Lessons from India: Namaste

Based on my experience, the country of India hardly resembles the spiritual utopia so often portrayed by Western yoga instructors and trendy spiritualists. I visited for two weeks last August, and rather than returning rested, in touch, and connected with the universe, I came back exhausted, stinky, dehydrated, and shaken by the widespread poverty and sickness I witnessed there. 

While Hinduism and other Eastern religions have done little to improve the quality of life for adherents, there are elements of that worldview system that honestly appeal to me and that have the ring of truth. 

One came to mind the other day when I was reading the book of James. 

Transient

James, whose tell-it-as-it-is approach I just love, says bluntly, “no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” 

The idea of remembering and respecting the infinite value of my fellow human beings brought to mind the Indian greeting “Namaste’.” Derived from Sanskirt, it literally means “I bow to you” and is commonly used among Hinuds and Bhuddhists, accompanied by a slight bow.  Another interpretation of the greeting goes like this:  “That which is of the Divine in me greets that which is of the Divine in you.”

Now I’m not saying we should all kick off our shoes, light incense and start reciting the Upanishads,  but what if, in every interaction, we paused for a moment to recognize the infinite value of those around us. What if, with a slight bow and palms pressed together in reverence, we affirmed the fact that God is at work in the life of the notorious gossip next door, the scary homeless guy on the street corner, the aggressive legalist in the front pew at church. Would we speak to them and about them with more reverence? Would we be a step or two closer to bridling the tongue? 

Maybe not. I didn’t find the Indian people to be any less prone to vicious gossip than Westerners. But perhaps that’s because “Namaste’” has become such a common phrase. Perhaps, to them, it has lost its meaning as a result of repetition. Perhaps, like “pro-life” or “created in the image of God,” this fascinating phraseology is just thrown around too often to make much of a difference. 

However, as those less familiar with the sentiment, I think Western Christians could benefit from a “Namaste” or two on occasion. I know I could. I desperately need a consistent reminder of the incalculable worth of the people around me, the people I criticize and snub, the people of whom I am jealous and fearful, the people I can’t seem to forgive. Maybe it would help if I started off every conversation with this greeting. 

“Namaste: That which is Divine in me bows to that which is Divine in you.” I like it. It encourages mutual submission. It reminds us of the eternal. It sounds hip and cool. What else could you want?

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