We all logged on at 11AM, to a virtual class discussing the Bhagavad-Gita--one of the many Hindu sacred texts. For the entire hour, each person in the meeting shared their favorite verse, with a personal statement on the impression the verse gave, along with an attempt at explaining its meaning. Representing a wide-ranging selection of perspectives, the class discussion flowed genuinely in a discursive stream. In short, it was a Bhagavad-Gita "Bible study."
Some people found business advice in verses advocating detachment from success and failure. Others related the same verse to new-age quotes from the internet. More found verses relating to the prevailing pandemic. Still others discussed the meaning of life and death, rebirth in samsara against a Western materialism that claims no afterlife, and the existence of the soul. The text, a "living text" according to the professor, searched deeply into the beliefs and values that its readers held, only to bring them to the surface and imbue them with new, variegated life.
Near the end of the discussion, when each person had exhausted their questions, the professor lowered her voice sang her favorite verse in the Gita. The meeting focused, now, on a quiet verse, sung in Sanskrit, with no meaning--only melody. A deep breath in; the professor gave a translation and interpretation of the words of the divine being:
"I dwell deep in the heart of everyone; memory, knowledge, and reasoning come from me; I am the object to be known through all sacred lore; and I am its known, the creator of final truth."
When my professor is anxious or worried about another person, she remembers this verse. She tries to communicate with that person by sending texts, emails, and phone calls, but the person will not reply. Defeated by silence; she cannot communicate with words, she cannot reach out, so she remembers this verse. In remembrance, the spirit of God in her moves toward the spirit of God in another.
I opened my daily reader for contemplative prayer today, for the first time in two months. For February 18th, the book provided a long paragraph on oneness with the divine presence, with two sentences:
"As we sit in silence, we realize our oneness with others. What is deepest in them, their oneness with the divine presence, resonates with what is deepest in us."
Between the Bhagavad Gita and the contemplative prayer reader, there is a shared meaning--a deep dwelling of the divine presence in each of us, which reaches out towards others in silence and remembrance. This is nice and pretty in theory; each person can have their individual prayer life that gives them merely a feeling of unity. A God like this merely exists privately, through a consciously-cultivated private life. This is all good and dandy, but we also all share a humanity--a humanity that is necessarily public--which, deep down, signifies divinity that unites us.
That uniting divinity, according to the Gita, is the final truth of sacred lore--or "the object of what is known" (The divine is the final meaning of the Gita). Yet, a class posited conflicting meanings, secular meanings, and, often, personal reflections that had little to do with the text. Where is the unity? Is the divine meaning so elusive? Does God play games? There appears to be no single meaning to the text, because there is no single humanity to interpret the text. In fact, this is why the text is "living;" the people interpreting the text are living, so the meanings of the text always shift according to the interpreter.
And yet, all of the interpretations of the Gita remain intelligible to me. I can understand the Gita as business advice because I can do business; I can understand the Gita as a commentary on life and death because I, too, must reflect on life and death; I can understand the Gita as a way of communicating beyond words, because I also long to communicate what can only be captured beyond language. Understanding is the path to unity; understanding attributes humanity to the other.
An understanding of each person's humanity is possible through the divine depth. This divine depth is an understanding that "I exist! and all the other details, with their abundance of meanings, are incidental to existence." And so, because each one of us is here on this planet sharing an ontological reality, and in communication with each other against all the odds of fate and chance, because each one of us strives towards love and faith and hope and life, we can say that there is a unity to our existence, and this unity, in fact, is divine.
The meaning of this is simple: God is, at least, found in others. Even without words, the spirit in me reaches out towards others; it is the movement of my own humanity toward the others around me. The spirit resonates, reaching out.