The yoga community in America has historically looked towards India and learnt from the teachers and wisdom traditions that originated there. It can draw some wisdom for the upcoming Presidential elections from the same source.
India is the world’s largest democracy. It has a population of 1.1 billion people and a voting age population of 738 million, according to the Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance. India is a young democracy that became independent from British rule in 1947 and a full-fledged republic with its own constitution in 1950. I was born and raised in India and was lucky to have been exposed to its democratic institutions and electoral processes from an early age. One of the facts I am very proud of is that every few years the whole country has gone to the polls and power has transferred to a different group of leaders elected by the people in a peaceful process.
India with its huge and diverse electoral population and multi-party democracy presents a challenge of biblical proportions to conducting free and fair elections. It is the largest exercise in democratic franchise in the world, with more than 738 million people being given an equal opportunity to participate in the elections. Many of them are illiterate and have to be trained to vote for a symbol they can visually recognize (like a bicycle, an open palm or a lotus) rather than read the candidate’s name on the ballot. Electoral officers have to sometimes carry ballot boxes on horseback and by camel, crossing rivers on foot and trekking up mountain paths to make sure that even citizens living in remote areas have a chance to vote.
Indians take their voting rights seriously. In the 2004 elections, 60% of the voting age population participated and in 2009, 56% used their vote. This is in contrast to the US, where 57% participated in 2008 and only 38% in 2010, according to the Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance. One of my vivid memories as a child is my great-grandmother Vattompadath Kalyani Kutty Amma participating in the elections. She was 92 at that time and had rarely traveled outside the the small rice farming hamlet called Chittilencheri in Kerala, Southern India, where our family is from. In my living memory she had never left the village or even gone more than two miles from our family home. And yet for the general elections that year, poll workers came and took her to the neighboring village school where she cast her vote. Every vote matters. She knew exactly whom she voted for by choosing the symbol of the candidate as she could not read and write – and she could tell me why she made that choice.
Drawing from that electoral and democratic wisdom coming out of India, it is important that the yoga community in America actively participate in the upcoming elections. Why do I say this?
It is your dharma. If you live in a democracy, voting is a right, a privilege and a duty. It is our dharma to participate in the democratic process and cast our votes. As a yoga practitioner you must do your dharma. It is very similar to how Krishna tells Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita that it is the duty of a Kshtatriya, or a warrior, to go to battle and how everyone must do their duty.
Personal Power from exercising your choice. You have a choice, so exercise it. Yogis live from a place of personal power. Personal power comes from knowing your values, showing integrity towards it, setting an intention, making a choice and exercising it.
Speak your truth. The Yoga community has reached a tipping point with an estimated 20 million practitioners who spend an estimated $27 billion on yoga products. Plus an even larger amount of buying power across all the other products and services we consume. We make choices in conscious living. We choose consciously what we eat, how we take care of our environment, what we drive, what we consume, how we use energy, what resources we consume, and how we take care of our personal health. We need to speak our truth about these choices and how we respect other people’s choices. When we participate in the democratic process, in the political debate and make our electoral choices, we will be speaking our collective truth.
So on Tuesday November 6, wake up early, and roll out your yoga mat or meditation cushion. Do your yoga or meditation practice. Get centered in your being. Feel a sense of gratitude that you have the gift of voting rights that someone else fought hard for. Go to the polling booth tall, erect and poised in your yogic energy. Exercise your personal power. Speak your truth. And receive the electoral results with a sense of grace, ease, calm, equanimity and peace. Just as yogis have always done in India.