help books.
“In the subcontinent, as a genre, self-help happens to be the largest selling,” says Sachin Sharma, Senior Commissioning Editor, HarperCollins India (HCI). “In terms of volumes, self-help is the second largest category after fiction… I’ll not be surprised if it becomes top category in trade books in next couple of years,” confirms Rahul Dixit, Director (Sales), HCI.
And I am only happy that I didn’t lend my copy of Sadhguru’s A Taste Of Well Being, because Dixit tells me, “It is India’s No. 1 cookery book! Sadhguru’s books sell through the roof.” Can you imagine, a cookery book by a spiritual guru topping the genre!
Striving to become better
The spiritual gurus who are turning authors appeal to many of our wants. Firstly, they are already an authority on matters such as the ultimate truth, the universal laws, and mindful living — a buzzword that has occupied our imaginations — it’s easier to trust someone who has walked the path of enlightenment to be our guide. Readers are bored of state-the-obvious type of self-help books self-acclaimed motivational gurus and coach from the West offer.
These gurus understand the struggle
Secondly, many of these were successful corporate giants before they embraced monkhood. That enables them to speak to the reader. They understand the struggle of the materialistic world, too.
For instance, Om Swami had founded a multi-million-dollar IT business headquartered in Australia with offices all over the globe, before he renounced everything in search of the ultimate truth.
Likewise, Swami Mukundananda is a graduate of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D, and Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIM). Sister BK Shivani was also an engineer. Therefore, what they say is relatable, because they are writing about the pressures they have lived.
“My fundamental criterion is truth. I write about things that are bubbling inside me, about matters I have dealt with. So, I never thought that I'd scribble anything on self-help per se. It's just that I felt like expressing myself and thought perhaps my words could bring hope or truth to someone,” says Om Swami, best-selling author of 14 books.
Another aspect that reflects in the books is that they are not writing to sell their book, but to propagate an idea with the belief that it will benefit society. “I had a message to share so I chose the medium that I like the most: books. I like the solitary and quiet life of a writer where you can reach out without having to interact all the time,” says Om Swami, who also founded a platform for writers, os.me.
They don’t demean the material but aren’t just money either
These teachers address the conflict of the reader — materialistic or spiritual? Through their books they offer ways and wisdom to enjoy both. They don’t demean materialistic goals, and assure it is possible to be spiritual while also pursuing the moneys. “In fact, they tell me that I could earn a lot of money and I could still be a spiritual person, a good person. That’s why I love reading self-help books by spiritual gurus. Books by motivational gurus, to be honest, just repeat the same old things and are pretty shallow in comparison,” says Rahul Shahi, an MBBS student.
When they write books, they break down this complex esoteric wisdom into actionable plan that helps strike a balance between the worldly and beyond.
For instance, 7 Divine Laws to Awaken Your Best Self by Swami Mukundananda offers great to-do steps for spiritual and material success. “It turns esoteric wisdom into a self-help plan for achieving success at the workplace or on a spiritual endeavour. Millennials, which is one of the most important target group for any product, want to be kind, spiritual, good people along with being successful at the workplace,” says Neha Sharma, a senior journalist, who writes on pop culture.
Spirituality over Shrink
Pandemic is a tough time. Tough times makes us remember god and goodness. At present, mental health has also become fragile. Both these reasons make this genre of the books sell faster. “For centuries, spiritual gurus have guided people in India on a path to leading better lives. Culturally also, Indians still prefer spiritual seekers over a shrink when it comes to addressing an emotional or psychological issue,” says Sachin.
“People have an aversion for taking medicines. When I was suffering from depression myself, I sought refuge in When All is Not Well (by Om Swami). This monk explained everything with a scientific as well as spiritual approach, drawing from the Vedas as well. I loved it,” says Rhema, who is pursuing master’s in psychology from Delhi.
Strictly spiritual, not religious
The reason so many gurus are popular with the millennials is because they explain the wisdom with scientific logic. They are well-versed. They are scientific in their approach. They offer explanation when needed. And the books they write are not religious, only spiritual. Sometimes, the author announces that right on the cover. For example, spiritual teacher Sri M’s book about yoga has the following text on the cover: Yoga Also for the Godless.
Even if the reader doesn’t follow a particular religion, philosophy, or guru, they would still enjoy the book. Best-selling author Swami Mukundananda says, “The 7 Divine Laws to Awaken Your Best Self was written to acquaint readers with the cosmic laws, and how to align our life with them. One does not need a prior background in spirituality to understand these principles.”
Yoga, mindful living, balanced life, content are just some of the things which are on our bookshelf now. Happy reading and evolving.