The Real Meaning of Namaste

नमस्ते

Namaste.

Let’s break down what this word actually means.

Combining words in Sanskrit follows the rules of sandhi, or joining. If you split the sandhi on the word namaste, it breaks into simple component words:

नमः  Namaḥ – I bow

ते  Te –  to you

नमस्ते  Namaste.  I bow to you.

You can fluff up the translation in many poetic ways. We’ve all heard them: the (divine/light/soul) in me (bows to/honors/recognizes) the (divine/light/spark) in you, etc.

As pretty and inspiring as those versions can be, I don’t love them. They are a little too close to saying that I only honor the parts of you that I have inside me. Why would we leave anything out?

A truly inclusive yoga community should feel welcoming to minorities, men, and people of all incomes, ages, creeds, body types, political affiliations, sexual orientations, and religions. I want to be part of a community that honors everyone as they already are: whole, complete, and perfect.

I believe in our fundamental sameness. Our divine natures chose to have this human experience, and the whole package is part of our journey to the divine.

I reject the dualistic notion that our humanity somehow hampers our divinity. Our humanity equals our capacity for divinity. We’re all moving towards a gorgeous hypostasis; we’re eternity embodied on a quest to realize itself.

So I prefer the less is more version of namaste: I bow to you. I choose to bow to all of you. All the parts. The messy, human parts. The luminous divine parts. The hurt parts. The painful, broken parts.

I bow to your wrinkled brow and your saggy arms. I bow to your brown skin and your small hands and your split ends. I bow to that knee that just doesn’t move like it used to. I bow to your graceful legs and your beer belly and your flat feet and the light behind your eyes.

I bow to the you that’s an embarrassed kid wearing thrift store sweatpants and the you that’s a cheerleader homecoming queen. I bow to the you that’s a cowboy adrenaline junky. Yippie-ki-ye. I bow to the compassionate mother in you. I bow to the black-eyed street fighter in you. I bow to the sloppy drunk in you.

I also bow to the parts of you that I don’t understand. I honor your struggle and your selfishness, because I have them, too. I honor your sacrifice and your victories, without casting blame or judgment. I bow to your sovereign right to make your own choices, even if I wouldn’t make the same ones. Maybe you’re right; maybe I’m right. Doesn’t matter. I still bow to you.

My teacher says that there’s no way to be off the path. I might not understand the route you’ve chosen, but we’re going to the same place. I might not see the good in your choices, but it isn’t for me to decide. Everything you do is a part of your particular karma to work through. Karma is way too vast and cosmic for me to pass judgment upon your actions, as if I could see all ends.

So I bow to you as another pilgrim on the path, no matter how different we seem. Diversity strengthens the whole, so I bow deeply to all of our differences. When we respect every person in every circumstance, our humility keeps us closer to grace.

I honor you when your mind is open and when it’s not. I bow to you when you’re binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. I respect you on roads both high and low, paved or less-traveled by.

I even bow to you when you’re being ugly and small on the inside.

That’s the real trip. To be aware of our sameness even when it breaks our hearts.  To look at the worst and acknowledge that those same tendencies live inside us all. To refrain from judging what looks like egocentric actions and to instead enjoy sweet, divine communion. To bow to all people as our teachers, whether we find them inspiring, infuriating, or mundane.

I bow to confusion and love; they’re both part of this ride. I bow to hunger and faith and humility.

I bow to the divine manifested as all living beings, in the grocery store, the next cubicle, and in the cars that surround us in traffic.

I bow to you while you stand triumphantly on the mountain you just climbed, and I bow to you when you’re balled up on the floor crying. I even bow to you when you’re being a tad bit of an asshole, because that’s part of your journey and you will grow from it, in one life or another.

We’re blessed with this illusion of separateness so we can come to know our divine nature and see it reflected back at us through every person we meet.

Come hell or high water, I will bow to you. And I will keep bowing to you, because I’ve been there and you’ve been here.

I bow to all of all of you.

That’s it. No caveats or clauses. No exclusions apply. Offer does not expire.

I.

Bow.

To You.

Namaste.

नमस्ते

 

Read Lauren’s article where it was originally published on Elephant Journal. 

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