BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 30, 2020
The Hindu origins of the word namaste sparks concerns about state-religion separation. The underlying meaning, however, is unifying.
Several years ago, I took a yoga certification course. It was a turbulent time so the three days away were rejuvenating. Ultimately, I incorporated yoga poses into my fitness bootcamps. I wittingly referred to my brand of yoga as ‘Troyoga.’ I stripped the yoga practice to challenging poses infused with traditional exercises. Troyoga was a hit. All exercise; no ritual.
#yoga #meditation #spirituality
I ran across an article reporting that Alabama recently rescinded a decades old law prohibiting yoga in public schools. California rescinded similar prohibitions in 2013. There is, however, continued concern about the use of “namaste” during routines because of religious implications. The concern piqued my interest.
There is, however, continued concern about the use of “namaste” during routines because of religious implications.
Namaste, like countless phrases and gestures, has religious beginnings. In Sanskrit, namaste is formed by combining the words namah and te, meaning “I bow to you,” or “my greetings and salutations to you.” Namah is literally translated ‘na-ma’ or ‘not me,’ suggesting “I have no ego before you” (Singh, 2015).
In egoless interactions, we soften the presence of "I" and communicate with a respectful underlying “we.” We often burden communications with hurtful protections. Defense laden communication dances to ego-pounding themes. Our communication is broken and self-centered. Perhaps, a practice acknowledging the ego would be helpful. Of course, we don’t need a word to enjoy ego-less transactions; nor does saying namaste magically transform practitioners. Many yoga students can be as snooty as others. Non-judgmental yoga also attracts judgmental students.
Namaste has Hindu beginnings. Perhaps, this is the part that some lawmakers find objectionable. The Hindu namaste couples the word with a slight bow and clasping the hands in front of the heart. The greeting recognizes the divine residing in you and me.
I’m not a religious sentimentalist. Please forgive me. I don’t fear a phrase or a gesture because of its origin. However, I greatly fear group mentality that justifies bias and violence with some self-righteous claim of divine appointed superiority. Our history is blotted with horrific examples—large and small, here at home and abroad.
We should focus less on differences and appreciate shared sacredness. We bicker over dogma but desecrate the wonderous gift of life. We are quarrelsome and divisive. We spit revulsive condemnations, littering our purity of speech with vulgarisms; and yet, fear namaste because of the Hindu origins.
We need to unite, recognizing a shared spark of divinity—the miracle of life burning inside each of us. Whether a word such as namaste is appropriate for the classroom isn’t the point. It’s the concept. It’s the underlying fear of foreign infiltration. We can discuss these issues in clarity without fear when we drop the ego, empathetically accept others, and humbly work through differences.
Namaste, my friends.
Please support this work by sharing:
*I respect your privacy, email addresses used for newsletter distribution only
Singh, K.V. (2015). Hindu Rites and Rituals: Where They Come from and What They Mean