Excerpt from Chai Pilgrimage
Namaste is the essential phrase one must learn when traveling in India. It is used as both a greeting and a farewell, but its meaning is much deeper than a simple “hello” or “goodbye.” Namaste is a Hindi word derived from Sanskrit, the sacred language of ancient India. Sanskrit was used to write the Hindu scriptures, medical texts and classical poetry and is still used today to recite prayers and sing devotional hymns.
Namas means “to bow,” “obeisance,” “reverent salutation” or “adoration.” Te, from the root tvam, means “your” or “to you.” Namaste then simply means, “I bow to you.” If you break the Sanskrit down to the root syllables, however, na means “no, not, to negate,” while ma has many meanings, including “measure,” “binding,” “time,” or “death.” Put these together and the hidden meaning becomes, “that with no measure, no binding, no time and no death” — or the boundless, free, eternal and immortal — Divine Consciousness. Our bow then is coming from and being offered to the pure place of awareness within us all, the True Self, called Atman in Sanskrit.
Namaste has been translated as: “The Divine Essence within me honors the Divine Essence within you” or “The God in me sees the God in you.” This recognition of our self as not separate from the Supreme Self is a central tenet of Hinduism. The Namaste greeting, however, is nondenominational and universal. It is a greeting of the souls.
Namaste is a mantra, a sacred phrase with a subtle, yet powerful, energetic effect. The energy of its meaning is created by the sound vibration of the word. It is spoken with the accompanying gesture of hands together in prayer position in front of the center of the chest, the location of the anahata chakra, the spiritual heart, with the head slightly bowed. This hand position, or mudra, called anjali mudra, signifies an attitude of humility, love and compassion, as well as transparent awareness. Mudra internalizes the mind, unlike a handshake, which focuses energy outward. Anjali mudra is said to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and our feminine and masculine aspects. It reminds us that we are not separate from one another or from the Divine Source, just as the two separate hands come together as one in front of the heart center.
Performing Namaste is a blissful opportunity to see God in all beings all the time, thus constantly being surrounded by the Divine Presence. It is one of the ways that being in India almost forces you to perceive God. It allows you to stop and recognize your own higher self, beyond the personality and, in facing another, acknowledge the divine spark within them. It acts as a sincere starting point when meeting and the perfect final word.