Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sri Sri & Deepak Chopra: Should spiritual saffron sup with political saffron?

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Recent events, such as Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign, have given rise to the question: should the spiritual saffron join hands with the political saffron? The Times of India presents two views - from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Deepak Chopra. Not many know that the two are spiritual siblings who cut their teeth under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

A saint is like a newspaper

When scam after scam is being exposed and there is depression in people's minds, spiritual leaders cannot confine themselves to their ashrams, writes Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

A saint cannot be indifferent and apathetic, nor can a newspaper. At the same time, he cannot be partial and take sides either. Saints should not align with any party or any single ideology. Or else they wouldn't do justice to the very party they align with. It is simply not in his nature. In the same way, a saint will always have to respond to the need of the vishwatma (society). He cannot shy away from any aspect of life, whether it is counseling in personal affairs of people, airing his opinion or guiding in the collective concerns of society.

When scam after scam is being exposed and there is depression in people's minds, spiritual leaders cannot confine themselves to their ashrams. Even in Mahabharat and Ramayan saints have been proactive. What the saints have to guard against, like newspapers, is bias and prejudice.

Saints cannot be like old newspapers. Everyday, they have to be fresh and respond to the current situation. Newspapers cannot exclude any aspect of life - similarly a saint also cannot exclude any aspect of life. They will have to cover all fields whether economic, social, obituary, entertainment, sports and even spirituality!! Whether good or bad, right or wrong, they have to intervene. Saints will not wait for people to come and ask for help. They plunge into activity. They do not need an invitation before the action or an appreciation after the action is completed.

Apathy is not the nature of saints. Similarly, newspapers cannot be apathetic to any happening. If you look back in history, great sages such as Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Samarth Ramdas, Gadge Maharaj, Sant Tukadoji Maharaj, Sikh Gurus and a host of others, have never limited themselves to one thing and never shied away from political responsibility. They never showed an iota of apathy for the happenings of that time on the planet. There used to be a seat created in every king's court for the Rajaguru to occupy and to advise the king. Even the power to dethrone the king was vested in them. Though today, fortunately for the saint community, this job now is being taken care of by the Supreme Court.

Great Rishsi of yore like Vasishta, Vishwamitra or Ashtavakra have never seen life as one-sided nor said that people should go inwards alone and turn insensitive to societal needs. They have always emphasized both Nivritti(inward serenity) and pravritti (outward duty). They have encouraged nishkama karma - taking responsibility along with a spiritual awakening.

In our times, we need to spiritualize politics,socialize business and secularize religion and make life multifaceted like the newspaper!

Religion and politics

Should spiritual leaders enter politics? It would be better if they didn't, writes Deepak Chopra

I think it's fair to say that there's good reason to keep God out of politics. Religion and politics are both combustible subjects, and throwing them into each other's arms is sure to cause a fire. Civil life has very different duties from religious life.You cannot defend yourself in court for breaking a law by claiming that God told you to. For these and other reasons almost every country erects a wall to keep God out of the Constitution, yet it seems to be a leaky wall - religious belief is rarely far from sight when politics grow heated. Life isn't compartmentalised, and issues from abortion and birth control to gay rights and stem cell research, bring up personal morality, an area where for millions of people God's voice is louder than anyone else's.

Is it wrong - or even immoral - to trump your opponent by claiming to have God on your side? The very notion that God chooses sides is suspect.The human mind cannot conceive of being omniscient, but surely it must include seeing both sides of a question.There is no proof that God favours one combatant over the other in wartime, yet both camps declare that the Almighty is their ally. This kind of thinking is called projection by psychologists: you attribute to "the other" what you believe should be there.Thus God acquires human attributes because we project them on to him. If God doesn't share our likes and dislikes, there would be no way to bond with the divine. If it is impossible to relate to a totally abstract, non-human God,does that give us an excuse to take the next step and say that the divine thinks exactly the way we and our friends do, while rejecting that He thinks the way our enemies do? No. But religion is such an easy refuge for "us" versus "them" thinking that it proves inescapable.

The struggle to keep religion out of politics must be waged, yet with the knowledge that it will never be won. No one is free of guilt in this matter.The most liberal and secular politicians, people who never invoke God in their personal lives or even give a thought to religion, are forced in times of crisis to pray in public and seek divine compassion.

"With God's help," falls easily from every politician's lips, especially in times of war. Who would dare run for office saying,"I don't care what God thinks. This is what's right to do?"

Such hypocrisy is par for the course part of the political game, and no one has been harmed by it - until it is taken seriously. If national leaders declare that only the devout are moral, that only one faith is true, that the world is divided between believers and infidels, the worst in human nature begins to unfold. No one is more dangerous than a man who knows he is right, except a man who knows that God has told him he is right.Whether such a belief rests in the heart of George Bush or a swami makes little difference.

The problem isn't God or even the rigidity of dogma.The problem is thinking in absolutes. The irony is that spirituality, which is much broader than religion, is about the expansion of consciousness, which involves breaking down barriers.When religion enters politics, boundaries harden and awareness contracts to a very small circle: you and the faithful.

Thus religion subverts spirituality, and the claim to be near to God is made by those who couldn't be farther from the divine.That's the situation faced by India, the US, and any number of Muslim societies. We can't wish the conflict away or legislate it out of existence.The struggle between God and politics is actually a struggle between human behaviour and human aspirations.We are all part of that conflict, and once we realise that fact, the crisis will begin to come to an end - for now, at least.

(The above article by Deepak Chopra appeared in The Speaking Tree dated May 1, 2011)

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