We yoga/meditation practitioners use the “Namaste” frequently—so frequently, in fact, that it’s easy to forget what we’re actually saying. What does this greeting actually mean, and how does it relate to our larger holistic spirituality practice?
The word is Sanskrit, and contains the root “Namah,” meaning “bow.” Literally translated, “Namaste” means “I bow to you.” Traditionally, when gurus and yogis used it to greet one another, they understood it to mean “The light in me recognizes the light in you;” or, “I bow to the Divine in you.” When we bring our palms together, we are giving tribute to the lotus flower, considered a symbol of spiritual purity because it is a thing of beauty that blooms in the muck, yet remains unstained itself. Thus we are reminded of or goal to bloom in the world n which we find ourselves, without being stained by the ugliness that the world contains.
Of course, the world is full of beauty and wonders, as well! By seeking these out, and avoiding the “muck”—unskillful mental states; greed, anger and delusion; rapacious consumption and envy, and so on, we discover the beautiful and the wonderful in ourselves and in others. Joining our hands in this way also reminds us of the union of body and mind; the fact that we hold them closed to our chest suggests that we acknowledge our breath as well. “Body, mind, and spirit, one; a time of peace is now begun!”
We have encountered our genuine, higher selves in meditation; we are experientially aware that divinity resides within us. When we bow before another, we recognize that the Divine Light resides in them as well, that the same God-Light fills us both. This is the heart of the practice: to experience and bow before the Divine in ourselves and in others.
William Ferro is the author of Opening to the Sacred: A Humanist Approach to Holistic Spirituality.