One 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.
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.