I often joke that there are only two types of ghosts: those without a body and those with one! Most people are simply ghosts with bodies. In short, they are phantoms of their past. Their lives are simply programmed by inherited habits and borrowed ideologies.
Although the spiritual process is about dissolving the myth of separateness, an important first step is to become an individual. When you are the consequence of many influences, you are a crowd. When you are a crowd, transformation is impossible. Crowds can evolve, but they cannot be transformed. Transformation, as the word suggests, necessitates a ‘form’. It is impossible for a collective to ever be enlightened. Enlightenment can only happen to an individual.
If becoming an individual is essential for a spiritual process, it is equally imperative for a democratic process. But many people cast their vote as groups, not as individuals. We live in an age that is witnessing a new form of tribalism.
We no longer consider the merits and demerits of party policy, before taking a stand; we vehemently oppose policies if they are initiated by the party we do not support -- the ‘enemy tribe’, as it were -- and wholeheartedly endorse those issued by the party we support! This is tribal warfare; it has nothing to do with democracy.
Your ability to make an independent, intelligent decision, is the cornerstone of democracy. Tribal allegiance may give you the security of club membership or the comfort of collective identity. But it is simply the political equivalent of religious fanaticism, a new brand of zealotry. We talk of voting beyond barriers of ‘religion’ and ‘caste’. But the party has become the new religion! We treat those who vote like us as ‘believers’ and the others, as not.
Most people vote for a party because their parents and grandparents voted for it, or because of peer pressure. In the United States, if you ask someone about their voting history, they often say, “I’m a Republican because my father and grandfather were Republicans.” If even your politics is genetic, it is a tragic way to exist!
The idea of democracy is a fantastic idea. But if democracy is to function, every individual should be able to think and vote for himself. When groups vote en masse, it is feudalism disguised as democracy. If you vote as a family, caste, or religious group, it means you are no longer thinking for yourself. You have squandered the whole possibility represented by the secret ballot. Its secrecy was meant to safeguard your right to vote according to your conscience.
Each election represents a great possibility. This is the chance for each citizen to evaluate the last five years and make a conscious, independent, voting choice, not a predetermined decision based on blind tribal loyalty. The beauty of democracy is that it allows for a bloodless transfer of power. In human history, power has very seldom been transferred without violence and bloodshed. To facilitate this harmonious transfer of power with the strength of the secret ballot, is the tremendous right we have today.
The time has come for us to move from religion to responsibility. This is relevant not just for our spiritual lives but also for the political process. From compulsiveness to consciousness is the path of true spirituality. And from a committed vote to a considered vote is the path of true democracy.