Yeah. That’s Not You

The Greek is “Know Yourself” from excavations in the convent of San Gregorio in Rome.

VEDIC ANTHROPOLOGY responds to the question of Divine Transcendence vs Immanence by way of the Mahāvākyas, the Great Sayings of the Upanishads. These are four in number and they highlight the lack of division between self (which is an illusion) and the universal consciousness. The wiki sums this up with, “They all express the insight that the individual self (jiva) which appears as a separate existence, is in essence (atman) part and manifestation of the whole (Bramha).” I did not know about three of the sayings until today, when I was researching the one that I did know: tat tvam asi तत् त्वम् असि. It means, colloquially, that is you.

A better translation is being-ness you is you-ing. तत् tat, indicates the essence of being, and I think gets at the sense of what St Thomas means when he says God is beingness, ipsum esse subsistens: in God Being and Essence are the same thing. For the Vedas, however, तत् त्वम् असि tat tvam asi means that same Being/Essence is true of all of us, because our individuality is an illusion: all is one thing. ν τὸ πᾶν hen to pan as the pagan Greeks would say, “all is one”. The deeper one delves into oneself the more one sees that one is that universal being-ness. It is in contemplation of this realization that one learns to let go of all illusion.

This is not Christian anthropology, however. Physical reality is not an illusion. Individual persons are not illusions. In fact, each of us retains an image of God: the Unique Individual who is being in his essence. In the Christian Revelation, God is not only the Unique Individual but, in his being, he is a community of persons, a superfluity of love and communion flowing outwards in creation. Each of us was made by intention for participation in this continual outpouring. As the Fathers say, all human beings (individual persons) share in one Human Nature. And, through the incarnation of God, our common human nature is now united with Divinity and seated at the Right Hand of the Father. We all share in this glory if we open ourselves to participation for we are closed off, pretending/insisting/deluded into feeling we are isolated and that our success or failure rests on our own actions, in this world only.

All of that by way of introduction, by way of setting up that for the Christain, the human beingness of the person is deeper than anything we can imagine, sense, touch, or see. As CS Lewis once wrote, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” You are that as well. All human beings are that.

That’s what I want to turn a corner in this meditation. You know how Babies are Made: Egg meets sperm. Genetic material from Mom and Dad combine, like the Yin and the Yang in the Taoist symbol. Where each side (yin/yang) contains also their parents in a Yin/Yang combination as well. The Christian teaching is that at that moment God especially creates a soul for that person. All animals reproduce in some way, genetic material combining in some way, but for human beings it is different: for God gives a unique, individual soul to each meeting of egg and sperm. This is why, for faithful Catholics, that being cannot be killed from conception to natural death without offending the God who created it. It’s not about “viability” or “quality of life”, it matters not about the mental capacity or the social participation, about the cost or the pain. In short: from conception to natural death, each human being is 50% Mommy’s DNA, 50% Daddy’s, and 100% God’s. The Yin/Yang of DNA is Ensouled. (Mommy+Daddy)God. An animal is a fleshly being, an Angel is a spiritual being. A Human Being is another thing entirely: flesh and spirit in one beingness. Higher than animals, but lower than Angels, and seated at the right hand of God the Father in Glory. This is what it means to be human. Tat Tvam Asi. Then things happen to us.

Knowing that, you can see the Christian response to racism: which is to remark on something decidedly besides the point. One’s culture, one’s skin color, one’s ancestry makes one no less a living image of God than any other human. To deny the humanity of another based on their skin color is to literally blaspheme the holiest object (other than the Host) available to us.

But I want to carry this conversation not forward to how we react to others (abortion and racism are a good conversation to have in that context, as are any other form of economic or political oppression of the weaker by the powerful). Let’s carry it backward to how we view ourselves: what do I add to this beingness that God has given me?

Paul’s comments about social position, ethnicity, and even sex are important. Paul notes that there is neither “Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male and female.” I think there might be a whole book to write on what Paul means by his two-fold neither/nor followed by one neither/and but I only want to point out that Paul pushes us all the way back to the beingness we all share from that instant of (Mommy+Daddy)God. We add a lot of things to that: national identities, race, sexualities, neurodiversities, class, politics, religion, wealth, education… and we divide people by these data points. Thing is, that’s not you. Those data points are not who you are. To paraphrase our Sanskrit, each of those things, Tat Tvam Na Asi. तत् त्वम् न असि That is not your being.

We create cultural identities for these data points and then we insist these are our realities, instead of the Fleshly Ensoulment of (Mommy+Daddy)God that is our divine right. That, and that alone, is the only thing that counts in the end. We know this and still we push those other things into what it means to be “me” on equal standing with our Divine Humanity.

Instead of trusting by faith what God has told us we look to our feelings, our desires, our passions, our pangs of hunger to define us. We fail to see the gift of the body God gave us as anything other than a tool to fulfill our desires. We think we can abuse it to get that fulfillment even when the abuse is not according to the obvious and natural use of our ensouled flesh. We treat our mind and our feeling as “more me” than our body. When it is body and soul that come together to make the person. We do this by pretending “some of my best friends are…” and also by pretending we can ignore the DNA coursing through every cell in our body.

We treat the body as not-me, and try to bring into alignment with what we imagine “me” to be. To this end entire industries have developed to keep us looking young or, indeed, keep us looking like anything other than the body God gave us. To imply God gave us such a body is an imposition on our rights but (Mommy+Daddy)God will not go away.

This is the oft-unspoken part of Christian anthropology, the Mystery of it. You’ve heard it misspoke at funerals, especially of children: dying to become an angel. “God wanted another angel.” But Angels are beings entirely of spirit. Death is the breaking of a human into two halves: for Human Beingness is flesh and soul. The Glory is that at the general Resurrection all souls and their bodies will be one again. Death is the final enemy of division that will be conquered. But already it is undone: for death is no longer the end for us, in Christ the Resurrection has already begun. So, even in eternity, (Mommy+Daddy)God will be with us. This is us fully. When we die we will be this still. Tat Tvam Asi.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.