Note: Abstract I wrote in 2006
The opinion has often been presented that politics and religion have no common ground. Beyond that, it is commonly expressed that the combination of politics and religion is volatile and dangerous. Historically it would appear that this is the case. However once we understand that Dharma is at the essence of both politics and religion we can recognize the important role they both have in society.
Dharma has been translated as that which sustains, nourishes or holds together. Beyond that it represents the constitutional nature of a person, thing or activity. The Dharma of Fire is to have heat, burn and all things related to Fire. Thus rather than an artificial construct, Dharma describes the inherent nature at the inner core of everything.
Politics and the affairs of governance and the State also have an inbuilt inherent Dharma. Thus a successful application of politics and religion sustains the community.
Unfortunately, in modern times, great efforts have been made to completely sever any connection between the two. A focus on one without the other leads to social imbalances and rigid bureaucracy; we can see examples of this all around us. Nations that have tried to govern through rigid Theocracy have stagnated. Secular governments ignore the spiritual and emotional needs of the people and the social chaos ensues.
Many studies have confirmed that there is a direct correlation between the spirit or mood of a patient and the patient’s rate of recovery. Prayer has repeatedly been confirmed to have a positive impact as well, thus many physicians have included spirituality into their patient’s health regimes.
Though their medical skills can help the physical being, something more is required to help the spirit or spiritual being. In the same way, politics is meant to deal with the physical realities of everyday governance while as religion or spirituality enlivens and sustains the spirit of the community.
By divorcing it from spirituality modern politics has lost its ability to fulfill its Dharma. Thus it has lost its ability to sustain and maintain society. Religion or spirituality separated from the body politic and lacking a mainstream role in society is perceived as irreverent and thus its message is diluted.
The proper role of spirituality in politics is to instill a sense of sacredness and duty in the leadership and people in general. By applying both spiritual and material standards an equitable long term approach is achieved. This is because Dharma is the basis of proper governance and it is also the essence of true religion or spirituality.
In this essay I will present 5 examples of Dharma within the political context. Dharma is not confined to any one religion thus I have highlighted stories that exemplify the universality of Dharma.
First from Medieval India is the story of King Prataparudra and his dedication to Lord Jagannath, Sri Caitanya and his duties as a King.
Second is the story of the great Red Indian leader Tecumseh and his efforts to overcome classism, tribalism, colonialism and brutality, all the while attempting to unite the Natives of both north and south Americas into a great spiritual based confederacy.
Third focus is on Rani of Jhansi or Lakshmi Bai and her efforts to promote and protect Vedic culture, maintain her kingdom’s independence and fight unto the end to defend Vedic Dharma. Her rule of 1850s Jhansi represents the last functioning Vedic/Hindu Government the world has seen.
Fourth is an example of the Dharmic use of political power by US President Grover Cleveland. Despite tremendous opposition and living during the height of Western colonial expansionism, he refused to recognize the overthrow of strategic Hawaii’s indigenous Kingdom. By his efforts the US was delayed in its annexation of Hawaii for 9 years.
Fifth are the examples of Bhaktivinode Thakur, his son Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada. Bhaktivinode was a high court magistrate and he used his position to protect the innocent from religious charlatans and to promote the authentic Gaudiya Vaishnava movement of Sri Caitanya.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was the 1st Indian spiritual leader to use modem technology extensively in his preaching and frequently circumvented rigid religious codes in order to increase the common person’s accessibility of Krsna Dharma.
Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the disciple and direct representative of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, traveled the globe 18 times and met with many political leaders in an attempt to instill in them the concept of governance based upon a spiritual foundation. He stated that it is necessary to change the consciousness of the people in order to achieve a Dharmic based political system. In this Srila Prabhupada thus verifies the intrinsic relationship between spirituality and politics.