It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma. But competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity.
Krishna advising Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.
Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing… Somethin’ we was born with… Somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone… Somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned… Somethin’ that got to be remembered… Over time the world can rob us of that swing… It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas… Some folk even forget what their swing was like…,
Baggar Vance coaching Junah in Stephen Pressfield’s Baggar Vance
To thine own self be true.
Polonius counseling his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Authenticity is a virtue extolled by most all who advise on life. From our parents to our professors, philosophers to physicians, we are reminded repeatedly that the key to bliss is to be true to our selves.
Yoga, too emphasizes the importance of authenticity. The yogic term most often used is satya, truthfulness, the second Yama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. But is Satya really the best word for authenticity? Is honesty equal to authenticity? I think authenticity implies much more.
Arjuna was being truthful when he voiced his hesitations to Krishna, but was he being authentic, true to his dharma? Isn’t that what Krishna spent 18 chapters and 700 slokas trying to reveal to him? Authenticity demands more of us than simply speaking truth, which can vary depending on the context, the time, etc. Authenticity conveys something more permanent, deeper than temporal truthfulness.
Patanjali says we must also engage in svadhyaya (self-study, the fifth niyama) and viveka (discernment) to see past the filters (kleshas) which blind us like Baggar’s “wouldas and couldas”. Authenticity implies work (tapas), courage and strength as we endeavor to recognize and then peel away the obstacles that keep us from seeing our authentic self (thank you Ganesha). Authenticity is an ongoing project, not just speaking the truth in our everyday interactions. We don’t just look in a mirror to see our truth, we have to scrub away the film that can distort our authentic reflection.
So what is the Sanskrit word for authenticity? Surely we don’t need to string together all the aforementioned words to convey this essential concept, surely there’s ONE WORD to express the idea of work, self-study, dharma, process. To answer this question, I again consulted Lorin Roche who directed me to the spokensanskrit dictionary (http://spokensanskrit.de/) an invaluable resource for studying Sanskrit. Here’s what I found for authenticity, “ऋतम्भर, ṛtaṃbhara, bearing the truth in one’s self”. Voila! One beautiful word to express not just truthfulness, but also the work entailed to bear authenticity.
We see this word in Vedic’s Rtambhara Prajna, what Yuga Rishi Shriram Sharma Acharya calls “the grace of pure, righteous and authentic knowledge”.
He goes on to say that when we sing to Gayatri, the goddess of righteous knowledge, “our divine eye opens and we attain self-realization and spiritual vision”. The Vedas say there is nothing more sacred than the grace of bearing the truth of oneself.
Patanjali uses “rtambhara” in 1.48 of his Yoga Sutras, Rtambhara-Tatra-Prajna, “in this state, the Consciousness is Truth bearing.” (http://theyogainstitute.org). So again, there is the implication of work, bearing, embodying.
Last week I had the pleasure of spending six days with six women who exemplified authenticity. Ranging in age from 23 to 63, vocationally from gynocological oncology surgery to recent college graduation, regionally from Switzerland to Washington, DC., we did not look like a homogeneous group. But within a few hours we bonded in our authentic intention…to relax, eat delicious nutritious food, do yoga and experience another culture. Because of this unifying intention, we were in sync all week. Together we faced fears (cliff jumping for the non-swimmers, cultural surprises for the squeamish, non-drinking for the drinkers), shared secrets, cried till we laughed and laughed till we cried.
How did we so quickly reach a place of such authenticity and intimacy? Maybe because we were in the oasis of a Yoga Retreat. Maybe because of the moistness in the air and the great food. Maybe because we came with no expectations of each other. We were all at ease to do “the grace of bearing truth of oneself.” Why pretend?
Or maybe it was my pants. The woman who grew up in India noticed the Sanskrit on my capris, broke into a huge smile and explained, “this is what we sang each morning in grade school!” Then she sang in sweet Sanskrit, O Lord Ganesha, of curved trunk, large body, and with the brilliance of a million suns, please make all my works free of obstacles, always. The implication is the recognition that authenticity is a constant process; it takes effort, the energy of Ganesha, Gayatri and intention. It’s more than just speaking truth, it’s the ongoing, day to day process of self-study, discretion and work. Around 2500 years ago, Lao Tsu said something like this, When we let go of who we think we are, we become who we truly are….and that is liberation (moksha).