In the meditation I lead at the beginning of my yoga classes, I often teach the Hamsa mantra, an ancient practice that dates back at least a couple of thousand years. It’s said that Buddha practiced the Hamsa mantra so I tell students that we’re joining a long tradition of meditators when we do the chant. Hamsa is a Sanskrit term that means “I am that,” or “I am all that is.” Essentially, it means that we are all interconnected at a deeper level. In fact, the word ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit means union—union of all beings.
That oneness or interconnection of all things might sometimes be hard to grasp when our experiences in the everyday world seem to show just the opposite—that a lot of things appear disconnected.
Yet, this philosophy has been around a long time. One of the precepts of shamanism, which goes back tens of thousands of years and has been handed down by primitive cultures throughout the world, is that consciousness exists in all things, including rocks and trees, and everything is interconnected in a web of life. That’s similar to Indra’s Net in Hindu mythology. It’s said that one tug on the god Indra’s net ripples throughout the Universe, everything being interconnected. In the Western World, 2,000 years ago, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: “Everything is connected and the web is holy.”
So that’s an underlying principle of humanity, but how does it hold up in the world of science? Interestingly, that’s the subject of an article here in Scientific American entitled, “What Would Happen if Everyone Truly Believed that Everything is One.” The sub-title goes on to say: “Research suggests a belief in oneness has broad implications for psychological functioning and compassion for those outside of our immediate circle.”
The article cites a couple of studies on the subject of oneness conducted by Kate Diebels and Mark Leary. In their first study, they set out to find how many of us actually believe in the “oneness of all things.” They found that only 20.3% of participants had thought about the oneness of all things “often” or “many times,” while 25.9% of people “seldom” thought about the oneness of all things, and 12.5% of people “never” had thought about it.
The researchers also created a 6-item “Belief in Oneness Scale” consisting of the following items:
- Beyond surface appearances, everything is fundamentally one.
- Although many seemingly separate things exist, they all are part of the same whole.
- At the most basic level of reality, everything is one.
- The separation among individual things is an illusion; in reality everything is one.
- Everything is composed of the same basic substance, whether one thinks of it as spirit, consciousness, quantum processes, or whatever.
- The same basic essence permeates everything that exists.
In their second study, the researchers looked at values and self-views that might be related to the belief in oneness. They found that a belief in oneness was related to values indicating a universal concern for the welfare of other people, as well as greater compassion for other people. A belief in oneness was also associated with feeling connected to others through a recognition of our common humanity, common problems, and common imperfections.
The author of the article notes the wide division in political beliefs that exist and concludes: “It might be beneficial for people all across the political spectrum to recognize and hold in mind a belief in oneness even as they are asserting their values and political belief. Only having “compassion” for those who are in your in-group, and vilifying or even becoming violent toward those who you perceive as the out-group, is not only antithetical to world peace more broadly, but is also counter-productive to political progress that advances the greater good of all humans on this planet.”