For 45 minutes today, Russell Simmons—hip-hop mogul, fashion executive, and reality TV star—sat cross-legged on a stage with a microphone in hand and Hindu prayer beads (a mala) around his neck, flanked on either side by Sharon Gannon and David Life, the legendary founders of Jivamukti Yoga.
The occasion was a Q&A session during Jivamukti’s week of Back to the Source Master Classes, and Simmons was there as a special guest—and to promote his new book: Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All. (It’s more of a personal than a financial advice book.)
Even though Simmons is a well-known advocate for yoga, spirituality, and veganism, he looked naked to me without his signature flat-brimmed Yankee cap. But he was clearly in his element, flashing his (multi) million dollar smile and giving measured consideration to every question asked, as if finding the right answer was as important a task as launching the Beastie Boys’ first hit single.
Here are my top three favorite insights offered by Simmons during the session:
1. It might upset the “Take Back Yoga” people, but Simmons thinks that yoga can be a perfect fit for people of any and all religions. “Everyone can practice together and see the simplicity in the scripture and see how it runs parallel to and complements other scriptures,” he said. “I struggle with why, as humans, we insist on separating these different philosophies.”
2. As a strong believer in the yogic principle of ahimsa, which means “Do no harm,” Simmons is generally a peaceful soul. But when the defenseless are threatened, he will break character. “There is a point where you have to stand up and defend defenseless animals and defenseless people,” he said. “You can use your voice to cause less harm.”
3. In response to a question about managing the lifestyle contradiction between his incredible wealth and a yoga philosophy, Sharon Gannon remembered Simmons telling an interviewer: “Yeah, I’m rich, and I want to get richer because I want to help a lot of poor people. And if I’m one of them, I can’t help that.” Simmons is one of the few people I’d believe this about. —Lisa Elaine Held