What is the spiritual meaning of Namaste?
I have become accustomed to many forms of greetings on my international travels. Many of which are elegant, sincere and sometimes contagious. One of the more viral greetings is Namaste, a lovely, tranquil kind of greeting that just oozes humility, soul, truth, peace, and gentleness. This greeting has been adopted worldwide and often read in Namaste quotes.
How do you respond when someone says Namaste?
One day, I found myself sitting in my hotel room in the heart of Morroco thinking about a specific interaction with a man an hour before. As I entered a restaurant the man bowed and greeted me with ‘Namaste’, for some reason it left me feeling of deep peace.
I sat there thinking, “What is the true meaning of Namaste?“. I think I know, or is it that I’ve just assumed for a long time?, I’ve read it in Buddhist philosophy, however, do I really?
This what I found out.
There are lots of different, often poetic, translations of the word “namaste”. It’s enough to make you wonder how one word can have so many beautiful meanings. However, the reality is, namaste only has one literal meaning. The others (although beautiful) are more implied than anything else.
What does it mean to say Namaste?
The translation “my divine soul recognizes the divine soul in you or my soul honors yours” is very lovely and poetic of course, and it aligns with Hindu belief, however, the word itself is simply translated as “I bow to you”.
The word “Namah” is a verb that means “to bow” in Sanskrit. Sanskrit uses a complex system of suffixes and endings to relate words, unlike English – where word order is king.
There was a short prayer I had growing up that would be said before and after activities; “Om Param Atmane Namah”.
Param is supreme, and Atman is Self. Adding the suffix -me on to a word means “to __”. The word “Namah” means bow. So the whole thing would mean “I bow to the Supreme Self”. To clear up some confusion, the word “Self” here refers to the Supreme Lord of Creation, the True Self of All.
Given that the ending -te means “to you”, the word “Namaste” means “I bow to you”. It really is that simple. People often give a literal physical bow when saying the word too.
Namaskar meaning is similar to namaste, but I believe it’s more formal.
As said before, Namah is a verb for speaking to God and other human beings. In a way, Namah means to show the same respect to other people that you show to God. Then again, there’s only one word for “bow” in English too.
For many people though, Namaste is just a simple greeting. Assigning lots of dramatic meanings and definitions to the word is like exotifying the culture.
This is why it feels odd if I see someone with a Namaste tattoo. I hope that they are reminded to see God in everyone, even if that isn’t the actual literal translation.
As I said near the start of this, the most common translation for “namaste” is “the divine light in me bows to the divine light within you”. However, searching online will reveal an extensive list of beautiful, poetic translations of the word. For example, it’s been translated as;
- I honor the place in you where the entire universe dwells.
- I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy.
- When you and I bow to our true nature, we are one.
- My soul recognizes your soul.
- We are the same, we are one.
- I honor the place in you that is the same as it is in me.
A quick note:
What does it mean when someone says Namaste to me?
For example, what does Namaste mean in yoga?
The next time you greet and bow to someone, saying namaste – whether you do it at the beginning or end of a yoga class, you have the opportunity to say more than just a mere hello or to simply signify the end of the session.
There is a spiritual revelation to the truth of Namaste, which is very beautiful and deeply honouring.
In the spirit of higher consciousness, take some time to consider the deeper meaning and explanation of the often-heard and said, but also over-simplified, yogic wisdom of “namaste”.
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