Thou Art That
Rev. David M Bryce
(In the Chandogya Upanishad, a father teaches his son about nature and the divine nature. In revealing the divine within nature, he repeatedly says to his son, “Thou art that”. There are some implications if we are, indeed, that.)
In the following synopsis of Hinduism I am leaving out much but must do so if I am to do anything other than an historical review.
The Vedas of Hinduism are collections of writings, mostly hymns but other writings as well. The Rig Veda is believed to be the oldest and it dates back to probably 1500 BCE, three thousand five hundred years ago.
The Upanishads are writings that develop the philosophy or theology of the Vedas. They are generally believed to have been written between 800 BCE to 400 BCE.
The four Vedas and the Upanishads are the primary texts for the VedantaschoolofHinduism, which is only one of several branches of Hinduism.
There are a number of Vedanta commentaries. Among the greatest expositors of the Upanishads and of Vedanta philosophy are Sankara and Ramanuja
Sankara and Ramanuja are examples of some of the differing views on the Vedanta message. I mention them because Vedanta is not a single theology.
For Vedanta the message of the Vedas and Upanishads is that the ultimate truth of all is Brahman, the one true God and Creator. All else–including our individual souls–is but a part of Brahman. When the soul is released from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, it will merge back into Brahman becoming one with it though Vedantins differ on whether the soul disappears into Brahman or whethrr it retains something of its individuality.
The father teaches Svetaketu that the subtle essence of the banyan tree is Brahman, and that same subtle essence is within himself.
So the father is saying to his son that the self within him is identical with the Self that is Brahman and that infuses the entire universe and that therefore Svetaketu himself has and is this divine nature.
I am reminded of Carl Sagan’s science series Cosmos in which he has a similar message. Sagan stated that we arise from the Cosmos and we return to it, and that we are the means by which the Cosmos may know itself.
Let us hear the message of the Chandogya Upanishad as one vision of possibility. Let us hear the word “Brahman” and the word “divinity” as equal to the words God, or Cosmos or ultimate truth, whatever that may be for us.
If the Upanishad has within it truth–if we are indeed filled with the divine nature–does that change our views of ourselves and our place in the world? Does it affect our expectations of ourselves?
And then how shall we treat ourselves, and how shall we behave in life?
There are three paths one may follow with this idea of the divine within. The first, which is perhaps a sermon for next year, is how this affects our visions of and our behavior towards our fellow human beings.
And the second, perhaps a sermon for two year from now, is how this affects our vision of and behavior towards the other living beings with whom we share this planet and the universe.
The third, which I will speak to this morning, is how this affects our visions and expectations of ourselves.
I am a manifestation of the divine. And so are you. That is the message of the Upanishad.
The thought that I am of divine nature calls up higher expectations of myself. If there is divinity within me, should I not act as if that is so? Should I not strive to be and do what I would expect a divine being to be and do?
And the first thing I will say is that a divine being that is judgmental and punishing, that is over-demanding and who kills those who disobey or denies them entry into heaven in any afterlife that may exist, that divine being is not worthy of worship. It is worthy of fear; but not of worship.
For me, a divine being worthy of that name is loving, kind, gentle, forgiving and accepting of all people.
And so if I have divine nature within me, my expectations of that divine nature call upon me to be loving, kind, gentle, forgiving and accepting of all people. At my best I strive to be these things; though I rarely succeed.
For example, my vision of divinity is of a being or an existence that is outwardly focused, that is concerned about others to the neglect of self. I know that this is not a popular idea today; I know that our culture is saturated with a belief in self love first. The claim is, of course, that I need to love myself before I can love others. But I find that idea drifts too readily into self love only; I find that it becomes a self centeredness which denies the needs of or even the value of other people.
I confess that I too easily succumb to a self centeredness that does not allow me to be the loving person that I could be. That is true not only in my views of or relationship with humanity in general, but it can also filter in to my closest relationships, the ones I have with my family, and with my closest family, my wife and daughter.
My self-centeredness, which can become a kind of narcissistic practice, too often separates me from others and from their needs.
I have enough self-awareness to know that I need a great deal of alone time, more than many people. If I do not have enough alone time I cannot function well for others. But I can convert that need for some alone time into a practice of concern for self alone. To me, that is not the behavior I expect of a divine being.
Also, too often I become judgmental of other people’s failures—or more accurately, of their failure to live up to my standards for them or for their behavior. The outward focus I expect of a divine being includes seeing the weaknesses and shortcomings of others as part of their unique being. Should a God or a Goddess end up judging me, I hope they do so with the gentle realization that I am only a human being and cannot possibly live up to their standards. Should I not do the same for others?
When it comes to forgiveness I am a Universalist. I want and expect any divine being to forgive me all of my shortcomings and failures, including any acts I may have taken against that divine being.
They are not worthy of my worship if they do not do that.
Oh, my goodness, did I just say that? What arrogance. And what level of judgment do I hold divinity to?
Set that aside, the fact is that I believe in forgiveness as part of the nature of the divine in the universe. If so, and if I am filled with the divine essence, then I should expect forgiveness towards other from myself.
In truth, there are a lot of people who I have not forgiven. I want to work on that. And while I am a Humanist and therefore have some doubts about the efficacy of prayer, one of the things I intend to do during the coming week is to pray for those who I have not yet forgiven for their actions against me. Not a prayer that hopes they will finally see the errors of their ways, but a prayer that they will be well.
In judging myself for my failures, I hope that I will be as kind towards myself as I would wish for a divine spirit to be.
No matter what my failings are, no matter what pain or sorrow I have inflicted on myself or others, let me recognize that I am a manifestation of the divine nature, that my essence is pure, that I am worthy of love of self, love from others, love from the Cosmos, from the Goddess or from God.
I am worthy; I am lovable, I am loved.