Politics and Spirituality

Yoga demands a total dedication of the life to the aspiration for the discovery and embodiment of the Divine Truth and to nothing else whatsoever… You must go inside yourself and enter into a complete dedication to the spiritual life. All clinging to mental preferences must fall away from you, all insistence on vital aims and interests and attachments must be put away, all egoistic clinging to family, friends, country must disappear if you want to succeed in yoga.
– Sri Aurobindo, Internal Yoga

There are great upheavals happening our world – political, social, technological. Watching the news, things seems unpredictable, chaotic, transformative. But for good or for bad? Sides are being chosen. And people call out, “Don’t be silent. Don’t pretend to be neutral. Choose a side now, before it is too late!”

In this situation, Aurobindo’s quote is a great soothing balm.

There are always upheavals happening in the world. Old regimes topple, new regimes arrive promising heaven on Earth. Each side claims only it can lead the way, and claims you have to choose them now, before all is lost.

Currently, the big issue, if you are on the left, is whether Democracy will survive. The issue is raised with a pitch of frenzy and urgency. I can understand where they are coming from. But no – I will not embrace the frenzy and the anxiety.

I am here on Earth mainly to grow spiritually – to be with the Divine. That is my primary task. My primary task isn’t to ensure whether this form of government or that form, this form of economy or that form thrives. Christ was born in a time without democracy. So was the Buddha. It didn’t diminish their lives any less for that. By modern standards, they were “unfree”, subjugated (Buddha after he left his kingdom, anyway!), rendered voiceless. All true in a sense. In an important sense.

And yet! Oh, what a yet!

And yet, they lived a full life, as full a life as imaginable, because they lived primarily for their spiritual calling on Earth. They lived for spiritual awakening, for the Divine, for the Truth of a cosmic awareness.

This is the main task. My main task for myself. What Christ calls me to do – to be with Him!

Like with the left, I understand the concerns of the right. The world seems to be hurtling into a choatic free for all, where traditional ways of life and cultures and modes of interaction are being upended. Or so it seems very much. And I also want to say “Merry Christmas!” and mean it to speak of the Lord who died for my sins, rather than a mundane “Happy Holidays!” which speaks to an economic event.

And yet! Oh, thank god for that yet!

The purpose of my life is to be with Christ. To find that connection within me, every moment, every second. To nurture that relationship at all costs, prior to all needs. It is the most personal and immediate relationship. And no one can get between me and Christ. No one can inhibit my relation to Him. There is no threat to me, as long as I look to Christ and make him the center of my life. In that relation is a deep peace, a deep fulfillment. A deep awareness of the passing ups and downs of cultures, times, empires, traditions.

I was born to be with Christ. To realize that relation to Him. To nurture it, to grow in it, to feel it within me with a bond that cannot be broken. That is the purpose of life. That is the purposes of yoga, of the spiritual calling at the heart of every human being.

Raise to that calling! Embrace it! Live just for the Divine, and not for what the mental attachments of what your mind says, no matter how important or how big, or how much it concerns famous people living in famous buildings doing famous things.

Revolutions are happening out there, yes. True. But the deepest revolution is always happening not out there, but in you. Be revolutionary. Change the world. Embrace the Divine in you, and live as it seems impossible to do.

Likewise, traditions are in danger. Cultures are being lost. Yes. True. But the deepest and oldest and greatest tradition is not other there, but in you. Be a stand for tradition. Uphold the past. Do what the great humans of the past did: live for the Divine in you, without expecting the Divine to live for you in the way you imagine.

The whirlwinds in the world blow always. Sometimes they die down a little, sometimes they rise up into major storms. But either way, your life isn’t decided by the whirlwinds. It is decided by what you were born to do.

3 thoughts on “Politics and Spirituality

  1. Thank you, Bharath, for this wonderful essay! Your exploration of how we may each seek our own purpose and spiritual calling is so inspiring and uplifting! Your writing is so lyrical and expressive!

    You say that Christ and Buddha “lived primarily for their spiritual calling on Earth. They lived for spiritual awakening, for the Divine, for the Truth of a cosmic awareness.” I would add that they lived for others. They lived to serve others. They lived to redeem others from ignorance, selfishness, egotism, jealousy, anger, hatred, and spiritual turmoil.

    Because of course it’s never a matter of living merely for our own spiritual fulfillment. We can never be spiritually fulfilled unless others are also spiritually fulfilled. We can only be truly fulfilled if others are truly fulfilled. The whole universe is interdependent. Sometimes we must even forgo our own serenity, comfort, sense of security, and peace of mind for the sake of others. We must be prepared to make sacrifices for others if we truly love them. This is the cost of discipleship (for followers of Christ or the Buddha). This is the way of the bodhisattva. This is what it means to be a true servant (of the community, and of the world).

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  2. In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter Three), Sri Krishna also says to Arjuna, “At the beginning of time, I declared two paths for the pure heart: jnana yoga, the contemplative path of spiritual wisdom, and karma yoga, the active path of selfless service…action is better than inaction…Arjuna, you are obliged to act. Selfish action imprisons the world. Act selflessly, without any thought of personal profit…Every selfless act, Arjuna, is born from Brahman, the eternal, infinite Godhead…Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work, one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.”

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    • Absolutely. Following one’s spiritual path and living for others are inseparable.

      Let us be clear on what “Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind” means. Whether how Krishna means it, or how Christ died on the cross, or a Bodhisattva. The greatest thing one can do to help others is to live beyond one’s own ego consciousness. So there is an identity: what helps me the most is also what helps the world the most. This is not helping others at a cost to oneself, as in sacrificing oneself for the sake of others.

      In what Krishna says, the key is the second phrase, “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work, one attains the supreme goal of life.” Devotion to selfless work. That is the key. Where selfless work isn’t identical with the acts of helping the homeless, or giving money to charity, or anything else. The first and deepest and main selfless work is to offer one’s own ego awareness to Krishna. The greatest thing one can give to help others is to give up to the Divine the instinct to horde for the sake of one’s ego, whether that is hording wealth, or fame, or good works. To act, as Krishna says, without laying claim to the fruits of the action.

      The idea that one should help others, if understood in a mundane way, reenforces a privileging of oneself over others; they need help, I will be the help. (Not that this is what you were saying. Thinking through for myself.) Ultimately, the affirmation of this asymmetry is the root cause of discord in the world. Instead, see yourself and others on the same plane, through a cosmic awareness. See the unfolding drama of the Divine, and surrender to the Lord. And then see the Lord work through you in ways you could not have imagined before hand. For the transformation of your consciousness itself unleashes energies which soothe the world in ways which good intentions and even good acts simply cannot.

      “But can this be true, that one’s own spiritual development is the greatest thing one can do for the world? What if instead I focus on science and find a cure for cancer? Or start a homeless shelter? So many practical things I can do, where I can see the effect right away and in a tangible way.”

      You can find the cure for cancer. But the people that are saved, how will they lead their life? They might live more only to fight more with their family and neighbors. Not denigrating medicine. It’s essential. But medicine deals with physical well being. And it is wonderful. But we are not only physical beings. As in, we need more than physical well being to live fully. We need emotional and psychological and ultimately, spiritual well being. In fact, most of our pain in body and mind is magnified much, much more by the spiritual pain of spiritual isolation and selfishness that we don’t know how to live beyond. Hence freed of one physical or emotional ailment, I am “happy” for sometime, only to feel soon how many other ailments I have and feel overwhelmed by.

      Spiritual unrest is the earthquakes in human interaction which cause the greatest turmoil. That unrest shows up as being uncaring, selfish, arrogant, wants to help others by imposing your will on their lives, and ultimately, fighting the good fight, justifying the need for physical and emotional and intellectual violence to defeat the other and put them in their place. The genius of Christ and Buddha and Krishna and Marcus Aurelius is to see through this, and to see right to the heart of the spiritual fault lines in our psyches which reverberate through the surface consciousness of our body, emotions and thoughts. Each person is like a leaky faucet, releasing at a deep unconscious level fearful and anxious energy in the world – and who then try, at the surface conscious level to clean up the world by dealing with just a mere fraction of the painful energy we are emitting!

      The Bodhisattva looks through this charade. Or this highly unproductive method! He goes to the root of the cause, of what he can do most to lower the toxic levels and to increase the healing energies in the world. And he sees that going deep into his psyche and turning lower and then ultimately – in enlightenment – turning off that leaky faucet is the greatest gift he can have. For himself and for the world. And the main obstacle to digging deeper is the ego awareness, which is committed to the delusion that the pain is only at the surface level – or at least to the delusion that, for me, the pain is only at the surface level, whereas others have to change from the root up.

      Christ died on the cross to show us what sacrificing the ego looks like, and the pain and the torment involved in that, but also ultimately the joy and the grace. The Buddha went through that pain to gain Enlightenment, and to reach the most serene stillness. From that space of bliss and serenity, Christ and Buddha helped others just through their simply Being. That is the miracles they performed. The depth of their peace was no intense and so rooted in the core of themselves, that it propelled others to get beyond their own ego awareness. Or at least to give them a start in a way that seemed possible and inspiring to them. Their consciousness was raised from the physical and the mental – from the level of politics and economics and pop culture – to the spiritual.

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