Wednesday, May 18, 2005


I'm excited to be going to my daughter Claire's school next Monday to talk to her (6th grade) social studies class about my travels . . . they had learned about India as part of their studies and both Bob Peterson (her teacher) and I thought it would be fun to recount some tales and answer questions.

Beginning to plan what we'll talk about, I thought the greeting "namaste" would be interesting to discuss a bit. It is used by Hindus and Buddhists alike, and is commonly heard throughout India. I'd been told it's a greeting that carries a recognition and honoring of the soul and/or spirit in one another. And that was all i really knew about it, except that it seems to really "open" a coming together with someone else in a way that "hi, how are you doing?" doesn't.

Wanting to learn more about the origin of "namaste" I went online and came upon a website with an article copyrighted by the Himalayan Academy . . . authored by "Jai Maharaj," who is listed as a Vedic Astrologer, the article is titled "Namaste! How Is It Pronounced? What Does It Mean?

Understanding that it represents a combination of both viewpoint and fact, I found the article interesting and clearly written. I include it here:


Namaste! How Is It Pronounced? What Does It Mean?

For, Hindu(s), of course, the greeting of choice is "Namaste," the two hands pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed as one says, "Namaste." Thus it is both a spoken greeting and a gesture, a Mantr(a) and a Mudr(a).

Commonly written "Namaste", it is pronounced as "Namastay" with the first two a's as the first a in "America" and the ay as in "stay", but with the t pronounced soft with the area just behind the tip of the tongue pressing against the upper-front teeth with no air passing (as the t in "tamasha").

The prayerful hand position is a Mudr(a) called Anjali, from the root Anj, "to adorn, honor, celebrate or anoint." The hands held in union signify the oneness of an apparently dual cosmos, the bringing together of spirit and matter, or the self meeting the Self. It has been said that the right hand represents the higher nature or that which is divine in us, while the left hand represents the lower, worldly nature.

In Sanskrit "Namas" means, "bow, obeisance, reverential salutation." It comes from the root Nam, which carries meanings of bending, bowing, humbly submitting and becoming silent. "Te" means "to you." Thus "namaste" means "I bow to you." the act of greeting is called "Namaskaram," "Namaskara" and "Namaskar" in the varied languages of the subcontinent.

Namaste has become a veritable icon of what is Bharatiye. (i.e., "Indian" -- mw) Indeed, there must be a Bharatiye law which requires every travel brochure, calendar and poster to include an image of someone with palms pressed together, conveying to the world Bharat's hospitality, spirituality and graceful consciousness. You knew all that, of course, but perhaps you did not know that there can be subtle ways of enhancing the gesture, as in the West one might shake another's hand too strongly to impress and overpower them or too briefly, indicating the withholding of genuine welcome.

In the case of Namaste, a deeper veneration is sometimes expressed by bringing the fingers of the clasped palms to the forehead, where they touch the brow, the site of the mystic Third Eye. A third form of namaste brings the palms completely above the head, a gesture said to focus consciousness in the subtle space just above the Brahma-randhra, the aperture in the Crown Chakr(a). This form is so full of reverence it is reserved for the Almighty and the holiest of Sat Guru(s). It is always interesting, often revealing and occasionally enlightening to muse about the everyday cultural traits and habits each nation and community evolves, for in the little things our big ideas about Life find direct and personal expression.

In the West we are outgoing, forceful, externalized. We are told by Ma Bell to "reach out and touch somebody." We are unabashedly acquisitive, defining our progress in life by how much we have -- how much wealth, influence, stored up knowledge, status or whatever. Every culture exhibits these traits to some extent, but in the East Mother is there to remind us, "Reach in and touch the Self." Here in the East we are taught to be more introspective, more concerned with the quality of things than their quantity, more attuned with the interior dimension of life.

So, there you have it, the whole of Eastern and Western culture summed up in the handshake which reaches out horizontally to greet another, and Namaste, which reaches in vertically to acknowledge that, in truth, there is no other.

As a test of how these two greetings differ, imagine you are magically confronted with the Divine. The Paramatma, Almighty, walks up to you on the street. What do you do? Reach out to shake His hand? Probably not. Though suitable between man and man, it's an unseemly expression between man and Paramatma. We never shake hands with Paramatma. I mean, what if your palms are sweating?

So you namaste instead. The reason it feels natural to namaste before Paramatma is that it is, in its very essence, a spiritual gesture, not a worldly one. By a handshake we acknowledge our equality with others. We reveal our humanity. We convey how strong we are, how nervous, how aggressive or passive. There is bold physicality to it.

For these and other reasons, Popes never shake hands. Kings never shake hands. Even mothers don't shake hands with their own children. Namaste is cosmically different. Kings do namaste, Sat Guru(s) namaste and mothers namaste to their own family. We all namaste before the Almighty, a holy man or even a holy place. The namaste gesture bespeaks our inner valuing of the sacredness of all. It betokens our intuition that all souls are divine, in their essence. It reminds us in quite a graphic manner, and with insistent repetition, that we can see Paramatma everywhere and in every human being we meet.

It is saying, silently, "I see the Deity in us both, and bow before Him or Her. I acknowledge the holiness of even this mundane meeting. I cannot separate that which is spiritual in us from that which is human and ordinary."

And while we are singing the praises of Namaste, it should be observed how efficient a gesture it is in an age of mass communication. A politician, or performer can greet fifty thousand people with a single Namaste, and they can return the honor instantly. In such a situation a handshake is unthinkable and a mere waving of one hand is somehow too frivolous.

There are other, more mystical meanings behind Namaste. The nerve current of the body converge in the feet, the solar plexus and the hands. Psychic energy leaves the body at these junctures. To "ground" that energy and balance the flow of Pran(a) streaming through the nerve system, Yogi(s) cross their legs in the lotus posture, and bring their hands together. The Anjali Mudra acts like a simple Yog(ic) Asan(a), balancing and harmonizing our energies, keeping us centered, inwardly poised and mentally protected. It closes our aura, shielding us psychically. It keeps us from becoming too externalized, thus we remain close to our intuitive nature, our super consciousness.

Here are some insights into Namaste from a number of Hindu(s):

** Namaste elevates one's consciousness, reminding one that all beings, all existence is holy, is the Almighty. It communicates, "I honor or worship the Divinity within you." Also it draws the individual inward for a moment, inspires reflection on the deeper realities, softening the interface between people. It would be difficult or offend or feel animosity toward any one you greet as Paramatma.

** Namaste is a gesture of friendship and kindness, also of thanks or special recognition. Mystically it is called "Namaskara Mudra" in the Agami(c) Pooja, and it centers one's energy within the spine.

**I've heard it means "I salute the Almighty within you." The true Namaste gesture is accompanied by bowing the head and shoulders slightly. This is a gesture that lessens our sense of ego and self-centeredness, requiring some humility to do it well -- whereas shaking hands can be quite an arrogant event.

** Touching the hands together puts you in touch with your center, your soul. Namaste puts you forward as a soul, not an outer personality.

** The gesture has a subtle effect on the aura and nerve system, bringing focused attention and a collection of one's forces, so to speak. It also protects against unnecessary psychic connections which are fostered by shaking hands. This might be called a form of purity also -- protecting one's energies. This form of acknowledgment is so lovely, so graceful. Just look at two people in Namaste and you will see so much human beauty and refinement.

-- Jai Maharaj


So, as of now, I intend to greet the class with a proper, respectful "namaste" and go from there . . . mw