Political Activism and Spiritual Activation

by Sharon Gannon |
November, 2022
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन: |
स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते ||

yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas tattad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute lokas tad anuvartate

A great person leads by example, setting standards that are followed by others all over the world.

— Bhagavad Gita, chapter 3, verse 21

We live in a world that is full of problems, and we are the solutions to those problems.

— Julia Butterfly Hill

The activation of an ethically based and philosophically sound spiritual practice means the integration of those precepts into the body politic, meaning the environmental, social, and political realms. We are members of various communities. Some of these communities are based on geography and others on genealogy; both are profoundly affected when selfish viewpoints are replaced with compassionate wisdom. The larger world community is thus positively affected by the political activism resulting from the critique of a truly activated spiritual being—the jivanmukta. Each action, every choice we make as individuals and as members of communities, affects the world in which we live. Politic refers to the tribe, the people, the other folk we live and thus interact with on all levels. We live under the same sun, we breathe the same air, we drink the same water. Our individual actions affect the communal sun, air, and water. If we reflect upon that, it becomes apparent that all actions are political.

In fact, we determine our shared future by our actions and choices in the immediate present, today, right now, wherever we are. Our karmas are intricately intertwined, and it is of the utmost importance to make conscious, kind, educated choices that will inevitably shape our communities far and near. Yoga practice is about cleaning up our actions. Karma Yoga translates as the “perfection” (yoga) of “action” (karma). A perfect act, from a yogic point of view, is a selfless act. The yogi acts perfectly, through their satsang, or community of truth-seekers, because what is best for the individual can be determined only by considering what is best for the whole. To be politically active, in truth, means to actively look after the safety and welfare of the others with whom we live. Caring for others will bring us closer to enlightenment quicker than any other action.

To vote means to care, to vow, to wish, to express an opinion, to choose, endorse, or authorize. Voting is a verb. We vote with every action we take. Certainly, we cast our vote every time we purchase something. We may complain about the greed of “big business.” We may point our fingers and accuse our government of selling out to corporate seduction. But we the people must realize that it is we—you and I—who fill the coffers of the corporations. In our desire for happiness, we consume the products they provide and then demand more. We expect our politicians to maintain our high standard of living, with the military forces of the police and army if necessary. Our standard of living is based on personal wealth, not on the quality of life for all beings. Through these selfish actions, we deaden our senses and widen the gap of disconnect between ourselves and this Earth and all other beings who share it with us. There is no end to our insatiable appetites, however, because material objects can never satisfy the desire for happiness. Things or other people cannot give us happiness. We already have happiness, it is our very nature, it dwells within our souls regardless of external material conditions. To discover it, we must look within ourselves. When we look outside ourselves for happiness it will always elude us.

It is we the people, whether rich or poor, who seem to want more and more. More shopping malls, more gasoline, more oil, more clothes, more cars, more shoes, more entertainment, more pharmaceuticals, more theme parks—we want it all. The conditioned mind desires unceasingly and mostly unconsciously.

We must look beyond our conditioned minds and deeply into our own souls to find what is really valuable. Love is the hidden wealth within our own souls. When we delve into the infinite well of love within us and share it with the communities to which we belong, we start to free ourselves from the chains of complacency. Project positive thoughts, words, and actions. Always vote for, never vote against. Like Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see.” Yoga teachings reveal that when we can take responsibility for the discord we see in our world and not blame others, then we are at a very important step in our path to enlightenment. When we recognize that others do not hold the key to our happiness, that we hold it within ourselves, a true sense of confidence arises.

See yourself as part of the problem, but most importantly as part of the solution. Stay positive, refrain from anger, divisive speech, and gossip. Reduce the amount of stuff you buy. Reduce the amount of gas and oil you use; don’t drive if you can walk or bike. Clear out the clutter in your home. Try to live even more simply than you do now. Do your part to reduce the amount of garbage in the world. Go vegan.

Swami Nirmalananda said: “We do not seem to realize that each of us is responsible for the present condition of the world and society. Therefore, each one of us has to cease contributing to the problems so that we may have a better world and society.” We will see an end to war and hunger when we can find a way within ourselves to live simply so that others may simply live. We will see peace on Earth when we ourselves can dare to have the courage to create that peace within ourselves and embody it.

Don’t be silent, but use your words to uplift, speak sweetly, kindly, and respectfully. Dare to care: Devote yourself to the global community enough to vote for Love with every action you do.


Essay taken from Sharon Gannon’s Book Eternity is Happening Now


Teaching Tips


  1. If you are living in the US, remind students of the upcoming election and the importance of voting in what may be the most consequential election of their lifetime.
    .Illustrate how we cast a vote by what we choose to consume and point out some innovative and ethically motivated businesses to practitioners.
  2. Explain the word “political” as caring for those we live with.
  3. Speak about collective kárma and use the example of a simple day to day task to illustrate its effect on the larger global issues humanity is struggling with.
  4. Teach the yamās and explain the relationship between aparigrahāḥ, ahiṁsā and discuss the karmic effects of applying these practices, as outlined by Maharshi Patanjali in Sadhana Pada.
  5. Speak on veganism in relationship to the yamās, using Sharon Gannon’s book on Yoga and Veganism to springboard your research into how the teachings relate to current issues.
  6. Introduce the concept of Zero Waste and ask students to go plastic free for the duration of the month.
  7. While teaching āsana, have practitioners question the reason for why they practice and reflect on whether a spiritual/ ethical motivation is driving the practice, or whether competition or greed for accumulating āsanas is present , or whether the practice is regarded as just another object of distraction and consumption.
  8. Teach kapālabhāti and explain how emphasis on the exhale may stimulate our giving, generous nature over our greedy, hoarding nature.
  9. Teach ujjāyī Pranayama as a way to engender equanimity and let go of grasping, grabbing, compulsive tendencies
  10. Teach meditation with the aim of calming down the frequency of thoughts and experiencing the bliss and contentment emerging from within.
    .Guide a gratitude meditation to reflect upon interdependence and interconnectedness.
    .Give instructions for a partner meditation where partners face each other, looking into each others’ eyes and evolving to seeing each other as holy beings.
  11. A yogi treads lightly on this earth. Have practitioners experiment with landing lightly and without a sound, especially jumping into Chatturanga or coming down from an inversion. Apply the same idea when stepping or jumping forward into uttānāsana or Vīrabhadrāsana 1 and ask practitioners to reflect on what type of feelings this level of mindfulness elicits.
  12. Practice backbends to stimulate the Anahata Chakra in order to broaden the practitioners’ capacity to put the interest of the larger community of interdependent beings before selfish and self-centered concerns.
  13. Practice standing āsanas and standing balances with the aim to build confidence in the relationship to the earth from within.
  14. Practice adho mukhā ṣvanaṣanā Vrksasana and Pincha Mayūrāsana with partners or in groups of 3 to learn how to take care of and support each other.
  15. For your playlist seek out musicians who support your dharma talk with lyrics that speak about current issues and place mantra or instrumental music in between, in order not to overwhelm practitioners with too many words.