What Is the Hindu Way of Greeting?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 56


"Namaste" and "vanakkam," core practices of greeting. Recognizing that God is within everyone, the same God within me is within you. A Hindu concept not necessarily believed by other religions. Bowing to God is one of the ways we strengthen our humility and lessen our sense of ego and pride.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone.

This morning we are reading from Path to Siva, lesson 56.

"What Is the Hindu Way of Greeting?

"For Hindus, the greeting of choice is namaste (or namaskar). The two hands are pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed as one says, 'Namaste.' It is both a spoken greeting and a gesture--a mantra and a mudra. The prayerful hand position is called anjali, from the root anj, 'to adorn, honor or celebrate.' In our Saiva community, we also say, with folded hands, 'Vanakkam,' 'Namah Sivaya' or 'Aum Sivaya.' The meaning is similar. The hands held in union signify the oneness of an apparently dual cosmos, the bringing together of spirit and matter, or the self meeting the Self. [upper case S] It is said that the right hand represents the higher nature or that which is divine in us, while the left hand represents the lower, worldly nature. In Sanskrit namas means 'bow, obeisance, reverential salutation.' It comes from the root nam, which caries meanings of bending, bowing, humbly submitting and becoming silent. Te means 'to you.' Thus namaste means 'I bow to you.' The namaste gesture gently reminds us that we can see God everywhere and in every human being we meet. It is saying, silently, 'I see the Deity in both of us, and bow before it. I acknowledge the holiness of even this simple meeting. I cannot separate that which is spiritual in us from that which is human and ordinary.' This beautiful custom opens our hearts to see that person's good qualities. We remember to treat him or her with respect and love. It would be difficult to offend or feel animosity toward anyone that you greet as God. Namaste can also be used to say farewell. An even deeper veneration is expressed by bringing the fingers of the joined palms to the brow, the site of the mystic third eye. A third form of namaste brings the palms above the head. This salutation is reserved for God and the holiest of satgurus."

And we have Gurudeva's quote:

"The mudra is called anjali. It is a devotional gesture made equally before a Deity, holy person, friend or momentary acquaintance. Holding the hands together connects the right side of the body with the left, and brings the nerve and nadi currents into poised balance, into a consciousness of the sushumna, awakening the third eye within the greeter to worship God in the greeted one."

Found a story that relates in Guru Chronicles. Little background. This is when Yogaswami ended up in the hospital. His pet cow gored him and knocked him over and he broke his hip. Remember the story? He had his hip operated on. This tells what happened afterward.

So the first day, early morning, first day he woke up at 4 o'clock even though he was supposed to sleep till 8 according to the shot they gave him. Habit mind got him up, huh?

"Every morning after that he awoke early. By 4 o'clock he was sitting quietly and people slowly gathered. Everyone came, doctors, nurses and devotees. From about 4:30 they were singing and chanting. [Only in a Hindu hospital, singing and chanting at 4:30 in the morning, no one else complains.] Devotees burned incense and camphor. Sometimes Yogaswami spoke to them. Often he asked visitors to sing or chant from a certain scripture. At about 5:45 he ordered everyone to go to their work and asked his attendents to clean the room and straighten the sheets. At 6 each morning an English nun came in to look after his medical needs and he wanted everything to be just the way she would expect it. He made sure the ashes from the intense were cleaned up and the bed was properly made. Greeting him she would say: 'Hello father, how are you today?' He responded: 'Good morning mother.'

"One day he asked when she had time to pray. She answered: 'My work is my prayer. What I do with my hands father, is my prayer.' 'We are also like that.' Yogaswami responded. 'That way we stay pure so that God within us can work through us.' When he mentioned 'God within' she held her hands over her ears, indicating that she just did not see God within and would not even hear of such an idea. Yogaswami laughed: 'Well that's alright. Someday you will understand.'"

So that's interesting story. Sometimes Hindus naively think that other people think like they do. So, that God is within everyone. Oh, everybody thinks that way, right? God within everyone, that's what we all believe. For people who aren't religious, they don't believe that. And even for religious people of other religions they don't necessarily believe that way either. So it's definitely a, you know, it's a Hindu belief that God is within every individual and more specifically, an individual has a soul and at the core of that soul resides God. And that's what we're honoring or recognizing when we say: Namaste. Recognizing that God is within everyone. Same God that's within me is within you. With that we go deeper, there's only one of us. Very hard not to get along with somebody else if it's yourself. But that's a pretty deep experience.

And the story is also good in that it's a way of answering the statement which so far the only people that have ever made the statement in my knowledge are Hindus, "Aren't all religions the same?" That's a classic statement and if someone asked you that, you know right off they're a Hindu. That's only Hindus think that.

And a story like this is a simple way of showing they're not. That the orthodox, that this nun is orthodox. She's an orthodox Church of England person. The orthodox of certain religions such as Christianity, Islam, do not go along at all with the idea that God is within you. A very different idea that nature of the human being which is a subject for another day. But it's a story that answers that in a very nice way. We can see by quoting orthodox people of other religions that they don't believe that way and they're the ones who should know.

So, one more point, a lot of use of the word bowing here. I looked up vanakkam to make sure it had the same root and the verb seemed to be vanakkum which means to bow. So, vanakkam and namaste have the same idea of bowing built into them. And that's an important part of Hinduism as well.

Let me read the Tirukural quote on it first and I'll say a few more words. Says, Chapter One, Praising God, "Kadavul Vaalthu, Verse 9: "The head which cannot bow before the Possessor of eight infinite powers is like the senses lacking the power to perceive."

So, it's useless in other words. If you have a head but you don't use it to bow, it's of no value. It's not really doing what it's designed to do. Shows the importance of it.

Bowing to God in the temple, in the shrine room, in other people is a very core practice in Hinduism. And we all take it so much for granted, you know, we don't think about it. But it's recognizing the presence of God in those places and in then recognizing the presence of God, what also are we recognizing? We're recognizing that God is greater than us. We're experiencing a sense of humility in that recognition. So bowing because God is there is a way of strengthening our humility and that's an important quality to develop because western society, secular society does a lot of good things, strengthens a lot of qualities but it does not help you develop humility. In fact it can do the opposite. So the bowing is one of the ways that, in Hinduism, we strengthen our humility and lessen our sense of ego and pride. And that all relates to this core practice of greeting with namaste and vanakkam.

Thank you very much.

Have a wonderful day.

Photo of  Gurudeva
When you have the energy of bhakti, of love, flowing through your body, meditation is easy. You don't have to go through the preliminaries. You are already functioning in the higher chakras.
—Gurudeva