Namaste (original version)Humanity has obviously been unable to arrive at a universal conception of "God." This tragic and dangerous situation is present even within the more limited context of specific religions. For instance, the men responsible for the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon actually believed that the murder of innocent civilians in the name of Allah would result in their immediate installation in Paradise. While the clerics who taught (and still teach, in various countries around the globe) this misrepresentation of Islamic theology must bear the brunt of responsibility for the carnage that was the result of this teaching, they are not alone in the practice of "spinning" an understanding of God to inspire dubious or crudely nationalistic action.
As I point out in the accompanying editorial, the practice is also very prevalent here in America. For instance, when Jerry Falwell inserted foot-in-mouth on the September 14 broadcast of the 700 Club, he was betraying a consciousness not far removed from that of the terrorist-inspiring clerics. But he's not alone. Consider that when a Democratic or Republican presidential candidate gives their acceptance speech at their respective national conventions, the first several thousand words of every speech are different from candidate-to-candidate, and party-to-party. The last three, however, are always the same: "God bless America." Not God bless America and the entire human family. Not God bless America and all the nations of the world. Not even God bless America and its allies. No, it's always just "God bless America."
Do we really think that God shares such an incredibly myopic vision? Do we think he/she/it somehow loves Americans more than Russians, or the Vietnamese, or the Chinese, or the Kurds, or the starving masses of Africa? If so, as Mr. Spock (the Vulcan, not the child psychologist) might have put it: "Those thoughts are completely illogical. Fascinating."
One of the functional differences between an authentic spiritual practice and the band-aid approach of theology is that the former invariably involves a serious attempt at both eradicating the conditioning of an individual, and dissolving the prison walls of ego -- and in doing so, liberating one's awareness. However, the latter can amount to little more than wall-papering over of deep-seeded emotional insecurities or trauma, via the belief that one is now "saved" and, consequently, superior in God's eyes to so-called heathens who fail to share the same beliefs. As dangerous and absurd as this sounds, it is the basis of most evangelical and fundamentalist Christian theology. I experienced this first hand many years ago when a family member, then immersed in a life of drug and alcohol abuse, "accepted Jesus as his personal savior." I was transformed in this person's eyes from "square" to "sinner" overnight, even though I hadn't changed one iota in the interim. Let me suggest that this is not an isolated incident. Consider that relatively mainstream Christian ministers like Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham's daughter) go on Larry King Live and openly share their belief that anyone who doesn't accept Christ as their savior will never reach heaven (assuming that any such thing can be said to exist, at least as described in the Judeo-Christian literature), regardless of their actions in this lifetime. This incredibly illogical, and definitely unspiritual, perspective is very much at the core of most salvation theology alive in the world today -- a theology that chooses to inspire instant hope and "healing" at the expense of authentic spiritual insight and true emotional healing. And it is this very approach to Islam, Christianity and other applicable world religions, that has lead to a dangerous sense of "separateness" among people, and increasingly, to murder and mayhem.
Namaste is a Sanskrit word that translates into English as "I bow to the God within you." The humble spirit of Namaste accepts that divinity exists within each and every one of us, even though the divine may have inspired us, or our ancestors, to a particular form of worship. I believe that this ancient Hindu concept has much to offer the world today.
The implications of a widespread adoption of the simple "Namaste standard" are mind boggling. If you accept that God also exists in others, then, for instance, you cannot deliberately crash planes into buildings filled with innocent civilians. You cannot easily rationalize hurling missiles into areas where innocent civilians are present. You cannot take part in "feasts of blood", like those that have taken place in Bosnia, Rwanda or Kosovo over the past decade. You cannot demonize entire races, ethnic groups or religions. You cannot simply ignore the suffering of others. You cannot judge that which you have not made a sincere effort to understand. It simply changes your perspective in regard to the way you interact with others.
We stand on the precipice of an abyss that humanity would be well advised to avoid. And perhaps the key to side-stepping this precipice lies in a single word. Namaste.
Matthew Carnicelli, © 2001. All rights reserved.
Originally published September 25, 2001.