Many people believe that Yoga and Politics shouldn’t mix.
After all, Yoga is about personal enlightenment, not about the power of free markets, or the need for regulation, or the value of immigration…
And although this particular lesson could apply to any political season, this year is unique in many ways, and many people seem to be at a loss when it comes to figuring out what is going on with the country.
So what does Yoga have to say about political campaigns?
It begins with understanding how yogis from ancient times were quite concerned with determining the “right source of knowledge” –or how to see things clearly.
Epistemology, or what is the right source of knowledge, has been a source of contention for Indian philosophers for more than 2,000 years. If you have studied Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, you may remember something about “right perception.”
Patanjali mentions three forms of right knowledge in his book: witnessing it first hand, inference, and “reliable testimony.”
Of these three, first-hand experience is more or less irrelevant as far as the campaign goes.
We do not get to witness the candidates in the role of president, nor do we get to see the facts (or lack thereof) they use in their speeches and ad campaigns.
Inference is what many people tend to fall back on. For example, if the candidate was able to perform well in a certain professional position, then we infer that they will be well prepared to perform as President. But of course, being President of the United States of America may have no comparison to any other job in the world.
If they lied about one thing, then we might question their trustworthiness about everything else. If they flip flopped, we infer they are just saying what people want to hear in the moment.
But our inferences are often wrong, especially when it comes to decisions of high emotional content. Although Patanjali may be speaking of the inference of an enlightened human being as being trustworthy, most of us will have to admit to a high degree of bias when evaluating candidates.
Testimony is the third option. Patanjali uses the Sanskrit term “āgamāḥ”, and although scholars differ in how they translate this term, it means testimony from a reliable source, be it scriptures, or a trust worthy person.
Once again we must admit the terrible flaws of this source of knowledge to help us determine where to go. We are bombarded by ads based on half truths, snippets taken out of context, conflicting expert opinions…
It is so incredibly hard to even begin to determine who is a trustworthy source. Most people have their own perception skewed by their subjective beliefs.
But at the very least we have the ability to search, more than ever before, the facts behind what the campaigns try to sell as facts. The power of the Internet, together with organizations such as politifact and FactCheck.org give voters incredible power to distinguish truth from fiction.
Seeing clearly is perhaps one of the most important intentions of yogic practice. And while Patanjali was mostly concerned about discerning between our minds, their content, and our true Self or essence, it may be just as important to see things clearly in every aspect of our lives.
The process of distinguishing what is the right way to eat, dress and vote might seem daunting. There’s so much conflicting information thrown at us constantly.
But we can at least begin by questioning our ability to see clearly using inference, and by questioning the biases behind the people presenting us with the information. Being aware of how flawed the process of information gathering is in the first place, might make us more cautious about believing the things we hear and see.
We can then turn to the most neutral and expert sources as a means of being informed “from all sides of the spectrum”, and from people who might have Truth as their real objective.
Meditation, Patanjali might add, would also help in furthering and deepening the process of clarity by helping us distinguish the real from the unreal.
What would you add?
Put it in the comments