Is it religious to say Namaste?

I’ve noticed a recent news story making the rounds on Facebook, detailing how an American school has banned the saying of “namaste” on the grounds that it is a religious statement.

The phrase, “namaste”, can be incorrectly taken as a religious statement, just like “My name is Ishu” can be incorrectly taken as a religious statement by someone willing enough to go to the trouble of interpreting it as such.

This sort of over-eager attitude to interpret anything foreign sounding and vaguely understood as “religious” sets a dangerous precedent when we consider that many religious people the world over want evolutionary theory and other forms of demonstrable, evidence based scientific theory considered as religious beliefs, along with agnosticism and atheism as a whole.

Yoga itself, along with meditation and in fact the entire Buddhist and Hindu canonical texts, can be taken atheistically or agnostically with no serious detriment to the coherence of the canon, and in many sects this is in fact encouraged to avoid the pointlessness of idolatry and the holding dear of abstract images of the divine.

It’s also worth considering that no secular tradition has anything close in terms of depth, breath and sophistication to the practices of internal exploration and analysis offered by Buddhism in particular and Hinduism more broadly, and that if we cut these traditions out of our educational institutions for fear of introducing religion into schools, we may be doing future generations an enormous disservice by making it more difficult still for them to understand and work with the psychological difficulties of life.

The divine in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy is not a deity, it is formlessness, void, nothing, and/or emptiness. It refers to the deep down whatever-there-is, not to a personified being or God. More specifically, the Hindus refer to Brahman, or the great self, who becomes empty, forgets itself and becomes lost in the many forms of existence, playing at being not-God.

So, understood on it’s own terms, we may state the phrase more clearly as, “I bow to the deepest, inmost aspect of who you are”, and in that sense it is not a theistic statement by any reasonable definition of the word “theism”, as it includes no reference to a deity or god of any kind.

The saying of namaste is not some abstract reification of the concept of an inmost aspect or void, it is a relaxation of that process of abstraction to come to an experience of what the phrase is pointing to.

It is not an act of worship but of recognition. Another very common translation is, “I see you”.

I maintain that we cannot sensibly or honestly compare the religions of Asia in form, aesthetic, or content to the monotheisms of the Middle East, namely Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

There is not a great deal of structural similarity between them, and to conflate them without attention to detail of this kind is to fall into generalisation. We would perhaps be better served by heeding the advice of William Blake, who urges us to “pay attention to minute particulars. Take care of the little ones. Generalization and abstraction are the plea of the hypocrite, scoundrel, and knave”

A notable example particular to the topic at hand is the discussion of religion in the opening chapters of Swami Vivekenanda’s commentary on Raja yoga.

“If there is a God we must see Him, if there is a soul we must perceive it; otherwise it is better not to believe. It is better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite.”

He goes on to discuss the differences between experiential and inferential knowledge and how that relates to the differences between the philosophies or ‘religions’ of Asia and the religions of the West.

If you’re looking to gain a broader understanding of the topic, and I would recommend it considering how novel these philosophies actually are, you can find the text here:

http://hermetic.com/vivekananda/raja-yoga/introductory.html

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43 thoughts on “Is it religious to say Namaste?

  1. I think you wrongly perceived Yoga philosophy to be atheistic. Apparently, Yoga is actually used to fill the void created by the Sankhya philosphy, which talks about proximity between what we call Prakriti (Materialistic truth, Unconscious but highly active) to Purusha (Self, Conscious but inactive) Sankhya couldn’t tell us “why” there is a proximity between two things so different, which was explained by Yoga using GOD. Although they haven’t given it much importance in their whole philo. They consider it(GOD) merely as facilitators to remove the hurdles in the path of liberation.

    The rest of the thing is highly intellectual and I really liked it 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I always have liked the meaning we attribute to namaste (regardless of whether it stays true to its use in India). Even though I am not religious I can appreciate something divine and beyond simple exteriors that resides in each of us, and I like the idea that we can all connect on a deeper level, regardless of the existence of ‘God’ or whatever other deity you might believe in (or lack thereof, in my case).

      Like

  2. I’ve read that in India, they say namaste quite often. Not just in a religious context, but also as a greeting and farewell. From what I’ve read, they also use it as a way of showing respect, especially to their elders.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. It is just like considering Culture to be Superstitious. My recent posts talk about them.

    There is a whole lot of delusion in the views of the natives and the outsiders as to what certain things in culture mean and with time the clarity is being lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Namaste is far too overused and incorrectly in Western yoga culture. The rapid expansion of this as a business enterprise rather than a masterful way to connect mind-body-spirit together has taken away from the true meaning of the phrase. It is definitely a spiritualistic greeting and has far greater implications than simply meaning “greetings.” Here is the meaning that a highly enlightened spiritual guide told me, which you won’t find on any blogs or hear it in your yoga class:

      Namaste Sat Nam = truth is my identity and I call forth the eternal truth that resides within all of us.

      This phrase applies to not only people but all living things. Use it correctly, with honor and respect for fellow mankind and our natural world.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand. It’s okay take your time. Some of posts are worth considering and discussed upon but haven’t ever got a chance to discuss with you over any post interactively.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Humorously, my mother and I had just engaged in this exact conversation, because she was truly curious if it IS a religious statement after hearing about this news article. This was extremely enlightening: thank you for the thoughtful and informative piece.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a coincident! 😀 Nice to know 🙂
      I think the whole panic described in the news article is the type of Oriental-ism that colors how Western cultures see anything from the East. Either that, or it’s just xenophobia masked as a legitimate concern over the separation of church and state.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In itself, there is nothing wrong with religion. The real issue is at the subconscious level. ‘My’ religion instinctively brings in… ‘your’ religion under the scanner and this brings in the doubts related to ‘my’ behavior and’ your’ behavior.

    The people having problems with ‘Namaste’ have naturally no problems with ‘Good Morning’ and the people having problems with both Namaste & Good Morning, may not have any problems with ‘Salamaalekum’ !!

    For me, God, Allah and Ishwar are, the ‘Trinity’ ……the ‘Trinity of Deception’. And for me “the Creator” has solved many problems and answered…all questions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with most of your points.
      “If there is a God we must see Him, if there is a soul we must perceive it; otherwise it is better not to believe. It is better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite.”
      when we talk about a better thing to do(the usefulness, right?), then maybe there is a question of whether the thing must be proven. “believing” in god, having an empty idea is equal to being a hypocrite. when you believe in god and the soul, shouldn’t you be able to do things? so he never says there isn’t any God and soul, he just says you gotta search for yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have tried to be a believer and non believer both. I found both irrelevant and ineffective because both ARE….’Trninty of Deception oriented’.

        I kept telling the Trinity not to interfere in my life but like an ever loyal spouse ” IT / THEY” would not listen.

        Ultimately I learnt to shift my focus to the Creator from the Trinity and from the Creator to the Creation. Now I am at peace. I find the Creator both religious ( minus religions) and scientific and of course spiritual.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Stopped by seeing that pic. Guess it’s Ravi Pillai’s daughter? But the amount of gold on her is too less, so I’m in doubt… lol

    I have never given a thought about Namaste and it’s interpretations. Good read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well all I would like to say is, it’s just like the hello how are yous and howdys, which is how we greet everyone. And even if it’s religious I don’t see any harm in ignoring it or just saying a hello or a howdy in reply. It’s all in a good way to bring smiles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with most of your points. Sam Harris says lots of the same things about Buddhist and Hindu traditions in his book “Waking Up”. The greeting “namaste” is effectively “hello” in India nowadays, if it wasn’t always like that.

      NAMASTE: An ancient Sanskrit understanding…
      I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells.
      I honor the place in you, which is of Love, of Truth, of Light, and of Peace.
      When you are in that place in you… and I am in that place in me,
      We are One.

      Like

  8. To be honest, I think the word has become a trendy phrase in the US ans is overused. That being said, the same people that ban it should also ban the phrase “bless you” when someone sneezes, if they want to be pa

    Liked by 1 person

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