Gandhi, COVID-19, Namaste

By Ramnarine Sahadeo

October 2 is approaching and the world would be celebrating the birth of the greatest example of how one can change from an ordinary child to a Mahatma. Many still question his relevancy and youths today know little or nothing about him, a concern that adults, educators, spiritual and world leaders should address.
Promenade Gardens may have a usual turnout of special admirers of Gandhi but much more has to be done to teach the current generation how they too can make a difference in this world by following at the universal principles that he practiced and perfected. One of them is the Sanskrit greeting Namaste.
COVID-19 is unfortunately also a global concern and as dangerous as any pandemic before it.

The Prince of Wales uses a Namaste gesture (Yui Mok/PA)

As of August 28, it is has taken over 832 thousand lives worldwide. In Guyana, the confirmed cases is 1140 and the death toll 32. It has taught us many lessons, among them is that everyone is a potential target as the virus does not favour anyone based on wealth, class, creed, gender, race or religion. Uncertainty, fear and anxiety are also related health issues.
People are asked to stay home, wear a mask, and practice social distancing. All the customary forms of greeting are now looked upon as an agent of transmission. Hugging, kissing, nose-rubbing, fist-pumping, touching or shaking the feet and even the most widely practice of shaking hands are all suspects in spreading the coronavirus. Namaste, the most ancient form of greeting has become the norm and recommended by world leaders. French, English, Americans, pastors are all resorting to it.
Breaking old habits is not easy. Even Prince Charles attempted to hold out his hand to his host but quickly pulled in back and put his palms together with a slight bow. Indian Prime Minister Modi has called on his people to resort to the old habit. Even though the practice originated in India and is connected with the ancient texts and the universal practice of Yoga, the manners taught by the colonial master was at one time more widely accepted. It appears as if we have not learnt any lesson when the SARS epidemic ravaged the world as recently as 2003.
The virus should be an indelible reminder that certain accepted habits are harmful to health. Regretfully, even among some Hindus, practicing this ancient form of greeting has been, and will continue to be a challenge.
Those who limit this form of greeting as merely a religious practice may now have to heed it as sound medical advice. There is also the scientific and spiritual significance to consider. It is a display of humility, removing all egos as one bows to the creator in others. Scientifically, it acts as a healing agent when various pressure points in the palms and fingers are put together.
Namaste is a complete sentence made up of two words, namas and te. It means “I honour the place in you in which the entire universe dwells, the place in you which is of truth, of light and of peace”.
However “you” refers not to the physical person but the inner being. Thus the deeper meaning is “the divinity in me greets the divinity in you”. This greeting transcends race, religion or nationality, can be used day or night, in all circumstances, in any place, to stranger or friend of any gender, age, or social status.
Namaste is also the most hygienic way of conveying respect, discipline and culture. Because the parties do not physically contact each other, there is no fear of passing on infections like flu as you may in shaking hands, hugging or kissing. The words are usually accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. In so doing you share a sense of grace, humility and peace. It was used in India for thousands of years and is now universally recognised as the most dignified means by which two souls can demonstrate mutual respect and love.
It was a distinctive characteristic of Mahatma Gandhi who made humility and simple truth more powerful than empires and he practiced it to his last words.
It was January 30, 1948, and Gandhi was late for his prayer meeting. The assailant bowed to him and said “Namaste Gandhiji”. The saintly man replied “Namaste” before three bullets entered his chest and abdomen. He fell on the ground, palms still joined as he said his last words “Hey Ram”, his final act of Ahimsa. It was 5:17 pm and the rest is history.
Note: Namaste is not a magic cure for the virus; it is just one of the ways of preventing it from spreading. Please continue other methods as instructed like regular washing of hands.
The book Mohandas K. Gandhi, Thoughts, Words, Deeds, has many universal concepts like Namaste, the Golden rule in 20 different religions, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Universal Declaration of Human rights.