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Unveiling the Divine Within With Nish

May 20th, 2024 oddfam Blog, Community, Education

Meet "Nish the Fish," a poet, songwriter, and yoga teacher right here in Los Angeles. As a partner piece to this month's Tantra Workshop, Nish explores India's rich tapestry of spiritual and philosophical traditions, revealing a beautiful convergence of thought found in the Rg Veda, one of the oldest sacred texts dating back to around 3800 B.C.E.

In this text, we come across a wonderfully modern idea: ekam sat, vipra bahudha vadanti — “the one truth can be referred to by various names.” This insight from the Vedic period shows an early understanding that the many names and forms of the divine are just different expressions of the same reality. Nish will highlight how this inclusive and harmonious perspective not only underscores the unity of diverse religious practices but also offers a timeless message of universal spirituality that transcends cultural and doctrinal boundaries. So, let’s join Nish and dive into this rich philosophical heritage to see how it shapes our understanding of the divine and our place in the world.

 

One Truth, Many Names

In the Rg Veda, one of the oldest texts of human civilization dating back to around 3800 B.C.E by some estimates, we come across a startlingly modern idea: ekam sat, vipra bahudha vadanti which means “the one truth can be referred to by various names”. As early as the Vedic period, the philosophers of India understood that the various names by which different people in different contexts refer to God are but so many aspects of one and the same reality. For example, the Vedas are full of gods like Indra, the king of the gods, Agni, the fire god,Varuna, the mysterious ocean god, Soma, the god of intoxication and various others and yet it is not at all a polytheistic system. The Vedic civilization never considered these gods to be different from one another but merely different ways of expressing the same divine being. 

Beyond Duality: The Divine Dwells Within

What’s even more startling is that in the Upanishads, the philosophical portion of the ancient Vedas, we learn that this one Transcendent Being, God, is in fact Consciousness. That is to say, God is not some sky fairy sitting in the clouds judging right and wrong or naughty and nice like Santa Claus. Rather, God, claim the Upanishads, dwells in you as you. God is the tangible and immediate presence of divinity which you sense directly between each of your breaths and between each of your thoughts. It is the Witness in which bodily sensations and thoughts come and go. And while the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states are but passing shadows upon the screen of Consciousness, you, the Witness Consciousness are ever constant. You as you truly are are unchanging and eternal, unborn and undying. You are already free, even now! And as Consciousness, you are innately pure and divine, as you are now. This divine reality which you are is called the Atman by the Upanishads and the Purusha by the Yoga philosophy. Roughly, these two words translate to what we might now call “the soul”. Importantly, according to this view, the soul is not something you have. Rather, it is what you are!   

Beside the fact that this affirmation of the innate divinity of the soul is a radically empowering way to see yourself and others, there are two other very important take-aways from this view: one, God is not a matter of belief or dogma but is rather a fact of experience and two, the one God can be referred to in many ways and each of these ways is valid. After all, if God is indeed unlimited and illimitable, as most religions claim, then, how can any one religion claim to be in sole possession of the truth? How can any one religion say that their way alone is valid and all others are wrong? To do that would be to limit God, the illimitable, to one doctrine or creed or tradition. No, says the Vedic philosopher: God is infinite and as such can be infinitely expressed, infinitely reached and infinitely enjoyed. This means that all religions and all spiritual traditions are valid; all methods and means for working out your own spirituality are valid; and everyone can be affirmed each according to their own predilections and preferences. As Swami Vivekananda boldly declared in his 1893 speech in Chicago, the yogi considers “the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism to be all valid attempts to grasp the Ineffable!” 

A Panacea for Our Times: Harmony and Universality

This is perhaps the greatest contribution of Indian civilization because for one, it is this message of harmony between all religions that can act as a healing panacea for the many ills of our modern world which for the most part are caused by narrow bigotry and bitter sectarianism. The view that “my way alone is right and others are wrong” is perhaps at the very root of all our global socio-political problems and it is precisely this narrow view that the Vedic civilization corrects for with its broad and capacious understanding. 

But secondly, and maybe more importantly, because the early Indian philosophers understood the harmony of all religions, they never got bogged down with cultural or sociological details. They tried their best to work out universal principles of spirituality and these they developed into remarkable systems like Samkhya and Yoga which they could then export to the rest of the world. For example, in the Yoga philosophy which was systematized by a great sage named Patañjali, we find that God is called Isvara, a totally non-sectarian word that invites the practitioner to conceive of God according to their own understanding. For a Christian yogi, Isvara could be the Christ and for an atheist, it could be Mother Nature or some other non-religious ideal like Humanism. It really doesn’t matter what you choose to call this higher reality. All that matters is that you cultivate devotion to it. As such, Yoga philosophy is not a religion or a dogma but a practical and scientific tool for human well being. As B.K.S Iyengar said so beautifully, “there are no Indian problems or Caucasian problems. There are just problems.” And yoga is the systematic way of solving those problems. And it is precisely because the Indian philosophers had such a broad and universal understanding of core spiritual principles that they were able to develop these practices that work for everybody everywhere regardless of their cultural, religious or spiritual predispositions. And importantly for us here in America, Indians have always understood that these tools for human well being which developed on Indian soil do not belong to any one culture but are really the common property of everyone everywhere. As such, as early as the 1890s, masters of yoga from India have been tirelessly coming to the West to share these traditions with anyone and everyone who is sincerely interested to learn. Above all, we can be grateful to all the teachers of yoga  past, present and future, both from India and here in the West who have given their whole lives to the mission of making these universal tools universally available. 

 

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