It seems that a certain word has become a center of a bit of controversy and faddish popularity, of late. Some use it without truly understanding what it means, some use it for the true purpose expressed. Some don't like that so many people are using it. The word is 'Namaste.' The first use of note on this site was by my dear friend TinaLouise. After a good bit of research on both the word, the gesture included with it, and the true meaning of both, I decided to include it into my own vernacular. Soon, it seemed, everyone, their brother, and their DOG were closing their comments with 'Namaste, Timbill the Chocobo Farmer Hobbit,' or 'Namaste! Cheeky the Impeccable Weasel of Doom.' So, please...allow me to enlighten you as to the point of this word, and all the aspects that are included with it.
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Literally translated, Namaste means '[I] bow to you,' derived from the word 'Namas,' meaning 'bow' and 'te,' meaning 'to you.' See? It's pretty simple, right? Okay. Now, on to the slightly more complicated part; the motion, or gesture, involved with the salutation.
Generally, the gesture to accompany a 'Namaste' is a bow of the head, sometimes of the upper body. The basic physical requirement of the bow is touching your hands, palms together, to the midpoint of your forehead, the location of the Hindu 'third eye.' Personally, I use the expression in tandem with the bow I, generally, reserve for a Martial Arts dojo, bowing to the yin-yang. It's all up to the person completing the gesture, how they want to do it. The point isn't the cosmetic gesture, but the feeling behind it.
Namaste is a universal greeting, whether greeting one person or a multitude, whether lower class, clergy, or even royalty. It has the same meaning, regardless. It can convey more in one simple gesture quicker and more efficiently than a handshake or a wave. When addressing a group of people, a wave can come across as apathetic, and there's no way to shake the hands of 10,000 people. However, a 'Namaste' can express humility and respect to as many or as few people as the situation calls for.
A handshake, or even a wave, while seen as a standard greeting in western culture, can be aggressive and unwelcome in other parts of the world. Part of this is derived from the origin of the individual gestures.
"Perhaps that moment of intimidation derives from the history of
the handshake. According to one anthropologist, the handshake
evolved in medieval Europe, during the times of knights. It seems
not all were laudable Lancelots or gallant Gallahads. More than a
few would approach opponents with concealed weapons and when
within striking distance do the needful, driving dagger or
striking sword into the unguarded paladin." ("Namaste! How to pronounce, what it means. http://www.flex.com/~jai/articles/namaste1.html)
The salute is of similar origin; while riding across the countryside in Medieval Christendom, one knight comes upon another rider. He's wearing a full suit of armor. He lifts his hand up to raise his visor, allowing him to see who's attacking him. Somehow, this, over generations, becomes bastardised into the modern salute. Only crazy westerners could do that. Oy.
Anyway, the point is, to me, all of our western physical salutations, with the exception of a true hug or the kiss on either cheek, are too harsh for my preference. I much prefer the reverence and true honesty conveyed through a 'Namaste' and bow.
Another, much deeper meaning to 'Namaste' is one implied by the bowing gesture. There is, in fact, a distinctly religious, or, at least, spiritual or ethereal connotation to 'Namaste' and bow. In Indian Hindu culture, it is used as a way of saying, effectively, 'I recognise the work and presence of the Deity in you.' This is shown in the touching of the third eye to the hands. It is acknowledging the work of a higher power in our very existence, and a respect for the other person for living a life for their Deity.
As a Tao Christian, my meaning, as well as my bow, is modified in my 'Namaste.' My bow is one of a Martial Artist. As a student of Tai Chi Chuan and a former student of Tae Kwon Do, my bow is one as give toward the symbol of the yin-yang, such as the one on the Korean flag. As a Tao Christian, my Namaste and bow means, to me, 'I recognise the work of God and the balance between yourself, as a human, and God, working to establish balance and order in the world.' The point isn't maintaining the exact original meaning of the gesture, but in maintaining the integrity and respect that it requires. Find your own meaning to it before you use it. Respect the culture form which it is derived, and respect your own beliefs when addressing others. You'll expand your horizons, and, I'd like to think, understand not only the world around you, but yourself, as well, a little better. However, if you are going to use 'Namaste' or, for that matter, any other greeting and salutation, or even any colloquialism, aphorism, of archaic saying, please...know what you're doing. If someone asks 'why do you say "Namaste?"' you can tell them about it. If they ask 'why do you spell it "recognise?"' you can explain it. You know why you pray, you why you don't. You understand why you go to school, or dropped out. Why not put that same cognition and respect into your own language?
This has been another 'Nugget of Joy' from none other than me. I now leave you, bowing, fist to palm, and give you a wholehearted 'Namaste.'
William A. Corder
'He who knows others is learned. He who knows himself is wise.'
'Tomorrow will take us away,
Far from home--
No one will ever know our names,
But the bards' songs will remain.
Tomorrow, all will be known,
And You're not alone,
So don't be afraid
In the dark and cold
'Cause the bards' songs will remain.
They all will remain
In my thoughts and in my dreams
They're always in my mind....
Come close Your eyes;
You can see them, too.'
The Bard's Song: Into the Forest