Shivohum and Same to You, too.

namaste-sanskirtOne of my favorite publications is a Shaivite magazine, “Hinduism Today.” I’ve had a subscription for years and have purchased a few subscriptions for others as well. Whether one happens to be a vaishnav, shaivite, shakta, or smarta, this magazine is invaluable. It’s been instrumental in my own growth, for sure. One thing I repeatedly adore about it is that, although it is technically sectarian, it differs from most other sects in its openness and inclusiveness. As such, while it’s definitely a Shiva-oriented source, it does great work in covering the broader picture of Hinduism and the Hindu diaspora.

The most recent issue has a focus on Swami Vivekananda, which has been really great for me. His lineage appears to be from the Shakta denomination of Sanatana Dharma, his own guru being a priest for Kali at one of Her temples … in Dakshineshwar, I think. Along with this focus on Vivekananda and all he did for our faith, there are various other articles. One of these deals with the Namaste greeting, and is what this post’s primary focus is meant to be.

Namaste

The article begins in pointing out the differences and immensely varied implications to be found in the Western handshake and the Anjali Mudra (Namaste greeting). For the sake of brevity and keeping focus, from here out I’ll use bullet points to list what I think are the main talking points of the article.

  • The handshake originates in medieval Europe. Weaponry on the person used to be a more common sight, and so was fear. The resultant “accidentally retributive” attacks were sometimes thwarted by showing the other guy your open hand (“I’m unarmed, don’t stab me!!!”). Later, with a little cultural evolution, the open hands were joined upon meeting or passing, and we now have the handshake.
  • The anjali mudra is highly symbolic: “Anj” means to adore, celebrate, honor; the pressing of the hands together symbolizes the bringing together of spirit and matter; the hands coming together symbolizes the self meeting the Self.
  • Three main forms of the Namaste greeting exist: 1) Simple meeting of the hands, vertically at the solar plexus; 2) Same as before, plus the addition of raising the hands until the upper fingertips touch one’s third eye; 3) Same as before, plus the addition of taking the joined hands to a position above the head at the aperture in the crown chakra known as brahma-randhra. These three variations are progressively formal.
  •  The handshake is an outwardly conquering gesture. It hints at Western man’s desire for conquering and acquiring. An overly strong handshake can be meant for purposes of intimidation, and a too-weak handshake is also very telling.
  • Western culture is summed up in the handshake: reaching out horizontally to greet another; we reveal our humanity; we convey how strong we are, how nervous, how aggressive or how passive. Namaste reaches in vertically to acknowledge that, in truth, there is no “other.”
  • It’s more civilized to Namaste instead of shaking hands. 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, Satgurus namaste, mothers namaste their own families, we all namaste before God, a holy man, or a holy place. The namaste gesture indicates our inner valuing of the sacredness of all. Namaste is also more practical: A politician or performer can greet fifty-thousand people with one Namaste and the honor can be returned.
  • The gesture has a subtle effect on the aura and nerve system. The nerve currents of the body converge in the feet, the solar plexus and the hands. To balance this energy, and prevent its loss from the body, yogis and meditators sit cross-legged and bring their hands together. The anjali mudra is a simple yogic asana.
  • An increasing number of celebrities and others around crowds are adopting the Namaste greeting as a polite means of avoiding the transmission of contact diseases. The Namaste greeting has become a veritable icon of Indianness, although an ever-increasing number of non-Indians are also using the greeting.

I’m not sure that all of these points do justice to the practicality, intuition, and value that the Namaste greeting holds versus the handshake. Hopefully these points, as highlighted from the article, hint at some of this.

Om Shanti

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Fight or Flight, or Faith

I recently overheard a conversation which made me ask a few question within mine own head.

Here’s the deal: A few coworkers were, for whatever reason, discussing flying to places as opposed to road travel. One admitted that she was in her 40s when she flew for the first time. She reminisced with a smile on her face of how her aunt, who has since passed, once was in from out of town and as she was headed back wanted my coworker to come stay for a bit, so she bought her the plane ticket and the rest is history. My coworker said she was so thrilled to be flying that she was glued to her window the entire flight.

The other, I’m not sure has ever flown and was very clear that she prefers to travel by car/bus/train… anything except air. I don’t recall her citing any kind of tragic or unpleasant experience. Just some disdain… and much fear. Interestingly, she did go a little into how she felt powerless while flying, or whenever she considered flying. I remember her saying something like, “When you’re in that air plane you can plummet from the sky, crash, and die. There’s nothing below you. You’re in The Hands and that’s all you got.” While saying this she cupped her hands before her solar plexus.

Of course, by “The Hands” she meant the hands of her god, which happens to be the certainly crucified and possibly risen Jesus of Nazareth. And for the record, both this woman and the one she was speaking with are both Christians. What struck me the most isn’t that one Christian had no fear and the other was full of it, but that the one with fear pretty much out rightly proclaimed that resting in her own god’s hands wasn’t safe enough for her. She trusts her own flawed driving skills more than she trusts the one who’s “driving skills” are the source and direction of everything.

I’m not as versed in Christianity as I once was, but I know a huge part of walking that path pertains to faith and believing. I know faith has numerous definitions, but a generalized definition I think applies often enough is something along the lines of, “I hope/have confidence that this/that will happen, although I have no concrete reason to logically know it will.” After all, by faith you’re saved through Jesus Christ (biblical Book of Ephesians), who apparently paid not only for your transgressions, but also everyone else’s. After accepting Jesus into one’s heart, faith is what makes a person a “new creature.” (biblical book of 2nd Corinthians) Faith is what saved the three in the fiery furnace. (biblical Book of Hebrews, and Book of Daniel) Jesus was so impressed by the centurion’s faith that he healed his young gay lover, without even going to him. (from the Gospel of Matthew)

But apparently faith isn’t enough to comfort someone as they fasten their airplane seatbelt.

I guess I’m trying to decide whether I think she’s a “good” Christian or a wishy-washy one. As if my opinion actually matters! Maybe that’s not even a fair question. And by “good” Christian, I don’t mean a Christian who is a good person. I think most Christians are perfectly good people. What I mean is a Christian who adheres to their religion strongly. Since its advent, and in most cultures where Christianity has been present, good Christians have taken solace in what they consider faith during times when reason seems to have left them. Example: Just about any time science has made a new discovery or advancement. Galileo’s life was made quite miserable by the Christians of his day.

I’ve sat through sermons in many churches where the understanding of faith is different from this. In Christian theory (theology?), faith (and the corresponding salvation/relationship with Christ) is not unlike the concept of faith in dharmic religions. In a practical context, though, a difference definitely appears.

In Hinduism, the word for faith is SHRADDH(A). In the context of shraddha, one’s faith must be evident in his actions, or it can’t truly be said that he even has “faith” (shraddh). He may have belief, but not faith. The idea here is that if what you believe isn’t reflected in your actions, then necessarily, it can’t be said that you believe what you think you believe, or at least what you tell others you believe. You can’t call a spade a spade, if it has no characteristics of a spade. No?

However, within Christendom, it’s completely accepted and common practice to say or preach one thing, but do another. I know that might sound judgmental and harsh, but it’s the historical reality. The Church, as it exists as a collective body of believers, has not been very diligent about focusing on the actual teachings of its guru, Christ. (This could easily lead me to a post on the value of practical hypocrisy, but now’s not the time.) This brings me back to the coworker gal in my office who says she believes she’s in “The Hands” while flying, but refuses to fly. Surely to have faith that your version of God is in control is the same as acknowledging “The Hands” everything rests in. How is it even logical to walk around glorifying your Lord up one side and down the other, at every turn (and trust me she does all day long), but then not have faith in that Lord to care for you? Am I missing something here?

But whatever.

I’ll close with a quote by someone I respect immensely for his work and its clarity. He’s a celebrity, but no less authentic in regard to the teachings he passes on to us. Deepak Chopra once said,

“Faith can be the cover for a mind that stubbornly holds onto God or stubbornly refuses to accept the possibility of God. All faiths were founded on direct experience of God and their intention was to pass that experience on. Faith is a form of hope and hope is unfulfilled unless real experience arrives. Turn inward to find the root that faith springs from. When you find it, faith will no longer be a crutch, an excuse, or a desperate hope.”

Om shanti