Interviewed by Mr. David Klein
Dr. Can Büyükbay is a lecturer of European Politics and Political Theory at the Turkish-German University in İstanbul. He received his bachelors in political science and public administration at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, his masters in political science from the University of Berne and Ph.D from the University of Zurich, where he also worked as a lecturer at the Department of Political Science and History. Buyukbay also worked for three years as consultant at the Turkish embassy in Switzerland and is the founder of the Consultcan Turkish-Swiss expert network.
Dr. Buyukbay, to begin with, could you tell us a little bit about the kind of research you do and the theories you are working on.
My PhD thesis examined the construction of Eurosceptic discourse in civil society, mainly focusing on Turkey`s possible EU membership, ongoing political struggles between different political camps in Turkey and general Western discourse under the conceptual framework of Occidentalism.
Currently, though, I am working on three projects focusing on Yoga and Politics, Occidentalism and Orientalism and World Systems Analysis, respectively.
The first one deals with politics from a macro-perspective and yoga from a micro-perspective.
The aim of my second new project is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the reciprocal interaction of the concepts of Orientalism and Occidentalism. More specifically, the project examines the discursive construction of Europe/Germany by the conservative AKP (Justice and Development Party) and the discursive formation of the Orient/Turkey by the conservative- right-wing CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany). … The final project is a response to Immanuel Wallerstein’s theories on the genesis and trajectory of the modern world-system or, in other words the capitalist world-economy as the basic pattern for modernity. I believe that this approach has certain limitations which can only be unfolded by another world-systems analyst Giovanni Arrighi’s thesis of systemic cycles of accumulation (1996).
Starting with your first theory could you tell us more about where the idea of comparing politics with yogic theories came from?
We should accept that humanity and international political system are plunging deeper and deeper into crisis. Despite huge technological developments and new medical solutions, human beings continue to suffer. This is normal because the basic understanding of human nature in the modern capitalist system is that human being is selfish. I don’t agree with this premise.
Modern science tells us that human beings can also be altruistic. Moreover, it tells us that increased income does not correlate with increased happiness. Yoga also considers the same systematically and scientifically showing the ways to an altruistic attitude.
If governments focus only on the accumulation of power, capital, and income, as it is the case now, wars will continue. That is why I believe that especially young academics should focus on revolutionary concepts in order to change the skeletons of political science. Furthermore, powerful politicians forget the interconnectedness of the world. If people suffer in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq or elsewhere, due, in part, to the selfish interests of the hegemon powers, that will inevitably turn into a very threatening factor for their own countries. This is the law of compensation. Yoga and historical facts both suggest this.
If political science wants to contribute to a healthy society and individual happiness it should turn its focus to Gross National Happiness (GNH), not economic growth (GDP). We need systematic politico-yogic concepts with which to approach political and enable the chaotic international system to change from its destructive ‘Thanatos’ nature to a loving ‘Eros’ nature to use Freud’s terms.
In my own experiences I have been fortunate enough to observe and experience both the Eastern and Western Worlds. I spent a long time in Indian Ashrams to practice and learn Yoga and I am part of the team that started (Sivananda) Yoga in China. I observed that Yoga is in fact a scientific method which can affect human being in a very positive and peaceful way.
What are some of the yogic concepts you explore and how do you apply them?
Well, the practice of yoga is a science and an art dedicated to creating union between mind, body and spirit. We realize through its practice that we are intimately connected to all beings.
The foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, approximately in 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and offers eight steps to its control. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice.
In brief, I focus on the first limb that Patanjali describes and that I feel we strongly need: Yama: Universal morality. The first limb that Patanjali describes is the fundamental ethical precepts called Yama. Yama teaches us how we should deal with people around us. The attitudes we have towards the things and people outside ourselves is Yama. It is mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others.
The Yamas are divided into five “wise characteristics.” Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.
I focus on the following four:
- Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence; it means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. Gandhi’s civil disobedience was also based on this principle.
- Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness: Look at our modern-day politicians and how they use concepts such as freedom, democracy or modernity for their own interests.
Satya is a remedy for this, it is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the foundation of any healthy society or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others.
- Asteya – No stealing: A very good principle against corruption. Especially, when we observe current events in Turkey. It both considers material and immaterial aspects.
- Aparigraha – Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth. That is also compatible with the modern scientific finding that happiness does not increase with income.
Yoga’s political philosophy is peace. Peace depends on nonviolence. Nonviolence is extremely political and threatening for the current system.
Could you tell us how you use these to examine political developments?
If rationalism alone were enough, than Kasparov wouldn’t have won against Deep Blue which is capable of 200 million calculations per second. In our lives, intuition plays a strong role as in chess. That is the value of intuition. Yet, we all feel that the current system is inhuman.
Look what we’ve experienced in Iraq, Syria and many other areas of the world. Look at ISIS and how the West contributed to its development for the sake of ‘irrational’ interests. In order to bring back universal values, we need a peaceful state of mind rather than the destructive side of the human being. I recommend to Western politicians that they should learn of the “interconnectedness of all”. If they believe that they maximize their interests through theories such as ‘Constructive Chaos’ of the Bush administration they are strongly mistaken.
Consider this example: You are a great economist and develop an economic model that contributes to the increase of Coca-Cola production. To me this has no value. We don’t need such economic models if the result is negative for human health. That is the principle of ‘Yama’, ethics or purification through moral training.
I dream of a combination of Yogic philosophy and Socialism as the most appropriate political system for human happiness. In this case, it is a social system that centers on human being themselves rather than on their “by-products”. In my opinion, socialism contributes to the development of the creative and egalitarian side of human nature, whereas capitalism brings forth its destructive and unhealthy nature. Hence, the crisis of the capitalist system is a reflection of the chaotic state of the collective consciousness.
You say that you explore politics on a macro scale and yoga on a micro one. Could you elaborate a little bit about why it needs to be looked at like that?
I start from the transformation of the individual, the micro-scale of society, and the transformation of the society the macro-scale of a human, simultaneously. Yoga gives the modern man a sublime practical philosophy to create again the cosmos. We need a combined approach in political science that leads to a healthy man and society together. The needs of human being and societies should be evaluated not according to the “logic” of capital accumulation but according to the very nature of human being.
Lastly, I want to mention a very important name for my attempts at combining Yoga and Political Science, namely Swami Vishnudevananda. Swamiji was also known as the “Flying Swami” for the different peace missions he accomplished around the world. He taught me that we should be deeply concerned about the wellbeing of the World and the constant suffering brought through war. He garnered the attention of international media when throwing flowers into war-torn areas from his “hippy plane” while repeating the peace Mantra: Om Namo Narayanaya.