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  • nachiketan
    Aug 28, 2004

      Namaste: The Significance of a Yogic Greeting

      In a well-known episode it so transpired that the great lover god
      Krishna made away with the clothes of unmarried maidens, fourteen
      to seventeen years of age, bathing in the river Yamuna. Their
      fervent entreaties to him proved of no avail. It was only after
      they performed before him the eternal gesture of namaste was he
      satisfied, and agreed to hand back their garments so that they
      could recover their modesty.

      Illustration : http://www.exoticindia.com/artimages/ha91.jpg (Size
      87 kb)

      The gesture (or mudra) of namaste is a simple act made by
      bringing together both palms of the hands before the heart, and
      lightly bowing the head. In the simplest of terms it is accepted
      as a humble greeting straight from the heart and reciprocated

      Illustration : http://www.exoticindia.com/artimages/zj23.jpg (Size
      53 kb)

      Namaste is a composite of the two Sanskrit words, nama, and te.
      Te means you, and nama has the following connotations:

      1). To bend

      2). To bow

      3). To sink

      4). To incline

      5). To stoop

      All these suggestions point to a sense of submitting oneself to
      another, with complete humility. Significantly the word 'nama'
      has parallels in other ancient languages also. It is cognate with
      the Greek nemo, nemos and nosmos; to the Latin nemus, the Old
      Saxon niman, and the German neman and nehman. All these
      expressions have the general sense of obeisance, homage and
      veneration. Also important here is to note that the root 'nama'
      is a neuter one, the significance of which will be elaborated
      upon later.

      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.

      Translated into a bodily act, namaste is deeply rich in
      symbolism. Firstly the proper performance of namaste requires
      that we blend the five fingers of the left hand exactly with the
      fingers of the right hand. The significance behind this simple
      act in fact governs the entire gamut of our active life. The five
      fingers of the left hand represent the five senses of karma, and
      those of the right hand the five organs of knowledge. Hence it
      signifies that our karma or action must be in harmony, and
      governed by rightful knowledge, prompting us to think and act

      Illustration : http://www.exoticindia.com/artimages/zj19.jpg (Size
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      By combining the five fingers of each hand, a total of ten is
      achieved. The number ten is a symbol of perfection, and the
      mystical number of completion and unity. It is true for all
      ancient traditions. Ten is the number of the Commandments
      revealed to Moses by God. In the Pythagorean system, ten was a
      symbol of the whole of creation. Ancient Chinese thought also
      regarded ten as the perfectly balanced number.

      Another significant identification of namaste is with the
      institution of marriage, which represents a new beginning, and
      the conjoining of the male and female elements in nature.
      Marriage is a semi-divine state of wholeness - a union between
      the opposite principles of male and female necessary to create and
      protect new life. The idea of human divine association was often
      expressed in terms of marriage, as in the description of nuns as
      "brides of Christ". Thus in the exhaustive marriage rituals of
      India, after the elaborate ceremonies have been completed, the
      new husband and wife team perform namaste to each other. Wedding
      customs, full of symbolic meanings, attempt to ensure that
      marriages are binding, hence fruitful and happy. Namaste is one
      such binding symbolic ritual. The reconciliation, interaction and
      union of opposites is amply reflected in this spiritual gesture.
      It is hoped that the husband and wife team too would remain
      united, as are the hands joined in namaste. By physically
      bringing together the two hands, namaste is metaphorically
      reconciling the duality inherent in nature and of which the
      marriage of two humans is an earthly manifestation, a harmonious
      resolution of conflicting tensions. Thus namaste, which
      symbolizes the secret of this unity, holds the key to maintaining
      the equilibrium of life and entering the area where health,
      harmony, peace and happiness are available in plenty.

      In this context, namaste is equated with the image of
      Ardhanarishvara, the hermaphrodite form symbolizing the marriage
      of Shiva and Parvati, or the coming together of the parents of
      the universe, for the purpose of creation. In this form Shiva has
      his beloved spouse engrafted in his body. It is conjectured that
      by wresting from her husband one half of his body as her own, and
      herself commingling in his physical frame, Parvati has obtained
      an ideal, archetypal union with her husband. Indeed which couple
      could be more devoted than the one which finds completion only by
      merging into each other? By merging her creative aspect with him,
      Parvati balances Shiva's destructive urge. Similarly when
      Ardhanarishvara dances, the dance step is itself believed to be a
      combination of two principal and antagonistic styles of dance.
      'Tandava', the fierce, violent dance, fired by an explosive,
      sweeping energy, is a delirious outburst, precipitating havoc. On
      the other hand is 'lasya', the gentle, lyrical dance, full of
      sweetness, and representing the emotions of tenderness and love.
      It is in the lasya of the goddess that death is annihilated and
      turned into transformation and rejuvenation, rebirth and
      creation. The image of Ardhanarishvara is thus the perfect master
      of the two contrary elements in the manifested universe. Such an
      ideal, perfect marriage is the message of namaste. Thus is
      'nama', the root of namaste, of neuter gender, as is
      Ardhanarishvara, the androgyne.

      Illustration : http://www.exoticindia.com/artimages/zc10.jpg (Size
      60 kb)

      Namaste recognizes the duality that has ever existed in this
      world and suggests an effort on our part to bring these two
      forces together, ultimately leading to a higher unity and
      non-dual state of Oneness. Some of these dual elements which the
      gesture of namaste marries together and unifies as one are:

      God and Goddess

      Priest and Priestess

      King and Queen

      Man and Woman.

      Heaven and Earth

      Sun and Moon

      Solar bull and Lunar cow

      Sulfur and Quicksilver (Alchemy)

      Theory and Practice

      Wisdom and Method

      Pleasure and Pain

      Astral body (consciousness) and Etheric body (sensation)

      Mind and body

      Pneuma (spirit) and Psyche (mind)

      Hun (spiritual soul) and p'o (material soul) (Chinese)

      Conscious and Unconscious

      Animus (unconscious male element in woman) and Anima (unconscious
      female element in man) (Jung)

      Objectivity and Subjectivity

      Extraversion and Introversion

      Intellect and Instinct

      Reason and Emotion

      Thought and Feeling

      Inference and Intuition

      Argument and Experience

      Talent and Genius

      Silence and Cacophony

      Word and Meaning

      Schizophrenia and Epilepsy

      Depression and Mania

      Sexuality and Anxiety

      Katabolism (breaking up) and Anabolism (building up)

      Ontogeny (individual evolution) and Phylogeny (race evolution)

      Right side of body (warm) and Left side (cool)

      Front side of body (positive) and Rear side of body (negative)

      Brain and Heart

      Sahasara Chakra and Kundalini

      Insulin and Adrenalin

      Pingala (yellow solar channel in body) and Ida (white lunar

      Hot breath and Cold breath (Yoga)

      Exhalation and Inhalation (Yoga)

      Linga and Yoni

      Illustration : http://www.exoticindia.com/artimages/zj13.jpg (Size
      55 kb)

      There is indeed no sphere of our existence untouched by the
      symbolic significance of namaste.

      Finally, the gesture of namaste is unique also in the sense that
      its physical performance is accompanied by a verbal utterance of
      the word "namaste." This practice is equivalent to the chanting
      of a mantra. The sonority of the sacred sound 'namaste' is
      believed to have a quasi-magical value, corresponding to a
      creative energy change. This transformation is that of aligning
      oneself in harmony with the vibration of the cosmos itself.

      At its most general namaste is a social transaction. It is usual
      for individuals to greet when they meet each other. It is not
      only a sign of recognition but also an expression of happiness at
      each other's sight. This initial conviviality sets the positive
      tone for the further development of a harmonious relationship.
      Namaste as a greeting thus is a mosaic of movements and words
      constituting an intimation of affirmative thoughts and
      sentiments. In human society it is an approach mechanism,
      brimming with social, emotional and spiritual significance. In
      fact it is said that in namaste the hands are put together like a
      knife so that people may cut through all differences that may
      exist, and immediately get to the shared ground that is common to
      all peoples of all cultures.

      Illustration : http://www.exoticindia.com/artimages/zj18.jpg (Size
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      In this context, a comparison with the widely prevalent
      'handshake' is inevitable. Though shaking hands is an extremely
      intimate gesture, namaste scores over it in some ways. Primarily
      is the one that namaste is a great equalizer. You do namaste with
      God (and not shake hands!). A king or president cannot shake
      hands with the large multitude they are addressing. But namaste
      serves the purpose. It is the same gesture one would have
      exchanged with a king when with him alone. So no incongruity
      arises. In the absence of namaste, those facing a large audience
      will have to make do with a wave of the hands, a much less
      congenial greeting, and indeed which does not state the essential
      equality of all people, but highlights the difference even more.
      But on a parallel level it has been conjectured that both the
      namaste and the handshake developed out of a desire on the part
      of both the parties to show themselves to be unarmed and devoid
      of malicious intention. The outstretched hand, and the palms
      joined together, both establish the proponents as disarmed and
      show that they come in peace.


      As much as yoga is an exercise to bring all levels of our
      existence, including the physical and intellectual, in complete
      harmony with the rhythms of nature, the gesture of namaste is an
      yoga in itself. Thus it is not surprising that any yogic activity
      begins with the performance of this deeply spiritual gesture. The
      Buddhists went further and gave it the status of a mudra, that
      is, a gesture displayed by deities, where it was known as the
      Anjali mudra. The word Anjali itself is derived from the root
      Anj, meaning "to adorn, honor, celebrate or anoint."

      Illustration : http://www.exoticindia.com/artimages/zn11.jpg (Size
      125 kb)

      According to Indologist Renov "Meditation depends upon the
      relationship between the hands (mudras), the mouth (mantras) and
      the mind (yoga)". The performance of namaste is comprised of all
      these three activities. Thus namaste is in essence equivalent to
      meditation, which is the language of our spirit in conversation
      with god, and the perfect vehicle for bathing us in
      the rivers of divine pleasure.

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