Namaste, a Reverent Gesture

A_yoga_namaste_Hindu_culture_religion_rites_rituals_sights.jpgOver the years I have been periodically greeted with a greeting known as “Namaste”. This is a gesture that entails a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards in front of the chest. I have witnessed speakers and performers greet their audiences with this sign. Many years ago our school hosted an exchange student from Thailand who when she first arrived would greet her teachers and fellow students with the Namaste gesture. Some of my yoga instructors concluded every practice by uttering “Namaste” while bowing with hands pressed together. Even in Taekwondo we bowed to our opponents although not with our hands together. A bow in Taekwondo was a sign of respect which is its meaning in all martial arts. We even bowed when we entered the dojang or gym as a sign of respect for it.

Whenever someone greets me with the Namaste gesture, and especially when saying the word “Namaste”, I feel very honoured. I feel respected and accepted. It truly is a wonderful feeling when acknowledged with a gesture of Namaste. So what does this form of salutation mean? Where does it come from as it is not a common form of greeting in my part of the world?

In my part of the world, the handshake is the popular form of greeting. A handshake is a ritual in which two people grasp one of each other’s like hands and give a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands. The origins of the handshake are unknown as historians say that the handshake predates written history, and therefore is somewhat difficult to track down. What I find fascinating is there are some historians who claim the ritual dates to the Romans who would approach each other and grab the forearm to make sure the other man was not carrying a weapon. If that is true, then the handshake has a very different connotation than Namaste does.

The  Namaste gesture is widely used throughout India, Nepal, and parts of Asia.  Namaste or namaskar is used as a respectful form of greeting, acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger as well as with goodbyes. It is also used when a person expresses gratitude for assistance offered or given, and to thank the other person for his or her benevolence.

The gesture (or mudra) of Namaste is a simple act made by bringing together both palms of the hands before the heart (sometimes the forehead), and lightly bowing the head. In the simplest of terms it is accepted as a humble greeting straight from the heart and reciprocated accordingly. But does it have a deeper meaning? Being a teacher who taught Religious Education, I knew it did. So here is a lesson.

From the great religion of Hinduism, the sign of Namaste is an ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India and especially on the trail in the Nepal Himalaya. Translated roughly, it means, “I bow to the God within you,” or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you,” a Hindu knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness. More specifically, nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means, “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”

Now this can be thought of in many ways. These are some of the ways the meaning of Namaste has been explained to me.

  • The Divine light in me acknowledges the Divine light in you.
  • The God in me greets the God in you.
  • I honor the spirit in you that is also in me.
  • The Divine wisdom in me recognizes and acknowledges the Divine wisdom in you.

Hinduism Today says the Namaste gesture

“bespeaks our inner valuing of the sacredness of 216px-An_Oberoi_Hotel_employee_doing_Namaste,_New_Delhiall. It betokens our intuition that all souls are divine. It reminds us in quite a graphic manner, and with insistent repetition, that we can see God everywhere and in every human being we meet. It is saying, silently, ‘I see the Deity in us both, and bow before It. I acknowledge the holiness of even this mundane meeting. I cannot separate that which is spiritual in us from that which is human and ordinary.’”

One practicing Hindu put it this way.

“I’ve heard it means, ‘I salute God within you.’ The true Namaste gesture is accompanied by bowing the head and shoulders slightly. This is a gesture that lessens our sense of ego and self-centeredness, requiring some humility to do it well–whereas shaking hands can be quite an arrogant event.”

According to Buddha Weekly, it is not just a salutation. For Buddhists the gesture is called Anjali and it serves many purposes. In spiritual activities, the mudra Anjali (offering with both hands), indicates we are making a “divine offering.” In a Buddhist context, it is the “cure” for pride, one of the great obstacles in their practice. In day-to-day life it indicates respect, literally meaning “I bow to you.”  Also, in acupuncture terms, the tips of the fingers activate certain energies.

Now I was raised a Christian, so how might this fit into a Christian context. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 it says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (NRSV) To me that aligns with the Hindu claim that the divine is within us. Christians just call it the Holy Spirit. I was taught that at baptism or confirmation, depending on the religious tradition, that the Holy Spirit entered and from then on resided in us.

In Galatians 5:22-23 it is written, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (NRSV) So Christians believe that if a person allows the spirit to be active in them, then that person should express love, joy, peace, and so on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians supported this belief with the Namaste gesture, a slight bow made with hands pressed together.

namaste-2No matter how Namaste is interpreted, it invokes a sense of sharing a spiritual connection and creates a sense and feeling of oneness. It is a way to feel connected. It conjures up feelings of respect. It is a sign of universal oneness. Maybe this world would be in a better place if all humans practiced this simple gesture. As the Buddhists believe, it just may be a “remedy” for pride that is the cause of many problems. I’m convinced this simple gesture brings about more feelings of reverence and honour for others. Mohandas K. Gandhi allegedly said once, “Namaste. I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. A place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honor the place in you where when you are in that place, and I am in that place, there is only one of us.” Such a simple sign, a bow with hands together, with the intended meaning as Gandhi explained, just might make all the difference in this world.

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A New Beginning!

As a now retired school teacher who taught high school social studies, I have taught about the indigenous (First Nations or aboriginal) people for about 30 years. I have always been drawn to the indigenous people especially to their spirituality and their tremendous respect for Mother Earth before contact with the European explorers. For several years I had the privilege of working with aboriginal people when I taught courses to adults a few weekends during the year. I have always been sympathetic to the plight of the aboriginal people in North America. From the moment the Europeans landed on this continent to the present day, aboriginal people have been exploited and treated unjustly, so when I read about improved relations between our leaders and indigenous people, I cheer.

According to a CBC article, Aboriginal’s top newsmakers of 2015, it was an exceptional year for indigenous people in Canada, a year that included truth and reconciliation, a year when ten indigenous Members of Parliament (MPs) were elected to Canada’s parliament and the year the long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was announced.

In case you are not familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), here is a little history lesson. The Commission’s five-year mandate was to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS).  The TRC hopes to guide and inspire Aboriginal people and Canadians in a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect.  After travelling about the country for six years, the committee collected 6,740 statements from survivors of the Residential Schools and recorded 1,355 hours of testimony.  The Commission completed its task on June 2, 2015.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report makes 94 recommendations for change in policies, programs and the “way we talk to, and about, each other.” These recommendations include the creation of a National Centre and Council for Truth and Reconciliation and the drafting of new and revised legislation for education, child welfare, aboriginal languages, and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.

ch-3-p40-41-old-sun-classroom-p7538-1005If you don’t know much about the legacies of Residential Schools, here is another lesson. (It’s the teacher in me. I just have to teach). After the closing of the schools, which operated from the 1870s to 1996, and held some 150,000 aboriginal children over the decades, many former students made allegations of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, plus accusations of neglect. The sole aim of residential schools was to assimilate First Nations children into the European culture. There were also student deaths at these institutions as well as burials of numerous deceased students in unmarked graves without the notification or consent of the parents. I personally have heard residential school survivors tell their stories and break down weeping when doing so. It is a very painful topic for many of them. This is not a part of our history that I am proud of. I have also taught about the atrocities that have occurred in these schools and witnessed students distraught because of it. Students instinctively know, as all of us do, that the way the indigenous people were treated was unjust.

CBC reports that on December 14,2015, the completed Truth and Reconciliation report was released in an emotional ceremony that had commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair choked with emotion and newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wiping away tears. Kudos to our leaders who recognize the wrongs done to the aboriginal people.

missing-and-murdered-aboriginal-womenThen there is the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, an issue that First Nations people have been lobbying our government to conduct an inquiry on for at least a decade. The following statistics are from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) fact sheet based on March 2010 statistics. The association gathered information on about 582 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Of these:

  • 67% are murder cases (death as the result of homicide or negligence);

  • 20% are cases of missing women or girls;

  • 4% are cases of suspicious death—deaths regarded as natural or accidental by police, but considered suspicious by family or community members; and

  • 9% are cases where the nature of the case is unknown—it is unclear whether the woman was murdered, is missing or died in suspicious circumstances.

The number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada is disproportionately high. NWAC’s research indicates that, between 2000 and 2008, Aboriginal women and girls represented approximately 10% of all female homicides in Canada. However, Aboriginal women make up only 3% of the female population. What is interesting is the NWAC has found that only 53% of murder cases involving Aboriginal women and girls have led to charges of homicide. This is dramatically different from other homicide cases in Canada, which was last reported as 84% solved cases according to Statistics Canada.

On December 8th, 2015, Canada’s new Liberal government announced that the first phase of an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls would begin. This is great news for those grieving families who lost their children. They have a right to know what happened to their loved ones.

liberal-cabinet-20151104The October 2015 federal election saw  54 indigenous candidates enter the race, and a groundbreaking push to have First Nation, Inuit and Métis people head to the polls. When it was over, ten indigenous MPs were elected to Canada’s House of Commons; the most ever. Newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Assembly of First Nations, “It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations people. One that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation.”  This is great news for Canada. I cannot say it any better than Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde who said, “It sends a powerful statement about inclusion and it sends a powerful statement about the reconciliation that is going to be required in rebuilding a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.” A new kind of relationship with our First Nations people has been long overdue. Kudos to Canada’s new PM for initiating a new kind of relationship; a relationship that can only make this a better country.

Now I know many people do not feel the same as I do about these events. There has been, and still is, much racism between our people. Having said that, racism stems from ignorance, and so much of that racism is due to misinformation and misunderstanding between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. I am hopeful that the TRC and the National Inquiry will educate and eradicate that ignorance, bringing about a new relationship. They were the first people on this continent and rightfully deserve to be treated with the same respect and privileges as non-aboriginal Canadians. It has been a long time coming! 

Interesting reads: 

Source: The Two-Sentence View of History                                                                  SourceDEAR MEDIA, I AM MORE THAN JUST VIOLENCE

Bring the New Year

Here we are again saying goodbye to another year and bringing in another new year. It boggles my mind (mainly because it reminds me that I’m getting older) how fast annual events come about, whether they be birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or even the Stanley Cup playoffs. New Years is one of those annual events.

Now when you talk to people you discover that some people tend to live in fear. For example, these individuals are afraid to travel because “terrible things,” like terrorism, might (and I emphasize the word might) occur in the world. I categorize these individuals as the pessimists. Now I will admit that I sometimes can fall into this category. It’s easy to do. These are the people who always point out the negative in the world. These are the folks who say, “What kind of world will our children or grandchildren live in?” Fearful individuals seem to believe the world is “going to hell” and are anxious because 2016 will be even worse than 2015.

What I find interesting is that attitudes have not changed. My Mom talks about how her parents used to worry about the kind of world their children and grandchildren would be born into. My parents used to be concerned about the state of the world as they lived during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. The world has always faced challenges and threats. Today is no different. The reality is the world continues to survive.

Now to be fair, there is some merit to their fear; to their pessimism.  2015 has seen many heartbreaking events. Here are some that caught my imagesattention. In October Hurricane Patricia, the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, had winds up to 322 kilometres per hour (200 mph). November saw  multiple attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the best known was the attack in Paris, France, resulting in 130 fatalities. Also in November of this year Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet which is the first case of a NATO member destroying a Russian aircraft since the 1950s. In June of 2015, ISIL claimed responsibility for three attacks around the world during Ramadan such as the one in Kuwait City where a suicide bomber attacked a Mosque killing 27 people and injuring 227 others. Then there was the Greek government debt crisis in July when Greece became the first developed economy to miss a payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 70-year history of the IMF.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the story that has been dominating the news most of the 2015 year and that is the Syrian refugee crisis; the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.  The International Organization for Migration claims that more than one million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015. Now I could list other events, but there is no question that there have been numerous shameful events in 2015.

Thank God  (or Allah, or Yahweh, or the Universe) there are those who always see the good in the world. I categorize them as the optimists.  Optimists are filled with hope. These are folks who believe that the world can be better; that humanity is not all bad. Individuals such as these look to 2016 with an attitude of hope, hoping that things will improve.  I choose to align myself with the optimists.

There is merit to their argument. Here are some of the jovial events that caught my attention. In April, health officials declared the Americas the first region in the world to be free of the endemic rubella, or German measles, thanks to a 15-year effort to vaccinate men, women, and children everywhere in the northern hemisphere. This is great news since rubella can cause death or severe birth defects when women catch the disease during pregnancy. In July, history was made when Cuba and the United States reestablished full diplomatic relations, ending a 54-year history of GUSTAVO-CAMACHO-GONZALEZ-L1060274_(23430273715)hostility between the nations. In December, a global climate change pact was agreed upon at the COP 21 summit, where  195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. This is great news for the planet. Also in December of this year SpaceX, a company that hopes to revolutionize space technology, lands a Falcon 9 rocket.  This is the first reusable rocket to successfully enter the Earth’s orbit and return. This brings hope for space travel as it makes it cheaper. December also saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a surprise visit to  Pakistan to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif.  This is the first time an Indian leader has visited Pakistan in over a decade.  Relations between these two countries have been bitter ever since the violent division of British India in 1947, and the two nations have a history of  numerous military conflicts. This shows that good relations are possible between rivals. That gives hope that peace is achievable. Also in December the members of the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favour of a law to ban smoking in cars that are carrying children. That’s great news for kids. There are certainly more positive events of 2015 I could report, but you get the idea.

The Atlantic Monthly in December of 2015 , a magazine published in Washington, D.C,  wrote an article called 2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being. The article cites numerous reasons for making this claim.  Here are a few that caught my attention.

“At the Paris climate conference in December, countries demonstrated renewed resolve to tackle global climate change together. Absent any policies enacted to slow climate change since 2010, the world might have been more than 4 degrees Celsius hotter in 2100 than pre-industrial temperatures. Existing policies to cut emissions reduced that forecast to 3.6 degrees, and the additional pledges in Paris brought it to 2.7 degrees Celsius.”
“The Global Terrorism Index says, 11,133 people died in terrorist attacks—suggesting terrorism accounted for about 1.8 percent of violent deaths worldwide. And for all that terrorism deaths have increased since 2012, they remain responsible for perhaps three hundredths of one percent of global mortality…Rabies was responsible for three times as many deaths as terrorism that year. Stomach cancer killed more people than murder, manslaughter, and wars combined…”
“Civil and political rights also continued their stuttering spread. While 2015 saw rights on the retreat in countries including Turkey and Thailand, the number of electoral democracies worldwide remains at a historic high according to Freedom House…This year, there were peaceful and democratic transitions of power in settings as diverse as Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Argentina. And Saudi Arabia held local elections where, for the first time ever, women were allowed to stand as candidates and vote.”
The Atlantic Monthly focuses on the positives of 2015. What astounds me is instead of feeling good about the progress made in 2015, the pessimists choose to downplay the article. CBC did this in their article, 2015 ‘the best year in history’? Not everyone agrees. Why not be proud of what humanity has achieved in 2015? Why can’t humans celebrate the positives rather than dwell on the negatives?
When doing research for this post, I ‘googled’ predictions for 2016. What is intriguing to me is the vast majority of the predictions are ‘doom and gloom’ predictions.  One ‘hit’ was titled 2016 will be a year of living dangerously for the global economy.  The Inquisitr, an internationally recognized news website, predicts World War Three will start in 2016.  When you think about it, the third world war has already started as the war on terrorism involves much of the world community. I guess they’re right about that prediction. At least Newsweek predicts a  rise in electric cars which if it becomes true is great for the environment.  Now remember, a prediction is just a guess or a forecast.  When I ‘googled’, “How many predictions came true in 2015?” the vast majority of ‘hits’ were talking about the movie Back to the Future II. In this movie Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future in their time machine, the DeLorean. The date set on the time machine was October 21, 2015.  The various websites were comparing the 2015 of today with the 2015 of the movie. I had little luck finding anything else. That leads me to believe that most of the predictions made for 2015 didn’t come true. Certainly some of the political changes that occurred in 2015 weren’t predicted.

best-year-everSo what will 2016 bring? The pessimists will likely envision , more ISIL terrorist attacks,  more anger from Mother Nature in the form of violent storms, more conflicts between nations, more economic problems, and on and on. Optimists will focus on the positives like improved political relations, the international community working together to slow climate change, improvements in human rights, improvements in health, and so on. I choose to be in the optimist camp. I choose to believe that 2016 will bring many good things. Really, the only thing we can control is the choices we make. To quote Brad Paisley, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 [366 for 2016] page book. Write a good one.” I’m choosing to make it a good one. I’m choosing to make 2016  a great year!

Interesting reads: 5 Major Trends and Make your 2016 better

Where are all the Good People?

I recently read a news story called, City cracks  down on bad behaviour in Calgary cabs. about a cab driver in Calgary, Canada who was being verbally abused by his clients.  Just recently in our local paper was a news story issued by the police warning citizens of a tax scam. The scam involves a person who calls saying that they represent a government tax agency and that the person they are trying to scam owes back taxes.  The caller then requests that the payment be made to an individual rather than the agency, and if the person does not pay a warrant will be issued for their arrest.  Apparently this happens in many countries as the article Tax time ‘ATO’ scammers indicates. Then there are the atrocities committed by the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL. The list of people being mistreated goes on and on.  When you hear these stories you begin to ask, “What is the matter with people?”  You begin to lose faith in the goodness of human nature. You begin to wonder is there are any good people in this world. I felt this way until I thought about it.

As I reflected upon human behaviour, I started to realize  that with the exception of a few “bad apples”, the vast majority of humans are good.  It doesn’t matter where I go, there are good, kind, nice people everywhere. I would like to share some of my experiences with such people.

Earlier this summer, my wife and I were helping our eldest daughter who was preparing to move to a different place.  She had purchased a media unit that she found on an on line garage sale site.  We picked it up for her and took it to her apartment to unload it.  My wife asked, “How will we carry this heavy thing up to the apartment, which was located on the third flour.  The only solution I had was me on one end and my wife and daughter on the other end. I pulled the unit part way out of the back of the truck when young couple out walking their dog walked by.  The kind gentleman then turned around and said, “Do you need a hand?”  He then proceeded to help me carry the heavy unit up to the third floor of my daughter’s apartment.  Moments later, while my wife was preparing to carry up the middle section of the unit, two guys on bicycles stopped and asked my wife if she needed help.  It is reassuring to know that there are kind people willing to “lend a hand” when it is needed.

While visiting Toronto a few years ago, our experience with the its people was most positive.  We spent one day going to various places throughout the city using the subway or underground system.  Any of you who ever used these rapid transit systems knows how easy it is to get lost or to not know which platform to be on.  There were numerous occasions where we would be standing somewhere in the Toronto underground looking confused, when some kindhearted, random stranger would come up to us and ask us if we needed help. Thankfully, there are many kind, caring people in Toronto.

When I was backpacking alone in Europe in 1986, I had hitchhiked to Berlin with my American travel mate from Alabama.  The driver dropped us off at the Berlin University where we could catch the Subway to downtown.  When we got dropped off, my travel mate and myself both had to use the facilities, very badly I might add, and so we walked into a university building thinking that a public washroom would be easy to find.  We could not find one, so we asked a lady working at a desk.  She showed us the washroom and when we returned, she randomly asked us if we would like a sandwich and a coffee.  We graciously accepted her offer and had lunch.  I fell in love with Berlin right then and there.  I will always be grateful for meeting this kind Berliner.

Then there were those times when my wife and I were travelling in Europe 26 years ago.  We were making our way to Sarajevo in what was then the country of Yugoslavia.  We arrived early, 6:20 AM, at the train station in Ljubljana, in the former Yugoslavia in the hopes of making a reservation for a compartment only to discover that the train was full. Now when they say full, they mean it.  There were people everywhere. The compartments were full.  The hallway was wall to wall people. Having no choice to take the train anyway, we sat in a small area in front of the W.C (symbol for Toilet).  We sat on what looked like a heater, and had maybe three inches to sit on. It was hard and most uncomfortable on the butt. About two hours later, the train stops in some town and a young couple come onto the train, followed by about seven pieces of large luggage bags.  My first thought was, “There’s not even room for people on this train let alone seven large bags.”  A few minutes later, the lady of the couple said to us in Croatian, what I can only assume was “come” and pointed her finger at my wife and I. We of course followed them. They led us to a compartment that they located with empty seats.  Her husband then came and helped with our backpacks.  When we got settled into the compartment, the kind Croatian gentleman pulled out a beer and hands it to me, and then handed my wife a juice.  These were truly good, kind people.

On that same trip, travelling from the former Yugoslavia to Rome, Italy, my wife and I boarded an overnight fairy to cross the Adriatic sea.. We settled into our tiny room and then went up to the deck where we met a young couple from Switzerland.  Now since we wanted to go there, my wife struck up a conversation, as she is the talkative one.  In the process of the conversation the Swiss people invited us to join them in their home in Switzerland.  They said they would show us around their country.  They even bought us a drink that evening.  We graciously accepted their invitation and met up with them after visiting Rome.  The time we spent with them was fantastic.  They were most gracious and hospitable. We will always be grateful for these kind, sweet Swiss friends.smiley

Now I could go on with more stories, but I think you get the point.  I truly believe, based on my experiences, that there are more good people on this wonderful planet of ours than bad ones. So to all the numerous kind, wonderful people in the world, I salute you!