A look at the relationship between politics and spirituality.
As a student I took quite an interest in politics, and became involved on a fringe level. I think the attraction of politics was the idealism of creating a better world, and the intellectual challenge of thinking about issues.
A few years after being a student, I became disillusioned with aspects of life and looked for something completely different. As I became interested in meditation and spirituality, the interest in politics slipped away. The essence of spirituality, as I understand, is to live in the heart – to see what unites us rather than what separates. When discussing politics, it invariably brings forward the ego – feelings of superiority, self-righteousness and frustration. Meditation gives a feeling of inner peace and serenity; after a good meditation, there is a genuine feeling of oneness, and outer differences, such as political differences seem unimportant.
If news came on the TV, and people started arguing about politics, I would reach for the off button as quickly as possible. It seemed futile to have this kind of debate between entrenched opinions. Sometimes, people try to engage me in debate on economics and politics, but I try to evade their questions. Debating politics brings forward the ego, and also there is a sense of futility, if we argue and debate, we rarely change someone’s heart or mind. In fact, it can just create more frustration.
The world is ruled
By human opinion.
Even one opinion
Has the strength
To divide the entire world.
Sri Chinmoy, AP 5,666
There are many ways to try and create a better world. The political world is one way because it affects so many aspects of our outer lives. However, the real change will come – not from a certain political ideology – but from a change of heart or as Sri Chinmoy says, the inner aspiration.
“If we feel that we will be able to change the face of the world by the path of politics, then we are sadly mistaken. Nothing can change the face of the world save and except inner aspiration. Inner aspiration only is of paramount importance, especially for the seekers of the Truth. Those who want to take an active part in politics will undoubtedly lose their purest aspiration for God.”
– Sri Chinmoy [link]
This aspiration and spirituality can enter into the world of politics. There are politicians who genuinely want to create a better world. But, often this spirit of self-giving and selflessness is usually very weak in the world of politics; in the current era it often seems to be those who shout the loudest.
I work as a writer on economics, so there is always a strong link to the political world. When you write on economics, it is impossible not to be aware of the different political issues and impacts. Where possible, I try to keep a certain distance from politics, and keep to a more neutral economic perspective, but it hard not to feel the pull of certain political views.
For myself, I do need to keep informed what is going on the world, but I try to keep a certain detachment and limit the amount of time I spend ‘consuming news’ If we really get sucked into a 24 hour news cycle, our mind becomes full of the thoughts, emotions and debate of the political world. I can really feel how quickly this can take you out of the heart and into the argumentative mind. If we are in this political world of debate, it definitely affects the quality of your meditation. Sometimes, I take a ’24 hour news fast’ where I don’t have any internet connection. It feels very energising and a great way to reconnect with the spiritual heart and the spiritual part of life.
My spiritual Teacher, Sri Chinmoy advocated a balanced approach. He said that if reading newspapers disturbs your equilibrium – why read them? If we want inner peace, we have to make choices to put ourselves in conducive situations. But, at the same time, he would also advise knowing what is going on in the world. I have a friend who worked at the United Nations and is also a disciple of Sri Chinmoy; he once took a very strict approach to not reading the news because he felt it was the spiritual thing to do. But, on one occasion, Sri Chinmoy told him – because of his job – he should read a paper to know what was going on in the world. For his job, a total world renunciation was not advisable. But, maybe to somebody else, Sri Chinmoy would say don’t get caught up in reading news on the internet all the time.
One motivation for writing this post is that in recent weeks, I have found myself spending more time thinking about politics. The UK had a referendum on EU membership, and save shutting yourself in a room and turning off all electrical appliances, it is pretty hard to avoid. As an economist, I have been writing many posts at some of the economic issues. The nature of politics is that invariably you feel frustration at some of the political arguments and events. There is a balance between protecting inner equanimity and also being involved in important issues like this.
Also, I feel a limitation of mere mental reasoning. There are many economic issues you can weigh up, but I also am aware there may be spiritual implications beyond a mere economic cost-benefit analysis. I don’t get involved in any political campaigning, but have found that issues have come to mind even during times of meditation. When this happens, I try to stop any inner debate and offer the situation to God. I do pray, that the country makes the right choice, and whatever the choice, what we always need is more light. If there is this light, then our choices will be made from a more progressive point of view – not just narrow self-interest, but a commitment to truth and considering the real value to ourselves and others.
Sri Chinmoy met many political leaders during his lifetime – not to discuss politics, far from it. But, to encourage the heart and good qualities of the politician. If the heart can come to the fore, then politics can be transformed. It may take a very long time for this to occur, but ultimately there is no reason why the political world can not become more enlightened – a time where we don’t concentrate on division, but how we can work together for the common good.
Politics and spirituality – can they go together? – book by Sri Chinmoy