The Beauty of Namaste

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Namaste - The Significance of a Yogic Greeting

The word nama is split into two, na and ma. Na signifies negation and ma represents mine. The meaning would then be 'not mine'. The import being that the individual soul belongs entirely to the Supreme soul, which is identified as residing in the individual towards whom the namaste is directed. Indeed there is nothing that the soul can claim as its own. Namaste is thus the necessary rejection of 'I' and the associated phenomena of egotism. It is said that 'ma' in nama means death (spiritual), and when this is negated (na-ma), it signifies immortality.

The whole action of namaste unfolds itself at three levels: mental, physical, and verbal.

It starts with a mental submission. This submission is in the spirit of total surrender of the self. This is parallel to the devotion one expresses before a chosen deity, also known as bhakti. The devotee who thus venerates with complete self-surrender is believed to partake the merits or qualities of the person or deity before whom he performs this submission. There is a prescription in the ancient texts known as Agamas that the worshipper of a deity must first become divine himself, for otherwise worship as a transaction would become invalid. A transaction can only be between equals, between individuals who share some details in common. Hence by performing namaste before an individual we recognize the divine spark in him. Further by facilitating our partaking of these divine qualities, namaste makes us aware of these very characteristics residing within our own selves. Simply put, namaste intimates the following:

'The God in me greets the God in you
The Spirit in me meets the same Spirit in you'

In other words, it recognizes the equality of all, and pays honor to the sacredness of all.

The "namaste" is a gesture of greeting in some Indian (Hindi?) cultures and groups. I have always found the gesture to be mysteriously beautiful and gracious. I have not thoroughly understood it, although I always had in mind the couplet just before the last sentence.

I often wish that western cultures had such a gesture or such a greeting. It is far less aggressive than the handshake, and what could be better than to be able to say to another, I salute the Image of Christ you are? How much more affirming could we possibly be?

Hence, namaste, though it does not come from my culture or my background, appeals to me deeply. Those who live within the culture may see it another way, but to salute the Divine within, the Holy Spirit who dwells in all people, who shines forth from believers and nonbelievers alike, who guides us all to the same end. What could be better, more compassionate, more meaningful.

And so all of St. Blogs--I hail the Holy Spirit within each of you and offer you peace and greetings in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If I could accompany this with a bow, a gesture of respect, I would do so. So let us suffice with the Japanese Honorific, Stblogs-san.

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Western culture did have such a greeting once, at least in the Catholic mass: The Lord be with you. / And with your spirit.

As a matter of fact, the Catholic mass still has that greeting, although you wouldn't know it from the current English translation. Dominus vobiscum. / Et cum spiritu tuo.

Dear Jack,

I was speaking of a more general, societal greeting that expresses the same thing in every day life. It would be nice to be reminded that every time you encounter another person, you are encountering God who dwells within him or her.

But yes, the greeting does exist--it just doesn't do the same thing Namaste does on a day-to-day basis.



In that case, the etymology of "Goodbye" is "God be with ye." :-)

In any case, I've always been troubled by the vagueness of "the God dwelling within me." The first time I ever heard it was from a Hindu, and I'm reasonably sure that they don't mean it in the same way that we might. My impression is that they consider the other divine; we wouldn't.

Am I wrong?

Dear Jack,

I cannot speak with any authority on Hindu theology. My understanding is that every person is enlivened with a spark of the Atman, the spark of life from Brahmin the creator of all. So, technically, the God within would, it would seem be the equivalent of the Holy Spirit. But then, that is only a very vague analogy and may be doing serious mischief to both Christian and Hindu understandings.

But then, I've also had explained to me how Hinduism is actually monotheistic. I don't comprehend that either.

You may be correct that the Hindu understanding would not be the equivalent of the Christian understanding, but does that render a greeting based on the Christian understanding invalid? I don't suggest we adopt the Namaste, although I think that might well be done with a Christian understanding quite easily; however, I do think that a greeting which salutes the essential dignity of the Other would work not only as a reminder of that essential fact, but also as an exercise in deep humility, as suddenly we're called to recall that we are not "all that."



But then, I've also had explained to me how Hinduism is actually monotheistic. I don't comprehend that either.

I have heard that, too: when I was in seminary. Later, I asked a Hindu student what he thought of it, and he replied that it was absolutely false. I asked, well, for example, is it possible that all the different Hindu gods could simply be manifestations of only one if them, the chief god? He persisted, no, that can't be the case.

Whom to believe on the true nature of Hinduism: Catholic theologians, or the Hindu faithful? I'm a little perplexed.

You may be correct that the Hindu understanding would not be the equivalent of the Christian understanding, but does that render a greeting based on the Christian understanding invalid?

Not at all; I was simply explaining my bigotry. :-)

Dear Jack,

On the other hand, in my conversation with a Hindu believer he chided me for believing that they thought there were ten-thousand little Gods. He pointed out that they were all avatars and incarnations. He said that the chief problem with Christianity was the stinginess of the God who allowed only one incarnation, whereas the Hindu have many starting with Lord Krsna.

Again, I can't comment, but I suspect that there is a great depth of variance of the understanding of theology just as there is in Catholicism. We wouldn't necessarily trust the lay Catholic in the streets to explain with exact precision the majority of Catholic doctrines--so I don't know to what degree the Hindus are schooled, and I suspect the depth of the schooling may have to do with the education at home.

None of this stands in the way of your chief objection, with which I agree in principle. If one were to have such a greeting, it must be on one's own terms, not trying to take something that may be quite different culturally and pulling it into our own faith. Such acculturation does damage to both parties.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 5, 2005 12:22 PM.

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