You hear it in yoga classes all the time, at the beginning and/or end of class. Namaste has become the ‘aloha’ of the yoga world; used interchangeably as a greeting and a farewell. But this word has meaning, and I think it’s important to know its meaning before throwing it around carelessly.
I’ll discuss Namaste as I have come to understand it, based primarily on my study of the Bhagavad Gita. If you are unfamiliar with the Bhagavad Gita, it is an ancient yogic text that is a sort of guide for living a more spiritual life while remaining active in the world.
The Gita is far more complex than that one-sentence description, but I could go on all day so I’ll leave it at that. One of the major points discussed in the Gita is the concept of the self (little ‘s’) vs. The Self (capital ‘S’).
The self (little self) vs. The Self (greater self)
In yogic philosophy, not just in the Gita, there is exists the concept of the ‘True Self’, which is separate from what we typically think of as ‘the self’. The Self is the part of us that never changes. It has nothing to do with our bodies, our minds, our senses, our likes or dislikes. The Bhagavad Gita calls this the Atma; many of us would call it the soul.
The Gita also talks about the concept of Brahma – this is the universe, divinity, God, or whatever higher power you happen to believe in, if you believe in one. The Atma and Brahma are the same; the only difference is that the Atma is individual – it exists in each of us.
If you think of Brahma as being light – all light; the concept of light – then the Atma is a spark. A spark is also light, it’s just on a smaller scale.
The Light Projector
An analogy I’ve found helpful in understanding these concepts is one of a light projector. I’m sure you’re familiar with how a light projector works – there’s a source of light in the center, you place slides in front of it, and the images on the slides are projected out onto a blank screen.
In our analogy, Brahma is all light – the concept of light. The light inside the slide projector is the Atma (The Self). The slides are everything else that makes us up (the self) – our senses, our personality, our attachments, our ego, etc.
So the light being sent out of our light projectors is the light of the universe (or divinity, or God). But what we see projected (and how we interpret the world) is dependent on what’s on our slides. If we want to see the light in its pure form; if we want to know our True Selves, we need clear slides. Meaning, we need to separate from our ego, our attachments, our senses, etc.
How does this relate to Namaste?
The basic translation for Namaste is ‘the light in me sees and honors the light in you’. I love the slide projector analogy because it really brings this translation to life, but I think it goes a step further.
It says I honor the place in you where you and I are the same. Your light and my light are the exact same light, so your Self and my Self are the same. We are the same. We are one. Namaste acknowledges this.
So next time you say Namaste, remember that you are acknowledging that you and the person to whom you are speaking are one and the same. If you don’t feel this, it’s ok to not use the word; no pressure, no judgment.
I hope this has helped shed some light on this increasingly popular word. If you have any questions, comments, feedback, please share in the comments or shoot me an email.