All of Us Are One
by Eknath Easwaran
by Eknath Easwaran
One of the surest proofs of spiritual awareness is that you will have respect and concern for all people, whatever country they come from, whatever the color of their skin, whatever religion they profess.
When I was working as a professor in India, one of the responsibilities I enjoyed was attending graduations. Located near the geographic center of the country, my university drew students from all over India – Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, and Christians, dark-skinned Tamils from the far south, fair-skinned Pathans, Ladhakis with Oriental features, and every shade of difference in between. Graduation was a colorful affair, as much a celebration for me as for any of my students – a crowning achievement we had worked for together.
Invariably, that unity in diversity would remind me of another graduation perhaps five thousand years earlier. The Chandogya Upanishad, one of the most ancient of India’s scriptures, tells the story of a young man named Shvetaketu who has just graduated from one of ancient India’s “forest academies” and returns home to tell his father what he has learned.
“You seem to be proud of all this learning,” the father tells his son. “But did you ask your teachers for that spiritual wisdom which enables you to hear the unheard, think the unthought, and know the unknown?”
“Well, no, Father,” Shvetaketu confesses. “They never mentioned such a thing. What is that wisdom?” And his father proceeds to tell him, in one of the most luminous and lyrical passages in the annals of mysticism anywhere:
As by knowing one gold nugget, dear one, we come to know all things made out of gold – that they differ only in name and form, while the stuff of which all are made is gold – so through this spiritual wisdom, we come to know that all of life is one.
Look around at the gold ornaments people wear. They appear different – necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pendants – but all of them are made of the same gold; it is only the shapes and sizes that differ. Similarly, Shvetaketu’s father is telling him, though people may be white or black, golden or red or brown, tall or short, Western or Eastern, all of us are one.
It is so simple to understand: what hurts you hurts others. You wouldn’t like anybody to tell tales about you. You wouldn’t like anybody to speak unkindly to you. You wouldn’t like anybody to provoke you. That is all we have to remember – yet it is something we always forget.
“My teachers must not have known this wisdom,” Shvetaketu says, “for if they had known, how could they have failed to teach it to me?” He is being very nice about his teachers. “Father, please instruct me in this wisdom.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” his father replies. “In the beginning was only Being, one without a second. Out of himself he brought forth the cosmos and entered into everything in it” – into everybody, father and mother, son and daughter, friend and enemy, you and me. “There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
This is the refrain of the story, repeated over and over to drive it home: “Tat tvam asi, You are that” – that divine essence from which all creation came. Not only are all of us one, but each has the same spark of divinity at the core of our being. The Sanskrit scriptures call it simply Atman: the Self.
This is not just an Indian idea; it is the essence of mysticism everywhere. In each of us there is an essential core that cannot be shaken by any circumstance, that time cannot change, that death itself cannot reach. If we could only be aware of that in every moment, what a difference that would make in our daily lives!
“As bees suck nectar from many a flower,” the father continues, “and make their honey one, so that no drop can say ‘I am from this flower or that,’ all creatures, though one, know not they are that One.”
In other words, separating people on the basis of superficial differences – race, religion, gender, age – is a kind of optical delusion. Discriminating against others on any pretense whatever shows a defect in our vision. It is because our vision is false that there is racial discrimination, exploitation, and war. That is why the Buddha says the greatest service any of us can render is to correct people’s vision – not by preaching, but by personal example.
There is a good deal of compassion in this approach. People who are unkind simply don’t see others, don’t see the rights of others. People who are selfish are blind to the needs of others. People who think only about themselves are suffering from myopia.
We don’t blame people for being short-sighted; we encourage them to correct their vision. In fact, we are all half blind because we behave towards other people not as they are, but as we think they are – what the Upanishads call “name and form.” We respond to them according to how they appear to us. We like people because of their form; we dislike people because of their form; we cling to people because of their form; we move away from people because of their form. It’s a simple but far-reaching way of accounting for why we lack in kindness or respect to those around us: we are really not seeing them; we are seeing our own images of them, projections we make of them in our own minds.
The same spark of divinity – this same Self – is enshrined in every creature. My real Self is not different from yours nor anyone else’s. The mystics are telling us that if we want to live in the joy that increases with time, if we want to live in true freedom independent of circumstances, then we must strive to realize that even if there are four people in our family or forty at our place of work, there is only one Self.
This realization enables us to learn to conduct ourselves with respect to everyone around us, even if they provoke us or dislike us or say unkind things about us. And that increasing respect will make us more and more secure. It will enable us gradually to win everybody’s respect, even those who disagree with us or seem disagreeable.
When the sages talk about “realization,” what they mean is making this Self a reality in our daily living. We have to practice it in our behavior. Never talk ill of others, they are saying, even if they have faults; it doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help you. Always focus on the bright side of the other person: it helps them and it helps you. Work together in harmony even if you have serious differences; it will rub the angles and corners of your own personality.
Then you will never feel lonely, you will never feel deserted, you will never feel inadequate; you will be unshakably secure. Interestingly enough, this gradually makes those around us more secure too.
The Upanishads tell us these words should “enter the ear.” They shouldn’t just beat about the lobes; they should go in – and not just in through one ear and come out the other; we should let their wisdom sink into the mind. Then, the Upanishads say, “Reflect on them”: learn to practice these teachings in your daily life.
When we see people who are difficult to work with, for example, that’s the time to practice. Instead of avoiding such people or quarreling with them, why not try to work with them? Why not work in harmony and try to support them?
This doesn’t mean conniving at weaknesses, and it doesn’t mean we have to say yes to everything they do or say; that’s a wrong conception. To connive at somebody who is not living up to his responsibilities not only doesn’t help the situation; it doesn’t help that person either.
Seeing the Self in those around us means supporting them to do better – again, not through words, but through unvarying respect and personal example. It is this unwavering focus on the Self in others that helps them realize its presence in themselves – and in us and others as well.
It is relatively easy to see the Self in others when they agree with us. It becomes difficult when they criticize us or do the opposite of what we want. But contrariness is part of life. We come from different homes, went to different schools, have been exposed to different influences, hold different views; it is only natural that we differ in all kinds of ways.
Yet these differences amount to no more than one percent of who we are. Ninety-nine percent is what we have in common. When we see only that one percent of difference, life can be terribly difficult. When we put our attention on the Self in others, however, we cease dwelling on ourselves, and that opens our awareness to the much larger whole in which all of us are the same, with the same fears, the same desires, the same hopes, the same human foibles. Then, instead of separating us, the one percent of superficial differences that remains makes up the drama of life.
We can try to remember this always: the same Self that makes us worthy of respect and love is present equally in everyone around us. When we base our relationships on this unity, showing unwavering respect and unconditional love to all, we give them – and ourselves – a sure basis on which to stand. Everyone responds to this. It is one of the surest ways I know of to make our latent divinity a reality in daily life.
This excerpt is from the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of the Blue Mountain Journal.