Namaste, Namaskar, Pranama
What is the significance of these words? Are they merely social greetings or are they a means to a deeper meaning? Should we endeavour to nurture them and contemplate on the deeper meaning they convey or should we treat these as one of the many interchangeable social greetings?
Namaskar is one of the six kinds of Pranama (प्रणाम) , the six kinds being:
From another point of view we may regard this variety as an ode to our cultural diversity united by an underlying commonality. Namaskar/Namaste exquisitely depicts this commonality. It also depicts a unique trait of our tradition – the simplest of gestures carrying within themselves grand complexities which are always in harmony despite the apparent complexities. It also exemplifies how our myriad traditions have multiple meanings on many levels and contexts.
Let us try to understand this commonality and the thought process which strings this diversity.
Namaste is derived from the words Namah (I bow) and Te (to thee) , literally meaning I bow to thee. With folded hands held close to the chest/heart the gesture is complete. Folded hands are a mark of respect but why are they usually held close to the chest while doing Namaskar? To whom do we bow?
Heart is also the Anahata Chakra , the seat of Jivatman or the consciousness which imbues us , animates us. When we do Namaskar , it isn’t just the person to whom we bow in respect but also to the divine spark , the Jivatman , which is the same divine spark as within ourselves.
Namaskar then is a gentle reminder to ourselves, engrossed as we are in the mundane or प्रपंच or ‘vyavaharika’ leela of our ‘paramarthika’ or transcendental reality.
Thus far we have seen how the simple gesture of Namaskar contains within itself the essence of our adhyatmika reality, but as proclaimed in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad –
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदम् पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते |
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ||
[Aum! That is infinite (Brahman), and this (universe) is infinite.The infinite proceeds from the infinite.(Then) taking the infinitude of the infinite (universe),It remains as the infinite (Brahman) alone.]
The paramarthika animates the vyavaharika so as with all our tradition, Namaskar also has a practical meaning which lends itself to a practical application of paramarthika concepts in our vyavaharika life.
When we do Namaskar we not only respectfully acknowledge the divine spark within the person but we also acknowledge our duties towards the person who is but the manifestation of the divine spark in the mundane realm participating in the leela. We acknowledge our duties towards the person in this leela i.e our svadharma; we also acknowledge the svadharma of the other person.
This is an important aspect to understand how the transcendental finds its practical application. It is also important to acknowledge the emphasis on duties and personal responsibilities because for a cohesive and harmonious society and tradition it is necessary that everyone understand and responsibly discharge their duties. When people take care of their duties with mutual respect then the rights of everyone are automatically taken care of by itself. It also provides for the best environment for the society to grow together without wasteful friction within the members of the society, and provides for the best atmosphere for an individual to proceed on the personal sadhana of self-realization.
All this contained within a simple gesture of Namaskar! If Om is the theory, Namaskar is the practice.
Indeed, if Om is the most potent symbol of cosmic consciousness then Namaskar is the most potent symbol of our civilizational consciousness!
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