Gassho: The Mudra Of Coming Together
Ven. David Xi-Ken Shi
Each culture has its own ritual display of greeting that carries certain meaning. Some are more complex than others. In the West we shake hands, wave, or hug each other depending on the degree of how formal the relationship is between those we greet. We learn these social rituals early, and they become automatic over time. If you notice in the examples I give above, two of them require touching. So greetings in the West are often personal, intimate even. Greetings in Asian cultures may seem to the Western eye to be more formal, bowing for example, even between close friends and family. One such greeting incorporates a bow with bringing the hands together in what is know as “gassho”. This form of greeting is used especially in Indo-China. It has been adopted by Western Buddhist across the various traditions as a form of respect given to our teachers and Sangha members. In most Ch’an and Zen ritual practices it is used at the altar as a form of respect.
There is a deeper meaning to the act of gassho that teaches lessons on interconnectiveness and outward display of selflessness. Gassho is really a mudra that means “identity.” It is an act of communication that indicates that we are aware of how we – and other – are connected. In other words, we identify with the meaning of our relationship with the person or thing we are bowing to. It is a deep identity that takes in all the characteristics, forms, and meaning of one person to another. It goes beyond just a greeting. The Japanese associate bowing with palms together as a display of recognition that there is no dualism between what is before us and ourselves, everything comes together and is taken in as we bow. As our hands fit together almost perfectly, we are reminded how the Universe demonstrates the normal pattern of life, when we take the time to become awakened to this reality.
This is an intimate and independent practice, this is how life is. Being recognized by someone, and recognizing someone without distinction, is a very important practice of selfless action. A gassho is like this. When we gassho we instinctively feel the bond of human connection, and we are left with feelings of happiness and a sense of harmony. When a Buddhist performs gassho, in the very act can be found all the principles upon which our practice is based, when we look deeply.