I sometimes encounter the idea that a great spiritual teacher has no politics. In the yoga world at least, I have been exposed to the assumption that if a teacher is public about their political opinions, if they show overt indignation or even just strong emotion in response to political issues, they are somehow “not quite there yet”.
Until recently in yoga-land, it was seen as virtuous when spiritual teachers stayed silent about political matters. I have had several spiritual friends point out to me, that refusing to take sides politically is itself a admirable in a spiritual teacher. The assumption seems to be that a teacher cannot be helpful to people they disagree with politically. That having no politics automatically means you are open and accessible to all people.
I am not so sure. If we follow that logic of having to be similar in order to connect, a teacher with no politics would cut themselves off from everyone who does. Having no politics is itself a strong political statement. It excludes as many people as it includes. You just can´t win them all.
However, maybe there is some wisdom in not stating too many public opinions as a teacher. You could risk creating your own social media echo chamber and that would be rather unhelpful. Moreover, it would be silly to take issues with teachers who practice non-judgment or keep cool in the face of terrible news. Yoga itself offers resilience, peace and spaciousness so we can pause in silence and respond with wisdom rather than overreact. What I´m concerned about is not the silence of some spiritual masters, but our tendency to idolize that silence as a sign of depth or virtue. What I´m questioning is glorification of “no politics”.
The Danish queen, by law, has no politics. That does not make her a spiritual master. And having “no politics” often goes hand in hand with privilege. The teachers I have known who turn to activism, who make opinionated comments on worldly affairs, who take sides politically, who publically own the emotions that arise in them when witnessing other people suffering were often not born privileged in terms of class, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation and so on. And if they were, they have usually had close encounters with marginalization or injustice in other ways. The teachers I know who “have politics” often have first hand experience with vulnerability. Thus, particular events push their buttons – even after decades of practice. To me this does not make them better or worse teachers. It just tell me that they are human. Just like me. The political silence of a great spiritual teacher may say more about demographics than about the depth of their practice. (Unless you equal the ability to gloss over personal pain with meditation-induced bliss as an accomplishment).
I am not writing this to state my moral opinion of how a great spiritual teacher should behave. Quite the opposite. I am questioning how we behave around them.