The word Namaste is a Hindi/Sanskrit word that originated in India. In India it is used when both hello and goodbye would be used in English, except its meaning is quite different however.
In Sanskrit, namah means to bow, or reverential salutation, or adoration. Te is from the Sanskrit word tvam which means “you”. Thus a literal translation could be “reverential salutation to you”. It is commonly accompanied by a slight bow with the palms pressing together and touching in front of your heart. It is an expression of good will. The Japanese have a similar word, Gassho and in Thailand it is wai.
When used in India or America this word can be taken to mean any of the following:
- The Divine in me honors the Divine in you
- I greet the place where you and I are one
- I adore you
- I salute the goodness within you
- My higher energy salutes your higher energy
- My Self greets your Self
In other words it recognizes the equality of all, and pays honor to the sacredness and interconnection between us all.
Gesture and Symbolism
The gesture used to Namaste (hand position and bow) is symbolic. The hand position is known as anjuli mudra (AHN-jah-lee MOO-dra), in the west we translate this gesture as a posture of prayer.
In Sanskrit mudra means seal or sign and refers to body positions that elicit a certain inner state or symbolize a particular meaning. Anjali means offering or anointing of honor or celebration.
As you bring your hands together at your center you are literally connecting the right and left hemispheres of your brain – the right and left sides of yourself: masculine and feminine, logic and intuition, strength and tenderness, our Spiritual Self and our worldly self – connecting into wholeness. This is the yogic process of unification, the yoking of our active and receptive natures.
The bow is a symbolic bow of love and respect, the person making the gesture is attempting to rise above his differences with others, and connect himself to the person he bows to.
Just as we express ourselves with how we shake hands with another, we can also add expression to how we Namaste. When we touch our heart with our thumbs it is symbolic of returning to our heart, our thumbs knock at the door to our heart as we try to remain open-hearted. When we touch our mystic third eye position it is showing a deeper veneration or respect and awe for the person you are bowing to, and when we raise our hands above our head, the location of the crown chakra, this form is so fullof reverence it is reserved for the Almighty and the holiest of Sat Guru(s).
Namaste is a mantra!
A mantra is a “mind tool” (this is the literal translation of mantra) that is used a “Spiritual Conduit”. Namaste as a mantra means we are seeking to see the same piece of the Universe that rests deep within all of us in each other. It easy to see this Divinity in those that we love, but we need to dig a little deeper to see Divinity in those that are different from us, in those that challenge us, and in those that we down right do not like. To truly express Namaste from your heart to someone you dislike and realize they are the same as you deep inside is the essence of yoga. When you are having a hard time feeling Namaste toward someone, make it your mantra-make it a habit, and you will truly begin to feel it.
A handshake reaches out, Namaste reaches in.
A handshake was initially used by the knights in Medieval Europe to show that the greeting was in peace-there were no weapons. In much ofthe world today, people do notshake hands when they meet. They may hug formally orkiss one another on the cheek, as ineastern Europeand Arabstates. They may bow softly, eyes turned to the ground, as in Japan and China. The Hawaiian greeting, termed “honi,” consists of placingthe nostril gently beside that ofthe person greeted, a kindof sharing of breath, which is life and prana.
The handshake is said to be more outgoing or externalized where as Namaste is more introspective, reminding us to reach in and touch the Self. Every time we say Namaste we are touching our thumbs to our heart, reminding us to stay within the heart energy. Each time we gesture “Namaste” we are doing a mini yogic posture balancing and harmonizing our energies, keeping us centered, and inwardly poised.
This salutation is the essence of the yogic practice of seeing the Divine within all of creation, as long as we can fully recognize the goodness of others, and can focus ourselves fully in paying homage to that, without any thoughts of self-interest or ulterior motives, but to pay our respects wholeheartedly, we are very close to the enlightened state of mind.