What is the Meaning Behind 'Namaste'?
In our classes, it is required to bow in Namaste to each other. Some wonder what the meaning of the Namaste bow is. We have included a wide range of explanations and insights so that you can fully comprehend the importance of why we practice this bow.
In ancient times, if people met a stranger, one would tend to prepare for a fight if they had to, and hands were always ready for holding any weapons. For the way of the Divine, they would try to establish peace over power and so would be ready with Namaste to suggest that ‘all is well’. Holding hands together pointed to themselves was a gesture of saying relax, I am not here to pick a fight. Later it became the etiquette when meeting each other and showing gratitude, which was established by wanting to maintain peace above all else. Fighting was a last resort for Samurai and those that were Divinely like-minded.
Below are some ways that the bow can be done, with reasoning behind each theme. In the classes here at Spiritual Physics Institute, we bow to each other in recognition of the Being, aligning the crown chakras as we bow saying that we will come from Divinity and Spirituality First. We also are saying that the “Divine in Me recognizes and appreciates the Divine in You”.
This ritual is called Bao Quan (抱拳), literally meaning "Fist Wrapping". It is not necessarily a bow, but rather a salute. Traditionally, this is practiced by:
Standing upright, the body straight.
Clenching the right fist.
Straighten your left palm to have your four fingers in a plane.
Wrap the left four fingers together around the right fist.
Place the two hands in front of your chest
The meaning of this is 'Peace Over Power'
Here are two traditional explanations:
The left palm with its 4 fingers represents the 4 nurturing elements: Virtue, Wisdom, Health, and Art. These symbolize the spirit of martial arts. The left thumb is slightly bent to imply one should never be arrogant or self-centered. The right fist symbolizes rigorous practice. Since the right hand is clenched in a fist, it symbolizes attack/war, while the left, being virtuous and disciplined, stops the attack, symbolizing self-discipline and restraint (hence the term: "Peace Over Power").
2. The left hand symbolizes the 5 (major) lakes of China, the fist representing the 4 seas surrounding China. The two hands together show the unity of martial artists. This is exemplified in the saying 五湖四海皆兄弟, which means "The people of the 5 lakes and 4 seas are all brothers."
There are also other explanations that you can seek out, if you wish.
Origins and Meaning of the Kung Fu Salute
The Kung Fu salute or bow is known in Chinese as wushu baoquan li 武术抱拳礼 which roughly translates to the “Kungfu courtesy of covering one’s fist”. The Kung Fu salute is generally characterized by an open left hand placed next to a closed right fist. The importance is that the fingers on the left hand should stay extended and not flexed to cover the right fist. This is a variation of the traditional Chinese greeting known as Zuo Yi作揖 and the entire ceremonial practice known as Yi Li揖礼 which can be roughly translated as the greeting courtesy.
The Kung Fu salute varies upon this to form a unique and sometimes secret greeting amongst martial artists in the pugilistic world known as Jiang Hu 江湖. The term Jiang Hu literally means Rivers and Lakes, this terminology coined from the concept that in the past martial artists were wanderers and vagabonds who had no fixed place of residence.
As there are variations in the salute, you will find that there are many interpretations as to the exact meaning behind them all. The first meaning is that the five fingers of the right fist represent the five lakes 五湖 (in ancient Chinese geography there were only five main lakes) and the four straight fingers of the left hand represent the four seas 四海 (East, West, South and North 东西南北). Together they represent an union of everything encompassed within the five lakes and four seas, which as the ancient Chinese knew, was the world. This eventually became the proverb: “Across the five lakes and four seas all men are brothers.”
Another explanation of the salute comes from the Confucian ideal of perfection through pursuit of both the scholarly and martial arts (文武双全 ) and the process of perfecting both arts (文武双修).Confucius specified that a true gentleman would be a master of both the scholarly and the martial, so that should the need arise he could lead armies to defend his family and country. Even Confucius was a skilled archer and horseman. In this explanation the right hand represents the martial component of a martial artist; Wu 武, whilst the left hand represents the more scholarly aspects of a person; Wen 文. This can be examined through the closed fist - a universal symbol for fighting - it is inflexible and does not have the consciousness to see that there is another way besides war. Simultaneously, an open hand symbolizes higher consciousness, openness, respect and courtesy representing the more scholarly pursuits of knowledge and wisdom. The combination of the left hand upon the right fist symbolizes that whilst a person is capable of war he or she will refrain from it as it is not the only way to get results, thereby recognizing that by respect and courtesy for others you create a path for all to win.
There are other reasons for the salute and bow in Namaste that are discussed in class!