The message of music mogul Russell Simmons’ latest book, “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All” (Gotham), may seem contradictory: A person can become “super rich” by reaching the state of needing nothing.
Simmons, the self-made millionaire often credited for putting hip-hop on the map with Def Jam Recordings, is one of the wealthiest black Americans in the country, but he argues a person can become rich not by obsessing about money but by giving to others.
Being rich is about finding the happiness inside, he says.
Slender and with a kind smile, the 53-year-old still looks youthful, part of what he attributes to a strict vegan diet he embraced 10 years ago.
“The last book helped change so many people’s lives. I wanted this one to do the same,” he says of the new book he co-wrote with Chris Morrow. (His previous one, “Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success,” also co-authored by Morrow, became a New York Times best-seller upon its release in 2007.)
The following is an edited version of our interview:
CNN: What does it mean to be rich?
Russell Simmons: The idea of “Super Rich” is likened to a state of yoga, being in a state of needing nothing. There is this space where you are awake, a heightened awareness, and this kind of space is very attractive.
The title is a little deceptive to some. It certainly is the road to having success in the world, having the toys, the trappings people refer to as rich. (It’s also about) those people who are good givers and feelers — the book practices to bring you toward a more enlightened state.
CNN: Has your definition of rich always been this way?
Simmons: No, I think “Super Rich” is a fun title, and I think I couldn’t call the book “Christ Consciousness.” It’s really about being in a blissful state, and I think all of us are looking for that.
CNN: What is that blissful state?
Simmons: I think the idea is we want to be happy, and happy is something that is not based on the outside forces. It’s something from inside. And when you’re calm and you’re in a state of needing nothing, it’s a place of operation and of abundance.
CNN: Do you think you’ve reached that state?
Simmons: I certainly can’t say I’m enlightened. I have faith in the process.
CNN: Why did you write the book?
Simmons: This is my second book on the subject. The last book was a big best-seller. It was fun bringing all the scripture together and making it simple and putting the book out. I never expected it to be so big. So many people from the last book — “Do You!” — came up to me and told me that my book changed their life.
I wrote this book more as a “how to” book but with a greater intention. It was not just — can I bring these teachings together but can I really make it an offering.
CNN: What are some of these teachings people can incorporate into their everyday life?
Simmons: The idea of giving. Wake up in the morning and decide on what you are going to give. Those people, who are selfless servants, always are successful. Many of my interns from Puffy, who you could put your left hand out and there would be a cup of coffee. … If you make someone better, then they keep calling on you to make them better. Then one day you’re their president, and they look to you for inspiration.
CNN: What are the ways you give?
Simmons: I run many charities. I make music. I have a financial service company that is very special.
CNN: The book talks a lot about being focused and awake. How can we do that?
When I say you need nothing, it’s a state of awareness so you can be focused on your work. People are sometimes focused on their results, and it can be a distraction. Be focused on the action, the work, and that’s what we want to teach people.
CNN: People can often link success to material objects, perhaps a new car or house. How do you break away from that belief when so many people are inundated with material objects?
Simmons: There is a simple chapter on meditation to watch your thoughts just a bit — to not to be a sheep through that practice and other practices. You start to think on your own, and you can check what society is telling you, whether the collective unconscious behavior is your behavior or your future. Do you have to do what everyone does?
As you come to meditate and look inside, you can make your own choices. And entrepreneurs absolutely have to think outside the box, don’t they? You want to have the creativity and a spacious mind. The book is about creating that kind of mind-set so you can be a better entrepreneur.
CNN: Meditation is one way to achieve that clarity. Are there other ways?
Simmons: Take stock in yourself. When you meditate, you take inventory before you transcend the thoughts. As you come to know what they told you is true … when you hear the truth, it rings a bell. This book is written in such a way that many people who might not hear it from their mother, their preacher, their prophet or their scripture, they are hearing it in this book.
CNN: Tell me about being vegan.
Simmons: I’ve been vegan for more than 10 years. It’s maybe the worst disaster in human history — 15 billion suffering farm animals. And I don’t want to participate in it. I’m 53 years old, and do I look sick to you? I don’t eat animal or animal products, and I feel fine. I feel pretty healthy.
CNN: What are your favorite dishes?
Simmons: I like this spicy tempeh dish. I like that a lot. People ask my favorite stuff, and I say the thing in front of me a lot. Right now if I weren’t on a liquid diet, if I had an avocado roll and some soy sauce, it would be that.
CNN: What can people learn from your book?
Simmons: I hope people become more compassionate and happier, and I guess the fringe benefit is they will be successful in the world.