These days, we see the word “Namaste” plastered all over Instagram posts and t-shirts. It may even seem cliche or trite! However, it is quite the opposite. Literally, in Sanskrit, “nama” means “bow” and “te” means “you”. “The divine in me recognizes and honors the divine in you.” In my article on connecting with the divine, we talked about the divine spark inside of each of us. Namaste is the next step, creating connection by seeing the divine spark in all others.
In Hindu culture, there isn’t even any need to say the word aloud. It’s meaning is contained in the Anjali Mudra (prayer hands). If you bring your prayer hands to your heart or third eye (area between the eye-brows), close your eyes and bow your head, you have silently acknowledged the divine in another.
Most yoga classes close with a “Namaste” because of the power contained in the idea that we are all “the teacher” and we are all “the student.” We all have the same joys and the same sorrows. We all want love and belonging. And most importantly, we share the same divine nature.
Suffering comes from separation. The Buddha taught that all suffering or dissatisfaction arises from a mistaken understanding that we are a separate and distinct self. This perception of “selfness” imprisons us in endless rounds of craving and aversion. Some sense of separation is natural. Wanting and fearing are natural energies, part of evolution’s design to protect us, and help us thrive. But when they become the core of our identity, we lose sight of the fullness of our being. We then forget our Buddha Nature… and the Buddha Nature in all things.
Think of everything simply as parts of one big “whole”-- like fingers on the same hand. If we think of our relationships as one big relationship, then that is how we will walk in the world-- with kindness, respect, and friendliness toward all. We will heal the fractures within us and between us. There is no hierarchy of human worth because it is all one life, one people, one water, one breath, moving through time and space.
By embracing this concept of “Namaste” and incorporating it into our practice in a meaningful way, we can move past our own drama-- our individual drama in which everyone else becomes “other” to us, different and unreal. In our drama, the world is our own backdrop and everyone else is a supporting cast-- some as adversaries, some allies, and most simply irrelevant. We can practice pausing and widening our perspective to remember that these are real people, just like us.
Even if we don’t push people away with anger or hatred, we can easily overlook people and knowingly withhold our kindness. (Pema Chodron) This can be most striking in relation to those whom Buddhist compassion practices describe as “neutral” people - those who evoke neither a negative nor positive response. They might be the postman, kids in a carpool, the spouse of a friend, or a distant relative. Rather than being backdrops for your life, how can you see these people come alive to you? When we stop to attend to and see others as real, we uncover the hidden bond that exists between all beings. Sometimes the very people we are closest to become unreal to us. We might easily assume we know what life is like for them and forget that, like us, they are always changing, their experience is always new. We lose sight of how fully they too are living with hurts and fears, how hard life can be on the inside.
The Indian master Sri Nisargadatta gave this simple, beautiful advice “Just let go of every thought except ‘I am God…. You are God.’”
What simple practices can help incorporate Namaste into our daily lives? Mother Teresa had a practice of viewing each person as “Christ in his distressing disguise.” By doing so she was able to see beyond the differences that might have hardened her heart and to serve with unconditional compassion each person she touched. As we train ourselves to see past surface appearances, we recognize how we are all the same. Each person carries the spark of divinity.
Eckhart Tolle speaks of the “pain-body”, accumulated pain and unresolved baggage that we make the mistake of identifying with, but is not essentially who we are. This is one of the most profound and transformative teachings I know, especially in the field of relationships with ourselves and others. When you can recognize another person’s pain-body, especially when they are acting out of it, and then dig deeper and instead relate to their divine self, the results can be astounding…. whether the person changes their behavior or not.
When we see past our own and another’s pain-body, we recognize our shared vulnerability, which grows out of our shared suffering. This allows us to open our hearts to them, regardless of whether we like them, or agree with their opinions, or want to invite them into our homes or lives. Maybe we could never see ourselves doing what the other person is doing. But if we look at their underlying motivation, what they fear, we find that we can relate. Our habitual feelings of attraction and aversion do not have to overrule our basic capacity to see that, like us, they suffer and long to be happy. (Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance)
To help me see past differences, and rather focus on similarities, I like to play the “admiration game.” When you find yourself judging, look for similarities instead. Maybe we can admire something superficial like a person’s clothes, the way they carry themselves or their taste in music. Maybe we look deeper and admire their bravery in the face of adversity, their confidence or their persistence. Notice how you feel as you move through the world in this way.
Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to apply this same admiration to the Earth as a pathway to experiencing interconnectedness. “Only when we recognize our connectedness to the earth can real change begin. We can all experience a feeling of deep admiration and love when we see the great harmony, elegrance, and beauty of the Earth. A simple branch of a cherry blossom, the shell of a snail, or the wings of a bat! All bear witness to the earth’s masterful creativity. Every advance in our scientific understanding deepens our admiration and love for the wondrous planet. When we can truly see and understand the earth. Love is born in our hearts. We feel connected. That is the meaning of love: to be at one. Only when we’ve fallen back in love with the earth will our actions spring from reverence and the insight of our interconnectedness.”
So next time you see a “Namaste” meme, or the next time you experience the closing of a yoga class, pause and use that moment as an opportunity to feel your connection with all the people, plants and animals around you-- and honor them. Consider the words of Swami Vivekananda... “All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.”
* (For further reading, check out “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, and any of the works of Pema Chodron. Much of the content of this essay was taken from or inspired by these insightful works.)