For dedicated yogis, namaste is likely a familiar concept. The term is commonly used to conclude a yoga class, as a way for teachers and students to express gratitude for each other. However, there is much more to namaste than what is presented in class. Beyond the yoga mat, namaste has a rich history and profound spiritual significance, rooted in the recognition of a deep connection between two individuals that is far more intricate than typical Western greetings.
The Definition and Use
Namaste is a spiritually significant ancient Sanskrit greeting and farewell within the Hindu custom. It is used within India, but is also present in other areas of south-east Asia where Hinduism is less prevalent. It is a common, everyday greeting used amongst strangers and friends alike.
In Sanskrit, namas means “bowing” (or “obeisance”) and te means “you.” Therefore, the word roughly translates to “I bow to you.” It represents the recognition of the divine life within the person one is greeting, and serves to diminish the presence of ego within the greeter.
The Spiritual Meaning
Unlike typical Western greetings, namaste has a specific spiritual significance. In addition to the etymology mentioned above, namah can be translated to “not me”, which represents the surrendering of one’s ego in the presence of the individual they are greeting. In Hinduism, namaste represents the idea that “the divine self is the same in you and me.” By saying namaste, along with the gesture, the soul of one person is bowing to and recognizing the divine life force in the person they are greeting.
Namaste is accompanied by a gesture, known as the anjali mudra. To make the gesture, one places their palms together at their chest with their thumbs against their heart, closes their eyes, and slightly bows their head. The gesture, along with the word, represents a recognition of the life force present within everyone with whom we connect.
In Western culture, the word namaste is typically verbalized along with the gesture. However, in India, the gesture itself symbolizes namaste, and does not necessarily need to be spoken along with it. It is acceptable to do the gesture with or without verbalizing namaste.
The physical gesture is fairly straightforward, but there are a few things to keep in mind while doing namaste.
First, the eyes should remain closed while doing namaste. This allows for one to see within, rather than being distracted by their physical surroundings, and lets them focus on and recognize the soul of the person they are greeting. Secondly, one’s hands should be completely free of any objects, allowing the palms to lightly touch. Holding an object will prevent the fingers from being completely straight, compromising the position. Lastly, the intention behind doing namaste is just as important as the act of doing it. One should perform namaste with a positive energy, with a true intention of paying obeisance to the soul they are greeting. The spiritual connection is only as powerful as the intention behind the person performing it.
When to Use Namaste
In Western culture, the use of namaste is generally limited to yoga and meditation classes. However, in its roots in Indian culture, it is more ubiquitous in everyday life. Namaste is used as both a casual and formal greeting, performed for strangers and close friends and relatives alike. Namaste can also be used as a way to seek forgiveness from another person due to a wrongdoing.
While it may not be the cultural norm to use namaste in everyday life in the Western culture as it is in India, it is acceptable to greet another person with namaste.
The Many Translations of Namaste
While the literal translation of namaste is roughly understood as “I bow to you”, it has more spiritual connotations and descriptions that have been attached to it. Many common phrases used to describe namaste include:
- The divine light in me honors and respects the divine light in you
- I honor the spirit in you that is also in me
- I honor the god that is within you
- The divine wisdom in me recognizes and acknowledges the divine wisdom in you
While the descriptions may change, the significance behind namaste remains the same. It represents the connection between two people and the acknowledgment of the similarity of their souls, regardless of any differences that may be viewed as divisions between them.