While talking to a group of people, I once said, "Politicians should do yoga." For a short time the room was quiet. I am sure many of the people thought I was not serious. Yet I was never more serious in my life. Politicians should do yoga.
People have regarded politicians and yoga as having no connection with each other. I would even go so far as to say that the general opinion regarded these two walks of life as being in opposition to each other.
Yoga is generally associated with seclusion, people who avoid society and contribute nothing tangible to society. Politics is associated with people who are actively involved in influencing the lives of people in society. Of course, if this were the true picture, yoga and politics could have no common interest. However, yoga can be of invaluable use to politicians as it can be for everyone else in the world.
Politicians are the select few who guide the destiny of humankind. Since they are fallible, like the rest of us, sometimes they contribute in a positive manner, sometimes in a negative manner. Anything that helps to make the difficult work of politicians easier and make their decisions more positive can be of great benefit to the politicians themselves, as well as to the people whose lives they guide. One of these tools is yoga.
Politics can be called the art of compromise. During a debate a politician needs a clear and logical mind in order to explain his case to other politicians or the general public.
A person who can speak clearly is much more likely to influence his listeners than a person who confuses his ideas. Yoga relaxes the mind and allows the individual to propound his ideas with force and clarity. An hour's practice of yoga before debates or meetings can be of immense use and help to influence the final outcome of political discussions.
I once met the Indian ambassador to Britain. He told me that he had been practising yoga for many years, and found it useful, not only for his own development, but also for his work. He told me that much of his work was meeting fellow diplomats from other countries to draft some kind of treaty which would benefit both countries. Behind some of these meetings there were often ulterior motives which were not admitted or discussed. By doing yoga practices before the meetings, he made his mind clear, which heightened his faculties of intuition and understanding. In this way he was able to detect what his companions really wanted. By the way other people spoke, he could detect whether they were sincere or not, and therefore, was able to represent his country in a more useful manner.
Another example is illustrated by the case of a prominent British member of parliament, who regularly disappeared for a few minutes during stormy debates. What was he doing? Was he going to secret files concerning the debate? No, he would go to his office and do asanas, sirshasana in particular. By doing this he was able to refresh his brain, make it more aware and be able to participate in the debate with more vitality and enthusiasm.
Without a doubt the greatest politician of this century was Mahatma Gandhi. His political career and the work he did is a shining symbol of what a man with high ideals, a one-pointed mind and love for his fellow man can achieve. He is an example to all and to politicians in particular. He represents the heights that a person can achieve with a unified body, mind and soul. He was a yogi in the full sense of the word. He did not hide from society, but immersed himself among people and dedicated himself to serving them through karma yoga.
He practised mouna, mantra and fasting. He regularly underwent tapasya and ate simple food. He practised kriya yoga, as taught to him by Paramahamsa Yogananda. He inspired everyone because he practised what he preached.
He was highly educated, but could he have achieved his great feats through merely having highly developed intellectual faculties? The answer is definitely no, for many other people had or have equally good intellects and yet they do not inspire or help people as Gandhiji did. The attribute that made him rise above other people was his glowing love of people and everything that existed, including his political opponents.
By practising sadhana, he was able to purify his mind of the dross that clutters most people's minds: personal likes, dislikes, prejudices, fears and so on. Therefore, he was able to view the problems of India and his fellow men with a mind that only considered the facts of the situation without the influence of personal whims.
Such a mind is like a magnifying glass, which is able to see the objects it views with incredible clarity. A mind that is cluttered with inner complexes and personal fancies is like a magnifying glass that is misted over. The true picture of the objects is still there but they are not seen clearly.
It is sad but true that the majority of decisions in the world, at both high and low levels, are clouded by personal enmities and friendships. Gandhi's strength was that he had no personal friends in the normal sense of the word. All people were his friends and his actions were done to benefit people in general.
He knew his mind and could understand other people's minds. He saw the world situation in its true light and not in a reflected light. A politician with a strong mind and sincere compassion for all will surely win the hearts and following of the general public.
The question now remains: Is it possible for other people to develop a one-pointed mind and awaken intuitive faculties? The answer is most definitely yes. Any politician can develop the greatness of Gandhiji if he cares to do yoga sadhana. Once interest is shown, the only necessity for the politician is to develop his inner capabilities. The interest must come from the depth of the being and from the heart and not be intellectual or half-hearted.
Mahatma Gandhi had a balanced mind and, therefore, could do incredible amounts of work, both efficiently and without leaving anything half done. A concentrated yet relaxed mind can do the most intense work for long periods of time without tiring. It does not become diverted by external distractions or inner disturbances.
Supplement this with bhakti yoga to give it force and there exists a powerful combination. Bhakti channels the emotional energy into a positive direction instead of allowing it to be dissipated in all directions. Most people waste their emotional energy in useless petty arguments and heated discussions about nothing. The energy goes everywhere and without much power. However, if this power is sent in one direction, it has great force.
To this combination add one more thing, detachment, and the result, like Gandhi's work, becomes irresistible. Detachment does not mean disdain or non-interest in the affairs of the world. It means the attitude of the mind where, no matter what happens in political life, it does not have negative repercussions and resulting mental disturbances in the mind. One should not allow external situations to affect the mind and fill it with complexes.
What a wonderful place this world could be if everyone did yoga. What better way to convince people that yoga is useful than by politicians doing it themselves, for their own benefit and as a good example for others. Politicians are influential people and if they started to earnestly do yoga, the general public would be sure to follow. This would in no small way reduce conflicts between politicians, between people in general and between countries. It could lead to the brotherhood of humankind.
Perhaps at some stage in the future the need for politicians will be greatly diminished. Many politicians will have no political work to do. Yoga might actually put many politicians out of work, though this is not such a bad thing in view of the benefits it would give humanity. Therefore, when I say that politicians should do yoga, I mean it sincerely. Yoga is not for the few favoured people who retire to the Himalayas. It is for everyone, and it is definitely for politicians.
1974, Sivanandashram, Munger —printed in YOGA, Vol.13, No. 8/9 (August/September 1975)