There’s a wonderful gesture that pervades the culture of hospitality in India: people put both palms of their hands before their heart and slightly bow their head as they say to us ‘Namaste’.
In its simplest understanding it’s accepted as a humble greeting straight from the heart and should be reciprocated accordingly – ‘Namaste’. It means “I offer my respect to you”. The gesture itself is called a “mudra”, a form of non-verbal communication and is considered to be powerful and prayerful in itself.
On a deeper level of meaning namaste also has emotional and spiritual significance. A good basis of all our social interaction is respect. Namaste physically shows respect and confirms it by word. Beyond that, by playing with the syllables in the word namaste we find that it also means “not me but you”: symbolically giving up our pride in front of another. And the most profound meaning being, “the Divine within me offers respect to the Divine within you”. A recognition that we are all spiritual in nature.
So this simple and ubiquitous greeting has a prayerful meaning on many levels of understanding: a simple social interaction, an affectionate well-wishing and recognition that everyone is touched by God.
As a prayer, it honours the sacredness of each of us and recognises our equality. By sharing this prayer with you today I offer you respect, I recognise that I am not more than you, and I praise God within you. In saying this prayer you’ll miss the mudra of me joining my palms together, but at least I can say,
Namaste. Hare Krishna.
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BBC Radio 4 commissioned me to broadcast six prayers in their ‘Prayer for the Day’ slot. The first was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 today, Gaura Purnima. I will post the others as they are aired.
Today in England small groups of Hindus, from the Vaishnava persuasion, gather together to celebrate the saint Shri Chaitanya, who lived in India 500 years ago. Shri Chaitanya is renowned for his beautiful chanting of the names of God, and his inspiring personal example of humility.
There’s something about humility. Once you claim to have it you’ve lost it. Yet, it’s such a universal principle, appreciated by every culture in the world. And we all have our humbling experiences.
I have one that happened on live TV news. The interview was going very well. There was a touch of the combative about it. One of those, “Where was God during the tsunami?” interviews. Questions coming thick and fast but I was ready for all angles, on top of my game. Yes, I was as proud as a peacock. Then one of my front teeth, a crown – that has stayed religiously in place for 25 years – fell out in mid-theological flow. There I was defending God, in all my righteousness, only to be reminded that my pride is as false as my front tooth.
I survived to tell the tale – we usually do. But if we can honestly reflect on these experiences we will find them most instructive. They will help mould good character and nurture wisdom.
We can practice being humble. We can pause with Sri Chaitanya, that exemplar of humility, as he prays for strength to,
….serve God in a humble state of mind, thinking ourselves lower than the straw in the street… more tolerant than a tree… ready to offer all respect to others and expect none for ourselves. In such a state of mind we can serve the Lord, and chant his name constantly. Hare Krishna.
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Good morning. Today is the celebration of Govardhana Puja, or Anakut. It is another festival associated with Diwali, the fourth day of celebration. This day is also the beginning of the New Year for many Hindus, including the new financial year for businesses.
In temples around the country mountains of sweets are prepared as an offering to Lord Krishna. When I say mountains I do mean mountains. The temple priests are trying to replicate Govardhan Hill, the scene of a well-known tale about Krishna and Indra, the King of Heaven.
Indra was very proud of the fact that the residents of Govardhan Hill offered him homage every year. One year Krishna convinced everyone to neglect Indra’s worship. Indra was furious and invoked devastating storms on the area. Krishna, a mere child, with the little finger of His left hand lifted Govardhan Hill so the inhabitants could shelter. Thus Krishna protected His devotees and curbed Indra’s pride. The story ends with Indra accepting his humiliation graciously and worshipping Krishna.
The temple priests are inviting us to remember this story today, not because we are the hero Krishna, but because we are the character represented by the puffed-up Indra. Indra was not a bad chap. But in the face of someone greater than himself he should have been respectful and humble. Being the King of heaven he did have something to be puffed-up about – but, it blinded him to the truth.
I don’t have much to be proud about but I still remind everyone of my glories – blinding me to my truth.
Dear Lord Krishna, as you diminished Indra’s pride please also erode my mountain of pride and allow me accept my humility with grace and with affection for you. Hare Krishna.
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