Many of us have some sort of daily routine or practice, it may be as simple as sitting quietly and drinking our coffee in the morning or going for an evening walk around the neighborhood. Scientific research shows that having a practice of self-reflection reduces stress, and increases neurological connections which leave us energized, high-functioning, and clear-minded. These are obviously very important skills to cultivate for anyone who wishes to play a leadership role in the world. Democratic Presidential hopeful, Tulsi Gabbard is a unique candidate in that she has a mindfulness practice called Karma Yoga. Many people ask if this helps her maintain her clear focus and ability to articulate complex or nuanced policy-stances in the face of her critics on the campaign trail. Not surprisingly, her answer is yes!
“The spirit of karma yoga is nicely described by Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” When my focus is on serving the people of Hawaii and our country, I don’t experience the kind of anxiety that many people involved in politics experience.” -Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard is seen as an enigmatic character in the political landscape. She has been the target of multiple smear pieces that have since been refuted. So much misinformation is circulating the internet about her that her fans have created a “Refuting Anti-Tulsi Propaganda Information Database” on Reddit. Many believe these attacks are because of her strong stance against regime-change wars and US Interventionism which threatens war-profiteers and the current foreign policy establishment. Tulsi is story-worthy for the fact that she is Hindu and a practitioner of Karma Yoga. Perhaps delving into this part of her belief system will shed light on what drives her policy stances.
What is Karma Yoga?
Karma Yoga is one of the four spiritual paths in Hinduism, it is often referred to as the “Yoga of Action”. Within it is the belief that right work done well is a form of prayerful action. It is a path of personal growth through putting service above self — putting your own interests aside to serve others and the planet. This practice is woven into everyday life through bringing full awareness into each moment. In Karma Yoga the joy of rightful action is its’ own reward and this should encourage us to continue living virtuously without attachment to results.
“With one in ten Americans practicing yoga and nearly half (45%) of Americans saying that they are interested in doing yoga, now is the time to examine the healing role of yoga. More high-quality, evidence-based research will help us know how best to integrate yoga into the medical treatment of illnesses.” -Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga
How Does Karma Yoga Relate to Politics?
In America we elect individuals to represent the needs of the people, that’s why we call elected officials public servants. The heart of political life should be about service. Sadly, with so much power and wealth associated with public office, elected officials often forget about service and become infatuated with playing politics. This is one reason that people are often surprised when Tulsi goes against the grain on certain issues. She is more concerned with service than being politically correct, towing the partisan line, or playing a popularity game with the media.
“Most politicians are always afraid of what other people think, with their decisions clouded by their fear of losing the next election. That’s not what drives me.” -Tulsi Gabbard
The concept of incorporating a political career into one’s Karma Yoga Practice is both interesting and unique. Her choices are nuanced, her stances come from research, reflection, and acting on what she feels is in the highest service of the people. Being a true leader requires a lot of mindfulness and the ability to make choices or statements that may not be politically popular. Sadly this kind of radical honesty is unusual in our political landscape.
“To the work you own the right, but not to the results thereof.” -First Tenant of Karma Yoga
This concept of being unattached to the outcome but rather focused instead on doing the right thing is very interesting. How many times in life do we do something that is not in alignment with our personal integrity because we want to win praise, money, or approval? By this same measure, imagine how our egos get inflated when we get the results we are seeking. Or conversely how often do we beat ourselves up when we don’t get the results we expected? I delve deeper into these concepts in a piece entitled, Happiness is Letting Go of Outcomes.
With a personal yoga practice centered on commitment to service, it is easy to recognize what drives Tulsi’s policy stances. Like many Americans she wants what’s best for the people, and the planet. In a world where corporate money, lobbyists, and politics take precedent sometimes doing what is right takes enormous discipline. Especially in the face of so much temptation, greed, and reward available to politicians for not doing the right thing.
“Many people get involved in politics as a career. But I see politics as a way to practice karma yoga. The essence of karma yoga is that we can find true happiness when we are serving God and humanity, rather than just living for ourselves. No matter what our occupation or situation in life, we can all work and live in the spirit of karma yoga, or selflessly working for the well-being of others.” -Tulsi Gabbard
America is built on the principles of respecting religious preference. Even within Christianity there are different branches, but there is an underlying commonality. The same is true for Hinduism which shares many of the same principles as Christianity and other religions. Virtues like kindness, service, compassion, and treating others as you would like to be treated are universal.
Though the names and practices might vary it is this recognition of what we share in common as humans that guides us in creating a better world for all. For Tulsi Gabbard, Karma Yoga is a daily practice that helps her embody the highest principles needed for the service of leadership. Being able to be of service to something bigger than one’s self should be a credential for any type of leadership position in society.