Nam – as – te. Three syllables and one simple word that has the potential to bring peace between peoples, peace between nations and most importantly, peace within ourselves. Literally translated, namaste means, “The Divine within me bows to the same Divine within you.” And despite it’s conciseness, this one word encompasses the essential teachings of Hinduism. But, in terms of its potential power, it transcends Hinduism and Hindus.
Hinduism is a richly diverse family of philosophies, traditions and practices strung together by certain core, essential beliefs. One of these beliefs is that the soul is eternal — that while this physical body may perish, the soul continues on, taking physical birth and going through death, time and again. Physical birth takes place according to laws of karma which state a natural law that every act and thought affects how the soul will be reborn. And each of our souls continues in a cycle of birth and death until it achieves moksha or spiritual perfection and is united with the Super Soul or Divine. Indeed, movement of a soul can go either forward or backwards, but the goal is forward towards spiritual perfection which can only be achieved by living a life according to dharma. While dharma is commonly translated as law, it is not law, nor is it a list of do’s and don’ts. Dharma is a guide driven by higher knowledge, truth, self-restraint, self-less service and most importantly, compassion.
Essential to Hinduism is also the concept of pluralism. Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti – The Truth is One, the wise call it by many names – is the worldview of the Hindu family; that each one of us with our different likes and dislikes, our different personalities, and our different cultures, not only connect with one another in our own ways, but connect with the Higher in our own ways. And the ways are as unique as fingerprints or snowflakes. And so too, the ancient sages of Hinduism recognized that no one path could or should claim supremacy over others, especially in the realm of the sacred. And thus, Hindus believe that the Divine manifests in different forms, is worshipped by various means and speaks to each of us in infinite ways to enable us to not only believe in God, but know God.
This pluralism and resulting diversity, in the context of Hinduism, is exemplified in the various ways Hindus have defined our relationship with the Divine. This relationship is characterized by a beautiful spectrum that ranges from absolute duality to absolute non-duality and perspectives in between these two. If I may, I cite an oft given example of water in the form of a drop and the ocean to better explain these two concepts. Those ascribing to absolute duality would say that while a drop of water and the ocean share the same qualities, the same characteristics, the drop of water can never be the ocean. Those ascribing to non-duality would say, that yes, the drop of water and the ocean, do indeed share the same characteristics and qualities and are thus, one in the same.
But regardless of where one falls in the spectrum of these beliefs; regardless of which name one calls God by – be it Krishna, Christ, Yahweh or Allah; regardless of gender, race, religion, caste, nationality, sexual orientation, age, we are part of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam — that is we are members of a world family which shares the quality of Divine oneness. And so we share unity not only in Diversity, but unity in Divinity. If lived to its fullest intent, the meaning of namaste helps us drop all the walls that separate us and allows us to feel the hunger of others, feel the pain and suffering of others and also share in the joy of others. Three simple syllables, one simple word that asks each of us to do one simple thing — to see divine and be divine. Namaste.
Delivered on March 21, 2010 at St. Paul Interfaith Network’s Interfaith Seder